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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, and on activism in the Indian diaspora.

Projects and collaborations

The research group has provided a base for a variety of projects and collaborations:

National Union of Students (NUS): since 2017, the research group maintains a cooperation with the NUS. This has included cooperation on a project looking at ex-service students in the aftermath of the First World War (funded by an AHRC World War One Engagement Centre and involving the Workers’ Educational Association as an additional project partner) as well as an event on ‘Student Contributions to Peace, Refugee Aid and Anti-Racism’ (2018). More recently, this cooperation has resulted in a Collaborative Doctoral Award project on the history of the NUS and international solidarity.

Mapping Radical Tyneside: in 2015, the research group launched its ‘Mapping Radical Tyneside’ to trace the region’s heritage of radicalism and protest, involving researchers and the public in the creation of a website.

Activism and Integrity: alongside colleagues from Durham and York, the research group participated in the British Academy-funded Integrity Project, which involved two events on activism and integrity (2013 and 2014). Findings from this project have been published in the Bloomsbury book Portraits of Integrity.

Labour and Society Research Group: research group members launched this joint venture with colleagues from Newcastle University. See an overview of the group’s joint activities in 2010 to 2013


The research group has an extensive track record in staging symposia, workshops and conferences – from half-day events to large-scale multi-day events. Examples 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.

• In the same year, the research group also hosted an event in association with the Society of the Study of Labour History 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 Society for the Study of Labour History underpinned a pair of online symposia on ‘Non-Conformity, Critiques and Contention under Communist Rule in the 1970s and 1980s’.


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) and Rowan Thompson on the Air League of the British Empire (in Twentieth Century British History, 2021).

Publications by the research group

In addition to authoring their own research publications on different forms of activism, members have collaborated on special journal issues connected to research group events. In 2014, a conference staged by the research group resulted in two special journal issues, both of them edited by Charlotte Alston and Daniel Laqua: ‘Ideas, Practices and Histories of Humanitarianism’ (Journal of Modern European History) and ‘Transnational Solidarities and the Politics of the Left, 1890–1990’ (European Review of History). The research group is currently preparing publications on opposition movements and dissent under state socialism, which includes a themed issue of Labour History Review.

To find out more about the Histories of Activism group, take a look at their blog or follow them on Twitter.


Charlotte Alston

Edward Anderson

Joseph Hardwick

Matthew Kelly

Daniel Laqua

Laura O’Brien

Connal Parr

Linsey Robb

Joe Street

Avram Taylor

Brian Ward

Tony Webster

PGR students

Struan Kennedy

Jack Hodgson

Shaun Pitt

Daniel Riddell

James Robertson-Major

Emily Sharp



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