RHS President’s Lecture and AGM, 24 November 2023

25 October 2023


This year’s RHS President’s Lecture takes place at 6pm on Friday 24 November 2023:

‘European Exploration, Empires, and the Making of the Modern World’

Professor Emma Griffin (Royal Historical Society and Queen Mary, University of London)

Brewer and Smith Hall, Mary Ward House, 5-7 Tavistock Place, London, WC1H 9SN, and Online for those unable to attend in person

The President’s Lecture will be preceded by the Society’s Annual General Meeting, and followed by a drinks reception at Mary Ward House. All are very welcome to attend. Further details of the AGM will be sent to Fellows and Members of the Society in early November.

  • To register to attend the Lecture and reception in person at Mary Ward House, London, please see here.
  • To register to watch the Lecture online, please see here.


About the lecture

The British industrial revolution has long, and rightly, been regarded as a turning point in world history, and the question of why it all began in Britain has produced a large and lively literature.

In the past twenty years, our understanding has been considerably enhanced by the repositioning of events in eighteenth-century Britain within global history frameworks. Yet this has resulted in some unwieldy comparisons between Britain, a small island, on the one hand; and very large, continental land masses – India, China, and North America – on the other. Not only do these comparisons involve a significant switch in scale, there is the added complication that some of these regions were themselves bound in complex colonial relationships with Britain.

In this lecture, Emma Griffin suggests a far more meaningful comparative approach may be developed by turning to some of Britain’s nearest neighbours in continental Europe. By looking at European nations, similar in size, existing outside Britain’s empire, and indeed in some instances with imperial holdings and ambitions of their own, it is possible to shed new light on the complex and contested relationship between empire and industrialisation, and offer new answers as to why Britain industrialised first.

Emma Griffin is President of the Royal Historical Society and Professor of British History and Head of School at Queen Mary, University of London. Her research covers the social and economic history of Britain during the period 1700-1870, with a particular interest in gender history, the industrial revolution, and working-class life.