Looking Back, Looking Forward – 2020 at the RHS

by | Jan 22, 2020 | RHS Work | 0 comments

With 2019 well behind us, what are some of the Royal Historical Society’s main priorities for 2020?


As ever we have a full programme of lectures and symposia. For our first lecture of the year, on Friday 7 February, we welcome Dr Andrew Arsan (University of Cambridge) who will speak on “Arab Political Thought and the Problem of Empire, c.1856-1919”. We look forward to seeing many of you at this lecture and the reception to follow, or at another of our events.


In December, following a long process to identify a successor to Professor Margot Finn, we announced Emma Griffin, Professor of History at UEA, as the new President-Elect of the RHS. Over the next twelve months, Professor Griffin will shadow the current President to learn more about the Society, and identify priorities for the coming years. Read more about Professor Griffin here.

Professor Emma Griffin

We will also soon be looking for new Council members. A circular will be sent to all Fellows in the Spring asking for nominations. If you are interested in contributing more to the Society’s work, please consider putting yourself forward, and do get in touch if you have questions. 

If you would like to become a Member or Fellow, all the details about making your application are here. The next deadline in 2020 is 23 March.

Early Career Membership

Supporting and encouraging early career historians is one of our key aims; last year we awarded £62,000 to 198 doctoral students and early career historians for conference travel and organisation, and research grants.

In February 2020 we will launch our new Early Career Membership category, which we hope will offer ongoing and meaningful support to postgraduate and early career historians at a time when academic careers are changing, and scholars entering the profession often find their position increasingly uncertain.

We are in the process of upgrading our online application systems for grants and membership applications. We hope that these will be more user-friendly, but they will also provide us with the ability to more closely and effectively understand our membership to ensure that we are doing all we can to make History a fair, diverse, and welcoming environment in which to learn, teach and research.

Open Access book series

The RHS is committed to improving access to scholarly writing, and we welcome open access publishing initiatives that are accessible, equitable, flexible and innovative, and that strengthen and promote sustainable, high-quality peer-reviewed research. In October 2019, we were thrilled to publish the first in our new open access New Historical Perspectives book series. Ed Owens’ The Family Firm was published simultaneously in hardback, paperback and as a free open access download. Volumes on twentieth-century cinema-going, radicalism and revolution in 1930s Spain, World War One civilian specialists and transport experts, and medieval scholasticism are coming later, in Spring 2020.

The NHP series is aimed at early career historians, and requires no publication fees for authors. Books are commissioned and edited by the RHS, and published by the Institute of Historical Research and the recently re-launched University of London Press.

RHS at UoLPress Launch
Katherine Foxhall and Andrew Smith (RHS) with Jo Fox and Philip Carter (IHR) celebrating the first volumes in the New Historical Perspectives series at the launch of the University of London Press in December 2019.

Other RHS Publications

In addition to Volume 29 of Transactions, published in December, 2019 also saw the release of three volumes in our Camden Series of editions of primary sources. These were H Kumarasingham’s, The Rise of Labour and the Fall of Empire; Marcus Mösslang’s British Envoys to the Kaiserreich, 1871-1897, and Jo Ann H Moran Cruz’s An Account of an Elizabethan Family:  the Willoughbys of Wollaton by Cassandra Willoughby, 1670–1735. Details of all these volumes, and how to propose your own volume, are here.

Open Access Policy

Developments in open access dominated our policy work in the office in 2019 as academic publishing undergoes a transformation in how scholarly works are funded and published. This focus is likely to continue as UKRI launch their Open Access Review (expected early Spring), with two reviews planned for 2020. Thanks in large part to the willingness of scholars and journal editors in history to engage with our data-collecting efforts, our interventions in this area have been backed up by clear, robust data. These include the publication of four Working Papers and Guidance Papers to help historians understand and navigate the changing open access publishing landscape, and three robust, evidence-based responses to cOAlition S consultations on Plan S. You can find out more about all our policy work in this area here.

Equalities: Race and Ethnicity

The RHS report on Race, Ethnicity and Equality in UK History (2018) evidenced the scale of under-representation, the extent of workplace racism, and the limitations of History curricula. The considerable public debate sparked by its publication continued through 2019, and has been the subject of many meetings, events and discussions across the UK. The members of the RHS Race, Ethnicity and Equality working group continue to attend and speak at events.

In December 2019 we published a Roadmap for Change Update, which aimed to both acknowledge the number of events and initiatives that have taken place in 2019, and to consider the work that needs to continue, including at the RHS. Now chaired jointly by Dr Sadiah Qureshi and Dr Jonathan Saha, and strengthened by the appointment of Dr Shahmima Akhtar as Past and Present Fellow: Race, Ethnicity and Equality and a number of new members, the working group continues to meet and to advance its work identifying barriers to racial equality and diversity in the discipline of History, facilitating curriculum reform, and addressing the underrepresentation of BME historians.

On 16 January we published the first of a new series of blog posts under the title Race Update, authored by Dr Akhtar. The series will offer short pieces on subjects related to race, ethnicity and equality in UK History Higher Education on a bi-monthly basis. Race Update will be accessible under the category “Race Update” on the RHS Historical Transactions blog and also as an email briefing.

Equalities: LGBT+ Working Group

As part of our wider efforts to understand and meet the needs of active historians at all career stages, and following our recent reports on Gender and on Race, Ethnicity and Equality, in February 2019 the RHS formed a LGBT+ working group to look at the experience of LGBT+ historians and the teaching of LGBT+ histories in UK universities. Led by Professor Frances Andrews, the Society’s first Vice-President for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, the group launched a survey in July 2019. This attracted more than 850 responses – giving us a huge amount of information to consider. The group is currently analysing the data and writing up its findings, and will publish its report in 2020.

Other Society Work

RHS Councillors and Officers undertake a great deal of work on behalf of historians, and the history discipline, often assisted by the professional expertise of Fellows. Examples include:

  • We are currently in the process of judging the nominations to our book prizes and other publication awards. Nominations are currently open for the Rees Davies Prize for an outstanding MA dissertation – please enter your students! The winners of all our annual awards and prizes will be announced at a Reception in July following the Prothero Lecture.
  • Hosting meetings with GCSE and A-level examination boards to discuss curriculum content and reform.
  • In 2019 we joined the Society Publishers’ Coalition, a group of not-for-profit learned societies and membership charities who publish as part of their charitable objectives and who re-invest the proceeds from publishing back into their disciplinary communities.
  • In May, our first Heads of History meeting offered heads of department and history subject areas a chance to share challenges, ideas and examples of best practice. We hope to make this a regular event, and will be holding a second meeting in 2020.
  • Meeting with RHS Fellow Chris Skidmore, Minister of State for Universities, Science Research and Innovation to discuss the position of History in schools, universities and cultural organisations.
  • Ongoing collaboration with the Runnymede Trust, who organised a meeting at Parliament with civil servants, learned societies and MPs Dawn Butler and Helen Hayes
  • Working with the National Archives, whose digital and data experts have provided invaluable guidance and feedback, as we develop a GDPR guidance paper for historians.

As ever, if you are interested in finding out more about the Society’s work, or would like to become more involved, please get in touch!

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