This course focuses on London since 1800 both as site of formal politics and as an inherently politicised space. Students will learn how civic symbols, traditions and architecture helped regulate relationships between the public and the state. As well as being the seat of government, London has frequently seen mass popular protests. It has always been an inherently multicultural city, even prior to the mass immigration of the post-World War II era. But it has also been a city of inequalities, divided between a prosperous West End and an impoverished East End, with the financial heartland of the City of London inhabiting a legally anomalous and inherently ambiguous position in between. Students will learn how the geography of the city has impacted political movements, from the Cato Street Conspiracy of 1820 (a foiled attempt to murder the Prime Minister and the Cabinet) to Extinction Rebellion protests today. They will be encouraged to draw comparisons with other cities on the basis of their existing knowledge.
Westminster and Whitehall are key to understanding the political geography of London. The Palace of Westminster itself, as well as housing Parliament, is an instantly recognisable symbolic landmark. Parliament Square, and the statues that are dotted around it, serves an important site of political memory, as well as being an obvious location for lobbying and protest. Note, for example, the media outrage that was caused when the statue of Winston Churchill was defaced (and crowned with a turf Mohican) during the anti-globalization riots in 2000. But it is important also to look beyond Westminster, for example to Cable Street in the East End, the site of a famous “battle” in 1936, in which anti-fascist protesters successfully fought to prevent Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts marching through the area.
Students will learn about a range of case studies from different time periods in order to trace the evolution of London as a zone of both authoritarian and democratic pressures. Examples will include:
•The debates over the rebuilding of Parliament after the great fire of 1834.
•The failed Chartist demonstration of 1848, which proved the effective death-knell of this working-class movement in favour of democratic reform.
•“Bloody Sunday” of 1887, when protests against unemployment and coercion in Ireland led to violent clashes with police.
•Charles Booth’s notebooks and “poverty map” of London.
•The legacy and memorialisation of the British Empire.
•Edwardian Suffragette demonstrations.
•The 1936 “Battle of Cable Street” between the British Union of Fascists and anti-fascist protestors.
•Anti-government protests during the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the anti-Vietnam war protests in Grosvenor Square of 1968.
•The left-wing campaign against the abolition of the Greater London Council by the Thatcher government.
•1980s mass lobbies of Parliament by Oxfam and other NGOs in support of development goals.
•The Poll Tax riots of 1990.
•Political controversies over London statues.
This module will give students insight into the physical dimensions of political power in one of the world’s leading cities. Students will use historic maps and virtual tours of political institutions to familiarise themselves with key locations. They will learn about concepts such as “governmentality” and assess their usefulness in respect of different historical periods. They will become aware of the class, race, and gender dimensions of London’s political geography. They will become familiar with the use of visual sources for the purposes of scholarly analysis.
The course will be taught through a combination of lectures, group discussion of weekly readings, and small-group exercises. Here are some examples of exercises that maybe used during the course:
Exercise 1. Each student will be asked to locate a visual source that casts light on London as a political space, and to present it to the class, highlighting the opportunities and difficulties of analysis that it presents.
Exercise 2. The class will be divided into groups, each of which will devise a London-based protest, choosing its own issue, method, and location with a view to securing maximum impact.
Caroline Bressey, ‘Review Essay: Down But Not Out: The Politics of the East End Poor and Those Who Investigated Their Lives’, Journal of Urban History, 34 (2008), pp. 688-694.
Jack Brown, No. 10: The Geography of Power at Downing Street (London, 2019), Chapter 4.
John Coaffee, ‘Rings of Steel, Rings of Concrete and Rings of Confidence: Designing out Terrorism in Central London pre and post September 11th’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 28 (2004), pp. 201-211.
Steven Cooke, ‘Negotiating memory and identity: the Hyde Park Holocaust Memorial, London’, Journal of Historical Geography, 26 (2000), pp. 449–465.
Vic Clarke, ‘Of, or For Mary Wollstonecraft?’, 16 Nov. 2020, Link
Katie Donington, ‘Local Roots/Global Routes: Slavery, Memory and Identity in Hackney’, in Katie Donington, Ryan Hanley and Jessica Moody (eds.), Britain’s History and Memory of Transatlantic Slavery: Local Nuances of a ‘National Sin’ (Liverpool, 2016), pp. 172-94.
Felix Driver and David Gilbert, ‘Heart of Empire? Landscape, Space and Performance in Imperial London’,
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 16 (1998), pp. 11-28.
Almuth Ebke, ‘From “Bloody Brixton” to “Burning Britain”: Placing the Riots of 1981 in British Post-Imperial History’, in K. Andresen and B. van der Steen B. (eds.), A European Youth Revolt: European Perspectives on Youth Protest and Social Movements in the 1980s (London, 2016).
Keith Flett, ‘I love the sound of breaking glass: the London crowd 1760-2011’, in Keith Flett (ed.), A History of Riots (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2015), pp. 121-140.
Edward J. Gillin, ‘The Parliament that Science Built: Credibility, Architecture, and Britain’s Palace of Westminster’, Endeavour, 42 (2018), pp. 189-195.
Deborah Glass, ‘The London G20 protests: a bruising experience?’, Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice (2010), pp. 160–162.
S. Glynn, ‘East End immigrants and the battle for housing: a comparative study of political mobilisation in the Jewish and Bengali communities’, Journal of Historical Geography, 31 (2005), pp. 528-545.
Julie Gottlieb, ‘Women and Fascism in the East End’, Jewish Culture and History, 1 (1998), pp. 31-47.
Wal Hannington, Unemployed Struggles, 1919-1936: My Life and Struggles Amongst the Unemployed (London, 1936).
Stephen Hay, ‘The Making of a Late-Victorian Hindu: M. K. Gandhi in London, 1888-1891’, Victorian Studies, 33 (1989), pp. 75–98.
Ian Haywood, ‘George W.M. Reynolds and “The Trafalgar Square Revolution”: Radicalism, the carnivalesque and popular culture in mid-Victorian England’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 7 (2002), pp. 23–59.
John Kellett, ‘“The Commune in London”: Trepidation about the LCC’, History Today, May 1983.
Darren Kelsey, ‘Pound for pound champions: the myth of the Blitz spirit in British newspaper discourses of the City and economy after the 7 July bombings’, Critical Discourse Studies, 9 (2012), pp. 285-299.
Richard Kirkland, ‘“A Secret, Melodramatic Sort of Conspiracy”: The Disreputable Legacies of Fenian Violence in Nineteenth-Century London’, The London Journal, 45 (2020), pp. 39-52.
Lionel Kochan, ‘Lenin in London’, History Today, Apr. 1970.
Hugh Leach, ‘Murder at Caxton Hall the society's involuntary legacy to Amritsar’, Asian Affairs, 29 (1998), pp. 181-183.
David McLellan, ‘Marx in England’, History Today, March 1983.
Ellen K. Morris, ‘Symbols of Empire: Architectural Style and the Government Offices Competition, Journal of Architectural Education, 32 (1978), pp. 8-13.
Janice Norwood, ‘The performance of protest: The 1889 dock strike on and off the stage’, in Peter Yeandle, Katherine Newey and Jeffrey Richards (eds.), Politics, performance and popular culture Theatre and society in nineteenth-century Britain (Manchester, 2016), pp. 237-258.
Rosemary O’Day, ‘Retrieved Riches - Charles Booth’s Life and Labour of the People in London’, History Today, Apr. 1989.
T. M. Parssinen, ‘The Revolutionary Party in London, 1816–20’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 45 (1972), pp. 266–282.
June Purvis, ‘A suffragist statue in Parliament Square would write Emmeline Pankhurst out of history’, The Guardian, 27 Sept. 2017.
Dieter Rucht, ‘Appeal, Threat, and Press Resonance: Comparing Mayday Protests in London and Berlin’, Mobilization: An International Quarterly (2005), pp. 163-182.
Sean Sawyer, ‘Delusions of national grandeur: reflections on the intersection of architecture and history at the Palace of Westminster, 1789-1834, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th ser., 13 (2003), pp. 237-50.
Jonathan Schneer, ‘Politics and Feminism in “Outcast London”: George Lansbury and Jane Cobden's Campaign for the First London County Council’, Journal of British Studies, 30 (1991), pp. 63-82.
John Siblon, ‘“Monument Mania”? Public Space and the Black and Asian Presence in the London Landscape’, in P. Ashton and H. Kean (eds.), People and their Pasts: Public History Today (London, 2009), pp. 146-162.
Elaine R. Smith, ‘Class, Ethnicity and politics in the Jewish East End, 1918-1939’, Jewish Historical Studies, 32 (1990-1992), pp. 355-369.
Kevin C. Smith, ‘The Militant Suffragettes as a Police Problem: London, 1906–1914’, The Police Journal (1978), pp. 274–284.
Seth Alexander Thévoz, ‘Club Government’, History Today, Feb. 2013.
Ann Tobin, ‘Lesbianism and the Labour Party: The GLC Experience’, Feminist Review, Spring 1990, No. 34, pp. 56-66.
Richard Toye, ‘The Rhetorical Culture of the House of Commons’, History, 99 (2014), pp. 270-298.
John Turner, ‘Trouble with Ken: New Labour's negative campaign in the selection and election process for London mayor’, Journal of Public Affairs, 1 (2001), pp. 239-253.
Kenneth Walthew, ‘Captain Manby and the Conflagration of the Palace of Westminster’, History Today, Apr. 1982.
Henrietta Williams, ‘Fortifying the city: Visualising London 2012’, The London Journal, 45 (2020), 106-122.
Ken Young, ‘Toppling the Colossus: The LCC and the Historians’, The London Journal, 15 (1990), pp. 147-154.