The New Great Britons

In 2002, the BBC ran a campaign to find the Greatest Briton. 20 years on, we have commissioned academics from Durham University to champion ‘great Britons’ they feel have been overlooked by history. From a a significant and overlooked Black poet and Durham alumni to a pioneering domestic abuse activist from the 19th century, these short talks from leading researchers aim to shine a light on forgotten figures from history.

The New Great Britons is a partnership project with Durham University’s Dr Natalie Mears. Natalie Mears’s research re-evaluates the representation of Elizabeth I, voted 7th Greatest Briton in the BBC’s campaign in 2002 and only one of two women in the top ten. Using insights from the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements, she shifts focus to foreground narratives by ‘outsiders’ — Catholics, women, LGBTQ, and working-class historians, writers, artists, and producers — and exposes how the, at times profound, influence they exerted on popular consciousness was deliberately silenced by elite, educated, white, protestant men who sought to control and exploit Elizabeth’s image for their own political and cultural purposes.

The four videos will be available to watch for free from Monday 10 October

The New Great Britons project will also include a panel event live at Durham Book Festival, featuring authors Richard O’Neill and Ashley Hickson-Lovence.

The commissions

Dr Sol Gamsu

Dr Sol Gamsu will be discussing Peter Blackman,a significant and overlooked Black poet, writer and activist.

Dr Sol Gamsu is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology. He is a sociologist and a geographer of education with a strong commitment to the politics of education and envisaging alternative futures for education and society more broadly.

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Dr Coreen McGuire

Dr Coreen McGuire will be discussing Phyllis Margaret Tookey Kerridge, a British chemist and physiologist whose scientific research significantly transformed medical perceptions of disability.

Dr Coreen McGuire is a Lecturer in Twentieth-Century British History. She is an historian of interwar Britain doing interdisciplinary research at the nexus between disability history, medicial history, and science and technology studies.

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Professor Edith Hall

Professor Edith Hall will be discussing the working-class English Theatre Director, Joan Littlewood.

Edith Hall is a Professor in the Department of Classics and Ancient History. Besides academic research, she advises theatre companies, contributes to radio and television programmes, and campaigns to improve access to classical subjects in state schools across the UK.

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Professor Julie-Marie Strange

Professor Julie-Marie Strange will be discussing Frances Kelly, a 19th century woman whose actions set in motion legal revisions that would ultimately lead to the Serious Crime Act 2015.

Julie-Marie Strange is a Professor in Modern British History. She is a Victorianist with long standing research interests in death and grief.

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