From Student Unions to Trade Unions: Campus-Based Activism and Beyond

Date / time: 20 November, 12:00 am

Call for Papers, deadline – 20 November 2022

This workshop will explore the different ways in which campus-based activism linked to wider goals of social and political change as well as tracing the conflicts that emerged in such settings. It will bring together historians working on different countries and regions, with discussions that encourage comparative and transnational perspectives.

In 1922, student leaders from England and Wales established the National Union of Students (NUS) and, in doing so, connected local efforts to represent students with endeavours that were being waged within the national and international spheres. The formation of the NUS was part of a broader, international phenomenon – namely the creation of bodies that staked claims beyond individual college or university settings. From the very beginning, local and national student unions were subject to underlying tensions. On the one hand, some activists were keen to focus on matters that seemed to have a direct bearing on student concerns, from dealing with educational provision and student welfare to promoting sports or travel. On the other hand, a competing conception of student activism sought to link it to wider social and political visions. The latter variety manifested itself in different ways, for instance student involvement in anticolonial struggles, the rise of radical protest in 1968 and students’ involvement in international solidarity campaigns during the 1970s. In many ways, these dual foci, and the tensions that they often entail, have been consistent features of student politics.

We encourage papers that focus on different countries as well as contributions that explore international, transnational and methodological dimensions. Speakers may focus on different time periods. We are particularly interested in contributions that help to shed light on some of the following questions:

  • In what ways and what contexts did student activists forge connections with other social and political actors, for instance trade unions, political parties and social movements?
  • How did participation in welfare provision and self-help relate to broader quests for social change?
  • How did students engage with industrial relations on campus (e. g. lecturers’ strikes)?
  • What roles did local or national student unions play in specific political campaigns?
  • What were the manifestations and limitations of international solidarity (as articulated by student activists)?
  • How did officials and state agencies engage with student activists and their politics?
  • What are the sources and methods through which we can examine student activism, especially in terms of its relationship with social movements?

The event is hosted by the History of Activism research group at Northumbria University, with support from the Society for the Study of Labour History (SSLH). Thanks to funding from the SSLH, we can provide some partial travel subsidies to PhD students and early-career researchers who do not have access to institutional funds. If you would like to offer a paper for this event, please submit a brief abstract (150–200 words) and a biographical note to Daniel Laqua ( by 20 November 2022.

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