Visibly Hidden: Power and Historical Practice in Modern Britain

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Modern and Contemporary History Research Seminar

(3-5 o’clock, 30 November 2016)

In this session four postgraduate researchers from the centre for Modern British Studies explore ways in which their doctoral research makes broader historical interventions in modern and contemporary history. The papers, woven together by a single introduction and conclusion, are interested in the relationship between power and historical practice. Exploring broader themes in their individual projects such as race, religion, citizenship, and ordinary life, they interrogate how historical practice has perpetuated power structures in the past. While on the surface very different, by tentatively exploring connections across their work, they argue against historical methodologies that have perpetuated hierarchies of exclusion and have kept their subjects visibly hidden.


Shahmima Akhtar,‘Whiteness’ as an invisible category of analysis?’
This paper uses intersecting categories of race, gender and nation to consider the process of constructing Irish whiteness in World’s Fairs’. A prism of analysis centred on Irish display challenges popular views on the central and so-called objective ground occupied by whiteness. In so doing, Shahmima reveals how imperial power operated and calls into question the historians’ role, suggesting that a reluctance to interrogate whiteness has perpetuated damaging notions of its neutrality.


Ruth Lindley, ‘’Goddess Rising’: Re-Imagining Gender and Secularism in Modern Britain’
Ruth will talk about the Goddess movement, a feminist spirituality movement made invisible by the stories historians have chosen to tell about belief and gender in modern Britain. Because Goddess spirituality emerged in the 1970s after rapid religious decline is already supposed to have taken place, historians have dismissed it as a symptom of modern secular culture: individualistic, narcissistic and shallow. By paying serious attention to the personal testimonies of Goddess-celebrants, Ruth hopes to re-write the history of spirituality in modern Britain in terms of imaginative political innovation, engagement and activism.


Chelsea-Anne Saxby ‘Finding the ‘Sensible, Ordinary Briton’: The Regulation of Television Content, 1954-1981’
In the first few weeks of her research, Chelsea has been trying to get a sense of the powers, discourses and practices that shaped television content, and the changing relationships between them. At the centre of this play between shifting forces seems to be the idea of the ‘Sensible, Ordinary Briton’, whose tastes, values and private mores could be used to demarcate the boundaries for acceptable content. She will use this paper to start thinking through how this median of the television audience was constructed and understood, reflecting on her own role in this process.


Laura Sefton, ‘Becoming Citizens? Children’s Writing and Agency in Post-war Britain’
Laura’s paper reflects on her use of children’s essays to rethink citizenship in post-war Britain. By accepting political rhetoric of children as belonging to the future, historians have denied children’s historical agency and contributed to their remarkable invisibility in discussions of citizenship. By taking their writing seriously, Laura questions whether we can recover their historical agency, considering the politics and ethics of doing so. Alongside methodological concerns, she will suggest there are sound historical reasons for focusing on children. Drawing attention to citizenship as a negotiated process, these children demand new historical perspectives that consider how citizens negotiated competing modes of belonging through space, markets, and relationships.

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