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Taking Liberties Study Day 20 Feb 2009

This study day saw a diverse range of speakers tackling some controversial topics associated with the Taking Liberties exhibition. Listen to the six discussions, interviews and debates on issues such as freedom of expression; protest and direct action; ‘Britishness’; and human rights.

Introduction to the exhibition and study day: Miles Taylor

Professor Miles Taylor begins the study day by giving some context and background for why historians have become interested in the ‘cult of liberty’ in the UK in recent years, how seminal Linda Colley’s Britons (1992) was to that process, and how we are now better placed as scholars to understand how slippery the notion of ‘rights’ can be, yet also how timeless is their appeal. He also focuses on three of the exhibits to bring out the complexity of the notion of ‘liberty’ and in so doing highlights recent scholarship on the area.

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Or play in your default media player (MP3, 33min 19sec, 13.3MB)

Wollstonecraft and Women’s Rights: Barbara Taylor

In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman pushed feminism onto the British political agenda. Published at the height of the French revolution, Wollstonecraft’s book extended the revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality to women. In a period when women were widely regarded as little more than male appendages, this was an intensely controversial move, but also a powerfully influential one that has shaped feminist opinion ever since. Professor Barbara Taylor discusses Wollstonecraft’s arguments for women’s rights, and her political legacies.

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Or play in your default media player (MP3, 34min 51sec, 13.9MB)

Protest and Direct Action: Peter Tatchell

Protest is the lifeblood and litmus test of democracy. Nearly all our precious rights and freedoms are the result of years, decades and sometimes centuries of popular struggle. Today, protest is still relevant – and effective. Peter Tatchell discusses some of the iconic protests that he has organised and how they helped change government policy and public attitudes: the kiss-in and queer wedding, the interruption of the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon on Easter Sunday, and his attempted citizen's arrests of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

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Or play in your default media player (MP3, 29min 36sec, 11.8MB)

Do we need a British Bill of Rights? Lord Lester interviewed by Joshua Rozenberg

In this session Lord Lester is interviewed on the subject of whether or not Britain needs a Bill of Rights or a written constitution. Questions focus on the Human Rights Act, economic and social rights, the idea of a British Bill of Rights, and Parliamentary sovereignty.

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Or play in your default media player (MP3, 1hr 03min 00sec, 25.2MB)

Thinking about Englishness / Britishness and identity: Catherine Hall

Professor Catherine Hall begins her lecture from a historical perspective and focuses on the constructions of Englishness and Britishness in the 19th and 20th centuries. She argues that the Empire has been an important factor in shaping these identities and that the crisis of British identity in the late 20th century has been closely connected with the end of Empire as well as with devolution. The great English historian Macaulay is used to provide an example of how important history writing has been in shaping ideas of English and British freedoms and liberties.

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Or play in your default media player (MP3, 1hr 02min 47sec, 25.1MB)

Free speech in a plural society: Salil Tripathi

Salil Tripathi argues that a plural society needs plural voices to thrive, and not singular commands from the majority. From the burning of The Satanic Verses in Bradford 20 years ago we have come to the ridiculous extreme where leaders claiming to represent groups of people are demanding their right to decide how they can be represented in public. Plays have been disrupted; film production has been stopped and cartoons not published; journalists and celebrities have been forced to apologise to towns and regions, and the discourse in the public has got narrower. Freedom of speech is meaningless if it does not offend somebody. Democratic societies thrive on competing ideas, not conformity.

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Or play in your default media player (MP3, 35min 40sec, 14.2MB)

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