We chat with Pearson from the Coffee with Comrades podcast about our new web apps: the Working Class History Map and Stories app. This episode has been timed to coincide with the public launch of our web apps on January 31.
Our podcast is brought to you by our patreon supporters. Our supporters fund our work, and in return get exclusive early access to podcast episodes, bonus episodes, free and discounted merchandise and other content. Join us or find out more at patreon.com/workingclasshistory
You can listen to our podcast on the below links, or on any major podcast app. Links to a few below.
In this episode, we talk about why we started the mapping project, what it’s about, how people can use it, and about different ways of interacting with people’s history. We also talk about how it differs from any other radical history mapping project.
- Check out the Map at map.workingclasshistory.com
- Check out the Stories app at stories.workingclasshistory.com
- E71: The Cartography of Struggle, with Coffee with Comrades
There is an additional bonus episode with Pearson speaking about their experiences using the map on a trip to London. Coming tomorrow exclusively for our patreon supporters.
Our stories app was developed with the Yalla Cooperative. Our map was developed with assistance from volunteers and Will Field.
If you enjoy it, make sure to check out Coffee with Comrades, who are also supported by patreon. Connect with them here:
- Web: https://coffeewithcomrades.com/
- Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/coffeewithcomrades
- Twitter: http://twitter.com/coffeewcomrades
- Thanks to our patreon supporters for making this podcast possible.
- Episode produced by Coffee with Comrades, additional editingby Jesse French
- Our theme tune is Bella Ciao, thanks for permission to use it from Dischi del Sole. You can purchase it here or stream it here.
WCH: Hi there. Today, we’ve got something a bit different for you on the Working Class History podcast. We are very excited to be launching new online projects: an interactive web app and maps containing all of our historical stories. You can check out the web app at Stories.WorkingClassHistory.com and the map at Map.WorkingClassHistory.com. Links in the show notes.
We gave a preview of the apps to our friend Pearson at the excellent Coffee With Comrades podcast and we had a good chat with them about it. Coffee With Comrades then produced this podcast episode about the project. So after the jump, you can listen to this podcast in its entirety and if you enjoy it, make sure to check out the Coffee With Comrades podcast wherever you get your podcasts or on their website CoffeeWithComrades.com and you can support them on Patreon at Patreon.com/CoffeeWithComrades. Links in the show notes.
[Intro music – Bella Ciao]
Before we get started, just a quick reminder that our podcast is brought to you by our Patreon supporters. Our supporters fund our work and in return, get exclusive early access to ad-free podcast episodes, bonus episodes, free and discounted merch and other content. For example, our Patreon supporters have access to an exclusive bonus episode where we chat with Pearson about their experience using the map during a recent trip to London. Join us or find out more at Patreon.com/WorkingClassHistory. Link in the show notes. I hope you enjoy this episode and our new web apps.
Pearson: This week, I am sitting down with Matt and John, two of the intrepid fellows behind Working Class History. What’s new with you?
Yeah, hanging out, playing Nintendo and that sort of thing [laughter].
Pearson: What have you been playing?
No, actually, I haven’t. I can’t wait for the day that my kids get old enough for me to play computer games and call it quality time.
Pearson: Hello, yeah.
Matt: But for now, I’ve got to do responsible stuff [laughter], you know, like feed them and that kind of stuff.
Pearson: That’s generally pretty important [laughter].
Matt: It’s bad. They need so much food [laughter].
Pearson: Hell, yeah. How are you, John?
John: Yeah, good. It’s great to be back. I can’t believe it’s been three years since we spoke last. I don’t suppose anything major has happened since then, right?
Pearson: No, I mean not world historic uprisings, a global pandemic, Elon Musk buying Twitter and a number of fuckin’ other things. No, nothing important in any way, shape or form has transpired in that time [laughter] but it’s good to see you again nonetheless.
John: Yeah, definitely. Always good to talk with you and Coffee With Comrades.
Pearson: Yeah, for sure. Listen, for folks who may not have heard of your project before, what is Working Class History and its mission generally?
John: Working Class History is an online project basically aimed at researching and promoting people’s history and our collective history of struggles for a better world in short. We have various outlets to do that: social media, a podcast, books and as we discussed with you last time, now soon to be an interactive web app.
Hell, yeah. Do you have anything you want to add to that, Matt?
Matt: No, not really to be honest. I suppose the main thing would be the general approach that we kind are concerned with is not big names that usually take up the space in the history books but often, people who just disappear or have almost disappeared from the historical records entirely and focusing on movements from below rather than the politicking of high-ranking politicians or monarchs. In history classes in the UK, there are rhymes so that you can remember all the names of the kings and queens in history. I’ve never been able to memorise that. I think maybe part of that is what caused my inability to succeed at mainstream history [laughter].
Pearson: You’re just going to rewrite history [laughter].
Yeah, fuck that! Yeah, kings and queens are not interesting. It’s history from below and luckily, because of our focus on people who usually are forgotten and the nameless people in history, it also means I don’t have to remember too many names.
Pearson: Hell, yeah. It’s a bit of both worlds. The thing that’s always appealed to me about Working Class History is that you don’t just pay lip service to the rejection of the great man of history mythos but really dig deep and are really intentional about trying to look beyond just Western history and take a global approach which kind of guides us really neatly into this new project that you have been working on behind the scenes. John, if memory serves, I feel like you and I had a conversation last time we spoke that this was something earlier in the works but now you are prepared to officially unveil it to the world which is the Working Class History map. Could you tell me a little bit about this new project, why it’s so exciting and what went into it?
John: Yeah, we did discuss it last time because it was something that we were working on. We’ve probably been working on this for about five years and…
John: …developing it behind the scenes, doing the research and the mapping and only relatively recently have we been able to build the platforms for it. Essentially, the web app has two sides. They are the Stories and the Map apps. Ever since we started, we’ve been building an archive of stories about people’s history and we use those to post on social media every day on our Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blah, blah, blah accounts. We included them in the book that we discussed. What these new platforms do is put all of that private archive of ours online in a way that everyone can look at and people can browse, both by topic and tag and things like country, union, person, name and also by the map, so geographically. At the moment, the Stories app has about 3,000 plus of our people’s history stories in it and for a large number of those, we’ve been able to find often very specific geographical locations related to those stories. Those stories which we’ve geographically mapped are also browsable on our map. Yeah, we’re very excited to launch this. As I say, it’s been something we’ve been working on for a really long time behind the scenes but we didn’t have the technical know-how to be able to build a platform for it. We had ideas for it but we couldn’t bring that into being. However, we’ve been very fortunate thanks to support from our readers and listeners on Patreon which gave us a financial basis to be able to fund this work. We partnered with the Yalla web development co-op and we also crowdfunded a bit of money for this from our readers and listeners to fund the development of the Stories app. The companion map was developed very kindly with a couple of different people who volunteered to help. We went through a couple of iterations of the map but the recent incarnation of the map was also, in particular, developed by a really fantastic volunteer who put in a huge amount of work, Will Field, and so we’d like to extend massive thanks for that assistance. Without him, it wouldn’t have been possible. Yeah, we’re really happy to be able to share it with everyone and make our history available in an easy way for people to look at and that’s not owned by Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk which is the problem with the social media platforms.
Pearson: Totally, yeah. One of the things that’s really immediately interesting about it is that not only does it have that autonomy and infrastructure that’s separate from this billionaire class that’s on social media but it’s also the first time that all of it is just readily available, right? You can just browse things freely. In the past, with Working Class History, you either have your book where you can flip through it and get some daily ideas or the social media posts which give you daily flashbacks of history; On This Day in History sort of style posts. What this allows you to do is not only read all the stories in your catalogue that you’ve compiled throughout the many years that Working Class History has been alive and well but now, you can also look at it on a map and see where all this stuff is. It’s a really cool and really interactive piece of software that you have put together and I’m really excited for people to dig their teeth into it.
Matt, could you talk a little bit about the app and how it figures into the digital physical experience of actually getting to navigate places and spaces in working-class history?
Matt: Yeah, I mean I sometimes wonder if it’s just like me and my own way of thinking about things. I like maps and that’s really a basic thing about me.
Pearson: Maps are cool [laughter].
Matt: They are cool. I don’t know if I’m going to start making grand generalisations. I don’t know if it’s applicable to everyone else but I want to speak as if it is. I do just think there is something really nice about being able to visualise all of these events. If we think about our movements in terms of workers’ movements, resistance and all that stuff, there’s something quite amazing already in seeing such a vast geographical spread which seems to me to suggest something transnational and transhistorical and that itself suggests something profound. There is something also about when you zoom in and if you’re from a place or if you’re visiting a place, you can see the events that have taken place there. I don’t know if maybe John wants to talk about it a little bit but also the idea of walking through these areas and hitting these points as you walk is also an interesting feeling. John, I don’t know if you remember when we did the interview for the Grunwick episode which was the first episode we ever did as a podcast. We went to meet up in this union office in Northwest London which was just down the road from where the Grunwick strike had happened. Afterwards, we were walking up to a pub and on the way, we passed the bus garage where, in 1918, there had been a wildcat strike of women bus workers for equal pay. On top of that, you could see, on the bus garage itself, why there were so many women workers at the bus garage. There was a plaque there dedicated to all the bus workers there who had died during the First World War. You’re already feeling this history as a geographical or spatially-located event in a way that maybe, just as words on a page, can feel a bit ephemeral. I don’t know if that’s the right word. Anyway, as we got closer to the pub further up the road from that, there was a massive row of buildings called Rutland Park Mansions which is now luxury accommodation. In the late 80s and early 90s, it was actually a huge squatted building of 42 four-bedroom flats and lived in by people not paying and all of that. That got evicted in 1993 or something like that. I just think there’s something there about this short walk and we saw three huge historical events that had all taken place really right next to each other. There’s something about that that I think is really powerful. John, I don’t know if there’s anything you wanted to add.
John: I’m also someone who loves maps and, yeah, I agree. We really want this to be something whereby, I think through our social media platforms, people can interact with our history and history of struggle by date. We think that the map is a good way that people can interact with it, feel part of it and be connected to it geographically. Yeah, we want it to be something so that people can connect with the history of their local area where they live or when travelling, to be able to visit places and connect with stuff that’s happened in the area that they’ve gone to that they might not otherwise be aware of. We hope that these stories on the map will be able to act as permanent digital historical markers or ‘blue plaques’, as they are in the UK, for a lot of events and people that will never get an official historical marker or a blue plaque for various reasons. Yeah, we hope that it will have those functions.
Matt: Especially thinking about urban development, the thing about the Grunwick strike is the factory doesn’t exist anymore and it’s now been developed into something else. I don’t know if it’s flats or something else like that. To be honest, as is the case in London, everything that was something else has now probably been developed into flats. That’s the way London is going. There are just so many locations of really significant historical importance but for various reasons, as John said, will never get a historical plaque to remember them because maybe the histories that they commemorate are still kind of unresolved or a bit raw in ways that they can’t be…
Pearson: They can’t be easily palatably appropriated by the state.
Matt: Exactly! Absolutely. Exactly. In the 80s, there was the Wapping printers’ dispute in East London when Rupert Murdoch basically decided to smash the printers’ unions. The area where a lot of the picketing happened was known as Fortress Wapping because there were so many police surrounding it and the place just became locked down by the state basically. You had trade unionists and their supporters fighting with police and scabs. When I was looking for that location on the map, I could get to the area and then all of a sudden, I realised that the area where it was is now – I don’t know if they’ve finished it – but it was a building site basically for an absolutely huge new residential apartment block. Again, I wonder will that apartment block have a blue plaque on it to say, ‘Here was where the printers’ unions were smashed,’ at the real risk of being nostalgic. I guess that’s what we’re trying to grab. Doing Working Class History really makes me feel that history and our connection to history is really fragile. The connections to the past are constantly being lost and so we’re constantly scrabbling to put it down as a historical record. There’s a quote from a Marxist art critic called John Berger who wrote this novel called G. He talks about all history being contemporary history in that in being history, it has to vibrate in the mind of the historian. I think the map, for me, is a way of making history vibrate in people’s minds if you see what I mean.
Pearson: No, totally.
John: I think that’s a really nice thought and also I just think it’s worth, as an addendum to that, saying that it’s not just that history kind of evaporates or something like that but also, there are very conscious efforts to stamp it out and delete it as you can see, particularly in US schools at the moment with what is totally manufactured furore over what they call critical race theory but they actually mean history.
Pearson: Or like erasing people whose gender identity is somehow transgressive to the binary spectrum. I can’t find the right words.
John: The colonial gender binary, yeah.
Pearson: Yes, thank you, the binary. I couldn’t find that word for some reason [laughter]. Oh, man! Talking for a living is…
Matt: It’s alright. On the way home just now, I couldn’t find the word for umbrella, so don’t worry about it [laughter]. It’s all good. But it’s funny, the mentioning of colonialism as well because that’s one thing where you get people, especially with British colonialism, saying, ‘Oh well, we ended slavery,’ or ‘We did this,’ or ‘We weren’t that bad.’ Often, they accuse people who want to bring things up, like the people who toppled the Colston statue in Bristol, and say, ‘These people want to rewrite history.’ All this is forgetting things that the British state just destroyed thousands of documents and they were like, ‘These are some of the egregious and embarrassing colonial crimes, so we’re just going to burn them or dump them in the sea.’ If you ever mention this sort of stuff to people who are very concerned with maintaining history through the monuments to slave owners, they disappear. They’re not interested in talking about that aspect of destroying history which I think is telling.
Pearson: It’s very telling, for sure. There are a lot of online apps that are dedicated to people’s history and to radical history. What is it that makes the Working Class History map different?
As Matt said, yeah, Matt loves maps and I love maps and I think at the moment, maps are quite trendy and have been for a few years. I think a lot of people have been trying to create maps of things which is great. There are a lot of maps out there which have a lot of great information in them but we think ours is very qualitatively different from a lot of others. For example, there’s a really fantastic set of maps and data by the University of Washington about the Industrial Workers of the World Union. They’ve got maps about all kinds of stuff. They’ve got maps of IWW strikes, locals and that sort of thing in the US. They’re useful in the way that, say, if someone is a researcher and they want to get an idea of what the geographical spread was of the IWW and its activity, they’re kind of useful.
Matt: A lot of the markers are generally in this area. They might have been a strike in this town and so there will be a marker on that town or on that street.
Pearson: Really granular like on this particular corner or this particular street.
Matt: Exactly, yeah. I think that one thing that’s really important to us is getting down to exactly that kind of granular level. I think if you come from a big city, certainly, you experience your big city through your local area. The idea of saying, ‘Oh, there was a strike in New York,’ and just saying Bronx, Queens, Yonkers or whatever. That’s why it’s important to us that people can experience the map through the locality and having that connection from the global all the way down to the local I think is really important.
Pearson: Totally. It’s really powerful.
Matt: Again, as I was saying about walking through an area, you can connect these various historical events. One of the threads in a lot of this is people saying, ‘Well, that’s flats now and that’s flats.’ The industrial past has been reworked into a…
Matt: Yeah, a post-industrial gentrified present. On the flip side of that, I think an interesting thing is that a lot of the maps that maybe were more specific were all local ones and city-based ones which, again, I think is fantastic. I do think it’s really good for people to be mapping their local areas…
Matt: …and mapping the sea. There have been some really great maps I’ve found in books of walking tours. There’s a really good Vancouver labour history walking tour book that we drew upon for a lot of the points in Vancouver. To reverse what I was saying before, another nice thing from my perspective is being able to go from the local and then zoom back out onto a global level. Not with this initial version but we’re hoping, further down the line, to be able to have the map searchable by topic or you could restrict it by particular years, for example. I think that’s nice, especially for those of us who come from an internationalist sort of bent. We are obviously interested in the local but also how it spans out into a more global perspective. Sorry, I feel like I’ve spoken for a really long time now.
Pearson: No, you’re good.
Matt: I mean this is actually a real problem for me in my life generally. My partner is always having a go at me and saying I’m going to end up like those old guys who stop young people and say, ‘You know, in my day, we used to…’ That’s 100% going to be me while they’re looking at their watches and saying, ‘Oh right.’
Pearson: You’re alright old man [laughter].
Matt: There was one more thing about the local maps that I did want to mention which is that from researching things, I’ve found that with loads of local maps, the real issue is that they often just disappear. There have been a couple of times where I’ve gone on to a local workers’ history or labour history website and there’s lots of interesting information and then they say, ‘Check out our map’ but the map is no longer working. Some of them are by local union federations or things like that. I think there was a thing about the code base getting out of date or something like that and it just disappeared.
Pearson: Yeah, they didn’t pay for the website or renew it.
John: Yeah, and also a lot of them are based on commercial mapping-based platforms and then the platforms close down or change and then all the data is gone. That’s something which will be different with our project because obviously, on one level, we’ve built our own map but it’s based on open-source software and also our data is in such a format that the data can be downloaded, shared and used in any other kind of platform as well in the future.
Pearson: That’s awesome.
John: So the danger of data being lost won’t be an issue for us.
Pearson: That’s awesome. I didn’t realise it was open source. That’s really cool.
Matt: There’s one map that really broke my heart which was the Radical Tyneside Map or Mapping Radical Tyneside. It was mapping a radical history of Newcastle in the Northeast of England and it was an excellent map. It was done through a university actually. I guess they’d gotten a research grant or something like that. Maybe the people researching it had moved on to another research project and just left it but some code seems to have broken and it’s all just gone. I’ve tried to email the people who were involved in it and people who contributed to it but I’ve had no responses. There was so much really good information…
Pearson: That’s such a bummer.
Matt: …just all about that area. They must have spent hours…
Pearson: Oh, for sure.
Matt: …of just their research and they a location as they were doing their archive or research, put it together, put it on a map and now it’s just gone. That one really hurt me.
Pearson: Yeah, well, it’s cool that you have taken steps to try and prevent that from happening to your map and have built-in fail-safes to ensure that that doesn’t happen which is really fuckin’ cool. I wanted to ask you if we can maybe rig this down a little bit because listeners have probably been hearing us talk about this. Obviously, I’ll include links to everything in the show notes so you can interact with it yourselves but I wondered if maybe we can kind of take it down to an actual practical example. It’s hard to talk about this very physical, tactile experience on a podcast because it’s intended to be in your conception of it. It’s intended to be this tangible, physical experience where you’re walking around and experiencing stuff on the ground level. So I was thinking… well, actually, John was thinking and we talked about it… [laughter] I’m stealing John’s idea but I was thinking that it might be interesting to look at a couple of things that have occurred close to me historically. The first one and the one that makes the most sense is I was born and raised in Orlando, Florida which is right next to Sanford and Sanford, of course, is where Trayvon Martin was murdered. It’s one of the starting… not starting but one of the real big flare-ups of Black Lives Matter happened in Florida, specifically in Sanford. If you zoom in on the state of Florida, you’ll see a couple of different dots on there as of right now but one of them that pops up is just north of Orlando in Sanford. It pulls up not only a little bit of the history with a little blurb but also pulls up some pictures. It pulls up some exact locations here. It shows you exactly where the killing occurred. It’s really, really granular down to the most precise details which I thought was really fuckin’ cool to have that experience because I lived there and I took part in some of those uprisings. I was a member of some of the organisations that were contributing to doing mutual aid in those areas. So it’s really cool to get to see that on a map. It’s a weird experience and I wanted to talk about that with you a little bit.
John: Yeah, where possible, we’ve tried to get as exact as possible with the locations. Some of them are down to the nearest metre or so for some things where it’s possible. Obviously, for some events, that’s not possible but what we’ve tried to make clear on the map is we’ve got a legend and text that describes exactly how the event relates to the location. A lot of other maps have dots for a location but when you read it, it’s not clear exactly how the story relates to the exact location if you see what I mean. We’ve tried to be very specific about that. So if a strike happened in a building, we say, ‘This is the building where the strike happened,’ or maybe, ‘There was a picket line outside the building. This is the street where the picket line was.’ It’s that kind of thing so that you really understand how, if you’re in the place or if you’re not there, you can go to it on Google Street View and think about what was happening in this space and this time and how what is there now relates to this event. We wanted to be really specific about that because that was something that was missing, I think, from every map that we looked at beforehand. That information about how exactly the location is related to the event was missing, so we’ve tried to be really clear on that to give people a real understanding of what it was. Obviously, for some events where it wasn’t possible to mark down the exact location, we’ve put ‘near this spot’ or ‘somewhere on this street’ or ‘in this park is where this happened.’ For very small towns and villages, it might be ‘in this village.’
Pearson: Since I last looked at the archive on the map, I see that you have added something in Indianapolis which is close to where I live now. It’s right next to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument which I’ve been to a million times and it’s a huge rallying point for protests in the city but there was an Indianapolis streetcar strike on 31st October 1913 which is very auspicious because that 110 years ago two days ago which is fuckin’ wild. Apparently, over 2,000 National Guards were brought into the city and you have a picture of it. This is so fuckin’ cool. I love this project so much. I wanted to ask you about some of the more mapped cities. As I understand it, you’ve really closely mapped Barcelona, New York and London and I’m curious what that process was like and how those events in history became blips on a map. Is part of the vision of this to give people the opportunity to re-walk their streets in a different way and think, ‘This thing happened here’ and ‘This thing happened here’? There are a lot of interesting, emergent possibilities and I’m curious about what you have envisioned for people and how you want them to experience and interact with this map and this app that you’ve created.
John: When we launched this map, we wanted to make sure there was a really diverse spread of information in it. There are stories from at least every country, sovereign territory and overseas dependency on Earth and every US state but in some places, there’s not that much information about but we really wanted to give people an idea of how powerful it could be by making a particular focus on a few cities. We chose London, New York and Barcelona where we made sure to add lots of stuff. Also, they are populous cities and ones that lots of people travel to, so we thought that would be a good way for people travelling, as well as people who live there, to be able to do a different kind of sightseeing. Whereas, instead of going to Buckingham Palace, you can be like, ‘This is the pub where a bunch of striking workers got in a fight with a scab,’ [laughter] or that sort of thing. To be honest, the thing that first gave me the idea for the map and how it might work is tangentially related to Hilary Clinton…
Pearson: Really interesting [laughter].
John: …who, in a masterpiece of cringe, said, ‘Pokemon Go to the polls,’ which was like a…
Pearson: Tear your hair out?
John: …fingers on a chalkboard, painful moment in world cringe history. Lots of people were looking at this stuff on their phones and going to these weird, little, dingy alleyways and public toilets because there was a Goofenflagen or whatever, and that would be if Pokemon was German maybe, or some kind of little monster there.
Pearson: Got to catch them all [laughter].
John: Exactly. I thought, ‘What if we could do that but with communism?’
Pearson: That’s sick [laughter].
John: In these cities of New York, Barcelona and London, we hope that people can use them to go around and look at things like that instead. A bit like Pokemon Go, a lot of the locations that people will end up seeing from this map are not beautiful buildings or grand monuments. Often, they’re quite grotty, little, old industrial sites that have been abandoned which is a bit like the old Pokemon Go places. It would be a very different way of experiencing a city. There are also some quite nice things like I know you’re going to Barcelona soon and one of the locations on the map that’s one of my favourites is the old Ritz hotel there. During the Spanish Civil War and revolution, the Ritz was collectivised by its workers and they renamed it Hotel Gastronómico No 1 and they turned it into a communal kitchen to feed working-class people and their families. That hotel is still there. It’s not called the Ritz anymore and it’s called The Hotel Palace but you can go and stay there.
Pearson: That’s awesome. That’s so cool.
John: Budget provided, of course.
Matt: One of the things that I actually really like about this project as a whole is this idea of the unassuming and the forgotten. These places were locations where these really important things happened. What I do think is also really interesting with some of the cities, and we touched on gentrification, is that there’s one site on the map in West London on Golborne Road which is near Nottinghill and Portobello Road area and now it’s really fancy. I can’t remember what’s there now. I think maybe it’s a really fancy barber or fancy hairdresser or something like that. In the 70s or 80s, it was the squatted bookshop of the Black Liberation Front. That, I think, is really interesting from a perspective of as the working class got squeezed out of the centre of London, or maybe not right at the centre but certainly Inner London, a lot of these important sites in working-class history have now been completely taken over by these monuments to contemporary gentrification which I think is kind of a mad thing. If you go to the old Woolwich Arsenal in Southeast London, which used to be a huge factory where all the weapons were made for the British Army and it was a really key site during the shop stewards’ movement around the First World War in London, it’s now all luxury flats and you can find a studio flat there for £500,000.
John: It’s crazy. It’s unbelievable. It’s amazing to think that that’s what has happened to these old sites of working-class history which are just being bulldozed and replaced with luxury flats which is quite mad.
John: One thing I would like to say specifically about the mapping of the cities of New York and Barcelona, in particular, is that a lot of the events in Barcelona were mapped for us by a great historian called Catherine who is also involved in giving Civil War tours of Barcelona which are really fantastic walking tours.
Pearson: You’re going to have to put me in touch with this person so that I can go on the tour [laughter].
John: A lot of the events added were in a book by Nick Lloyd who also does these Civil War tours. A lot of these events are on the map now but also if you’re looking at the map, you can see there’s a link to book this tour and go on the tour and you can be taken around it by someone that knows the history and can answer questions. We’re very grateful to Catherine and the Civil War tours for that and definitely, you should go on their tour. It’s fantastic.
Pearson: I will [laughter]. It sounds dope.
John: Also, in New York, for example, with a lot of the events there, there are a lot from our archive and from just doing things like reading a lot of old copies of The New York Times about old strikes in Manhattan by Jewish furriers but also there are a lot of stories which are from a specific book by Bruce Catton of a radical walking tour of New York City which has lots of great information in it about locations. The sources are listed in the Stories app and there are also links to purchase the book. For any of these stories on the map, there’s a link for people to learn more which then takes you to the Stories app. At the bottom, it includes all the sources and links to more information, for example, about the walking tours in Barcelona or to get Bruce Catton’s book.
Matt: We’ve mentioned that London, Barcelona and New York have been done in quite a lot of detail. I’d also add that I’d say Paris, Vancouver and Leeds in Northern England are also cities that have been done maybe not as detailed but they’re definitely quite detailed. With the Leeds one, I was in touch with people at the archives at the local council and they helped a lot. They produced a local map which, at times, wasn’t very accurate and I had to kind of quiz them a little bit more about where exactly they meant but they had a Power and Protests walk in the centre of Leeds. That was really good and really useful. I think I touched on the Vancouver labour history pamphlet which we found that was excellent. With the Paris one, we collaborated with a Parisian comrade who helped us called Marion and she was really helpful in finding lots of locations. One thing that really limits what we’re able to do and find is the language barrier. My French doesn’t go very much beyond just sort of ‘discotheque’ or ‘jambon’ [laughter] which, as you can see, is not great. As soon as I started speaking French, I regretted going down that path but here we are [laughter].
Pearson: Hell, yeah. That’s awesome. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that geography and radical politics both enjoy a really rich history and there’s a lot of really critical overlap between those two subjects. I think that literalising that space and reclaiming its history really strikes me as a central facet of this project. We talked a little bit earlier about how reactionaries in the US are particularly targeting education but there’s also been then a lot of conversation about statues of settler colonialists, right-wing despots and other various shitheads taking up public space. Thanks to the dedicated work of brave and militant people, those statues have often been pulled down and removed. I’m curious if you see the Working Class History map and app as part of this tradition of liberating and reclaiming space and giving the Left a place where it can see its own reflection in the real world.
John: Definitely, yes and it’s funny that you mentioned that as well because, for example, Matt earlier mentioned Edward Colston, an enslaver. He literally enslaved, from recollection, over 100,000 people who he abducted from West Africa. There was a statue of him and lots of stuff named after him in Bristol but less now than there was because up until recently, he has generally been commemorated as a great philanthropist which might be something like commemorating Fred West as a dedicated physician. No, not Fred West. What’s his name?
Matt: Josef Mengele?
Pearson: [Laughter] That works too.
John: Memorialising Josef Mengele as a dedicated physician and father of however many. One of the spots we have on our map is the old location of the Colston statue which was toppled and thrown in the harbour.
Pearson: Hell, yeah.
Matt: Which actually I’m sort of upset about because I kind of think we should change it to the location where it was thrown into the river because you can see where it is. You can see it in photos and it’s really clear. I think that would be great to put in but we’ll discuss that.
John: I think we will do that. I think it would be good to have both; a kind of before and after.
Matt: You could do an Edward Colston walking tour from the old site to where it was chucked [laughter].
John: Walking/swimming. I recall, when it happened, someone did update Google Maps with the new location of it at the bottom of Bristol Harbour. It’s funny because the right-wing idiots say, ‘You’re trying to rewrite history or erase history.’ No, for hundreds of years, people have been rewriting history by talking about building statues of this great philanthropist. That’s the rewriting of history or ignoring history. Whereas, the people that picked him up and threw him in the river are people who are actually aware of his actual history and not the whitewashed nonsense that passes for how people were commemorating him generally.
Matt: I also think that history is a dynamic kind of thing. It’s not that history is just a statue and that’s how you learn about history and if we haven’t got a statue to someone… let’s build a statue to Hitler because we want to learn about Hitler. In fact, the entire true crime podcast genre would have to be scrapped in place of building statues of famous serial killers. The people who dumped him in the river were the ones who were really correcting the historical record…
Matt: …and by acting in history, they were engaging with and making it at the same time which I think is really amazing. As John was saying, having this big statue to a philanthropist and then by sleight of hand saying he was a slaveowner and tucking that out of sight. That’s hiding history completely.
Pearson: Totally. Yeah, well said. Gentlemen, as we close, I wanted to ask you both about the future of this project. Where do you see it going in the weeks, months and years ahead? Is there ever going to be an option for people to submit their own historical markers to the app and map? I think that would be fuckin’ sick because decentralising this as much as possible I think could make it even more well-populated and I’m curious to see if you had any plans for implementing that kind of a feature in the future.
John: Yeah, definitely. I think something we want to get across is that we’ve been working on this for a really long time; the concept for six years and the practicalities of it for at least five years. We really wanted to get something out there that works and so this is a kind of initial version…
Pearson: Proof of concept if you will.
John: …yeah, that functions and people can use. In future, there are lots of ways we want to improve it. For example, with the Stories app, there’s an index so you can navigate by topic, organisation name, country and that sort of thing and it contains timelines. We want to be able to do that to the map as well so that you can filter it to specific topics or people and also filter by year. Those are plans for improving it in that sense which we’ll roll out when we’re able to. This is something which is too big a thing for us to do by ourselves. We really want to work particularly with other researchers, historians and local people’s history groups. We’ve reached out to several groups already. I think an issue with a lot of radical history groups is that they’re all overworked and have too much to do and too little time. We’ll see what we can do there. Also, we definitely want to roll out ways for people to contribute their own data while, at the same time, being able to verify its accuracy. That is something that we’re definitely going to be considering and we’re definitely going to be looking at how we can do that. That is definitely the plan as well as, probably in the intermediate term, getting data contributions from specific individuals, historians and groups and then later opening it up to more public submissions when we can have a proper fact-checking verification process, stopping spam and things like that. Yeah, that’s definitely the plan and so if anyone is interested in collaborating on that level, please do drop us an email.
Pearson: Thank you both so much for your time. Before we part ways, will you let folks know where they can go to check out the Working Class History map and app and how to follow you on social media?
Matt: For people who want to go and see the map, it’s Map.WorkingClassHistory.com and to see the Stories web app, it’s Stories.WorkingClassHistory.com.
John: You can listen to our podcast however you’re listening to this podcast on this app, a different one or on our website of WorkingClassHistory.com. You can connect with us on social media on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and maybe some other stuff that I’ve forgotten about… My Space.
Pearson: There’s a Tumblr renaissance right now. Tumblr is letting people post nudies again, so there’s going to be a renaissance again [laughter].
John: We did get temporarily banned from Tumblr…
Pearson: Did you?
John: …hosting alleged nudity but it wasn’t. It was a picture of a strike in the 40s or something. I don’t know what they were thinking. Yeah, we’ve been keeping it real on Tumblr for some time.
Maybe it was some of those old socialist realists like a big, muscly, shirtless proletarian or something [laughter] that triggered the Tumblr spam nudity filter.
Pearson: That’s too funny. Well, we’ll be sure to definitely link to all of that stuff on the episode’s show notes. Thank you both so much for coming on. I’m really excited for people to get to check this website and digital toolset out. I’m even more excited for people to be able to go and walk around in the world and see these things in real neat space, myself included.
Matt: Yeah, walking around in the world is cool.
Pearson: Touching grass, dude, it fuckin’ rocks [laughter]. Hell, yeah. John and Matt, thank you both. It’s been a real pleasure.
John: Thanks so much for having us. It’s always great to chat to you and see you again in three years.
Pearson: [Laughter] Hopefully, it’s not that long. Cheers.
Matt: Yeah, cheers. Bye.
WCH: That brings us to the end of this episode with Coffee With Comrades about the new WCH web apps. As a reminder, you can check out the Stories app at Stories.WorkingClassHistory.com and the companion map at Map.WorkingClassHistory.com. As always, we’ve got links to more info, transcripts and more on the web page for this episode. Link in the show notes. Again, the Working Class History podcast is only made possible because of support from you, our listeners, on Patreon. So if you can, please consider joining us for as little as $2 a month at Patreon.com/WorkingClassHistory. Supporters get great benefits like an exclusive bonus episode with an extra chat we had with Pearson, ad-free episodes, exclusive early access to episodes, free and discounted books and merch and more. If you can’t spare the cash, no worries, but please just tell your friends about the podcast, share links to episodes on your social media and take a second to give us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Thanks again to our Patreon supporters for making this podcast possible. Special thanks to Jazz Hands. Thanks also to those of you who contributed to our Go Fund Me to fund the development of the web app. Special thanks to Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners for a very generous donation which helped with this work. Our theme tune is Bella Ciao. Thanks for the permission to use it from Dischi del Sole. You can buy it or stream it on the links in the show notes. Thanks to Coffee With Comrades for producing this episode. Make sure to check out their podcast and Patreon. Links in the show notes. Additional editing by Jesse French. Thanks to all of you for listening. Catch you next time.
[Outro music – Bella Ciao]
Transcribed by PODTRANSCRIBE