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Discover the Past 2020

Birkbeck’s Department of History, Classics and Archaeology welcomes the public to a series of events that explore the past and the present - from the renaissance to the 21st century.

HMT Empire Windrush arrives as Tilbury Docks in June 1948
HMT Empire Windrush arrives as Tilbury Docks in June 1948

The Department of History, Classics and Archaeology will host a series of public events that shed new light on historical and current issues, including lectures from award-winning journalist Amelia Gentleman and Professor Catherine Hall who will deliver the annual Eric Hobsbawm Memorial Lecture.

Amelia Gentleman will be discussing the recent Windrush scandal and the government's hostile environment policy. Gentleman, who writes for The Guardian, was instrumental in exposing the scandal that subsequently led to the resignation of the former Home Secretary, Amber Rudd. 

Gentleman said: “I am very much looking forward to talking to Birkbeck students about the still unresolved Windrush scandal and the government’s shameful treatment of thousands of Commonwealth-born people who were wrongly branded as illegal immigrants, with catastrophic consequences. With Birkbeck’s long tradition of social and political engagement, there is perhaps no better place to discuss the development of the hostile environment.”

Professor Jan Rüger, Head of the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology said: “This event will have particular resonance for students and staff at Birkbeck, some of whom have been directly affected by the hostile environment policy. Amelia Gentleman’s talk is timely in another sense, too: The way in which the Windrush scandal was uncovered shows us just how important a critically engaged study of the past is – a past that is all too obviously bound up with the present.”

In March the Department will welcome Professor Catherine Hall who will give this year’s Eric Hobsbawm Memorial Lecture. Entitled ‘Racial Capitalism across the Black/White Atlantic,’ the lecture will explore racial inequalities in eighteenth-century England and Jamaica. ‘Race,’ it will argue, structured not only the plantation economy and society but also forms of capitalist organization and cultural practice in the metropole.

Professor Catherine Hall FBA is Emerita Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History at University College London. Professor Hall commented: “It is a great honour to be invited to present the annual lecture in memory of Eric Hobsbawm this year. He remains an inspiration for those of us who aim to think critically about the past in relation to our own ‘interesting times’.”

Professor Rüger said: “We are delighted that Professor Catherine Hall is giving the Eric Hobsbawm Memorial Lecture this year. Professor Hall’s research and writing has been at the centre of the rethinking of Britain’s colonial past and the relationship of that past with the present. Her critique could not be more timely and we look forward to hearing her speak here at Birkbeck.”

The full programme of free public events can be seen below:

A BYSTANDER SOCIETY? PASSIVITY AND COMPLICITY IN NAZI GERMANY

18 February 2020, 18:30 to 20:00

Professor Mary Fulbrook, Professor of German History at UCL will deliver the Holocaust Memorial Day Lecture exploring experiences of Nazi persecution. Book your place here.

CATHOLIC NUNS AND SISTERS IN A SECULAR AGE – BOOK LAUNCH

21 February 2020, 18:00 to 20:00

Dr Carmen Mangion will be discussing her new book, Catholic Nuns and Sisters in a Catholic Age: Britain 1945 – 90, that investigates the experiences of nuns and sisters in Britain from 1945 to 1990. Book your place here.

WHY ‘SHOAH’? A CONCEPTUAL HISTORY

24 February 2020, 13:00 to 14:00

Hizky Shoham from Bar – Ilan University will discuss how the Hebrew word Shoah became a widely used term for the genocide of Europe’s Jews during the Second World War. Book your place here.

THE WINDRUSH BETRAYAL: EXPOSING THE HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT

27 February 2020, 18:30 to 20:0

Amelia Gentleman, will discuss the Windrush scandal and her role in exposing the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy. Book your place here.

BIRKBECK FORUM FOR NINETEENTH CENTURY STUDIES: 'MARGINALIA AND OTHER FORMS OF GRAFFITI.'

11 March 2020, 18:00 to 20:00

This talk considers volumes from writer’s libraries that they have marked autographed and supplemented with matter such as pressed plants, feathers, and locks of hair. Book your place here.

ERIC HOBSBAWM MEMORIAL LECTURE: RACIAL CAPITALISM ACROSS THE BLACK/WHITE ATLANTIC

25 March 2020, 18:00 to 20:00

Professor Catherine Hall will explore what is meant by ‘racial capitalism’ a term that is used to focus on the centrality of racial inequalities to the formation of the modern world. Book your place here.

INAUGURAL LECTURE SERIES – FILIPPO DE VIVO

Filippo de Vivo will deliver his inaugural lecture ‘Imaginary Archives of the Renaissance’. Book your place here.

See the full programme here.

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