Herakles Banner

This spring will see the publication of a ground-breaking book on The Art and Ideology of the Trade Union Emblem, 1850–1925, which is the product of a collaboration between art historian Dr Annie Ravenhill-Johnson and OU classicist Dr Paula James. For students of the ancient world, one of the most interesting elements of the book will be its treatment of how the banners incorporated elements from the classical artistic tradition, ranging from figures of gods and personifications to architectural motifs and Latin mottos.

In this interview filmed for Classics Confidential, Paula James tells Anastasia Bakogianni about how this collaborative project began and developed, and gives us a taste of the book’s content by introducing us to a banner made for the Dockers Union in the 1890s. This banner by an unknown artist (depicted above) features an idealised, muscular figure of Hercules, shown as the champion of a workforce struggling against the exploitative forces of capitalism. In our video, Paula James talks us through how this striking image reworks different visual and cultural traditions to produce a representation rich with meaning for participants in the late nineteenth-century labour movement.

The book will be out in May 2013, and you can already read a summary on the Anthem Press website. Until then, those interested in this topic might enjoy exploring the online resources of the People’s History Museum in Manchester (the current home of the Hercules banner discussed here) and the Working Class Movement Library.

Click on the image below or follow this link to watch our interview.