Each year the Royal Historical Society holds elections to appoint three new members to its Council. The Council is the Society’s governing body, with responsibility for the objectives and work of the RHS.
The election round for 2022 has recently begun, with an invitation to all RHS Fellows to submit nominations to stand in this year’s ballot. All Councillors are Fellows of the Society, and those seeking election must also be current Fellows. We’re very keen our Council reflects the breadth and diversity of professional historians in the UK today.
If you’re interested in standing for election in 2022, we’ve prepared this brief commentary about the Council, and the activities and experiences of current Councillors. We hope this answers the questions you might have before submitting your nomination. Here, you’ll also find contact details if you’d like to discuss the Councillor role further.
What is the Society’s Council?
The Royal Historical Society is predominantly a voluntary organisation. It’s run by a Council whose 19 members (Councillors) ensure the smooth-running and development of the organisation. The Council comprises a body of Fellows of the Society, each of whom serves a four-year term—meeting regularly as a Council, and also working in smaller groups on the Society’s committees. Councillors also work closely with the Society’s office team, based at University College London, who are responsible for the daily running and management of the Society.
The Society’s committees reflect areas of interest to professional historians, including Research and Education Policy, Publishing, Research Support for Early Career Scholars, and the Society’s Membership development. In addition, Councillors lead, support and participate in a range of activities central to the Society’s work. These include our advocacy work in support of the discipline; professional development and training for historians; visits to UK history departments to meet students and teachers; judging the Society’s annual awards and prizes; and academic event planning.
Who are the Councillors? Council’s changing profile
The Council is led by its President, Professor Emma Griffin (University of East Anglia), who sat on Council 2010-16, and took up the Presidency in November 2020. It includes historians from across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland; and at a range of career stages, from first lectureships to professors. The composition of the Council has changed considerably over the past 10 to 15 years. When the current president first joined in 2010, there was just one other woman on Council – the Honorary Secretary, Vanessa Harding. By contrast, today’s Council comprises 9 women and 10 men.
There has also been a significant decrease in the number of historians from Russell Group institutions and corresponding increase in those from universities outside this group (for example, East Anglia, Kent and Sussex) including a very welcome improvement in representation from post-92 institutions (Chichester, Hertfordshire, London South Bank, Manchester Metropolitan and Northumbria). There is still much to do to ensure the Society’s Council reflects the many facets of today’s historical profession and the diversity of modern Britain. For this reason, we hope anyone with an interest in joining the Council will consider doing so—especially if your candidacy addresses or offers advocacy for historians from groups currently underrepresented in the discipline and the Society’s governance.
What are some of the Council’s current areas of activity?
The Council and RHS office work closely together to ensure that the aims of the Society are best met. The Society’s work includes a number of core areas of oversight, for example, research and education policy and publishing, and core activities central to the Society, among them research support, membership and finance. The precise focus within each of these categories is shaped by need and by the Society’s strategic objectives, which are reviewed and developed annually.
Current priorities for Councillors–both as members of the full Council and of subject specific committees–include: the broadening of the Society’s membership to include historians working in sectors other than Higher Education; consideration of the future of research assessment in HE, following the recent publication of REF 2021; new schemes to extend research support to benefit those least well-represented in graduate study; the career ‘pipeline’ for historians, from A-Level to graduate research to employment in History; the opening up of the Society’s publications, including its journal Transactions of the RHS, to all would-be authors; and the development of the Society as a fully national and international community of historians able to create their own networks based on research interests. Of particular concern at present is the Society’s advocacy work: to support and defend university departments from cuts or closure, and the better promotion of the civic and cultural value of History and historical understanding. Shaping each of these areas of activity is the Society’s commitment to supporting and including those currently underrepresented in historical study and research, in and beyond Higher Education, and across the Society’s boards and governance.
This is far from an exhaustive list. Councillors bring their own ideas for initiatives, as well as relaying proposals from the membership to Council. New areas of work are then reviewed and developed.
How much time’s involved in being a Councillor?
Meetings of the full Council are held five times a year, on Friday afternoons in February, May, July, September and November. Council sessions are opportunities to discuss the Society’s role and work at the highest level, with Council the Society’s principal forum and decision-making body. Meetings are held both in-person, at the Society’s Council Room at UCL, and online and in hybrid formats for those unable to travel to individual meetings. Our Councillors are from institutions from across the UK, and we pay for travel and accommodation for all Councillors to attend these meetings. The Council is also central to the development of the Society’s strategy, representing the interests and concerns of the membership. An additional half-day Council gathering, each September, focuses on strategy and priorities.
As members of one, or sometimes two, committees, Councillors also meet in smaller groups twice (or occasionally three times) a year. Committee work allows for more focused involvement in three key areas: the Society’s activities to support the historical community (for example, research support, membership and publishing); its contribution to the running of the Society (e.g. finance and governance); and its engagement with sector-wide developments in research and education policy, and demonstration of history’s value in civil society. In each case committee members, and especially new members, are supported and guided by the Committee’s chair and the RHS office. More established Councillors often take on projects within a committee or across the Society, according to their interests.
What’s it like being a Councillor?
In the following section four serving members of the Society’s Council comment on their personal experience; these commentaries include first impressions from recently elected members and longer-term perspectives.
I was elected as a trustee of the Royal Historical Society in September 2021 and took up my seat on its Council in January 2022. My reasons for standing were two-fold. The first is to ensure that the experiences and concerns of historians and their students in ‘post 92s’ (I have worked at London South Bank University for 24 years) are voiced in Council and committee meetings. This has become even more vital with the closure of history courses across several institutions, and the RHS is playing a key role in advocating on behalf of staff and students impacted by these cuts
Secondly, I wanted to highlight the needs of historians and academics with caring responsibilities and/or disabilities and to consider how best to support these colleagues in remaining research active throughout their working lives. Identifying support for these colleagues extends to ECRs and post-doctoral students. The Society is instrumental in making available a range of innovative initiatives to enable a vibrant and sustainable research culture across the sector. Since joining the Council, and its Research Support and General Purposes committees, I have experienced first-hand the inclusive and collaborative working practices of the RHS. The Society’s ability to respond immediately to current events, for example the war in Ukraine, is impressive.
The energy of Council members, the highly experienced central team and the dynamic leadership of the President, Professor Emma Griffin, make working for the society a privilege. The RHS is an organisation where making a difference really matters.
Professor Caitriona Beaumont, London South Bank University
Elected to Council 2021
Asking yourself what you get from doing voluntary work on top of a thousand other commitments can often be a challenge. In this instance, however, it’s a positive reflection on the possibilities for friendship, citizenship, and feeling a part of a wider community of scholars. I joined the Council in July 2018, role-sharing as the RHS’s Co-Director of Communications, to help address the Society’s comms channels and messaging.
Immediately, I found the Council to be welcoming, engaged, and committed to upholding and promoting the value of historical scholarship. I joined as we were working on our ‘Report on Race, Ethnicity and Equality in UK History’ and was inspired by the way that the society was committed to looking out for those across the profession whose voices didn’t carry so loudly or were inexcusably absent.
During COVID, I thought the Society responded amazingly – we were a small team working hard to ensure we supported our community while not losing sight of the road ahead. More recently, I’ve started taken over as Honorary Secretary, following on from Alana Harris. This means I’ve now worked under two excellent RHS Presidents—Margot Finn and Emma Griffin—as well as collaborating with a highly professional office team. The opportunity to work with our outstanding Council has meant meeting historians whose work I’ve always admired, and as someone who works in a small institution, the RHS has helped keep me connected to national and international networks of scholarship and service.
One of the things I’m consistently proud of is the way that the RHS punches above its weight. We’re a small organisation that relies on enthusiastic, committed, and caring historians to get involved and help contribute to the wider sector, most obviously as members of the RHS Council. Seeing that combination of commitment to the sector, specialist knowledge and friendly collaboration across our community has been inspirational. For me, working with the RHS has demonstrated both the demands of academic citizenship and the good that it can achieve.
Dr Andrew Smith, University of Chichester
Joined Council in 2018 and now the Society’s Honorary Secretary
I was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Historical Society in May 2021. I stood for Council that July and became a Councillor in November of the same year. I wanted to stand for election for the same reason I wanted to become a Fellow: in order to support the vital advocacy work undertaken by the RHS. In recent years the Society has been at the forefront of calls to action within our discipline, and has undertaken research and published reports that demand further attention on questions of gender and race in UK history, and challenge enduring structural barriers to equality.
I am passionate about widening participation within our discipline, and invested in the issues facing early career scholars (particularly those for whom such structural inequalities act as barriers to permanent employment). Despite only having been on Council for six months I can already see ways that I can contribute meaningfully to this work, and I’m extremely positive about my coming years in this role.
As a Councillor you do have an active voice in advocating for, and shaping, UK history. I would particularly like to encourage recent fellows and early career scholars to stand for election: you are the future of the discipline and we need more of your voices heard.
Dr Emilie Murphy, University of York
Elected to Council 2021
When I joined Council in 2018, it seemed a natural extension of my work on the RHS Working Group on Race and Ethnic Equality in UK History. Our report was published in 2018, and immediately we felt its effects: historians from across the UK, including activists, students, teachers, broadcasters, and writers, asked questions, submitted criticism, and wanted to hear more. Throughout it all, colleagues within the RHS worked together to consider our responses, to consult with each other, to respond as best as we could, and to reflect on what it all meant. I had taught at a particularly collegial place for several years and was active in numerous learned societies with colleagues who had become old friends, but I had never experienced this degree of mutual support and shared sense of purpose. I wanted more.
Council is work. But like all voluntary work, we do this among like-minded people who are in it for shared reasons. We attend meetings, but these can be inspiring. We serve on funding committees that allocate resources to deserving applicants; we judge submissions for highly-respected prizes; we formulate policies to meet our commitments to fairness and equality; we think together about why particular decisions will support our profession. Ultimately, we do our best to meet the needs of early-career researchers and minoritised colleagues in particular.
Why would anyone do this while managing unrealistic demands on our academic workloads? Because contributions to the RHS enable us to collaborate with some of the brightest and most energetic historians from all corners of the country. These past years have not only reminded me of the reasons I joined this profession, but it has also given me the opportunity to shape it in specific, sustainable, and high-profile ways.
Finally, a word about learning. Each Councillor’s four-year tenure entails working closely with outstanding staff with exceptional knowledge and understanding of the charitable and HE sectors. We commit ourselves to robust procedures designed to bring out the best in our thinking and to ensure our decisions meet high ethical standards. No one is born knowing how to achieve these things, and success in historical scholarship normally doesn’t produce it. By having worked among professionals with specialist expertise and a shared passion for what we all do, I hope that my brief time at the RHS has helped produce a more effective colleague.
Dr Adam Budd, University of Edinburgh
Elected to Council 2018
Joining the Society’s Council: the 2022 elections
Each year, three members of the Council step down on completing their four-year term. In their place the Fellowship annually elects three new members of Council using a preferential voting system. We’re now seeking nominations from Fellows of the Society who’d like to put themselves forward for election in 2022. Details of this year’s call for nominations have recently been emailed to all Fellows. Applications to enter the ballot for 2022 are open until Friday 8 July.
If you wish to stand for election, please submit a short statement (200 words) and secure the support of four other Fellows of the Society, one of whom—as principal sponsor—will also contribute a short statement in support of your candidacy. Applications should be completed online via the Society’s application portal. Voting will take place in the summer, with results announced in September. New Councillors, who are also trustees of the Society, will take up their posts in November 2022.
Further questions? Contacting the Society
If you are considering standing for election in 2022, and would like to discuss the role further, please contact Professor Emma Griffin, President of the RHS: firstname.lastname@example.org Emma is very happy to provide further insight into the Society, its Council and the activities of Councillors.
If you’ve been asked to support the nomination of a Fellow to Council, and would like to discuss how best to support your candidate, please email: email@example.com.
If you’d like to learn more about the Society and its work before submitting a nomination, the following may be of interest:
- Royal Historical Society website: https://royalhistsoc.org/
- RHS Officers and Councillors 2022: https://royalhistsoc.org/about/rhs-officers/
- Governance, Constitution and By-Laws: https://royalhistsoc.org/about/governance-constitution-and-by-laws/
- Annual Reports (to 2021): https://royalhistsoc.org/about/agm-and-annual-reports/