Katrina Navickas-University of Hertfordshire

“…trying to move historians away from a simplistic ‘spatial turn’ and emphasis on symbolic representations in space, to deeper thinking about the cultural, customary and emotional meanings of place and how these affected people’s engagements with their environments in protest.”

For the latest in my series exploring urban history today, I was lucky enough to catch up with Katrina Navickas; a Reader in History at the University of Hertfordshire. Katrina’s work brings an exciting new spatial dimension to the study of urban and regional protest movements in eighteenth and nineteenth Century Lancashire.

What is your background?

I’m originally from Rochdale in Lancashire. I read Modern History at St John’s College, Oxford, and I taught at Oxford, Bath Spa and Edinburgh universities before joining the University of Hertfordshire in 2009.

What led you to choose your subject matter?

I was taught about the history of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 and the Luddites of 1812 at school, and their legacy stayed with me. I really appreciate the Pennine landscape of Lancashire and Yorkshire too, so combining this with my interest in the history of popular democratic movements and protest was obvious.

Is there anyone (historian or otherwise) that particularly inspires your approach to your topic?

The geographer Doreen Massey. Last year I went to the colloquium at the Royal Geographic Society in memory of Massey, and the number of her friends and former students who testified to her original thinking about space and place was testimony to her influence on all sorts of scholars.

What do you hope that readers take away from your work?

Hopefully an appreciation that protesting for democratic and human rights is important, and that there is a long history of these movements, often rooted in their localities and places that we can still see today. I’m trying to move historians away from a simplistic ‘spatial turn’ and emphasis on symbolic representations in space, to deeper thinking about the cultural, customary and emotional meanings of place and how these affected people’s engagements with their environments in protest.

How has your work evolved over the course of your project?

“…my collaboration with the British Library Labs team, Political Meetings Mapper, enabled me to teach myself how to use Python to text-mine historic newspapers and plot thousands of sites of political meetings in the 1840s.”

I’m turning into a geographer! I’m thinking and reading a lot more about the cultural geographies of space and place, and how to apply various theories and models to historical evidence. I’m also using digital resources and open software more regularly not just to visualise the places that I research, but also as analytical tools to enable me to deal with much larger data. For example, my collaboration with the British Library Labs team, Political Meetings Mapper, enabled me to teach myself how to use Python to text-mine historic newspapers and plot thousands of sites of political meetings in the 1840s. I would not have been able to do this on that scale before. I’m still developing my skills in digital humanities and seeing what new insights I can gain from them.

How have tools like GIS shaped the way that you use sources in researching your work?

“…I can analyse large numbers of political meetings, procession and march routes, and other types of geographical data.”

Related to the previous question, they’ve enabled me to examine much larger bodies of sources on a scale I was unable to do before. I first used GIS during the last year of my DPhil studies, when I went to the Bodleian Map Library and asked for help in drawing maps for my thesis. It was a lot more simplistic then, so I was simply doing a digital version of a map I could draw on paper. Now my use of GIS is a lot more sophisticated: I can analyse large numbers of political meetings, procession and march routes, and other types of geographical data. I can layer lots of different mapped data on top of each other to find any correlations or relations between them, such as population density, cholera outbreaks, ethnic and religious communities’ concentration in particular areas, etc.

I am also collaborating with Dr Sam Griffiths and his colleagues at the Space Syntax Lab of the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, on a project using space syntax methods on the historical data. Space Syntax is a way of modelling the level of connectedness or integration of urban street plans, and the software, Depthmap, enables some great visualisations of how ‘busy’ or ‘isolated’ particular locations were. We’re hoping to apply the methods to historical street plans and my data of protest sites to come to new ways of describing their locations.

Are there any new questions that this enables you to address?

“I’m most excited about 3D modelling the street plans in particular, as this will give a more detailed impression of how the street spaces were experienced and navigated by crowds and residents.”

Yes, I’m looking for new ways of understanding the locations of protest and political meetings and how and why they changed over time. I’m most excited about 3D modelling the street plans in particular, as this will give a more detailed impression of how the street spaces were experienced and navigated by crowds and residents. Modelling isovists, or lines of sight, will also enable me to understand something about how both protesters and the authorities saw each other, both physically and perhaps more metaphorically.

Do you get a sense that there was a cohesive “northern” or “north western” identity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries or were identities far more locally rooted?

“…the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, which was seen across the industrial parts of the North as an attack by the authorities and the government against all working-class people rather than just a singular event in Manchester.”

There was certainly a northern identity in this period. Industrialisation, though regional, fostered a sense of a distinctive identity against ‘the South’, and though custom, tradition, and landscape meant that local identities and links were still strong, particular events served to bring the North together – in particular, the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, which was seen across the industrial parts of the North as an attack by the authorities and the government against all working-class people rather than just a singular event in Manchester. The massive protests against the implementation of the New Poor Law from 1837 onwards were also clear evidence of a distinctive northern defiance against perceived centralisation of power from London – indeed, there was little overt or violent resistance south of the Trent.

Do you get any impression that the protesters you study saw their actions as forming part of established local traditions?

Yes definitely. The processions to St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, in 1816-19, culminating with the Peterloo Massacre, drew directly from local customs, notably the Rushbearing festivals of the towns and villages surrounding Manchester and also the processions of Friendly societies and Sunday schools. You can read the recollections of the Middleton leader, Samuel Bamford, for his defence of the tactic of political processions as an integral part of working-class culture. The Chartists also organised their ‘camp meetings’ on the moors, which had hymns, sermons and other features borrowed from Methodist culture.

Pennine Way, Edale from Kinder Scout, Peak District, Derbyshire (8120126842)

“Kinder Scout (Peak District, southern Pennines)” By Andrew Bone from Weymouth, England [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

You can read more about Katrina’s work on her University of Hertfordshire Faculty page, the “Protest History” blog and academia.edu profile. She is also on Twitter.

More urban historian profiles can be read here.

Advertisements

Sarah Kenny-University of Sheffield

“Many young people’s cultural experiences did not fit into the tightly defined and somewhat extreme lifestyle presented by subcultural theory and as a result of this their experiences have often been neglected.”

For the latest in my series exploring urban historians at work today, I catch up with the University of Sheffield’s Sarah Kenny. Sarah is working on a PhD exploring the evolution of youth culture in England’s urban north, specifically in Sheffield and Manchester.

What is your background?

I grew up in the Essex countryside before moving to study History at the University of Sheffield for my undergraduate degree. I was drawn to the history of British popular culture early on in my degree, writing about consumerism and pirate radio, before focusing my interests on Mod culture and the concept of ‘swinging London’. I stayed at the University to do an MA in Modern History, where I continued my research on Mod culture, and began my PhD here with Dr Adrian Bingham in 2013.

What led you to choose your subject matter?

Initially my research was focused on sixties Britain and Mod culture. My interest in this area was sparked after watching the 2009 film The Boat That Rocked. Having previously worked on the history of British media, the history of pirate radio was fascinating to me. I attempted (rather unsuccessfully!) to write an essay on pirate radio. After this I continued researching the ‘swinging sixties’ and began working on youth subcultures during the third year of my undergraduate. My MA dissertation was an in depth study of Mod culture in Sheffield and the ideas and approach of my MA dissertation formed the basis for my thesis.

Is there anyone (historian or otherwise) that particularly inspires your approach to your topic?

The work of historians such as Penny Summerfield, Kate Fisher and Simon Szreter were, and remain, particularly influential to my work. Oral and personal history has become an important part of my research, and their work encouraged me to question dominant historical narratives, and to appreciate the complexities of personal narratives. Although not linked to my research, the writing of Arthur Marwick has been hugely influential. His writing style was accessible without losing the complexity of argument or historical analysis and this is something I try to achieve in my own work.

What do you hope that readers take away from your work?

That the history of ‘ordinary’ lives and experiences can be, and should be (where possible), central to the way we write and research cultural and social history. Although less visible in the archives, it is the experiences of the everyday- where you work, where you socialise, what you do at a weekend, how you spend your evenings, how you chose to spend your income, etc.- that has made up much of the fabric of human experience in the modern period.

“…the history of ‘ordinary’ lives and experiences can be, and should be… central to the way we write and research cultural and social history.”

How has your work evolved over the course of your project?

“…I became interested in the ‘everyday’ experience of subculture…”

When I began researching youth cultures and subcultures I was drawn to the spectacle of groups such as Mods and Punks. As the majority of the writing about these groups was based in London, I was interested to see if, and how, these cultures manifested themselves in other cities. As the portrayal of these groups seemed so different to my own experiences as a teenager, I wanted to ask the question: ‘How were they different from everybody else?’ After doing a case study of Mod culture in Sheffield during my MA I found that youth cultural experiences were fluid, and many people engaged with elements of subculture, without necessarily identifying as Mods or Punks, etc. This encouraged me to question the notion of cultural authenticity and the very central role it plays in defining what is, and is not, subcultural and, by extension, who it is that decides what is ‘authentic’. As a result of this I became interested in the ‘everyday’ experience of subculture, and from there the role of space in the development of patterns of behaviour and lifestyle choices.

“…youth cultural experiences were fluid, and many people engaged with elements of subculture, without necessarily identifying as Mods or Punks…”

Does your research lead you to think that there are specific local and regional dimensions to youth subcultures in post-war Britain?  

To a very limited extent. My research focuses only on licensed and legal venues and while there were underground networks of young people hosting events in towns and cities across the country, the vast majority of young people did not encounter them. The types of venues and spaces available to young people impacted how they spent their leisure time and this varied from city to city. Similarly, large cities will have provided access to a larger and more varied range of spaces for young people compared to those found in a smaller town. Other factors such as politics and the local economy will also impact how people experienced youth culture in different areas. While access to different forms of youth culture may have varied I would be hesitant to argue that there were significant differences in the types of youth culture found across Britain. My research has not led me to believe that youth culture in Sheffield was particularly different or distinctive from other cities of a similar size.

“…while there were underground networks of young people hosting events in towns and cities across the country, the vast majority of young people did not encounter them.”

Are there any substantial changes in the way that youth subcultures form and express themselves across the time period that you study?

I think there’s a change in the way that people engaged with subcultures across the time period I study. Between the 1960s and the 1980s there was a significant change in the lifestyles of young people- staying out until 2:00 was commonplace by 1989 but this was not the case in Sheffield in 1960. This move towards evening entertainment coincided with the rise of bars and clubs aimed at young people in the 1970s and 1980s. By the 1980s these spaces were diversifying, therefore enabling more young people to engage with a variety of different types of youth culture.

Do you have any sense of how representative the “official” (police, local authority, media etc.) reaction to youth sub-cultures was of the wider “adult” response to experimentation amongst young people?

“…my research interviews… suggest that parents were less outraged by teenage experimentation than other sources would suggest.”

In Sheffield much of the official reaction to more extreme forms of youth culture mirrored the national reaction. In the 1970s the Sheffield Star newspaper ran a series of front pages examining the rise of punk and the fight to get the Sex Pistols banned from performing at the City Hall. At the same time, the licensing magistrates had clamped down on the conditions of the licence of the Limit nightclub- one of Sheffield’s first alternative venues- citing obscene graffiti and unsanitary conditions. There were similar panics about the rise of skinheads in the late 1960s in the local media. Unfortunately my sources do not allow me to confidently say whether this was representative of the wider adult response, but my research interviews would suggest that parents were less outraged by teenage experimentation than other sources would suggest.

As a historian, how far have established sociological models that explain subculture formation helped or hindered you in your work?

“Many young people engaged with elements of a subculture without fully identifying as part of it.”

The work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham in the 1960s and 1970s has formed the basis of much of existing scholarship on subcultures. I would argue, as have other historians such as Sarah Thornton and Andy Bennett, that the model established by the CCCS is flawed in many aspects. It argues that subculture is a resistance against mainstream forms of youth culture, therefore making subculture and popular culture diametrically opposed. This is reflected in much of the writing about young people where the focus is either on subcultures or popular culture. In reality, the interaction between popular culture and alternative forms of culture is much more fluid. Many young people engaged with elements of a subculture without fully identifying as part of it. Subculture as a lifestyle was not possible for the vast majority of young people, yet a significant portion of the historical writing about youth culture in post-war Britain is focused on subcultural participants. Many young people’s cultural experiences did not fit into the tightly defined and somewhat extreme lifestyle presented by subcultural theory and as a result of this their experiences have often been neglected. My work hopes to bring the experiences of these young people to the fore.

3243782982_06933dbd8e_z

Image hosted on: Urban Trawl: Steel Yourself  

If you would like to find out more about Sarah and her research please check out her profile on the University of Sheffield website and on academia.edu. You can also follow her on Twitter.  For more urban historian profiles please click here.