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Histories of Activism

Histories of Activism

Academics in this group examine political protest, the efforts of interest groups, the promotion of alternative economic and social models, visions of peace, and measures for the protection of particular groups in society. In the past decade, the research group has established itself as a vibrant centre for research on different forms of activism.

The group has particular strengths in exploring the transnational dimensions of political and social activism. Researchers have worked on the relations between political campaigners and the League of Nations, reform movements and campaigns among early settler communities across the British Empire, Russian exile networks in the twentieth century, conscientious objectors, and on activism in the Indian diaspora.

Members of the research group have worked with a number of external partners. In 2017, it hosted a research project on British ex-service students in the aftermath of the First World War which was underpinned by a partnership with the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA). Subsequent work with the NUS resulted in a Collaborative Doctoral Award project that started in 2020 with funding from the Northern Bridge Consortium. The research group also has longstanding association with the Society for the Study of Labour History (SSLH).


For over a decade, the research group has built an extensive track record in staging symposia, workshops and conferences – from half-day events to large-scale multi-day events.

Key initiatives include the following:

  • In 2014, the research group was responsible for the local organisation of the Social History Society’s annual conference. The event featured 191 papers and attracted 220 delegates.
  • In 2016, the research cooperated with colleagues at Newcastle University to organise the two-day conference ‘Two Centuries of Peacemaking' which, alongside academic papers, also featured a ‘peace fair’ with stalls from 14 activist groups and initiatives.
  • Also in 2016, the research group also hosted an event in association with the SSLH and with the support of Durham University’s Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies: ‘Revolutionary Pasts: Representing the Long Nineteenth Century’s Radical Heritage’.
  • In 2017, the research group organised a day school entitled ‘50 Years of Activism’. This event was held in cooperation with the North East Labour History Society, marking the latter’s 50th anniversary.
  • In 2017 and 2018, the research group hosted the annual conference of the Study Group of the Russian Revolution, with the revolutionary centenary also involving a special event on ‘The Russian Revolution in Global Perspective’.
  • In 2020, another collaboration with the SSLH underpinned a pair of online symposia on ‘Non-Conformity, Critiques and Contention under Communist Rule in the 1970s and 1980s’.
  • In 2021, the research group hosted a two-day online symposium dealing with the histories of transnational and diasporic political movements and activism. Another online symposium took place the following year, exploring ‘Small Acts of Rebellion: Resistance That Is Not a Spectacle’.
  • In 2023, the research group staged two events: in January, it hosted the SSLH-funded conference ‘From Student Unions to Trade Unions: Campus-Based Activism and Beyond’. In March, a workshop grant from the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society resulted in the event ‘Transnational Activism in a Divided World: The Regional within the Global’.


PhD students are active members of the research group and have organised a variety of workshops under the auspices of the research group, attracting funding from the Royal Historical Society and the AHRC for these initiatives. They have also staged public events at local venues such as the Newcastle Lit & Phil and the Mining Institute. Doctoral research from group members has resulted in a variety of publications. Examples include Stuart Anderson on conscientious objectors during the Second World War (monograph, 2017), Sarah Hellawell on the Women’s International League (in Women’s History Review, 2018), Jon Coburn on the peace activist Alice Herz (in Peace and Change, 2018), André Keil on the National Council for Civil Liberties (in The English Historical Review, 2018), Sophie Roberts on Richard Gott and anti-war protest (in Contemporary British History, 2018), Rowan Thompson on the Air League of the British Empire (in Twentieth Century British History, 2021), and Emily Sharp on students in Britain and Ireland (in CIAN – Revista de Historia de las Universidades, 2022).

Publications by the research group

In addition to authoring their own research publications on different forms of activism, members have collaborated on four special issues connected to research group events (edited by Charlotte Alston and Daniel Laqua): ‘Ideas, Practices and Histories of Humanitarianism’ (Journal of Modern European History, 2014), 'Transnational Solidarities and the Politics of the Left, 1890–1990’ (European Review of History, 2014), ‘Challenges to State Socialism in Central and Eastern Europe: Activists, Movements and Alliances in the 1970s and 1980s’ (Labour History Review, 2021), and ‘Between Subversion and Opposition: Multiple Challenges to Communist Rule’ (East Central Europe, 2023).

To find out more about the Histories of Activism group, take a look at their blog, follow them on Twitter or contact group convenor, Edward Anderson (


PGR students

  • Struan Kennedy
  • Shaun Pitt
  • Daniel Riddell
  • Emily Sharp

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