Higher Edcuation

Two new opinion pieces on the history of fascism and anti-fascism

A quick post to let people know that I have had two opinion pieces published this week on the history of fascism and anti-fascism in Britain and Australia.

Firstly, the Times Higher Education website published a piece on the pre-history of ‘no platform’ and the protests against far right speakers on university campuses in the 1950s and 1960s.

Secondly, in response to the debate over whether those who attended a far right in St Kilda earlier in the month were Nazis, Overland published a longer piece on the history of neo-Nazism in Australia and the far right.

Now back to the book!


A lack of free speech? Sam Gyimah’s rehashing of a 50 year old trope

This week the website *Research published a piece by me on historicising Sam Gyimah’s claim about the lack of free speech on British university campuses. The piece is here.


No Platform documentary on BBC Radio 4 (featuring me!)


Last month I was interviewed about the history of the NUS policy of ‘no platform’ by BBC Radio 4 for a documentary on the subject, hosted by Professor Andrew Hussey from SOAS. It aired on Saturday night in the UK and is now available to listen to on the BBC iplayer. You can find the programme here.

Turning that blog post into a journal article: A quick guide


It feels like this sometimes…

One of the popular blog posts for academics that I have seen over the last year has been on turning your journal article into a blog post. I am assuming this is aimed at academics who don’t blog regularly and may be considering contributing to multi-authored blog as an opportunity to showcase their research. This post is on the opposite and probably the more likelier scenario for those who actively blog – how do you transform a blog post into a journal article?

As a blogging academic, I have often used one or several blog posts as the framework for a journal article, with the blog serving the purpose of working out my ideas by getting them down onto the (electronic) page and getting feedback. The following post is a general guide to how I go about this process and some of the key things that I consider when trying to shape a blog post into a workable draft article. In many ways, it is similar to transforming a conference paper into a fully fleshed article, but it also differs, especially as a blog post caters for a general audience and a conference paper is probably already in more formal academic language. I don’t aim for this post to be definitive in any way, but thought that it might be helpful to some…

  • Does the blog post have a clear and explicit argument? What is the purpose of the blog post?

Blog posts obviously have a variety of functions. I often use my blog posts to discuss a particular research document or archive, using the post to highlight the research potential of something quite discrete. Other times it is to try to relate something historical to contemporary occurrences or debates. Then other times it is fleshing out a new analytical idea. These, although they don’t happen that often, are the best for transforming into a journal article. While they may be a bit rough in their analysis, they probably have a clear enough argument to serve as the framework for the article. From there, you can start to take the more practical and straight forward steps to transforming the blog post into that journal article.

  • Proper introduction and conclusion

Blog posts don’t need much introduction and may need to be snappy, bold and condensed to grab the attention of the general reader. Often with my historical blog writing, I will try to work in some link to the present or try quickly to frame it within some wider contemporary debates. However a journal article needs a proper introduction, outlining the main points of your argument and often placing the article within a broader academic context.

Blog posts need to be much more brief than a journal article and a conclusion is usually a quickly tied up affair. A journal article conclusion needs a lot more care and needs to reinforce the argument already made. No cliff hangers or meandering final sentences!

  • More formal or specialist language

Although primarily intended to facilitate communication between academics in your field across the world, academic blogs also, for the most part, try to engage with the general reader and therefore the language and terminology used may be toned down for greater accessibility. In my academic writing, I also try to eliminate all the personal pronouns, such as ‘I’ and ‘we’, which crops from time to time in my blog writing mode.

  • Insert relevant sub-headings

This is something that I will do with most articles that I write, but I find that blog posts are quite stream-of-consciousness in their composition and are likely not to have the structure required for a journal article. Inserting relevant sub-headings sign posts to you (and to the eventual reader) what you’re doing to do and where you’re going to go argument-wise. It also helps break the article up into manageable chunks. In some cases, I have put together several blog posts into one journal article, with each sub-section being a blog post in itself.

  • Expand/insert literature review

Even when engaging in a debate in a blog post, there isn’t the space to delve into a deep and systematic literature review – especially as most literature reviews would bore the pants off the general reader. But part of a journal article is situating your research and arguments within the broader academic context, which means at least a nod to the existing literature.

  • Insert references

Depending on the blog’s audience, you may or may not have references included in your blog post. If I am writing on my own blog, I often do include footnotes (and sometimes in-text citations). However some more general blogs do not use references at all, relying only links to relevant material. This can be one of the more tedious exercises in transforming a blog post into a journal article, but it has to be done (and done properly).


With these tasks done, you should have a framework to work with and the blog post should look more like an article – all you need to do is flesh it out. I hope this post is helpful. I am sure many people can ably write both a blog post and a journal article, but I find these steps easy to remember and handy list to check off as I go.

Good luck writing comrades!


Fairfax to students: ‘You silly young people. Don’t you know the sixties are over!’

How student protests were covered by the media in 1971

How student protests were covered by the media in 1971

Since the student protests that kicked off last Wednesday, Fairfax Media in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have run three comment pieces on how the students needed to drop the traditional mass street protest of the 1960s/1970s and employ ‘new’ tactics in the fight against higher education cuts. First there was Annabel Crabb, who wrote:

I’m just wondering why university students – who should be the most connected, educated, cutting-edge communicators in our country – are still protesting like it’s 1969… But in this magical new era of communication, there must be better ways of telling a story than “What Do We Want? No Fees! When Do We Want It? Now!”.

Then former Liberal Education Minister Amanda Vanstone complained:

Protests are, in my view, a good thing. They are a sign of the freedom we all enjoy. But what some protesters fail to understand is everyone else’s right to go about their business undisturbed. Sadly, the right to protest has become for all too many the right to ruin anyone else’s day just because they want to be on telly.

And then today, PR firm Hootville got some free publicity from The Age by releasing ‘advice’ they gave to the National Tertiary Education Union about how to combat the cuts. Number one piece of advice from this PR lot was:

1. 1968 is over – forget the violence

Intimidation, harassment and bullying is not going to help you persuade people to your cause. You’ve already donated Minister Pyne hours of free, easy media coverage.

A protest against higher education cuts in Brisbane last week

A protest against higher education cuts in Brisbane last week

There are really three things that really annoy me about these pieces, comparing the student protests now with those of the 1960s and 1970s.

1) This is a really reductionist idea of what forms of protests were employed during the 1960s and 1970s, instead relying on this popular stereotype of sixties’ protests involving marching, chanting and sitting down. A read of Sean Scalmer or Iain McIntyre (see his How to Make Trouble and Influence People website) shows that the history of protest in Australia has seen a diverse range of tactics used, with marching and chanting only one of many options.

2) The mainstream media has had a well-worn narrative that Generation Y is self-centred, individualistic and apolitical. The protests last week saw young people showing initiative and deep political concern – enough to mobilise several thousand onto the streets around Australia. While it is only one tactic in a broad spectrum of activism in the 21st century, congregating in public together demonstrates to those involved that they are not alone and proves the old adage, ‘in unity is strength’. Street demonstrations can give a critical mass to a movement much more than a bunch of disparate individuals getting involved in online campaigning – but it should be kept in mind that activism is not a zero sum game. It should’t be street marches or clicktivism, but street marches plus clicktivism.

3) Vanstone’s complaint that protests disrupt the business of other people, alongside Hootville’s call for student protestors to conform to the rules of conventional politics, overlook the purpose of protest. Protest is about breaking out of the boundaries of the conventional political sphere and challenging the status quo. If protests aren’t causing disruption, then they are not an effective political strategy. As Kurt Iveson wrote here, conforming to the mainstream political idea of ‘legitimate protest’ will push protest activity from the realm of direct action to the symbolic. For Iveson, the concept of ‘legitimate protest… rests on the liberal assumption that if protestors are given the opportunity to speak, this will be enough for them to be heard if they have a legitimate point to make.’

Of course, protest should be peaceful, but as history has shown, even when protestors are peaceful, the authorities can construe any form of protest as ‘potentially violent’, believing those who protest to be ‘thugs’. The real lesson that students should be taking from the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s is how the government, the police and the mainstream media have reacted to protest in Australia over the last forty years.

“What relevance is your research to anything?”: When academic disciplines collide


The Times Higher Education Supplement included an article today on the six questions all academics face at conferences and they are pretty spot on. But there is one question that wasn’t included in their article that I think would have been worth mentioning, particularly when academics present at interdisciplinary conferences or present at a conference outside their own discipline. I am a historian, but my research combines methods and material from several other disciplines, including political science, criminology, legal studies, cultural studies and sociology. So I have presented at conferences in each of these disciplines (except for sociology), predominantly on some research that has a historical aspect (such as the history of border control processes or the history of counter-terrorism profiling or the history of public order policing). One question that has been asked of me several times at these non-historical conferences is ‘why is your research relevant?’, or more bluntly ‘what’s the point of this research?’.

I know that to academics in some social science disciplines, historical research can seem esoteric and navel-gazing, but in the research that I have presented at non-historical conferences, I have usually thought that looking at the history of things, such as the history of border control, counter-terrorism or policing, can help us understand how things operate in the present day. Especially when looking at why the apparatuses of the state behave in a  particular manner, I would argue that state institutions, such as the police, the border control system and the security services, have long institutional memories that mean that how these institutions/apparatuses behave in the present are often reflections of how they dealt with issues/problems in the past. A case in point is that the police often react to bouts of public disorder in the manner that they had previously, often in the belief that tactics can be transplanted from one point in time to another – the policing of the UK riots in 2011 was informed by the policing of the riots in 2001, and by those in 1985, and by those in 1981, et cetera.

I am not so bold as to rehash the phrase ‘those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it’, nor would I argue that history can be a roadmap for the present, but I think that many in the social sciences could be more receptive towards taking a historical approach to their discipline. It might not seem immediately relevant in every case, but trust me, history can help social sciences research!

Have any other historians had a similar experience when presenting at non-historical conferences or when interacting with people in other disciplines? How do other historians deal the question of relevance?*

*The task of proving the relevance of historical research is particularly important when historians apply for grants and other types of funding. Big grants and the like usually ask why historical research is relevant and worth funding, usually pitting history against other more ‘practical’ disciplines. When ‘market forces’ are applied to academia, it can be hard to quantify the neo-liberal ‘value’ of historical research. We have seen in the past (and this doesn’t bode well for after September 7) that the Coalition has raised questions in Parliament about why government funds should be allocated to some seemingly ‘obscure’ historical research project, like when Andrew Robb asked why the Australian Research Council had given funding to the History of Emotions project.

What can The Young Ones teach us about Thatcherism pt 7: Higher education and class

In this series of posts, I have already looked at issues of police racism, unemployment, capitalism, left-wing activism and women in the television show The Young Ones, but one of the major themes I have overlooked so far is the topic of higher education and class in the 1980s. The Young Ones was essentially about four university students living in a share house in London, amidst the class warfare from the neo-liberals under Thatcher.

Higher education in Britain had exploded between the 1960s and the 1980s and due to the post-war baby boom and the expansion of the welfare state into the realm of tertiary education, many more young people were attending universities or polytechnics. The radicalism of the late 1960s and early 1970s is synonymous in the public’s memory with the student revolution inside the universities, whose numbers had swelled dramatically. As Robert O. Paxton wrote, traditionally universities had been a training ground for the elite tier of British society, with very few lower middle class or working class people being able to enter the higher education system. But with the system being opened up in the 1950s and 1960s, more lower middle class and working class youth entered the world of higher education and for most, this was the first generation to have a university education.

This is reflected in The Young Ones. We see that Vyvyan is able to attend medical school despite his mother being a shoplifter (and later a bartender). Rik talks about his family being working class Tory voters. Only Neil seems to come from a more privileged background. In the episode ‘Sick’, we see Neil’s parents visit, who complain about the living conditions of the students and their crassness (comparing them unfavourably with the middle class humour of The Good Life). Neil’s mother deplores:

You have brought shame on your family, Neil. I daren’t show my face at Lady Fanshaw’s bridge evenings, now that you’ve taken up with these television people. I mean, what kind of monsters are you?! I mean, The Young Ones. Well, it all sounds very good, doesn’t it? But just look around you. There’s trash!

[smashes a chair to splinters]

I mean, even, even Triangle has better furniture than you do!

To which Vyvyan replies:

NO!! No! We’re not watching the bloody Good Life!! Bloody bloody bloody!! I hate it!! It’s so bloody nice! Felicity ‘Treacle’ Kendall and Richard ‘Sugar-Flavored-Snot’ Briars!! What do they do now?! Chocolate bloody Button ads, that’s what!! They’re just a couple of reactionary stereotypes, confirming the myth that everyone in Britain is a lovable, middle-class eccentric – and I – HATE – THEM!!

So the show reflects the opening up of the higher education system to a wider degree of socio-economic backgrounds and the more typical university student in the 1980s.

But the show also reminded viewers that the odds were still stacked against university students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, with the elite, predominantly with an Oxbridge education, still coming out on top in the higher education system. In this paper by Jo Blanden and Stephen Machin, they showed that in 1981, ‘20 percent of children from the top income quintile had a degree by age 23, whereas the comparable number was only 6 percent in the bottom quintile’ (p. 11). Degree acquisition was important as ‘it is well documented that graduates earn more than non-graudates and that this wage differential has widened in the recent past, especially in the 1980s’ (p. 20). Blanden and Machin conclude that ‘HE expansion has not been equally distributed across people from richer and poorer backgrounds. Rather, it has disproportionately benefited children from relatively rich families’ (p. 22).

In the episode ‘Bambi’, Alexei Sayle, as a train driver held up by Mexican bandits, jokes about this inequality in degree acquisition and job prospects:

I never really wanted to be a train driver, you know. I mean, they told me while at school, if I got two CSEs, when I left school I’d be head of British Steel. That’s a lot of nonsense, innit? I mean, you look at statistics, right. 83% of top British management have been to a public school and Oxbridge, right? 93% of the BBC have been to a public school and Oxbridge, right? 98% of the KGB have been to a public school and Oxbridge.

All you get from a public school, right — one, you get a top job, right, and two, you get an interest in perverse sexual practices. I mean, that’s why British management’s so inefficient. As soon as they get in the boardroom, they’re all shutting each others’ dicks in the door! “Go on, give it another slam, Sir Michael!” BAM! OW OW OW! “Come on, Sir Geoffrey, let’s play the Panzer commander and the millkmaid, EW EW EW EW! YOO HOO!”

The same episode involves the four housemates taking on the Cambridge Footlights on University Challenge, highlighting the difference between the elites that attended one of the Oxbridge universities and the rest. The Footlights team was played by real Footlights alumni, with Stephen Fry as Lord Snot, Hugh Laurie as Lord Monty and Emma Thompson as Miss Money-Sterling (only Ben Elton, who played Kendal Mintcake, didn’t go to Oxbridge – like Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, he had attended the University of Manchester). The Footlights team indulged in many of the stereotypes of the ruling class (similar myths abound about the Bullingdon Club and Britain’s current ruling elite), such as nepotism to obtain positions of influence (and answers to University Challenge), buying off influence (and answers to University Challenge) and extreme confidence in their elite position. While Bamber ‘Bambi’ Gascoigne (played by Griff Rhys Jones here) declares to Scumbag College that ‘the posh kids always win’, the episode ended with Rik and Neil answering all the questions (despite Rik tampering with the cards) and Vyvyan blowing up the Footlights team with a WWI hand grenade, all before being squashed by a giant cream bun.

According to Stephen Fry’s interview with Richard Herring as part of Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast series, Rik Mayall was very enthusiastic about this episode, with the Footlights team getting their come-uppance at the hands of the ‘ordinary’ university students. But Alexei Sayle, writing in The Guardian earlier this year, disagreed:

What I didn’t understand, despite all my years of Marxist study groups, was that every revolution contains within it the seeds of its own destruction, and ours soon began to mutate in ways I could never have predicted. For me, the turning point, the moment resembling Oliver Cromwell’s suppression of the Levellers, was the making of the Bambi episode for the second series of The Young Ones, broadcast in 1984.

I turned up for the recording to find several generations of Cambridge Footlights were in the show. “I thought these people were the enemy!” I railed at the writers. “The whole point of what we were doing was surely to challenge the smug hegemony of the Oxford, Cambridge, public-schoolboy comedy network, as well as destroying the old-school working men’s club racists!”

“No, that was just you,” the writers replied. “We never subscribed to your demented class-war ravings. We think all these people are lovely. Stephen Fry’s made us lardy cake, Hugh Laurie’s been playing boogie-woogie piano all morning, Mel Smith’s going to take us for a ride in his gold Rolls-Royce, and Griff Rhys-Jones has been screaming abuse at minions to make us laugh.”

I realised that what had begun – in my mind – as a radical experiment was slowly moving towards the centre, and I had ceased to be its leader. Not that I should paint myself as some sort of exemplar, a Bill Hicks-like saint who held himself above the seductive lures of success. I craved the money, the big audiences and the fame that all the others craved: I just wanted to do it without getting my hands dirty by making what I thought of as compromises – or by being best friends with Stephen Fry. Also, it took me years to accept that not everybody wanted to spend a rare night out being shouted at by a rabid, opinionated, fat man. 

In the episode ‘Sick’, Sayle, as the ‘dangerous madman’ Brian Damage, further satirises university students and the job prospects available. Talking to Neil’s father, Damage claims that he is currently doing a PhD in astrophysics, but had recently completed a degree in art history, ‘but it was no use for a job’. Although the joke continues with Damage and Neil’s father talking about ‘doing a bank job’, the exchange can be seen as a reflection of encroaching values of Thatcherism upon the lower middle and working classes and those attending university – that a university education was not as useful as getting a job in the banking sector.

Lastly, one of the interesting things about The Young Ones is its quintessential portrayal of student life, showing the relative poverty of the undergraduate university student – eating lentils, sharing baths, having nothing to use for heating, etc. But the paper by Blanden and Machin actually show that during the years that the show was produced (1982-1984), ‘UK university students experienced the highest levels of state support ever’, with a ‘means-tested maintenance grant to cover living costs’, fees paid by the local education authority and access to housing and unemployment benefits (p. 5). It was only in 1984, and then fairly rapidly throughout the rest of the 1980s, that the financial support for university students was cut by the Conservatives. While the students of the early 1980s might have been ‘better off’ than the students that followed them in the mid-to-late 1980s and certainly in the 1990s, I would reckon that the popular memory of their time at university and their living conditions would in some way more reflect the portrayal of student life evident in The Young Ones.

That is the end of the series (so far). I am going to try to turn these posts into a journal article in the near future. As usual, any feedback, via the blog or email, would be greatly welcomed.