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The University of Southampton
HistoryPart of Humanities

Research project: 'Historians for the right to work!'

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Is there a future for history? Historians commonly operate on the unspoken premise that there will always be somebody not only to write about the past but to make intelligible sense of it

A rally
Fig.1

But what if historians are actually operating now in a twilight zone with no long-term future to retreat into? This is not some speculation. Earth scientists, the chroniclers of the natural history of the planet, have deemed our era the Anthropocene, one in which our impact as a species on the biosphere, not least by way of an accelerating global warming, is hurtling all life on earth towards a 6th mass extinction.

Rescue!History was created in 2005 to alert historians and those in related disciplines to this new reality and with the urgent premise that all of us need to come out of our comfort zones to 'rethink' our specialisms not to say the broader historical trajectory in the light of probable foreclosure. If this sounds bleak in the extreme, however, there is another side to Rescue!History's purpose; namely to work back into the past and sideways too in the contemporary era, to recover for the mainstream forgotten or discarded ways of doing, thinking and living with nature and ourselves which may yet offer a riposte to a standard fare of hegemonic overlordship and – self-destructive – destruction.

To this end, Rescue!History, always a loosely independent if Southampton-founded network, is working on a new project aimed at creating a platform of short, easily accessible videos for  young people, which aims to present an alternative history of humankind, with pointers to how we may yet practically and compassionately offer hope in adversity.

This picture from a 1980 London demo against nuclear weapons offers a sort of historic prequel to the founding  of Rescue!History a quarter of a century later by Mark Levene, one of the banner carriers. The other, the late Phil Jeffries along with Diana Shelley, both non-violent peace activists, were the creators of the aptly named banner. Off-camera but marching just in front were  historians, Edward (E.P) and Dorothy Thompson, leading lights in the then struggle against 'Exterminism'.

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