Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology

'Burn: an incendiary history of lockdown Britain'

Mark Harrison (University of Oxford)


This lecture examines various types of protest during the Covid19 pandemic in the UK through an analysis of the use of fire in a range of contexts, from demonstrations through to the use of arson in sabotage, coordinated attacks on police and destruction of property. Some of this history is well known – such as the burning of police vehicles in demonstrations – but many aspects are not. Even where they are known, the significance of these incidents has seldom been grasped, nor has the practical and symbolic importance of fire in the context of the pandemic and the tensions it brought to the fore. The lecture makes use of historical examples to help interpret these events but also uses them to reflect on the historiography of pandemic and epidemic disease. It also reflects on how protests seemingly unrelated to the pandemic were changed by the disease and the restrictions imposed to control it. It argues that the pandemic accelerated forms of protest which were already evolving, not only in the UK but in many other parts of the world.


Series Convenors: Alex Aylward, Erica Charters, Mark Harrison, Catherine M Jackson, Sloan Mahone