RHS News

RHS Statement on Ethics

(Originally published December 2004)

There has been a marked growth in concern about ethical matters over recent years. In many professions, practitioners are regulated by codes of conduct. There is an associated trend towards the use of legal solutions to solve conflicts around professional behaviour. The historical profession is far from isolated from such trends. Historians are increasingly prominent in public life, for example, in appearing as expert witnesses in trials. The dramatic rise of popular history and historical websites raises significant issues concerning the evaluation of arguments, claims and evidence. With such exposure comes public scrutiny. Historians may want to use this situation to reflect on their own practices.

The RHS is mindful of these trends. It seeks to represent the interests of historians, to promote the value of historical scholarship and to support the highest possible standards, not just in publications and institutions but also in the conduct of individual historians and in the teaching of the discipline.

The following statement indicates the main areas that touch on historical practice. The goal of what follows is to draw attention to the key issues and to encourage their discussion, both with colleagues and students. The RHS hopes these matters will become an integral part of the history curriculum.

The RHS expects its Fellows and Members to observe the highest standards in the conduct of their research, teaching and administration. Historians work not only within national laws, for example, covering data protection, the use of human remains and copyright, but within the regulations of institutions, such as archives and libraries, where they undertake research. They also work within the norms of good practice of teaching institutions that generally have rules concerning plagiarism. The RHS recognises the need for academic freedom of speech and writing. Since ethical standards are not constant, there is a need to eschew anachronistic value judgments when investigating and describing the past.

The maintenance of high professional standards includes:

  • being acquainted with best practice in the use and evaluation of evidence, whatever form it takes;
  • understanding and following copyright laws being mindful to intellectual property issues taking particular care when evidence is produced by those still living, when the anonymity of individuals is required and when research concerns those still living;
  • observing the ethical and legal requirements of the repositories and collections they use
  • being aware of conservation issues concerning materials they use and produce eschewing plagiarism, fabrication, falsification and deception in proposing, carrying out and reporting the results of research;
  • declaring any interests, including financial ones that bear on professional life giving due and appropriate acknowledgement of assistance received, whether this concerns financial help, access to materials or an academic contribution; particular care is to be exercised when more than one author is involved;
  • following the most rigorous procedures for the citation of sources, including materials obtained from the internet;
  • reporting any conflict of interest, for example, individuals should normally refuse to participate in the formal review of work of anyone for whom they feel a sense of personal obligation or enmity
    observing fairness and equity in the conduct of research, teaching and administration
    representing credentials accurately and honestly;
  • behaving with integrity, for example, through developing an awareness of one’s own bias, disclosing qualifications to arguments and making supporting documentation available to others.

This statement makes no attempt to be comprehensive and we invite comments which should be sent to: info@royalhistsoc.org.

Readers may also wish to consult the ‘Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct’ of the American Historical Association

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Guide to the RHS Website

Please browse the website to discover the range of activities the RHS offers:

  • PUBLICATIONS – The RHS has a long and proud tradition of publishing across a wide range of subjects and formats. We are also responsible for important guides to national and regional record societies and their publications.
  • PRIZES AND GRANTS – Read about our prizes and grants which offer support to postgraduates and early career historians.
  • EARLY CAREER HISTORIANS – One of our priorities is to offer support and advice for Early Career Historians
  • EVENTS AND NOTICEBOARD – Our Events listings give information about lectures, conferences, symposia and seminars across the UK. If you would like to promote your history event on the RHS website please complete our event request form. If you want to add an item to our Noticeboard, please complete this notice request form.
  • SUPPORT THE RHS – Help us work harder for history and historians by giving an online donation. Your support will help us make an even bigger contribution to supporting research, recognising achievement, and promoting history.
  • MEMBERSHIP – Find out more about joining the RHS on our membership pages. If you are already a Fellow or Member of the RHS please go to the membership area and take a moment to look at your membership profile and update your details as necessary. If it’s your first visit, you can obtain your password to log-in from the membership area.
  • DIRECTORY OF EXPERTISE – We are also creating a new RHS Directory of Expertise where you can enter information about your research expertise. The Directory will not only be useful for researchers and journalists but also help those applying for election to the Fellowship to find a referee.

A short informational leaflet about the RHS is available on request if you would like to distribute it in your organisation.

Comments and queries about the website should be addressed to Jane Gerson, Research & Communications Officer, at j.gerson@royalhistsoc.org.

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Revised QAA Subject Benchmark Statement for History published

Arthur Burns writes:

On 15 December the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) announced the publication of a revised version of the Subject Benchmark Statement for History, now available on the QAA website.

This document is the outcome of the latest in a regular cycle of revisions of the original subject benchmark statement published in 2000, which has been highly valued by the subject community as a source of guidance for the creation and revision for History degree programmes in the UK. I described the workings of the most recent revision process in an article in the RHS newsletter in May 2014, at which time the document was about to go out to public consultation. As chairs of the revising committee, Professor Jane Longmore and I led the consideration of the responses we received, which came from a variety of HE institutions and stakeholders, and which enabled us to make a small number of minor but helpful clarifications and amendments in the final version which has now been published.

The responses to the consultation confirmed us in our view that the document retains the confidence of the subject community and required only minor changes to bring it up to date and enable it to continue to support colleagues creating new degree programmes, not least in helping them articulate relevant “learning outcomes”, as well as offering institutions a way of evaluating the way they deliver teaching in our discipline against agreed general expectations about standards and the subject. Those familiar with earlier versions will find the overall shape and approach of the document largely unaltered, but it is worth highlighting here what is new or altered since the last revision in 2007. The benchmark acknowledges technological developments in e-learning and the need for digital literacy in history students, as well as the ongoing importance of the employability agenda in stressing the transferability of historical knowledge and core skills to a wide variety of sectors beyond the academy. It also reflects important recent legislation on equality and diversity. In terms of the approach to our discipline, it offers greater clarity and emphasis on the intrinsic value of independent study within history degree programmes and the centrality of the notion of historical enquiry. Finally, it stresses the need to take account of the ethical dimensions of historical practice, reflecting the increased importance of institutional codes of conduct which can be of particular significance for students conducting independent research on the recent past.

[The QAA benchmark review panel consisted of Prof Arthur Burns (RHS/KCL), Prof Jane Longmore (Southampton Solent, History Forum HEA) cochairs; Prof Alan Booth (Nottingham), Dr Arthur Chapman (Institute of Education), Dr Marcus Collins (Loughborough), Dr Paul Corthorn (Queens Belfast), Dr Pat Cullum (Huddersfield), Peter D’Sena (HEA); Prof Jackie Eales (Canterbury Christ Church, Historical Association), Dr Elaine Fulton (Birmingham), Dr Vicky Gunn (Glasgow), Dr Melinda Haughton (TNA), Dr Leif Jerram (Manchester), Dr Valerie Johnson (TNA), Dr Keith McLay (Chester, History UK), Dr Alison Twells (Sheffield Hallam), Dr Jamie Wood (Lincoln), Dr Dave Wyatt (Cardiff).]

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Bronach Kane, Gender in the History Profession: the Early Career Perspective

Bronach Kane

Bronach Kane

Paper by Bronach Kane for the RHS Gender Equality seminars – UCL, 18 Sept 2014 and Glasgow University, 17 November 2014:

I offer these comments from my perspective as a medieval historian of gender and sexuality, who is reaching the tail end of the early career stage. I was appointed last year to a permanent lectureship at Cardiff University, but over the past five years, I have held several post-doctoral fellowships and temporary research posts, and have taught both at Russell Group and post-1992 universities, so I feel that I speak from a wide range of experience here.

Despite the efforts of many institutions to develop and improve gender policies, a number of systemic problems remain within academia and the History profession, that centre around the representation and advancement of female academics at various stages of their careers. The influence of gender on academic progression ranges from hiring to promotions, and from workload issues to research activity. Considered separately, these practices can appear subtle and minor, but experienced cumulatively they have far-reaching consequences for men and women in the profession.


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History for All? Teaching Diverse Histories in British schools

Policy background

Incorporating diversity into school based curricula is not a new development. Educationalists, academics and teachers have argued for the inclusion of diversity into an array of subject areas for many years. Whether posited as a means of fostering positive self-esteem and increased engagement for minority ethnic and migrant pupils, or as enriching existing, often mono-cultural lessons for all pupils, school based material developed to focus on the multicultural diversity within society has been taught in schools since the 1980s. Legislative advances – within the Race Relations Amendment Act (2001) requiring the active promotion of race equality in schools, and the current Equality Act (2010) – have provided legal support to arguments for the teaching of a culturally inclusive curriculum for all pupils. These historical processes have themselves been accompanied by much political and popular dissent, but many teachers in schools have nevertheless drawn on a wealth of educational resources to support the teaching of diversity, and specific organisations such as the Black and Asian Studies Network and the Schools History Project provide much professional support to teaching staff with this work.

Read the report: History for All? Teaching Diverse Histories in British Schools

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History in the Schools Survey 2014

Arthur BurnsArthur Burns writes:

2014 has been another (over?-) exciting year for History as a school subject. Hot on the heels of the reform of the national curriculum has come the publication of new History A-levels to run from September 2015 on the new linear model championed by Michael Gove while secretary of state; as I write, the awarding bodies are concluding work on their responses to the new model of GCSEs to be taught for the first time in 2016. At the same time, History’s status as a subject will also be affected by changes to school performance measures. I wrote something on these issues in the Royal Historical Society Newsletter for May 2014, and we will be organising an event to further discussion in the new year – watch this space!

In the meantime, however, this makes keeping a weather-eye on the current position of history in schools – and in the arrangements for training future teachers – all the more important. The Historical Association performs a very valuable service to the History community in the UK with its annual survey of the teaching of History in schools and the views of teachers, and its latest report has just been published.  Written by Dr Katharine Burn of the University of Oxford and Dr Richard Harris of the University of Reading, its main findings are:

  • There has been a 5% increase in the number of respondents reporting that Key Stage 3 history is crammed into only two years (23% compared with 18% last year)
  • There has been a further erosion of children’s right to learn history after the age of 13 years – 44% our respondents said some students are actively steered away from studying history for GCSE by their school if at 13 years they are judged to be unlikely to get a Grade C, even though they would have 2 years to improve and often enjoy history.
  • 50% of respondents said GCSE specifications were likely to make a significant impact on what they decide to teach at Key Stage 3.
  • Most teachers thought that the decoupling of AS from A Level would be detrimental to the future take-up of history post-16.
  • 90% of respondents agreed that all new trainee teachers should receive a guaranteed minimum entitlement to university-based elements in their training. Serious concerns were expressed regarding plans to put more trainee teachers into the classroom without any academic or specialised mentor support and training.

The full report can be downloaded from the Historical Association’s website here, and you can also access previous issues of the report here.

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Matthew Johnson, Media Coverage of the Centenary of the Great War

Dr Matthew Johnson (Durham) reflects on recent media coverage of the centenary of the First World War. He is a specialist on militarism as a political and ideological phenomenon in Britain during the twentieth century and is the author of Militarism and the British Left (Basingstoke, 2013). 

 Media coverage of the centenary of the Great War

37 Days BBCThe public commemoration of the centenary of the Great War is proving to be an undertaking of industrial proportions, in which the media has played – and is continuing to play – an immense role. The BBC’s output alone will apparently run to some 2,500 hours, including more than 600 hours of new drama, documentary, and arts programming. There has perhaps been no single new programme comparable in scale and ambition to the corporation’s epic 26-part documentary from 1964, The Great War, but the quality of much of the new output, across all channels, has been remarkable. In 37 Days, for example, the BBC brought a top-drawer cast and impressive production values to its portrayal of the statesmen and soldiers who took Europe to war in the summer of 1914, while ITV’s excellent The Great War: The People’s Story has offered a series of finely presented and deeply moving accounts – based on letters and diaries – of the wartime experiences of Britons from all walks of life.

Great War People's story jacketAn emphasis on the ‘experience’ of war has provided a common theme for much of the centenary programming so far. This offers a useful point of access for viewers and listeners interested in the commemorations – a particularly important consideration now that no veterans of the conflict remain with us. But the focus on ‘experience’ also brings a certain risk that broader interpretative questions about the conflict get lost in the mix.

Since well before the start of 2014, academic historians have been urging that the centenary be treated as an opportunity not merely for ‘commemoration’ but for education and enquiry – a chance to re-examine the conflict’s myths, and to reflect on broader questions about how and why societies go to war. It is, of course, essential that the human cost of the conflict is acknowledged, but merely commemorating the sacrifice of soldiers without trying to understand why they fought and died risks fostering a very narrow understanding of the war – further entrenching the dominant narrative of the conflict as ‘futile’, and the sacrifice, implicitly, as meaningless.

Necessary War - Ferguson & Hastings

Reassuringly, the media has not neglected these broader questions. In particular, the lively debate about whether or not 1914-18 should be seen as a ‘just’ or ‘necessary’ war has been well-covered. It provided the central focus for BBC documentaries by Max Hastings and Niall Ferguson, pushing very different interpretations. Ferguson’s The Pity of Warwas also notable for its inclusion of a panel discussion featuring some of the most prominent academic historians in the field, providing viewers with a window onto recent scholarly debate about the war – and in the process offering a useful corrective to Michael Gove’s rather crude and misleading attempt to frame such controversies in terms of a partisan squabble between ‘left’ and ‘right’.


The challenge for the media now, of course, is to maintain popular engagement over the coming months and years. There is a potential danger of commemoration fatigue – a new ‘war weariness’ – blunting public interest in the centenary.  In order to avoid this, it is important to emphasise that the war was not simply an ‘event’ but a ‘process’ – or a series of processes – which shaped the belligerent societies in profound ways. The centenary of particular milestones during the war will provide opportunities to consider, for example, the changing relationship between the citizen and the state – epitomized in Britain by the introduction of military conscription in 1916. Indeed, the centenary offers a chance to reflect on changing conceptions of the nature of ‘citizenship’ itself, evident in the wartime debates about the franchise that culminated in the 1918 Representation of the People Act – a piece of legislation which dramatically expanded the electorate, extending the parliamentary vote to (some) women, but also excluding particular groups (Conscientious Objectors) from the franchise.

1914 Day by Day Margaret MacMillanThere also remain questions about the framework within which we seek to tell the story of the war. In the run-up to the centenary of the outbreak, the media narrative typically located British developments very clearly in their European context. One of the most notable productions in this respect was Margaret MacMillan’s Radio 4 series1914: Day by Day, which combined an impressive breadth of vision with a detailed exploration of contemporary European concerns and preoccupations, in the process advancing a clear and coherent interpretation: that the outbreak of war was neither simply an ‘accident’ nor an inevitability, but rather the result of a series of decisions and calculations (or miscalculations) by European governments during the summer of 1914.

the Black Heroes of Reims

Since the end of August, however, it rather feels that this wider European context has receded from view, with the focus shifting back on to Britain. Of course, the conflict itself was experienced in a very immediate sense through the nation state – although it is encouraging to see the imperial dimension receiving due attention, in excellent documentaries such as Radio 4’s Soldiers of the Empire (presented by Santanu Das) and BBC 2’sThe World’s War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire (by David Olusoga). Nevertheless, at a time when Europe’s political future seems so contentious, there remains a strong case for exploring 1914-18 as a particularly European catastrophe.

Perhaps the greatest challenge, however, will come with the centenary’s end. On 11th November 2018 we will observe two minutes of silence in remembrance of those killed in the Great War – and of those who served and fell in subsequent wars. But we will also be marking the centenary of one of the most significant military victories in history. Nobody in 2018, of course, wants or expects this moment to be marked with any spirit of crude triumphalism. But as the culmination of a period of intense reflection on a conflict that shaped Britain – and the world – to an extraordinary extent, the way the media and the public choose to mark this day will tell us much about the meaning that the Great War now holds for us – and about the way we think of ourselves as a society today.



Information for Historians on Open Access for the next REF

Open Access 4The university funding councils led by HEFCE have recently announced their policy for open access that will apply from 2016 for journal articles that are submitted to the next REF (expected in 2020). This policy will apply to all journal articles – but not to other forms of publication, including chapters in edited volumes or monographs – authored by researchers who are employed by a UK university at the time of publication. It is a more liberal policy than the previously-announced policy of the research councils; it allows a number of important exceptions and exemptions. If you are funded by AHRC or ESRC, you are bound by the more stringent policy: see our Information Sheet for Historians on the RCUK Open Access Policy.  If you are not funded by AHRC or ESRC (or the Wellcome Trust, which funds history of medicine, and has a policy of its own), this information sheet applies to you, if you are employed by a UK university and wish your journal articles to be eligible for submission to the next REF.  Read the full HEFCE policy and some helpful FAQs.


 What do I need to do to ensure that my articles are eligible for the next REF?

1. At the point when your article has been accepted by a journal (i.e. after peer review, and possibly after revisions have been accepted), you should immediately upload the accepted manuscript to your institution’s digital repository. There is a tight three-month window after acceptance within which this deposit must be made.

Upload into the repository does not make your article open access, but it makes it ‘discoverable’ – that is, searches should be able to locate it.  There is no reason not to do this, starting now, even though the policy doesn’t kick in until 2016 – we should all get used to doing so.

If you are not employed by a university at the time your article is accepted, you don’t need to deposit your manuscript anywhere.  But if you are subsequently employed by a university, it would be wise to deposit any manuscripts accepted since 1 January 2014 (which will be eligible for the next REF) once you’ve taken up your new employment.

2. When you upload to the repository, the repository software should ask you under what terms you are able to make it accessible. You’ll need to know answers to the following questions:

i. Does your journal permit open access at all? Your journal will be able to tell you this.  Most UK-based journals do permit open access.  However, some international journals – including very prominent journals, and many published in the U.S. – do not.  The HEFCE policy allows you to publish in these journals if they are ‘the most appropriate’ outlet for your work.  The judgement of what is ‘the most appropriate’ outlet is up to you, the author, and your institution.  Your institution should accept your assurance that you have chosen the most appropriate journal for the work.  If it doesn’t, please let us know (and we may be able to help).

ii. If your journal permits open access, does it stipulate an ‘embargo’ period during which the deposited manuscript must remain closed to open access? Most UK-based journals do stipulate an embargo period.  Much like the ‘moving wall’ policy maintained by JSTOR, this ensures that journals are able to charge moderate and responsible subscription rates to university libraries to cover the costs of publication, which would not be possible if most of the content were freely available immediately.  Most UK-based journals will stipulate an embargo period that complies with HEFCE’s policy of a maximum 24-month (2-year) embargo for articles in humanities journals.  If your journal has an embargo period longer than this maximum, again you are permitted to publish there so long as that journal is ‘the most appropriate’ outlet for your work.

iii. Do all the ‘rights-owners’ to materials you have used in your publication consent to open access?  This applies especially to owners of images, music, literary works and other copyright works who may have given you permission to use their materials in your publication, but only on certain terms.  When you seek permissions, make sure to find out whether they include open access and on precisely what conditions.  Under the terms of this policy, you are exempted from any open-access conditions to which the rights-owners object.

iv. On what terms do you wish to make your work accessible, once it is on open access? This question concerns exactly which rights you wish to surrender to users of your open-access work.  Under this policy, all open-access work must be available for copying and distribution in its original form.  But you have a choice to limit further uses – for example, you can stipulate that users do not alter your work (e.g. mix your work and theirs and re-publish it under both your names, acknowledging that your original work forms part of the new work but without specifying which is which – this is called ‘derivative use’) or that they do not use your work for commercial purposes.  To specify what rights you wish to retain and what rights you wish to surrender, you should be asked which ‘licence’ you wish to issue your work under.  The open-access organization Creative Commons provides a suite of licences from which you can choose (and which many journals offer).  We recommend the CC BY-NC ND licence, which allows free distribution of the original work, but not derivative or commercial uses.  This licence is explicitly permitted by the HEFCE policy (but not the RCUK policy).  Again, you should consult your journal as to which licences they are offering, choose your favoured licence, and tell your repository which you have chosen.

 If your institution does not ask you these questions, they may have chosen ‘default’ answers for you.  You may wish to ask the people who run your institution’s Open Access policy what those default answers are, and vary them accordingly.  You should also check directly with your journal what its policies are – the databases (such as Sherpa/Romeo) which are sometimes used to assess journals’ compliance with Open Access policies are often inaccurate or vague;  go to the horse’s mouth.

3. When the article is published, under the terms of the policy you can leave the accepted manuscript in the repository, and do nothing further. But you may also wish to add the published version, if your journal permits.  Some journals will permit the uploading of the published version at the end of the embargo period, but others won’t;  others may even require it, to ensure that it is the published version that is taken as the version of record.  If the journal does permit this, we consider that it is best practice to replace the accepted manuscript with the published version (which after all is the version of record, and the one you want quoted or cited, and indeed the one you want assessed for the REF).  The HEFCE policy explicitly allows such replacement.

4. ‘Gold’ open access. All of the information given above is based on the assumption that the vast majority of journal articles published by historians will be made open access without the payment of any publication fee (an ‘Article Processing Charge’, APC, or similar).  The HEFCE policy permits but does not require ‘Gold’ open access where a fee is paid for immediate open access.  We consider the practice of ‘pay to publish’ to be wrong in principle, as it gives unfair advantages to funded researchers, and also gives too much discretion to managers who hold publication funds over what and where academics publish.  There is no requirement, under either the HEFCE or the RCUK policy, to ask for or to accept ‘Gold’ publication funds and we recommend you avoid them.

HEFCEOne final point.  The HEFCE policy has a number of ambiguities embedded into it, which may suggest to university managers that – even though all of the policies above are stated explicitly – they ought to go beyond the stated minima;  they might ask their researchers not to publish in ‘the most appropriate’ journal, or to give up more of their rights than necessary.  But the HEFCE policies have been made deliberately permissive in response to objections that the more restrictive RCUK policies will damage academic freedom and quality.  It cannot be right to stipulate these permissive policies and then seek to claw them back by offering managers incentives to ignore them – either they’re necessary for the health of our disciplines or they’re not.  We are seeking clarification from HEFCE.  In the meantime, if you get ‘pushback’ from managers, asking or requiring you to go beyond the terms of this policy in ways that you are not comfortable with, please let us know.


  1. Upload your accepted manuscript as soon as possible to your institution’s repository. If you don’t have an institution, you don’t have to do this.
  1. Find out what your journal’s Open Access policy is; know what choices you have and make those choices clear to your institution;  if your journal isn’t compliant with the HEFCE policy, make a case that it is still the most appropriate publication for your article.
  1. If and when possible, replace the deposited manuscript with the published version.
  1. There is no need for your institution (or anyone else) to pay for you to publish: ‘Green’ is generally preferable to ‘Gold’, and should be widely available.
  1. If you need further advice, ask us: info@royalhistsoc.org

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