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Presenting the past: a year of success for our historians


Historians at Leeds Beckett are delving into topics as exciting and varied as criminal ancestry, the queer past of major UK cities outside of London, fire and burns prevention across the years, and the unsung heroine of the South African War.

Brighton Pride Image Credit: Pride 1991, ‘BrightonPride25: Celebrating 25 years of my favourite day‘, Perfect Distractions.

Queer Beyond London

In ‘Queer Beyond London’, Alison Oram, Professor of Social and Cultural History at Leeds Beckett, is working with colleagues at Birkbeck and Goldsmiths Colleges in London to investigate histories of sexual identities and communities in the contrasting cities of Leeds, Plymouth, Brighton and Manchester since the 1960s.

The project is exploring the difference locality makes to the ways sexuality is understood and experienced, examining the changes in LGBTQ pubs, clubs and political organising, in the ways people made home and family, and in queer migration patterns to and from these cities. It also considers how these communities have constructed their own queer histories.

Alison previously led Historic England's Pride of Place project which mapped LGBTQ heritage across England. You can explore Leeds’s queer past, and add your own locations to the map, here.

You can also contribute to Queer Beyond London by sharing your own memories of Brighton, Leeds, Manchester and Plymouth’s LGBTQ pasts through taking part in an interview.

Top image: Pride 1991, ‘BrightonPride25: Celebrating 25 years of my favourite day‘, Perfect Distractions.

Our Criminal Ancestors

Heather Shore, Professor of History at Leeds Beckett, has teamed up with Professor Helen Johnston at the University of Hull, and the Hull History Centre, to help the public to delve into the criminal past of our own families, communities, towns and regions.

In ‘Our Criminal Ancestors’, the researchers are working with the heritage organisation to encourage and support people and communities in their own research.

The project is interested in anyone who has historically encountered the criminal justice system: including the accused, victims, witnesses, prisoners, police, prison officers, solicitors and magistrates.

Professor Shore explained: “Our criminal ancestors were often ordinary people, most were minor offenders whose contact with the criminal justice system was a brief moment in their lives – only a small minority were what we might term today ‘serious offenders’.  This project hopes to share a greater understanding of the sometimes difficult situations and context for understanding how or why individuals, and sometimes groups of people, encountered the criminal justice system.”

You can join in with your stories here – the team are looking for stories and events, big and small, from between roughly 1700 and 1939.

Professor Shore has also received funding from the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust to investigate the history of youth delinquency and the history of the Borstal prison system.

Image used with permission of East Riding Archives

Our Criminal Ancestors poster

Forged by Fire

Dr Shane Ewen, Senior Lecturer in History, is working with colleagues at the University of Birmingham to investigate the relationship between burns injury and identity in Britain between around 1800 and 2000.

In ‘Forged by Fire’, Dr Ewen is exploring the history of fire and burns prevention, collaborating with partners in the fire and rescue service and commenting extensively on current issues relating to burns treatment and prevention – particularly in response to the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017.

The team are drawing together expertise from the history of medicine, the senses, psychological trauma, disability, emergency services, and urban history. They are focusing on three cities - Glasgow, Birmingham and London – including perspectives from Belfast and Cardiff and ‘iconic’ fires and disasters, to investigate how burns have shaped individual, group and urban identity in modern Britain. 

Image: Dr Shane Ewen contributing to a recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Long View’ programme, hosted by Jonathan Freedland. This episode took a longer-term perspective on the Grenfell tragedy through comparison with a similar tragic fire in Watson Street, Glasgow, in 1905. 

Dr Shane Ewen

The Emily Hobhouse Letters

Dr Helen Dampier, Senior Lecturer in Social and Cultural History at Leeds Beckett, is working with researchers in the UK and South Africa to explore the life and legacies of Emily Hobhouse – celebrated as a heroine of the 1899-1902 South African War.

Emily Hobhouse
Emily Hobhouse

Hobhouse (1860-1926) was a British humanitarian worker, a controversial English liberal reformer and a long-term resident of South Africa. She is remembered in South Africa for her exposure of the conditions in the concentration camps of the South African War.

The project team has been working with archivists at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford to successfully catalogue a newly-donated collection of Hobhouse’s letters and documents, which will inform a touring exhibition.

The team will also analyse the themes of Hobhouse’s work to help understand the politics of public history and memory in South Africa and why the country is so important in terms of early 20th century liberal imperialism.

Image: Emily Hobhouse's draft memoir held by Bodleian Library

Emily Hobhouse's draft memoir
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