Thursday, 30 May 2013


George Orwell writes on 'unofficial history' in an essay entitled 'Arthur Koestler' (1944)

'One striking fact about English literature during the present century is the extent to which it has been dominated by foreigners - for example, Conrad, Henry James, Shaw, Joyce, Yeats, Pound and Elliot.  Still, if you chose to make this a matter of national prestige and examine our achievement in various branches of literature, you would find that England made a fairly good showing until you came to what may be roughly described as political writing, or pamphleteering.  I mean by this the special class of literature that has arisen out of the European political struggle since the rise of Fascism.  Under this heading novels, autobiographies, books of "reportage", sociological treatises and plain pamphlets can all be lumped together, all of them having a common origin and to a great extent the same emotional atmosphere.

'Some of the outstanding figures in this school of writers are Silone, Malraux, Salvemini, Borkenau, Victor Serge and Koestler himself.  Some of these are imaginative writers, some not, but they are all alike in that they are trying to write contemporary history, but unofficial history, the kind that is ignored in the text-books and lied about in the newspapers.  Also they are all alike in being continental Europeans.  It may be an exaggeration, but it cannot be a very great one, to say that whenever a book dealing with totalitarianism appears in this country, and still seems worth reading six months after publication, it is a book translated from some foreign language.  English writers, over the past dozen years, have poured forth an enormous spate of political literature, but they have produced almost nothing of aesthetic value, and very little of historical value either.  The Left Book Club, for instance, has been running ever since 1936.  How many of its chosen volumes can you even remember the names of?  Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Spain, Abyssina, Austria, Czechoslovakia - all that these and kindred subjects have produced, in England, are slick books of reportage, dishonest pamphlets in which propaganda is swallowed whole and spewed up again, half digested, and a very few reliable guide books and text-books.  There has been nothing resembling, for instance, Fontamara or Darkness at Noon, because there is almost no English writer to whom it has happened to see totalitarianism from the inside.  In Europe, during the past decade and more, things have been happening to middle-class people which in England do not even happen to the working class.  Most of the writers I mentioned above, and scores of others like them, have been obliged to break the law in order to engage in politics at all; some of them have thrown bombs and fought in street battles, many have been in prison or concentration camp, or fled across frontiers with false names and forged passports.  One cannot imagine, say, Professor Laski indulging in activities of that kind.  England is lacking, therefore, in what one might call concentration-camp literature....  To understand such things one has to be able to image oneself as a victim, and for an Englishman to write Darkness at Noon would be as unlikely an accident as for a slave-trader to write Uncle Tom's Cabin.'  (Written 1944; published Focus 2 1946)

Saturday 15th June & Sunday 16th June 2013 - Manchester, UK

A public conference to discuss how society produces, presents, and consumes history beyond official and elite versions of the past.

THE Unofficial Histories conference seeks to bring together those who wish to consider the value and purpose of historical engagements and understandings that take place within, on the edges of, or outside “official” sites that produce and transmit historical knowledge and ideas. 

After a successful first conference at Bishopsgate Institute in London in May 2012, Unofficial Histories moves north to Manchester, and this time we’re making a weekend of it:
* Saturday 15th June 2013 will be a day of papers, presentations and debate at Manchester Metropolitan University, Oxford Road, Manchester.

* Sunday 16th June 2013 will be a relaxed day of informal activities in Manchester exploring the theme of ’Unofficial Histories’ (details TBC).

Taking its cue from the assumption that history is, as Raphael Samuel put it, 'social form of knowledge; the work, in any given instance of a thousand different hands' the conference aims to open up to examination the ways in which historians, curators, writers, journalists, artists, film makers, activists and others, seek to represent the past in the public realm, spheres of popular culture and everyday life.

What subjects, ideas and themes are presented? What styles and mediums are used? How is this history produced, transmitted and consumed? Who is producing and consuming it, and why?

We hope to sharpen the awareness of the different sites and forms of historical production and consider how they impact public perceptions and consciousness of history. We are also concerned to understand the interactions between competing and corresponding impulses in history-making: the scholarly and the political; the academic and the everyday; the imperatives of funding, sustainability, ethics and access.
Finally, we would like to consider whether or not such 'unofficial histories' have political effects that might serve democratic and emancipatory goals, and/or can be seen as sources of dissent and resistance against conventional, privileged models of historical knowledge.
Presentations of 20 minutes (different approaches to communication are encouraged) on any aspect of the above, which may include:

* People’s History & the History of Everyday Life 

* TV, Radio and Internet

* Literature, Poetry, Music and Folksong

* Museums, Heritage and Archives
* Feminist, Women’s and Gender History

* Historical Re-enactment and Living History

* Memory, Myth and Folklore

* Class, Culture and Ethnicities

* Art, Drama and Theatre
* Family History and Genealogy
* Oral History, Testimony and Biography

* Local, Regional and Community History
* The Role of the Historian

* History Education, Teaching and Curricula

* Uses and Abuses of History

No comments: