West Ham and the River Lea: A Social and Environmental History of London’s Industrialized Marshland, 1839-1914

My book is published with the University of British Columbia Press. You can order the hardcopy for $75 or wait for the paperback in early 2018.

Here is the description from the press:

During the nineteenth century, London’s population grew by more than five million as people flocked from the countryside to the city to take up jobs in shops and factories. In West Ham and the River Lea, Jim Clifford explores the growth of London’s most populous independent suburb and the degradation of its second largest river, bringing to light the consequences of these developments on social democracy and urban politics in Greater London.

Drawing on Ordnance Surveys and archival materials, Jim Clifford uses historical geographic information systems to map the migration of Greater London’s industry into West Ham’s marshlands and reveals the consequences for the working-class people who lived among the factories. He argues that an unstable and unhealthy environment fuelled protest and political transformation. Poverty, pollution, water shortages, infectious disease, floods, and an unemployment crisis led the public to demand new forms of government intervention and provided an opening for new urban politics to emerge.

By exploring the intersection of pollution, poverty, and instability, Clifford establishes the importance of the urban environment in the development of social democracy in Greater London at the turn of the twentieth century.

This book will be of interest to scholars and students of London, the environment, and the history of political and social movements, as well as those interested in precursors to modern urban environmental politics.


ActiveHistory.ca Post: “The great climate silence” and Historians

By Jim Clifford

Are historians contributing to downplaying the dangers of climate change by our silence? Clive Hamilton published a provocative extract from his new book in the Guardian titled “The great climate silence: we are on the edge of the abyss but we ignore it“. He starts by introducing the concept of the Anthropocene, outlining danger we face, and lamenting that humanity’s power to influence planet systems has grown so fast that we’ve not had enough time to adapt our thinking. Hamilton then goes on to argue the humanities and social science are a part of the problem:

Many intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world, because the “world” consists only of humans engaging with humans, with nature no more than a passive backdrop to draw on as we please.

The “humans-only” orientation of the social sciences and humanities is reinforced by our total absorption in representations of reality derived from media, encouraging us to view the ecological crisis as a spectacle that takes place outside the bubble of our existence.

Continue reading “ActiveHistory.ca Post: “The great climate silence” and Historians”

ActiveHistory.ca post: Map the History of Redlining, It Works

The history of redlining matters. For decades, the government sponsored Home Owners’ Loan Corporation created maps that defined African American neighbourhoods as high risk, which resulted in people not having access to a Federal Housing Administration insured mortgage in these districts. Ta-Nehisi Coates used the research in Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, Robert Conot’s American Odyssey, Thomas Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis and Arnold Hirsch’s Making the Second Ghetto to develop the case for reparations in his 2014 cover story in the Atlantic.[1] He convincingly argued that long after the end of Slavery, government policy actively limited economic opportunities for African Americans, created segregated cities and the significant gap in wealth between white and black Americans: “From the 1930s through the 1960s, black people across the country were largely cut out of the legitimate home-mortgage market“.

A year earlier, Dustin A. Cable, at the University of Virginia, created the interactive Racial Dot Map based on data from the 2010 census. The map shows the stark racial divides in many major cities. The impressive level of detail, with a single dot for every person in the United States census, creates visually and analytically powerful maps. The divided racial geography of a cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee is startling and prompts a historical question: how did this happen? Coates brought together decades of urban social history and historical demography, along with his own journalism, to help answer this question for Chicago.

Continue reading “ActiveHistory.ca post: Map the History of Redlining, It Works”

ActiveHistory.ca post: The Polish Government, the Holocaust and Jan Grabowski

“‘Who controls the present, controls the past,’ wrote George Orwell, and the Polish authorities seem to have taken Orwell’s words to heart.”[1] On September 20th, University of Ottawa historian Jan Grabowski published an op-ed in Macleans highlighting the dangers of a new law working its way through Poland’s parliament that threatens historians and others with up to three years in jail if they “accuse the Polish nation, or the Polish state, [of being] responsible or complicit in Nazi crimes committed by the III German Reich.”[2] Grabowski continued:

…in the face of the new legislation, historians who argue that certain segments of Polish society were complicit in the extermination of their Jewish neighbours in the Second World War will now think twice before voicing their opinion. What about those who would like to study the phenomenon of blackmailing of the Jews, known in Polish asshmaltsovnitstvo? What about those who would like to talk about the role of the Polish “blue” police who collaborated with the Germans in the extermination of the Polish Jewry? What about those who want to shed light on the deadly actions of the Polish voluntary firefighters involved in the destruction of Jewish communities?[3]

Lukasz Weremiuk, the Chargé d’affaires at the Polish Embassy in Ottawa responded a week later arguing Grabowkski’s article “contains a list of strong, but often groundless opinions and accusations toward Poland.”[4] I highly recommend people read Grabowski’s full article on the Maclean’s website along with the response from the Polish Embassy and Grabowski’s further comments.

This recent controversy caused me to reflect on my 2015 visit to Kraków and Auschwitz-Birkenau. My dad and I drove from Munich to Poland and spent a couple days in Kraków before driving back via the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. Continue reading “ActiveHistory.ca post: The Polish Government, the Holocaust and Jan Grabowski”