Home About Us Blog

Bishopsgate Blog
Discover | Enquire | Debate

The Bishopsgate Blog provides an added insight into all of our activities, Library, Courses, Events and Schools and Community Learning. Our regular blogs will feature speakers from our Cultural Events, photographs, documents, letters, posters and ephemera from the Library, up-to-date news and information on courses and first-hand accounts of our Schools and Community workshops.

Click here for more information.

Our bloggers

Courses's avatar.
Courses Our regular blogs will provide up-to-date news and information on our courses
Events Featuring content from speakers our blogs give added insight into our events
Library 's avatar.
Library A new way to engage with the library collections and services.
Schools and Community 's avatar.
Schools and Community First hand accounts of our archive learning workshops

Schools and Community

Our inspired Schools and Community Learning programme delivers a range of workshops and projects using the unique and fascinating collections found within our world-renowned Bishopsgate Library. Our workshops are suitable for learners of all ages and are used by wide variety of audiences from primary school pupils to pensioners.

Our regular blogs will demonstrate how our Schools and Community Learning programme encourages discovery and enquiry amongst our wide-ranging participants.


Culture and arts, heritage and history, ideas and independent thought all come together in our exciting events programmes. You can enjoy talks, walks, discussions and debates, or one of the many concerts that take place throughout the year.

Our regular blogs will give an added insight and perspective into our dynamic programme with content from speakers at our events.


Situated in a Grade II* listed building, Bishopsgate Library’s beautiful reading room is a peaceful place to study that is open to all; a calm oasis amid the bustle of Spitalfields and the City. In our dedicated Researchers’ Area, you can consult our renowned printed and archival collections on London, labour, freethought and Humanism, co-operation, or protesting and campaigning.

Our regular blogs will provide a new way for you to engage with the library collections and services, new acquisitions, activities and future developments.


Our comprehensive range of short courses offer you the opportunity to discover, discuss and be inspired in a welcoming environment. Our courses are conveniently designed to take place throughout the day, including lunchtimes, after work and at weekends. We have five course strands, Arts and Culture, Words and Ideas, Languages, Performing Arts and Body & Exercise to choose from.

Our regular blogs will provide up-to-date news and information.

Bishopsgate Blog
Discover | Enquire | Debate

David Rosenberg asks who was Emma Goldman

by Courses on 31 / 05 / 2016

Who was Emma Goldman? This is the question writer and author David Rosenberg hopes to answer in his three-part course looking at the life of this activist, writer, rabble-rouser, nurse and philosopher. Here, he gives us a little glimpse into her dramatic life.  

“Wake up. Be daring enough to demand your rights. Demonstrate before the palaces of the rich. Demand work. If they do not give you work, demand bread. if they do not give you work or bread, take bread. It is your sacred right.” Tough talking, in hard times, from an even tougher woman. 
Photograph of Emma Goldman
Emma Goldman, born into a struggling Jewish family in Kovno, Lithuania, was standing on a soap box in New York City’s historic Union Square, in her adopted country, when she made this appeal to a crowd of 5,000 hungry, angry, unemployed and downtrodden low-paid workers. She was just 24 years old then, but her power as an orator had already been recognised.

She was soon sought after, as an international anarchist celebrity. Emma turned up in London’s East End in 1899 speaking in her native tongue, Yiddish, to packed audiences who crowded into Christchurch Hall on Hanbury Street to hear her talk about how to change the world.

She felt at home wherever she was among the oppressed, and helped give them the strength and inspiration to fight for their liberation. In 1906 she founded a magazine called Mother Earth, which indicated the true boundary of her concerns.

Emma Goldman led a dramatic life and influenced the lives of so many others with her powerful ideas of liberation and her rebellious actions. Small wonder that in 1917 a State attorney described her as “the most dangerous woman in America”. Her philosophy was “anarchism”, which she defined as standing “for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social, and moral.” Her activism took her to many destinations, some by choice, others by force. In 1919 she was deported from America as an “alien radical”.

Opponents derided her as a hard unemotional revolutionary, while simultaneously complaining that she spoke of ‘free love” and sexual liberation. Emma herself was married and divorced in her 18th year. After her divorce she vowed “If ever I love a man again I will give myself to him without being bound by rabbi or law, and when that love dies, I will leave without permission.” Yet, for Emma, the “most vital right” of all was “the right to love and be loved,” adding “I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.”

This three-part course will try to bring out the real Emma Goldman in all of her dimensions: activist, lover, philosopher, nurse, rabble rouser. It will look at her background, describe key moments in her life, explore her fundamental beliefs and examine the impact of her activism on the different places in which she lived. Whether it was the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, wherever dramatic events were unfolding, Emma was there, in the thick of it, part of the struggle for better conditions and better times on Mother Earth.

Our course Who Was Emma Goldman? starts on Tuesday 14 June at 6.30pm. A fictionalised version of Emma Goldman also features in our event Ragtime: The Musical.

Stay up to date with all our activities by signing up to our newsletter.

Ragtime in London – the Course

by Courses on 27 / 05 / 2016

Bishopsgate Institute and Centre Stage London are producing a staged concert of ‘Ragtime: The Musical’ in June 2016. Tutor Michelle Johansen explains how the themes of Ragtime will inspire a new short history course at Bishopsgate Institute.

Based on the novel Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow, ‘Ragtime: The Musical’ examines pivotal moments in American history through the lives of three family groups in early twentieth century New York. Many of the themes that underpin the narrative in both the novel and the musical can also be found in the historical materials in the special collections at Bishopsgate Institute, collections that are especially rich in items that describe ‘ordinary’ people’s battles to achieve justice and equality. For example, the writings of anarchist and activist Emma Goldman (who appears as a fictionalised version of herself in Ragtime) are represented by pamphlets that report her lectures on hotly contested topics such as Marriage and Love (1914) and Anarchism (1916).

Other aspects of Ragtime that find direct parallels in the Institute collections include the story of immigration as told through the character of Tateh, an impoverished socialist and silhouette artist who travels with his daughter from Eastern Europe in search of a better life in the United States. At the start of Ragtime, we meet Tateh on a crowded ship about to dock at New York. In Terence McNally’s adaption of Doctorow’s novel for ‘Ragtime: the Musical’ the script refers to: ‘rag ships [carrying] immigrants from every cesspool in western and eastern Europe.’

Many Jewish immigrants made the hazardous journey from Eastern Europe to first London then New York in the final years of the nineteenth century, fleeing new laws in Russia that prejudiced their opportunities to make a living – and were sometimes violently enforced. It has been suggested that the poorer immigrants fetched up in the East End of London while the more wealthy travellers bought a ticket to New York. New York was the destination of choice in part because it was seen as a city of opportunities, a notion explored both in Ragtime and ‘Ragtime: the Musical’ (‘in America anyone at all can succeed’).

But on both sides of the Atlantic, visibly ‘other’ immigrant groups settling in large numbers attracted outspoken criticism and disproportionate media interest in the late-nineteenth century. In the Institute collections, pamphlets and journals from the period printed articles under inflammatory headlines such as ‘The Invasion of the Pauper Foreigners’ and ‘Alien Immigrants: are they Undesirable?’

Britain’s first Asian Conservative MP even secured his East End seat on an anti-immigration ticket in the 1890s, as this original election flyer from the collection reveals.

This item will feature along with photographs, articles and ephemera from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in a new half-day course called ‘Ragtime in London’.

Responding to the themes of the Ragtime novel and musical, the course will provide hands-on access to materials on anarchism, socialism and immigration as well as making more esoteric links to Ragtime through theatrical sub-plots that include escapology, Egyptology and arson. These subjects and more will be given a uniquely London twist, allowing students to spend an afternoon immersed in the city’s past at a pivotal moment of change, expansion and explosive drama.Keep checking our courses page for 'Ragtime in London' course dates and availability.

Stay up to date with all our activities by signing up to our newsletter.