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Productive Historical Discomfort: generating dialogue through uncomfortable walking tours

Recorded on 10 January 2024.

Uncomfortable Cities is an academic-led social enterprise that runs discussion-based walking tours centred on tackling ‘uncomfortable’ and complicated histories. Following the success of uncomfortable tours in Oxford from 2018, new Uncomfortable Cities tours followed in Cambridge in 2022 and York in 2023, interrogating local and global politics of memory. The Uncomfortable Cities tours provide opportunities for research-informed public dialogue that question established narratives and break down institutional barriers in order to advocate for justice and accountability. This session will introduce Uncomfortable Cities and their approach to challenging urban histories through co-produced research and walking tours. It will offer insights into the potentials of discussion-based tours as a useful tool for unpacking complicated and nuanced issues of heritage and colonialism with the general public, providing a conversational space of knowledge exchange for people to engage with their own complex views of the past in the present.

Uncomfortable Oxford was founded in 2018 by two doctoral students, with the aim of raising questions about the 'uncomfortable' legacies of inequality and imperialism in the city and the university. Since then, the organisation has expanded into Cambridge and York, with the same mission of bringing to the force overlooked histories and collaboratively challenging dominant narratives. The tours ultimately ask: How can we engage collectively with these histories in the public space?

This event is co-hosted by the IHR’s Centre for the History of People, Place and Community and the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP). IPUP works with museums, archives, heritage sites, the media, artists, and community organisations to explore the many ways that the past is presented in society. It asks questions about how the histories that are told impact identities, shape the present, and inform the future. Through collaborations and partnerships, IPUP draws together researchers, students, practitioners, and communities to make and research diverse and inclusive public histories. It also runs an MA in Public History in collaboration with the University of York’s Department of History.