Monthly Archives: June 2013

New times are nearly upon us

CBI report 'A nation of shareholders', cover image

A quick reminder that later this week, in cooperation with the University of Warwick Institute of Advanced Study, we are holding our conference New times revisited? Examining society, culture and politics in the long 1980s.

The conference website, including the programme (and venue information: here on Friday, at Warwick’s Modern Records Centre on Saturday), can be found here. You can also follow the conference Twitter feed, @ntr2013. (I’m promised that there will be no panel tweets.)

Shoutouts, too, to the conference organizers: Amy Edwards, Andrew Jones, and Daisy Payling, all PhD students here at Birmingham, and Chris Moores, Global Research Fellow at the IAS in Warwick. For more information email Daisy by clicking here.

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This could be misinterpreted

WWII evacuation poster, "Children are safer in the country", via Age of Uncertainty

From Age of Uncertainty.

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in:flux 1845-1945: A Century in Motion

in:flux – 1845-1945, a postgraduate conference organized in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Cultural Modernity at the University of Birmingham, is taking place on 27 June 2013 (venue: Arts building—R16 on the campus map—room LR8).

Luigi Russolo, The Revolt
This postgraduate conference features an exciting range of papers on the themes of movement, motion and progression from a variety of disciplines, as well as a keynote address from Dr Matthew Rubery of Queen Mary University London. The event is free, and you would be very welcome to drop in at any point during the day, or to attend the day in full.

If you are interested in attending, please let the organizers know by emailing them. All refreshments and lunch will be provided; if you would like to stay for lunch and have any dietary requirements please notify the organizers in advance.  Further details can be found on the conference website, or by following their feed on Twitter, @pgculturalmod.

Image: Luigi Russolo, The Revolt (1911)
Click for source

Empire in peril

Patrick Longson, one of our excellent PhD students (read his blog here), is co-organizing a two-day interdisciplinary workshop this November at Queen Mary, University of London: ‘Empire In Peril: Invasion-Scares and Popular Politics in Britain, 1890-1914’. This should be a fantastic  opportunity to discuss the political, cultural and social history the period before the first world war through the lens of the ‘invasion scare’. (Patrick’s own research puts the Anglo-German rivalry of the period in its wider cultural and popular context.) Here’s the poster:

Empire in Peril, Queen Mary, University of London -  Poster

Anyone who is fascinated by British society on the eve of the first world war, please do come along. Public lectures and panels will be held, with prominent historians providing insight into the latest research in this field.

If you have an academic interest please find the ‘Call for Papers’ notice below.

Empire in Peril workshop CFP

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Milking the Third World?

Update: this seminar has been shifted to a larger venue, room 427 on the fourth floor of the Muirhead Tower.

War on Want's 1974 booklet 'The baby killer', cover

Our colleagues in the Institute for German Studies have a major new research project entitled Weltanschauungen. The German Past and the Contemporary World: The Domestic and Foreign Politics of Memory (details here). They are currently hosting a visiting researcher from the University of California, Berkeley: Tehila Sasson, who is currently working on her dissertation, which traces the rise of humanitarian politics in Britain during the 20th century and its influence on both a national and international level—a subject with plenty of resonances here at the Centre (see earlier posts here, here, and here, for example).

Tehila will be presenting her research at a seminar on Wednesday 26 June, with the title “Milking the Third World? The Baby Food Controversy, 1973-1984”. Our colleague Matthew Hilton, Professor of Social History here at Birmingham, will be the discussant. There will then be an open discussion, followed by a wine reception. Updated details and poster below.

Date: Wednesday 26th June 2013
Time: 4pm – 6pm
Location: Room 427, fourth floor, Muirhead Tower, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT

Attendance is free, but please email Josefin Graef to register:

War on Want’s 1974 booklet ‘The baby killer’ was influential in the boycott.
You can download a PDF of the original booklet from their website:
click image t
o be taken there.

Tehila Sasson seminar, University of Birmingham, 26 June 2013

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More beer

Waguih Ghali

When I wrote a post about Waguih Ghali’s novel Beer in the snooker club not long ago, I didn’t realize that the author’s diaries and an unpublished manuscript had recently been digitized and made available by Cornell University library. (The same friend who lent me the book wrote to tell me.) These digitized versions were made from photocopies held by Deborah Starr, a literature professor at Cornell. She had made the copies in 1999, from the originals held by Diane Athill, the publisher and memoirist whose flat Ghali was living in when he took the overdose of sleeping pills that killed him. At some point after 1999, though, the originals were lost, leaving the photocopies as (probably) the only extant copy. With Athill’s permission, these copies were digitized last year.

A novelist’s diaries are most obviously interesting to scholars of literature, and Ghali’s place in the canon seems increasingly assured, with his one slender completed novel still in print fifty years after its publication. But there’d be plenty of interesting stuff here for a historian, too, interested in Ghali’s experiences of a precarious life in exile: working for the British army in the West Germany of the Wirtschaftswunder; attending the trial of SS officers in Düsseldorf (there can’t have been many Egyptians there); trying to complete a second novel on the fringes of literary London; and travelling to Israel immediately after the 1967 war. This, as Ahdaf Soueif pointed out in 1986, was a monumental act of bridge-burning, ensuring that Ghali could never return to Egypt:

Visiting Israel – indeed entering an Israeli embassy anywhere in the world – was treasonous according to Egyptian wartime law, and punishable by death. It was also an act that would have gone completely against popular feeling in a country suffering the aftermath of a terrible defeat. It is the one thing which has stayed in the minds of the very few people who remember him today in Cairo.

(Even fewer people will remember Ghali in Cairo now, over 25 years after Soueif wrote that, but perhaps more know about his book, which was written in English: according to this article it has a small cult following, and there’s a recent translation into Arabic.)

Anyone want to do a dissertation on all this? Email me.

Click image for source

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All that is solid

Salvador Dalí, Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man

This letter from the current London Review of Books offers the clearest explanation I’ve seen of one of Karl Marx’s most famous phrases:

Richard J. Evans’s comment on Jonathan Sperber’s attempt to find a better translation of Marx’s phrase ‘Alles ständische und stehende verdampft,’ usually rendered ‘All that is solid melts into air,’ pinpoints a particular difficulty in translating the German term Stand (LRB, 23 May). Sperber’s preferred version – ‘Everything that firmly exists and all the elements of the society of orders evaporate’ – is, well, frankly hideous. On the other hand it is a lot more accurate than the elegant version it seeks to replace. The words Stand and its adjective ständisch have been variously translated as ‘status’, ‘estate’, ‘estate-type’ and now here as ‘a society of orders’. None of these captures what Marx is talking about here, which is inequality organised on a basis other than class or market. For Marx the problem of the emancipation of the Jews was that it would ‘free’ them only to enter an unequal, class-based world and, in so doing, would dissolve what was distinctive in a Jewish way of life, whatever value you might place on that. Even more than Marx, Max Weber contrasted status-based (ständisch) inequality with market-based divisions. A status group (Stand) has a distinctive way of life, which is regarded in a particular way, and is reflected in legal provisions and even in clothes or diet. An example in our contemporary world might be children: we think of them as fully human yet somehow as a different order of beings from adults, with a different legal position and different preoccupations. To some degree, gender divisions too are ständische differences. For both Marx and Weber what mattered was that the sweeping away of the old order – the ancien regime of, er, ‘social orders’ – is at first experienced as emancipation, only for the reality to dawn that what replaces it are different forms of exploitation and oppression and new social identities grounded solely in market position: in buying or selling labour-power. The German term Stand is first cousin to the English word ‘standing’, and both Marx’s and Weber’s point was that modernity erodes all identities, honour and relationships in the acid of commercial exchange, leaving few of us really happy with where we stand.

Jem Thomas

Salvador Dalí,
Geopoliticus child watching the birth of the new man, 1943
(click for source

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