Historians justly celebrate 1258 as the year when baronial opposition to Henry III culminated in parliament’s imposition upon the King of the Provisions of Oxford. Less well remembered is the fact that this constitutional conflict unfolded against a background of bad weather, failed harvests, scarce and increasingly dear food, and mounting hunger. Recent discovery of mass burials in the excavated cemetery of the London hospital of St Mary Spital has refocused attention on the plight of the poor at this time of political turmoil, when the superior institutional and economic resources of the capital rendered it a magnet to those in need. Scientific identification in 2013 of the Samalas Volcano, Indonesia, as the source of perhaps the most explosive eruption of the last 10,000 years, re-dated from 1258 to spring/summer 1257, has endowed the food crisis with further interest, for, analogously, it was global fallout from the mega-eruption of the neighbouring volcano of Tambora in April 1815 that was responsible for the northern hemisphere’s notorious ‘year without a summer’ in 1816. Evaluating the seriousness of the English food crisis of 1258 thus assumes considerable comparative significance, always provided that volcanic forcing of global climates and not some other less conspicuous but equally powerful perturbation was responsible for the run of bad weather that led harvests repeatedly to fail. One thing alone is clear, the 1258 food crisis is the earliest of the long sequence of English subsistence crises upon which documentary evidence of harvests, prices and the comments of contemporaries can shed systematic light, alongside that provided by tree rings and other palaeo-climatic proxies. Although less momentous in its consequences than the concurrent political drama, it demonstrates that the weather, food supplies, charitable relief and the poor all have histories as worthy and rewarding of investigation as affairs of state.
Bruce Campbell is Professor Emeritus of Medieval Economic History at The Queen’s University of Belfast, Fellow of the British Academy, co-author (with Steve Broadberry, Alex Klein, Mark Overton and Bas van Leeuwen) of British Economic Growth 1270-1870, CUP, 2015, and author of The Great Transition: Climate, Disease and Society in the Late-Medieval World, CUP, May 2016.
From Lebanese immigrants in Argentina to Iraqi refugees in Sweden, Eastern Christians can be found today scattered across the entire world. Too often, however, this global migration has been seen purely as a modern development, one arising from contemporary political and confessional events in the Middle East. In fact, this phenomenon had its roots in the early modern period. From the sixteenth century onwards, Christians from the Ottoman Empire set out for distant worlds and foreign lands, travelling as far as Europe, India, Russia, and even the Americas and leaving traces of themselves in countless European and Middle Eastern archives, chanceries, and libraries. Some of these individuals created new lives for themselves as copyists, translators, and librarians in Europe, while others struggled to eke out a living for themselves as alms-collectors. Their stories of survival and adaptation have long been overlooked. While historians have tended to study these individuals in a piecemeal fashion, this lecture will assess the extent to which the movement of such individuals to Europe constituted a wider phenomenon of migration and exchange between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. The lecture will focus especially on the experiences of a handful of these newcomers in an attempt to paint a picture of what life was like for Eastern Christians in early modern Europe.
John-Paul Ghobrial is Associate Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Balliol College. He is an historian of the Middle East with a special interest in exchanges between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. His first book, The Whispers of Cities (Oxford, 2013), explored the circulation of information between Istanbul, London, and Paris in the late seventeenth century. Since 2015, he has been the Principal Investigator for an ERC-funded project, ‘Stories of Survival: Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World’.
RHS Presidential Address, 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.
RHS Lecture, Friday 25th September, 6pm, Gustave Tuck LT, UCL
Foreign labour was an essential resource for the Nazi war economy: by September 1944, around six million civilian labourers from across Europe were working in the Reich. Any initial readiness on the part of the peoples of Nazi-occupied Europe to volunteer for work in the Reich had quickly dissipated as the harsh and often vicious treatment of foreign workers became known. The abuse and exploitation of foreign forced labourers by the Nazi regime is well documented. Less well understood is why women formed such a substantial proportion of the labour recruited or forcibly deported from occupied Poland and the occupied Soviet territories: in September 1944, over 50% of Soviet civilian forced labourers and more than a third of Polish forced labourers were women. This lecture explores the factors influencing the demand for and the supply of female foreign labour from occupied Eastern Europe, particularly after the appointment of Fritz Sauckel as the head of labour mobilization in March 1942. It will consider the explanations offered hitherto for the large-scale deployment of female foreign workers from Eastern Europe, and examine the contradictions of Nazi policy towards them within two interlocking systems of control: the regime’s regimentation of labour and its racist mechanisms for controlling human reproduction.
Elizabeth Harvey is Professor of History at the University of Nottingham. Her publications includeYouth and the Welfare State in Weimar Germany (1993) and Women and the Nazi East: Agents and Witnesses of Germanization (2003). She is a member of the historians’ commission appointed by the German Federal Ministry of Labour to oversee the research project on the history of the Reich Labour Ministry under National Socialism.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B19880 / photo: Knoedler
License CC-BY-SA 3.0
RHS Prothero Lecture, Wednesday 1st July, 6pm, Gustave Tuck LT
Originalism has been a controversial presence in American constitutional jurisprudence since the 1980s. Reacting against the liberal ‘living constitution’ jurisprudence of the Warren and Burger Courts, conservative jurists urged fidelity to the original principles which had animated the Constitution in the late eighteenth century. However, the quest for original meaning is not as straightforward as conservatives have assumed. Not only is original intent tantalisingly elusive, it raises major issues of historical interpretation. How far do the assumed historical underpinnings of originalism mesh with the findings of academic historians? To what extent has the conservative invocation of the Founding Fathers obscured a lost American Enlightenment? Nor is ‘tradition’ in American constitutional law an unproblematic matter. How far does a desire to restore the original meaning of the Constitution ignore the role of ‘stare decisis’ (precedent) in America’s common law heritage? Colin Kidd explores the tensions between originalist jurisprudence and historical scholarship since the 1980s, and examines the various usable pasts in operation in American constitutional theory. Originalism, it transpires, has many mansions. Moreover, the various schemes of historical interpretation in American constitutional jurisprudence do not map easily onto a simple liberal-conservative divide. The lecture will also interrogate more general issues about the relationship between academic and ‘applied’ history.
Colin Kidd FBA is Wardlaw Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He is the author of Subverting Scotland’s Past (1993), British Identities before Nationalism (1999), The Forging of Races (2006), and Union and Unionisms (2008), all published by Cambridge University Press
Gustave Tuck LT, 6pm, Friday 8th May 2015
People with disfigurements remain one of the last, under-represented minority groups in history. Their faces, often telling stories of violence and/or ravaging disease, present an uncomfortable subject for study. Modern surgical practices, capable of creating the most ‘realistic’ facial prostheses and thus ‘saving faces’, cannot repair the psychological damage of a changed face, nor address the prevailing social attitudes that either register and then ignore the person completely in the cause of ‘not staring’, or express horror or even disgust at the mis-arranged features confronting the gaze. This lecture is concerned with the historical continuities visible in such responses, suggesting that – as today – only those with a particular story to tell about their disfiguring injuries were ‘accepted’ for themselves and were able to ‘change face’. Victims of criminal acts and war veterans did – and still do – elicit a sympathetic response. But facial disfigurement in the premodern past – when surgery was not yet an option – was also a sign of punishment and/or dubious morality, meaning that the right story mattered. The lecture traces some examples, and argues for a better understanding not only of the challenges of disfigurement history, but of disfigurement itself.
Patricia Skinner is Reader in Medieval History at the University of Winchester. She is currently completing a project sponsored by the Wellcome Trust on medical and social responses to disfigurement in medieval Europe.
Gustave Tuck LT, 6pm, Friday 6 February 2015
In the past thirty years, the ‘confessionalization’ thesis has framed our understanding of the Reformation era, and has divided post-Reformation religion into distinct, parallel confessions. On the Protestant side, this has favoured – and produced a false equivalence between – the two confessions legally recognised by the Peace of Westphalia, Lutheran and Reformed Protestantism. In this lecture, Professor Ryrie argues that the broader term ‘Protestant’ remains the indispensable analytical category for examining the non-papal Christianities of the West after 1517. ‘Protestants’ were both more diverse than the confessionalization model’s statist parameters allow, and also united by fundamental common features which many of them tried hard to deny: features visible across Europe in the early modern period and remaining clear even down to more recent times.
Professor Alec Ryrie is Head of the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Durham.
Gustave Tuck LT, 6pm, Friday 28 November 2014
In his first lecture, Peter Mandler argued that ‘meritocracy’ was an unstable basis on which to found universal secondary education, as from the early years of compulsory secondary education in the 1950s most people wanted one kind of education for their children – ‘the best’ – much as they only wanted ‘the best’ health service. The same cannot quite be said about post-compulsory education, the subject of his second lecture. A wider range of considerations went into the expansion of higher education – technocratic (what kind of higher education did the nation’s society and economy need?), meritocratic (who was capable of benefiting?), and democratic too (shouldn’t everyone have equal access?). This mixture of motives, as well as a complex set of economic, demographic and fiscal considerations, are brought together to explain the strange go-stop-go pattern of expansion of higher education in Britain from the 1960s to the present.
Gustave Tuck LT, 6pm, 26 September 2014
Treason is a ubiquitous historical concept yet one that is singularly under-researched. This lecture explores the “landscape of treason” in the Habsburg Empire in its final years. It places it in a broader historical context, theoretically and legally, then explores how and why the legal weapon of treason as wielded during the Great War in Austria-Hungary. It especially seeks to understand what we can learn – the meaning of treason – from the notorious large-scale trials that were staged of Serb and Czech traitors. By 1918 most of the traitors had been amnestied and were turning the accusation of treason upon the Habsburg monarchy itself.
Mark Cornwall is Professor of Modern European History at the University of Southampton and a leading authority on the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Gustave Tuck LT, 2-5pm, Thursday 18 September 2014
To accompany the RHS Gender Survey for historians in UK Higher Education, the RHS held a seminar to discuss its findings with a view to making recommendations to improve gender equality in the sector. Most of the afternoon was devoted to workshops discussing the policy recommendations which will inform the final report which is due to be published in early 2015.
CHAIR: Nicola Miller, Chair of the RHS Research Policy Committee and Professor of Latin American history, UCL
Peter Mandler, President of the RHS and Professor of Modern Cultural History, University of Cambridge
Bronach Kane, Lecturer in History, Cardiff University
Jo Fox, Honorary Director of Communications and Professor of History, University of Durham
RHS Gender Seminar Programme