Liberalism Inc - 200 Years of The Guardian

Goldsmiths, University of London – May 2020

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This conference will take place at Goldsmiths, University of London, Saturday 9 May 2020

Keynote speakers: Priya Gopal (author of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent) and Alan Rusbridger (author of Breaking News and former editor-in-chief of the Guardian)

In May 2021, the Guardian turns 200. From its inception in Manchester in 1821 as a response to the murder of ordinary people by soldiers in the 1819 Peterloo Massacre to its historic identification with centre-left politics, the Guardian has long been a key institution in the definition and development of liberalism. The stereotype of the 'Guardianista', an environmentally conscious, Labour-voting, progressively minded public sector worker remains part of the popular mythology of British press history.
 
Yet the title has a complex lineage.
 
The Guardian advocated the abolition of slavery in the US, criticised the Boer War, backed women's suffrage and supported the Republican cause in the Spanish civil war; it has published some of the most celebrated examples of investigative journalism – from the breaking of the phone hacking scandal to Edward Snowden's revelations of US and UK surveillance programmes.
 
Yet it owes its existence to a cotton merchant determined to head off more radical ideas at the start of the Industrial Revolution; it opposed direct action by the suffragette movement; has at various times called for a vote for the Conservatives, Social Democrats and Liberal Democrats; supported the First Gulf War and the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia; and has been accused more recently of consistently denigrating Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party. It has both fiercely defended the need for fearless, independent journalism and handed over documents and hard drives to the authorities; it has carved out a niche for itself in the UK press market as a progressive voice but has also consistently diminished more radical projects to the left.
 
Its business model is equally distinctive. It has been owned by the Scott Trust since 1936 and has been partially protected from the proprietorial interference that its counterparts have always faced; it has led the way in innovative design and formats and it now champions a membership model with some one million people signed up to the scheme.
 
Its forthcoming anniversary provides an opportunity for academics, researchers, historians and journalists to assess the contribution of the Guardian to British politics, society and culture.

The conference is organised by the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre and will be held in the Professor Stuart Hall building at Goldsmiths, University of London in New Cross, South East London on Saturday 9 May 2020.