A Second City Remembered: Rethinking Bristol's History

Issue date: 05 July 2010


University of the West of England St Matthias Campus, Fishponds, UWE, Bristol
23-24 July 2010

The Regional History Centre at the University of the West of England has partnered up with M Shed,Bristol's new museum, to present a conference that reconsiders the history of the second city. 'A second city remembered: rethinking Bristol's history, 1200 – 2000' takes place at UWE's St Matthias Campus on Friday 23 July and Saturday 24 July.

As M Shed prepares to open its doors in 2011, this conference reconsiders the history of the second city from the thirteenth century to the present, inviting fresh interpretations of all aspects of its past, and reflecting upon the uses and abuses of history in the making of urban identity. What are the components of historical memory in Bristol? What is remembered? What is overlooked? And what has been purposely forgotten?

The achievements of the great and the good who have passed through the city's streets over the centuries – from Cannyng and Cabot to Chatterton, Carpenter and Brunel – are celebrated often enough, but while many 18th Century commentators were critical of the city's inward-looking obsession with merchants and material wealth, nineteenth century critics sensed a downward spiral of decline:

'Bristol has lived too much on its old traditions and, content with its nominal rank as the second city of the empire, it has allowed itself to be distanced by the enterprise and spirit of the North', noted a London paper in 1854. 'Bristol far exceeds Liverpool in mere beauty, but it is a beauty of the past, and a sleepy, dreary and leaden apathetic atmosphere has too long hung over both the fair city and its citizens'.

Organiser and RHC Director, Dr Steve Poole said, “Bristol is one of the oldest and most important port cities in Europe and unsurprisingly it has a complex and difficult history. For centuries, Bristolians have been proud to live in a Second City carved from equal measures of industry, charity and culture, and proud too of their mastery of economic re-invention – but they also remain haunted by memories of slavery, fears of comparative decline and accusations of philistinism. This conference re-opens the book on all of that.”

“We're really excited by the enthusiasm it has generated already amongst academic and independent historians alike. And it's great to be working with M Shed on this. We're expecting a large crowd of visitors over the full two days because we have most of the best known historians of the city of Bristol taking part and making presentations.”

For the full programme see http://humanities.uwe.ac.uk/regionhistory/rhcnew/Events/conference%20planJuly2010final.htm

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