The IHR Blog |

Is Britain a part of Europe? An Anglo-French Historical Perspective


Anglo-French Image

Is Britain part of Europe?
An Anglo-French Historical Perspective

17-18 March 2016

IHR | Wolfson Conference Suite | Senate House | Malet Street | WC1E 7HU

Is British History to be understood in isolation from the history of Europe more generally? Is Britain, as some historical schools have argued ‘exceptional’ in the pattern of its historical development? Or can we see similar characteristics, social formations, ideologies and political institutions on both sides of the Channel? 

This conference, bringing together British and French historians at the Institute of Historical Research in London, will examine the so-called ‘peculiarities of British History’.

More than 20 historians from Britain and France will deliver papers over two days at the IHR, examining the course of British history in comparative perspective from the early medieval period to the 1960s. The primary focus will be on the comparative history of Britain and France, but there will be scope for wider discussion of other national histories and of developments on a pan-European scale.

Panels will look at the material culture of Anglo-Saxon England and Northern Gaul; London and Paris in the late-medieval period; the history of British and French families in the 18th century; the British context of the French Revolution; the development of socialism in Britain and France; the effects of the First World War in both nations; and at the history of the French and British counter-cultures in the 1960s and 1970s.

Speakers includeElisabeth Lorans (University of Tours), Helena Hamerow (University of Oxford), Gabor Thomas (University of Reading), Matthew Davies (Institute of Historical Research), Hannah Skoda (University of Oxford), Pierre-Henri Guittonneau (Université Paris Sorbonne), François-Joseph Ruggiu (Paris IV), Naomi Tadmor (Lancaster University), Henry French (University of Exeter), Charles Walton (Warwick University), Elodie Duché (Warwick University), Michael Broers (University of Oxford), Stéphane Guy (Université de Cergy-Pontoise), James Thompson (Bristol University), Ben Jackson (University College Oxford), Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite (University College London), Pierre Purseigle (Warwick University), William Philpott (King’s College London), Franziska Heimburger (Université Paris Sorbonne), Tess Little (University of Oxford) & John Davies (University of Oxford)

For a provisional programme please visit the online events listing

The conference is a collaboration between Lawrence Goldman (Institute of Historical Research), Stéphane Jettot (Université Paris-Sorbonne-Maison française d’Oxford), Emmanuelle de Champs (Université de Cergy-Pontoise) & Frédérique Lachaud(Université de Lorraine).

Registration: £50-2 days / £30 1-day

Registrations can be made online via the University of London Online Store

If you would like your institution to pay for your place at the conference, please contact the IHR Events Office who can send you an institutional booking form.

For more information about this conference please contact the IHR Events Office (

A Tour of the IHR Library’s North American Collections


Last week the IHR Library welcomed a group of final year undergraduate students from Kings College London for a tour of the Library and an introduction to the collections. The students were all researching North American history, with most currently undertaking dissertation projects surrounding the American Revolution. Therefore, the North American Collections Library was booked for the group in order to allow for an extensive tour of the North American collections and a subsequent discussion of the remit and scope of the collections.

Collection Librarian Michael Townsend providing an introduction to the classmark arrangement of the North American collections


Following this introductory overview, each student discussed their personal research topic with relevant source materials in the IHR Library’s collections suggested by both our Collection Librarian, Michael Townsend and KCL Teaching Fellow in North American History, Dr Angel-Luke O’Donnell.

Items of interest and significance were also brought down from the IHR’s onsite store ahead of the visit in order for the students to engage fully with the collection and to allow them access to a selection of the Library’s rarer holdings.

Examples included The George Washington Atlas: a collection of eighty-five maps including twenty-eight made by George Washington, seven used and annotated by him and eight made at his direction and Exploring with Lewis and Clark: the 1804 journal of Charles Floyd. William Wirt Henry’s, Patrick Henry: life, correspondence and speeches was also made available from the Library’s Special Collections.

Tower Rock, by Karl Bodmer in Lewis and Clark’s Expedition Journal

George Washington’s sketch map of the country he traversed in 1753-4

Dr Angel-Luke O’Donnell suggesting sources in the IHR collections for students to use during their dissertation research

To round off the visit, the group were afforded the opportunity to browse the shelves and ask library staff any remaining queries. We wish all the students well with their respective research projects and hope to see them all back using the Library’s extensive North American holdings in the near future!

For more information on the Library’s North American collections please consult the collections guide for United States History in the Institute of Historical Research Library.

In addition, information on locating and researching North American resources across London is available on the dedicated North American section of the History Collections Blog.

Tours of the Library are available for groups of any size and can encompass a general introduction to the Library or focus upon a specific area of the collections to suit research interests and needs. Please contact the library with any queries or to arrange a tour:

Tel: +44 (0)20 7862 8760         Email:

New reviews: Civil War, Ottoman Empire, Early Modern Catholics and C20 Archbishop


May 1862:  Confederate and Union forces clashing during the battle of Williamsburg, Virginia.  (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

May 1862: Confederate and Union forces clashing during the battle of Williamsburg, Virginia. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

We start this week with The War That Forged A Nation: Why The Civil War Still Matters by James M. McPherson, and Susan-Mary Grant and the author discuss the latest work by the Civil War’s most preeminent historian (no. 1887, with response here).

Next up Kate Fleet tackles a curate’s egg of a book, as she reviews Sean McMeekin’s The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908-1923 (no. 1886).

Then we turn to The Gages of Hengrave and Suffolk Catholicism, 1640-1767 by Francis Young, as Eilish Gregory recommends a well-researched and detailed book on an early modern English Catholic family (no. 1885).

Finally we have Peter Webster’s Archbishop Ramsey: The Shape of the Church, which Sam Brewitt-Taylor praises as a fine addition to the literature on this key Archbishop (no. 1884).

Interview with Professor Lawrence Goldman


LG-cropped-resizedThis post was originally published on the School of Advanced Study Talking Humanities Blog.

We talk to the director of the Institute of Historical Research about the history of history and the rise of statistical thinking in the Victorian period.

Professor Goldman has nearly three decades of experience teaching modern British and American history. From 2004 to 2014, he was editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the record, in more than 65 million words, of the most notable figures in British history, and took up the directorship of the IHR in 2014. He is currently at work on a study of the development of social statistics and their impact on culture, politics and social thought in Britain under the title ‘Victorians and Numbers’.

What does a typical day involve as director of the Institute of Historical Research?
No day is the same, which is the joy of the job. The day might start in a meeting with key staff to review our academic programme, budget, staffing or fundraising. Coffee is often taken with one of my students, or a visiting fellow at the institute. Lunch often involves business: meeting one of the members of the ‘Friends of the IHR’, or a potential donor, or an academic colleague with whom we’re planning an event. Afternoons are for committees – departmental, publications, examinations and so forth. At 5pm, if I’m lucky, I may be able to attend one of our research seminars and hear a paper from a leading historian: the IHR hosts more than 60 different seminars throughout the academic year. There are also evening events – a major lecture, a reception, an IHR film-evening which we do three to four times a year – which usually end in dinner in a nearby restaurant.

You joined SAS from the University of Oxford; how does the life of an academic there compare to SAS?
In Oxford, you teach. The life of a college tutor is focused on undergraduate teaching, mainly by means of one-to-one tutorials and small-group teaching. Often I would spend 6–7 hours a day in formal teaching sessions, with postgraduate supervision on top. It is a much harder job than people think: the depiction of dons swanning around (and murdering each other) in Morse or Lewis is entirely false. But the close communication with students is intensely interesting and rewarding, and the breadth of the curriculum that has to be delivered makes one a better historian. At SAS I do less teaching and my role is more entrepreneurial: an institute director is an initiator, organiser, fundraiser, administrator, ambassador. There is still teaching to be done, but less of it, and it is more specialised. I was ready for the change and to make the swap.

Are there any particular initiatives or projects you are keen to push forward?
The IHR has an enviable reputation as a centre for academic historical studies of all types, covering all regions. I want it to maintain this same breadth but face outwards, drawing more of the general public into our work. Our commitment to serve the historical profession is undiminished, but that profession is now broader than it was, including archivists, librarians, heritage professionals and so forth. Meanwhile popular interest in history, whether on television, radio or in the media in general, is one of the most heartening developments in recent years and I want that interest to be focused on the IHR. Our centenary will be celebrated in 2021 and we will start building towards this in the coming period: I want it to be an opportunity for historians to reflect on the development of our subject, and for the IHR to reach new audiences.

What was your own experience of being a student like?
Academically wonderful; socially dismal! I was an undergraduate in Cambridge in the 1970s. My supervisors were among the leading historians of that generation and merely to recite the list of my teachers encourages sighs of wonder and envy. But life in an all-male college in the days of Brown Windsor Soup and roast mutton was not to my liking. I moved out after one year and never went back. Two things have improved student life beyond recognition in the past generation: the mobile phone, which has allowed students to plan a social life, and the better balance between male and female students which has civilized many institutions. To my chagrin my Cambridge college went mixed the year I left. On graduation I had a scholarship to Yale for a year, where I studied American history in the graduate school, and made some lifelong friends. I then returned to Cambridge for my doctoral work. I can still recall the isolation and loneliness of the first few months of that: universities have worked hard to improve the experience of postgraduates since then.

What’s the focus of your current research?
I work in the 19th century and I am currently editing a book of essays on social policy in that period. I’m also thinking through a difficult argument about the origins of anti-slavery in the Atlantic world after 1780; if I can get it straight I hope to work it into a major article in the coming year. I’m also focused on historiography – the history of history. I want to write something on the intellectual history of the IHR for our centenary; I’ve also been asked to write a section on the ‘historians of Trinity College, Cambridge’ (which is where I was a Junior Research Fellow) for the official history of the college. When all that is finally out of the way, my real ambition is to return to some work on the rise of statistical thinking in the Victorian period in a book to be entitled ‘Victorians and Numbers’. The development of a numerical approach to social life in the 19th century was, I shall argue, one of the great intellectual transformations of the modern era.

Why do you think historical studies remain relevant today?
I don’t think there’s been a better time to be a historian in Britain. We might like more money for our subject, but we bathe in media interest and public regard. Historians are everywhere – from the Prince of Wales and the Chancellor of the Exchequer down – and history is still valued as a degree subject at university. At one level this is because history is recognised as a genuine intellectual challenge: to do it well requires ability, application, fluency and skill. At another level, it is the result of a broad popular fascination with the past, be it via military history, genealogy, metal detecting, going on an archaeological dig, or visiting a National Trust house. One very notable historian, A. J. P. Taylor, who gave seminars at the IHR, once said that ‘the only lesson of history is that there are no lessons’. But most people evidently disagree and they consider the past a highly relevant guide to the present and future. Almost all the great questions of the moment in Britain – our membership of the EU, Scottish nationalism, immigration, Northern Ireland, the reform of parliament – depend on historical understanding. People recognise this and they are interested in learning more. It is very heartening and positive.

Feast of St Brigid – 1st February


The feast day of St Brigid is celebrated on the 1st February, and in honour of this, we have delved into our resources to give a taste of the material available on the Bibliography of British and Irish History. 

St Brigid of Kildare is one of the main patron saints of Ireland, along with St Patrick and St Columbus. Brigid was born into slavery in the mid-5th century but became a nun and abbess, founding several monasteries. Her vitae was written by Cogitosus in the 7th century, and is translated in Cogitosus’s Life of St Brigid : content and value. As our range of resources show, the myth of Brigid has associations with an earlier pagan deity of the same name, explored in Brigid : goddess, druidess and saint and Brigit : from goddess to saint. Brigid was also strongly connected with the symbol of fire, as Gerald of Wales recounts in his Topographia Hibernica how the sacred fire of St Brigid burned continually around the monastery at Kildare even after her death, yet never accumulated any ashes. It was tended by the nuns of Kildare for nineteen nights in turn, and on the twentieth night left for Brigid to tend herself. According to Gerald, the scriptorium at Kildare produced an illuminated manuscript so sumptuous it was thought to be the work of angels. Unfortunately this manuscript is now lost, but it would probably have been of a similar quality to the Book of Kells.

Fol. 22v

Detail from fol. 22r

The image on the right is from London, British Library, Royal MS 13 B VIII, and shows the scribe creating the heavenly manuscript. This copy of the Topographia Hibernica was produced in Lincoln in c. 1196-1208, and most probably was overseen by Gerald himself. The image shows the tools of a scribe, a feather quill (probably goose), and a knife. The knife was used to sharpen the quill and also to correct mistakes, by scraping the ink off the parchment. In this image, it also seems to be used to hold the quill-hand steady and secure the parchment. According to Gerald, the book was composed with the angel presenting the designs, while Brigid prayed, and the scribe copied – ‘sic igitur angelo praesentante, brigida orante, scriptore imitante.’ (fol. 22v).

Like Gerald, Brigid herself was a great traveller, and was the patron saint of travellers and sailors. The network of religious connections she belonged to is further documented in Gender and Connectivity: Facilitating Religious Travel in the Sixth and Seventh Centuries.  Miracles associated with Brigid include the themes of farming and generosity, such as when she gave away her freshly churned butter to the needy, only to have it replenished through divine intervention, and the time she milked a cow three times in one day. Dairy themes are expanded further in Milk Symbolism in the Bethu Brigte. More controversially, she is linked with ‘abortion miracles’, explored in The Sexual Shame of the Chaste : ‘Abortion Miracles’ in Early Medieval Saints’ Lives. Iconography associated with Brigid include the reed cross (pictured below), crozier and lamp. She died on 1st February of natural causes, and in the 9th century her relics were interred with the tomb of Patrick and Columba.


To research more about the legend of St Brigid, visit the Bibliography of British and Irish History and use the advanced search feature to explore the many resources:


Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 16.37.02

Screenshot of subject search for ‘Brigid’


Screenshot of resources available for 'Brigid'

Screenshot of resources available for ‘Brigid’

Back to top

History of Colonial Africa in the IHR Library


Following on from the work of the Library’s previous Graduate Trainee David Phillips, we have recently been able to complete a guide to the Library’s collections on the history of colonial Africa.

Nova Africa Descriptio, 1660

The guide provides an overview of holdings, details the locations of relevant materials and identifies selected themes and strengths within the collection. The IHR holds significant materials on the early European exploration of the continent, with journals and correspondence from explorers and missionaries as well as reports from expeditions. In addition, governmental reports and colony yearbooks also form a significant strand of the Library’s holdings. The collections also include a number of maps documenting the continent and its changing territorial boundaries.

The guide is designed to help researchers new to the IHR’s collections but those already familiar with the collections may also discover something new. The guide complements and refers to other related collections within the Library, most notably the Military and International Relations collections, as well as other organisations around London with significant holdings on the history of colonial Africa.

New Historical Research article




National Service: the University of London Library during the Second World War by Karen Attar

During the Second World War, the Ministry of Information occupied London’s Senate House. The University of London Library continued to function in the building, primarily to serve the Ministry. A wartime diary, memoirs and general correspondence supplement library committee reports and minutes to record this period of the library’s history unusually richly, and this article uses archival sources to describe the library’s operations during the war. It thereby not only opens up a hitherto unexplored area of the library’s history, but sheds light on daily institutional life in central London, and on the human side of the Ministry of Information.

New Historical Research articles


Recent literature has explored the substantial autonomy Hong Kong enjoyed under British imperial rule in the post-war period. We are, however, left without an understanding of the precise parameters in which colonial authority could be exercised autonomously, and how and why it could be compromised. An investigation of the imprisonment in Beijing of British Reuters journalist Anthony Grey from 1967 to 1969, in retaliation for the arrest in Hong Kong of journalists for their part in the 1967 disturbances, demonstrates that the extensive autonomy of the Hong Kong authorities could be compromised if colonial policy contravened British foreign policy objectives towards China.

This article examines how political, theological and cultural factors formed confessional identity in Elizabethan England. It explores the rite of ‘reconciliation’ – usually the means by which Protestants converted to Catholicism – and its peculiar significance to English Catholics. The author argues that due to its illegal status in England, as well as the wider context of post-Reformation Catholicism, reconciliation became blurred with auricular confession and was adapted into a rite of passage for lifelong Catholics as well as converts. Reconciliation illustrates how political conflicts shaped the religious culture of English Catholics; it is also a striking example of how religious groups respond to minority status, modifying their traditions in order to create and preserve collective identity.

New Exhibition in the IHR Library


A new exhibition of the Institute of Historical Research Library’s collection of poll books has gone on display in the IHR Library. This small exhibition highlights the diverse nature of the collection with items documenting electoral registers and rolls, how constituencies polled and an example demonstrating the way in which popular songs and speeches were appropriated during election campaigns.main

The exhibition also features an exceptionally rare example of an electoral register from the county of Somerset which contains extensive marginalia, hand-written letters and notes throughout. Each voter has their place of abode, nature of their qualification to vote and their parish carefully recorded and marked by hand.

In addition, the last known poll book to be published is also displayed. Despite the introduction of the secret ballot in 1872, poll books continued to be published for the three university constituencies of London, Cambridge and Oxford. The last known published poll book, for the election held in Cambridge for the constituency of the University of Cambridge in 1882 is featured within the exhibition.



The exhibition can be found on the first floor of the Institute of Historical Research Library, located within the Foyle Library. We hope that you enjoy the display and learn a little more about the wealth of resources that poll books have to offer historical researchers.

For more information on the Library’s collection of printed poll books please consult the blog post on the IHR’s British Poll Book Collection. The IHR Library’s website also features an exceptionally useful guide to both locating and using British Parliamentary historical sources, as well as an introductory guide to using the poll book collections.

New reviews: asylums, British soldiers, Puritans and nuns



Franco Basaglia

We start this week with John Foot’s The Man Who Closed the Asylums: Franco Basaglia and the Revolution in Mental Health Care. Peter Barham and the author discuss a hugely ambitious book about the movement in Italy to transform the institutional landscape of Italian mental health care (no. 1883, with response here).

Next up is Browned Off and Bloody-Minded: The British Soldier Goes to War 1939-1945 by Alan Allport, as Andrew Muldoon praises a book which should attract, and deserves to gain, both a specialist and a general readership (no. 1882).

Then Thomas Hamm covers two contributions from the early American history ‘Atlantic turn’ generation, as he reviews Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England by Abram Van Engen and London Quakers in the Trans-Atlantic World: The Creation of an Early Modern Community by Jordan Landes (no. 1881).

Finally we turn to Hubert Wolf’s The Nuns of Sant’ Ambrolio: the True Story of a Convent in Scandal, which Sara Charles recommends as an intriguing retelling that avoids sensationalist tabloid clichés (no. 1880).

< Older Posts