Can and should we queer the past?

‘Can and should we queer the past?’, in What is History, Now? How the past and the present speak to each other, edited by Helen Carr and Suzannah Lipscomb, 48-65. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2021.

Inspired by the influential text WHAT IS HISTORY? authored by Helen Carr’s great-grandfather, E.H. Carr, and published on the 60th anniversary of that book, this is a groundbreaking new collection addressing the burning issue of how we interpret history today. What stories are told, and by whom, who should be celebrated, and what rewritten, are questions that have been asked recently not just within the history world, but by all of us. Featuring a diverse mix of writers, both bestselling names and emerging voices, this is the history book we need NOW.

WHAT IS HISTORY, NOW? covers topics such as the history of racism and anti-racism, queer history, the history of faith, the history of disability, environmental history, escaping imperial nostalgia, hearing women’s voices and ‘rewriting’ the past. The list of contributors includes:

Justin Bengry, Leila K Blackbird, Emily Brand, Gus Casely-Hayford, Sarah Churchwell, Caroline Dodds Pennock, Peter Frankopan, Bettany Hughes, Dan Hicks, Onyeka Nubia, Islam Issa, Maya Jasanoff, Rana Mitter, Charlotte Riley, Miri Rubin, Simon Schama, Alex von Tunzelmann and Jaipreet Virdi.

The past is a queer place. Its inhabitants are deceptive. They tease us with seemingly familiar appearances and promises of kinship. But don’t let them trick you. People in the past are not always as they seem. They are not necessarily like you and me. These are queer people indeed.

But what is queer about them and what exactly is ‘queer’? Is it an insult hurled on playgrounds or accompanying kicks and punches? Is it a term of self-description, assertively and proudly recovered from homophobic abuse and misuse? Or is it just a new way to say LGBT, an umbrella that catches all kinds of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and perhaps others too? Queer is a queer word, with its own history and its own problems and possibilities. It’s also a useful way of thinking about the past.

‘THE history book for now. This is why and how historians do what they do. And why they need to’ Dan Snow

What is History, Now? demonstrates how our constructs of the past are woven into our modern world and culture, and offers us an illuminating handbook to understanding this dynamic and shape-shifting subject. A thought-provoking, insightful and necessary re-examination of the subject’ Hallie Rubenhold, author of The Five

‘The importance of history is becoming more evident every day, and this humane book is an essential navigation tool. Urgent and utterly compelling’ Sathnam Sanghera, author of Empireland

‘Important and exciting’ Kate Williams, author of Rival Queens

Project Details


September 2021

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