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Now and Then

Schedule for Term One

All Discussions will take place in the History Common Room on Teams.




Week 2 (Tuesday 13 October, 12-1pm)


Joachim C. Häberlen

Title: Refugee Stories: Explorations in Citizenship from Afghanistan and Syria to Germany

During what came to be known as the refugee crisis of 2015/16 -- a term that is in fact rather misleading --, roughly a million people fleeing from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan reached Europe, most of them ending up in Germany. How can we write a history of this moment? This presentation will critically discuss how the story of the "refugee crisis" is commonly framed, inquiring about the heroes and heroines of that story, about the political implications of telling stories, and about a possible alternative way of telling the story of those who fled (rather than "refugees").

If anyone wants to read something in advance, they can (but it's certainly not a requirement) to this piece:


Lessons in Citizenship: What Syrians Can Teach Germans (Feb 2020), Al-Jumhuriya, at


Week 4 (Tuesday 27 October, 12-1pm)

Ben Smith

Title: History, Violence, and U.S. Asylum Law

Over the past decade, hundreds of thousands of Latin American citizens have sought asylum in the United States. They have fled for many reasons including political, religious, and ethnic persecution. But most have sought refuge from the increasing levels of criminal violence employed by drug cartels, kidnapping gangs and the notorious Central American "maras". They have encountered a United States where the pledge to "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe" is now more bumper sticker than serious policy. ICE squads raid businesses and private homes and lock detainees in privately-owned deportation centers for years on end; children are separated from their families; and women are forcibly sterilized.

​Many of these detainees can barely afford lawyers fees let alone an expert to back up their asylum case. As a result, over the past five years I have been employing my knowledge of drug cartels and organized crime in Mexico (and to a much lesser extent in Central America) to help fight many of these asylum seekers' cases. In this talk, I will offer some insights from my work, some of the more harrowing stories of both criminal violence and US policy, and some reflections on how academic work can affect real world problems.



Week 8 (Tuesday 24 November, 4-5pm)

Ronan Love

Title: Two financial crises, but a shared political-economy?: Researching the French Revolution in the shadow of 2008

Despite occurring over a decade ago, we would struggle to find an area of our lives today that has not in some way been impacted by the global financial crisis of 2008. From the many left destitute at the hands of austerity to our collective ability to respond to COVID-19, its ongoing legacies are profound and ubiquitous, operating at levels social, political, cultural, economic, within nations and across borders. Although nobody has been spared - perhaps save the bankers - most do not fully understand what happened in those fateful months from 2007-08, which now seem more like a passing memory than historical turning point.

In this talk, I will put the GFC in conversation with my own research on the financial crisis of the French Revolution in order to make both events mutually comprehensible. What can we learn, if anything, about the GFC by revisiting the crisis of 1789? Are these events simply incommensurate, or can we spot similar processes - perhaps even a shared political economy - at work within the causes and consequences of the two crises? This talk will tentatively say we can, but it invites disagreement and an open debate, either from those who know a bit about both events or from those who simply want to know more!


Week 9 (Tuesday 1 December, 4-5pm)

Michael Bycroft

Title: David Hume Meets BLM

In September 2020, the University of Edinburgh changed the name of a building on campus that had been named after David Hume, an eighteenth-century philosopher who wrote that black people are “naturally inferior” to white people. The renaming sparked a debate in the British press, with historians and philosophers weighing in on both sides. The debate raises wider questions, such as: how should we evaluate morally ambiguous intellectuals from the past? How should universities go about making decisions of this kind? How does local activism play out in national and global media? And what does it mean to decolonise the study of the Scottish Enlightenment?

This will be an open discussion covering these and any other questions that participants are interested in. See the link/attachment for a page of quotes about the story, and for links to further (entirely optional!) reading.

 Additional Links and Quotes