RHS President joins historians in speaking out against department closures

4 May 2021

Royal Historical Society President, Emma Griffin, has joined fellow historians in expressing serious concern over plans to close History departments at several UK universities. The proposals risk History becoming an elite subject unavailable to selected students, at a time when History and historical awareness is needed more than ever.

Emma Griffin’s comments (reproduced below) appear alongside those of Professor Kate Williams and Sir Richard Evans among others in an article for the Guardian (1 May 2021): ‘Studying history should not be only for the elite, say academics’.

***

‘Emma Griffin, the president of the Royal Historical Society and professor of modern British history at the University of East Anglia, was anxious that her degree, which she said was very accessible and produced “rounded” graduates, must not become the preserve of the middle classes. “For reasons of cost, many students need to study at their local university. Understanding our own past shouldn’t be a luxury pursuit for the privileged few, and we think that everyone should have a history option.”

Griffin warned that more history closures are already on the horizon. “There are more in discussion, and there are academics at other universities who feel their positions are threatened.”

She said the removal of the cap on student numbers, allowing elite universities to expand, made the demise of smaller history departments in less prominent universities “inevitable”. “These aren’t blips or unfortunate mishaps, it is the government’s policy working as it was designed to,” she said.

Unlike subjects with expensive kit or laboratories, expanding a subject like history is a relatively cheap way for a successful university to increase its income from £9,250 a year fees. But Griffin said that cramming more students in has negative effects on the degree. “A history department cannot suddenly absorb lots more students without an impact on quality. Universities won’t employ new permanent teaching staff for a trend that might prove temporary, so inevitably you just get a casualised workforce managing the extra teaching workload, as well as a lot of stress and overwork amongst the existing staff.”’