Let’s discuss the suffrage TERF in the room

As The Daily Mail launches a new era of ‘suffragettes’ campaigning to repress trans rights, what can we in the history community do?

Yesterday the front page of the UK’s Daily Mail announced ‘the most significant female movement since the suffragettes’; The unification of groups, Women Uniting, Sex Matters and Women’s Rights Network, to create political campaign – ‘respect my sex, if you want my x’. The self-described ethos behind the campaign is this: ‘Just over 100 years ago, women got the vote. Our hard-fought rights are now being turned against us. Every rule and policy that says something is for women, is being changed, so that it’s now for people who ‘self-identify’ as women, whatever their sex.’ Campaigners are urged to call on their local MPs to join their fight in disallowing trans women from accessing the same rights and services offered to those gendered biologically female at birth – for those MPs that don’t, campaigners have pledged to boycott them in local elections. All of this is wrapped up in suffrage paraphernalia, from the colours used to the messaging – this is history in action. The legacies of Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst. Of course, this use of suffrage is nothing new. Today suffrage has gone beyond the history books and become an easily accessible marketing ploy. Want to peddle female empowerment without any danger or copyright issues – stick a suffragette in it. Who can forgot Meryl Streep sporting the tone deaf ‘I’d rather be a rebel than slave’ tee to promote 2015 film, Suffragette or the plethora of ‘girl boss’ infused suffrage merch that littered stores to mark the centenary of some women getting the vote in 2018. This kind of tactic isn’t even new for anti-trans feminism, who frequently flourish their tweets and instas with three distinctly coloured little hearts 💜💚🤍

This is the unknowing legacy of the WSPU, beyond their militancy it’s their savvy use of self-image that’s stood the test of time to the extent that there’s almost a whole sub section of suffrage academia dedicated to their masterful marketing of a movement. From colour usage to easily accessible self-branding and even a political board game – Don Draper could never. And it’s these same slogans, posters and buttons that keep being picked up across the generations to serve different feminist campaigns or clothing brands looking to make a quick buck. Suffrage sells universally. There’s a reason that in 2018 so many brands jumped aboard the ‘celebrate the centenary’ express. It wasn’t because everyone just really wanted to celebrate the vote. Suffrage offers an incredible market share – female empowerment for any age. Which is probably why, not many historians batted an eye when we saw the ‘Respect my sex’ Daily Mail backed campaign launch. This isn’t new. Admittedly the use of suffrage as a Trojan horse for anti-trans hate is abhorrent if for no other moral reason than for the simple fact that the suffrage campaign had its roots in the 1864 campaign against the Contagious Diseases Act, which fought for bodily autonomy and against forcible genital examination – irony, thy name is TERF. Yet, this latest step by campaigners goes beyond annoyance and historic factual fallacies. Using the front page of a national newspaper to announce an anti-trans campaign as modern-day suffrage is a big deal. Even if that newspaper is ironically the same one that popularised the term suffragette, as its own anti-suffrage campaign.

Politically these ‘modern day suffragettes’ are powerful. The same day as their campaign launched, Boris Johnson announced a U-turn in the banning of conversion therapy; banning it for gay people, but not for trans people. This move comes off the back of systematic pressure put onto MPs by campaigners, a pressure which looks set to only intensify in the coming weeks as we approach May’s local elections. In fact, the lighter side of this pressure was splashed across the Daily Mail to support the campaign launch – ‘look how many MPs look silly when they try to say if it’s possible for a woman to have a penis’; it’s conceivably childish, until you see the clear threat. More important than MPs giving in to fear is the government’s sudden change of heart in banning conversion therapy. In a US paper used by the government in their own public findings on UK conversion therapy, it’s cited that those that undergo conversion therapy are 88% more likely to attempt suicide, with multiple other research papers showing that these figures are frequently higher for trans youths. This goes beyond hiding behind a suffrage facade – lives will be lost. That is not a likelihood, but a fact.

In addition to standing alongside charities like Stonewall, there is something else that we as a history community can do. History stands as a bastion of information, that can help dispel the falsehoods of these campaigners. We can’t stop them using the Pankhurst’s as puppets, but we can share our knowledge. There are hundreds of years – thousands really – of trans history. It’s our job to tell those stories. No matter what area of history you work in, you’ve almost certainly come across a historic person who was likely trans. Their lives are vital in dispelling the myths being spread; that this is new, that it’s men stealing rights or angling to commit assaults. The historic evidence stands against that – this is not scary or dangerous – this is human. Trans lives are part of all of our shared history, its people being people; who they were born to be. It’s up to us to share that knowledge, not as a one off, but as part of our overall history work and research. Inclusion is everything. No matter how big or small you think your voice is, whether its in a book or a lecture hall, a letter to your MP or a tweet and WhatsApp message to your mate; as long as we’re talking. Because silence is no longer an option.

Jack the Ripper Museum – RIP?

I have tragic news for you all – 5 years after opening, London’s Jack The Ripper Museum has declared insolvency – so what happens now?

The museum that opened in 2015 to a cacophony of protests, petitions and national outrage has run out of money. News of the insolvency spread like wild fire online (although thanks to Dr Louise Raw discovering this fact, not because the museum itself announced it.) And understandably, thinking the museum was out of money and, again, with no word from The Jack the Ripper Museum, people assumed it was about to shut its doors.

Apparently not – a spokesperson for the museum told me:

‘I am confirming we are not closed; we have closed for a few days due to Covid 19 and lack of tourists in London.  You can check our website for updates and there is a notice in our window.’

I did ask for a statement regarding the insolvency and financial future of the museum, none has been given at the time of writing. So according to the museum, they are not closed (admitedly, they didn’t say they wouldnt be permantly closing, despite being asked…but benefit of the doubt). Which is good news for the museum’s staff, because hey, during covid the museum sector has already seen far to many redunacies. BUT that being said, it’s not all good news, because having declared themselves insolvent, The Jack the Ripper Museum is on pretty shaky ground.

So, what went wrong and can the museum ever be turned around? Let’s look at the issues:

Issue one – Lack of Trust

It would not be unfair to say that The Jack the Ripper Museum was founded on lies. The community who live around the museum were told that it was going to be a women’s history museum. It wasn’t until the signage came up that anyone knew otherwise.

And it wasn’t just the local community. The museums architect, Andrew Waugh, publicly came out and said he was ‘duped’ into working on the museum, after being told it was a women’s history museum. Saying:

“The local community was duped, we were duped. They came to us and said they had no money but that this is a real heartfelt project. It is incredibly important to celebrate women in politics in the East End. We really ran with it. We did it at a bargain-basement fee, at cost price because we thought it was a great thing to do.”

To make amends, the museum announced that they would be partnering with a women’s domestic violence charity – which again, turned out to be wholly untrue. The charity had never been contacted by the museum and later asked to be taken off their website.

Then came the museums claim that the name of the museum was never actually, The Jack the Ripper Museum. In a 2015 interview with The Londonist, museum founder, Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe explained:

The full name of the museum is ‘The Jack the Ripper and the History of Women in East London’. The frontage is not finished and still in the planning stage.’

Yet the name remains the same, as did the frontage until the local community demanded it was taken down in 2017.

Issue Two – No comment

In light of all of this, The Jack the Ripper Museum choosing to disengage from social media and press seemed understandable, if a little petulant. Faced with this utter shit storm immediately upon opening, museum management could either apologise, shutter and makes amends, or just dig their heels in and weather it out. And of course, they chose the latter option.

But the issue here is that this phase of battening down the hatches has never stopped. The museum regularly either refuse or ignore requests for statements (even getting that tiny quote at the top of this article was like pulling teeth). And of course, they have set an unparalleled precedent for social media account blocking. Whenever there is even a hint of online criticism or discontent, that block button is quickly pressed.

Having worked in museum communications I can tell you that I’ve never seen a museum do this before. And that’s not because The Jack the Ripper Museum are ground-breaking communication mavericks. No – it’s because this strategy of refusing to engage and burying their heads in the sand is, frankly, insane.

For one thing by doing this the museum alienate themselves from journalists, the history community and you know, general visitors. Which has massively reduced the amount of press and social engagement they are able to generate after that initial wave of negative publicity when they opened. When was the last time you saw them in a museum Twitter chat or an article on them that wasn’t wholly negative and from 2015-2017?

But arguably the biggest example of why this communications strategy is so catastrophically bad is that when the internet found out The Jack the Ripper Museum had declared insolvency and could be shuttering its doors – the museum seemed to have had no idea. When I asked them about this claims, they said they had never seen or heard anything about them. If true, that’s almost certainly because they’d blocked everyone who was sharing the news from their social media (with the vast majority of these people being female historians)

This meant that for several days The Jack the Ripper Museum management were seemingly totally unaware that news that their museum was closing was being spread around social media. And to really emphasis what a monumental clusterfuck that is, let us remember this: the news of the museums insolvency and probable closure was readily accepted – without a statement from the museum needed. That’s a pretty damning indictment of how The Jack the Ripper Museum chooses to engage with the public,

Issue Three – the actual experience

Ok, lets hit pause on talking about the topics and contents inside the museum (don’t worry I’ll get to that momentarily). What about the actual visitor experience? Is it any good?

Well for £10 general admission (£8 for kids) you get access to the small museum, which lies over six floors with roughly one room per floor. These rooms are a mix of walk-in scenes with little to no interpretation (for example the ‘Mitre Square murder scene’) and walk in scenes with light interpretation (e.g the ‘morgue’ and ‘one of the Ripper victims rooms’)

It’s clearly designed to be immersive, as you flit from streets to ‘Jack’s living room’, with each room having its own soundscape, which runs the gamut from a women’s screams and cries of ‘murder!’, to light folky singing. Effort has been made; there just seemingly wasn’t the budget for it to be well executed. Many areas are very sparsely dressed and most of the rooms are inhabited with some kind of dodgy waxwork with an equally dodgy wig.

The Mitre Square ‘scene’

Then there’s the total lack of quality historic content. It’s all very vague; ‘here’s a Victorian bonnet, maybe a victim wore one like it.’ With short and non-descript panels on the walls and staircases to provide light information. It all feels very last minute presentation and you can see why some visitors have compared it to a live version of the Jack the Ripper Wikipedia page.

On the whole, you can see the entire museum in an hour, but when I’ve visited I’ve seen people in and out within ten minutes – shuffle around, take a selfie with a murdered woman’s waxwork and you’re done. There’s no revisit value. Even the most hardened Ripperologist would struggle on finding a reason to return. Once you’ve gotten past the end of the pier house of horrors ‘I can’t believe this exists’ cheap thrill – there is nothing there.

And that can in no small way have contributed to The Jack the Ripper Museums money troubles. After all, no small museum can finically survive on a diet that consists solely of one off ‘well I was going to the Tower of London, might as well pop in’ visits.

Issue four – It shouldn’t exist

At least not like this. Of course, there’s the argument that a museum that claimed to be a women’s history museum and then turned out to be a Jack the Ripper museum shouldn’t exist in the first place. But it does. And (at least according to their management) it will continue to exist.

But it shouldn’t as it is now. Way back in 2015 we were living in a world that was pre-Hallie Rubenhold’s, The Five. When people could say to The Jack the Ripper Museum, please don’t just shove up pictures of the victims dead bodies in a make shift morgue and say that’s their whole story. And they could shrug, because it would be hard to find out more information on every victim and they were such a small team that they just didn’t have capacity…

Well, welcome to 2020, when Hallie Rubenhold has published a bestselling book on the lives of each victim. It’s been out for a year, proving that:

  1. Yes, the information does exist and you have easy access to it
  2. People are clearly interested in knowing more about these women and their lives.

So now is the time to change The Jack the Ripper Museum. Take down the morgue, the murder scene and ‘Jack’s sitting room’ and replace it with new content that has substance, isn’t wholly degrading and might just draw people into your museum.

Because, let’s be real here Jack the Ripper Museum – after your insolvency and the last five years of hate being blasted your way – what do you have to lose? Clearly, you can’t go on like you currently are. Something has to change for you to survive. So maybe that something doesn’t have to be sticking in another mutilated waxwork.

Maybe it could be having several rooms dedicated to telling the lives of the five known victims. Maybe you could have more space explaining what life was like in the East End at that time. How 1 in 5 women were sex workers. How the 1885 Law Amendment closed brothels and put many of these women in danger. How in fact there is no hard evidence to suggest that three of those five victims were sex workers, but what would it matter if they were?

We will never know who Jack the Ripper was, but we should use that mystery to uncover a troubling but fascinating past. And yes, that will still be interesting, there’s now hard data to show people are interested. Yes, you can still have selfie moments in foggy London streets and things for people to play with (e.g try out a penny bed!). You just don’t need to capitalise on the violent deaths of women to make money.

Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine ‘Kate’ Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly

The Jack the Ripper Museum is never going to be the museum we were promised and wanted it to be (luckily, The East End Women’s museum is opening soon, so we now have that space) However, if The Jack The Ripper Museum really is going to stay open, that it doesn’t just need to change – it has to.

How to get that museum job (despite the world being on fire)

A beginners guide for finding that first job in museum and heritage in a Covid world.

So right now the world is, how shall I put this nicely – a fucking garbage fire of despair and uncertainty. And if you’ve just graduated and/or are looking for a new career in museums and heritage – mate, I’m so sorry. After all, this was already a tough sector to get a foot hold in and Covid has not helped that.

I’m not going to sugar coat it, the reality is this; pretty much every museum and heritage organisation is making changes to their staffing. Redundancies, hire freezes, pay cuts. The whole shebang. This includes small museums, medium ones and many of the major players. And yes, for the most part the directors of those big players will be retaining their same three figure salaries, thank you very much. However, in the immortal words of Whitney Houston, ‘it’s not right (in fact it’s utter bullshit). But it’s okay. I’m gonna make it anyway.’

Okay I may have paraphrased a tiny bit there. But the point stands, you’re dreams of working in history and heritage are not over. And to help you get to that dream, I’ve made this little guide to help you.

So, first things first, on a scale of 1-10 how fucked are you?

Surprisingly, not as fucked as you might think (hooray!) Though there are redundancies, there are still jobs. Which is fantastic news! BUT (and it’s a big but) it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. I spoke to Fair Museum Jobs for their thoughts and they came back with two major things you need to keep in mind when looking at museum and heritage jobs in this Covid landscape:

1.Prepare for competition. 

As Fair Museum Jobs told me ‘We’ve seen some buoyancy in the job market already, but it does mean application processes are going to be competitive.’

Shit is about to get fierce. You’re not just going to be going against other graduates or career transfers for those entry level jobs, but people who already work in the sector and have been made redundant. So, polish that CV and for the love of god, don’t knock yourself out in the first round by doing a copy paste CV and cover letter for every application. You’re going up against dozens if not hundreds of people – tailor it!

2.The sector will try and take advantage of you. 

Fair Museum jobs underlines that museums are likely to take use this staturated job market to save some coin, ‘We worry that organisations will use their financial situation as a reason to make roles voluntary, when really they are roles that merit paid staff.’

This will affect all types of roles, but chances are the roles that are inevitably going to be hit hardest by this lack of pay are in curatorial. This is because historically they always have been. Now employers can’t make a person redundant and then immediately rehire someone to do the same job (just at a lesser salary). Which is why we’re expecting to see museums get around this by making lower level and entry level positions redundant and then magically creating a ‘voluntary’ role which covers the same tasks, but has a slightly different name.

Go into this with your eyes wide open. Look out for jobs that are taking advantage of you and also make sure you remember how fierce your competition is and tailor you application for everything you go for (it’s a ball ache and takes time, but it’s worth it)

So with that all said…lets actually get on to how you can get a foot in the door when your dream job isn’t available (becuase be real, it probably isn’t right now)

Option 1 – volunteering

What a surprise! As we’ve just covered, these are going to be the most popular types of ‘job’ advertised. Now as an entry point, this is very elite. You really can only do this one if you can afford to. If you can’t afford to, then don’t worry. Skip this whole section, because there’s stuff for you later.

But if you are going to apply for a voluntary role, then it’s important to know what you’re getting into.

  • This will still be a full time or part time job. You just won’t get paid for it. So don’t expect people to be flexible with your hours.
  • You’ll almost certainly still have to interview for the role and have things like a relevant degree, MA and occasionally (kind of hilariously given the role) previous voluntary experience.

And know that there is no guaranteed job at the end of this. Of course some people have gotten a paid gig off the back of volunteering, but it’s far from guaranteed. The odds are not ever in your favour on this one. And athough how good you are does factor in to turning volunteering into paid work, it’s almost all down to luck. It’s basically the Hunger Games and chances are you’re not Katniss Everdeen.

However, if you do still want to apply and see this as your only option, then do. Just know your rights going into it. Make sure you have your hours set in stone and don’t work for free longer than you have to.

Option 2 – other avenues in

So, you can’t afford to work for free. Don’t worry, most people can’t. But you can still apply for jobs. There are jobs going in every area of museums and heritage, just much much fewer than normal.

One thing to consider is if there are jobs in other departments in the museum/heritage organisations you’re looking at. Retail, front of house and marketing are far more likely to be looking than curatorial, education, conservation etc. So this is a good time to work out if you want to be a conservator or a curator, or if you just want to work in museums and heritage. There’s no shame if it’s the latter. That’s why most people get into the sector, to be surrounded by amazing history every day.

So, if you think you might fall into the ‘I just love museums and want that to be my job’ category, then apply to other departments. Having worked across the board in museums and heritage, I can tell you that you still get that amazing experience. Also some of those departments are actually better paid (and you get more transferable skills, should you ever want to leave the sector one day!)

And if you do feel like it’s ‘curator or death!’ then other avenues in are still worth considering. I know many curators, conservators and historians who got their start in a museum shop, as a guide or greeter. It’s a foot in the door. A way to pay your rent, get to know what visitors want and become one of the team. Plus, it never hurts to be an internal applicant.

Option 3 -the waiting game

This is probably the option you don’t want to hear about. But honestly, it’s not that bad and I say that having done it myself. Sometimes no matter how many applications you send in, that entry level job doesn’t happen. It’s not anything on you, it’s just a limited number of jobs and a crazy number of applicants.

I’ve been there. I landed my first job as a paid intern and then after my contract ran out there was nadda. I went for jobs and didn’t get them and it was a couple of months until I landed my next role in the sector. During that time I didn’t have the option of sitting on my hands; after all my landlord still wanted rent and I was very much team I’d like to have enough money to eat please.

So I worked in a shop and then as an admin assistant in an office. I’ve also been a call centre worker (selling double glazing natch), a children’s party host and (arguably) the worlds perkiest leafleteer. None of those things were what I wanted to do, but it got me by until I could do what I wanted.

Between you and me, I actually count those times as some of the most valuable in my career. I got my word per minute speed up, became a boss at spreadsheets and learnt to manage difficult customers (seriously, working in a call centre makes you a boss at dealing with tricky people) It doesn’t sound exciting, but it’s the stuff that meant when I was in an interview and they asked me ‘how would you organise X’ or ‘how would you manage this tricky interpersonal situation’ I had some solid answers tucked up my sleeve. And now, having been on the other side of the desk during assistant interviews, I can tell you that not many candidates have those.

So don’t just apply for those history and heritage jobs, spread your net. And if you strike out and don’t land the dream job, it’s ok. The experiences you get in other jobs whilst you wait will still count.

So what happens now?

Well you apply. And apply and then apply again. And the probably apply some more. Chances are, this is going to take at least a couple of months. And whilst you wait, you can boost your CV, take online courses (there are a ton of free ones I’ll link at the bottom). Join the history and heritage community on social; it’s a great place to find opportunities, but also just to meet some amazing people.

And remember to know your rights. Check out the Museum’s Association pay salary guidelines. Flag up BS job specs to places like Fair Museum Jobs. Check out unions (seriously every museum worker should join a union!) and go to places like GlassDoor to find if the place you want to work at has any major red flags.

Most importantly, don’t give up. This might be a long road, but you will get there.

Handy free online course links:

Future Learn has a ton of amazing online courses you can do for free (their history ones are great) but they also have them in things like interpersonal office skills, safeguarding (handy if you plan to work in education in the future) and presenting your work.

Reed offers several free acredited courses in improving your IT skills and HR basics.

Open Universityhas a ton of free courses (including one on the value of coffee, which I actually now want to do…) stand outs for padding out your experience and CV include project planning, leadership skills and finance basics.

Check out Fair Museum Jobs full statement and advice

‘Given Covid, it’s inevitable that organisation are going to suffer financially. We have already seen that Tate and National Trust Scotland among others are consulting on staff redundancies. This is doesn’t mean there won’t be jobs being advertised, indeed we’ve seen some buoyancy in the job market already, but it does mean application processes are going to be competitive. Don’t let organisations get away with using Covid as an excuse to treat you badly: make sure to check the salary and working hours – can you reasonably live on this? Check the job requirements – are they proportionate to the person specification, and the salary? It’s also worth doing some research about the organisation – How have they treated their staff during covid? What are they doing in reaction to Black Lives Matter? Allow yourself to feel empowered to make ethical choices in your job applications.
We also worry that organisations will use their financial situation as a reason to make roles voluntary, when really they are roles that merit paid staff. At Fair Museum Jobs we would say, don’t apply for these jobs, and challenge them when you see them. It will never be acceptable for any organisation to use their financial situation to treat other people poorly, no matter their charitable status.’

How do you solve a problem like David Starkey?

“Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain would there?”

David Starkey CBE is one of the country’s most prominent historians. He has been awarded the Medlicott Medal for Service to History by the Historical Association. His books are best sellers, on shelves in shops, libraries and schools up and down the country. He speaks at panels, history groups, as well as colleges and universities. If you are new to history and want to find out more about say, Tudors, Stuarts or the history of the monarchy, one of his books or TV shows would probably be one of the first things you find.

And today, David Starkey said this:

“Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain would there?”

For many years now, a large chunk of the history community has been calling Starkey out as someone who is unapologetically racist and very vocal about it. This isn’t the first time he has said something in this vein. For example, back in 2011 he waded into the London Riot’s, saying ‘‘The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion and black and white boys and girls operate in this language together.’ Then there was the time he voiced his opinions on a Rochdale sex trafficking ring (which he did at a conference for headteachers; no I don’t know how the hell he got to sex trafficking either) saying ‘what happens when [a country like Britain] has no sense of common identity”…Nobody ever explained [to these men] that the history of women in Britain was once rather similar to that in Pakistan and it had changed,” going on to urge headteachers to ensure their history curriculum focused on teaching minority students English history, so they grow up to be “first and foremost English citizens and English men.”.

It’s simply wrong to argue that this is how David Starkey interprets the historic research in front of him.

The unavoidable truth, is that, particularly in recent years, Starkey is merging his own racist views with history, presenting them as fact and in turn arguing this is how history should be taught and consumed. That’s not just morally wrong for a historian to do, but dangerous.

There have been efforts to try and quell this. Back in 2015, students and staff at Cambridge University successfully campaigned to have a video of Starkey promoting the institution taken down. Stating that it was inherently wrong to have a man representing the college who ‘publicly dismissed a female Cambridge colleague as ‘immigrant who was trying to push a multicultural agenda in education’, arguing, again publicly, that Britain was a ‘white mono-culture’, something, he said, this colleague failed to accept.’.

Yet, successes like this haven’t made a dent. Starkey is still consistently hired. Both by academic institutions and by TV and radio. I get it, he is a name, he comes with clout and in the case of his role as a talking head – he makes good TV, after all, at this point he is guaranteed to say something controversial.

But a line needs to be drawn.

The current argument over slave trader statues has underlined the importance that the history put in front of people impacts how they translate the world around them. Which is why we can’t just sit back and let Starkey continue on his merry way. This isn’t about ‘cancelling’ someone. This is about letting one-man skew history education towards something that his own personal agenda and not factual. It’s wrong. It’s dangerous. It shouldn’t be allowed to go on.

So, I suggest we do something that isn’t just shaking our fists in the air. One of the biggest barriers when it comes to fighting back against Starkey’s most recent work is that as a Medlicott medal holder, it (at least appears) he is backed by The Historical Association. Meaning the ‘voice of history’ in the UK, is continuing to give him a prominent platform to speak out from.

It’s still incredibly hard for history professionals from minority backgrounds to get a break (e.g. 96.1% of all university history professors are white) and increasing diversity in history has never been more important. If the Historical Association really does want history to be open to everyone, they can’t keep allowing David Starkey their platform.

We need them to speak out on this. Wherever that’s stripping Starkey of his award or making it clear, his current statements have no place in history education.

So, lets talk to the Historic Association. It’s incredibly easy. You can email them or message them on social media. I’ve put all the options below for you.

Email:Rebecca Sullivan, CEO: rebecca.sullivan@history.org.uk / enquiries@history.org.uk

Tweet: @histassoc

It takes 5 minutes, but it will help lessen the massive platform David Starkey has. Making it harder for him to continue using history to spread a personal agenda.

UPDATE – the Historical Association have today (3 July) announced that they are no longer working with Starkey and have stripped him of his Medlicott Medal. This is a huge step in making it clear to historic societies, schools and colleges, that the history David Starkey is peddling them in the form of seminars or lectures, is damaging and not grounded in factual research.

If you took the time to email the HA, then a huge thanks. You in no small way helped enact this much needed change.

F Yeah History going forward

Hi. I hope you are well, especially in these very turbulent times. 

Right now we’re standing in the middle of a turning point in history. Let’s be real, we already were, after all this is a global pandemic! But Black Lives Matter looks like it will be a movement that will create even more of an impact. A long lasting legacy that will change all of our lives, the way the law operates, the way we see the world and the way we behave towards each other. But also, it will change (and is already changing!) how we interact with history. 

And as such, I think we need to talk about F Yeah History. 

I’m a big believer that history education has the power to make you a better person. I know it’s made me a better person. History is essentially, just the story of people. Of us, all of us, all the good things our ancestors did and all the bad (and yes occasionally we whitewash the crap out of the bad – but I’ll get to that in a moment). Reading about history helps make you more compassionate, because it gives you insights into cultures and worlds you otherwise don’t have knowledge of. Now the bad side of that is unfortunately a lot of the history that isn’t straight or white, isn’t as easily accessible. It’s out there, but nowhere near as much as say, programmes and books on Henry VIII and his six wives. And that is a pretty big issue. 

Now, I’m proud of the fact that F Yeah History bucks this trend a little bit and has a fairly healthy balance of history from all sorts of different communities. But I’ve known for a while now that it could be better. And that if it could be better, it should be better. 

I’m not going to lie, it was the Black Lives Matter protests that really shot a rocket up my arse on this one, and made me realise that better representation isn’t something to go on my ‘to do list’, but a ‘need to do right now!’

So I want to commit to you that I will do better going forward. Here’s what I’ll be starting with:

There will be a set Black History section on the site

As of now, if you want to find our articles which specifically cover people and moments from black history, there is a new tag where you can find all of them in one place. They’ll still be on the homepage and also recommended after our other articles, but this way they will all be in one handy dandy place. 


I’ll be re-writing some of our articles 

If you have been with us a long time then you’ll know for the first year or so of F Yeah’s life the writing style was a, swear every other word, kind of deal. We’ve grown up, but for the most part I have left those articles as they are. 

That means that our articles on icons like Moms Mabley, Marsha P Johnson and many more, can’t be used by teachers in their classes (because who knew school boards frown upon constant swearing in educational sources!). So I’m going to be taking out the naughty words, and also updating each one with more research, information and links to where you can read more. 

This will not be an overnight process (because I am a one woman show for the most part, and I want to put time and care into each), but one I’ll be working on consistently. 


I’ll be posting more black history focused articles

Now I’m not scheduling this, this will not be a ‘once a month its black history day!’ kind of deal (after all, this is not Hairspray). Black history is history and not to be reserved for a special day or month. It’s always. 

I will be ensuring articles focussed on this area of history are more frequent. And do let me know if there is anything specific you’d like me to cover. 


The F Yeah History YouTube

In the next few weeks I’ll be posting more chatty videos, which I hope will be a chance to sit down and discuss some of the big issues in history representation that The Black Lives Matter protests have bought up. For example, the toppling of slave trader statues, the heroes vs villains culture we have in history and how we handle uncovering the racist pasts of some of history’s most beloved icons after years of whitewashing. 

In the long term, similar to the website, I’ll be ensuring I create more videos focussed on chapters and people from black history. 


I want you to know that I’m committed to making this a better space for everyone going forward. And that also means you feeling free to call me out. I’m a person, I’ll make mistakes and I’ll learn from them when I do. 

Please do let me know if there is anything else you’d like to see on the site. 

Love you and speak soon


Greatest Generaton vs Snowflakes – Covid 19 edition

For the next time someone tells you, ‘we would be screwed if this was WW2’

Over the last few weeks chances are you’ve heard someone say something along the lines of:

‘We’d be screwed if this was World War Two!’ 


‘If the snowflakes were the greatest generation, we’d be out of lockdown already!’

Or this great tweet by Lord Ashcroft


And lets be real, using the idea that society was way better in the Second World War, to back a half baked idea isn’t new. For example, during the Brexit campaign, my Facebook was awash with people pointing out that under Winston Churchill we weren’t part of the EU and that was the golden age of Britain! Which completely overlooks the idea that both the world economy and society as a whole is er, slightly different now…but I could see where they was coming from, so you know; you do you Aunt Karen and I’ll see you at the next family wedding/funeral.

BUT this new ‘Greatest Generation’ argument is really getting under my skin. Mainly because it is categorically and catastrophically incorrect from the beginning. 

Ok so lets break this down. The main line of the argument is that the country is crumbling because people are breaking lockdown rules, hoarding and generally being very moaney. And that in the Second World War, when faced with huge lifestyle changes everyone just buckled down and did them. Which is why we won that war and are losing this one.

Here’s the thing. That didn’t happen. 

Ok, lets use rationing as our first example. When rationing was announced in January 1940, The Daily Mail immediatly went on the warpath. They did side by sides of British rations vs German rations, bemoaning the amount the British were getting. They even ripped William Morrison, the Minister of Food, a new one, comparing his rationing plans to if: “Dr Goebbels were asked to help-to devise a more harmful piece of propaganda for Great Britain.”

As time went on, the majority of people got behind rationing. It wasn’t fun, but it was necessary. However, there were a minority of people who didn’t, which is why there was a thriving black market. As with breaking lock down rules, there were fines for breaking rationing and going to the black market. But people still did it. So much so that we have gone on to romanticise the black market ‘spiv’ as a loveable rogue (like Private Joe Walker in Dad’s Army) 

joe walker
Private Joe Walker – kind of a dick

Now lets quickly score off some of the other parts of the argument:

In WW2 nobody criticised how the government were doing things like we’re doing now – Sorry to burst your bubble, but people are people… of course they criticised the government! And often they well within their rights to!

For example, in the early stages of the war people were understandably not thrilled that Britain had equipment shortages and machinery that kept breaking. Loudly questioning why the hell the government hadn’t ensured they had stockpiles and a better equipment plan before the bussed a load of boys to the front line.

People were stronger. None of this ‘anxiety’ business! – The idea of the Blitz spirit has really been mythologised. Did those city dwellers living under constant threat of bombing keep on? Of course! But did they just merrily bounce out of bed each day after a night of bombs falling. No.

In 1941 after a series of bombings on Hull, a team of psychiatrists surveyed just over 700 people. They found that under the blitz people were drinking more, as well as experiencing extreme low moods, bouts of crying, and even loss of bladder control. Mental Health was a real issue, but it wasn’t something that was talked about to the level it is today.

Nobody would have broken the government guidelines to take a silly risk – Once again, it was a minority. But yeah no they totally did. For example, Writer Vera Brittain has talked about how young people would go party hopping during air raids, which became known as ‘Playing No Man’s Land’.

Were those who lived during The Second World War amazing people. Oh god yes! But were they perfect? No. We’re they better than todays people? Well they’ve been remembered as better, but not necessarily.

I’d be surprised if history remembers us as failures. It seems more likely this time will remembered much like the greatest generation. For people who kept going, joined together and clapped for the NHS and supported each other however they could.

So next time you see someone say we’d be screwed if this was World War Two. Well, first off, tell them the facts on that! But also remind them that just like World War Two, we’re all in this together. So maybe it’s time to stop trying to score points and instead realise that we need each other to get through this. After all, we’re stronger together.

So it turns out your history hero was racist? What now?

How to handle the pedestal toppling

There is one thing that unites every history nerd out there. And that, of course, is the heart wrenching sucker punch of finding out your history hero was actually kind of an arsehole.

I remember the first time it happened to me. I was 15 and just getting into suffrage history, when I came across Millicent Fawcett. It was immediate infatuation. Her work revolutionising suffrage, women’s rights and education, all just bloody brilliant.

But then I started to read into her work on the Boer War concentration camps and discovered that although she helped shut them down, beforehand she’d been very much team concentration camp and arguably incredibly racist in her argument for supporting them.

How do you recover from that? After all there’s finding out your history hero did something morally dubious and then there’s that.

And believe me when I say, my history hero is far from alone in this historic bullshittery:

  • Teddy Roosevelt – big fan of eugenics
  • Florence Nightingale – kinda racist
  • Winston Churchill – Where do I even begin?

So, why does this keep happening? Was everyone in the past just a massive dick?!?Put simply, no.

To break out it down to the a very basic level, the major problem with time is that it keeps going and as such, we as people get better. Science medicine, psychology and culture all continuously level up and offer us totally a new understanding of those around us and the world at large.

Now admittedly humanity becoming better as a whole doesn’t really sound like a problem, but in terms of reading history, it kind of is.

Today when we look back at history the flaws of our ancestors are more apparent than ever before. We now know how deeply wrong and inhumane it is to be racist, homophobic and sexist. To persecute minorities and help with one hand but slap down with the other.

We know that this is intolerable. But in the past it often wasn’t seen that way. Which is why so many of histories greatest figures are guilty of these sins.

So where does this leave us? What do you do when you find out your history fave was actually an arsehole? Well there are two options:

Option 1: Whitewash 

I know. Stay with me on this one!

Just because you know your fave did something awful, doesn’t mean everyone else has to! Get that tippex out, quickly slap it on and you can just pretend this whole thing never happened.

Sounds abhorrent right? Maybe, but this is by far the most popular option.

And it’s frighteningly understandable. Lets take it back to Millicent Fawcett. 

Over the last decade or so, modern history at large has finally started putting more of a spotlight on Millicent Fawcett and her work. She is presented alongside the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst as a key figure in women getting the vote and has become a pretty prominent feminist hero. Hell, she recently became the first woman to ever have a statue in Parliament Square!

That’s all awesome, especially when you think about how long her achievements were overlooked and how few major modern female history heroes are widely known.

Which is probably why when writing about Millicent for publications with a massive reach (like national newspapers and magazines) a lot of journalists and history writers have just casually left out her support of the Boer War concentration camps…even if in the same article they say how she helped eradicate them.

Because why complicate things by veering off into morally muddy waters. It stops you creating a clean empowering narrative and instead makes one that’s pretty damn thorny.

Well. Because we have to.

Because when we whitewash over these moments in history, we’re taking away from what made up the person and the world around them. That’s pretty vital stuff to just gloss over.

makes sense
Gotta admit it makes sense

Option 2: Delve into the why

Yes, occasionally there is someone who was just the worst and born an awful human being (figured I’d quickly circumnavigate that one before anyone puts Hitler in the comments!) but that’s not really the case for the 99.9% of the people you’ll encounter during your history reading.

You have to don that deerstalker and channel your inner Holmes.  Look at the world around the person. What made them think and feel this way? 

In the case of Millicent, it was a combination of things. A little bit of self superiority (as a white person living in an imperialistic world) as well as going into the concentration camp debate very pro Boer War and wanting Britain to come out with a win. Plus she believed what the British press were saying about the camps. That the women and children imprisoned in the concentration camps had been helping in the fight against British forces and as such, needed to be locked away just as a matter warfare.

That doesn’t make it right for her to have been pro concentration camp. But it did help me better understand why she thought this way.

Doing this not only helps you better understand the era beyond the person, but it also impacts how you think on a day to day level. 

Because by learning why these otherwise good people made bad choices, we can better understand the world around us.

It means we don’t just look at someone in a MAGA hat and say ‘fuck you!’ But ‘why did you get here’ and visa versa.

It’s the ability to better understand those around us, because we have learnt from those before us. Living in a world of cancel culture, that skill has never been more important!

But what do you think? What would you do if you found out your history hero had some serious flaws? 

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Why Drag Race will one day be taught in schools

Because in the clusterfuck we find ourselves in today, there is one shining hope for the history lessons of tomorrow.

Dear future history teachers, I can only apologise. After all, we’re living in the kind of hellscape that will be impossible to break down into hour long chunks that teenagers can understand (I’m living in this mess and I can barely keep up!)

The UK is dancing an unending hokey kokey with Europe, America’s President is possibly Voldemort with a spray tan, the poorest of us have never been worse off and even the Royal Family are unable to keep their shit together. Oh, and that’s not even starting on the countless elections, riots and this tiny little thing called global warming. Future history teachers, I can only wish you good luck and god speed; those lesson plans will need a miracle.

BUT there is one great thing that has come out of this whole mess. One thing that will  make the history classes of fifty years from now not only bearable, but the best damn lesson ever. 

I am of course, talking about Ru Pauls Drag Race. 

ru i cant wait gif
Same Ru, same

Ok, this might seem a little unorthodox, but don’t forget this:

There is no way that in 50 years LGBT+ history won’t be taught with the same respect that civil rights are taught in todays schools. 

LGBT+ history will become part of the curriculum. That’s just fact. It’s already starting to happen. In America several states require it to be taught and countless schools across the world eagerly embrace LGBT History Month. This is just the beginning. Pretty soon LGBT history won’t just be something you squeeze into lessons where possible, it will be a key part of what kids learn.

That’s because queer culture isn’t just a societal side piece. It’s part of who we are as a whole. It’s taken us centuries, but we’re starting to wake up to that fact. Just as with civil rights, LGBT rights aren’t ‘a nice to have’ or something only those in that community need to worry about, they effect everyone.

Which brings me back to Ru Paul’s Drag Race. It’s irrefutable that Drag Race has helped bring queer culture to the mainstream (no matter what you think on it’s representation of drag). It’s introduced millions of people to not only drag, but also major LGBT issues, with episodes frequently including debate and discussion of rights. Viewers have turned into allies, advocates and campaigners. Don’t get me wrong, Drag Race is not perfect by any means, but it’s contribution is HUGE.

lick me
This is what societal importance looks like

Oh and to the argument that Drag Race isn’t high art enough to be remembered, take a seat. MASS ENTERTAINMENT IS HISTORY. Just ask William Shakespeare. 

Audiences to Shakespeare’s plays were anyone and everyone. The insanely rich bought pricey seats and dressed to see and be seen. Then there with those that paid a penny and flitted between watching the show to hawking merch to make some extra cash.

Those stories were for everyone. They commented on current issues and played into trends. William Shakespeare might as well have retitled Macbeth, ‘Hey King James I heard you were well into witches now, so thought you might like this.’. It’s the perfect meld between fantastical flight and commentary on history building moments. Kind of reminds you of something, huh?

Oh and that’s not even getting into the language! Just like those sonnets of yore, slang rooted from within queer culture is part of everyday language. Who knows, maybe one day teens will be forced to both read aloud from Macbeth and Drag Race.

latrice gif
But said in monotone by an introverted 15 year old from Leeds

Then there’s the action off screen. The queens that are making history right now. 

Trans activists, Sonique and Monica Beverly Hillz fighting for rights for everyone in their community. Outspoken Queens like Bob The Drag Queen, working to stop the racism that many of the shows black contestants face. It’s yet more evidence that as the fight continues, Drag Race’s does too.

So yes. I do see Drag Race being taught in schools. Right alongside Marsha P Johnson, Section 28 and the Aids crisis

Drag Race will be a leaping off point, a place to start before delving into centuries of struggle and prejudice.

The introduction to the brave heroes who fought back and were all too often forgotten. A rhinestoned beacon of hope, so needed when your traversing for the seemingly endless mires of bleakness, that yes, it does get better.

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