University of Portsmouth's History Blog

From Margins to Centre? An undergraduate conference on marginalised histories

At Portsmouth we were delighted to have not one, but two students presenting their work at the recent ‘From Margins to Centre’ conference at the University of York – a testament to the innovative and exciting research our students are devising and doing. In this blog post our second contributor, third year student Amelia Boddice, discusses the conference and where her paper fitted into the themes of the day. As well as building her employability skills, the conference prompted some thought-provoking reflections on the nature of historical enquiry: Amelia clearly got lots out of the day – just as it should be! The whole history team here at Portsmouth pitched in to support Amelia’s preparation and secure the internal funding so she could attend, and we’re pleased to be able to feature this post.

I was invited to speak at this conference, on government solutions to racism in the British education system c.1976-1985 with a focus on the policy of dispersal.  This was the first time I have prepared a paper for a conference and delivered a talk in front of more than a handful of people.  But the helpful feedback I have received from individual/group presentations during my undergraduate degree helped to prepare me for this moment. I was apprehensive but ready for the challenge as marginalised histories is something I have been passionate about since my second year of university study.  During the conference I was inspired by the range of topics covered by each of the panellists and the passion with which each person delivered their talks. It was also encouraging to see the diversity of the audience; I felt like I had found a place to discuss freely a topic which was so important to me and be received with friendliness and open discussion. It felt like a safe space to talk about issues within the historical field and to feel hopeful that we were all doing our part to shed light on topics previously under-researched. Some of my favourite talks included Farida Augustine’s paper on Identifying West Africans in the French resistance, Joe Moore’s paper on Marginalised groups in the Miners’ strike and Tallulah Maait Pepperell’s paper on Feminism, pacifism and aristocracy: the politics of Irene Clyde.

Amelia presenting her paper

Amelia presenting her paper

I was especially inspired to hear the keynote speaker, Catherine Hall, say “if there are issues taught in your department, say so.”  This emboldened me, it made me realise that questioning things, opening the margins and discussing concepts such as intersectionality is not being rebellious against the historical status quo but rather part of being a historian.  These are issues faced in our society today, part of living life, everything is intersectional to an extent and understanding these nuances and asking further questions is essential.  We should not accept things just because they seem to be the authority on the topic, whether that be an influential text or a key historiographical argument.  Upon reflection, my dissertation rebels against the historiographical status quo, as it asks whether Catholics only used items to pray in the Elizabethan household.  What evidence is there for this? What about the prayer manuals of the period?  Did every household have access to religious items and/or did every household conform to the set standard for religion? On the other hand, to what extent were Elizabethan Protestants iconophobic? So, now it is clear to me that I have always been questioning the historical status quo but I need to take this further and use my platform to discuss the issues which really matter to me. This is because, as Catherine Hall stated, what starts at the margins can begin, slowly and surely, to unpick the centre. What was once marginalised history can become the norm; the history we teach to the younger generations should reflect the society around us. It should include diverse nationalities, ethnic origins, ages, abilities and sexualities. We need to find new histories and make new stories.

Recusant pendant found on the Isle of Wight

Recusant pendant found on the Isle of Wight

I would like to say thank you to Clare Burgess and Olivia Wyatt for inviting me to be a panellist at their conference and for being so organised and welcoming. I would also like to thank Katy Gibbons and Mike Esbester for being so encouraging and helpful in organising everything in addition to their useful feedback on my paper.

Photo credits:

Courtesy Olivia Wyatt & Clare Burgess.

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