‘It soon come’, runs the refrain in Linton Kwesi Johnson’s 1974 poem ‘Time Come’. ‘It soon come / look out! look out! look out!’.

In the Institute of Historical Research’s 2019 Wiley Lecture, Dr Rob Waters will draw on the research for his new book, Thinking Black: Britain, 1964–1985, to unpack this sense of impending change captured in Johnson’s poetry.

He will explore how the demand to ‘think black’, so common in the languages of political blackness of the long 1970s, worked as a call to carve out new historical subjects. This was an era in which remembering the histories of slavery and colonialism became a common concern for black Britons.

Dr Waters, whose research is concerned with how global race politics and the struggles of decolonization have shaped the modern history of Britain, will show how, for its advocates, ‘thinking black’ meant working to remember these as unfinished histories that would be the driving force of change for Britain, the material out of which new futures would be made. In the project of thinking black, blackness was a historical experience whose time had come.

What black futures were imagined at this moment in Britain’s past? And what role did black pasts play in imagining them?

After the lecture, Dr Waters, a lecturer in modern British history at the University of Birmingham and Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow in history, will be joined in conversation with Dr Kennetta Hammond Perry, director of the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre at De Montfort University, and reader in History. Her interests include black British history, transnational race politics, black women’s history, archives of black Europe, and anti-racist movements for citizenship, recognition and social justice throughout the African diaspora.

Date: 6 June, 6.30–8pm

Who: Institute of Historical Research

Where: Arts 2 lecture theatre, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London, E1 4FQ

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