On the 8 September a one-day interdisciplinary online conference will critically examine the films and ideas of the controversial documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis.

Hosted in collaboration with the University of Nottingham’s Institute for Screen Industries Research and sponsored by the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) this event is part of the IHR’s series of National Centenary Events celebrating history in its many forms.

Keynote speakers are Professor Laura Rascaroli and Professor Brian Winston 


Adam Curtis is one of Britain’s most prominent and controversial documentary filmmakers. From 1992’s BAFTA award winning warning about the dangers of technocracy in Pandora’s Box to his critical analysis of the ideological origins of Islamic terrorism in 2015’s Bitter Lake, Curtis ranges over a vast historical, cultural and intellectual canvas.

For some cultural commentators, Curtis’ documentaries, like the recent six-film BBC series Can’t Get You Out of My Head, are ‘dazzling masterpieces’ which bring to life concepts and approaches borrowed from the history of emotions, sociology, psychology and philosophy. For others, Curtis uses his privileged access to BBC archives to patch together discrete phenomena – from the Sex Pistols’ Who Killed Bambi to the revolutionary operas of Chairman Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing – into an incoherent and misguided grand narrative of historical and sociological change.

Despite this prominence (or perhaps because of it), Curtis’ films and the history of ideas they present has received very little academic scrutiny. This scrutiny could extend to the range of material collated by Curtis, how these are presented or constructed, as well as the reception of his ideas among critics and a broader public.

The films of Adam Curtis serve as a useful vehicle to explore broader intellectual questions: how do scholars approach film as a historical text? How do filmmakers convey political concepts and ideas? How are documentary films related to more conventional sources of political thought? These and a wide variety of other potential approaches will be considered.

You can find out more and book your free place

Our Century

2021 marks the centenary of the Institute of Historical Research. For 100 years the Institute of Historical Research has been thinking back and looking forward. In our centenary year, the IHR presents ‘Our Century’ – an exploration, celebration and reappraisal of history’s past, present and future.

The IHR serves the national community of historians rather than any one institution. Our purpose is to actively engage and support historians wherever they are to be found.  This event is part of year-long series celebrating #OurCentury. More than 30 events are taking place during the year offering a vibrant mix of free discussions, exhibitions, performances, talks, walking tours, art workshops, film screenings and steel bands to uncover the breadth of history in its many forms.  

For more information click here or follow us using #OurCentury