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We Are Bristol History Commission chaired by University of Bristol historian

Professor Tim Cole and Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees Bristol City Council

Press release issued: 24 September 2020

Bristol’s history will be explored by the city’s first ever history commission, which formally launched this week.

Alongside professional historians, the history commission also includes a wide-range of academics from sectors including philosophy, trade unions, arts and culture, and law.

Chaired by Professor Tim Cole from the University of Bristol's Department of History, the commission was brought together to explore Bristol’s past following an announcement by the Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees in June 2020.

The Mayor invited the commission to help Bristol better understand it's history and how we have become the city we are today. The commission was initiated after the events of this summer and its work will include the history of slavery as well as the full scope of events that have impacted the city.

The commission will include the building and removal of the Colston statue as a departure point and it will also consider the growth of education, the struggles of workers for pay and working conditions, and the Chartists and suffragettes campaigning for emancipation. The key roles of wars, protests, the harbour and the docks, manufacturing and industry, research and innovation, transport, slum clearances, housing, modern gentrification, migration and faith in the development of the city will also be within the commission's scope.

The commission will work with citizens and community groups to develop these themes and ensure that everyone in the city can share their views and build a fuller picture of how the city has grown and developed over the years.

Professor Cole said: “This is an opportunity for us to improve the understanding of our city's past together and honestly explore our city's history, as well as our own individual histories, and the ways that they connect.

“History is never a single, monolithic story, but rather an ongoing debate about the past and its meaning. My hope is that this commission will help everyone in the city feel able to participate in that debate: not by giving a simple or simplistic answer, but rather by posing a productive set of questions to guide our conversation and drawing together key sources and texts to enable us all to reconsider our city's past together.”

Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees said: “Everyone experiences the results of our past differently. The commission will help us all build an improved shared understanding of Bristol’s story by learning the origins of our beginnings and our journey, contending with events and their meanings, and making sure we share the stories with generations to come. This work will be an important step in helping us all live with difference."

Professor Tim Cole is a Professor of Social History at the University of Bristol, and also Director of the Brigstow Institute. He specialises in Holocaust studies, researching public history and memorialisation, and developing boundary-crossing research partnerships.

Joining Professor Cole will be:

  • Dr Madge Dresser – Honorary Professor of History, University of Bristol
  • Professor David Olusoga – Professor of Public History, University of Manchester
  • Dr Shawn Sobers – Associate Professor of Cultural Interdisciplinary Practice, University of West of England
  • Professor Alan Bogg – Professor in Law, University of Bristol
  • Dr Joanna Burch-Brown – Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Bristol
  • Estella Tincknell – Associate Professor in Film and Culture, University of West of England
  • Councillor Helen Godwin – Cabinet Member for Women, Children and Young People, Bristol City Council
  • Nigel Costley – Regional Secretary, Trades Union Congress

A process for appointing up to 12 commissioners in total as well as terms of service and reference will be among the early decisions that commissioners will make.

Commissioners agreed at the first meeting that their initial focus would be to find ways to invite all citizens to explore the question 'What have we remembered and who gets to tell our history.’ 

The Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees was invited by Professor Cole to attend the first meeting of the commission but will not be a commissioner.

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