Event Archive

Select this category for information about events after they have taken place, such as videos of lectures, reports on the event or a transcript of the lecture.

Dr John-Paul Ghobrial, ‘Hard Times? Eastern Christian Migrants to Early Modern Europe’

RHS Lecture, Gustave Tuck lecture theatre, Friday 5 February 2016

From Lebanese immigrants in Argentina to Iraqi refugees in Sweden, Eastern Christians can be found today scattered across the entire world.  Too often, however, this global migration has been seen purely as a modern development, one arising from contemporary political and confessional events in the Middle East.  In fact, this phenomenon had its roots in the early modern period.  From the sixteenth century onwards, Christians from the Ottoman Empire set out for distant worlds and foreign lands, travelling as far as Europe, India, Russia, and even the Americas and leaving traces of themselves in countless European and Middle Eastern archives, chanceries, and libraries.  Some of these individuals created new lives for themselves as copyists, translators, and librarians in Europe, while others struggled to eke out a living for themselves as alms-collectors.  Their stories of survival and adaptation have long been overlooked.  While historians have tended to study these individuals in a piecemeal fashion, this lecture will assess the extent to which the movement of such individuals to Europe constituted a wider phenomenon of migration and exchange between Europe and the Ottoman Empire.  The lecture will focus especially on the experiences of a handful of these newcomers in an attempt to paint a picture of what life was like for Eastern Christians in early modern Europe.

John-Paul Ghobrial is Associate Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Balliol College.  He is an historian of the Middle East with a special interest in exchanges between Europe and the Ottoman Empire.  His first book, The Whispers of Cities (Oxford, 2013), explored the circulation of information between Istanbul, London, and Paris in the late seventeenth century. Since 2015, he has been the Principal Investigator for an ERC-funded project, ‘Stories of Survival: Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World’.  

 

RHS Presidential address by Peter Mandler ‘Educating the Nation III: Social Mobility’

RHS Presidential Address, Friday 27th November, 6pm, Chadwick BO5 lecture theatre, UCL

 

What is social mobility, who benefits from it, how does it ebb and flow over time, and what contribution does education make to it? These thorny questions have been amply addressed by sociologists and economists, but using their own disciplinary conventions, sources of data and definitions, and rarely across multiple generations. This lecture tries to provide an historian’s overview of social mobility in Britain since the Second World War. It will be argued, somewhat paradoxically, that social mobility has been a constant feature of the second half of the 20th century, but that this has not led to greater ‘equality of opportunity’. The wider experience of social mobility has, however, implanted this aspiration firmly at the centre of public opinion and, as a result, politicians’ discourse. This has in turn raised expectations of education, which public opinion looks to as a basis for social mobility and which politicians feel they have some control over. But what if education isn’t the prime mover of social mobility at all?  Where does this leave politics and particularly the politics of education?

RHS President, Peter Mandler, is Professor of Modern Cultural History, University of Cambridge and Bailey Lecturer in History, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. His specialisms are Modern British history, especially cultural, intellectual and social; the histories of the humanities and social sciences in comparative perspective. In 2015 he was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy.

 

Public History Workshop

In association with the award of the RHS Public History Prize

It is anticipated that the workshop will become an annual event, which every second year will also celebrate the award of one postgraduate and one undergraduate prize in public history, in conjunction with the Historical Association.  Part of the workshop will be devoted to discussing how a vibrant community of research and practice can be developed in Britain and what support students and early-career researchers need. The idea behind the workshop is to give those at the beginning of their academic lives a supportive forum to share their ideas, make contacts and help shape the future of the field.

The workshop is free and refreshments will be provided on the day, but no travel bursaries are available for this first running of the workshop

Keynote speakers:

Justin Champion, Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London, and President of the Historical Association.

Pamela Cox, Professor of Sociology, University of Essex, and presenter of the BBC series Shopgirls: the True Story Behind the Counter and Servants: the True Story of Life Below Stairs.

Ludmilla Jordanova, Professor of History and Visual Arts and Cultures, Durham University; Trustee of the Science Museum Group and chair of its collections and research committees; author of History in Practice and The Look of the Past: Visual and Material Evidence in Historical Practice.

 Programme

10.00     Lawrence Goldman to open event

10.20     Pam Cox: Public Audience History (+Q&A)

10.50     Daniel Johnson: Public Engagement and the Making of the Twenty-First Century Museum

Michael Mantin: From Pithead to Sick Bed: Disability and the South Welsh Coal Industry in the Museum

(+Q&A)

11.50     Ludmilla Jordanova: Public History – A Provocation (+Q&A)

12.20     Lunch

13.20     Alexander Hutton: Golden Age Thinking: Historians of the Industrial Revolution and their Publics

Claire Hayward: Memorialising the Past and Representing the Present in ‘homomonuments’: the commemoration of same-sex love and LGBTQ communities

(+Q&A)

14.20     Activity: Advocating Public History

15.00     Tea

15.20     Justin Champion: ‘Making public, making a difference’: designing research questions with a public purpose?

15.50     Discussion

16.30     Close

 

Ludmilla Jordanova, Public History Workshop, ‘A Provocation’

PHWLudmilla GR crop

Ludmilla Jordanova

Ludmilla Jordanova is Professor of History and Visual Cultures at Durham University. She is a Trustee of the Science Museum Group and chair of its collections and research committees. She is the author of History in Practice and The Look of the Past: Visual and Material Evidence in Historical Practice. 

She presented a paper entitled ‘A Provocation’ at the first Public History Workshop, held at the Institute of History Research on Thursday 29 October 2015.

She can be contacted at: ludmilla.jordanova@durham.ac.uk.


Jane-Smiley

Jane Smiley

The term ‘public history’ is distinctly tricky by virtue of its range of meanings and the diverse reactions it elicits. Everyone is familiar with E.P. Thompson’s phrase about rescuing the working-class from the condescension of posterity in his The Making of the English Working Class, 1963. Recent weeks have seen Niall Ferguson condescend to Jane Smiley, a historical novelist, on R4’s Start the Week, and her riposte in the Guardian on 15 October 2015. For him fiction cannot be history in any meaningful sense, for her it can. For him history is research intensive, but so is her work, she protested.

Christopher Clark

Christopher Clark

Condescension is common in the face of some forms of public history, as words such as ‘populariser’ can easily suggest, and so does the assumption that writing for wider audiences is somehow diluting not just the past but the scholarship of those who do so. There are some notable exceptions, of course, the books by and reactions to Christopher Clark and Adam Tooze, for example. So it would be worth examining these instances to see what sets them apart. But in the Ferguson/Smiley case, there is an all too familiar hierarchy of historical genres.

I consider historical fiction to be a major form of public history, hence this episode is of considerable interest for our discussions today. It would take far longer than I have this morning to disentangle the disagreements, the misunderstandings and the strong feelings involved. But I take the Ferguson/Smiley encounter as a telling example of some of the difficulties that arise in talking about ‘history’ in public. Whether we ‘like’ or sympathise with one or other side is hardly the point. I happen to feel that novelists can also be historians, if in ways we want to specify, case by case, book by book as we would with any historical genre. All genres, like the works within them, invite such careful analysis.

Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson

There are three issues arising from Ferguson’s condescension to Smiley that we may want to consider today. The first and perhaps most obvious is the forms of paring down that may be involved in presenting accounts of the past to non-specialists. For example, accounts may be deemed simplified if they do not include footnotes and bibliographies, since readers are relying on a persuasive narrative without having the option to assess for themselves the kinds of mediation necessarily involved. Although some novels have footnotes, on the whole general readers do not want a massive scholarly apparatus. Many non-fiction trade books have a rather light supporting structure, often at the publisher’s request. The problem becomes more acute with forms of representation where the authority behind any claims may be unclear – exhibitions some websites, TV and Film, for instance. Jane Smiley doesn’t parade the depth of her research, so it is difficult to assess it in conventional ways.

The second issue concerns the role of the imagination: ‘I have to use my imagination to make connections, to evoke feelings, to show patterns, to build a logical structure’, Smiley insisted in her Guardian piece. She continues ‘But then, my historian colleague must do the same.’ It is unclear to me precisely what Ferguson’s position is on the role of imagination in historical practice, but it is evident that most forms of public history, however we define the term, involve not only the imagination but forms of imaginative collusion, that is, audiences actively participate in some way. It is worth reflecting on such collusions, no matter what kind of history one practices, or consumes.

The third issue revolves around the language we use to analyse historical practice. In the radio programme, Smiley characterized history in terms of ‘events’, which allowed Ferguson to come right back to her with a riposte: it’s about much more than this, he claimed. But, without defining their terms, and some philosophical discussion, what are broadcasters supposed to do? Smiley was reaching for a quick way of making a point, and the term used tripped her up, I think. ‘Truth’ is another such term, and so is ‘fact’, and indeed ‘history’. Smiley has a doctorate, is a Pulitzer Prize winner and has published non-fiction works, but she is not a historiographer, as it were. And would it be appropriate to go into these matters on Radio 4 or in the Guardian? Commonsense, and often quite reductionist, meanings of such terms do inhibit public discussion, channel debate into simplistic polarities. I am not sure what the solution is here, but one conclusion might be that it is the role of public history as a field to address the difficulty.

Running through all these points, however, are questions about hierarchies, especially of knowledge. All scholars can benefit from engaging with them. My main provocation consists of just this – public history, both the field and the range of practices – history in public, crystalizes many central issues of historical practice, and hence is relevant to all historians as well as to others, and should not be seen just as a new specialism and accordingly as only for a select new group of specialists, since this can easily tip into a sense that other people/historians don’t have to bother with it.

As historians, as citizens, public history touches us directly if in a multitude of intricate ways that are difficult to disentangle. Jane Smiley suggests that we think of genres not as a hierarchy but as ‘a flower bouquet, with different colours, scents and forms…’ It is a delightful simile: social and political realities, however, demand that we are thinking all the time about the quality of knowledge and the broad implications of historical claims, topics that must also be central to public history in so far as it claims to be an academic field.

I’d like to draw your attention to what I see as an irony here. On one reading, much public history is under-conceptualised; for instance, popular history may concentrate on lists of key facts, often surprising or piquant in some way – this is common in history magazines. Such formats reinforce common beliefs about facts and dates lying at the heart of history. I am bemoaning a separation of public history from other parts of the discipline, yet at the other end of the spectrum, so to speak, we have had another field emerging over the same period – variously referred to as history and theory, historiography, or historical theory. These two more or less simultaneous changes show how easy it is for the discipline of history to fragment, and for this to happen in ways that generally affirm rather than challenge existing intellectual hierarchies, which tend to rate refined theoretical perspectives more highly than assemblages of information. It is a further irony that many historical websites – a major form of public history and frequently connected to the sophisticated field of digital history – consist of and celebrate just such assemblages.

So I thought it would be useful to put, in the most direct way possible, some of the issues that ‘public history’ raises. Some further context may provide a fuller sense of my perspectives.

History in PracticeI first became aware of the phrase ‘public history’ in the 1990s, and when preparing the first edition of History in Practice (first edition, 2000, second edition,2006), I asked all the historians I interviewed in order to get a more rounded view of the discipline, what they understood by it. Most replied that did not know what it meant. I devoted a whole chapter to the topic because I cannot see how any practicing historian can responsibly ignore the ways in which their field is alive in the world beyond educational institutions and professional associations. This is why my main point today is that public history is about history in its broadest sense and that consequently there are costs to treating it as a specialist field more about ‘popularization’ than about ‘real’ history.

The vast majority of practicing historians do now have some idea of what public history refers to, even if there are many different ways of construing it. There are posts and courses, journals and textbooks. Hence we might assume that public history has arrived. However, this is only a partial account, and I suggest that we need to adopt a more critical perspective. In part this is precisely because, as I hope I have already shown, the meanings of public history are both unclear and contested. One obvious fissure here is between those who believe that it should be generated through grass roots activity, and those for whom it should be practiced by professionals. My Ferguson/Smiley example has not addressed the grass roots question, since novelists too tend to be ‘professionals’. As it happens, I do not see any obvious professional/amateur polarity. In any case, advocating forms of public history from below and stressing the need for trained historians to be involved are not wholly incompatible positions: a crowd sourced exhibition can nonetheless be curated by a museum professional. An exhibition in the Bankfield Museum, Halifax, For King and Country, is a good example, while authoritative websites are made possible by volunteers – the Clergy of the Church of England database, for instance.

For King and Country Bankfield

Nonetheless there are important political issues here: if we think about the activities at Ruskin College, Oxford as a case in point, these are more bottom up than many of the forms of public history in the USA and Canada, where the field is considerably more professionalized. And their emphasis is certainly a considered political position.

But why should ‘public history’ be a separate, delineated field at all? Perhaps a curious question, and there are two rather different ways of thinking about it. The first follows patterns of professionalization and of the deployment of historical expertise in public life, which, in a world that places great emphasis on structured occupations, formal qualifications, and the recognition of specialized knowledge is highly likely to result in a new field, with all the paraphernalia that goes with it. With ever more pressure on jobs related to history since the Second World War, these phenomena help people build careers, while institutions and organisations assist practitioners in their interactions with pre-existing structures, such as legal systems. This pattern is so common that it would be surprising to find any field, especially if it made claims to public value, not following it. Since historians study just such shifts, it is helpful if they are aware of them in their own lives and settings.

The second route is rather different. It recognizes that ‘public history’ refers to highly diverse phenomena, and that it is these phenomena with their complex ‘public’ status that invite our attention. Such complexities require skills, insights and knowledge that are ‘specialized’. This line of thought might be developed further to stress the activities that are involved with making history public, in which we might well be participants rather than observers. Many academic historians, for example, have little idea how museums work, and this leads to frustrations on the part of museum professionals when, largely because of the Impact agenda, they are expected to conjure up exhibitions for nothing in a short period of time. The point has implications for the practice of history, certainly for forms of education, which are now building relevant forms of training in, especially at doctoral level. Arguably, making and responding to public history has become or is becoming integral to our professional lives. But, as I have already suggested, public history is also central to our lives as citizens, and perhaps we can also use our roles as consumers of ‘public’ culture more fully. Having a domain called ‘public history’, then, should help us to think through these issues as well as to practise history more energetically, openly and in more diverse forms.

Adam Tooze

Adam Tooze

It’s important to accept that there cannot be stability when it comes to what is meant by ‘public’. Its generative qualities come from its richness – it is better to embrace this rather than bemoan ambiguity. When I told a colleague that I was interested in public history, he responded, ‘I didn’t know there was any other kind’. I was initially flummoxed by the comment, but the more I thought about it, the more interesting it became. What would ‘private’ history look like, if we take a term commonly thought to be the opposite of ‘public’? When we publish, we enter a public realm. And can there really be watertight distinctions between history by and for the public and the history produced in and for academic settings? Here again the writings of Tooze and Clark are relevant. Nonetheless the heterogeneity of what falls under at least some definitions of public history should give us pause for thought. There are many significant differences between, say, war memorials that were designed to remind future generations of the conflict in question, of those who lost their lives, and to provide a focus for survivors, and an exhibition designed to provide visitors with historical understanding of that very same war.

One possible way of tackling this is to consider the level of historical focus involved. Buildings, squares, street names and so on are largely out of focus, brought sharply in when threatened in some way, or changed in a controversial manner. A paying exhibition, by contrast, will be in focus for visitors, who have chosen to engage with it, although what they may ‘learn’ in the process is likely to be highly variable. Another way is to take what we might think of as boundary cases: costume drama, historical fiction, art exhibitions, for example. Let us take all ‘historical’ forms seriously, precisely because they help us attend to questions such as the nature of historical imagination, the representation of moral complexities in the past, and forms of identification with people, places, and processes in earlier times. All these are themes that concern scholars with a theoretical bent.

To conclude: public history in all its senses stands for the ways in which the past is mediated and for the continual need to reflect critically on those ways. Accordingly it is central to the discipline and to citizenship. It must not be condescended to. Yet to engage with it fully, it is necessary to have a certain tool kit, which brings together sympathy, knowledge, experience and reflection. As a field public history can help to assemble, refine and refresh these tools. I have argued that the ranking mentality is unhelpful, perhaps it is even pernicious. But in saying this, I am not inviting a thousand flowers to bloom; on the contrary I am suggesting we get out there and engage with the diverse practices of public history – there is much to engage with, some of it deeply worrying – the ways in which some popular history magazines sensationalise past violence is a case in point. Public history in its fullest sense enjoins us all to think and practice history more openly and thoughtfully.

Download a PDF of the paper

Go to Public History Workshop report

 

 

 

 

RHS Public History Workshop report

The RHS Public History Workshop was held in the Wolfson suite at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) on Thursday 29th October 2015. It was organized by Professor Ludmilla Jordanova, Professor Jo Fox and Dr Alix Green in partnership with the IHR’s Public History seminar.

RHS Research and Communications officer, Dr Jane Gerson, reports:


MainAward_Logo smallThe Public History workshop is part of a new initiative to promote and recognise this developing field alongside the new biennial RHS Public History Prize. It was the first of what we hope will be an annual event to profile public history and assess its importance, impact and role in contemporary historical studies.

The RHS is excited to be supporting such an innovative approach to the work of historians, which enhances public understanding of the place of the past in today’s social, political and cultural life. But what is public history exactly and why is it important?  The workshop aimed to explore these questions from a number of perspectives as well as focusing on the work of upcoming early career researchers and postgraduates.  The programme for the day interwove keynote addresses by three well-known historians, Pam Cox, Ludmilla Jordanova and Justin Champion, with four presentations by historians starting out on their careers, Daniel Johnson, Mike Mantin, Alexander Hutton and Claire Hayward.

Lawrence Goldman

Lawrence Goldman

The event was opened by IHR Director Lawrence Goldman who paid poignant tribute to the historian of modern Jewish history, David Cesarani, whose death had just been announced. Goldman drew attention to the way Cesarani’s work intersected with pressing educational, political and cultural issues. In a personal reminiscence, especially commissioned by the RHS, Goldman writes, “In a profession that sometimes talks airily and vaguely about ‘public historians’, David Cesarani was the real thing.” One of the aims of the workshop was to dispel any ‘airy’ and ‘vague’ talk and bring a precise focus to what public history is and what it can achieve.

Pam Cox

The first keynote address was given by Pam Cox, Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex. She is perhaps best-known for her outstanding series for the BBC – Shopgirls: the True Story Behind the Counter and Servants: the True Story of Life Below Stairs, both of which provide intimate insights into the daily lives of ordinary working people in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain.  She gave a scintillating presentation drawing on the promotional materials produced by the BBC to trail and publicise the series, showing how skilful editing of images and speech can reach audiences unfamiliar with the traditional approaches of academic historians. She explained how her producer urged her not only to encourage her audience to ‘learn’ these histories but also to ‘feel’ them.  Initial reserve about adopting the strategies of broadcasters, which can seem at odds with the methodologies of the historical profession, gave way to excitement at the possibilities opened up by new ways of communicating the past and reaching new audiences.

Daniel Johnson (left) and Jo Fox

The theme of ‘feeling’ as well as ‘thinking’ as a means to understand history and connect with audiences recurred throughout the day. It emerged as one of the central defining features to help us understand what makes public history – or indeed what makes history public. These ideas were further explored in the next session which addressed the theme of public engagement with museums.  Daniel Johnson, a public history MA student at the University of York, talked about his involvement with the Blackpool Museum Project. This is a large-scale development, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which aims to build a museum that captures the spirit and character of Blackpool. Blackpool Council envisages the museum will be “immersive, participatory and inclusive”. Johnson has acted as a volunteer for the project, collecting oral histories and working on cultural events to promote its work. Given Blackpool’s long association with popular entertainment, his talk stressed the interactive, playful approach the museum intends to adopt to engage its audience.

Mike Mantin

Mike Mantin, research fellow at Swansea University for the Wellcome Trust project ‘Disability and Industrial Society’, also addressed approaches to engaging local audiences in their histories. Mantin was co-curator of the exhibition ‘From Pithead to Sick Bed: Disability and the South Welsh Coal industry’ which ran at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea from June to October this year. His paper focused on their attempts to link the historical material with contemporary societal issues through talks, events, podcasts, blogposts and working with local disability groups. He described this as adding “a much-needed conversation on representation, of both disability and labour history in museums.” It was also a plea for academic historians to lead this public conversation themselves.

Ludmilla Jordanova

The second keynote address by Ludmilla Jordanova, Professor of History and Visual Cultures at Durham University and author of the essential text, History in Practice, challenged habitual thinking, not just about public history, but history per se.  After all, she asked, can’t all history be described as being in some sense ‘public’? Titled ‘a provocation’, her talk probed the qualities of public history, defending its importance, for example in historical fiction as practised by the author Jane Smiley, whose recent bruising encounter with Niall Ferguson on BBC R4’s Start the Week, exposed the attitudes some established historians hold about ‘fiction’ as a pathway to historical understanding. But Jordanova also cautioned against the dangers of reductive populism as evidenced in the numerous Top 10 history ‘fact’ lists now so prevalent in some publications. Public history, she made clear, is not the same as ‘selling’ history. Read Jordanova’s  paper in full.

Alexander Hutton square

Alexander Hutton

The afternoon commenced with two thoughtful presentations on what might be termed ‘outsider’ history; that is history conducted by unorthodox practitioners about individuals and groups marginalised in society. Alexander Hutton, a post-doctoral researcher at King’s College London, proposed an alternative model to our ideas about public history.  His doctoral research revealed that well-known historians of the Industrial Revolution developed their ideas through intense interaction with non-historians associated with interest groups such as the adult education movement. For these people history was not “the passive consumption of material produced by experts” we so often assume it to be. It was rather a dynamic, interactive process between professional historians and interested publics, which suggests new ways to engage with the historiography of the Industrial Revolution, as well as other histories.

PHW Claire + Alix square

Claire Hayward (left) and Alix Green

Claire Hayward, a final year PhD student at Kingston University who is working on representations of same-sex love in public history, also looked at individuals and groups who have been omitted from conventional histories and heritage practices, in this case with respect to LGBTQ communities. While there are some high-profile figures such as Oscar Wilde, and more recently Alan Turing, who are commemorated, this masks the vast number of LGBTQ men and women who are eradicated from public memory. She also discussed the gendering of memorialisation, with the history of same-sex love between women even less acknowledged than that between men. The UK, in particular, lags behind both Europe and America in its representation of LGBTQ communities. The talk ended with ideas for the future of commemoration that could represent the existence of past, present and future acts of same-sex love and LGBTQ communities in the UK.

PHW Justin sq. 2

Justin Chamption

The workshop broke into groups to discuss how to advocate public history before Justin Champion gave the final keynote speech of the day. Champion, who is Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London, and President of the Historical Association, gave what was probably the most overtly political address of the workshop in a talk entitled ‘ “Making public, making a difference” – designing research questions with a public purpose.’ He made a powerful case for public history to return to the idea of ‘making a difference’, attacking top-down intervention by government that determined the kinds of research historians should be conducting, particularly in exercises such as the REF which assess funding on the basis of prescribed definitions of ‘impact’. He contrasted this with the more authentic, grass roots evolution of research projects by historians genuinely engaged with their communities and research topics. He made a plea to enquire into why people become historians and have more understanding as to what motivated their choice of research. Respect and latitude to allow these involvements to develop without political pressure was important to achieve the best standards of historical research as well as the highest levels of reciprocal public engagement. Champion wrapped up his talk by asking “is public history by definition a political act?” In a day of some excellent live tweeting this assertion gained the highest number of retweets!

The speech closed a fascinating and stimulating day that left many avenues still to explore.

The RHS and Public History steering committee actively welcome comments about the workshop and ideas for its future as an annual event.  Please send these to RHS Honorary Director of Communications, Jo Fox at info@royalhistsoc.org

Many thanks to the Public History steering committee: Ludmilla Jordanova, Alix Green and Jo Fox.

 

 

2015 Colin Matthew Memorial Lecture: Timothy Garton Ash ‘Free Speech and the Study of History’

Colin Matthew 1Colin Matthew (1941-1999), Professor of Modern History (Oxford), was a long time Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (1976-1999). He served as its Literary Director from 1985-1989 and as a Vice-President from 1993-1997. Simultaneously a Fellow of the British Academy, Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery, Chairman of the Friends of the Bodleian Library, editor of the New Dictionary of National Biography, and much else besides, Colin was deeply committed to the principle that academic history should be accessible to a wide public. The lecture is named in his honour.


Timothy Garton Ash ‘Free Speech and the Study of History’

A growing number of countries have so-called memory laws, ranging from the criminalisation of Holocaust denial, to prescriptions for the teaching of certain subjects, memorial days and public monuments. Which, if any, of these are justified? Which are more effective in combatting evils they are supposed to combat, based on misinterpretations of the past?

Timothy Garton Ash, who has just completed a book on free speech, will argue that phenomena such as Holocaust denial are better contested by the completely free, robust exchange of scholarly, journalistic and political debate, and that the state should not use its coercive power to limit the study of history.

Contributor Tim Garton Ash of st Antony s college Oxford Pic Rob JudgesTimothy Garton Ash is the author of nine books of political writing or ‘history of the present’ which have charted the transformation of Europe over the last thirty years. He is Professor of European Studies in the University of Oxford, Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

You do not need to register for this free public event. It will be run on a “first come, first served” basis, so please feel free to arrive a little early to ensure that you can get a seat. Doors will be opened half an hour before the start of the event.

The Colin Matthew Memorial Lecture for Public Understanding of History is co-hosted
by Gresham College and the Royal Historical Society.

Colin Matthew 2

Colin Matthew

 

 

History Matters Conference video

On Saturday 25 April, a conference was held to discuss why there are so few history students and teachers of African and Caribbean heritage. A short video was made of the conference highlighting the key issues, which you can view here.

Some disturbing facts:

  • Last year only three Black students were admitted to train as History teacher
  • Official statistics indicate that History is the third most unpopular subject among Black undergraduates
  • During 2012/13 there were 1340 Black undergraduates studying History, 1.8% of the total
  • At present it is estimated that there are less than 10 Black PhD students studying History in the country
  • Why are so few Black students studying History?
  • Why are there so few Black teachers of History in our schools?
  • Why are there so few Black academic historians?
  • Why do some young black people view History as just a ‘white middle-class pursuit’, when history is so popular at community level?

The History Matters Conference explored these questions aiming to understand why such low numbers of Black students are engaging with History as a subject. Teachers, school and university students, as well as professional historians convened to discuss their experiences of studying history and to suggest ways forward. The objectives were to identify the reasons for this under-representation and to encourage more young black people to study history.

‘Black and ethnic minorities still have mountains to climb in Higher Education’, Times Higher Education, 5 November 2015

History Matters logo‘Only three black applicants win places to train as history teachers’, The Observer, 22 March 2014

More information

 

 

Professor Elizabeth Harvey ‘Last resort or key resource? Female foreign labour, the Reich labour administration and the Nazi war effort’

RHS Lecture, Friday 25th September, 6pm, Gustave Tuck LT, UCL

Foreign labour was an essential resource for the Nazi war economy: by September 1944, around six million civilian labourers from across Europe were working in the Reich. Any initial readiness on the part of the peoples of Nazi-occupied Europe to volunteer for work in the Reich had quickly dissipated as the harsh and often vicious treatment of foreign workers became known. The abuse and exploitation of foreign forced labourers by the Nazi regime is well documented. Less well understood is why women formed such a substantial proportion of the labour recruited or forcibly deported from occupied Poland and the occupied Soviet territories: in September 1944, over 50% of Soviet civilian forced labourers and more than a third of Polish forced labourers were women. This lecture explores the factors influencing the demand for and the supply of female foreign labour from occupied Eastern Europe, particularly after the appointment of Fritz Sauckel as the head of labour mobilization in March 1942. It will consider the explanations offered hitherto for the large-scale deployment of female foreign workers from Eastern Europe, and examine the contradictions of Nazi policy towards them within two interlocking systems of control: the regime’s regimentation of labour and its racist mechanisms for controlling human reproduction.

Elizabeth Harvey is Professor of History at the University of Nottingham. Her publications includeYouth and the Welfare State in Weimar Germany (1993) and Women and the Nazi East: Agents and Witnesses of Germanization (2003). She is a member of the historians’ commission appointed by the German Federal Ministry of Labour to oversee the research project on the history of the Reich Labour Ministry under National Socialism.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183/B19880, Photo: Knoedler, 1942. Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B19880 / photo: Knoedler

License CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

 

2015 Prothero lecture: Professor Colin Kidd, ‘The Grail of Original Meaning: Uses of the Past in American Constitutional Theory’

RHS Prothero Lecture, Wednesday 1st July, 6pm, Gustave Tuck LT

Originalism has been a controversial presence in American constitutional jurisprudence since the 1980s. Reacting against the liberal ‘living constitution’ jurisprudence of the Warren and Burger Courts, conservative jurists urged fidelity to the original principles which had animated the Constitution in the late eighteenth century. However, the quest for original meaning is not as straightforward as conservatives have assumed. Not only is original intent tantalisingly elusive, it raises major issues of historical interpretation. How far do the assumed historical underpinnings of originalism mesh with the findings of academic historians? To what extent has the conservative invocation of the Founding Fathers obscured a lost American Enlightenment? Nor is ‘tradition’ in American constitutional law an unproblematic matter. How far does a desire to restore the original meaning of the Constitution ignore the role of ‘stare decisis’ (precedent) in America’s common law heritage? Colin Kidd explores the tensions between originalist jurisprudence and historical scholarship since the 1980s, and examines the various usable pasts in operation in American constitutional theory. Originalism, it transpires, has many mansions. Moreover, the various schemes of historical interpretation in American constitutional jurisprudence do not map easily onto a simple liberal-conservative divide. The lecture will also interrogate more general issues about the relationship between academic and ‘applied’ history.

Colin Kidd FBA is Wardlaw Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He is the author of Subverting Scotland’s Past (1993), British Identities before Nationalism (1999), The Forging of Races (2006), and Union and Unionisms (2008), all published by Cambridge University Press

 

RHS Symposium: Masculinity and the Body in Britain, 1500-1900

On 18 June the University of Northampton ran a 1-day symposium on the history of masculinity in Britain. Dr Tim Reinke-Williams, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Northampton, reports:

The aim of this symposium, generously sponsored by the RHS, was to reflect on developments in the historiography of the body over the last 25 years, as well as allow a chance for early and mid-career historians to show-case their latest research.  2015 was a particularly significant moment to attempt to do this since it marked the anniversary of three landmark publications on the body and masculinity: Thomas Laqueur’s Making Sex: Gender and the Body from the Greeks to Freud (Harvard University Press, 1990); Anthony Fletcher’s Gender, Sex and Subordination in England, 1500-1800 (Yale University Press, 1995); and a special edition of  the Journal of British Studies, co-edited by Alexandra Shepard and Karen Harvey, in which the contributors responded to the question ‘what have historians done with masculinity?’

JenEvans Wellcome 2The symposium was structured chronologically with the first two papers focusing on the early modern period (c.1580-c.1770). Jennifer Evans (Hertfordshire) offered a detailed analysis, based on her examination of medical treatises and doctors’ casebooks, of the types of medical conditions which men were (and were not) comfortable discussing with their physicians, focusing in particular on urinary and sexual problems. Tawny Paul (Northumbria) approached the topic from the perspective of an economic historian, using evidence drawn from cases of debt litigation brought before Edinburgh courts to outline how the bodies of debtors were used as collateral for goods exchanged on credit through the processes of distraint and imprisonment.

The next panel moved into the Georgian era (1714-1837). Des Newell (Oxford Brookes) drew on evidence from overseas’ diarists visiting England, as well as trial reports, to discuss the significance of disrobement in plebeian honour fights, showing that such actions signalled the intention to fight, but also served practical purposes, such as allowing the combatants greater freedom of movement. Matthew McCormack (Northampton) examined the issue of masculinity and height, using satirical images alongside medical, political and conduct treatises to outline how height carried positive connotations in terms of social class, athleticism and health, but also might signify negative traits such as awkwardness, ambition, militarism and even castration.

Bailey, Richard Humphreys, the Boxer

Richard Humphreys, the Boxer

The second half of the symposium began with a lavishly illustrated keynote lecture by Joanne Bailey (Oxford Brookes) which focused on masculinity, emotions and material culture across the decades from 1756 to 1856, charting the development of an eighteenth-century ideal of the male body as graceful and dexterous, to a nineteenth-century model in which size, hardness and muscularity were valorised. These shifts occurred due to changing practices in war, empire, and labour, but also due to new understandings of science, sports, and aesthetic fashions.

The final panel focused on the late Victorian period and early twentieth century (c.1880-1916). Victoria Bates (Bristol) discussed how Victorian definitions of adolescence differed from those of the 21st century, but also how such understandings were debated during the Victorian era.  Medical discussions of male sexual maturity were linked to ideas about the gendered individual passing through boyhood into ‘early’ and ‘full’ manhood. Michael Brown (Roehampton) drew together the histories of science and warfare, focusing on the anxieties which arose around the impact of the development of new weaponry in the decades prior to the First World War, and how advances in military technology led to the bayonet being fetishized as a gendered weapon.

The symposium concluded with a panel discussion involving all the speakers, which began with some comments by Karen Harvey (Sheffield), who drew attention to how historians of masculinity have been revisiting their topic at regular intervals over the last quarter of a century.  Karen highlighted several themes which offered the basis for a lively subsequent discussion: men’s possession of their own bodies, and the notion of ideal types; the relationship between representations and practices of masculinity; the experience of embodiment; and ideas about continuity and change across time. Speakers commented on how their work had been influenced by recent developments in the histories of emotions and material culture, and the resurgence of the history of class as well as the need to use gender as a point of comparison in order to write women into histories of masculinity were topics which were commented upon too.

Overall, the symposium demonstrated that the historians working on masculinity and the body are able to approach the topic via the histories of medicine, economics, violence, and warfare.  Most practitioners would define themselves as social or cultural historians, and the relationship between the two can sometimes be fraught, but many of the participants also acknowledged the need to consider the topic from a political perspective, and to integrate the findings of scholars working in other disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology and medical humanities. It is to be hoped that there will be opportunities to maintain and continue these discussions in future.

Read:

Joanne Bailey, ‘Manly bodies in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England’

Dr Jennifer Evans, ‘Shameful Secrets? Men’s sexual and genitourinary health in the long seventeenth century’

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