Towns and cities, when countries go to war

By Dr Catherine Danks

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised difficult questions for how the international community should respond. To maintain the usual links and interactions might appear to condone Russia’s actions while the escalation of tensions runs the danger of precipitating a more widespread conflict in Europe and perhaps even superpower confrontation. Discussions about possible human corridors, ceasefires, and ultimately peace, take place at the state level. We tend to focus on relations between states, and alliances of states but the C20th and especially the post-WWII period saw the rapid burgeoning of links between town and cities. These civic links are variously known as twinning, partnership, sister city, or friendship arrangements and typically involve a formal agreement. The purpose of these agreements is generally to develop mutual friendship and understanding, typically they have encouraged the exchange of information and visits, the development of educational and cultural ties. Overall, the hope has been that more interactions would make conflict less likely. It has to be said, that some twinning agreements have proved more dynamic and enduring than others and some have become dormant without being formally ended. Town and cities have generally seen twinning and friendship agreements as ‘good things’, but don’t necessarily have the resources or the will to maintain and develop them.

Britain’s first twinning agreement with a soviet city was between Stalingrad (now Volgograd) and Coventry in 1944 before the war ended. The two cities recognised the suffering they had endured and the mutual support they had given. Manchester and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) signed a friendship agreement in 1962 and were due to mark its 60th anniversary in September 2022. However, Manchester has now suspended its friendship agreement with St. Petersburg in response to the invasion of Ukraine. The Coventry-Volgograd link, which is not just the first but one of the most active links has also been suspended. The Bishop of Coventry cautioned against ending the twinning relationship and argued that it should be used “to bring to the attention of our Russian friends the seriousness of the current situation and our horror at what is happening.”

Plymouth while initially condemning the invasion of Ukraine announced that they did not intend to end their twinning relationship with the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk arguing that this, ”would send the wrong message”. A Plymouth City Council spokesperson said: “Following the Novichok poisoning on UK soil in March 2018, Plymouth City Council agreed to revoke any invitations to Russian officials. And that they did not want to punish the people of Novorossiysk “for the barbaric actions of their government.” However, by early March Plymouth had moved to suspend  but not cut its ties with Novorossiysk.

Doncaster, Nottingham, Wakefield, and County Durham have gone one step further and ended rather than just suspended their agreements. Doncaster  has ended its agreement with Ozyorsk. Nottingham has ended its links with Krasnodar and the Belarussian city of Minsk. Similarly, Wakefield has ended its agreement with Belgorod and County Durham has ended its agreement with Kostroma. However, in these last two cases the links were already inactive. The Wakefield council leader noted that it had been “dormant” for many years and for County Durham and Kostroma, there have “been no active projects . . .for some time.”

If civic links are still seen to be an important means to develop international understanding, that they have a role to play in establishing and re-establishing contacts between peoples, what conditions will be needed in order to “unsuspend” relations?

Episode 10 – ‘The Strong Women of Victorian Manchester’ Project and Fundraiser with Ellie Andrews

The creative digital studio, Visioning Lab, recently launched a Kickstarter for the ‘Strong Women of Victorian Manchester’ digital storytelling project. We spoke with creative producer, and story teller, Ellie Andrews, about the project, which hopes to develop a video game and more!

Learn more about the project, and donate to the Kickstarter here.

Professor Thomas Cauvin – Rethinking Authority in Public History: Citizens as Historians?

3 March 2022, 5-6.30pm, Lecture Theatre 7, Geoffrey Manton Building, Manchester Metropolitan University

Based on the Public History as new Citizen Science of the Past project, this presentation explores the concept of (shared) authority in public history. Driven by participation, public history invites us to reconsider how authority and expertise are defined and constructed. Through examples of projects currently undertaken in Luxembourg, the presentation will discuss to what extent citizen science can offer models of participation that can be applied to the whole field of public history.

Thomas Cauvin is Associate Professor of Public History at the University of Luxembourg (Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History – C2DH). He is a FNR-ATTRACT Fellow and leads the Public History as the New Citizen Science of the Past (PHACS) project.

Cauvin has been the President of the International Federation for Public History since 2018. He received his PhD at the European University Institute (Florence, Italy, 2012) and worked for several years in the United States at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (2013-2017) and Colorado State University (2017-2020). He is the author of Public History. A Textbook of Practice (Routledge, May 2016) and several articles and book chapters on public history.

For further information please contact Professor Catherine Fletcher – or Haseeb Khan –

Becoming a popular history writer: Pre-PhD (Part 1)

By Owen Rees

I started out as a popular history writer in 2009, while studying for my MA. With only a BA degree to trade on, I discarded the big history magazines (BBC, History Today, Smithsonian) as the least likely to accept a pitch from me, and created a spreadsheet of small or niche magazines that paid for contributions. It could be small amounts (£100 an article) or it could be per word (12p a word was my highest rate), but they had to pay. As my wife continues to tell me: if you don’t value your time and work, why would anyone else?

Your ideas have to be topical, fresh, interesting, and with a good narrative at its core. But it is not just the idea you are selling. Ultimately what you are trying to sell is yourself – the ‘author brand’. Articles and books are sold on an idea, so the editor needs to trust that you can deliver. I always submitted my articles early and never interfered with the editor’s job unless their changes created an error. I always responded to queries as quickly as possible. Once they knew I could be relied on, I got more commissions.

Writing for small, niche history magazines secured my first book contracts. In 2013 a commissioning editor at Pen & Sword emailed to ask if I would be interested in writing a book for them following a recommendation from colleagues at Ancient Warfare Magazine. This publisher accepts unsolicited proposals (you can just send them in and cross your fingers), but they were trying to grow their ancient warfare section. History publishing is a small world, so networking is an important aspect that is too often neglected. I did not fit in the conventional history networks (academia, Oxbridge graduate, etc), so I worked on creating my own and this was the first time it paid dividends.

By the following year, 2014, my proposal for one book had, at the editor’s request, become two. I signed a double book deal for Great Battles of the Classical Greek World, and Great Naval Battles of the Ancient Greek World. Money was a major concern during this period, I had a young family and no secure employment. There was an advance paid, half on signing and half on submission. The amounts were small in the grand scheme of things, but money was such that I could not afford to turn it down. But time was also a problem. My wife was working, so I was a stay-at-home dad for long periods, in between jobs in retail, offices, and a rather enjoyable stint as a gardener in a dementia care home. I wrote most of the first book with a baby on my shoulder and baby-sick on my shirt. In 2015, life as it stood was not really viable so I applied for a PhD at Manchester Metropolitan and also won a scholarship, which would equate to the most amount of money I had ever earned in a year.

Balancing PhD work, wider commitments at the university to aid the CV building, teaching, family life, and pop history writing, was no easy feat. But I came up with a system, a system my poor third year students are probably sick of me talking about. To put it simply, I work in threes: three projects on the go at any one time. One is in the finishing stages (proofing, editing, etc), another is in the writing stage, and the final one is in the research stage. I never research about what it is I am writing at the time. I never write chapters for the work I am editing, and so on. At the moment, I have two in the finishing stage (academic publishing is slow!), my trade book that I am writing, and I am researching the next academic research project/book.

This also helped when it came to time management, especially with two young children. I refused to work weekends; my family deserved some time with me! So, I learned to exploit the time I had available in the week. If I had an hour between coming home from a lecture and doing the school run, I would read an article or chapter for the researching project. If I had a morning free, I would work on the edits for a finishing project. If I had a full workday(!) I would write. If I had a mental block, I’d put down one project and pick up another. If nothing works, it’s time to go over the edits or do some proof reading.

Stay tuned for part two, this week!

Episode 7 – The Legendary 1945 Manchester Pan African Congress: Professor Ola Uduku, Dr Kai Syng Tan, and Dr Marie Molloy

Plaque commemorating fifth Pan African Congress Conference, Courtesy of By KGGuewa

The Pan African Congress of 1945 took place in Chorlton-on-Medlock Town Hall, now a Manchester Metropolitan University Building. It was a legendary conference, attracting leaders from future African independence movements. In 2020, a group came together, and put on an incredible series of events to mark the 75th anniversary of the congress. We were delighted to hear from Ola, Kai, and Marie who were instrumental in organising PAC75.

Delegates to the Fifth Pan-African Congress, Manchester. Copyright Manchester Archives Plus.

Check out the PAC75 Youtube channel where you can access many of the great events that took place.

Access the episode of Spotify.

Episode 3 – ‘Histories, Stories, Voices’ in Manchester’s Public Spaces with Karen Shannon and Councillor Luthfur Rahman

In episode 3 of the podcast we had a great conversation with Karen Shannon, Chief Executive of Manchester Histories and Councillor Luthfur Rahman from Manchester City Council. We discussed history in Manchester’s public spaces.

Manchester Histories and Manchester City Council have started a consultation into Manchester’s artworks, ‘Histories, Stories and Voices’. Take part in the consultation here.

You can also sign up to public discussions on the ways the city’s stories are told through monuments, statues, memorials & place names in Manchester’s public spaces here. 10 March 2021, 2pm and 7pm.

Listen on Spotify here.