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British historians discuss the legacy of Magna Carta at conference in China


pr1This 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)

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

Digital development: a commitment to OA


When I joined the IHR in early August, I did so with the challenging assignment of helping to further the Institute’s mission to embrace the opportunities of digital content delivery and enable greater access to knowledge, in line with the School’s Statement on Open Access. As a graduate of the humanities and a professional academic publisher with experience in delivering online products and a preoccupation with open access, it is a task that I am really keen to get my teeth into.

Mandated deposit into institutional repositories, developments in publishing strategies and technology, and the growth of freely accessible content across many disciplines, have been credited as heralding the return of the institutional press. Yet from the perspective of the IHR, when you look at the continued output of this Institute and of SAS, we were certainly never dormant!

IHR books and digital publicationsThe key focus for us as an institutional publisher, but also as champions for the humanities and social sciences, is how we embrace and develop a modern and sustainable approach to digital publication. The humanities retains a strong interest in the long form monograph as a scholarly necessity – but this is somewhat at odds with a growing demand for the rapidly produced, short form, and increasingly ‘born-digital’ research outputs which already hold significant sway across science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In a climate where the monograph is valued, yet the demand upon researchers is tightening, reader habits are shifting and budgets remain acutely stretched, how can publication in this format be encouraged, cost effective and remain impactful?

Led by investigators based in the Department of Information Studies at UCL with funding from the AHRC, the Academic Book of the Future project seeks to explore opinion and provide insights and possible recommendations which could help to answer this question by engaging with a broad range of stakeholders. Indeed, it is a challenge for which researchers, communities, organisations and institutions as the originators of content and curators of humanities resources are keenly placed to take the lead.

Our ambition is to continue to build upon the fantastic academic and educational resources of the IHR, Senate House and the School, to ensure the continued growth in academic research output, digital archiving, preservation, accessibility and the wider dissemination of text, literature, imagery, public and private records, special collections and even datasets. We are firmly committed to enabling the Green route to open access for all authors and originators of research material associated with the School (through SAS-Space) and exploring ethically sound, sustainable methods for delivering valuable content, publications and online platforms (such as British History Online and our other digital resources) which can operate without reliance upon the significant article processing charges which drive the Gold route.

This can only be achieved by our ongoing investment in digital infrastructure, the development of agile processes and publication strategies, and by seeking greater collaborative partnerships with the communities we are comprised of, serve and represent and who share our ideals for open and sustainable access for students, scholars, libraries, societies, institutions and the general public.

I am thrilled to be a part of the IHR and wider School in working towards this continued goal of digital development. I look forward to sharing the occasional slice of information, opinion piece, and updating you on our work towards further engagement with open access and the future of our humanities publications.

Friends of the IHR Summer Outing: Sutton House and St Augustine’s Tower


This post was kindly written by Kelly Spring, a Committee Member of the Friends of the IHR and a PhD Candidate at the University of Manchester.


Sutton House

Sutton House © House_1.jpg?uselang=en-gb

During the long, warm days of July, our thoughts at the IHR turn to the annual Friends’ outing.  In years past, the Friends of the Institute have ventured to William Morris’s house in Walthamstow and Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath.  This year, on Monday, 6 July, we travelled to Hackney to explore Sutton House and St Augustine’s Tower.

Sir Ralph Sadleir, a courtier to Henry VIII and man whom our guide described as “the servant of the servant of the King,” built the house in 1535, and it stands as a visible reminder of Tudor architecture, albeit with some modifications and additions from later owners.  Occupants of the house have ranged from merchants to, in the 1980s, squatters, all of whom have left an indelible mark on the house, inside and out.

Great Hall

Great Hall

Outing participants were treated to a tour of the house by medieval historian and archaeologist Dr Nick Holder, of Regent’s University of London.  Nick began the tour outside the house to give everyone an overview of the history and architecture of the building.  He then led us through the four floors, including the basement.  The house boasts an impressive array of rooms, including the oak-panelled parlour and great hall.  Throughout the tour of the house, Nick provided Friends with in-depth information about each room’s original use and its architectural attributes.  He even pulled up floorboards and allowed us to peak behind panels to see sixteenth century building materials and design.

After viewing the house, Friends were invited to take lunch at Sutton House’s garden café, where we ate some excellent homemade soup followed by tea and Victoria sponge.  While the first tour group had their meal, Nick took a second group of Friends around the house, and repeated his extensive tour of the premises.  Following a quick cup of tea and slice of cake, Nick took the groups for an inside view of St Augustine’s Tower in the St John’s Church Gardens, just a short stroll from Sutton House.

St Augustine’s Tower

St Augustine’s Tower

St Augustine’s Tower was erected in the early sixteenth century as part of the building of the Hackney parish church, St Augustine’s, which replaced an earlier thirteenth century church on the same spot.  Today, the tower is all that remains of the church.  Boasting a Grade I listing, it is the oldest building in Hackney.  The clock in the tower was installed around the early 1600s and remains in working order to this day.  Normally closed, except on the last Sunday of each month, Friends were treated to a private tour of the tower’s floors, allowing visitors to view the clock works, ring the bell, and get a bird’s-eye view of London from atop the building.

Turkish café

Turkish café

While many returned home after the tour of the tower, others continued socialising over coffee and pastries at the Turkish café in the gardens adjacent to the tower.  Everyone agreed that it was a fantastic day out.

Professor Nigel Saul

Professor Nigel Saul ©

Other excellent Friend’s events are planned for this autumn, including the Annual General Meeting which will be held on Monday, 19 October.  This year, we are fortunate to have Professor Nigel Saul of Royal Holloway University of London, who will deliver the Annual Friends’ Lecture following the AGM.  He will be speaking on Magna Carta.  For further details about upcoming Friends’ events, or on how to become a Friend of the IHR, please visit the Institute’s website ( or speak to Mark Lawmon in the Development Office by phone (020 7862 8791) or by email (


All photos © James Dixon, unless otherwise noted.

IHR Friends Film Evening – Henry V (1944)


Professor Anne Curry_V1

Professor Anne Curry

2015 seems to be a year marking many notable anniversaries: 800 years since Magna Carta; 750 years since the first elected Parliament representing all of England; 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo; 50 years since the death of Sir Winston Churchill; and the First World War centenary remembrances continue.  This year also represents another momentous anniversary—600 years since the Battle of Agincourt.  To commemorate this milestone of the Hundred Years’ War, the Friends of the IHR are hosting a film evening on 16 March, showing Laurence Olivier’s acclaimed film, Henry V.  The evening will feature a guest lecture from Professor Anne Curry, an expert on medieval history and a prolific author on the Hundred Years’ War.

Agincourt-Henry V publicity poster_WikiCommons

Henry V Film Poster ( 93_1944_UK_film_poster.jpg)

Crafted in 1944, The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France, directed by and starring Olivier, is widely regarded as the first motion picture to successfully adapt Shakespeare from the stage to the screen.  In homage to the Bard, the movie opens with a production of Henry V at the Globe Theatre, and slowly transforms into a cinematic spectacle.  The viewer is then treated to a masterful mix of action—following the King’s campaign to Agincourt—and romance—as Henry attempts to court the French princess.  The action returns to the Globe as this Academy Award-winning film draws to a close.

The Friends of the IHR have been very loyal supporters of the Institute.  The funding they provide is integral to increasing the capacity of the IHR to promote and enhance the study of history in Britain.  As part of the mission to extend the reach of the IHR’s resources, charitable donations from the Friends have funded bursaries for many PhD students who are based outside London to access the Institute and undertake excellent research.  In addition, the Friends have subsidised numerous outstanding speakers to present insightful seminars, provided vital capital for the recently completed redevelopment, and delivered cornerstone funding for the IHR Library’s new Conservation Fund.  All of these help ensure that the IHR is able to offer the highest quality scholarship and resources.

Agincourt-Battle archers_WikkiCommons_small

Battle of Agincourt ( _Azincourt.jpg)

Much more than just financial supporters, however, the Friends form a social community of academics and all with a shared interest in history.  As such, the film evenings are a highlight of the Friends’ calendar.  These events offer a chance to engage with history through a medium other than books, to hear from experts in the field, and to partake in a critical discussion of the subject and an exchange of ideas.  Perhaps just as importantly, these events provide an opportunity to have a good time with like-minded people, enjoy some food and drink, and perhaps make some friends among the Friends. For information on how to join the Friends, please follow this link.

The event is open to all, but you are encouraged to book soon, as spaces are limited and going fast.  In addition to the film and lecture, there will be wine throughout and light supper to follow.

Venue: Wolfson Conference Suite, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU

Talk/Screening: 5:30 pm

Light supper from: 8:00 pm

Tickets: £20 / £10 (students)

For information on how to register and to see the event poster, please click here.

Discounted subscriptions to the Bibliography of British and Irish History for IHR Friends


Looking down from the top of the IHR stairs.

Looking down from the top of the IHR stairs.

Discounted subscriptions to the online Bibliography of British and Irish History are available to Friends of the IHR who may not have access to the Bibliography through a university or other institution. The Bibliography is a joint project of the IHR, the Royal Historical Society and Brepols Publishers, and is the most extensive guide available to what has been published on British and Irish history. It covers the history of British and Irish relations with the rest of the world, including the British empire and the Commonwealth, as well as British and Irish domestic history. It includes not only books, but also articles in journals and articles within collective volumes. It is updated three times a year and currently includes nearly 550,000 records, with a further update expected during October; subscribers can sign up for email alerts notifying them when new records are added on subjects in which they are interested.

Friends of the IHR (including American Friends) can subscribe to the Bibliography for one third of the normal cost of an individual subscription. The sign-up period for the Friends’ discounts starts on 1 October and runs until 15 December 2014 for the 2015 subscription year. New subscribers will have access to the Bibliography as soon as their subscription has been processed but all subscriptions will run until 31 December 2015, so you can enjoy nearly fifteen months’ access for the price of twelve. To apply please contact the Development Office by email or by telephoning (0)20 7862 8791. For more information about the Friends, and the other benefits of joining, please visit the Friends’ web pages. Similar discounts are available to Fellows and Members of the Royal Historical Society who will receive information in their autumn mailing, as usual.

IHR Friends Summer Outing: Kenwood House


This post was written for us by Kelly Spring, one of our Friends committee members


Kenwood House

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.


IHR Friends

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

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

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

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.

Also planned for this upcoming academic year is a musical evening with the medieval performance group, The Cardinals and the annual film night. Check back at the IHR website for updates on these future events.

Update on the IHR redevelopment


Miles_SmallMiles Taylor, Director of the IHR recently hosted a site tour of the IHR to view progress on the redevelopment.

The group went through the entire IHR from top to bottom, which provided a clear idea of the IHR’s new spacial footprint in Senate House’s North Block.


Conf Suite_SMallIt was very encouraging to see the architectural drawings becoming a reality.

In the basement, the conference suite is starting to take shape with the majority of the under floor wiring now complete and fittings for the AV equipment starting to make appearances on the walls.


Cables_SmallYou may also be pleased to hear that we have tried to keep as much of the original architectural accents intact so that the IHR retains most of its profile and feel.

We saw some of this in the partially completed sample room on the third floor.

The IHR remains on target to move back to the North Block in the summer of 2014.

The newest Friends Committee Member: Kelly Spring


Kelly Spring, Friends Committee

Kelly Spring, Friends Committee

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.

The group generously funds several postgraduate research bursaries each year for students based in universities outside of London, enabling PhD candidates to take advantage of the wealth of material available in the IHR library, participate in the Institute’s seminars and conferences, and conduct research in repositories in London.

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

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.

If you are interested in learning more about the Friends please visit the Friends’ webpage.  Alternatively, you can contact the IHR’s Development Office.

Donation from the American Friends of the IHR


A man in profile showing his enormous belly, holding a stick and with two dogs slavering at a dead fowl in his pocket.  1 October 1771 Etching

© Trustees of the British Museum

As the forthcoming issue of Past and Future details, a donation from the American Friends of the IHR  has enabled the IHR library to purchase a collection of printed sources from the acclaimed (expensive) publisher Pickering & Chatto.  All in all four different sets of primary sources spanning from 1609 to 1939 have been added to our Colonial and British collections.

  • Communications in Africa, 1880–1939 CLB.215 Sun
  • Ireland in the Age of Revolution, 1760–1805 part II BI.515 Iar
  • The Making of the Modern Police 1780-1914 part 1 B.797 Law
  • The American Colonies and the British Empire 1607-1783 CLAA.11 Sar

A fifth set, on Women’s Travel Writing, with sources drawn from the Chawton House Library, will arrive shortly and be found in the French collection.

Communications in Africa consists of five volumes documenting the establishment of railways and roads in Africa in support of Britain’s economic interests.  At first glance I found the contents pages very uninspiring: endless official reports on the extension of this and that railway in various African states, but as always happens, digging into some of the documents and having a proper read opens up a  whole new world. For instance, the full account of an  Informal conference with Mr. Bedford Glasier on the subject of the Lagos Railway that took place in 1903 at a Liverpool Hotel definitely delivers what the publisher promises: an illumination of the relationship between colonizers and the colonized. And that is only one aspect of the information one could pull from this specific source.

 “the native as you know is not fond of work – far from it, he resents work. I am speaking now of the educated native, and he is not blessed with those qualities of smartness, punctuality, and business aptitude which railway working requires.”[1]

The Making of Modern Police (only part one has been published so far) also offers a wide range of insights into the past. The three works deal with three different aspects of the making of the police as we know it today. Volume one, “The idea of policing”, includes John Fieldings, A Plan for Preventing Robberies from 1755, wherein the London Magistrate [2] brother of Henry Fielding outlines his plan for preventing highway robberies within 20 miles of London. In volume two, “Reforming the police in the nineteenth century”, both contemporary material and memoirs are listed, with many documents dealing with the implementation of the County Police Act in 1839, covering, for instance, the establishment of rural police in Essex. In the third volume, “Policing the Poor”, we find under the heading Tramps and Vagrants in Trafalquar Square 1887 [3] a letter  to the Commissioner Police of the Metropolis from Mr. T. Cavanagh relating his distress to find so many people sleeping rough in the Square.

…not only 200 but more were there huddled together in the seats, on the stones at the back of the seats, on the stones around about the fountains and under the lions, making I should say about the most terrible sight of open air misery to be met with in Europe : and this under the eyes of  the wealthiest visitors to London!”[4]

The American Colonies and the British Empire, 1607–1783 consists of eight volumes and deals with the development of colonial and imperial ideology. Nearly all the sources are reproduced in full and include pamphlets, reports, sermons and letters.  The publisher has tried to give examples of the often conflicting ideas of the people involved: the administrators, the politicians, the colonists to mention a few. The very detailed and comprehensive chronology in the first volume, beginning 1496 with John Cabot’s voyages to Newfoundland and ending in 1784 with the Order in Council to exclude American merchants from British colonial trade, is definitely worth checking out. I love it!  Sir Walter Raleigh here pops up in almost every volume and of course features in the chronology.[5]

Sir Walter Raleigh by 'H' monogrammist.jpg

Sir Walter Raleigh by ‘H’. National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 7

Closer to home, part two [6] of Ireland in the Age of Revolution 1760-1805  (subtitled “Ireland and the French Revolution”) promises to illustrate the impact of the French revolution on political issues in Ireland. Pickering and Chatto have selected ca. 60 pamphlets originally published between 1797 and 1805 for that purpose. In addition, other material is included; for example, there are a few excerpts from “Memoirs and Correspondence of Viscount Castlereagh” (1798) (the then Acting Chief Secretary of Ireland), one of them being ‘Communications passed between the Government and the State Prisoners’[7] which is followed by reports from the Committee of Secrecy of the House of Commons and from the  House of Lords in Ireland from August of the same year. [8] All material of interest to both readers interested in the history of revolutionary ideas and also those specifically interested in Irish history.

Come and have a look for yourself – the class marks are listed above, and all these sets have a brilliant consolidated index in their final volume.

Our next blog will be another look at the library’s fascinating collections of travel writing.

[1] Communications in Africa, 1880–1939  vol. 1 p. 225

[2]Henry and John Fielding created the Bow Street Runners the first professional police force in 1749.

[3] National Archives , Kew London

[4] Making of the modern Police vol. 3 p. 176

[5] Index of The American Colonies and the British Empire p. 201

[6] Part I “Ireland and the American Revolution” was acquired in January last year.

[7]Ireland in the Age of Revolution Vol. 4 p.141

[8] Same p. 161 and 183

Friends Film Evening: The Duchess (2008)


Penny Corfield  2010The 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 ( or on 0207 862 8764/91).