Rebel yell! How Radical Voices celebrates protest

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Rebel yell! How Radical Voices celebrates protest


Thu, 12/01/2017 - 14:38


Below: John Bull and the sinking fund – a petty scheme for reducing the taxes & paying off the national debt. James Gillray [London] : Pub by H. Humphrey, 27 St James’s Street, February 29th 1807, Senate House Library, SHL [G.L.] Case 11/19
12 January, 2017

A SMALL silk buttonhole, a pamphlet on how to avoid arrest and a petition for women to sit their medical degree exams.

These are just some of the artefacts on display at the forthcoming Radical Voices exhibition at Senate House Library which charts how protest has been expressed over the past 200 years. 

Split into categories including petitions, photographs, posters, songs, poetry, book collections, political cartoons, badges and ephemera, it is a rich analysis of the voices that have spoken out and have often forced change. 

There are examples ranging from a James Gillray cartoon dating from 1807 (the oldest item in the exhibition) right up to a 2003 Stop the War poster and more recently literature printed by Occupy Design in 2012 as part of the occupation at St Paul’s. 

For Dr Jordan Landes, research librarian of history at Senate House Library and lead curator of the exhibition, it was reading Rebel Footprints by David Rosenberg that inspired her.

“It made me realise the wealth of what was in the collections as I recognised that we held the collections of so many of the people he wrote about,” she says.

As Dr Landes and her colleagues sifted through the collection they decided on looking at formats of protest rather than a chronological approach. So alongside the Gillray you will find a political cartoon by the Communist Party of Great Britain.

“Instead of trying to do this by subject we do it by how the voices are expressed,” explains Dr Landes. “So as well as the John Bull and the Communist Party of Great Britain sitting check by jowl in the ‘Political Cartoons’ section, under the category ‘Badges’ there is a silk buttonhole worn by men to express support for the Suffragettes and this sits next to membership badges of the Liberal Party of South Africa.”

The “Advice for Those Taking Part in Protests” section is a particular favourite for Dr Landes, not least because it reveals not only the ever-shifting face of protest but also how dissent was once regarded as the sole preserve of men. 

“There is the change over time in the tone and language,” she explains. “I love the 1934 pamphlet where there is a warning to men to tell their wives not to let policemen into their house. There was the assumption that the women would not be protesting. It reveals so much about society at the time, not just about protest.”

That this free exhibition should take place at the University of London is no surprise. It has long been seen as a radical institution and this is explored. 

William Beveridge served as vice-chancellor of the university from 1926-1928 and in 1942 he outlined the contents of The Beveridge Report in Senate House’s Macmillan Hall. 

Also progressive was the fact that the university did not have a religious requirement. In 1878 it was one of the first institutions to open up higher education to women. (Girton College Cambridge began admitting women in 1869).

Despite this progress there was a sticking point: women were not allowed to sit their examinations to earn their degrees. A petition calling for this to change is included in the exhibition.

With a mixture of personal libraries and manuscripts, Radical Voices also has a concurrent series of events including film screenings, talks, conferences and music.

“I hope the exhibition is a reminder that libraries and archives are places that preserve these, as we are calling them radical voices, and in preserving them they can potentially inspire people to study further and learn more, which is our main purpose.”

On entering the exhibition there is a poster emblazoned with a simple but powerful quotation from WH Auden: “All I have is a voice.”

Dr Landes is keen that Radical Voices will inspire people to think more deeply about the means and messages of protest. 

“Hopefully this exhibition will allow people to read and hear others’ voices and maybe in turn it will help them find their own.”

• Radical Voices runs from January 16-March 31 at Senate House Library, University of London, Malet Street, WC1E 7HU. For more information visit

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