Towards a Vindication of Fred Casey

Wentworth Castle, a stately home in public hands

Last weekend I attend a weekend organised by the Independent Working Class Education Network, at Northern College. I particularly enjoyed Colin Waugh’s presentation on the Plebs League. We got to chatting and one of the things Colin raised was whether Stuart Macintyre had been entirely fair to Fred Casey, one of the activist-lecturers involved with the Plebs League. Casey was an inveterate advocate of the viewpoint of Joseph Dietzgen, having been exposed to his Positive Outcome of Philosophy when the English translation was published in 1906. He maintained this essentially monist position, never really signing up for the Leninist viewpoint. Things came to a head in 1928 with Communist Party of Great Britain just at the time that Stalin’s “third period” was kicking in. Just as the centenary of Dietzgen’s birth was being celebrated, the English translation of Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-criticism came out in English. Casey produced a somewhat critical review of it, which the Daily Worker refused to publish.

Rereading the passage about Casey in Macintyre’s A proletarian science: Marxism in Britain, 1917–1933 (1980) I was struck by this somewhat condescending remark:

But while Dietzgen’s attempt to deal with subjectivism was applied to society, Casey’s was applied to the individual and reduced to such banal paradoxes as ‘Sitting in one’s chair while the world swings in its orbit is a case of being still in relation to the chair and yet moving” (p. 135)

I remembered something concerning Ernst Mach and a swinging chair, and with a bit of internet search I discovered the original German text of 1875 has been published recently in English: Fundamentals of the Theory of Movement Perception (2001).

Spinning chair devised by Ernst Mach (1838-1916) to investigate the experience of motion

I can’t help wondering whether Casey was not somewhat more sophisticated than Macintyre gives him credit for. Perhaps he was trying to pick up on Mach’s ground breaking research which helped identify the role of inner ear in detecting acceleration rather than motion.

Poster saying 'Make a point' with cartoon of man about to sit on a tack

Casey’s papers are in the National Council of Labour Colleges collection at the National Library of Scotland. It’s going to be a while before I can make it to Edinburgh, to do further research, but I would be very interested in other people’s views in the meantime.

Other blogs concerning the same weekend.

* Billy Miller’s Blog

* Edd Mustill’s blog

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An interlude in the Northlands

I missed this weeks session of the Educational Repair reading group as I was participating in the World Congress of Perambulatory Sutures. First stop was Class Wargames in the Northlands in Huddersfield, followed by Walking Inside Out, in Leeds. Then down to Wortley Hall for the WHERE NOW? – a post-election review organised by the Raymond Williams Foundation. I was drawn to this as regards the focus on Adult Education. However, what I found most interesting was a session dealing with Williams’ Keywords. I checked the Keywords Project website: “a collaborative research initiative investigating ‘key’ words prominently used but also contested in social debate in English.”

The word which seemed most relevant to the reading group was “west“, I kind of felt reassured that I did not really understand what people mean when they use this word. Just as a form of words, racialised as black has gained a certain currency, I feel maybe the time is approaching when the even more long-winded circumlocution “psychogeographised as western”. I found the quote from the Royalist courtier, Richard Fanshawe’s translation of the Lusiad (1652) most instructive:

“But now he fears that Glorie’s neer it’s West, in the black Water of Oblivion”

This image of the “west” as dissolution was published just as Oliver CromwellLord Protector of England, was implementing his “Western Design” – plan to attack Spain via its colonies in the Americas and the occasion where England’s Republican ruler seized Jamaica from the Spanish. Fanshawe had been involved in an unsuccessful attempt to gain Spanish support for Charles I.

At a second hand bookstall at Wortley Hall I was able to get hold of Christopher Hill‘s Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution, which I read on the train back to London. In describing the intellectual turmoil of the seventeenth century, Hill focuses on three people: Sir Walter Ralegh (1554-1618), Francis Bacon and Edward Coke. All three were involved in the genesis of English imperialism:

Ralegh was a hands-on colonialist with profound anti-Spanish views: he had participated in the murder of Spanish and other Catholic prisoners after the Siege of Smerwick (1580). His role as pioneer of the English invasion of North America combined a search for great wealth, primarily gold, and the goal of curbing the growing power of the Spanish Empire, which at the time was described as “the empire on which the sun never sets“. This was term used by Thomas Gage (c. 1597 – 1656). In his treatise A New Survey of the West Indies or The English American his Travel by Sea and Land (1655). At the time of writing, Cromwell’s role as Lord Protector was a novelty, a form of words which hide Cromwell’s assumption of dictatorial powers. Indeed, even an apologist for British Imperialism like the American educationalist Frank Strong (1899) wrote admiringly of Cromwell using precisely these dictatorial powers to launch his Western Design, whereby England seized the Spanish colony of Jamaica. In his introduction Gage suggests that the “Indians” (i.e. Native Americans) had as much right to seize Spain by Right of Discovery as the Spanish did in seizing vast tracts of land in the Americas. In the context of inter-imperialist struggles in Europe, Gage suggests that the English can offer to “protect” the Indians from the Spanish, and from this we can derive the rationale not merely for the protectorates of the seventeenth century, but the Eurocentric ideology which was evinced by the Berlin Conference of 1884–85 through to twenty-first century developmentism.

Francis Bacon himself is most remembered for his role as an advocate of empiricism in science. Hill places this in a social context: “Bacon’s scientific method is the trial and error of the craftsman raised to a principle.” Hill regards Bacon’s influence as important not in supplying political dogmas, but through offering a guide to action. This can be seen in the way Bacon’s ideas, particularly as regards The New Atlantis (1627), a connection which Richard Chartres, the current Bishop of London, underlined  when he used his position as Gresham College Professor of Divinity to deliver three lectures (May 1992) depicting Gresham College as a ‘Magic Island’ based on Bacon’s conception of New Atlantis.

Hill’s book looks at how changes in the academic curriculum, arose from Gresham College and the mechanical folk who attended the lectures there. Gresham College was set up by Thomas Gresham, and funded by the Royal Exchange, another institution founded by Gresham. It’s role was to provide practical adult education to the artisans and seamen of London. This was the rising bourgeois class which would implement the empire. Hill argues that the “Greshamisation” of the Oxford University took place through the English Revolution, which in many ways implemented parallel reforms in society as a whole, comparable to the supercession of the scholasticist curriculum.

Edward Coke deserves special mention as he used his privilege as a judge to introduce a religious distinction to allow for enslavement of non-Christians to enter English Law. I have dealt with this at greater length elsewhere. (Tompsett 2000). Hill looks to him for his reorganisation of English Law.

I think it is important that we do not see the “White Curriculum” as a natural phenomenon that appeared without agency in European and American learning institutions. It came about as a result of deliberate actions and, indeed, social struggles.

One last point I found in a footnote in Hill’s book: The Moravian educationalist, Comenius, did express concern about the imperialism which the new teaching was unleashing: ‘these voyages of Europeans to foreign lands have brought evil to Europeans no less than to those people from which we obtain wordly goods” (Angelus Pacis), “We are all fellow citizens of one world, all of one blood, all of us human beings. (Panegersis) (Hill 1965) Comenius played a key role in the educational revolution in England in the seventeenth century. However, regardless of the utopianism and libertarianism which accompanied this revolution, English society was to evolve as the central element of the British Empire, based on both the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. The legacy of that Empire is still with us and this is reflected in our contemporary curriculum.

Just as in the seventeenth century we must consider the role of a broader social movement to ensure that not just the curriculum is reformed, but that society as a whole better reflects social justice.

Hill Christopher (1965) Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution Oxford: Oxford University Press

Strong, Frank (1899). “The Causes of Cromwell’s West Indian Expedition”. The American Historical Review 4 (2): 228–245.

Tompsett Fabian (2000) 1606 and all that:1606 and all that: the Virginian Conquest’, Race and Class, Vol. 41(3): 29-41


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An Adventure in Learning

This was the title of the second chapter of John Willinskys Learning to Divide the World: Education at Empire’s End.

(For blog about first chapter see Where is Here?)

We are in the library of the Thomas Coram Research Unit, University College London (UCL), and it’s another session of the Educational Repair reading group. At least we are in a building named after a person who was was critical of the Slave Trade, even if he was a founding Trustee of the Colony of Gerorgia, in North America. This colony originally banned slavery when it was founded in 1732. However this ban was overturned in 1749 and the colony became a crown colony in 1751.

There are a couple of points I want to pick up about our discussion. One question which arose was that of “Modern Egyptology“, which arose in the early nineteenth century, and developed in the context Egyptomania. Whether ancient Egyptians were “black” became an issue in the USA during the struggle for the abolition of slavery. Flinders Petrie, who is memorialised in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at UCL, attempted to revive the view that Ancient Egypt developed thanks to foreign invasion from Mesopotamia with his Dynastic Race Theory. Another UCL professor, Walter Bryan Emery, appointed 1951 also revived a version of this viewpoint.

“Evolution of Negro Dance”, a mural by Aaron Douglas, located in the Harlem YMCA where the Harlem History Club used to meet.

Another point of view emerged from the Harlem History Club which asserted the African origins of the Ancient Egyptian Civilisation.  John Henrik Clarke represented this point in the Black Athena Great Historical Debate which took place on WBAI radio station in 1996. In this debate there were a number of students from City University of New York (CUNY), where Clarke had been professor of Black and Puerto Rican Studies (1969-1986). The debate took place in the context of Mary Lefkowitz‘s Not Out of Africa (1996) where she criticised Martin Bernal‘s Black Athena (1987). What is instructive about this discussion is how the CUNY students link Lefkowitz’s book to the plans to discontinue Black and Puerto Rican Studies at their University. This arose following a massive cut in public support for the college being implemented by New York Republican governor George Pataki. This was rolling back concessions achieved through student protests which had ensured CUNY pioneered an Open-Admissions policy in 1970. Robert Fullinwider’s “Open Admissions and Remedial Education at CUNY” (1999) provides an overview of this.

Fullinwider’s analysis distinguishes between calls for academic excellence and meeting the needs of disadvantaged sectors of the community, which includes the substantial African-American community in Harlem. In 2013 3,996 (92%) members of the teaching staff at CUNY passed a resolution of no confidence in the new Pathways Curriculum which CUNY was adopting. Concerns were raised that the new curriculum was being introduced simply to cut expenditure without a proper analysis of its likely actual impact on students. (Fran Clark 2013).

In this way issues around Egyptology played not only a significant role in the Abolitionist struggle of the nineteenth century, but also had an impact in one chapter of social struggles around the curriculum in modern day New York.


Bernal Martin (1987) Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization: 1: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785-1985 London:Free Press

Clark Fran (2013) 92% Vote No Confidence in Pathways, CUNY’s New Curriculum, Professional Staff Congress, CUNY accessed 12 May 2015

Fullinwider Robert (1999) “Open Admissions and Remedial Education at CUNY” , Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly Vol. 19 No. 1

Lefkowitz M. (1996) Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth As History New York: New Republic and Basic Books,

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Where is here?

This was the title of the first chapter of John Willinsky‘s Learning to Divide the World: Education at Empire’s End. We were sitting in the South Wing of University College London (UCL). and I was attending the Educational Repair reading group.

Ever since my days with London Psychogeographical Association I have always been somewhat susceptible to a certain sense of place. Perhaps I am not the only one: on the Dismantling The Master’s House website there is page which features Henry Tonks‘ mural depicting the construction of UCL in 1826.

UCL’s history of breaking he mold of English University education is quite well known: previously there were only two universities in the country Oxford and Cambridge. They both required students to be church-going Anglicans before enrolling as students. Not only did UCL open its doors to those of all faiths – or none, it also admitted women. The Anglican establishment soon responded by setting King’s College London in 1829, the two college being brought together as the University of London in 1836.

However, when I got home I started thinking about comparing UCL/Kings with Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone, which was itself founded around the same time – 1827. Like King’s, it was an Anglican establishment mainly functioning as a seminary for African recruits to the Anglican church.


However the son of one of the African recaptives (liberated enslaved Africans) living in Sierra Leone – Africanus Horton – was selected from Fourah Bay College to be trained as a doctor to serve as medical officer in the British Army. After some time at King’s College, he finished his studies at the University of Edinburgh in 1859 with an MD.

Africanus Horton.jpg

In 1861 he started campaigning for the establishment of a medical school in Freetown, Sierra Leone. However this was rejected. His stipulation that “the Master of the establishment” should be an African meant that it received opposition from the existing European medical practitioners who felt it challenged their position.

In 1868 he proposed the establishment of a West African University:

“We want a University  for Western Africa, and the Church Missionary Society has long ago taken the initiative and built an expensive college [Fourah Bay College], which should now be made the focus of learning for all Western Africa.” (as quoted in Nwauwa, 1999, p. 114)

As Christopher Fyfe puts it, he saw that:

“[E]ducation was the key to free Africans from the racists’ prison of allegedly permanent inferiority[. . .] [and]  that only education could free people from the unenterprising ways that kept their countries economically stagnant.” (Fyfe, 1972 p. 83)

So when we talk about Educational Repair, we should recall the work of Africanus Horton. We may not agree with his unquestioning acceptance of the European model of Higher Education, but we should accept him as one of the pioneers of Educational Repair.


Nwauwa, Apollos (1999). “Far Ahead of his Time: James Africanus Horton’s Initiatives for a West African University and his Frustration” in Cahiers d’Études Africaines 39 (153): 107–121. Retrieved 5 May 2015.

Fyfe, Christopher (1972) Africanus Horton West African Scientist and Patriot London: Oxford University Press

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Sustainability and Wikimedia Commons

Barbican, London - 8 June 2014 - Andy Mabbett - 108

John Cummings and I in the Conservatory, the Barbican, in the run up to Wikimania 2014

My friend and colleague, John Cummings, has just added this blog on Wikimedia Commons:Understanding Sustainable Agriculture Through Wikipedia

As John says:

“The Priority Products and Materials: Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production report by the United Nations Environment Programme found that ‘Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.’”

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I am just coming to the end of a four month stint working for wikimedia UK helping to deliver Wikimania 2014 at London’s Barbican Centre. It was all quite exciting and as The Signpost put it was “not too bad, actually”. In the whirl of events seeing dozens of hackers bringing hacking home to Hackney, hunched over their laptops, while other devotees were busy tweeting, it became all too easy to miss some key aspects of the event, and so to fail to recognise that Wikimania contributed to saving lives.

London 13 - H3

Yes it was quite a suprise to find myself with other Wikimedians back in September 2008

Wikipedia is not just a website, it is also a somewhat heterogenous international community which thrives on face-to-face encounters in meatspace. For myself my involvement gained an extra dimension when I started attending the regular London Meetups six years ago. It was meeting other human beings rather than taping away while staring at a computer screen which made it interesting.

So, this August the London Meetup page modestly subsumes Wikimania within its calendar of monthly events, within an expansion to a three day event with between 2,000 and 4,000 attendees (so much for “British understatement“). But in essence it is the face-to-face interactions outside the formal sessions which make Wikimania such a powerful event. I don’t want to be dismissive about the formal sessions and all the hard work which went into them, it is just that I want to focus on the otheraspects and use this to show why I believe Wikimania saves lives.

2014 West Africa Ebola virus outbreak situation map

2014 West Africa Ebola virus outbreak situation map

A couple of weeks after Wikimania a discussion opened up on the Wikimedia Ghana list which spoke of an initiative by Carl Fredrik Sjöland of the Wikipedia:WikiProject Medicine who have teamed up with Translators Without Borders to set up a Translation taskforce. As they explained a couple of years ago “We believe that all people deserve high quality healthcare content in their own language.” Faced with the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa the focus of these activities has shifted to finding  people to translate information about Ebola into the relevant indigenous languages. There is something similar happening through the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team who have also been very active developing mapping resources for the medics on the ground.

I had hoped to make it to the OpenStreetMap 10th Birthday Party (the London celebrations were held nearby, to coincide with Wikimania) but I got caught up in other things and only arrived after most of the people had left. But that was precisely what Wikimania was like: you find out more and more about it in the aftermath.

A new metric for Wikimedia - 4

Graph indicating the comparative amount of Wikipedia content available for readers in different circumstances. Nearly all indigenous languages in Africa are comparable to Gujarati

Another aspect I found out afterwards was Denny’s comments on A new metric for Wikimedia where he discusses the availability of Wikipedia in different languages. Considering the recent Ebola outbreak above, this is not just a “nice idea”, but something which requires support now. Often it is not so much getting hold of finances, but finding a way in which those people with the relevant language skills can be linked up with and given the resources to make things happen.

An important aspect of this is that the speakers of these languages are not just passive recipients of knowledge generated in the geographical north. They can also contribute their own knowledge. This also touches on the notion of cognitive justice  as developed by Shiv Visvanathan in The search for cognitive justice

Cognitive justice is not a lazy kind of insistence that every knowledge survives as is, where is. It is an idea which is actually more playful in the sense the Dutch historian Johann Huizinga suggested when he said play transcends the opposition of the serious and the non-serious. Play seeks encounters, the possibilities of dialogue, of thought experiments, a conversation of cosmologies and epistemologies. A historical model that comes to mind is the dialogue of medical systems, where doctors once swapped not just their theologies but their cures. As A. L. Basham put it, the dialogue of medicines, each based on a different cosmology, was never communal or fundamentalist. It recognized incommensurability but allowed for translation.

This is a viewpoint which has been taken up in what is called Open ICT for Development, where “openness” is understood to include the the participation of communities in the governance of their own lives.

So what I found out in the aftermath of Wikimania is the question: Does Wikimania save lives? Can it help people get together and come up with practical methods by which people get in touch and existing initiatives can find that they are taken to a higher level? Will it have an affect in this example and save lives? So in this sense Wikimania is not over. It’s legacy depends on what action people take in its aftermath.

So I am writing this blog because I want you to see if there is something you can do to help either the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team or the Translation taskforce find more support for their projects in fighting Ebola.

Creative Commons Licence
Wikimania saves lives by Fabian Tompsett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Off to Raylab this evening to celebrate the Birth of Art.

I’ve been looking at the origins of Cybernetics and was interested to trace its roots back through Bogdanov to Joseph Dietzgen!
This has been summarised as:
Cybernetics as the Realisation and Suppression of Social Democracy

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Wikipedia – A Vernacular Encyclopedia (Datacide Version)

Datacide have just posted up this article from their latest issue:

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After Hub Westminster I went down to another of the excellent talks hosted by Cybersalon who were celebrating 20 Years of New Media as Art. I was a bit late so I missed Sean Cubbitt’s contribution, but I did catch Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett’s discussion of Furtherfield

Generally the discussion was very good, even if it did seem like the ghost of C. P. Snow had been reanimate and was walking amongst us. I feel we need to get away from the stultifying categories of Art (the totalisation of creativity) and Science (the totalisation of knowing), which after all are primarily categories which arose with the ascendancy of Bourgeois society, and serve to structure modern capitalist discourse.
Actually, real life is a bit more fluid than that . . .

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On Wednesday 27th March I went to the Hub Westminster members’ Council. The people running the Hub are trying to get more member involvement, but to tell the truth it reminded me of when I worked as a Tenant Participation Officer – unless you have outraged everyone with some crass organisational mistake, only the usual suspects turn up. Most people are happy to get on with their lives without “participation” unless something comes along to disrupt their lives.

The other thing that struck me is that organisers love to organise, even if their target audience is not so keen on being organised. It is much trickier to create an environment where people can self-organise.

It would be interesting to see if some Apps could be developed in this respect.

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