Friday, 17 August 2012

What do we mean by "Radical History"?

My second posting on this blog will clarify what I mean by radical history. I use the term to describe both the content and the form of the story we intend to tell about our area’s past. The content will focus upon places in our local landscape that have a radical history, in a sort of upside down view of “Heritage”. Christopher Hill wrote of a world turned upside down; that is how we intend to write of our heritage. Places and stories that are often forgotten or ignored will be brought back to life; conventional narratives and explanations will be questioned. I remember the excitement of reading E.P. Thompson’s "Making of the English Working Class” on my 21st birthday and have never forgotten his wish that the lives of ordinary people should be rescued from “the enormous condescension of posterity.” That’s what we will be doing in terms of places, people and posterity.
I will now address what I mean by a radical approach: this has a number of varying meanings. One meaning is in terms of collaboration: the history that is written will be produced by a group of people in a number of different ways, using different media, rather than by anyone “voyaging alone on strange seas of thought”. Secondly, our approach will go beyond the usual analysis of primary and secondary historical sources; we shall also use imagination, together with artistic and literary responses to both the past and the landscape. We shall boldly go beyond the sources of evidence, as well as the split infinitive, with lateral as well as linear thought – we shall be both Newtonian as well as Keatsian historians. There will be, in short, a rewriting of historical protocol.
 This leads to our third emphasis: pyschogeography. I know that many of you will be thoroughly acquainted with this concept. I also know that many, at best, will think it a questionable notion. I am also aware that many will not have the slightest idea what this term implies. If it’s any consolation, I think I am probably in all three camps most or all of the time. But this confusion may give me an advantage in explaining this term for what teachers used to describe as “a mixed-ability audience”; this is what I/we will do on the next posting; we will define “pyschogeography” at some length and with some easily comprehensible detail. The posting after that synopsis will start to apply such a psychogeographical approach to our first choice of study: the whereabouts and meanings of our local springs.


  1. I have often thought there is a place for a rural psychogeography, in counterpoint to the urbanity of most p/g.

    I would be interested in collective psychogeographical explorations of the Stroud back lanes and canals etc etc. I wonder if this is something the Walking the Land art group might want to overlap with too.

    Just some thoughts... perhaps I will write up some of my "rural psychogeographical" meanderings next time I do any.

  2. hi Francis
    it's certainly an approach to the rural landscape that we have been using for some time and Walking the Land together with our associated artists look forward to participating in this and future projects.
    Kel Portman