150th Anniversary Transactions

As part of our 150th anniversary, Literary Director Prof. Andrew Spicer introduces a special collection of articles from the archives of our annual journal, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, made freely-available by Cambridge University Press.

The first issue of our annual journal, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, was published in 1872 and opened with an article on ‘The Study of History’ by Professor Louis Raymond de Vericour of Queen’s College Cork (now UCC). He began by questioning why ‘the paramount usefulness of history, with all its ramifications, as a branch of education has not yet met with a full recognition’. Vericour went on to discuss the state of the discipline in late nineteenth-century Britain and placed it in its wider European context. Since its foundation in 1868, the Royal Historical Society has not only promoted the discipline but has come to represent the interests of those engaged in the study of history. To mark the RHS’s 150th anniversary, this inaugural article and 15 others published in Transactions will be made freely available by our partners at Cambridge University Press during 2018.

The selected articles represent a sample of papers that have been given to the society over the last 150 years. They provide an indication of the chronological and geographical breadth of Transactions, with articles from the ‘Dark Ages’ to the twentieth century, encompassing not only Britain and Europe, but also Asia, Africa, and the Americas. They also illustrate a diversity of changing historical approaches and perspectives.

Political history is prominent and particularly the assessment of ideologies that have influenced individuals and events. These include Isaac Arnold’s personal reflections on Abraham Lincoln (1882), F.W. Buckler discussion of ‘The Political Theory of the Indian Mutiny’ (1922), J.H. Elliott’s assessment of ‘The Mental World of Hernán Cortés’ (1967) and Paul Addison’s examination of ‘The Political Beliefs of Winston Churchill’ (1980). The journal always publishes the Prothero lecture given by a distinguished historian each July, represented in this selection by Natalie Zemon Davis’ article on ‘Books as Gifts in Sixteenth-Century France’ from 1983. European affairs are also represented with Geoffrey Parker’s investigation of ‘Why did the Dutch Revolt last Eighty Years?’ (1976) – the 450th anniversary of the Dutch Revolt is being commemorated in 2018 – and J.P. Parry on ‘The Impact of Napoleon III on British Politics’ (2001).

            Alongside political events and ideologies, a series of articles have offered evolving perspectives and approaches to British economic history, from Philip Grierson’s ‘Commerce in the Dark Ages’ (1959) to F.J. Fisher, ‘The Development of London as a Centre of Conspicuous Consumption’ (1948), to Helen Berry’s, ‘Polite Consumption: Shopping in Eighteenth-Century England’ (2002).

            The importance of identity and representation have also been explored in several more recent essays in the selection. The development of an English national identity in the ninth century discussed in Sarah Foot’s ‘The Making of Angelcynn. English Identity before the Norman Conquest’ (1996) might be paired with the question of ‘Britishness’ examined in John M. MacKenzie’s ‘Empire and National Identities: The Case of Scotland’ (1998). The cultural assumptions (and prejudices) that can shape and determine the representation of different nations are the focus for Kate Lowe in her ‘“Representing” Africa: Ambassadors and Princes from Christian Africa to Renaissance Italy and Portugal’ (2007).

Transactions has always included articles by early career researchers, either through the publication of prize-winning essays or more recently peer-reviewed contributions based on papers given at RHS symposia. The very first Alexander Prize was awarded in 1898 to F. Hermia Durham, who went on to have a distinguished career in the Civil Service; her essay ‘The Relations of the Crown to Trade under James I’ was published the following year. More recently, the prize was awarded to Ryan Hanley, whose article on ‘Slavery and the Birth of Working Class Racism in England, 1814–1833’ appeared in 2016.

These articles can only provide an indication of the high-quality research by leading historians that has been published in Transactions over the last 150 years. Over the course of 2018, these articles will also provide a starting point for current historians to reflect on different aspects of the discipline and the study of history, which will be published in a series of pieces here on our new blog, Historical Transactions. 

Professor Andrew Spicer (Oxford Brookes)
Literary Director, Royal Historical Society