This course presents an alternative history of London that contrasts conventions of progress and openness with the stories of minorities, rebels and martyrs in order to challenge conventional narratives of the city’s tolerance and diversity. Foregrounding the histories of immigration, religion and politics reveals the crucial role played by conflict, suppression and protest in the development of the metropolis.
London is commonly characterised as diverse, tolerant, stable and safe; a city that has evolved gradually and evenly and without the cataclysmic revolutionary change that has convulsed so many other European cities. But how true is this portrait of London, and to what extent does it serve the political agenda of the ruling elites? In the light of recent political, social and cultural protests that have called into question our dominant historical narratives, this course aims to question our conventional understanding of this metropolis and its 2,000-year development.
In particular, we will explore two great truisms about London:
- Firstly, we will question the discourse of London’s historical continuity by pursuing disruptive narratives of rebels and revolutionaries – from Boudicca’s revolt in the first decades of London’s recorded history, via civil war and political protests, through to recent struggles over taxation, war and globalisation
- Secondly, we will focus on the conventional understanding of London as a city of tolerance and diversity, questioning this broadly accepted overview through histories of religious martyrdom and emancipation, through an historical overview of London as a hub of immigration and of political exile, and lastly through an examination of London’s complex relationship with colonialism and slavery as capital of the British Empire.
The intention of this course is not merely to deny or denigrate London’s status as an open and diverse metropolis; indeed, by questioning the dominant narratives of the city we will expose the extraordinary contribution that religious and ethnic communities have made to London’s life and culture over its entire history. Furthermore, we will discuss how contemporary debates surrounding globalisation, the environment and especially Black Lives Matter, can serve to enrich our understanding of the city, and underpin ambitions for its future development.
Semesters: Fall, Spring