RHS News

Research Policy Committee

Mary Vincent, Outgoing Chair of Research Policy Commitee, writes:

The RHS has a key role in speaking for historians on policy issues and representing our views on issues affecting research, within both Higher Education and other research institutions. Our Research Policy Committee monitors these areas, liaising directly and regularly with other learned societies in History and the Humanities more broadly. We also maintain regular contact with the research and funding councils and with government, primarily to ensure that the views of historians are taken into account when designing and implementing research policy. A wider commitment to historical research, together with the impact agenda, means that we also look to the relationship between historical research, public bodies and cultural institutions, and wider society. Research Policy Committee, which I chair, brings together councillors and officers of the RHS, along with co-opted members from key organisations such as The National Archive. There is also an annual joint meeting of the Research Policy Committee and the Education Policy Committee, which provides an opportunity to discuss overlapping or related policy matters, for example: public history; school curricula and the ‘pipeline’ into historical study; postgraduate training. In addition to our monitoring and advocacy roles, we aim to provide the membership with information and guidance about policy changes that are likely to affect them.

Recent issues

Recently, the committee’s has been heavily engaged in responding to the REF agenda, submitting evidence to the Stern Review [add link] and submitting to the REF2021 consultation exercise [add link]. In both documents we stressed the importance of the monograph and the need for this to be properly accredited through differential weighting, our opposition to greater use of metrics—which simply cannot capture the quality of research in history—and the position of early career historians. We have emphasised the importance of equality and diversity, and we will remain actively involved in every stage of the preparations for REF2021 and consulted widely in preparing our submission to the consultation. Building on the Society’s 2015 Gender Report [add link], we continue to probe the issues around Equality and Diversity, both for REF and more widely. Other areas of work in recent years have been Freedom of Information legislation [add link], which is of utmost importance for research in contemporary history, and Open Access, where we have consistently expressed support for the principle – and taken steps to make its own publications OA [link to new Studies in History series?] — while seeking to ensure that historians are not disadvantaged by requirements shaped by the working practices of very different disciplines, mainly bio-medicine.

Research Policy Committee works closely with History Lab Plus—which is represented on the Committee—to ensure that the interests of Early Career Researchers and other historians working outside permanent academic posts are properly represented. In the very uncertain environment for Higher Education in the UK, this continues to be a key area of concern and we look forward to developing and maintaining the connection in the future.

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Professor F M L Thompson

The Society notes with sadness that Professor F M L (Michael) Thompson, historian of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain, and President of the RHS from 1988-1992, has died.  The author of 52 publications listed in the Bibliography of British & Irish History, Michael was a prolific and influential historian of landed society, property relations, agriculture, free trade and much more.  His longstanding generosity to the discipline was evident not only in his many contributions to the RHS but in roles that included Editor of the Economic History Review (1968-80), President of the Economic History Society (1983-86) and Director of the Institute of Historical Research (1977-1990).  His many labours, keen eye and warm wit will be much missed.

Professor Margot Finn, President.


Prothero Lecture 2017: ‘Orthodoxy & Revolution’, Prof. Simon Dixon

Professor Simon Dixon (UCL) presented this year’s Prothero Lecture, ‘Orthodoxy & Revolution: The restoration of the Russian patriarchate in 1917’ at University College London on 7 July. You can watch the lecture, and read Professor Dixon’s abstract below.

At the height of the October Revolution in Moscow – a much bloodier affair than the Bolshevik coup in Petrograd – the Orthodox Church installed Tikhon (Bellavin) as Russia’s first patriarch since 1700. At the most obvious level, this was a counter-revolutionary gesture aimed at securing firm leadership in a time of troubles. It was nevertheless a controversial move. Ecclesiastical liberals regarded a restored patriarchate as a neo-papal threat to the conciliarist regime they hoped to foster; and since Nicholas II had explicitly modelled himself on the Muscovite tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, the potential for renewed conflict between church and state was clear long before 1917. This lecture will emphasise the extent to which a single individual haunted the whole debate. For, until the last moment, it was widely assumed that the new patriarch would be not the little-known Tikhon, but Archbishop Antonii (Khrapovitskii) [pictured above], whose attempts to model himself on Patriarch Nikon – the most divisive of seventeenth-century patriarchs – helped to make him the most controversial prelate of the age.

RHS Book Prize Winners 2017

The RHS is pleased to announce the winners of our 2017 Book Prizes.


The Whitfield Prize is awarded to:

Claire Eldridge, for From empire to exile History and memory within the pied-noir and harki communities, 1962–2012published by Manchester University Press.


The Gladstone Prize is awarded jointly to:

William Cavert, for The Smoke of London Energy and Environment in the Early Modern Citypublished by Cambridge University Press;


Alice Taylor, for The Shape of the State in Medieval Scotland, 1124-1290published by Oxford University Press.


RHS Newsletter, May 2017

The RHS Newsletter for May 2017 is available here, and includes:

  • Margot Finn’s Presidential Letter
  • Public History Prize 2018 – Alix Green announces new awards in the Public History Prize in collaboration with the Historical Association
  • Supporting Early Career Historians – grant winners Callie Wilkinson and Alys Beverton tell their stories
  • Focus on: Education – Marcus Collins explains the work of the East Midlands Centre for History Teaching and Learning, and looks at the future of teaching in UK Higher Education
  • Politicians’ Histories: the History of Parliament Oral History Project – Paul Seaward
  • The Stern Report: the Future of REF – Mary VIncent explains the Society’s work responding to the report


RHS Submission to REF 2020-21 Consultation

Following Lord Stern’s review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), HEFCE opened a consultation on REF2020-21, which closed on 17 March 2017. REF is of vital importance to the scholarly community and to history as a discipline and the consultation exercise has shown that its significance for our research culture is widely perceived. The Royal Historical Society has consulted History schools and departments across the country in preparing its submission to the consultation exercise, and has provided a considered response that evaluates the possible effects of measures such as full return of research staff and non-portability, seeks to support the position of Early Career Researchers, and makes a strong case for equality and diversity. Read the Society’s full response here.


Prof. Claire Langhamer, ‘Who the hell are ordinary people?’

Ordinariness was a frequently deployed category in the political debates of 2016. Brexit was, according to one political leader, ‘a victory for ordinary, decent people who’ve taken on the establishment and won’. In this lecture I want to historicise recent use of the category by returning to another moment when ordinariness held deep political significance: the years immediately following the Second World War. I explore the range of values, styles, and specific behaviours that gave meaning to the claim to be ordinary; consider the relationship between ordinariness, everyday experience and knowledge; and map the political work ordinariness was called upon to perform. I conclude with some thoughts about how historians use the category today.

Prof. Claire Langhamer is Professor of Modern British History at the University of Sussex

Analysis of REF2014 Impact Case Studies

The RHS has undertaken an analysis of the Impact Case Studies submitted for History in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. A number of characteristics emerge from the analysis:

  • Impact Case Studies were overwhelmingly headed by male historians: over 70% of listed Principal Investigators were men. This gender divide was higher at Professorial level than at other career stages, reflecting the issues surrounding gender equality highlighted in the RHS Gender Report.
  • A diverse range of funding was used to support Impact Case Studies: while 31% listed support from the Arts & Humanities Research Council, nearly half did not list a specific source of external national funding.
  • While there were Impact Case Studies on many different geographical areas, the UK was by far the largest area of focus (58%), followed by Europe (15%).
  • Modern history was the main period focus (62%), with fewer centring on early modern (12%) or medieval history (6%).
  • Public engagement was the largest impact area (listed by 66% of projects); comparatively few case studies were focused on digital impact (listed by just 9%).

Our analysis is available here.