This event is part of CIDRAL's programme for the 2017/18 academic year, 'Constraints of Creativity'.
Matt Houlbrook (Professor of Cultural History, University of Birmingham) will participate in a roundtable to discuss his new book 'The Prince of Tricksters'.
Early one morning in June 1940, the man neighbours know as Robert Tracy is found on a Chesterfield sofa in a large house in Surrey. Crumpled and ungainly, he is surrounded by empty bottles and glasses, an overflowing ashtray, a mess of books and papers … Though only thirty-six, he has been a naval officer, a decorated war hero, a gentleman, a lord; he has been a servant of empire, a journalist and crime writer, a publisher and famous royal biographer. He has also been a confidence trickster and a thief.’
The Prince of Tricksters (Chicago, 2016) is the latest book by award-winning historian Professor Matt Houlbrook. Charting the multiple lives and ‘selves’ of notorious interwar con artist Netley Lucas, the monograph is based on over a decade of painstakingly detailed archival research, uncovering traces of Lucas’s many exploits and aliases across four continents. As a result, the Prince of Tricksters is an ambitious and daring new experiment at writing history through exploring the possibilities and problems of using an individual life-story (not necessarily biography per se) as a way of making sense of society, culture, and politics in the widest possible sense. One man’s life of reinvention herein becomes the lens to trace changing notions of ‘confidence,’ ‘authenticity,’ and ‘fakery’ in the unsettled decades following the First World War. In conversation with Professors Laura Doan and Frank Mort, the author will discuss his ambitions for the project and the impact he hopes it will have on the field of modern British history. The roundtable will consider the way that we think about British society, culture, and politics in the 1920s and 1930s, and the position of this period within the formation of British modernities in the longer term.
This is an invitation to reconsider the ways in which we write about the past — particularly the relationship between history as an academic discipline and other forms of narrative non-fiction and creative writing. As Houlbrook argues, 'In moving between the familiar tropes of academic history and different forms of storytelling, my aim is to trouble the “apparent coherence and ultimate ‘given-ness’” of much historical writing, to think critically about how the discipline of history works, and how it might be made differently. If it means you think about what we can know of the past, how we might know it, and what history might be, then I want this book to make you feel uncomfortable.'
Matt Houlbrook is Professor of Cultural History in the School of History and Cultures at the University of Birmingham. His first book, Queer London: Pleasures and Perils in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-1957 (Chicago, 2005), was awarded the Longman-History Today Book of the Year Award (2006), as well as the Royal Historical Society's Whitfield Prize for the best first book in British history. Follow him on twitter: @tricksterprince
There will be a dinner afterwards for our speaker, which is free for postgraduate students to attend. If you would like to come along please email Eloise Moss (Eloise.Moss@manchester.ac.uk) by Monday 27th November at the latest.
Event Co-Sponsored by CIDRAL and the Modern British History Network, SALC.