Working for Historians—notwithstanding COVID-19

by | Apr 16, 2020 | RHS Publications, RHS Work | 0 comments

Although the Royal Historical Society, in keeping with government guidance, has closed its physical office for the time being, RHS President Margot Finn outlines the ways in which we continue to work for historians in and beyond the UK.

COVID-19 has inevitably disrupted many of our core activities.  But we remain committed to supporting excellence in History teaching, learning and research, and to fostering both academic and public history more broadly.  Providing support to the next generation of historians is always central to our agendas, and we know that now more than ever early career historians need the Society’s support.

Within the restrictions imposed by public health measures—to which we fully subscribe—the RHS is working to adapt and adjust our programmes, rather than to respond to COVID-19 principally by cancelling or deferring activities.  Below you will find a preliminary update on what we are doing.  Additional information will be available over the next few weeks on our website, in our blog, on Twitter and in our  upcoming (electronic) May newsletter.


Support for Early Career Researchers (ECRs)

The largest proportion of the Society’s discretionary expenditure is annually earmarked for early career researchers.  Normally, the bulk of this spend funds national and international research travel, whether to undertake research in archives, libraries, museums and ‘the field’ or to present research papers at conferences.  Given current global restrictions on travel and social-distancing mandates, our established schemes will be of limited short-term utility to many ECRs.

Accordingly, the RHS is repurposing funding to create two new streams of emergency funding/resources for ECRs:

  • One will be a temporary Hardship Fund for History ECRs of any nationality who are registered at a UK university or normally based in the UK.  We understand how disruptive COVID-19 has been and is for History ECRs’ finances and well-being, and hope that this support will assist some of those most badly affected.  We expect to have full details of this scheme available on the website in May.
  • The RHS is also working with Adam Matthew Digital, a major provider of digitised primary source material, to obtain a tranche of 200 no-cost subscriptions to content for a 12-month period, to help mitigate the deleterious effect of archive and library closures for History ECRs.   Again, details about the application process for this emergency scheme will be available shortly.


Conferences and Lectures

Although the scheduled RHS symposiums at Edge Hill and Warwick Universities are unfortunately deferred, plans are in train for both our April Curriculum Conference and our May Public Lecture to go ahead virtually. 

An exchange of information between history teachers in schools and universities to enhance understanding about Curriculum development, the Curriculum Conference was originally designed as a one-day workshop to be held on 23 April at the RHS, but will now be happening virtually from 23-30 April.

Similarly, our May Public Lecture, Professor Sarah Hamilton’s ‘Responding to Violence: Liturgy, Authority and Sacred Places c. 900-c.1100’, is moving from physical to virtual space.  A recorded version of the lecture will be available open access on the RHS website on 1 May; pre-registered participants (from anywhere in the world) will then be able to join a live online Question & Answer session with Professor Hamilton during the following week.


History Heads of Departments’ Meetings

Building on our May 2019 History HoDs’ meeting at KCL, we are planning to hold a number of virtual meetings with UK History HoDs in May.  We hope that the availability of more than one meeting time will allow as many interested HoDs to join in, and to discuss topics such as the transition to online teaching and staff and student welfare.  There will also be RHS updates on REF and UKRI’s open access publishing consultation.


Equalities Work

The exigencies of COVID-19 have not side-lined RHS work on equality, diversity and inclusion.  Dr Shahmima Akhtar’s blog post of 6 April 2020 helpfully pulled together current thinking on whether (and how) the decision to replace GCSE and A-level examinations with teachers’ predicted grades is likely to affect students with protected characteristics and/or lower socio-economic backgrounds.  And under Vice President Frances Andrews’s leadership, the LGBT+ Working Group is now drafting text for its report, which is scheduled for online publication later this year.


Prizes and Publishing

2 April 2020 saw the publication of Sam Manning’s Cinemas and Cinema-Going in the United Kingdom: Decades of Decline, 1945–65, the second volume in the RHS and Institute of Historical Research’s collaborative open access New Historical Perspectives book series. This volume is now available as a free open access PDF download.  Several further volumes are in production for 2020 or under contract for 2021, and the series editors continue to welcome proposals for new titles.

Meanwhile, when not moving their teaching into virtual space, advising students on their dissertations, marking essays or undertaking urgent admissions work, many of our Council members are reading articles and books by early career researchers for the Society’s annual July prize-giving.  The committee for our teaching awards is also gearing up to receive the 2020 nominations.  By July, if the RHS staff has not yet been able to migrate back to our home in Bloomsbury, we plan to have perfected the art of virtual celebrations to toast the exceptional achievements of our short-listed authors and our prize recipients.

Best wishes,

Margot Finn
President, Royal Historical Society ( )
15 April 2020

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