The Battle for History: national narratives versus personal memories
In association with the Institute of Ideas Postgraduate Forum and produced by
The Café, 10.30 - 12.00 on Saturday 28 October 2006
“…can a man face the future with hope and with resolution without a sense of the past?”
JH Plumb, The Death of the Past
“We speak so much about memory today because there is none left” Pierre Nora, Lieux de Mémoire
The past has always served as a central feature of our identity in the present. Yet today, we draw upon the past in particular ways. History has become the sum total of individual recollections and testimonies. It is less about the recounting of a common past and is more a resource out of which a multitude of different stories can be told. We see, for instance, the proliferation of history told from the perspective of the victim and the marginalized. At the same time, governments are busy with ceremonies of remembrance, of apology, and admissions of historical guilt. Both the state and its critics have in common their desire to use history as a means of inclusion. What does this movement away from national narratives, towards more individuated recollections and memories, signal for our understanding of the past? Should we understand the proliferation of historical narratives as a liberation from a history written only by the powerful? Or as a return to the myths and legends that preceded the emergence of history as a scholarly discipline?
Another common trend is a renewed interest in pre-modern history, as if the truth of our times were to be found in ancient civilizations. What does this attempt to unite the early manifestations of humankind with its 21st century descendants signal about how we view the present? Does this difficulty in clearly differentiating between historical periods signal a lack of movement and change in contemporary society? Does a proper sense of the past rely upon forward momentum in the present?
Michael Bentley, professor of modern history, University of St Andrews; author, Modernizing England's Past: English Historiography in the Age of Modernism (2005)
Roger Osborne, author, Civilization: A New History of the Western World (2006)
Kenan Malik, author, Man, Beast and Zombie: What Science Can and Cannot Tell Us About Human Nature (2000); presenter, Analysis, BBC Radio 4
Greg Neale, (speaking in a personal capacity) resident historian, BBC's Newsnight; founding editor/editor-at-large, BBC History Magazine
Chair: Chris Bickerton, co-convenor, Sovereignty And Its Discontents working group
More speakers to be confirmed
- Tristram Hunt Lest we forget Guardian 24 July 2006
- Naima Bouteldja and Stuart Hodkinson The contest for memory Guardian 17 May 2006
- Chris Bickerton France's History Wars Le Monde Diplomatique February 2006
The Happiness Trap: promoting well-being or lowering horizons?
Sponsored by Body & Soul, the Saturday health supplement of The Times, in association with the Institute of Ideas Science and Health Forum and produced by Maria Grasso
The Café, 13.30 - 15.00 on Saturday 28 October 2006
Can politicians make us feel better? The idea that state intervention can boost the nation’s ‘happiness index’ is central to government advisor, Richard Layard’s, proposal to create a network of 250 centres across the country to offer psychological therapies. This is based on the claim that mental illness is the United Kingdom’s greatest social problem today. Tory leader David Cameron has argued that happiness should be one of the ‘central goals of government’ while the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit has explored the potential for promoting happiness policies at its Life Satisfaction Seminar. Most recently, the curriculum has become the target of the happiness crusade – happiness is now to be taught in some schools.
Yet, as the philosopher JS Mill argued, it may be ‘better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied’. Mill’s argument is that human happiness cannot be reduced to mere contentment; it flows from an individual’s engagement with the world and the satisfaction of overcoming obstacles and dissatisfaction through action. Will policies designed to make us content with our lot inhibit the human search for self-realisation or improve the well-being of society? Is unhappiness a new social problem or rather a perennial catalyst for human progress and advancement? Do we want politicians, policy pundits and schools to manage people’s emotions?
Josie Appleton, convenor, Manifesto Club; journalist
Andrew G Marshall, marital therapist, Relate; author, I Love You But I'm Not In Love With You (2006); journalist, The Times
Dr Raj Persaud, consultant psychiatrist, The Maudsley Hospital; author, The Motivated Mind (2005)
Richard Schoch, professor of the history of culture and director, Graduate School in Humanities and Social Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London; author, The Secrets of Happiness: 3000 Years of Searching for the Good Life (2006)
Chair: Maria Grasso, researcher in sociology, Nuffield College, University of Oxford
- David Wearing The Politics of Happiness Le Monde Diplomatique July 2006
- Frank Furedi Politicians, teachers, economists...why are they so desperate to make us happy? Daily Telegraph 7 May 2006
- Focus: Can you teach happiness? The Sunday Times 23 April 2006
Can the book survive in an era of soundbites and txting?
Sponsored by the Booktrust, in association with the Institute of Ideas Book Club and produced by Tim Black & Geoff Kidder
The Café, 15.30 - 17.00 on Saturday 28 October 2006
Books have seemingly never been more popular or more in demand. On the back of initiatives like the BBC’s ‘The Big Read’ and the ‘Richard and Judy Book Club’, sales figures have risen more rapidly in Britain than anywhere else in Europe. But what does this actually tell us about books and readers? Are we devouring the likes of Dan Brown and the Harry Potter books while eschewing more challenging fare? While millions enjoy reading for pleasure, it is also true that books have an ambiguous place in contemporary culture. British libraries hold 20 million fewer books than a decade ago, devoting space instead to computer terminals and chill-out areas. Students at schools and universities now rely more on course-notes and handouts than wide reading. And technology has thrown up its own challenge to books, not just by providing computer games with complex narratives and characters, but also by allowing information to be accessed beyond the page. Some argue that books themselves are changing under the challenge of technology - ebooks allow for a never-before-experienced level of interactivity; txting, surfing and podcasting are changing the way literature is published and experienced. Leading academic Professor John Sutherland has endorsed a mobile phone service aimed at students, to condense classic works of literature into four-line text message summaries.
Booktrust director Chris Meade says, ‘Books connect with your psyche at a deeper level than other art forms’. How important is the actual form of the book, and its literary merit, in making this connection? Do increasing book sales figures mask a more profound dumbing down? Can literary blockbusters and new technologies create new audiences for reading? Does literary quality actually matter? Is the transformation of books testament to the durability of literature in adapting to the 21st century? Are ebooks and downloads the future of reading or the death of it?
Tim Black, editorial assistant, Times Educational Supplement
Michael Caines, editor, Times Literary Supplement (TLS)
Jack Klaff, writer, performer and academic
Chris Meade, director, Booktrust
Alyson Rudd, The Times books group host
John Sutherland, Lord Northcliffe professor emeritus, University College London; author, How to read a novel: A user's guide (2006)
Chair: Shirley Dent, communications director, Institute of Ideas; co-author with Jason Whittaker Radical Blake: Afterlife and Influence (2002)
More speakers to be confirmed
- John Clare Paradise is lost as Milton enters the mobile phone age Daily Telegraph 17 November 2005
- Hester Lacey The tyranny of reading Guardian 17 August 2005
- Brenda Despontin When a teacher turns into a mouse The Times 8 May 2006
Should footballers be role models?
Produced by Geoff Kidder & TTim Black
The Café, 11.00 - 12.30 on Sunday 29 October 2006
The antics of Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi were poured over long after the World Cup ended. David Beckham and Wayne Rooney are expected to be role models to millions as well as having the weight of England’s footballing expectations on their shoulders. Tessa Jowell remarked that, ‘These players should remember they have become famous because fans admire them and they are role models.’ Do footballers have a duty to be role models? Should we look to footballers for moral guidance, or should we be satisfied that they lift our spirits with their sporting exploits?
Duleep Allirajah, columnist, Offside, spiked
Bobby Barnes, assistant chief executive, The Professional Footballers' Association
Alyson Rudd, sports writer, The Times
Matthew Syed, journalist, The Times; commentator, BBC and Eurosport
Garry Whannel, author, Media Sport Stars, Masculinities and Moralities
Chair: Geoff Kidder, head of membership and events, Institute of Ideas
- Oona King What we need is a Muslim Rooney Daily Telegraph 09 July 2006
- Catherine Bennett Rooney beats Blunkett as role model Guardian 05 May 2005
- Mick Hume Football is not a matter of life and death – it’s less important than that The Times 17 May 2004
Does every child really matter - has the abuse panic gone too far?
The Café, 14.00 - 15.30 on Sunday 29 October 2006
In the aftermath of the Soham murders, the investigation into the murder of Victoria Climbie, and the recent controversy over the vetting of people working with children, where do we draw the line when it comes to protecting children? The Every Child Matters reforms were supposed to ensure that agencies work together to achieve better ‘outcomes’ for children such as securing their safety and well-being. But already, argue critics, the adoption of protocols and procedures, ostensibly designed to weed out paedophiles, are having damaging and unforeseen consequences. Childcare workers and teachers think twice before comforting a child with a hug or putting a plaster on a grazed knee. In everything from sports coaching to teaching ballet, adults are fearful that their actions might be misinterpreted as inappropriate. Increasingly they are subject to new ‘no touch’ codes or the extension of police checks.
Are such ‘safeguards’ reasonable precautions that prevent abuse or do they end up introducing suspicion where it previously did not exist? Are we in danger of undermining normal adult-child relations by insinuating ulterior motives, and in turn undermining adult-adult relations by failing to trust each other and ourselves with children’s welfare? Ultimately, are we over-protecting our children or are we failing to protect them enough from our own anxieties?
Dave Clements, Social Policy Editor, The Future Cities Project
Heather Piper, senior research fellow, Manchester Metropolitan University; co-editor, 'Parents, Professionals and Paranoia - The Touching of Children in a Culture of Fear', Journal of Social Work (2006)
Jeffery Taylor, former dancer and dance critic for the Sunday Express; co-chair, the National Dance Awards
Dan Travis, director, OverTheNet
Chair: Joanna Williams, lecturer in post-compulsory education and training; researcher, Canterbury Christ Church University
- David Clements Shattered Lives - Children Who Live with Courage and Dignity Culture Wars 04 August 2006
- Josie Appleton Losing touch Guardian 09 February 2005
- Eileen Munro This Would Not Have Saved Victoria Guardian 10 September 2003
Reclaiming the Olympic spirit in an era of non-competitive sport
Sponsored by OverTheNet, in association with the School of Social Sciences, Media and Cultural Studies at the University of East London (UEL) and produced by Geoff Kidder & Tim Black
The Café, 16.00 - 17.30 on Sunday 29 October 2006
The 2012 Olympic Games in London are set to provide more than just a two-week sporting spectacle. London’s winning bid to host the games included provisions to help regenerate East London, promote social inclusion and improve the environment. Sport England is keen to use the rare opportunity provided by the 2012 games to enable sport to play a wider role in society. It believes that sport can help build stronger, safer communities, reduce obesity and health inequalities and promote sustainable travel.
Do these wider social roles take away from the Olympic ideal of putting sporting excellence first, or should sport be made relevant to society at large? Are we placing an unfair burden on the Olympic Games, or is this an innovative way to involve the whole nation in the greatest show on earth? How does the Sport England maxim that sport isn’t just about winning medals, scoring points and lifting trophies fit with the Olympic motto ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (Faster, Higher, Stronger)?
Paul Bickerton, coach development officer
Matt Delaney, regional director, Sport England (London)
Mick Hume, editor, spiked; columnist, The Times
Mike Lee, chief executive, Vero Communications; author, The Race For The 2012 Olympics (2006)
Chair: Geoff Kidder, head of membership and events, Institute of Ideas
- Mick Hume Whoever thought the Olympics in 2012 were anything to do with sport? The Times 09 December 2005
- Nick Cohen Olympic ideals flouted Observer 13 November 2005
- Richard Morrison The real reason I'm backing this costly sporting jamboree The Times 04 July 2005
- Mike Lee The Race for the 2012 Olympics Virgin 2006