York: A Walk on the Wild Side – buy your copy now

The front cover of Paul Furness' new pamphlet

The front cover of Paul Furness’ new pamphlet

York’s Alternative History are very proud to launch Paul Furness’ York: A Walk on the Wild Side based on walks Paul has run over the past couple of years. For a taster see this Guardian Northern blog.

In the author’s words:

Even Guy Fawkes has to shout to get himself heard in York and, to add insult to injury, he’s not in this little book either – which makes the point that what is left out of York’s rich history may be more relevant than what gets included in the “official version” that brands this tourist town a must visit experience. Within these pages you’ll find the story of the York “they” don’t want to tell you about – because it doesn’t fit the heritage image which has been invented for the express purpose of shopping! What you are about to read is none of that. Here are tales of riot, rebellion and revolution, music, poets, football and beer along with fights for women’s rights and Gay Liberation – just the story of another Friday night in York in fact!

Price £5 incl. p. and p. for single copies; £9 for 2; £12 for 3. Please send cheques, payable to ‘York Workshops’ (WOWS), to York Workshops, 8 Galtres Grove, York, YO30 8RG

York: Walk On The Wild Side is supported by York’s Alternative History and the University of Leeds and is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, through a research project ‘How should decisions about heritage be made?’ / York: Living with History project.

History Talk 30 April

CANCELLED.

History Talk with York Alternative History & York Social

Date:               Wednesday, 30 April 2014, at 7.30 pm

Venue:            Denham Room, Priory Street Centre

Speakers:       Pat and Martin Bashforth

Title:               Diverse Evill-Disposed Persons

Behind the modern, comfortable presentation of Cannon Hall Country House Museum lie tales of war, revolution, murder, migration, poverty, theft, injustice and the role of women in the social turbulence of 17th century Yorkshire. A04 - Title Page

Can we combine history research with contemporary art practice to represent the past in today’s landscape?

Do these ignored stories surrounding Cannon Hall have any relevance to life in the 21st century?

What chance does such an ‘alternative history’ have of being seen and heard?

Pat and Martin Bashforth will use a variety of media to explore and present their research into the past and present of Cannon Hall and its surrounding landscape and invite your answers to questions like these.

[Free entry on the door, with a collection]

Deconstructing the English in York

Trying to get to grips with the historical, social and psychological construction of any sort of identity is difficult enough: almost impossible in the case of that slippery customer ‘Englishness’. Nick Smith set us neatly on our way on 30 September at the Golden Ball with a useful tripartite approach. This was the second of the joint meetings with ‘York Social Ideas’ led by York Alternative History.

After a short survey of the way in which the EDL tries to construct their idea of what constitutes being English by referencing back to some strange misreading of events in the early medieval period, Nick went on to deconstruct the wider concept of identity formation. The main content of his talk was an explanation of how a version of what constitutes ‘English’ was created as part of moves by the rulers of Wessex to assert hegemony over the vast variety of different groups that then inhabited what became eventually defined geographically as England. It was created in cultural opposition to what was considered foreign and had to be fought or held at bay: the Welsh, the Vikings, and so on. No mean feat to go through all this in less than half an hour.

There followed a long and wide-ranging discussion lasting the best part of an hour, though in the nature of things it was hard to come to any other conclusion than that the whole idea of any ‘nationality’ continues to be elusive the closer you look. It seems to have to do with a felt need to assert difference, which may or may not be inclusive or exclusive or perfectly neutral, depending on the social and psychological factors behind the ‘need’. The role of the State and its ruling class has, historically, been a great deal more important in hardening the edges of national identities than any presumed cultural or linguistic factors. In the creation of these identities there seems to be a complex interaction between generally benign cultural differentials and the activities of specific interest groups (political, commercial, psychotic) seeking to use these for some other purpose.

Well done Nick for such a good introduction to the subject and well done to those who came along for their often profound contributions to the discussion. A very civilised, entertaining and illuminating evening!

Watch out for other York Social events on their website and keep track of York Alternative History’s ongoing efforts, as well as out next foray with York Social in about three months’ time.

Next YAH Open Meeting

There will be no open meeting during August. The next one is scheduled for Wednesday 25 September, so pencil it in your diaries and watch out for the notice.

Meanwhile, various things are being organised. On Monday, 30 September at the Golden Ball from 7.30 there will be the next joint meeting organised by York Alternative History and York Social. Nick Smith will be leading a discussion on ‘A History of Englishness’. It will look at how and why England was created as a kingdom/country; the political motivation, spin, propaganda and creation myths that established England and what it means to be English. He will link this to how nationalist groups use these ideas from the early Middle Ages. If you have been watching the recent series on TV about ‘King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons’, this will be a fascinating alternative view.

On 17 October, there will be an Anti-Slavery Film Evening. Put that date in your diary and watch out for more information.

Some time in the autumn, there will be a new initiative that will get us out into the public domain in a high profile way. We will be involved in a project that will critically engage the public in thinking about York and how ‘Heritage’ affects the city and its people. Watch this space for further announcements. This will give us the chance to challenge the ‘authorised heritage discourse’.

Two big things for autumn 2014. We are helping out with events to do with the commemorations of the ‘Great War’ that was supposed to end all wars and in fact laid the foundations for most of the ones ever since. On our own efforts we will also be doing something similar to only different from our Luddite event last January: we will be looking at the way Guy Fawkes has been characterised through ‘heritage’ and used by the activist movements in recent years.

Open Meeting Wednesday 24 July

The next open meeting of York’s Alternative History will be at the Golden Ball, Cromwell Road, York on Wednesday 24 July from 7 to 9 pm. You are all welcome!

During the past week, the Rowntree Foundation, the York Press and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, have each drawn attention to the poverty and hardship that underlies and, through high rents and low pay, underpins the superficial prosperity of the City. York continues its transition from a manufacturing centre to a twin-track economic structure in which a low-paid sector provides services to tourism, finance and a high-tech and academic elite. As factories close, cafes and restaurants seem to mushroom.

Much of this false economy, which includes the East Coast Main Line commuters attracted to live here while working in London, exploits a fanciful and skewed interpretation of York’s historic fabric. What is superficially entertaining and good to look at is foregrounded, while submerging and ignoring the ordinary people of York and their experience – not just in the past, but equally in the present and in formulating policies for the future.

Challenging this ‘chocolate-box’ version of York’s past is what YAH is all about. We campaign about history and heritage in parallel with other forms of social and cultural activism. How the past is presented is part of today’s social problems and the prevalent inequality. We are planning events for more than a year ahead and welcome new ideas to help us shape our agenda and make our small voice louder and more colourful. Help us plan this year how to challenge the way Guy Fawkes is presented and next year how the ‘Great War’ to end all wars is going to be commemorated. Help us devise a programme of public talks, events and interventions. See you on Wednesday!

Next Open Meeting: New Venue

The next open meeting of York’s Alternative History will be on Wednesday, 19 June at 7 pm at The Corner Pin, bottom end of Tanner Row, York. Please note the change of venue!!

There is lots to talk about – the latest developments in planning to counter-act the State’s ‘Great War Fest’ in 2014, ideas for the next pub discussion meeting following the successful one on the Suffragettes, what to do about the way Guy Fawkes is commemorated, how what we do links to present day activism, and some other great ways of challenging ‘Heritage York’ on behalf of the living! Everyone welcome. See you there.

2014 – The Commemoration to End All Wars?

By Jingo! For radical historians and anti-militarist activists, the official commemoration of the First World War in 2014 represents a huge challenge. Perhaps it is also a huge opportunity.

There is hardly a community or a family that does not have a connection to the First World War. They will not just be looking back to the past. They will be aware of the wars going on around us – the legacy of what was supposed to be ‘the war to end all wars’. The Government is already putting itself into a position to control the way in which it is ‘celebrated’, much as it has done since 1919 (read more of this below).

Opposition is already growing to the State’s official plans. An open letter and petition has been launched through the Stop the War Coalition. You can sign up your support at http://ww1.stopwar.org.uk/ . But you can do more than this to help.

All round the country, activists and radical historians are planning their own events to try to counter the inevitable jingoism. They have started an email discussion group to share ideas and plans. York Alternative History will be part of this movement of cultural resistance alongside other groups in the city.

Come to our next meeting and add your active support to what will be happening. Plans are already under way for a day school and for a series of films. More ideas are needed.

NEXT MEETING: Wednesday, 19 June, at 7 pm in THE CORNER PIN, Tanner Row, York.

 

WHAT WE ARE UP AGAINST

There is a massive disparity in terms of resources between officially sponsored events and those that radical and alternative groups will be able to muster. The Coalition Government has announced plans to arrange a long series of commemorations related to the First World War, starting in 2014, the centenary of its outbreak. They are replicating what was done in 1919, when the popular desire for Remembrance was hijacked by the State and the Church. They have already set aside some £55 million. The lion’s share of the cash (£35 million) has already gone to the Imperial War Museum for renovation work. More than £5 million is to be pumped into the school system to take maintained secondary school children to the ‘great battlefields’. The DCMS includes in its sums £15 million which actually comes from the Heritage Lottery Fund (see below).

The spend will not stop at £55 million, as none of this figure includes future events yet to be decided upon.

The DCMS has appointed a ‘prestigious centenary advisory board’ to oversee events yet to be planned. Of the 16 people so far nominated, there are only two historians, both right wing military specialists. There are five politicians, all right wing and/or with backgrounds in defence affairs, including another military historian. There are four representatives of the armed forces, all retired chiefs of staff. The Church is represented by the Dean of Salisbury, while ‘cultural’ influence is confined to two writers, Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks, both authors of sentimentalised representations of the First World War, and the President of the National Library of Wales. Scotland is not represented – they have their own Five Year Plan.

Other powerful bodies will be adding their weight to these State sponsored events. Top of the list is the archaically titled Imperial War Museum, which is encouraging local community events and has its own dedicated website already in operation at http://www.1914.org/ . Numerous local projects have already joined in, alongside historical associations of one sort or another. Should we be a part of this, inside the tent as it were?

Funding for these projects is available through the Heritage Lottery Fund in blocks from £3k-£10k, £10k-£100k, and over £100k. They claim to have already issued over £12 million to related projects since April 2010. Much of the larger grants will be going to museums and other official bodies to fund their own projects. The HLF don’t say how much money they have in total for this aspect of their work, but the DCMS says it is ‘at least £15 million’, of which £6 million is specifically targeted at young people. Does this represent an opportunity for radical groups to test the waters as to whether or not we can access this type of resource?