RHS News

History in the News: Susan Cohen ‘Eleanor Rathbone and the Refugees’

2016 marks the 70th anniversary of the death of the independent MP, Eleanor Rathbone. Known as ‘the MP for refugees’, her campaigns on behalf of refugees in the Interwar and 2WW period have a strong resonance with the current crisis, carrying a powerful message as pertinent today as it was then. 

eleanor-rathbone-and-the-refugees GRDr Susan Cohen’s monograph Rescue the Perishing: Eleanor Rathbone and the Refugees was published in 2010. She is currently researching the role of women within refugee organisations in Britain before and during the Second World War. Susan is co-founder of the Remembering Eleanor Rathbone Group.

holocaust-memorial-day-2016-themeThe theme of Holocaust Memorial Day this year was ‘Don’t stand by’, a salutary reminder of the duty we all have, as responsible citizens, to speak out on behalf of people who are being oppressed or persecuted. Following the family motto ’what ought to be done, can be done’, Eleanor Rathbone, Independent MP for the Combined English Universities from 1929, embraced this obligation, devoting her working life to the needs of the under-represented in society, regardless of race, religion or gender. She never had a plan in her mind, but instead took up causes that came to her attention and which called for a strong advocate, moving seamlessly from national, social and welfare concerns, equality for women, eliminating child poverty, improving housing and a host of other injustices. As a parliamentarian, only one of fourteen women returned in the 1929 election, she put her skills to good use, becoming the most powerful backbencher of her time.

She extended the scope of her activism to Britain’s colonies, and to Palestine, then ruled under a British mandate, with feminist issues at the heart of her work. But it was the refugee cause, precipitated by Hitler’s accession to power in Germany in January 1933 that set her on a path that was to literally exhaust her, hastening her untimely death in January 1946. An anti-Fascist, anti-Nazi and anti-appeaser, she was the only female politician to denounce the new Nazi regime when the House of Commons met on 13 April 1933, warning of the dangers the regime posed to world peace. Presciently, she spoke of how the Nazis were “inflicting cruelties and crushing disabilities on large numbers of law-abiding peaceful German citizens, whose only offence is that they belong to a particular race or religion or profess certain political beliefs.” These were the very people whom she came to support, and for whom she became the most outspoken critic of government policy.

by Howard Coster, half-plate film negative, 1938

Duchess of Atholl, 1938, NPG

In 1937 she and her fellow MP, Katharine Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl, organised the rescue of some 4,000 children from the Basque combat zone during the Spanish Civil War and when Eleanor and her allies found out, in early 1939, that more Republicans were at risk of summary executions and reprisals, and that the British government was unwilling to help rescue them or offer protection for rescue vessels, they simply circumvented officialdom. Ships were organised to run the blockade and the National Joint Committee succeeded in getting several boatloads of refugees out, and to safety. But it was the fateful events of 1938 – the annexation of Austria in March; the orchestrated anti-Jewish pogroms across Germany and Austria, ‘Kristallnacht’, of 9/10 November; and the intervening signing of the Munich agreement in September, which gave the Nazis carte blanche to occupy the Sudetenland in West Czechoslovakia; that completely altered the landscape. The occupation of the Sudetenland, in particular, created an unprecedented refugee crisis as thousands of people, including but not exclusively Jews, sought safety in, and then escape from Prague.

Eleanor Rathbone felt a personal responsibility for Britain’s part in this human disaster, and in response set up, and led a purely voluntary Parliamentary Committee on Refugees in November 1938, quickly gathering more than 200 supporting MPs. The remit of the PCR was:

to influence the Government and public opinion in favour of a generous yet carefully safeguarded refugee policy, including large-scale schemes of permanent settlement inside or outside of Empire; also, since thousands of refugees would perish while awaiting such schemes – temporary reception homes in this country where refugees can be maintained, sorted out and eventually migrated, except in cases where their abilities can be profitably utilised here without injustice to our own workers.” 

Jewishrefugees pan

Jewish refugees cross from Czechoslovakia to Bratislava. Photo: Getty Images

The remit has an uncanny resonance with the current refugee crises; with some minor alterations, it could have been written in 2016. The Czech refugees were now at the heart of Eleanor’s campaigning activities as she urged the government to issue more visas, relax entry restrictions and make good their promise of a loan to Czechoslovakia. The outbreak of war meant the cancellation of any outstanding visas, and dashed hopes of escape, so she turned her attention to refugees at home, championing their fair and humane treatment. Now considered enemy aliens, and classified by a tribunal system, there were some 55,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria amongst the approximatly 80,000 refugees living here at the time. Some 6,782 in Category B, had mobility restrictions imposed upon them, affecting their ability to work and to be financially independent. Employers were desperate to take on suitable refugee workers, but permits were taking forever to be issued. Rathbone argued that this treatment was counter-productive. It struck at the heart of her sense of justice and she did everything in her power to ameliorate the situation. But she was always patriotic, and never lost sight of the priority, which was the safety of the country and its citizens.

21st May 1940: A British soldier guarding an internment camp for 'enemy aliens', at Huyton housing estate in Liverpool. (Photo by Marshall/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Internment camp for ‘enemy aliens’, Liverpool, May 1940. Photo by Marshall/Fox Photos/Getty Images

Deputations, questions, letters, phone calls, liaising with every refugee committee and activist, and enlisting the support of other MPs were all part of her armoury. The mass internment of around 27,600 enemy aliens in May 1940 served only to exacerbate an already challenging situation and to plunge Eleanor Rathbone and her committee into a maelstrom of activity as they sought the release of thousands of refugees. She put over 80 parliamentary questions on internment alone; the issues pursued including the importance of separating Nazi internees from non-Nazis; the shocking living conditions in many of the camps; the food shortages and lack of medical care. Once again the parallels with refugee camps and detention centres for asylum seekers cannot be ignored. The response to Rathbone’s urgent requests for a more generous immigration policy followed a pattern, including claims that it would fuel domestic anti-Semitism. In a desperate effort at countering this assertion, in late 1942 she established the National Committee for Rescue from Nazi Terror. The remit was to disseminate information at home about the mass extermination of Jews in Europe (information that the BBC in particular was unwilling to broadcast) and to promote small scale rescue missions. Despite the lack of success, the fact that Eleanor doggedly pursued these goals in the face of government intransigence and kept the subject in the public eye, is testimony to her humanity and determination.

Poignant words, written in 1943, highlight the struggle she envisaged people would have to expiate their shame:

If peace came tomorrow, we could not forget the millions for whom it would come too late, nor wash our hands of the stain of blood.’”

Nor was she able to hide her shame at Britain’s myopia, for she was convinced that with:

…greater foresight, courage (sic) there would have been no war, and if our policy towards refugees had been less miserably cautious, selfish and unimaginative, thousands of those already dead or in danger of death, might now be free and happy, contributing from their rich store of talent and industry to the welfare of mankind.” [i]

Today’s political situation is not the same as that which prevailed during the Second World War, but Eleanor Rathbone’s assessment of the official response to the humanitarian disaster then resonates with the current crisis now. Calls for an imaginative and generous response reflect her belief that Britain’s tradition of liberty, generosity and asylum were of profound importance, even in wartime.

[i] EFR `Speech notes on the Refugee Question’, 16 December 1942. RP XIV. 3.85.

Eleanor Rathbone died 70 years ago in January 1946, and she is being commemorated at various events throughout the year. Her refugee work will be remembered at a one-day conference being held in central London on Monday 20 June 2016, World Refugee DayWelcome to Britain? Refugees Then and Now. A conference in memory of Eleanor Rathbone 1872-1946, the ‘MP for refugees’.


RHS Letter on Initial Teacher Training

Many of you will be aware that current policies on ITT are having a worrying affect on the future provision of History in schools. At the end of last year the RHS and the Historical Association wrote a joint letter to government ministers and their teams outlining our concerns. We have now received a reply from Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools. The response is detailed and covers the issues of ITT provision as a whole. However, it does not address the concerns the subject community have about history. We would like to have some assurances and understanding about our subject, it’s not that we think we’re special, it’s just that each subject is different. So we have sent another letter (and some very specific detail) and requested a meeting.

Here is Nick Gibb’s response, our letter of reply, and the detailed reply outlining all our concerns and points on behalf of the subject community.


RHS Response to the Government’s Green Paper on HE

Endorsed by the Economic History Society, History UK,  the British Agricultural History Society and the East Midlands Centre for History Teaching and Learning.

PDF of RHS response

Edited version of RHS response


  • welcome a renewed emphasis on teaching quality, but are concerned that perverse incentives may be created by the focus on proxies that have little connection to actual teaching quality;
  • want to see teachers at the heart of any assessment of teaching, shaping and defining good practice;
  • believe that teaching cannot and must not be separated from research;
  • believe that teaching methods and outcomes differ so much between disciplines that any assessment would have to be done on a discipline-by-discipline basis (which might carry dauntingly high regulatory and economic burdens);
  • believe that the dual funding model for research must be protected.

The general principle of a ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’

The Royal Historical Society would like to see genuine incentives for HEIs to concentrate on teaching quality. Therefore, if the government introduces a TEF it should be one that encourages institutions to:

  • create a culture in which pedagogy is valued, developed, and discussed among all members of academic staff, and quality teaching rewarded
  • create programmes that are consciously designed to develop in students particular sets of intellectual (and, where appropriate, practical) skills
  • recognise and develop the intrinsic relationship between research and teaching

We believe that to achieve these goals, the TEF must:

  • recognise and value the whole educational experience of students – i.e. learning as well as teaching
  • be based on programme-level (discipline specific) submissions
  • be peer reviewed by respected academics in the same discipline, in much the same way as happens with the REF
  • require submissions that will be largely narrative, rather than metrics-based

We can see the value in aiding student choice of appropriately benchmarked metrics, but we do not think they could ever be an effective proxy for teaching quality and doubt that they could form the basis of reliable comparison across institutions or disciplines.

It is one thing to seek to make information about teaching even more available and transparent to potential students and quite another to impose a target-led regulatory regime on HEIs, with all the well-known problems that will engender. As the government withdraws from direct public subsidy of teaching it must recognise that its regulatory role necessarily changes too. While the government can seek to give more leverage to students, since it is they who are now ultimately paying, it has ceded any direct leverage it may theoretically have had over how HEIs deliver teaching. Since the removal of the recruitment cap on undergraduate numbers, universities have noticeably been focusing more on teaching quality than was previously the case. The test of these proposals is whether it will enhance that tendency or retard it.

The Royal Historical Society’s case is that the only meaningful assessment of teaching quality is one that is rooted in the discipline-specific experience and judgement of those who participate in teaching and learning – the teachers as well as the students.

As the Green Paper concedes, it is palpably not up to the government to define what makes for effective teaching at HE level. It must therefore be up to teachers to determine how best to teach in their discipline at this level, within the resource constraints we face.

We are confident – on the basis of evidence – that a good history programme prepares students very effectively for the workplace, but we are certain that effective learning and teaching in History is not measurable by generic cross-disciplinary standards. Typically, humanities programmes will feature fewer contact hours than most science programmes, but will also feature much more small group teaching, a far greater emphasis on independent learning, and more concentration on the development of students’ writing and communication skills. There will be very different kinds of links with outside institutions and the nature of ‘employability’ will necessarily be different in a subject like ours than in some other disciplines. The QAA has already recognised this in establishing discipline-specific panels in order to draw up disciplinary benchmark standards. The TEF, if it is to have credibility, must do the same.

The RHS takes a lead in shaping and defining what effective teaching and learning means in our discipline. We therefore welcome the suggestion in the Green Paper that Learned Societies are among the ‘stakeholders’ with whom institutions would want to work. The RHS is already well positioned to play this role, being able to draw on a depth and range of expertise from many different institutions.

Metrics and how a TEF would work

We are pleased that the Green Paper acknowledges the difficulties of using metrics. We believe that the conclusions of Prof James Wilsdon’s review of the use of metrics in research assessment for HEFCE, The Metric Tide, apply with even greater force to teaching and learning.

By far the most problematic metric mentioned in the Green Paper is the destination of graduates. The difficulty here is that employment status and earnings are not related in any demonstrable or tangible way to teaching quality but reflect other factors including social class, the perceived status of the university attended, and secondary school type, as well as career choice. It may be of some value to students to have this information, but it should not be confused with a mechanism designed to drive up teaching quality.  

In addition, the use of earnings/employment data, if they do not control for social origin, may have the perverse effect of incentivising socially selective admissions. We are sure you agree that government policy should not end up, however unintentionally, encouraging university admissions officers to have to weigh up the likely earning potential of applicants, something which would be dishearteningly easy for them to do using school and postcode data. Even where it is possible to control for some of these background factors, the demonstrable tendency of employers to use institutional reputation as a ‘screening’ mechanism in employment decisions suggests that a TEF based in any substantial degree on graduate earnings may only have the effect of fossilizing established hierarchies rather than inciting innovation and improvement. 

Retention figures are of relevance but only so long as they are properly benchmarked against the background of the student body, since otherwise this would be a disincentive for institutions to recruit students from under-represented groups, including part-time and mature students, for whom the funding situation has already been deteriorating markedly in recent years. 

Student satisfaction data is potentially of value, but again only so long as it is properly benchmarked. But, to state the obvious, a measure of student satisfaction is not a measure of teaching quality. Learning should be difficult and should require commitment on the part of the learner, and rigorous assessment means that by definition not everyone will succeed. These self-evident observations severely limit the ability of ‘satisfaction’ measures to capture teaching quality.

Of the metrics mentioned for later implementation we would strongly welcome a measure of the proportion of staff on permanent contracts. We would also urge that universities be incentivised to embed the relationship between research and teaching by being penalised for employing staff on teaching-only contracts. The distinctiveness of HE, and one of UK universities’ internationally recognised great strengths, is that students are taught by people who are also actively engaged in research. In our discipline (and no doubt in others) effective teaching cannot be divorced from research: we want to develop students who are engaged in research themselves and who are exposed to the people who are immersed in scholarship.

Teaching intensity’ is not clearly defined in the Green Paper, but in our discipline we believe it should mean levels of student engagement (i.e. evidence that students are actively participating in learning), insofar as that can be reduced to a metric. We are convinced of the value in our discipline of small group teaching and/or low staff/student ratios as a means to this end and believe that this is vastly more important than the number of contact hours. In our experience, drawn from across the spectrum of institutions teaching History, students consistently appreciate the individual attention and higher quality feedback that is only possible in a small-group setting.

On the whole, however, we suspect that the idea that metrics which may not be ‘robust’ can or should be ‘balanced’ with ‘institutional evidence’ is likely to lead to greater managerial attention to the former (which can be automated and rendered generic) than the latter (which relies on costly subject-specific and qualitative measures).  Like other performance indicators this runs the risk of transferring institutions’ efforts from performance to indicator.

The precedent of the REF, where many of the distortions to academic effort have come from HEIs’ (mis)interpretation of the rules, is ominous.  On this precedent one might expect university managers to be unnecessarily and distractingly interventionist not in ways that encourage diversity and experiment in teaching but rather in ways that are thought to mirror government ‘intentions’. It would be one of the most depressing unintended consequences of the TEF, albeit one very easy to imagine, if the regulatory constraints under which university teachers worked, stifling innovation and creativity, outweighed putative benefits in enhancing teaching quality.

Therefore, the TEF should not, indeed in our view cannot, impose measures that, however subtly or unintentionally, have the effect of directly engineering how teaching and learning happens in universities, whether that is through crude measures like ‘contact hours’ or anything else.

Social Mobility and Widening Participation in Higher Education

The Royal Historical Society is strongly supportive of efforts to ensure that class and ethnicity are not barriers to a good historical education with all the benefits that brings. Unless Access Agreements – together with evidence of progress toward achieving the goals set out in them — are a prerequisite for a TEF award, it is difficult to see what incentive HEIs would have for maintaining or extending the numbers of students from under-represented groups. This is especially true since in some respects the TEF, as outlined in this Green Paper, would otherwise incentivise universities to become more socially selective in order, for example, to ensure their graduates have higher earning potential.

There are few more important issues for universities, or the education system and society more widely, than ensuring fair access. Therefore we believe the government should use all available policy levers to ensure that universities make strenuous efforts in this area. However, we do not support externally imposed institution-level admissions targets for under-represented groups.

The challenge for HEIs and for us as a Learned Society is to work with schools and other organisations to increase participation and academic success among under-represented groups at all stages of the education system.

The challenge for government is to discriminate between those levers that can be pulled at the point of admission to university and those that can’t. It would be a mistake to place more policy emphasis on one specific stage than it can bear, and which would therefore be likely to incentivise game playing and produce perverse effects.

As the Green Paper points out, ‘prior educational attainment is the key factor in determining progression’. Disadvantage starts in infancy and deepens (unevenly) at different stages of the life course. Government policy on social mobility needs to link up communities, child-care, child support, schools, universities, careers, equal-employment policies and income inequality.  At the point of entry to HE, a successful widening participation policy must give universities the ability to identify applicants who have demonstrated their intellectual ability while overcoming measurable disadvantages. Properly contextualised decisions about academic potential can only be made on the basis of as much data, about social class, ethnicity and school as possible. Therefore we support greater access to the kind of information currently held by UCAS.

 A student-led market in HE

 There is an important component largely missing from the Green Paper’s discussion of market exit: how to facilitate students transferring, during their degree programme, from one institution to another. Although there is now a rudimentary system of credit transfers that in theory allows students to move from one HEI to another without losing credit, in practice institutions often place barriers in the way. Incentivising universities to facilitate the transfer of students from a programme in one institution to a programme in another would create more fluidity in the market.

Naturally, it would also require an HE system that had robust mechanisms for ensuring peer-reviewed validation of programmes and the reinforcing of broad comparability among programmes through the external examining process.

 Regulation, Research Funding and the ‘architecture’ of Higher Education

The higher education architecture is unnecessarily complex, but this is in large part because as government withdraws from direct administration it leaves behind complex regulatory frameworks. SLC, OFFA, QAA, HEA and HESA are all relatively recent products of this regulatory policy. The Office for Students (OfS) would be yet another one.

Not all of HEFCE’s current functions are appropriate for an OfS. Hiving off HEFCE’s research functions will, according to the Nurse Review, require a further complication of the research support structure.  In addition to assessment and allocation of QR, HEFCE provides essential core funding to research institutes (such as the Institute of Historical Research, as part of the School of Advanced Study of the University of London, which provides crucial infrastructural support for our discipline).  These research functions – not provided for in the rationale for government intervention in HE on p. 58 of the Green Paper– are crucial and not easily separable from ‘education’.  For example, it is not clear from the Green Paper proposals where responsibility for PGT and PGR students will lie. 

We would favour retention and indeed strengthening of a single higher-education regulator, such as the funding councils provide, with if anything transfer to it of some of the functions of the other, smaller quangos targeted for supersession.

Although little teaching grant remains for humanities disciplines such as ours, we are concerned about the proposal to allocate teaching grant from within BIS to ‘enable ministers to strengthen incentives for higher education provision that supports the needs of the economy’. This seems to suggest a degree of ‘manpower planning’ which governments have largely abjured since the 1960s and which is inconsistent with an HE system centred on students and student demand. It points to features of the Australian system, including differential fees and subject quotas, which have been heavily criticised by students and employers for unbalancing the normal functioning of supply and demand mechanisms.

Independence of Research and Academic Freedom

Changes to the institutional framework are presented as reducing complexity. But we are concerned that they are also likely to reduce the independence of academic judgement in teaching and research that has been the recipe for international success of the UK higher education system for decades. We are pleased to see an acknowledgement in the Green Paper of the Haldane Principle, but we note that successive governments have redefined the Haldane Principle when it suits them. Clause 68(3) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, still in force, provides that ‘Such terms and conditions may not be framed by reference to particular courses of study or programmes of research (including the contents of such courses or programmes and the manner in which they are taught, supervised or assessed) or to the criteria for the selection and appointment of academic staff and for the admission of students’. This, in fact, provides for a stronger protection of academic freedom and independence than does the Haldane Principle, as observed as recently as 2010 by BIS in its Strategic Plan. But it would be weakened by the Green Paper’s proposal to limit protection to ensure that ‘ministers and officials could not single out specific institutions’.  We note that the Green Paper acknowledges the importance of ‘research which is directed within institutions’ (p. 70), also protected by the 1992 Act, but it does not extend the same significance to teaching.

We would expect to see the independence of arm’s length bodies safeguarded in legislation at least as strongly as at present, with stronger protections for what the Green Paper calls ‘research directed from within institutions’.

The dual system of research funding

The two streams of the dual funding system have different purposes and different statutory status.  By redefining the Haldane Principle, successive governments have increased their ability to influence decisions made on the RC arm. At the same time the balance between the budgets of the two elements has shifted in favour of RC funding (for example, in the 1992 ‘dual support transfer’ and again in 1998 in order to fund the Arts and Humanities Research Council – in both cases from the QR to the RC stream). To protect both the value and the independence of QR funding, some longer-term guarantee ought to be provided fixing the balance between these two budgets, as indeed is recommended by the Nurse Review.

QR is essential to the independence of individual academics and their employing institutions. Without it, student fees would presumably have to be used to cross-subsidise research infrastructure, which would be difficult to justify, not least to students. Above all, QR ensures, as the Green Paper puts it, that research ‘may be purely curiosity-driven, respond to individual partnering opportunities, or may be in rapid reaction to advances in a given field’. These qualities are more important to the humanities than to the sciences, as our research does not cluster so readily or fruitfully around easily identifiable research frontiers or immediate applications. It is for this reason that, rightly, 85% of government research funding in the humanities is provided by QR and only 15% by RCUK. As a means of distributing QR, REF has its critics, yet so far no one has come up an alternative that would be credible and consistent while also identifying and rewarding quality in all its many manifestations.  In fields such as ours where quality is very widely distributed across a range of institutions, it also enables individual achievers to gain recognition independent of the reputation of their institutions and also to small pots of funding that have disproportionately significant effects in stimulating creative research across the system. This plurality is a sign of health in UK HE that is rightly envied abroad.

If REF is to measure research quality wherever it is, we need to find ways to reduce the extensive (and expensive) game-playing in which institutions engage, modelling the exercise many times in advance and erecting elaborate selection processes that divide the academic community and distract from the research enterprise itself. One option would be to require the submission of all research-contracted staff, but this requirement suffers from the fatal flaw that it would encourage the proliferation of teaching-only contracts and the bifurcation of HE into research and teaching streams, which, as the Green Paper indicates, would be to the detriment of both.









The Making of ‘For King and Country’ exhibition: RHS Public History Prize-winner

ForKCAngelaClarewithtrophies2 sq.

Angela Clare

‘For King and Country’, an exhibition about the First World War at Bankfield Museum, Halifax, has just won the first RHS Public History Prize

In 2013 Angela Clare from Calderdale Museums was appointed Project Manager for the exhibition. She had previously worked at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds in exhibitions, research and historical interpretation. Her role with Calderdale Museums was to oversee the redevelopment of the gallery and the exhibition installation research in addition to writing the exhibition’s content, and promoting it alongside related events. 

Angela reports here on the creation of the prize-winning exhibition:

for-king-and-country-624x114 panFollowing a successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid, Bankfield Museum in Halifax transformed its top floor gallery into a dedicated First World War exhibition with an adjoining research room. The exhibition commemorates the centenary of the outbreak of war through to the signing of the armistice and is open until the end of 2018. It opened on the 2 August 2014 and has proved extremely popular with the public with excellent feedback and a 25% increase in visitors to Bankfield.

MainAward_Logo smallEighteen months later, to hear out of the blue that the exhibition had won a prize from the Royal Historical Society for Public History in Museums and Galleries was a wonderful surprise. For us, our first thought was that this would help us spread the word of the exhibition further afield. On the evening of the prize-giving we were then awarded the overall prize for Public History which was a real honour. It has given our project a stamp of approval from a well-respected authority and endorsed our decisions in putting the exhibition together.

The exhibition itself includes a range of objects, images and archives exploring what life was like in Calderdale one hundred years ago. Whilst national involvement and the events of the conflict itself would no doubt be covered by larger institutions such as the Imperial War Museum and the National Army Museum, best placed with vast archives, collections and historical experts, we, in turn, drew on local experiences to explore the key events of the war overseas and at home. 

For K&C local albumWe found stories from this region to display alongside the many objects and archives in the museum’s collections, donated and acquired during the last century. Over sixty local families responded to our call for stories and we worked alongside a number of community groups, all shedding new light on how the people of Calderdale contributed to the war effort. The stories were woven into the exhibition enabling us to relate a wide range of topics as well as events of the war itself to the lives of ordinary people, and we continue to actively collect local stories to form an archive for the future. The diversity of the stories demonstrates the social, cultural, economic and political impact of war on the people of Calderdale as civilians or military personnel. Rather than reading official reports of battles on the Western Front or state diplomacy, the stories of real people who once lived in Calderdale  and lived through this traumatic episode in history, made the exhibition human, poignant and touching. Families who contributed stories felt real ownership of the exhibition, bringing grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends to see their story on display.

For K&C posterThe title for the project and the exhibition itself, ‘For King and Country’, seemed to sum up the idea of sacrifice, through choice or not, characterised at the time as being ‘for king and country’. Of course this varied greatly between age, class, gender, religion and ethnicity. The title also prompts questions about historic events, many of which we simply did not have the space to explore fully. So we included a large Research Room with more information, books, computer access and information sheets on how to research your own family history and where to see other First World War exhibitions and find out more online. The Research Room also contained a large wall space for visitors to leave comments on printed poppies. This was quickly filled with touching tributes to individuals and collective remembrance for all those who served.

For K&C uniforms GRAnother success was tracing the stories of how local industries and manufacturers contributed to the war effort. From the beginning of the conflict, Halifax manufacturers turned their attention to producing the goods needed for industrial scale warfare, including khaki cloth, webbing and army issue blankets. This was hardly surprising given Halifax’s prominence in the textile trade. Much less well known are the innovations in this part of Yorkshire, notably the invention of the first steel helmet, bomb mechanisms for aeroplanes and the manufacture of mine sweepers. The sheer numbers of local firms who shifted production to munitions and arming is remarkable. The production of knitting yarns and patterns in Halifax and surrounding areas to produce comforts for the troops was another story which captured the attention of visitors.

The exhibition begins in a corridor space which sets the pre-war scene in the region covering work, leisure, royalty and British Military conflicts in Crimea and the Boer War. This leads the visitor up a wide staircase to the top floor and the main galleries.

For K&C galleryWe knew we had to cover the key events of the First World War but that we also needed to relate them to our locality. To do this we divided the main gallery space into two – one side dealing with the conflicts overseas, and the other with events in the region to support, oppose and supply the war. The gallery has four further areas with dividing walls which lent themselves to other themes. As a museum known for its costume and textiles collections, one of these spaces was dedicated to exploring costumes before, during and after the war, as well as the demand for clothing supplies. The second space centred on communication, looking at propaganda, local newspapers and the postal service and the importance of letters for keeping in touch. This room also featured a large projection of a film we commissioned from a local company, Limehouse TV, which detailed our research into the war in the region, our responsibility to share stories and tell a balanced account of the war’s events, as well as interviews with some of the families who had contributed stories to the exhibition and what it meant to them to be remembering their ancestors.

For King & Country - kidsTwo smaller annexes were used for a children’s area, with dressing up and some delightful dolls and bears with various outfits for younger children, comfy seating and books for children of all ages, along with information about what life was like for children one hundred years ago and the role of the guides and scouts in the war. The opposite annexe became our space to display topics which would change each year as the war progressed – the first set of these panels from 2014 went on tour of the region this year, and more will follow each year of the centenary.

WewillrememberthemOn exiting the gallery, we chose the extract from Binyon’s poem to be displayed above the staircase ‘We will remember them’.

SAMSUNG CSCIn addition to the exhibition itself, we have hosted a range of First World War-themed learning opportunities such as educational workshops, live interpretation, re-enactment, centenary talks, family events and hands-on activities, which have been well attended and will continue throughout the years of the centenary. A souvenir guide was compiled to accompany the exhibition and includes a selection of family stories alongside colour images of the rich objects on display to remain a lasting legacy of the project.

The exhibition was completed on time and within budget. For the opening, we invited all those who had contributed to the exhibition, from the building works, renovations and film makers to the families and local historians who had contributed stories and content. Winning the Royal Historical Society’s Public History Prize has given us a good opportunity to host another event to once again thank all those involved.

FKC openingWhen deciding who would officially open the event in 2014, I thought immediately of one of the first people to contact me when I started in the post. Richard Smith was a local man who had carried out considerable research on his granddad who had served in the war alongside his two brothers. The three brothers had lived on Boothtown Road, near Bankfield Museum and had all survived the war and gone on to have families of their own. Richard kindly loaned some artefacts belonging to his grandfather and his own father, and Arthur’s son came down from Scotland to see the opening. We asked the Smith family to place their objects on display and close the final case to mark the exhibition as open and Arthur’s son, grandson and great-grandson and great grand-daughter did the honours, passing Arthur’s possessions from generation to generation and onto display to share his story with the wider public one hundred years on.

Calderdale Museums logo stacked‘For King and Country’ is open until the end of December 2018 and entry is free.

Opening times and details of related events

HLF logo





RHS Response to Independent Commission on Freedom of Information

Mary Vincent LS

Mary Vincent

The RHS has conducted a brief consultation among academic historians and historical researchers in response to the Call for Evidence by the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information. Professor Mary Vincent, Chair of the Research Policy Committee, has submitted this response from the Royal HIstorical Society:

We would like, first, to affirm our commitment to transparent and accountable government, both as historians and as citizens.  As practising historians, we understand this commitment not only in terms of FOI but also as an eventual release of all documentation so that the official record may be as complete as possible.   While the latter affects all historians and historical researchers, FOI has a particular impact on contemporary historians and it is clear from our consultation that FOI is now an essential tool for them.

Historians who make regular use of FOI feel that the current legislation has worked reasonably well, both for academics and for PhD students.  It is also clearly the case that significant historical work is being published as a result of existing FOI provisions and that this work could not have been undertaken without the FOI legislation.  The RHS is therefore concerned that additional restrictions, such as fees or some kind of limit, for example on grounds of cost, would affect and even restrict this kind of research, which often looks at important and sensitive areas, for example the Northern Irish Troubles.

While there is some feeling that a scholar needs to develop an expertise in making requests and using the FOI provisions, this is not seen as complex.  The RHS also feels that the same if true of many kinds of research access.  However, there does seem to be an issue with timeliness.  Historians report that FOI requests regularly take longer that the stipulated period, sometimes much longer.  There thus already seems to be a ‘lag’ in terms of the current legislation in that the process is slower than it should be and the RHS is very concerned that further restrictions are only likely to exacerbate this.  Clearly, this is a particular issue for work that needs to be completed in a timely fashion (e.g. the current History and Policy project on historical child sex abuse).

The RHS recognises that there is a balance to be struck.  FOI legislation may have led to some self-censorship of official documents but we have not heard concerns about ‘chilling’ and would see appropriate access to documentation as the priority.  FOI requests are also refused, or redacted, for example under the Section 38 or Section 40 exemptions and, clearly, there is a need to protect individuals.  However, we would urge that the public interest be construed as widely as possible so as to facilitate academic research and scholarship into serious and timely contemporary issues.  Such work will be to the benefit and interest of the public as well as to historians and students.

Yours faithfully,

 Mary Vincent signature



Professor Mary Vincent
Chair Research Policy Committee & Vice-President
Royal Historical Society




RHS Public History Prize Winners 2015

For K&C Angela Clare, Richard Macfarlane with trophies

Richard Macfarlane & Angela Clare, Calderdale Museums

The RHS is delighted to announce
that the winner of the first
RHS Public History Prize is

For King and Country

Bankfield Museum, Halifax
Calderdale Museums

                                    View gallery film       

  •  The 2015 prize judges were: Professor Mary Beard (Cambridge); Dr. Alix Green (UCLAN); Professor Aled Jones (National Library of Wales) and Professor John Tosh (Roehampton). The panel was chaired by Professor Ludmilla Jordanova (Durham).
  • The prizes were presented by Professor Amanda Vickery (Queen Mary, University of London) on 27 November 2015 at University College London.
  • The specially commissioned Public History Prize logos were designed by Wale Osunla and Rebecca Railton, who were both undergraduate students at Hertfordshire University at the time.
  • The Public History Prize is run in association with the Institute of Historical Research Public History Seminar.

Public History Prize Category Winners

For Museums & Exhibitions: For King and Country, Bankfield Museum, Halifax, Calderdale Museums

Nominated by Lewis Howcroft from Leeds who wrote:

Museum_LogoIt is rare that you enter an exhibition and immediately just know that it is something very special. That it is a presentation on one of the most difficult periods of our history, one in which we should be totally ashamed of, and yet, for the first time in my life (and I am sixty-five years old), I felt at ease and drawn out by the excellence of the creation of this exhibition… It is due to end in December 2018 and my first thought was, great, we have lots of time to come back and see it again … In May 2014 we became the Grandparents of two baby girls (twins). The 2018 “deadline” at least allows us to bring them to the exhibition as they turn four years old, just to introduce them, very carefully, to this history. I really would like to be able to keep taking them back, as they get older.”

The judges said:

This beautiful and moving exhibition draws on community participation, encourages independent research, and gives a helpful account of the processes by which it was produced. The clear and evocative ways in which it uses local stories and artefacts is impressive, while it also provides a balanced account of many aspects of the First World War. The exhibition is informative, engaging, well-organised and elegantly designed.”

Public History Prize Winner for Broadcasting: Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners, BBC2, broadcast 15 and 22 July 2015

David-Olusoga-Britains-Forgotten-Slave-Owners pan2

Nominated by Professor Barbara Taylor, Queen Mary, University of London,

who wrote that the programme:

… represented the best of television history, highlighting new research in an important and difficult area. Unusual in their emphasis on the significance and the excitement of archival research elaborated arguments about slavery and race, the nature of the British state, the gendering of property, and the commercial and physical legacies of slave-ownership in Britain.”

The judges said:

This two part television series tackles an extremely difficult subject in a measured way by showcasing new historical research. It shows in an accessible manner the nature of the evidence, the locations to which it refers, and the value of intensive archival research. It engages with the descendants of slave owners, as well as with historians of slavery in the West Indies who are themselves descended from slaves. It explains the complex economics of slavery and encourages viewers to take a better informed and more critical stance on current economic issues.”

Public History Prize Winner for Web & Digital: Voices of Science, British Library

Nominated by Sally Horrocks, School of History, University of Leicester, who wrote:

web&digital_logoVoices of Science is unique among history of science and oral history websites alike. It presents an accessible picture of British science and British scientists since the 1940s through extracts from over 100 oral history interviews … It allows us to see how science fits into the context of individual lives and helps us to understand what being a scientist has meant to those involved”

The judges said:

This website provides rich materials for understanding the practice of twentieth-century science in a historical manner. The interviews themselves are fascinating; they are greatly enhanced by the interpretative material that is also provided on the site, encouraging users to reflect on major themes, including the role of gender in science, and the practice of oral history. The site is beautifully organised, providing not just valuable sources but tools for reflecting on them. It offers a way into a major field of history that makes it fully accessible to those with little or no previous knowledge of the history of science.”

Public History Prize Winner for Film: Body Games: Capoeira and Ancestry (Jogo de Corpo), UK/Brazil/S.Africa 2014

Body Games capoieraNominated by Professor Eddy Higgs, University of Essex, who described it as “an outstanding film”:

Based  on extended field research into combat games in Southern Angola … it introduces the viewer to the every-day life of remaining elderly practitioners, their practice and local knowledge, as well as their reflections regarding the current loss of traditions. … The charismatic character of the Brazilian capoeira master Cobra Mansa takes the audience on a breath-taking journey that criss-crosses the Atlantic.”

The judges said:

This original and beautiful film is an exploration of history at many levels. It uses oral history, ethnomusicology, biography and dances passed on through generations to illuminate the relationships between Brazil and Central Africa. In the process it also examines the ways in which people now think about and are connected with their ancestors. Here too is a form of contemporary history, which examines the nature of identity and the legacies of colonialism and slavery.”

2015 Public History Prize commendations:

Film: Falmouth and the Great War – a film about local histories of the First World War that premiered in January 2015 in Falmouth and made with funding raised by Exeter and Falmouth university students through Crowdfunder. Nominated by Dr Garry Tregidga, University of Exeter, who described it as “an outstanding public history film which engaged the students, in their own time, in a project that taught them, and the town, more about its First World War history“.

Museums & Exhibitions: Heritage Quay – the public archive centre at the University of Huddersfield, with significant collections including the British Music Collection. Nominated by Susanna Eastburn, CEO Sound and Music, Professor Tony Collins, and Professor Bob Cryan, Vice Chancellor, Huddersfield University. Susanna Eastburn wrote that the archive had opened “a fascinating, eclectic and unparalleled collection of material to a much wider public than has ever been the case.

Web & Digital: Empire: the Controversies of British Imperialism – on open online course run by Exeter University’s Centre for Imperial and Global History in partnership with FutureLearn. Nominated by Professor Henry French, University of Exeter, who wrote: “It is the interactive and dynamic aspect of the course that marks it out as pioneering … The detailed responses indicate that participants were not mere passive learners but rather engaged vigorously with the course leaders and with their fellow students.

HeritageQuay pan

Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield



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.


Peter Mandler’s Presidential Letter, RHS Newsletter October 2015

The death of our Executive Secretary in the 1970s and ‘80s and the election of my successor to 2020, both reported elsewhere in this newsletter, have naturally induced thoughts this season about the long-term trajectories of a learned society – our learned society – over what will soon be 150 years of its own history.  Some things have stayed the same; a lot has changed.  Actually there were features of the late Victorian historical profession that are eerily familiar today. As early as 1872 we can find one eminent Victorian (Edward Freeman) writing to another (Bishop Stubbs), complaining about a circular on the ‘“subsidy of research”, which I did not understand, and I see that it has grown into a meeting for the “organization of study”, which I don’t understand either.  If it means that they will give you and me … something, instead of wasting it on a parcel of idle youngsters in London, I shall not object.’ And already in the 1880s the Society was working with the British Museum and the Public Record Office to raise historical issues of public interest, such as the teaching of history in schools, just as we now work closely with their successors the British Library and the National Archives.  Of course we also continue to fulfil the functions that all learned societies seek to fulfil in all times and places:  that is, maintaining the infrastructure for scholarly publication, communication and debate, sponsoring public lectures and conferences, publishing primary sources and secondary works, seeking to pump-prime the future of the discipline by encouraging early-career historians with grants to do research and outlets through which to publish their research.  Just as we did 150 years ago, we publish our annual volume of Transactions – containing the best in new scholarship by leading figures of our discipline – and multiple volumes in the Camden series of original documents in British history (in the case of  Camden for more than 150 years, having inherited an older series from a defunct society).

The biggest change witnessed in the 20th century was the entry of the State into the funding and organization of higher education – hardly a whisper of this in evidence in 1868, and not much more in 1938, but by 1968 the State was responsible for nearly three-quarters of all university funding, and of course (despite the panoply of ‘arm’s length’ bodies designed to protect academic freedom) also demanding more say in how academic research was carried on and even in what directions. I think it is fair to say that the Society did not devote much of its time and energy in those postwar decades of the State’s rise to predominance in the world of higher education to following or seeking to influence government policy. It left that to the arm’s-length bodies, like the University Grants Committee, and although social and economic history was included in the remit of the new Social Science Research Council (later Economic and Social Research Council) from 1965, the Society, reasonably enough, continued to proceed on the assumption that the State had little interest in or impact on historical research. Much of that research was carried on by individuals, with little funding, a good deal of it outside universities altogether, and in some ways the Society became more inward-looking in those decades, carrying on its own scholarly activities with little reference to government, the general public, or indeed to anyone who wasn’t a historical scholar. Joy McCarthy’s reminiscences of the Society’s offices under Jean Chapman’s supervision in the 1970s and ‘80s gives a pungent and accurate flavour of the times – amiable, inertial, traditional, deeply immersed in the practice of history but rather oblivious of the wider cultural and political context.

That began to change, not when the State was increasing its role in the funding of academic research, but when it began to contract that role, during the ‘run-down’ of universities announced by Sir Keith Joseph in the 1980s. The Society didn’t respond quickly to the threats posed by the run-down, and a History at the Universities Defence Group (HUDG) was established in 1982 to lead a more public campaign in defence of historical teaching and research in a beleaguered university system. Nor did the Society respond quickly to the dramatic expansion of the higher-education system (and indeed of the numbers studying, teaching and researching history) that took off from the late 1980s. However, by the mid-1990s, under the leadership of a sequence of very sensitive and acute Presidents, the Society did begin to become much more responsive to the new breadth of activity in historical research and to the new tasks that should naturally have fallen to the country’s leading learned society in history.

Today Council is more fully representative of the range of historians from wherever they hail, new and old universities, museums, libraries and archives – we would like to see, too, independent scholars without institutional bases, who form a large and important part of our Fellowship, putting themselves forward for election to Council and answering our calls for self-nomination to officer positions that we circulate every year. This coming year, for example, we will be seeking a new Literary Director and a new Honorary Director of Communications, and I hope Fellows from all sectors will consider stepping forward and offering to take on these important jobs which, while voluntary, are the lifeblood of the Society’s work. I hope you don’t need me to recite the range of issues that the Society has taken up in the last twenty years in fulfilment of its new, wider brief – not only to service historical research, but to evangelize for it, and to ensure that the counsels of government, funding bodies, the universities and academic bodies across the full range of subjects are made constantly aware of the distinctive needs and flavour of the discipline of history.

In my own time as President we have made special efforts to influence the rewriting of the history curriculum in schools, to ensure that government plans for ‘Open Access’ to academic publications take a form that protects academic freedom and quality (which may be a quite different form for the humanities than for the sciences), and to defend the arm’s-length autonomy of the funding bodies from government’s attempts to impose its own short-term ‘strategic priorities’ on academic research.  We have reached out to ever-widening circles to build audiences for serious historical scholarship – putting all of our public lectures and symposia online for free access to the general public, sponsoring workshops and prizes in ‘public history’, and making our own publications ‘Open Access’ in more generous and appropriate forms than government mandates suggest.  And we have made renewed efforts to invest in the future of our discipline by extending our grants to early-career researchers (with help from our friends in the Economic History Society and at Past & Present), organizing workshops around the country with History Lab Plus, drafting (also with History Lab Plus) a code of practice for the employment of temporary teaching staff, and working to ensure gender equality in hiring and employment practices in academic institutions.

I do believe that the Society is in a stronger position today than it has been for many years – engaged in a wider range of activities, drawing in more direct participation from its members, using its resources more nimbly and effectively.  (And this is a good point to remind you that all donations to the Society continue to benefit from a matching grant from Dr Lisbet Rausing and Professor Peter Baldwin – please do consider making a donation online where every pound you give will be doubled.)   Of course new challenges await – not least the year- on-year reduction of the government’s share of higher education funding that we have endured for the last five years and will now endure for the next five. In these circumstances it is only learned societies like ours that can and will step up to defend scholarship. It is a great consolation to me to know that for four of those next five years the Society will be led by a wonderful scholar, someone exceptionally well-informed about the politics of higher education, and an agile and creative strategist. I shall do my best in my last year of office to keep the legacy of my predecessors intact so as to be able to hand over an organization in the best-possible shape to meet any new challenges as well as to continue our traditional role of maintaining infrastructural support for historical research as we head towards our 150th year.

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