Monthly Archives: April 2013

Reminder: Annual lecture

Close-up 1

A reminder that our annual lecture takes place on Tuesday 30 April, 5.30pm, in lecture theatre G15 of the Muirhead Tower.

The speaker is Catherine Hall (UCL), and her title is Reconfiguring race after slavery: the stories the slave-owners told. You can read more about it here or by clicking the image. Please register to attend (it’s free, but it helps us order the right amount of wine for the reception) by emailing Charlotte Heap.

‘Only see how neatly I take it out of his pocket’, the gentleman on the left is saying, as he slips a cool £20 million from John Bull’s back pocket, ‘We Whigs are dapper hands at taking swag’. The image is a detail from a cartoon entitled  Slave emancipation: or, John Bull gulled out of twenty millions.

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(Historical) Demography in Action

There is nothing in this world quite so beautiful as data. Those of you who mark the days of the statistical releases of Census 2011 data in your diary (surely it’s not just me?!) will be hungering for more playthings like this one

Population pyramids for the UK from the census, comparing men and women in 2001 and 2011

The interactive tool from which this simple graph is taken lets you compare basic demographic data from 2001 and 2011 at a variety of different scales. It’s fantastic if you want to see which places or age bands are growing and which are not.

Why, you might well ask, would a historian be interested in population change as recent as this? Well, for starters, you might be interested in looking for echoes of the past in the current population. Look, for instance, at the little bulge of people in the population pyramid aged 60 to 65. These are the baby boomers, born in a time of post-war fertility catch up as well as rapid economic and social change. In the past ten years, they’ve moved out of the working age population and into retirement…at the same time as our economy has faltered and found the cash to support them ever harder to come by. The history of the baby boom is very far from over.

If that’s whetted your appetite for demographic history in the twentieth century (or, at least, the bits of it that the census can get at), take a look at this rather splendid story of the census. Population pyramids have never been so exciting.

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25 de abril

For our public event on Margaret Thatcher in modern British history, click here. For our annual lecture by Catherine Hall next week, click here.

Update: my colleague Matthew Francis rightly points out that a revolution that happened in 1974 can’t be celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary in 2013. Perils of doing a blog post late at night—apologies.

Thursday 25 April is the anniversary of the ‘carnation revolution‘ in Portugal: something of a historical rarity, as a military coup that overthrew a dictatorship and replaced it with democracy. (The army, largely made up of conscript soldiers, was sick of fighting pointless and unwinnable wars against anticolonial nationalist movements.) To commemorate the anniversary, here are some pictures of the events in Lisbon.

Baixa Pombalina

Click image for source.

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Annual lecture

On Tuesday 30 April, the Centre holds its annual lecture, for which we’re honoured to welcome Catherine Hall of UCL, whose subject will be Reconfiguring race after slavery: the stories the slave-owners told. The lecture will draw on a major project that Prof Hall has been running on Legacies of British slave-ownership.

The lecture begins at 5.30pm, and takes place in lecture theatre G15 of the Muirhead Tower (building R21 on the campus map). There will be a reception afterwards, too.

This event is free but please email Charlotte Heap to register. The poster is below—and below that, details of an associated event for Birmingham postgraduates earlier in the afternoon.

Hall poster

For postgraduates at Birmingham, Prof Hall will also be running a discussion session prior to the lecture. For details of this please contact Dr Ben White.

Addendum: you can download a podcast of Prof Hall’s 2011 Creighton Lecture at the Institute of Historical Research, entitled ‘Macaulay and Son: an imperial story’, on the IHR website here.

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Thomas Pogge at the Centre for the Study of Global Ethics

Thomas Pogge

Click image for source

Professor Thomas Pogge will be giving a talk at the University of Birmingham on Friday 10 May. Professor Pogge is one of the leading experts on global ethics. He is the Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University and also the director of the Global Justice Programme at Yale’s MacMillan Centre. His recent books include John Rawls: His Life and Theory of Justice (OUP 2007), World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms (2nd ed., Polity 2008), and Politics as Usual: What Lies Behind the Pro-Poor Rhetoric (Polity 2010).

This event has been organized by Academics Stand against Poverty‘s Birmingham group and the Birmingham branch of the Giving What We Can project. The talk will be followed by an interview of Professor Pogge by the students and wine will be served after the Q&A. The location of the talk will be announced later.

You can get more up to date information at the Centre’s events page, or contact Simon Jenkins for details.

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Week 1 events

Falkland Islands

Ahem. Click image for source.

Reminders of this week’s events:

The Kurds and the crisis in Syria: the emergence of western Kurdistan?
Robert Lowe (LSE)
Tuesday 23 April, 5.30–6.30pm
Arts building, lecture theatre 3
*Preceded by a careers talk on working in think tanks, open to all students—same venue, 4.15pm

Margaret Thatcher in modern British history
Public panel discussion with participants from History, POLSIS, and Warwick University
Thursday 25 April, 5.30–6.30pm (with drinks and nibbles to follow)
Arts building, large lecture theatre
*Attendance is free, but please email Caroline Ashton to register:

A word from Lord Vader

Darth Vader dialectic

That’s actually Immanuel Kant behind that mask

The random wilds of the internet

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Margaret Thatcher in modern British history

Margaret Thatcher is being buried today, and the heated arguments about the funeral itself demonstrate that opinions about her are as divided as ever. In response to the significant public interest in her life and legacy—much of it from people too young to remember her time in government—we’ve organized a public event for the first week of the summer term: a panel discussion on Margaret Thatcher in modern British history. It takes place on Thursday 25 April, 5.30–6.30pm, in the large lecture theatre of the Arts building (R16 on the campus map).

A range of speakers will each give a short talk on Margaret Thatcher’s place in their own fields of research: these include histories of race and immigration, social activism, and culture, as well as work on party politics. There will then be an open discussion with questions from the floor, followed by a reception with drinks, nibbles, and a chance to meet the speakers.

The event is open to all: students, staff, and members of the public. Attendance is free, but please register by emailing Caroline Ashton (

Posters are included below. To reflect the polarized nature of the debate, we’ve done two…

Thatcher, poster 1

Thatcher, poster 2

François Mitterrand said she had ‘the mouth of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula’…

The Kurds and the crisis in Syria (rescheduled)

Our public talk on ‘The Kurds and the crisis in Syria: the emergence of western Kurdistan?’, by Bob Lowe of the LSE, postponed from last term, has been rescheduled for Tuesday 23 April (that’s Tuesday of week 1). The amended poster, with new venue details, is below. The careers event for students on working for think tanks will also be taking place earlier in the afternoon.

Also, watch this space for details of another topical event on Thursday of week 1.

Robert Lowe talk

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The politics of expertise

The Politics of Expertise cover

Colleagues in the department of history at Birmingham have published a new book this week. Matthew Hilton and Nicholas Crowson, working with Birmingham city councillor James McKay and Jean-François Mouhot, a researcher at Georgetown University, have published The Politics of Expertise with Oxford University Press: you can read about it here and buy it here. It offers a new interpretation of politics in contemporary Britain, through an examination of non-governmental organisations. Here’s what it’s all about:

Over the twentieth century, increasingly affluent and educated citizens have turned away from the traditional forms of mass politics: joining political parties, membership of trade unions, even voting in elections themselves. But these trends should not be seen as decline – rather, they show how the political system has changed. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace, Shelter, and Oxfam have marketed themselves to citizens as an alternative way of pursuing politics.

Using specific case studies of three sectors—homelessness, environment, and international aid and development—The Politics of Expertise demonstrates how politics and political activism have changed over the last half century. NGOs have contributed enormously to a professionalisation and a privatization of politics, emerging as a new form of expert knowledge and political participation. They have been led by a new breed of non-party politician, working in collaboration and in competition with government. Skilful navigators of the modern technocratic state, they have brought expertise to expertise and, in so doing, have changed the nature of grassroots activism. As affluent citizens have felt marginalised by the increasingly complex nature of many policy solutions, they have made the rational calculation to support NGOs, the professionalism and resources of which make them better able to tackle complex problems.

In this sense, politics itself has been privatized. Yet support, rather than participation, is the more appropriate way to describe the relationship of the public to NGOs. As voter turnout has declined, membership and trust in NGOs has increased. But NGOs are very different types of organisations from the classic democratic institutions of political parties and the labour movement. They maintain different and varied relationships with the publics they seek to represent. Attracting mass support has provided them with the resources and the legitimacy to speak to power on a bewildering range of issues, yet perhaps the ultimate victors in this new form of politics are the NGOs themselves.

Update: You can read a review of A Historical Guide to NGOs in Britain: Charities, Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector since 1945, the companion volume to The Politics of Expertise, here, along with a response from the authors.

For more information please contact Jenni Ameghino at the University of Birmingham press office:
t: +44 (0) 121 415 8134
m: +44 (0) 7768 924156

Professor Matthew Hilton is available for interview. Please contact the press office to arrange.

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