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Peterloo: protest, democracy, freedom of speech

2019 saw the bicentenary of the ‘Peterloo massacre', a formative event in the history of British democracy when a mass rally for parliamentary reform in Manchester on 16 August 1819 was attacked by armed cavalry with hundreds of casualties.

Professor Robert Poole published a highly-praised and definitive history, Peterloo: the English Uprising (Oxford University Press), and was historical consultant to the extensive Heritage Lottery funded commemorative programme in 2017-19. He has recovered, reinterpreted, and disseminated historical source materials, working collaboratively with regional and national organisations such as Manchester Histories, the John Rylands Library, English Heritage, and the Peoples History Museum. The public outputs which he has worked on include digital animation, museum exhibitions, a graphic novel, radio and television broadcasts, and a film on the radical leader Samuel Bamford. He provided the historical material and inscriptions for the permanent memorial in central Manchester designed by the Turner prizewinning artist Jeremy Deller. Subsequently, Poole’s research has influenced the design and delivery of the school curriculum to teach Peterloo to young people. Over the bicentenary period, he gave over 100 public talks and workshops. The Modern History Archivist at The John Rylands Library writes ‘Robert Poole was Peterloo’.

The Peterloo bicentenary programme won the Outstanding Public and Community Engagement Initiative Award at the University of Manchester awards in May 2020. The 2019 exhibition ‘Disrupt: Peterloo and protest’ on which Poole advised saw 98,000 visitors in 12 months and helped to gain the People’s History Museum the ‘Best Cultural Venue’ award at the 2019 Manchester Culture Awards.

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