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Speaking Out: Whistle-Blowers, Dissidents, and Disclosures

19 February 2021 on Microsoft Teams - email Callie Wilkinson ( to register.

Whistle-blowers loom large in the contemporary media landscape; Chelsea Manning continues to figure in the news, while Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg have inspired major Hollywood movies. Yet, the history of whistle-blowers, and the controversy that they tend to ignite, has received relatively limited historical attention outside of the late twentieth century. How might changing ideas of humanity, state, society, and citizenship have informed acts of speaking out? What about historically contingent conceptions of duty and care? How have shifting structures of affiliation (the household, the family, the corporation, civil society) played their part? What unique difficulties have individuals confronted when attempting to bring abuses to light? Using the modern term ‘whistle-blower’ as an analytical rather than an actor’s category, the aim of this workshop is to think historically about insiders who have used their privileged access to information to make abuses visible, and the changing motives for and consequences of unauthorized disclosures.

This workshop is designed not only to historicize whistleblowing, but also to think about whistle-blowers in relation to other modes of speaking out. Those not employed by an organization, but subject to its abuse, likewise develop strategies for making this misconduct visible. Yet, age, race, gender, class, resources and institutional affiliation can result in different levels of mobility and audibility, and differential access to political platforms. What obstacles did individuals face in trying to make their voices heard, and how did they work to circumnavigate them? Can connections be drawn between the resistance of victims of misconduct and a whistle-blower’s decision to speak out? This one-day workshop will bring together scholars working on different regions and time periods to discuss patterns and variations in how historical actors have sought to disseminate information and make abuses visible.


12.00 - 12.10 - Opening remarks

12.10-1.40 - Panel 1: Health and Welfare

Chair: Louise Hide (Birkbeck)

Gareth Millward (Warwick), “His earnest desire to be of service”: tattletaling on your neighbours to the Department of Health and Social Security, 1970-72

Chris Sirrs (Warwick), Speaking up and speaking out: towards a just culture in the NHS

Claire Hilton (Historian in Residence, Royal College of Psychiatrists), Whistle-blowing in the NHS, 1960s-2020 – same or different?

1.50 - 3.20 - Panel 2: Corruption

Chair: Mark Philp (Warwick)

Mark Knights (Warwick), Whistle-blowers of corruption in Britain and its empire 1600-1800

Steven Pierce (University of Manchester), Memories of corruption: Northern Nigerian politics, public testimony, and the culpability of emirs

Sarah Milov (University of Virginia), “But he was no sissy”: Ernest Fitzgerald and the gendering of whistleblowing, 1968-1978

3.30 - 5.00 - Panel 3: Colonial Violence

Chair: David Anderson (Warwick)

Erik Linstrum (University of Virginia), The limits of conscience: blowing the whistle on colonial violence in 1950s Britain

Gavin Rand (University of Greenwich), “Belsen, without the gas chambers”: partition violence and the end of the British empire in South Asia

Nick Owen (Oxford), Knowing and not-knowing: complications in the reporting of British colonial violence