Ruth First in the North

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Ruth First in the North
Ruth First Papers, Senate House, London

Ruth First was a hero of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. She was considered such a threat to the South African government that in 1982 she was assassinated in her office in Maputo.

I had known that she has spent time in England while she was exile and I had been vaguely aware that she had worked at Durham University, but it had never occurred to me that there were still people in the North who remembered her. In 2016 I took up a postdoc at Durham and one day I had lunch with a colleague in the Sociology Department, who in passing mentioned that he had been colleagues with Ruth First. People remembered her! That was very much the start of the Ruth First in the North project, but I couldn’t start working on it until I returned to England in 2020 to start lecturing at Liverpool. Nancy Cartwright and I teamed up, and it became a real project, as opposed to a pipe dream.

At the Ruth First in the North project, we are studying First’s time as an academic in the North of England, both in Manchester and Durham. We are also extending our previous work on objectivity in science, to better understand objectivity in activist social science research. Our first is event is in Durham on 11 October 2021, but participants can join us via Zoom if they can’t make it in person. You can register by emailing Nicola Craigs at

You can also read more about the project here.

 Ruth First poster