Archive for December, 2015

26
Dec
15

Some Books Worth Discovering

I discovered these books in 2015 and they might interest readers of this blog.

 
Enlightenment – History of an Idea by Vicenzo Ferrone
THE INVENTION OF IMPROVEMENT: Information and material progress in seventeenth-century England by Paul Slack
Greek Popular Morality: In the Time of Plato and Aristotle by Kenneth Dover
Sacred Violence: African Christians and Sectarian Hatred in the Age of Augustine by Brent D Shaw
Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector
Magic, Reason and Experience: Studies in the Development of Greek Science by G E R Lloyd
The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity, and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland by Alexandra Walsham
Charlotte Brontë: A Life by Claire Harman
Myths of Mighty Women: their application of psychoanalytic psychotherapy by Arlene Kramer Richards
Marginal Comment: A Memoir by Kenneth Dover

26
Dec
15

Recent SHS Activities

 

Meetings Round Up
In the latter part of 2015 the Society was involved in organising public meetings on the themes of slavery and public housing policy.
The series on the business of slavery which ran throughout the autumn and concluded on 8 December proved to be very successful.
With an emphasis on the British business of this atrocious trade, the series endeavoured to highlight the commercial structures and networks of individuals who made slavery into an extremely lucrative and enduring enterprise.
Deliberately deciding to probe far deeper than the traditional Tory narrative of Britain’s laudable role in abolishing the Transatlantic trade in slaves, the programme established convincingly that a large part of this country’s economic strength had been founded on slave labour.
The series, which was a Conway Hall event supported by the SHS, also pointed to the rich body of research being carried out in this field.
The value of business history to the left was another issue that was highlighted. There is always a need to know who owned what and the stimulating talks proved much that was new, at least to me.
Speakers included respected veteran experts such as James Walvin and younger researchers like Katie Donington and Perry Gauci.
Each methodically exposed all the intricate links between modern corporations in the City of London and old companies that derived much of their wealth from slave plantation labour. Much of these business connections are only now being brought to public attention by historians who are combing the vast archives held in London and in places like Jamaica.
The series managed to attract a large audience including many young people and provoked lively debate. One key concern that recurred each week was the topic of reparations for the victims of slavery. The practicalities of how to pay, how much, to whom and who actually should pay, were brought out in the discussions.
I especially applaud the way that this series didn’t avoid the continued existence of slavery in various parts of the modern world. As consumers of cheap products we are all to an extent responsible whether knowingly or not for the slave conditions that prevail in sweatshops where our designer clothes are produced. This important point was raised in the talk by Aidan McQuade, Director of Anti-Slavery International.
SHS committee member Deborah Lavin curated this series for the Ethical Society with some valuable input from other members of the SHS.
Finally, another meeting that should not be forgotten was the talk for the SHS at Marx House (21 November 2015) given by Duncan Bowie on the history of labour and socialist inspired housing campaigns. The subject of housing is an urgent issue in contemporary society with no credible solution in sight.
Bowie, a leading expert within the labour movement on housing policy and planning, shared his insights into the contributions of progressive political activists to the development of social housing and urban planning over the last century. He has a new book out on the same subject.
Duncan’s talk was chaired by Stan Newens, who as an MP was closely involved in the post-war growth of new town in Harlow.

David Morgan

26
Dec
15

The BBC Deserves to Survive Despite its Manifest Flaws

Public Service Broadcasting is Worth Defending

David Attenborough recently expressed his fears for the future survival of the BBC.
An important national institution, the BBC’s model of public service broadcasting funded by the license fee gives it a notional independence from the state and allows it to operate at arm’s length from government.
While this editorial independence might not stand up to detailed scrutiny as in many essential matters it adopts a perspective that’s oriented towards supporting free market liberalism and Cold War foreign policy (there is clear continuity, for example, in its fierce anti-Soviet and anti-Russian posturing), the existence of the BBC is still worth defending.
The concept of a broadcasting system not totally dominated by market forces is valuable in that it gives programme makers the freedom to experiment and take risks that is simply not available to the ratings-driven commercial sector.
The presence of the BBC, it can be argued, acts as a benchmark and standard for the entire broadcasting industry forcing the commercial channels to emulate the quality and diversity of the schedules and programmes that are made.
While the left rightly deplores the pronounced political bias of flagship news programmes such as Newsnight and Today, which became all too blatant in the negative reporting of the new Labour leadership of Corbyn and McDonnell, we should not forget the progressive and innovative role played by the BBC in many areas. The major contribution of the BBC to culture over the post-war period has been particularly impressive.
It is well worth reminding ourselves of the nature and range of some of the best BBC’s innovative programmes in the fields of drama, music and documentary.
Take contemporary drama produced in the ’60s and ’70s when a platform was given equally to new writers and original writing from more established writers in The Wednesday Play and Play for Today series.
These series gave opportunities to a seemingly endless list of top writers such as David Mercer, Dennis Potter, Harold Pinter, David Hare, Howard Brenton, Mike Leigh, David Rudkin and Alan Bennett. The themes that were covered in their plays were often provocative, contemporary and rarely less than highly political.
Some of the authors who began their careers in television are still active today but more often found writing for the stage and screen, while others have been largely forgotten. Most of David Mercer’s original scripts, for example, were performed on television and as such have not been revived or staged in the theatre, but his body of work was outstanding covering changing social morality and historical themes of the 20th century.
Leading directors such as Alan Bridges, Ken Loach, Stephen Frears and Alan Clark, were also given the resources to develop their personal styles by working on these BBC drama productions.
Many of their gritty realistic dramas while now over 30 or 40 years old still retain their freshness and make much modern television appear very tame and formulaic by comparison. Fortunately many of these plays can be found on YouTube or have been released on dvd, so are available to the wider public if they want to find them.
The impact of the BBC is shaping musical tastes and opening up broadcasting to new music should not be underestimated. In the area of popular music such as rock and alternative, the late John Peel show, which aired in Radio One for about 30 years, was immensely influential in assisting the careers of many British musicians and allowing them to break through.
The role of Radio Three is broadcasting often quite obscure classical music and giving airtime to “new music” should also be recognised.
With regards to documentaries, the BBC has been an important innovator, with programmes on the natural world and science fronted by presenters like Attenborough, John Berger, Jonathan Miller, the late James Burke and many others. Historical documentaries from classics such as Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man to more recent series with Michael Wood, Terry Jones and Jonathan Meades have performed a vital educational role for a mass audience. The common feature of all the examples of the programmes cited here is that they have never sought to patronise the viewer but succeeded in putting across complex ideas in a highly popular and compelling format. The reason that these broadcasters have been able to innovate and succeed in producing such important high quality programmes is a direct consequence of the existence of public service broadcasting. The Tories, who disapprove of the masses having free access to knowledge at all, must not be allowed to destroy the BBC. For all its flaws, it is worth preserving.
DM




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