2nd Gender Equality Report

Royal Historical Society report highlights gender inequality in UK History

A new report published today (6 November 2018) by the Royal Historical Society (RHS) recommends steps to promote gender equality in UK History, following the RHS’s recent report on race in UK History. Recent spotlights on the #MeToo movement, “Everyday Sexism”, and the centenary of women’s suffrage in have raised public awareness of gender as a defining social influence. Yet despite some progress since its landmark 2015 report, the RHS reveals considerable work remains to be done, revealing enduring structural barriers to equality as well as worryingly high levels of workplace discrimination.

While there is a small majority of female students in History at A-level, undergraduate level, and on taught postgraduate programmes, women remain underrepresented at more senior levels, constituting just 41.6% of academic staff in History and only 26.2% of History Professors. Female historians are also more likely to be in temporary, fixed-term, or part-time posts, with over 60% of full-time permanent posts in History held by men.

A survey of hundreds of UK historians revealed a number of reasons for this “leaky pipeline”Overwork is chronic throughout the sector, and gendered in its effects. Almost all respondents reported working “a lot” in the evenings, most worked a lot on weekends (72.2% female; 56.2% male) and many often gave up annual leave (51.7% female; 37% male). Many respondents called for more transparent workload models to combat these inequalities.

Respondents highlighted how the effects of overwork and an unhealthy working culture were exacerbated by a lack of support for caring responsibilities, which are still more likely to affect women. Nearly a fifth of respondents (19%) reported that maternity leave policy was implemented partly or hardly at all in their workplace. Female respondents reported mid-career issues returning to work after maternity leave, with many feeling they have been overlooked for promotion (44.5%) or become stuck in certain roles (52.9%).

Nearly half (47.8%) of female respondents reported their working lives had been affected by discrimination, and 18.2% reported sexual harassment. Both men and women also reported widespread issues of bullying and intimidation. Issues of gender discrimination were often particularly pronounced for female early-career historians: over a fifth (21%) reported being subject to sexual harassment, while many observed or experienced gender inequality in conference programming, keynote lectures, publishing, and teaching; indeed large numbers of historians at all levels reported the same. The RHS is also very concerned by strong evidence of negative gender bias in student evaluations, particularly in advance of the implementation of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) at subject-level.

The report concludes with specific action points and guidance for Heads of department, teaching staff, appointment panels, promotion committees, editors, and conference organisers. The recent RHS report on Race, Ethnicity & Equality in UK History emphasises that inequalities intersect, and the Society is committed to History becoming more inclusive for women, non-binary, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) and other underrepresented groups of historians. This report provides essential data and guidance to promote a more equal and diverse profession, which will ensure and expand the intellectual vitality of our discipline.

The full report is available here.

The full results of our survey are available here.

RHS Race Report

Royal Historical Society report highlights need for greater diversity in UK History

A new report published today (18 October 2018) by the Royal Historical Society (RHS) highlights racial and ethnic inequalities in the teaching and practice of History in the UK. It draws attention to the underrepresentation of ‘Black and Minority Ethnic’ (BME) students and staff in university History programmes, the substantial levels of race-based bias and discrimination experienced by BME historians in UK universities, and the negative impact of narrow school and university curriculumson diversity and inclusion. The report, a key component of the Society’s 150th anniversary programme, draws on a year of research and a survey of over 700 university-based historians. It offers advice and guidance for academic historians on taking positive action to address and diminish barriers to equality in the discipline.

History is a popular subject in UK schools, but evidence suggests BME pupils are less likely than their peers to choose History in examinations and university applications. History student cohorts are less diverse than most other university subjects, with only 11% of History students coming from BME backgrounds, compared to nearly a quarter of all university students. Research and focus groups conducted by the RHS highlight the need for more diverse content of curriculums in schools and universities to engage a wider pool of students, and the need for historians to articulate more clearly the benefits of studying for a History degree to prospective and current BME students.

Academic staffing in UK university departments is even less diverse.  Among UK-national staff, 96.1% of university historians are White, a figure again higher than in most other subjects. Underrepresentation is particularly stark for Black historians, who make up less than 1% of UK university-based History staff. One third of BME respondents to the RHS survey reported witnessing discrimination or abuse of colleagues and/or students based on race or ethnicity during their academic employment, and 29.5% reported having experienced such discrimination themselves.

Urgent attention by universities and History departments to BME students’ and colleagues’ experiences of exclusion, bias and discrimination is clearly needed.  If History in the UK is to attract and train the best intellects—thereby enriching both academic and public understanding of the past—significant improvements on our discipline’s existing record is imperative.

The report concludes with tailored advice and guidance for Heads of department, teaching staff, research supervisors, journal editors and conference organisers.  Building on the significant achievements of BME historians in the past decade, the RHS seeks to broaden recognition within and beyond university departments of the extent to which racial and ethnic inequalities detract from the quality, practice and experience of History in the UK.  Addressing this unacceptable situation will require substantial structural and cultural change within the discipline.  This report provides essential data and guidance intended to expand and accelerate these reforms.

The full report is available for download here.

The full results of our survey are available here.


Image: Imperial War Museum AP 14372D, 1943.

Global History for Schools

October is Black History Month, and following on from our Global History Symposium this summer, Prof. Miles Larmer introduces the Oxford History Faculty’s new range of resources for schools, designed to help them offer a more diverse curriculum.

How do we create a curriculum in schools and universities that best reflects the histories of our current students and future citizens? As Britain has become a more diverse society, and as a result become increasingly aware of its diverse past, the need to ensure that is reflected in what we teach and research is a question of growing importance, educationally and politically. At the University of Oxford, we have launched a new undergraduate curriculum better designed to ensure global history is more prominent in the experience of all our students, though delivering teaching that adequately reflects the history of all parts of the world remains a work in progress.

In schools, many complain that a curriculum that often focuses on key events such as the War of the Roses or the Second World War fails to reflect Britain’s deep history of migration and imperialism, in which what it meant to be ‘British’ changed radically over time. New undergraduates taking my African history courses at Oxford often arrive with little or no experience of studying the continent, either its great empires and kingdoms, or its distinct history of global connectedness.

In late 2016, having read yet another newspaper op-ed bemoaning the inadequacies of school teaching in addressing these areas, I chanced on a new GCSE course entitled ‘Migration, Empires and People’, a British history option that emphasised the long history (starting in 970 AD) of British inter-connectedness with the wider world: the textbook’s front cover shows Kwame Nkrumah, the first leader of independent Ghana, meeting the then decolonising British military leadership. This was, I thought, exactly the kind of history course I wanted my future students to be taking.

Enthused, I recommended the course to my partner, who is head of history in what is euphemistically described as a ‘challenging’ state school: more than half its students speak English as a second language and nearly half receive free school meals. Surely, I thought, this was an ideal course for such a school. She immediately punctured my naïve enthusiasm: the problem was that teachers delivering such a new and innovative course wouldn’t have access to appropriate resources. Such resources are the lifeblood of school history lessons: for existing courses, online banks of resources are available for teachers to deploy in classrooms – as one example, the Wellcome Trust provides fantastic materials supporting the teaching of the history of science and medicine.

If resources were going to be a fundamental problem, why not get Oxford historians to write those resources? Our research expertise could be put at the service of the new GCSE option and, indeed, other school history courses. I contacted the authors of the course textbook, Robin Whitburn and Abdul Mohamud of UCL Institute of Education, and we met up in January 2017. They were delighted at the suggestion and, having discussed the proposal internally, we got the go-ahead. The Faculty sees the project as an opportunity to share its research outside traditional academic circles, particularly in state schools that have historically sent very few or no students to Oxford: it also indicates Oxford’s own increasing engagement with non-western and global history, their centrality to British history and to the interests and experiences of our increasingly diverse undergraduate student intake.

IMG_4386.JPGIn May 2017 we organised a workshop that brought together interested Oxford researchers – professors, college tutors, post-doctoral and doctoral researchers – with Whitburn and Mohamud and a set of schoolteachers who were delivering the new option for the first time in the 2017/18 academic year. This was an inspiring event, in which teachers were able to explain to academics how they deliver complex historical concepts, methods and debates to 15 and 16 year olds, and together develop their shared understanding of how innovative resources could bring to life key questions of Britain’s changing global role and national identity and the role of migration and imperialism in shaping these histories.

Over summer 2017 a first set of resources was developed and uploaded to our ‘resources for schools’ webpage. Most of these focus on a key individual or event as a way of illustrating a much broader set of issues: they have been designed to be delivered in a classroom setting, so use visual imagery and clear language to communicate their arguments. Although the resources were designed with a specific option course in mind, they are publicly available to all teachers for any class they deem relevant and the project has the potential to be rolled out to other under-resourced option courses in the future.

A launch event for the project was held at one of the schools running the new course, St. Michael’s College, Bermondsey in south London in September 2017: I had the positive if slightly nerve-wracking experience of presenting some of the new resources to the teachers present. There was great appreciation of what we have achieved so far, and there is clearly demand for many more resources of this type.

The project is still very much a work in progress, but our efforts were rewarded this year by the university’s award for promoting equality and diversity in learning and teaching. We have secured university funding for the next phase of the project, which will run during the 2018–19 academic year, and there are plans to expand our schools outreach work in various ways. There is clearly much more to be done to develop resources of this type, and to provide school and university curricula that reflect the diverse experiences of Britain, its school students and Oxford’s present and future students. We hope this project provides a modest step in the right direction.


Dr Miles Larmer is Professor of African History at St Antony’s College, Oxford.


Top image: Detail from John Singleton Copley, ‘The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781’, (1783), The Tate. Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND.

450 Years since The Dutch Revolt

The 450th anniversary of the start of the Dutch Revolt – the Eighty Years War as it is known in Dutch – is being commemorated in 2018 by a series of events, including an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum. In this blog, Prof. Judith Pollmann reflects on Prof. Geoffrey Parker’s 1976 article in our Transactions which asked ‘Why did the Dutch Revolt last Eighty Years?’

pollmann.jpegWhy did the Kings of Spain fail to defeat the rebels who took up arms in the Netherlands in 1566, and created a breakaway Republic? And why did it take them eight decades to accept the loss of the Northern half of the Low Countries? It was these two basic questions which Geoffrey Parker set out to address in his 1975 lecture for the RHS. His answers transformed the study of that ‘first World War’, the Revolt of the Netherlands, and his essay continues to be on every reading list on the subject.

Parker’s article emanated from a 1972 paper written for an audience of Hispanists at Cambridge, who had requested a talk on the historical context to the many plays, poems and histories which touched on the endless war which the Spanish had fought in the Low Countries. With this broad remit in mind, Parker ventured both beyond the book that he had just completed, his 1972 The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, and beyond the one he was completing when he spoke to the RHS; The Dutch Revolt (1976) covered only the period from 1566 to 1609, when a Twelve Year Truce ended the first phase of the war.

Parker answered his first question, on the Spanish failure to defeat the rebels in the Low Countries in the early stages of the conflict, by pointing to a factor that had never been considered systematically before. While King Philip II spent vast amounts of Peruvian silver and Castilian taxes on the fight against the rebels, he did not do so consistently. At crucial moments, the money was needed for matters of even greater urgency in the Iberian peninsula, Italy, the Mediterranean, to meddle in the wars in France, or to invade England. And whenever that happened, the Habsburg Army of Flanders was starved of funds, to the point that earlier gains were sometimes completely lost.

For Dutch scholars this was new; they had taken for granted that the revolt in the Low Countries had been at the top of their King’s agenda, rather than just one item on a much longer list of royal headaches. It also opened up a new field of questions. If Parker was right that to explain Habsburg military fortunes, we should just follow the money, this was perhaps also true for the Dutch. Jim Tracy and Marjolein ‘t Hart proceeded to analyse how the Dutch exploited an older system of local borrowing by urban authorities, at low interest, to fund their collective war debt. They used the money to revolutionize their armies, not only by changing the conduct of war itself, as Parker and others had argued, but above all by changes in military organization. Both to raise the loans, and the taxes that were needed to service them, Dutch authorities had to secure broad support for the war among the population. This, in turn, forced them to do something about the disciplinary problems and mutinies that plagued all early modern armies. By offering their soldiers more regular pay, and by honouring these offers, it proved possible to get them to accept stricter discipline, and so considerably reduce their nuisance value. Whereas billeting had been every householder’s nightmare, people in garrison towns now competed to become the soldiers’ landlords. It all helped the Dutch rebels to at last to secure loyalty to their cause in the United Provinces; this was less self-evident than Parker had thought; the early phases of the war, we now know, were a civil war as much as a collective uprising against the King.

It also points to the pivotal importance of both political representation and public opinion. No one cared much about civilian suffering in those areas in the Dutch Republic that were politically unrepresented. Conversely, the Habsburgs realized from the 1580s that they if they were to successfully regain control of the Southern provinces, they were to honour the privileges and liberties of the representative assemblies in the South after 1585. The surprisingly fast revival of Catholicism in the Southern Netherlands similarly owed much to the fact that the Habsburgs presented themselves as the guarantors of the age-old religious values of the Southern communities, rather than to demand religious conformity as evidence of obedience to royal authority. Heresy in the South was no longer fought with executions, but by much tighter control of the public sphere.

In the Dutch Republic, by contrast, religious arguments were never going to win the war; while the ‘public church’ was Reformed, only a minority of the population signed up for full church membership. Even the influx of tens of thousands committed Calvinists from the Southern Netherlands did not change the fact that there were large Catholic and Mennonite minorities. Instead, Calvinist proponents of continuation of the war developed a powerful and secular popular memory culture around graphic images of ‘Spanish’ atrocities in the 1570s, which were presented as evidence that the Spanish peace offers could never be trusted. Even when the actual stakes in the war had long changed, this determined much of the public debate in the Republic.

This brings us to Parker’s second question, why Philip II and his successors did not cut their losses earlier and concede victory to the Dutch. Again, his answer pointed to the importance of placing the Revolt in a bigger, transnational picture. In successive peace talks, the Kings of Spain found it impossible to compromise on religion, or cede sovereignty, because they feared a domino effect in the monarchía as a whole. Moreover, Parker pointed out that by the 1620s the stakes in the war had become economic, while the war itself also shifted to theatres in Asia, Africa and the Americas. While some aspects of Parker’s second answer met with criticism, not least in Jonathan Israel’s 1982 The Dutch Republic and the Hispanic World, 1606-1661, both his emphasis on the war’s transformation into an economic conflict, and his insistence that it should be studied at a global as well as a European level, are now central to the study of the war’s seventeenth-century history.

Judith Pollmann is Professor of Early Modern Dutch History at Leiden University. You can follow her on Twitter @JudithPollmann.


Further reading:

Henk van Nierop, Treason in the Northern Quarter. War, terror and the rule of law in the Dutch Revolt (Princeton 2009)

Judith Pollmann, Catholic identity and the Revolt of the Netherlands, 1520-1635 (Oxford 2011)

Judith Pollmann, ‘The cult and memory of war and violence’ in Helmer Helmers and Geert Janssen (eds), The Cambridge Companion to the Dutch Golden Age (Cambridge, forthcoming August 2018).

Jasper van der Steen, Memory wars in the Low Countries, 1566-1700 (Leiden 2015)

Werner Thomas and Luc Duerloo, Albert and Isabella, 1598-1621 (Louvain 1998)


Image: Gablestone at the ‘Spanish House’ commemorating the massacre at Naarden on 1 December 1572. Photo: Ralf Akemann, via Judith Pollmann.

New Camden Volume on Henry Piers

Cambridge University Press have released an exciting new edition in our Camden Series of annotated primary source documents.

Brian Mac Cuarta SJ discusses his new volume on the continental travels of the Irish landowner Henry Piers and his conversion to the Catholic faith in Rome, during the heightened political and confession tensions of the 1590s.

The text of Henry Piers’s travel journal – published here for the first time – attracted me initially because it offered a layman’s voice from the recusant community which straddled England and Ireland in the 1590s. It describes a journey to Rome through the Low Countries, Germany, and Italy in 1595. There are echoes of the Elizabethan fascination with Italian culture – brief encounters with English travellers are noted (the grandsons of William Cecil, for example, and the earl of Sussex), and the author’s passion for music emerges when recounting an evening spent singing with a household group in Padua. John Dowland, the composer, reported meeting the author in Bologna. While many young Englishmen studied for a time at Padua, few proceeded to Rome; this account is a detailed and extensive account of a Catholic layman’s stay in the Eternal City.

The Hospital of the Holy Spirit near St Peter’s was renowned as a state-of-the-art infirmary. The author described seeing the patients lying two or three to a bed. There was also an orphanage. At the entrance there was a revolving aperture – a newborn baby could be placed on the turntable and it would pass inside, where every foundling was admitted. Piers saw the courtyard, where nurses carried the infants, and the older children were occasionally brought in procession to attend various events outside.

Piers has left a particularly vivid description of the Easter procession organized by the Spanish community at Rome’s Piazza Navona: flaming torches, the vivid banners of the various confraternities, choirs, bands, and a mock battle between the Turk and the king of Spain. The relics of the early Christian saints and martyrs were significant for him. Simon Ditchfield has written of how late sixteenth-century Rome was becoming increasingly known in the Catholic world as the repository of primitive Christianity. This memoir illustrates the impact of the city on the Catholic imagination of one Elizabethan layman. The author also adverted to the particular situation of the Roman Jews, with their yellow hats, living enclosed in the ghetto, dealing in old rags for a living, and constrained to attend special sermons that might lead to their conversion.

Religious autobiography – generally reflecting an evangelical if not puritan outlook – continues to be a particularly fertile genre for exploring mentalities in early modern society. Texts from the recusant community however are less numerous. Henry Piers (1567–1623) combines a travel memoir with his conversion narrative. Scion of an English military family recently settled in Ireland, through the marriage of his sister, Piers encountered a vibrant recusant community among some Dublin patricians. About the same time while on a visit to England he listened to puritan preachers and so experienced at first hand the vociferous dissatisfaction of some with the Elizabethan establishment. These encounters led him towards the Roman church.

Thus the book affords a rare lay perspective on conversion to Catholicism; its value is heightened by the author’s origins in Ireland and connections in England, thereby illuminating a recusant community which straddled both realms. Piers’s travel companion was Philip Draycott, aged 22, of a noted Staffordshire recusant family; the text illustrates how a young Englishman travelled to one of the new English seminaries on the Continent. Having finished his schooling at the Jesuit-run college at St Omer (founded 1593), Draycott briefly moved to Ireland where he became servant to Henry Piers: an example of those Irish gentry who sheltered recusants seeking respite from anti-recusancy measures in late Elizabethan England.

While in Rome, Piers stayed as a lay student in the English College. There under Jesuit guidance, he deepened his knowledge of the Catholic faith, and followed the seminary courses in philosophy. Piers’s account adds vivid detail to our understanding of the febrile world of the Elizabethan Catholic exiles in late sixteenth-century Rome, where spies mingled with seminarians, and an appearance before the Inquisition was normal for many northern Europeans. Piers’s family origins in colonial Ireland made him the focus of animosities in Rome between English and Irish, tensions sharpened by the recent Ulster revolt against the crown. He became friends with Robert Persons, the noted Catholic polemicist and seminary founder; Henry’s sojourn in Spain just after leaving Rome, where he visited English Jesuit colleges in Valladolid and Seville, reflects connections doubtless facilitated by Persons.

A further dimension is that of the Elizabethan in Spain. Pauline Croft has delineated the shadowy world of the English merchants operating in southern Spain during the trade embargo arising from the Anglo-Spanish war (1585–1604). Piers lived as a student in the English College, Seville, in 1598. The collegians used to visit English prisoners of war. Irish merchants, too, were caught up in Spanish measures against English traders. Ships and merchandize were confiscated; at times the merchants were imprisoned. Piers lobbied English Jesuits to use their influence with Spanish officials in favour of these Irish traders. Spanish forces had captured Captain Richard Hawkins off the Pacific coast of South America. At this time Hawkins was in gaol in Seville. He escaped briefly; in the subsequent crackdown Piers was arrested, suspected of being an accomplice. The Irishman was scheduled to face interrogation on the rack; only the fact that he could present testimonials from his time in Rome saved him from this fate.

Replete with firsthand detail (including storms at sea, and an encounter with ruffians in an inn) Piers has given us a gripping travel memoir framed by his spiritual quest. The many emendations to the text, together with the attempt to identify places and individuals, have presented particular challenges. While extending the range of Elizabethan travel writing by adding a distinctly recusant voice, his account illustrates the difficulties facing an Elizabethan living in Rome and Seville at a time of particular stress in the complex military and religious landscape linking the Tudor world and Catholic Europe.

Brian Mac Cuarta SJ is Director of the Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu.

Camden Collection

To mark the 150th anniversary of the Royal Historical Society, Cambridge University Press are making a selection of ten volumes from the Camden Series freely available to researchers until the end of the year. The Camden Series is the cornerstone of the RHS publications, with two volumes published each year, making over 325 volumes to date. It is a collection of scholarly editions of primary sources and important but previously unpublished texts on British history, each accompanied by an expert commentary. The volumes provide an invaluable resource for historians and other scholars, as well as providing a significant bank of primary material for students, especially for dissertation work.

The series was started in 1838 by the Camden Society, which was founded ‘for the publication of early historical and literary remains’. The Society had published over 160 volumes before it merged with the RHS in the late nineteenth century. The first volumes ‘following the amalgamation’ of the Camden Society with the RHS appeared in 1897. They were the third volume of The Nicholas Papers edited by George F. Warner – the correspondence of Sir Edward Nicholas, secretary of state to Charles I and Charles II – and the second volume of Thomas Graves Law’s The Archpriest Controversy relating to Catholic missionary priests in late Elizabethan England. Ian Archer, a former RHS Literary Director, discusses the history and range of the Camden series in an article on the Society’s publications in the forthcoming issue of Transactions of the Royal Historical Society.

Under the auspices of the RHS, the chronological coverage of the Camden Series expanded beyond the initial focus on the medieval and early modern period to embrace, initially, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The early twentieth century saw the publication of the correspondence of the ambassador to Catherine the Great (1900, 1902); despatches from Paris on the eve of the French Revolution (1909, 1910); Foreign Office records on a coalition against Napoleon (1904). These diplomatic volumes appeared alongside the more traditional Camden fare such as State Trials of the reign of Edward the First, 1289–1293 (1906) and The Diary of the Rev. Ralph Josselin, 1616–1683 (1908). From the 1980s, the series has included volumes on twentieth-century British history, such as diaries and papers relating to the politicians Austen Chamberlain (1995) and Cuthbert Headlam (1999) as well as the journalists Collin Brooks (1998) and A.L. Kennedy (2000).

Although the focus for the Camden Series is ‘British History’, there is some elasticity in how the term is applied, so that the series embraces ‘Britons’ or ‘British’ interests outside the archipelago. Besides volumes on foreign policy, the series has also included topics as diverse as Documents Illustrating the British Conquest of Manilla, 1762–1763 (1971) and a decade later English Suits before the Parlement of Paris, 1420–1436 (1982). More recently British diplomatic interests in Bismarck’s Germany were the focus in British Envoys to the Kaiserreich 1871–1897 published in 2017 and a second volume is scheduled for 2019.

In the Camden’s Fifth Series, published since 1993, the range of primary sources has continued to expand, embracing economic, political, religious and social history from across the chronological spectrum together with more ‘traditional’ areas. The latter includes volumes such as the examination of the late medieval charters of a religious house on the outskirts of modern Sheffield – A Monastic Community in Local Society: The Beauchief Cartulary (2011) – and the reflections of a Puritan London merchant on political affairs at the end of the English Civil War in The Journal of Thomas Juxon, 1644–1647 (1999). A different perspective on late nineteenth-century British politics is provided by a crown official and Irish nationalist in Dublin Castle and the First Home Rule Crisis: The Political Journal of Sir George Fottrell, 1884–1887 (2008). The RHS has published a number of Miscellany volumes that include a range of shorter archival sources. In Travel, Trade and Power in the Atlantic, 1765–1884 (2002), the first part looks at the correspondence regarding the management of the Jamaican estates of a British MP in the late eighteenth century, while the second section covers three voyages made in the early 1880s to West Africa, providing insights on the region’s trade with Bristol. A rather different view of British interests overseas are the confidential reports and correspondence of Bernard Pawley, the archbishop of Canterbury’s observer to the second Vatican Council between 1961–64, published in 2003.

The series has started to become more representative of the discipline and society. Recent volumes on women’s history include The Remembrances of Elizabeth Freke1671–1714 (2001), with its rich insights into her self-fashioning and experiences through three decades of marriage and widowhood. The extensive correspondence in The Letters of Lady Anne Bacon (2014) sheds fresh light on the activities of educated elite women in the late sixteenth century. An Account of an Elizabethan Family: the Willoughbys of Wollaton by Cassandra Willoughby, 1670–1735, which will be published later this year, explores the strained relationships within a prominent gentry family. Compiled by a descendant in the early eighteenth century from now lost family letters and papers, it provides a unique perspective on the attitudes and expectations surrounding marriage and the status of women in Elizabethan England. Also indicative of this more inclusive approach is the publication of The Making of the East London Mosque, 1910–1951 (2011), a century after the call to build a mosque ‘worthy of the capital of the British Empire’. Although it took many years for the project to reach fruition, the volume charts ‘how the newly emerging confident Muslim community of the early twentieth century and major figures of the British establishment reached out to one another, each looking to nurture the development of this new multicultural society’.

The Camden Series has become more accessible than ever before through the digitisation of the volumes by Cambridge University Press. These electronic volumes are available to historians, researchers and students (ideal for those working on dissertations!) through the Cambridge Core platform but they can also be accessed directly through some university library catalogues, particularly useful for institutions without a complete set of Camdens. The electronic database is fully searchable meaning that names and key words can be quickly looked for across more than 325 Camden volumes.

As the History panel report from the 2014 REF indicated, scholarly editions remain an important part of the academic landscape. In this environment, the RHS remains committed to publishing peer reviewed and high quality edited texts of primary sources on all aspects of ‘British’ history.

Professor Andrew Spicer
RHS Literary Director

Global History

As part of our 150th anniversary programme, we recently hosted a symposium on ‘The Future of History: Going Global in the University’ with the Oxford Centre for Global History at the Ashmolean Museum and Bodleian Libraries. Dr Priya Atwal, a Knowledge Exchange Fellow at The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, reflects on the symposium and asks how we can make global history ‘work’.

As an early career academic with an interest in global history, I attended the first day of the symposium with a view to understanding more about how the university space is working to adapt itself in order to ‘embrace the global turn’, and how this may well impact on the practice of historians going forward. The formal discussions (as well as the on-going conversations over tea and lunch) showed just how many challenges and opportunities the practicalities of ‘doing global history’ have thrown up for historians individually and the higher education sector as a whole.

The tightly-packed programme aimed to explore the multi-faceted issues connected with this question by adopting a punchy and lively approach to stimulating discussion: running four panels a day, each with three 10-minute summary papers, followed by plenty of time for debate with the audience. The topics included were wide-ranging and eye-opening: drawing on insights from academic research collaborations across continents, alongside reflecting on the value of museum expertise for interdisciplinary projects, as well as on the importance of working closely with university librarians to shape new kinds of undergraduate curricula.

RHS 2018 190
Prof. Karen O’Brien (Head of Humanities at the University of Oxford) addressing the symposium in the Ashmolean Museum

One critical issue was brought out powerfully from the outset by Prof. Maxine Berg – who warned against slipping into a sense of complacency and simply passing off the history of European imperialism as global history, even though the two may intersect in many ways. This argument was taken further by Prof. Esther da Costa Meyer, who urged historians based in the West to engage more closely with the work of different scholars from around the world, who are themselves pioneering new kinds of regional and global studies within their own university spaces. This opened up a lively discussion about the often challenging practicalities of working in the field of global history: centring most interestingly on the importance of historians learning more languages in order to be able to access source materials and specialist literature that will enrich their research; or alternatively, to find ways to build international research networks that can enable practitioners with a variety of skills (historical research, language knowledge and museum/archive collections management, for example) to advance knowledge together through working relationships that are meaningful and mutually beneficial, both in a professional and intellectual sense.

The comments of Professors da Costa Meyer and Berg certainly highlighted the risk of the new interest in the ‘global turn’ repeating and further entrenching older patterns of inequality in the practice of scholarly research: wherein ‘native’ specialists would only be recruited for their usefulness in rendering their archives accessible to Western scholars (by providing access to source materials and translating their contents), who go on to impose their own understanding and rationales on such raw material, without engaging in any kind of meaningful discussion with their foreign counterparts. What was promising about the programme and the conversations that it sparked, was the variety of solutions that were being proffered to guard against such issues and lay foundations for truly exciting future developments in promoting the study of global history.

The issue of language learning provoked a great deal of debate and is certainly one of the key long-term challenges that university History departments need to actively engage with if they are serious about embracing global approaches in the curriculum and future research projects. It is a well-known fact that language learning takes a considerable amount of time and dedication, and can add months if not years on to the training of a historian, if one wishes to become truly proficient in understanding a different tongue.

A major brewing problem for the future of historical study in the UK is the apparent lack of interest in language learning amongst British school pupils. Since the government removed the compulsory requirement for students to take a GCSE in a modern language, the number of students taking subjects such as French, Spanish and German have dropped considerably. Those taking non-European languages otherwise available in schools (for example Punjabi, Mandarin and Urdu) have never been high and have often been limited to ethnic minority students, whose engagement with Humanities courses at university-level has also been less than that compared to more vocational courses such Law, Engineering or Medicine. Thus it may well fall to History departments to engage more actively in schools outreach work that not only seeks to make the study of History appealing to more diverse groups of students, but also to make the case for why learning a language on a post-16 course would be beneficial for a student’s career development (whether as an historian or beyond academia).

IMG_om7j20The Ashmolean Museum’s ‘West Meets East’ Gallery

What about developing a pipeline of pioneering global historians from the History students and academics already working at universities? Bodleian History Librarian Isabel Holowaty highlighted the steps that are currently being taken by Oxford’s History Faculty Library to respond to the changes being made by the University’s History tutors, to broaden the remit of the curriculum and introduce more diverse, global perspectives into regular reading lists for undergraduates. Tapping into digital content (whether e-books or digital journals) seem to be the quickest way to enable more historians of different ages, stages and backgrounds to easily learn from and engage with ideas about global history – something that Dr Rowena Olegario backed up with her argument about the importance of connecting researchers around the globe through open access e-journals, to further debates in this field.

Again however, the debate came into difficulties when the language question reared its head, as all of these ideas were predicated on the assumption that all scholarly literature about global history would be produced in English. Should our university courses (both at undergraduate and postgraduate level) therefore include more formal, even compulsory, language learning elements to better support budding researchers with an interest in global history? (Certainly, if this was implemented at the doctoral level at British universities, greater funding support would be needed to lengthen PhD programmes and afford graduate students more time to study languages in addition to completing their research and theses – much more like the American model.)

Going further still, why not also introduce built-in time and support for mid-career or even senior academics to acquire training in language or digital communication skills, to allow them to embrace the global turn at a later stage in their careers? Surely a greater emphasis on life-long skills development would be beneficial for boosting not only the field of global history, but also the professional quality of historians working globally.

Lastly, the other aspect of the day’s discussion that most excited me was the possibility that global history contains for the building of networks that can span the boundaries of nations, disciplines and institutions. Prof Paul Betts’ collaborative research project – exploring the relationship between Eastern Europe and Africa, and the shifting dialogue around socialism within this – was an interesting case in point, demonstrating how new partnerships spanning across and including researchers from previously marginalized/less well-studied parts of the world can inject fresh insights into seemingly old debates.

Alternatively, the work of Dr Laura Van Broekhoven on the colonial legacy of the Pitt Rivers Museum provided brilliant examples of how using material culture more creatively – alongside collaborating with a mix of scholars, heritage specialists and community groups – can transform and enrich our historical understanding considerably. These issues were also discussed in a fascinating presentation by Prof. Wayne Modest of Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum. Perhaps most movingly of all, Dr Steffen Burkhardt’s account of his experiences of running a ‘digital memories’ project (to record and preserve the stories of Holocaust survivors with a diverse team of German undergraduate historians) highlighted how useful technology can be for taking innovative findings from such inclusive research teams out to a broader audience, stimulating positive social dialogue in the process.

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Dr Sujit Sivasundaram (Co-Chair of our Race, Ethnicity & Equality Working Group) addressing the symposium in the Bodleian Libraries.

It seemed to me from all of this that the world of the global historian may become quite different to that of an older, stereotypical type of History scholar. Global historians may well need to increasingly work in teams; collaborating with researchers with different regional specialisms, as well as perhaps linguists and curators. They may also likely need to access sources, conferences, literature and audiences through various different digital media platforms, if they are not always going to have sufficient time or funding support to physically travel to locations to be present for such activities. We will equally need to invest time and energy in growing the number of students who are interested in global history and also equipping them with a range of skills in languages, digital communication and even public history, if this shift is going to be a sustainable, long-term change and not just an academic fad. Universities will therefore have to think quickly and creatively about how to build a supportive infrastructure around this evolving culture and practice. It will be interesting to see how, going forward, our History departments will prioritise the kinds of changes that they are willing and able to make, in order to the ensure that the study of global history can really work.

Dr Priya Atwal is a TORCH Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the University of Oxford, and is taking up a new post as a Teaching Fellow in Modern South Asian History at King’s College London from September 2018. You can follow her on Twitter @priyaatwal.


Featured image (top): Standing figure of Buddha, from northern Pakistan c.200AD; Ashmolean Museum. This image was used for the programme of the symposium and was discussed in a presentation by Prof Peter Stewart, Director of Oxford’s Classical Art Research Centre.