Official History: Past, Present and Future – SEMINAR SERIES

Date / time: 8 January, 12:00 am

Official History: Past, Present and Future - SEMINAR SERIES


Seminars to start on 8 January 2024 via Zoom | Call for Papers, deadline – 1 September 2023

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Historians, in partnership with History & Policy at the Institute of Historical Research, are planning to hold a series of online seminars exploring the past, present and future of official history.

The series, which will run in 2024, aims to explore the history behind the writing of official history, examine its purpose and value, and ask whether there is a future for such an enterprise in the age of the 20-year rule and Freedom of Information.

We interpret official histories in their widest sense to include, for instance: the Cabinet Office Official History Programme; documentary series like ‘Documents on British Policy Overseas’; authorised histories, such as those produced by MI5, SIS and GCHQ; histories of the wartime Special Operations Executive; institutional histories such as those commissioned by the Atomic Energy Authority and the BBC; and departmental internal histories subsequently made public, such as Con O’Neill’s ‘Britain’s Entry into the European Community: Report on the Negotiations of 1970-1972’.

We invite submissions for 20-minute papers exploring the historiography of military, diplomatic, civil, intelligence and SOE histories. Suggested topics include (but are not limited to):

  • The rationale for official histories and their commissioning
  • The principal challenges posed by official history for historians both as authors and users
  • How official histories have been organised and governed
  • Questions of access to material, editorial freedom, and impartiality
  • The recruitment of authors, in particular the gender imbalance
  • The experiences of authors, and their research teams
  • Controversies surrounding writing and publication
  • Impact on government, academia and the public sphere
  • Comparisons with official histories in other countries
  • Current initiatives in the official history sphere

Submissions should include a 300-word abstract and a short CV and be sent to by Friday 1 September 2023.

It is expected that the online seminars via Zoom will start in January 2024 and conclude with an in-person one-day event later in that year to reflect more broadly on the issues raised in the series.

Image: Photo: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC/MOD, OGL v1.0OGL v1.0, via Wikimedia Commons.