I've finished the difficult second album!

I haven't posted on this blog since the Tour de Yorkshire earlier in the summer because I was busy finishing my second book. And now it's done, and I sent it off to Manchester University Press yesterday.

It's been an interesting and difficult process writing the second book. Whereas an academic historian's first book is generally 'the book of the PhD thesis', the second book is a different beast.

my second book! 521 pages...

In many ways it's very liberating: you don't need to rewrite a dense piece written for two examiners, but rather just start from the point you want to end at: a more expansive book that you hope people will want to read. But on the other hand, there are more difficulties than doing the PhD ms:

  • there's no supervisor to give you deadlines or regular advice. You therefore:
  • have to rely on colleagues and acquaintances to read drafts. They're obviously not paid to give you advice, so it's a huge ask of their kindness and especially their time. 
  • there are thus bits of the book ms that no one has read before you send it off, because you don't want to burden busy academics with reading the whole damn thing.
  • you have to spent a lot of time applying for external grants to get the research done.
  • the nature of being early career lengthens and disrupts the research and writing process. 
I've always (luckily) moved from teaching job to teaching job until I got a permanent job, but I never managed to get a research fellowship. My first ever period of sabbatical research leave was before Christmas. So this book has been thought up, researched and written in dribs and drabs.

Teaching prep, particularly for new courses in new places, takes up a lot of time, and I hardly get any serious research done during semester time. Also, when you're on temporary contracts, there is always that feeling of 'this might be my last job'. So when I was working on temporary contracts at Oxford, Bath Spa and Edinburgh, I was always thinking, 'I want to write this book, but I may never finish it. Better write some journal articles instead so that I keep employable just in case'.

It is thus very difficult to be systematic and ordered if you know you might end up in a different part of the country each year. So there were many avenues I explored that either got turned into an article, or left behind. This also made the eventual writing of the book harder, as I had about 7 years' worth of material in a non-logical order to sort through (in various boxes and computer files, all legacies of the many times I moved).


My book is called Protest and the Politics of Space and Place, 1789-1848.

It's about how government and local authorities reacted to the rise of mass working-class movements for the vote and workers' rights by closing down arenas for public meeting. In effect, they privatised public space.

Chartist poster in the Home Office papers, The National Archives

The irony of this (en)closure of public space was that it happened during a period of massive urban expansion, the second 'urban renaissance' whereby lots of new squares, theatres, halls and other venues were built to serve the leisure and work needs of the aspirant middle classes who were gradually gaining control of local government. The more spaces that were built, the fewer were available for oppositional public meetings.

And with the loyalist fear of revolution in the aftermath of the French Revolution(s) and the popularity of Thomas Paine, any mass political meeting became regarded as seditious. Loyalist elites could only go so far to arrest radical leaders, so they looked to ways to clamp down on public meetings as well.

Popular politics involved contests not just over the meaning of words like 'suffrage' and 'reform', but also over who had the right to meet in public spaces, and indeed who were the 'public'. 

I hope this book has resonances with contemporary debates about the privatisation of public space - I've briefly cited Anna Minton's book Ground Control in the preface, and refer to the ways in which modern social movements like Occupy and the anti-globalisation movements use space and think about place.

Hoping it will be out late next year. I will be making a companion website with lots more images and interactive maps that I could not put in the book. I will also be working on some sort of publicity campaign to get the 'library' hardback copies sold so that MUP will put it out in e-book and paperback.


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