It probably says more about my life than theirs, but I seem to be haunted by old punks propping up the bar telling me stories about the Clash, or showing off their badge collection on ebay. There’s certainly a lot of punk ghosts around – icons– Sid, Nancy, Rotten before he became farmer Lydon , and reunion bands are everywhere. But what are the ghosts for? And why are they following me round all the time?
DIY Digital: Doing Punk Online grew out of the third year Special Subject History course ‘Post-Punk Britain’.
The course is in its second year and from the start, my co-tutor Chris Warne and myself, imagined it as an experiment in democratic teaching and learning. We use the growth of academic work around subcultures and youth culture since 1976 to explore bigger questions around what it means to be a contemporary historian today. This means that we look at local histories, archival practices, life history like memoirs, sound, image and moving images, and oral history alongside popular culture. Although there has been a determined growth in academic work on subcultures in history, sociology, criminology, English studies and beyond, PPB puts these alongside other forms of history work outside of the formal universities. We take the memories that people inherit, share and turn into stories as seriously as the academic theories around the politics of popular culture.
When we began the Brighton hub of Wellcome’s sexology and Song-writing project we imagined that the young women involved would undertake some sort of original research and then write songs about it. It quickly became clear that the young women participants and the youth work and music practitioners had some different priorities. The practitioners wanted to concentrate on building a secure and supportive environment in which to build a collective group identity, and the young women wanted to sing songs that they already knew and liked. The young sexology song-writers didn’t want to write songs. They wanted to cover and recover them. Once we recognised that the priorities of the practitioners and of the young women needed to be our priorities too, we moved towards their goals. We weren’t training them to be researchers. They were training us in their modes of re-enactment: an active and creative intervention in a cultural circuit that brought together the legitimacy of publicly celebrated singer-songwriters, with their own experiences and voices.
Good News! Chris Warne and I have been awarded one of 6 Technology Enhanced Learning Innovation Scheme awards at the University of Sussex. Our project is called DIY DIGITAL: Doing Punk Online. The award is attached to our shared third year special subject course Post-Punk Britain. The course is in its second year of delivery, and from the very first planning discussions that Chris and I had about setting up the course we wanted to explore free and open ways of taking the discussion out of the class room and really encouraging a DIY learning model.
I’ve been involved in the Brighton Hub of ‘Sexology and Songwriting’, a collaborative project that brings together academic researchers with songwriters and young people. The workshops are attached to to Wellcome Collection’s sexology exhibition and inspired by the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL III). We got some additional funding from the Amy Winehouse Foundation. The aim of the project is for the young people involved to become active researchers and song-writers, disseminating their research in the form of their own songs, performed locally and potentially included in recorded form at the Sexology exhibition in February 2015. The workshops are based at the Brighton Youth Centre and in the performances will be developed collaboration with Brighton Dome.
Doctoral researcher Laura Cofield and I have just returned from a research trip to New York in order to scope the Riot Grrrl Archive in the Fales Library. There are hundreds of different zines in the archive across 18 individual collections that cover the years 1974-2003. The trip was funded by the Santander Mobility Fund and set up by Simone Robinson, Tracey Wallace and Paul Roberts from the Doctoral School at Sussex.
Laura’s in the first year of her doctoral research looking at the c20th and c21st history of pubic hair removal as a way into women’s experience of their bodies and the relationship between pornography and feminism. Laura and I were totally inspired by our visit. Everyone was incredibly helpful, going out of their way to help us, from Anthony on the desk at Gem hotel Soho who filled us in on a quick history of the queer politics of Wonder Woman, to Campbell the security guard at Fales who not only recommended where we should get lunch, he rang ahead and made sure we would get in, to Marvin Taylor the Fales Archivist who shared his prize acquisition of a set of homoerotic photographs from 1905 with us. But to top it all off Steve Haugh was our Angel of New York and toured us round Manhattan in his beautiful Jag.
There seems to be a lot of anarcho-punk knocking around historians. There have been a number of academic conferences and events around the politics and aesthetics of anarcho-punk, increasing numbers of academic publications, online resources, documentaries, homages, and the contemporary legacies of anarcho-punk seem to be woven through today’s Occupy and UnCut activism. These historical connections are often but not always embodied in the collectively organised band Crass. This year’s documents released by the National Archives included revelations of the government response to a hoax by Crass who faked and recorded a phone conversation between Thatcher and Reagan about strategy in the Falklands War. The hoax was momentarily thought to be the work of Argentine security services. In a context where there was little formal opposition to the Falklands War the hoax raises interesting questions for historians who are concerned with the limits of subcultural, countercultural or wider popular cultural production as a form of resistance. When the State responded to a countercultural prank as if it was part of their cold war security forces’ stalemate manoeuvres, then academic arguments about the extent to which culture is or isn’t related to ‘real politics’ don’t seem as abstract anymore. The way that anarcho-punk helps us slip through the cracks of the argument about whether subcultures are or aren’t really political seems to have some real purchase at the moment. Continue reading DUNSTAN BRUCE, AND WHY IS HISTORY SO UP FOR ANARCHO-PUNK?