Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee

18 January - 29 July 2016, Monday-Friday only, 9am-5pm. FREE ENTRY
An exhibition exploring the life and legacy of John Dee, one of Tudor England's most extraordinary and enigmatic figures
'A revelatory show. As the visitor peers, he finds himself drawn ever more deeply not just into the historical world of the Tudors but into the labyrinthine mind of one of its most riveting denizens'  The Times, Let Tudor magician John Dee put you under his spell
Mathematician, magician, astronomer, astrologer, imperialist, alchemist and spy, John Dee (1527–1609) continues to fascinate and inspire centuries after he entered the court of Elizabeth I.
Our exhibition explores Dee through his personal library. On display for the first time are Dee's mathematical, astronomical and alchemical texts, many elaborately annotated and illustrated by Dee's own hand. Now held in the collections of the Royal College of Physicians, they reveal tantalising glimpses into the 'conjuror's mind'.
  • Address: The Royal College of Physicians, 11 St Andrews Place, Regent's Park, London, NW1 4LE
More information about this exhibition:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Revolutions in Reverse

A new book from David Graeber published by Minor Compositions: Revolutions in Reverse: Essays on Politics, Violence, Art, and Imagination. Graeber "explores a wide-ranging set of topics including political strategy, global trade, debt, imagination, violence, aesthetics, alienation, and creativity. Written in the wake of the anti-globalization movement and the rise of the war on terror, these essays survey the political landscape for signs of hope in unexpected places." Available free online or in print at $13:

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Luddites - without condescension

For anyone who (like me) was unaware of the conference on the Luddites that took place at Birkbeck College in May, the Backdoor Broadcasting Company has made podcasts of the sessions and discussions available online.

The one-day conference was held "to mark the 200th anniversary of the uprising of the handloom weavers in the dawn of the industrial revolution under the command of the mythic General Ludd. Even though the movement was sparked by skilled artisans, “luddite” has ever since been a byword for technophobes facing backwards and mindless rejection of progress. The conference will gather historians of luddism and others interested in what in 1800 was called “the machinery question”, to consider not only the historical luddites, urban and rural, but also contemporary movements of direct resistance, north and south, to capitalist modernization – for example, anti-nuclear movements, opposition to agricultural transgenics, resistance to big dams. The concluding session will address the issue of modernity itself, its model of temporality and the assumption that history is future-directed."

Contributers included Peter Linebaugh, T.J Clark,Iain Boal, Dave King, Esther Leslie and Anna Davin

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Unwelcome Guests

Unwelcome Guests: 2 hours/ week of intelligent talk radio contains a fantastic themed archive of interviews, talks, audiocollages and discussions around a wide range of subjects from Digital Rights Management and Deschooling to the commercialisation of food, and the corruption of money. Somewhere to return to again and again for inspiration.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Weaponizing Anthropology

A new book by David Price, Weaponizing Anthropology "documents how anthropological knowledge and ethnographic methods are harnessed by military and intelligence agencies in post-9/11 America to placate hostile foreign populations. Price's inquiry into past relationships between anthropologists and the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon provides the historical base for this expose of the current abuses of anthropology by military and intelligence agencies."

Here's a quotation from an endorsement for the book by author of Stone-Age Economics, Marshall Sahlins:
“Even before he published this masterly and comprehensive account, David Price has long been in the forefront of those warning of the adverse effects of militarizing the human sciences. Now, by matching an extraordinary command of the sources to a telling sensitivity to the political and intellectual consequences, he demonstrates in this definitive work that weaponizing anthropology is as damaging to the soul of the nation as it is to the integrity of the science. “

Published jointly by AK Press and Counterpunch - pre-publication purchase brings a 25% discount from AK Press.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Crack Capitalism

John Holloway, author of Change the World Without Taking Power, is giving a series of four Leverhulme Lectures, the first of which: "Crack Capitalism" is online here.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Poetry Classics and Class

An online talk with readings by poet Tony Harrison, on the theme of 'Poetry Classics and Class', recorded live at an event held at the British Academy last year. Scroll down to the foot of the page for the links to the audio files:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Libraries at Risk

A podcast of of a seminar by David McKitterick, Librarian at Trinity College, Cambridge given at the Institute of Historical Research, last November:

Several recent cases have drawn attention to the fragility of libraries as we know them - both large and small. In a world of changing attitudes to books, as well as perennial problems of cash shortage, how can library historians in particular contribute to a debate that will become even more urgent in the next few years?

For a complete list of podcasts on a wide range of historical topics available from the IHR:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Lessons from Howard Zinn

Anthony Arnove, writes about Howard Zinn, activist and author of The Peoples' History of the United States for Yes Magazine:
"But Howard added a distinctive element to these arguments by embodying the understanding that the process of struggle, the shared experience of being part of work alongside and for others, is the most rewarding, fulfilling, and meaningful life one can live. The sense of solidarity he had with people in struggle, the sense of joy he had in life, was infectious.

Read the complete article here

Anarchist Film Archive: the first online archive and database of anarchist and libertarian cinema, film and video

Christie Books has just announced the new online Anarchist Film Archive.
The archive is free to access and contains a growing collection of nearly 1000 difficult-to-find feature films, documentaries, interviews, talks and short videos — all with anarchist or libertarian-oriented themes of education, justice, resistance — and liberation. Complementing the archive is a comprehensive and regularly updated database of anarchist/libertarian films compiled and maintained by Santiago-Juan Navarro. The archive is easy to use: you can scroll through the titles, search for a particular film in the ‘Search’ box or search by tag. You can also embed individual films in blogs, facebook pages etc.

Click here to launch
The Anarchist Film Archive

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Photography and Memory

Near the top of my ever-growing "to read" list is Andrea Noble's Photography and Memory in Mexico: Icons of Revolution which explores a number of the famous photographic images made during the 1910-1920 revolution. Andrea analyses a small, but carefully chosen selection of photographs which were repeatedly reproduced across a range of media in the aftermath of the conflict, to reveal some "compelling stories about cultural memory and identity in the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century".
a more detailed outline of the book can be found on the Manchester University Press website

A list of Andrea's books and journal articles can be read here

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mark Twain - autobiography storms the US best-sellers charts

One hundred years after his death, the first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography has just been published and is now rapidly moving up the New York Times best-seller list - read a short review by Charles R Larson on Counterpunch

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Re-enchantment of Place

Ken Worpole (author of the ground-breaking book Dockers and Detectives) provides a short over-view of a new book: Towards Re-enchantment: Place and Its Meanings, edited by Gareth Evans and Di Robson, (Artevents, £9.99). This collection of essays and poems about visiting places which are beyond the reach of the car provides new insights into the landscape and history of Britain:

" the 19th and early 20th centuries, Essex provided a home to a variety of metropolitan social reform projects employing the vocabulary of the land colony, where under strict conditions, or in a spirit of political zeal, new lives might be moulded. These included the Hadleigh Farm Colony (founded1891, Salvation Army), Mayland Colony (1896, Socialist), Purleigh Colony (1896, Tolstoyan Anarchist), Ashingdon Colony (1897, Tolstoyan Anarchist), Wickford Colony, (Tolstoyan Socialist), Laindon Farm Colony (1904, Socialist/Municipal). Even today, though, there are still a lot of idealistic initiatives in the county – religious, ecological, social – which mainstream politics ignores, and long preceded, and will long outlast, ‘the Big Society’, if not the playing fields of Eton."

Towards Re-enchantment includes essays by Jay Griffiths, Kathleen Jamie, Richard Mabey, Robert Macfarlane, Jane Rendell, Iain Sinclair and Ken Worpole, and poems by Elizabeth Bletsoe, Lavinia Greenlaw, Alice Oswald and Robin Robertson.

Read Ken's much longer feature on the Open Democracy. website.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Pamphlets were always the lifeblood of radical movements, so its good to see The Hive of Liberty back in print:


Edited by Keith Armstrong, with an introduction by Joan Beal and a new essay by Malcolm Chase

This reprint from the Thomas Spence Tryst is a celebration of that noted pioneer of people’s rights, pampleteer and poet Thomas Spence, born on Newcastle’s Quayside in turbulent times.

Spence served in his father’s netmaking trade from the age of ten but went on later to be a teacher at Haydon Bridge Free Grammar School and at St. Ann’s Church in Byker under the City Corporation. In 1775, he read his famous lecture on the right to property in land to the Newcastle Philosophical Society, who voted his expulsion at their next meeting. He claimed to have invented the phrase ‘The Rights of Man’ and chalked it in the caves at Marsden Rocks in South Shields in honour of the working-class hero ‘Blaster Jack’ who lived there.

Spence even came to blows with famed Tyneside wood-engraver Thomas Bewick over a political issue, and was thrashed with cudgels for his trouble. From 1792, having moved to London, he took part in radical agitations, particularly against the war with France. He was arrested several times for selling his own and other seditious books and was imprisoned for six months without trial in 1794, and sentenced to three years for his Restorer of Society to its Natural State in 1801. Whilst politicians such as Edmund Burke saw the mass of people as the ‘Swinish Multitude’, Spence saw creative potential in everybody and broadcast his ideas in the periodical Pigs’ Meat.

He had a stall in London’s Chancery Lane, where he sold books and saloup, and later set up a small shop called The Hive of Liberty in Holborn.

He died in poverty ‘leaving nothing to his friends but an injunction to promote his Plan and the remembrance of his inflexible integrity’.

The Thomas Spence Trust has successfully campaigned for a commemorative plaque on the Quayside in Newcastle. It was unveiled on 21st June 2010, Spence's 260th birthday, with a number of talks, displays and events coinciding with it.

PRICE £5 ISBN 1 871536 15 4



Monday, September 27, 2010

Libraries in a Digital Age

Libraries in a Digital Age is a one-day conference organised by the Association of Independent Libraries which will be held in the lecture theatre at the Royal Astronomical Society on Thursday 14 October.

There will be presentations on social networking; the Oxford Google Books digitization partnership; the publishing industry; the future of public libraries; the knowledge commons and copyright. Conference participants will also be able to take part in a tour of Royal Astronomical Society Library.

Full programme details and booking form are available on the AIL website:

Cities Under Siege: the New Urban Militarism

Stephen Graham's new book Cities Under Siege provides a powerful exposé of how contemporary political violence now operates through the sites, spaces and infrastructures of everyday urban life. One recent example of this trend is examined by Steve, in an article for Open Democracy: "From Helmand to Merseyside: Unmanned drones and the militarisation of UK policing"

further details on Steve's book on the Verso website

His article can be read on Open Democracy

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Housing the Urban Poor

On the New Internationalist website, Jeremy Seabrook describes a scheme in Bangladesh which has helped garment-workers, maidservants, rickshaw drivers, construction workers, vendors and labourers transform their lives through the building of multi-storey apartments for the working poor. "In the process, the lives of the people have been transformed: they acquired new skills, their livelihoods were enhanced by co-operative working, microcredit and social education, and their savings used to acquire land, on which the first block of flats has now reached its full six storeys in Mirpur in the north of Dhaka."

"The biggest obstacle to the realization of the project has been our absence of corruption. By refusing to give bribes, we have been our own worst enemy."

Read the full article in the New Internationalist.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Banned Books on tour

The London Libraries' "reader promotion Banned Books will go live in 28 Library Services across the country, including 16 in London on 25 September." in an attempt to raise awareness of censorship and the need for freedom of expression. Participating libraries will display sets of 50 books that have been banned or challenged in this country or overseas, and host discussions and author talks, around these themes and present banned music. A pre-event panel discussion on censorship in public libraries will be held on September 15 at the Free Word Centre, Farringdon Road, London. Participants include Lisa Appignanesi, author and president of English PEN; Tony Lacey, publishing director at Penguin, and Douglas Murray author of Hate on the State.

Further information on

Music is a Crime

Demetra Kotouza explores the origins and development of Rebetiko for Mute Magazine: "a kind of Greek, urban, subcultural music that developed around ports and urban centres in the end of the 19th and up to the first half of the 20th century, with the bouzouki as its main instrument. Today's rebetiko enthusiasts are fascinated not only with the way it combines oriental modes and rhythms with European harmonies, or by musicians' passion and virtuosic skill, but even more so by the defiant, hedonistic spirit of the culture it was born in."

Its a long, and times densely packed article, but fascinating because of the way it links music, not just to social issues but to the daily struggles of the poor, the exploited and the marginalised in Greek society. Footnotes for further reading, and links to websites featuring examples of Rebetiko.
Read the whole article on Meta Mute

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Google's All-Seeing Eye

William Gibson: "In Google, we are at once the surveilled and the individual retinal cells of the surveillant, however many millions of us, constantly if unconsciously participatory. We are part of a post-geographical, post-national super-state, one that handily says no to China. Or yes, depending on profit considerations and strategy. But we do not participate in Google on that level. We’re citizens, but without rights."
Read the full text of the article "Google's Earth" at the New York Times.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Media Commons

At last an alternative to the hated system of peer-review for academic journals is being developed in an experiment inititiated by Media Commons in co-operation with the Shakespeare Quarterly, which intends to use the principle of 'crowd-sourcing' rather than the existing 'double-blind' peer review.

What was that Programme?

BBC researchers have started work on a project to analyse thousands of archive copies of the Radio Times as part of a plan named "BBC Genome" which is intended to provide a comprehensive and easy-to-use online catalogue of the BBC's programmes, including when and where they were first aired. In September, the project will begin the massive task of digitising more than 80 years' worth of broadcast records, including approximately 400,000 pages of Radio Times covering 3m programmes and 300m words.
Read the full story on Digital Spy

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Rat Pack

A slide show of 25 "never-seen" photos of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Frank Sinatra and others - courtesy of Life Magazine

"He wears the mask of an armchair philanderer with bottles and broads on his mind and seven kids in his swimming pool — a character with obvious appeal for both sexes. Highball glass in hand, he always looks faintly surprised to find the camera upon him, and his first bleary, self-deprecating crack establishes that neither he nor his audience can be quite sure what he will do next." —From LIFE's review of The Dean Martin Show, 5/26/1967.

[thanks to Sophie Willard for the tip]

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Johann Hari reviews Chomsky: Hopes and Prospects

"This is a book woven through with hope and awe at all the people who slip beyond imperial control and establish real democracy. Chomsky's strongest model – and the world's – is Bolivia's experiment with radical democracy. After 30 years of having neoliberalism forced on them by the West, including the cost of water pushed beyond their grasp, the Bolivian people elected the first indigenous leader since the European conquests. Since then, it has had the fastest fall in poverty and the most rapid growth in Latin America."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The works of Gerard Winstanley

Michael Braddick reviews the new two volume publication of the works of the Gerard Winstanley edited by Thomas Corns, Ann Hughes and David Lowenstein. Published by Oxford University Press, this two volume work brings together the writings of Winstanley, who during the English Civil War provided a detailed theory of a kind of Christian anarchism, and combined theory with action as one of the key players in the Digger movement, which advocated direct action by the landless poor to takeover and cultivate the wastes and commons.

"We justifie our act of digging upon that hill, to make the earth a common treasurie. First, because the earth was made by Almighty God, to be a common treasury of livelihood for whole mankind in all his branches, without respect of persons; and that not any one according to the Word of God (which is love) the pure Law of rightousnesse, ought to be Lord or landlord over another, but whole mankind was made equall and knit into one body by one spirit of love, which is Christ in you the hope of glory, even all the members of mans body, called the little world, are united into equality of love, to preserve the whole body."

Michael Braddick's articulate review is available free online on the Times Literary Supplement website.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Jose Saramago dies

Nobel prize-winning Portugese novelist Jose Saramago has died at the age of 87. Always on the side of the poor and the oppressed, and black-listed after a right-wing coup in 1975, he wrote novels that "combine surrealist experimentation with a kind of sardonic peasant pragmatism.
There is a full obituary in the New York Times

Monday, June 14, 2010

Policing the Public Gaze

A report on the "growing restriction on citizen photography" from the Manifesto Club - for Freedom in Everyday Life - is now available as a pdf download

" In recent years photography appears to be resurfacing as a site of heated political contestation. This comes amid a flood of arbitrary and often downright bizarre interpretations of privacy, security and public order rules, by police, community safety wardens, private security guards or self appointed ‘jobsworths’. Decisions to prevent photography in public places often appear capricious and overbearing, enforced through intimidation rather than lawful authority, with official explanations after the event simply adding insult to injury. In a climate of fear and

suspicion, fuelled by alarming reports of terrorist alerts and predatory paedophiles,

uncertainties around the limits of personal freedom appear to be making room for a new and muddled form of authoritarianism."

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Crowd Science and the Knowledge Commons

In a recent article published in the Times Literary Supplement, "What are Universities For?" (7 May 2010) Keith Thomas defends the British university system from the threat of cuts and changes by arguing that:

"From medieval seminary to the consultancy campus, universities have served the needs of society..." and that "the humanities offer an indispensable antidote to the vices which inevitably afflict a democratic, capitalist society. They counter the dumbing down of the media by asserting the complexity of things; and they challenge the evasiveness and mendacity of politicians by placing a premium on intellectual honesty".

Like many other recent defences of Academia, Keith's argument will not sustain the universities because it fails to offer any real vision of the future role of the universities within society, other than a continuation of their current role as gatekeepers for privilege, definers and guardians of what consitutes 'knowledge', accomplices in military research, manufacturers of consent, and seedbed for profit-driven technologies.

Yet there is a real opportunity for universities to transform themselves into the beating heart of a new knowledge commons, to work with people in the whole community rather than link themselves to the privileged elites commerce, industry, media and the state. Just a hint of what might be achieved is seen in this recent article "Crowd Science Reaches New Heights", published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Monday, May 31, 2010


As local government works out how to deal with planned (and still to be announced) cuts in expenditure, there are already indications that the slow war of attrition which saw more than 30 "service points" closed in the last year for which figures are available, is about to quicken its pace. Library authorities in Belfast have already announced plans to close 10 libraries in Belfast, while Hampshire Libraries have plans to cut 60 library jobs, according to a recent article in the Bookseller.
Yet access to books and libraries is important for both individual and communities, so it is good to know that writer Nadine Gordimer will be emphasising the important role of both in her forthcoming talk at the Hay Festival:

Sunday, May 23, 2010


In the New York Times, Pat Ryan draws some interesting comparisons between Lisabeth Salander, the anti-heroine of
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the fiercely independent character Pippi Longstocking created by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. This is not just a casual exercise as Tattoo novelist Steig Larson told his publisher when delivering the manuscript for the first book in his Millennium trilogy:
"My point of departure was what Pippi Longstocking would be like as an adult. Would she be called a sociopath because she looked upon society in a different way and has no social competence?

Read the complete article in the NYT

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Love Among the Butterflies

Peter Marren, author of the forthcoming Bugs Britannica looks at the future for British butterflies and the growth in butterfly research in a review of the recently published book The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Lewington.
Merren quotes Thomas as reading about 3,000 scientific papers on British butterflies that have been published since 1990 during the research for this boom - which leads me to ask why this important body of research should be confined to academia?

Access to knowledge is currently structured in such a way as to exclude ordinary people. We currently have a two tier library structure, where special libraries serve the academic community and bolster privilege by keeping the rest of the population - the people who pay for the research - excluded by a series of boundaries and borders. It is time to open scientific research up to everyone. Small steps might have been made towards an open scientific community since the coming of the internet - but more can and should be done to create a new 'commons' for knowledge.

Read Peter Merren's review in the Daily Telegraph.

also by Peter is a new article in The Scotsman: "Why the insect world should be celebrated - even the dreaded midge" in which he discusses some of the different names given to insects which he discovered during research for Bugs Britannica:

"We found, for example, around a dozen Scottish names for earwigs, among them clipshears, coachbell, forkie, gowlach, switchpool, and my favourite, twitch-ballock. There is an even richer batch of names for bumblebees, which I can remember were often called "bummie-bees" when I lived in north-east Scotland. I love the name "foggie-toddler" for the bee that "toddles" through the "fog" or grass to find its nest. And "sodger" or "red arsie" for the distinctive bee with a red tail."

Read the rest of Peter's article here

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Radio Waves

I always have mixed feelings about radio programmes, and I certainly never thought I would be writing a post about Laurence Llewlyn-Bowen, but on Sunday afternoon his 'Escape to the Country' slot on Radio 4 is about Feargus O'Connor and the Chartist Land Plan:

"Our tendency to idealise the countryside hasn't always reflected the reality of rural life. But it provides a fascinating glimpse of our dreams and fears as a society.

Out of the insurrection and radicalism of the 1840s came the idea of the countryside as a place of freedom and independence from the squalor and sweat of industrial servitude. In 1842 Feargus O'Connor, the charismatic leader of the Chartists, drew up the Land Plan, which showed how ordinary people across Britain, could plough their own furrow.For O'Connor a plot of rural land had the capacity to deliver financial independence and social dignity to the poor."

Although I am pleased to see Chartist land scheme given coverage - the intention of the Chartists was not to make the poor financially "independent and dignified" but an attempt to transform the relations of production at a time when the relentless enclosure of common land had impoverished vast numbers of people, who were being forced into wage slavery by the privitisation of land, state terror, and the transformation of the economy by industrial capitalism. It will be interesting to see the context in which the programme sets the land scheme.

Also worth catching is the Radio 3 'Words and Music' programme on Sunday(10.15 pm), which brings together a series of short readings under the heading The Rebel:

"From the Paris Commune to the American teenage rebellion of the 1950s, from home life to public life, David Bamber and Gillian Bevan explore the defiance of personal rebellion and collective uprising."

There is enough potential in this subject for a whole series of programmes, but I will be listening in particular to hear the reading of Louise Michel's poem 'L'oeillet rouge'.

The real treat of the week for me, however, is the repeat of Richard Mabey's series of five essays on the theme of "The Scientist and the Romantic" at 11.00 pm Monday to Friday on Radio 3 - flawless prose, in which Richard explores his lifelong relationship with science and nature.