CNR RESEARCH SEMINAR SERIES
Monday 9th February, 12:00 – 1:00 pm, Room EB1.62
Fellowship of Controversy: Narratives of Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park
Laura Mitchison and Rosa Vibr
Speakers’ Corner is a geographical place, a traditional practice and a symbol of free speech. Our project, Sounds from the Park, revealed that it is also an eccentric community of interest, sustained through memory. Of the 100 open-air oratory sites established in London between 1855 and 1939, Hyde Park is the only survivor. It is often depicted as a vanishing relic of authentic communication, whose importance has been superseded by new technologies. We will interrogate the opposition between the real and the recorded, and the narrative of decline.
First, we will explore the different types of memory operating in situ. Orators and hecklers learn their craft from observing veterans in the flesh; regulars conjure up colourful characters from the past through gesture and storytelling. But these “incorporating practices (Connerton, 1989)” have always been refracted through “inscribing practices (Connerton, 1989):” records of hanged men’s last speeches, books, photographs and, more recently, YouTube and Wikipedia.
Second, we will explore Speakers’ Corner’s significance within the variegated life histories of orators, hecklers, discussants and observers. It is “an open air lunatic asylum”, “an intensely political forum,” “a bare knuckle fight”, “an old time variety show” and much more besides. Somehow, these disparate meanings and individuals coexist in what pacifist stalwart Donald Soper called “the fellowship of controversy.” Third, we will reflect on our project’s impact on the living community at Speakers’ Corner. We convened a rambunctious steering group of Hyde Parkers throughout, creating a new dialogical space to debate the past and the future.
On the Record is an oral history and cultural memory cooperative run by Laura Mitchison and Rosa Vilbr. We run participatory projects, often tied into contemporary social justice campaigns, and train people in oral history and digital story telling. We also make exhibitions, radio, publications, websites and sound walks.