This year, the British-Chinese History Conference travels to Beijing to understand the foundational and international importance of Magna Carta. From 9 to 13 September, eight leading figures of early modern and modern British history will present papers at Beijing University and engage in an educational exchange with their Chinese counterparts.
In the 1980s, the rapid economic and social change sweeping through China threw up a host of problems not unlike those faced by Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, during its own period of transformation. Since 1985, the British-Chinese History Conferences have promoted a productive dialogue between academics from both countries to address and examine these common issues. Chinese scholars, in conversation with the British, were able to better understand and appreciate the changes happening around them, and British historians were afforded an unparalleled opportunity to compare their theories to an actual ‘industrial revolution.’ Held periodically since their inception, the theme of these gatherings has slowly evolved. What began as a study of economic and social history has naturally transformed into a curiosity about political and legal history. It is no surprise, then, that when asked what should be the topic for the 2015 Conference, Professor Chengdan Qian, of Beijing University, replied without hesitation: “The history and influence of Magna Carta.”
To discuss Magna Carta is to discuss the concept of rule of law and how it transcends the arbitrary and authoritarian exercise of power by a monarchy or government. The rule of law is a necessary building block in the construction of liberal, plural, and democratic societies and Magna Carta, as the foundation of English liberty, has provided this for Britain. It is of considerable intrigue, then, that in China – a country that has developed a type of open market and is perhaps on the path to a much more open society – there is such strong interest in Magna Carta.
Professor Lawrence Goldman (IHR)
This year’s delegation consists of Sophie Ambler (UEA), David Carpenter (KCL), Harry Dickinson (University of Edinburgh), Rachel Foxley (University of Reading), George Garnett (St Hugh’s College, Oxford), Alex Lock (British Library), and Nicholas Vincent (UEA). Also joining the British delegation is Professor Lawrence Goldman, Director of the Institute of Historical Research, one of the research institutes of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. Professor Goldman will speak at Beijing University on the British memory of Magna Carta and commemorations of the 800th anniversary. He will then stay in China for several more days to give two lectures on the history of the British labour movement, furthering the international exchange of ideas. Sir Robert Worcester, as Chairman of the 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, will also attend the conference to deliver a paper. The historians from the UK will learn first-hand from their Chinese counterparts about the immediate influence of the rule of law whilst furthering the international legacy of Magna Carta.
Support for this conference has generously been provided by the Magna Carta Trust. The Magna Carta Trust’s 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee is charged by the Magna Carta Trust to co-ordinate activities, raise the profile of the anniversary and deliver a number of key national and international aspirations. For more information, visit www.magnacarta800th.com
This post was written for us by Kelly Spring, one of our Friends committee members
This year’s annual IHR Friends summer outing took us to Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath on 8 July. Closed in 2012 for renovation and conservation of its interior and exterior, the house was reopened to the public in late 2013. Many of the Friends at the outing had previously visited the house, but were eager to see the refurbishments. Others, who had not been there before, took the outing as their opportunity to visit the house.
Prior to the tour, Friends met for tea on the terrace adjoining Kenwood House. We then convened in the entrance hall of the house to meet our tour leader. Our guide provided a wide range of information, covering the history of the house, giving details of its furnishings, and discussing the paintings in the rooms.
Dido Elizabeth Belle
Among the owners was William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, who bought the house in 1754. As Lord Chief Justice, Murray is noted for ruling that slavery was illegal in Britain. His half African great-niece, Dido Elizabeth Belle, was recently made cinematically famous with the 2014 release of the film ‘Belle’ which details her life at Kenwood.
Painting by William Larkin (1613), Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset
Another important resident was Edward Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, whose collection of paintings adorns the walls of Kenwood House.
Paintings that are of particular note include: a self-portrait of Rembrandt (c. 1665), ‘The Guitar Player’ by Vermeer (c. 1672), and ‘Old London Bridge’ by de Jough (c. 1630). Our guide also highlighted the newly installed portraits on the 1st floor of the house by William Larkin which depict members of the court of James I. Although the tour was to last for one hour, it stretched to an hour and a half so that we could take in this special collection of portraits.
Following the extended tour of the house, many of the Friends stayed on to have lunch and discuss the restorations to Kenwood.
Professor Sir David Cannadine
More exciting Friends events are planned in the autumn as the Institute returns to its home in the North Block of Senate House. The Annual General Meeting of the Friends will take place on 27 October and will be followed by the Annual Friends Lecture delivered by Professor Sir David Cannadine, former Director of the Institute of Historical Research.
A less well-known, but integral part of the Institute of Historical Research is its Friends programme. Founded to support the aims of the Institute, the Friends bring together individuals from the academic community and beyond to foster the growth and development of the study of history in Britain.
As a Friends Bursary holder in 2012-2013, the award proved invaluable to my studies. It allowed me to access the resources at the IHR and the National Archives which resulted in the production of a chapter in my thesis. I was also able to take part in many seminars conducted at the IHR while undertaking research in London. Attendance at the seminars allowed me to learn about and engage with historians carrying out research
In learning about the Friends organisation and coming to understand the important role it plays in supporting the activities of the IHR, I became a member of the group in the summer of 2013, and was asked to join its committee in the Autumn of that year. As the newest member on the IHR Friends Committee, I am continually learning about the valuable work the group undertakes to assist with activities at the institute. Through annual membership fees and fund raising, the Friends group supports the IHR in a number of ways, including funding seminars, giving money to purchase books for the library, and underwriting conferences and workshops. Among this year’s contributions, the Friends organisation donated money to help with the refurbishment of the institute, and offered financial assistance to the Women’s History seminar to help defray the costs of running the meetings.
Members of the organisation engage in a number of exciting activities throughout the year, participating in special events such as the annual summer outing to a place of historical note. Last summer’s excursion took Friends to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, where we were treated to a guided tour of the newly renovated gallery, and had refreshments in the tea room. The Friends also host film evenings at which historians present and discuss cinematic portrayals of historic events. Most recently, Professor Penelope Corfield hosted a screening of The Dutchess for the Friends group at which the audience busily searched for anachronisms in the film. Lively debates about the social, cultural and political representations of Georgian England followed.
William Morris Gallery
This summer’s reopening of the IHR in the North Block of Senate House promises to offer the Friends group new opportunities to contribute to the Institute and the historical community. Plans are underway to expand the Friends’ calendar to include more film evenings and other stimulating events throughout the year.
The Friends of the IHR will be hosting another of its popular film evenings on 17 February at 5:30. Professor Penelope Corfield, Professor Emeritus, Royal Holloway, University of London will be presenting the film.
Georgina Cavendish, The Duchess of Devonshire, was an an extremely colourful 18th century British aristocrat. She was not only a socialite, a fashion icon and a political activist, but was also a fervent gambler with unconventional marital arrangements.
The Duchess (2008) is based on the biography, Georgina Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, by Amanda Foreman. The film featured Keira Knightley as the Duchess and Ralph Fiennes, as her husband, William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire. The film won several well deserved awards for Best Costume Design, including an Academy Award and a BAFTA.
Professor Corfield, who is an expert on economic, social, cultural, and urban history from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries will put the film into historical context. She will also speak about the film’s costumes and the fashion of the day.
The event is open to the public and tickets are £15/£10 (students). The talk will start at 5:30, with the screening at 6:00 the film will be followed by a reception at 7:30. If you are interested in joining, please contact IHR Development (IHR.Development@sas.ac.uk or on 0207 862 8764/91).