Monday, January 24, 2011

At the Radical History Conference in Windsor

From February 4th to 6th there is going to be a grassroots-organized, community-based Radical History Conference at the Workers Action Centre in Windsor, Ontario. I was a little late off the mark putting my name in, and I'm still scrambling to figure out what I want to say and to finalize the logistical details of my trip, but I'll be presenting a talk at 5:30 pm on Saturday, February 5th.

Check out the conference's site. The organizers say, "Several groups and individuals are collaborating to bring you a weekend long conference that examines a narrative of history focusing on working peoples and their struggles toward a more equitable, sustainable, and beautiful world." They go on to invite you to "Join fellow workers in exploring past stories of revolt, stories of genocide, stories of community solidarity, stories of liberation and stories from a decaying world of corporate hegemony." Presentations include some history that is local to Windsor, including a look at the important strike at Ford in 1945 (which lead to the introduction of the Rand formula), and a discussion of colonization and resistance in the Detroit River area. I'm particularly looking forward to the presentation by No One Is Illegal (Toronto) and the one looking at the history of Canadian student movements, and the rest looks like it will be interesting as well.

My own talk will be called "Talking Radical: Active Remembering and Histories From Below." I'm still hard at work on figuring out what exactly I'm going to say, but here's the summary I sent in:

The kind of active, collective remembering that is integral to producing vibrant and useful histories from below requires new ways of thinking about the past. Conventional academic histories, including much that you might call "left history," can be a useful resource but they can also be unengaging, inaccessible, and grounded in ways of thinking about the social world and of producing knowledge about it that do little to support our struggles. In contrast, those of us in movements and communities need approaches that both connect to ordinary people and that ground our understandings of the social world, present and past, in our own and other peoples' experiences of oppression and needs to resist. How, then, can we rethink the act of "doing history" to make it better serve our needs and our struggles? It is an area for experimentation and conversation, and to that end I will talk about some of the ideas and practices that I have found useful in my work on community- and movement-based history from below over the last decade. This work involved doing oral history interviews with 50 long-time activists from many different Canadian cities, movements, and eras, and combining 15 of those interviews with generous historical context and relevant ideas to produce a book manuscript. I will draw on the stories shared with me by these many generous elders as examples, and hopefully contribute to ongoing discussions about how we can best engage in active remembering to create histories from below.

If you are in the Windsor area, please check it out!

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