I’ve previously raised a cheer for those individuals who do all the donkey work so the likes of you and me can put our feet up reading books by people about other people – writers of biographies and secondary sources. Well, the other day I was struck by a monumental question: what on earth motivates them?
People disappear from history all the time. No written records, no treasured belongings handed down as heirlooms, no-one still around to remember… There are lots of reasons. But one of the most successful film-makers of his era? That’s unusual…
It may not have felt like it at the time, but on 28th March this year we all lost something special. No, I don’t mean our wallets or our smart phones. What we lost was something even more important – a bit of global conscience. What do I mean? It was the day South African veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle Ahmed Kathrada died, aged 86.
Ahmed Kathrada may not be a name you’re very familiar with. Yet even as a youth this man had stood shoulder to shoulder with Nelson Mandela and other great anti-apartheid leaders right from the beginning of the campaign against the consolidating apartheid state in the 1940s. He was also with Mandela throughout his long incarceration.
Did you know that once the historic centre of Salford boasted one end of the longest railway platform in the world? Were you aware that we could all have been sauntering along an elevated walkway stretching from the University of Manchester right down Oxford Road to the heart of the city? Or even that our universities are part of what might be called a ‘Silk Road of Knowledge’?
No, neither was I… Not until a few weeks ago, when I spent a day at the University of Manchester, riveted to every word uttered by several enthusiastic academics chewing over Mapping the Historical Geographies of Higher Education in Greater Manchester. Yes, I do sometimes break out from among the Centre’s bookshelves, and on this occasion I was listening to talk after talk, as well as enjoying numerous question and answer sessions. You’ve guessed it, I was attending a symposium!
Many of us may not be aware of some basic facts and trends in history. Who can know it all? Certainly not me. But all is not lost. From time to time I come across fascinating books in the Centre that really help me out.
Take ‘Pan-Africanism’ and ‘apartheid’. These words are bounced around everywhere like tennis balls at Wimbledon. But do most of us really understand the concepts and worldviews they represent? Poring over a couple of illustrated beginners’ guides, I began to get a clearer idea. And do you know what? The illustrations made it a whole lot easier.
We all have our dreams. But what if they turn into nightmares?
Take the Hugh Wilson and Lewis Womersley firm of chartered architects and town planners. In the 1960s they dreamt of solving the problems of twentieth-century living by providing quality design and housing to a level reached in the eighteenth century for Bloomsbury and Bath. By using similar shapes and proportions, large scale building groups and open spaces, plus skilful landscaping and extensive tree planting, they hoped to make their dream reality. Where? Don’t laugh when I tell you. Hulme in Manchester.
Yes, Hulme was to be the setting for pioneering brave new town planning. The slums were to be cleared and in their place would arise beauty. There was just one problem. The designers’ dream became the Hulme residents’ nightmare scenario. Leafing through the Centre’s Hulme Study Collection, I came across Wilson and Womersley’s hopeful musings on the cover of Manchester City Council’s Survey Report Hulme. A Position Statement September, 1987.
Have you thought about your worldview recently? Do you believe deep down everyone everywhere should think like you? We’ve all done it. We know it causes arguments with our mums, best friends and partners. But what if we’re talking ‘worldview’ on a culture-to-culture global scale? What then?
Look at these images. Do they have anything in common?
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, via Wikimedia Commons
Like countless individuals before and after (especially women), Daisy Makiwane has all but slipped into the uncharted shadows of history. Although we now know she was a significant player in transmitting the funds for Tennyson to travel to the UK, we have to admit that little survives concerning Daisy herself.
Come with me on a journey of discovery into the bowels of the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library on Deansgate! Armed with our AIU Centre roadmap of race relations insights, let’s astonish ourselves amongst the wealth of treasures just lying there waiting to be discovered!
Feast your eyes on the image below. You, I and some intrepid Heritage Imaging adventurers are the first people to clap eyes on the contents of this amazing lantern slide for possibly eighty years or more… And you saw it here first – thanks to another of those incredibly kind archivists.
The Roving Reader has been out and about exploring other archives in Manchester. This week she’s been to the People’s History Museum and discovered tantalising new evidence of how one of the most significant participants in the early UK anti-apartheid movement came to Britain.
This post was going to be about the discovery of a touching migrant story. African woman lives in 1950s London and begs clergyman for money to bring brother to UK. Clergyman phones contact to get funds and cheque is sent off. Thank you note penned, good act done, brother home and happy. Not all migrant stories end so well, but it symbolises tales of separation repeated thousands of times in a world of war and economic deprivation…
True, this story features a clergyman, a sister, a brother and a benefactor. But when I say that these are Canon John Collins, Miss D Makiwane, Tennyson Makiwane and the Secretary of a UK Labour Party-linked fellowship, some of you out there might start jumping around shouting “Whoopee! Now we know who paid for Tennyson’s travel ticket!
Correspondence from the British Asian Overseas Fellowship collection at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre. Courtesy of People’s History Museum, Manchester