Musings of a ‘British’ historian in the age of Brexit

Joan Redmond, Lecturer in Early Modern British History (KCL), reflects on the nature of ‘British’ history following recent events which have forced the commonalities and distinctions within the ‘Atlantic archipelago’ into the political spotlight.


These past few weeks have been unusually lively ones for those of us working on Irish and British history. Political events, particularly surrounding the issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and indeed the wider question of the three-way relationships between Britain, Northern Ireland and Ireland have been exercising politicians, journalists and the wider public in a way not seen perhaps since the end of the Troubles. It also provides a rich opportunity however for those of us concerned with the long history of British-Irish relations to reflect on both ongoing and historical challenges that face the continuation of a healthy and mutually beneficial British-Irish partnership. King’s has proved a vibrant and stimulating environment for such study, with initiatives such as the Centre for Contemporary British History and my colleague Maggie Scull’s recent edited volume with Naomi Lloyd-Jones, Four Nations Approaches to Modern ‘British’ History.

I write this during my first year in post as lecturer in early modern British history. I will admit that this is a title that can sometimes feel ill-suited: is ‘British’ history exactly what I am ‘doing’ so to speak, given my research on seventeenth-century religious conflict, and wider questions of religious and ethnic identities with Ireland and – yes – ‘Britain’, even if such a term is problematic. Would I instead describe myself as an Irish historian, even though I am researching beyond Ireland? What about ‘British and Irish’ history, to use the title chosen by my doctoral supervisor Professor John Morrill, himself one of the great interrogators of ‘British History’? However such a distinction to me implies a certain cutting off or separation between Ireland and ‘Britain’, when in fact many of the questions that most fascinate me are to do with their bumping off one another, to tweak Conrad Russell’s ‘billiard balls’ imagery. Perhaps my confusion is simply emblematic of a much wider and more profound identity crisis that afflicts England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and this more illusive and slippery ‘Britain’ sitting between them all.

The results of the referendum to leave the EU, together with the resulting recent spat surrounding the future of the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland demonstrate to me the paramount importance of understanding the internal histories and dynamics of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom – including Northern Ireland. The divergent votes of England and Wales versus Scotland and Northern Ireland in the referendum challenge us to consider the long historical developments that influenced the Brexit result. These must also take into consideration issues such as Scottish independence, the debates surrounding devolution across the UK, and indeed the very future of the union itself. Of course, there needs also to be a strand of investigation which examines the interactions of these nations and their peoples, but as Tim Harris has argued, understanding the particular political, cultural and social structures from which each of the ‘British nations’ have emerged is paramount.

A protest in Manchester. By Ilovetheeu - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

A protest in Manchester.
By Ilovetheeu – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Where then does this leave the early modern period? ‘British’ history has often been characterised as especially robust in the writings of sixteenth and seventeenth-century historians, interested in processes such as state formation: an interrogation of the dynamics of a British ‘coming together’ in these centuries, as argued by John Pocock. However, the challenge to me seems to be to look beyond these issues of constitution and the creation of a political ‘nation’ from four distinctive entities, and to examine other avenues of both coming together and pulling apart. This can help us in our quandary to examine both the internal histories of the four nations, while also accommodating an overarching strand – a ‘fifth nation’ perhaps, to borrow an idea from Maggie Scull and Naomi Lloyd-Jones in their introduction to the Four Nations book.

In my own research, those avenues take the form of investigations into religion and ethnicity. Religion seems a very fruitful potential source of interrogating both particular histories and pan-British trends: the continued adherence to Roman Catholicism of much of the Irish population is but one example. Trying to understand it involves the interaction of a number of ‘Irish’ factors, among which we can count the importance of local aristocracy, the relative strength of the late medieval Irish church, particularly the mendicant orders of Franciscans and Dominicans, and a lively popular piety that often tied both belief and religious heritage to the physical landscape of Ireland, from holy wells to St Patrick’s Purgatory at Lough Derg, believed by some to be an entrance to Hell. However it is also impossible to understand it without reference to wider, ‘British’ factors. Historians have spoken of the ‘Tudor discovery’ of Ireland, underlining that even as late as the sixteenth century, the English authorities in Ireland knew very little of their western fringe: this lacuna was to prove fundamental, since ignorance in turn produced tension and subsequently, tragically, conflict. The fusion of church and state engendered by Henry VIII’s break with Rome was, in the eyes of historians such as the recently-deceased Brendan Bradshaw, a fatal flaw as the increasingly aggressive policies of the English state became elided with the ‘new’ religion, engendering a widespread rejection founded on both religious and political grounds, as Protestantism was both heresy, and English. But what of more ordinary people? My own research into the 1641 Irish Rebellion has shown this toxic mixture of heresy and anti-English feeling fuelling conflict and at times unspeakable acts of violence. Violence and conflict can be an excellent microcosm for both these intensely ‘national’ concerns to be interwoven with much larger ‘British’ ones: the legacies of such events still resonate with us today.

However, the example above does not mean that we ‘British’ historians should be searching for a unified experience or entity in every aspect of the histories of our nations. It seems to me that, as both recent and very distant past events have shown, there is a need, indeed even an urgent need, to consider the specific as well as the ‘British’ – for without the former, the latter is rendered too general and meaningless. British history is perhaps then best imagined as a mosaic of both overlapping and discrete peoples, forces, events: tiles of many different hues that can be both a supporting border, as well as a single image. Now, how to fit one on my office door?

Viva Preparation Tips & Advice

Three historians who have successfully been through their PhD viva at KCL share their practical tips and discuss what you can do to prepare for your viva.


William Tullett – Completed History PhD at KCL on ‘Smells, Smelling and the Senses in England, 1660-1830’.

I would say the most important thing for the viva is not to worry about it but to look forward to it. This is a fantastic opportunity to talk to leading scholars, who’ve spent time reading your work in detail. You are an expert talking about the thing you know best – so it should be a really enjoyable experience. Make sure you read back through your thesis, keeping in mind what your examiners work on, and think about the kind of questions they might ask. Mark up your thesis with post it notes that list questions, weaknesses, strengths, and key arguments. I also created an index with page numbers for key points.

A thesis is never perfect. Part of the viva process is figuring out how you might extend, refine, or rearrange your ideas when it comes to article or book publication. Think about what you would do differently or do more of if you had the time. Is there material you had to leave out? Why did you do so and what might you do with those sources or arguments? Explaining the process of research is important. This includes why you decided to follow some roads and not others. This process might be obvious to you, but may not be to your examiners who may not know the source material as well as you or may not have approached it with the same questions in mind.

I would also say that having my supervisor in the viva was a great choice. Some might find this supportive and comforting (although I realise that not everybody may feel that way). If you’re in the midst of explaining your ideas then having somebody else to make notes and record what’s being said can be a great help. It meant that, after the viva, I was able to supplement my own notes with those of my supervisor, which gave me a more complete picture to guide me as I worked on turning the thesis into a book.


Tom Colville – Submitting revisions for History PhD at KCL on ‘Mental Capacity and the Pursuit of Knowledge in England, 1650-1700’.

A viva is a highly individual experience as so much depends on the nature of your project and what your examiners choose to focus on. However, there were a couple of things I did before my viva which I believe helped me to have a positive experience and might therefore prove useful to other people too.

On a practical level: I decided to take notes from my thesis in a way that helped me to feel confident in precisely what all of my arguments were and how they tied together. When reading through my thesis in the weeks before my viva I kept a notebook with me and made a note of every single argument that I made. This included the really big stuff (why is this thesis necessary? What gap does it fill in the literature?) to the much smaller aspects (why primary source ‘x’ merits re-examination, why I haven’t gone into depth on topic ‘y’, why I slightly disagree with historian ‘z’). This exercise resulted in half a dozen pages of concise notes which I found extremely valuable as something to revisit in the couple of days before the viva. At that late stage it did not feel like a valuable use of time to re-read the thesis another couple of times (you will already know it inside out by that stage) but I found it very useful to have something to refer back to in moments of doubt. Even in the hours before my viva I found these 6 or so pages of notes to be a comforting reminder that there was no aspect of my thesis that I didn’t know from all angles. Importantly, these notes also helped me to focus my attention on the key debates and my authorial choices within the thesis – which are probably the most likely aspects to receive close scrutiny from examiners.

I didn’t have any kind of mock viva in the run-up to the big day but I did practice some answers to the very basic questions which are likely to come up in one form or another. For example: why does this thesis matter? What’s new about your research? Why did you use that structure/methodology rather than a different approach? I don’t recommend having scripted responses memorised for such questions, but knowing that I was able to assertively answer them helped to keep my nerves under control. In my experience, the viva will probably be a combination of some questions you could probably predict and others which take you by surprise. This means that there is no such thing as perfect preparation, but you can help yourself by having spent some time thinking about the nature of your choices, your inclusions/exclusions, and places where a different historian might form a different interpretation from similar evidence.

Though these methods may have helped me to answer questions slightly more effectively, their key benefit is that they allowed me to stay in control (rather than becoming a mess of nerves) in the days prior to the viva. Everyone will have their own methods of doing this but I would recommend doing something along these lines in order to feel like you aren’t leaving any stones unturned.


Rebecca Simon – Completed History PhD at KCL on ‘The Crime of Piracy and its Punishment: The Performance of Maritime Supremacy and its Representations in the British Atlantic World, 1670-1830’.

Preparing for your viva is no easy task. The scariest part of it is the unknown. What will my examiners ask me? Did they like it? Did they hate it? And most importantly, Will I pass? Some people suggest having a “mock viva”. I know people with whom this was very helpful. In hindsight, I am very cautious of a mock viva because only the examiners know what you will be asked to defend. Your supervisor should be able to guide you, but they might have a completely different idea of what you’ll be asked to defend than what actually gets presented. I had a tough viva, so this was the case for me.

In my experience there only two things you can do to prep for your viva. The first thing to do is to read and reread your thesis so you know the information cold. Look at your sources, both primary and secondary. Make notes of other areas of work that didn’t make it into your thesis. Write down sources you looked at but did not use. Look into secondary literature that are only tangentially relevant so you have a wider picture of where your topic fits into the historical narrative. You can’t memorize everything you didn’t cover, so don’t even try. Just know the basics.

The second, and most important, thing to do is defend your thesis. This sounds obvious, but if your examiners question your work and your methodology, you must have a sound reason for doing everything you did. This shows that not only do you know your thesis, you know how to be a historian. Not only that, you need to believe in your work. It’s too easy to doubt yourself, but you have to swallow down those doubts during your viva. Do not let those doubts show. Show enthusiasm for your project and do your best to project an air of confidence even if you’re quaking inside. I cannot stress this enough. My thesis had a terrible introduction, so my examiners focused their questions on my research methodology. Therefore, I had to answer a lot of questions about why I did not talk about this area or that. Over and over I replied with something similar to, “I’m glad you asked. I researched such-and-such, [gave examples], but I felt it would pull too much away from my argument because [explained why]; but in the future that’s an area I intend to expand upon.” In my final report, both examiners highlighted how impressed they were with my knowledge of the subject, enthusiasm, and how well I justified my research. I’m convinced this saved me from more corrections.

So, to sum up: Know your thesis and the wider historical scope backwards and forwards; defend the hell out of your thesis. Acknowledge their concerns, but if you believe in your work then do not waver from your argument and intentions. Good luck!


The UNC-KCL Transatlantic Historical Approaches Workshop

Theo Williams (PhD student, KCL) discusses an international collaborative event offering outstanding opportunities to research students at KCL and UNC.

The UNC-KCL Transatlantic Historical Approaches Workshop is an annual event that brings together postgraduate research students at King’s College London and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Students form a two-person panel with a student from the partner institution and deliver papers based on their research interests. This year the workshop’s theme is ‘protest, revolt, and revolution’, which will be interpreted broadly. The first leg of the workshop will be held in London on 10-11 May 2018, and the second leg will be held in Chapel Hill on 10-11 September 2018. Funding will be provided for travel expenses and three nights’ accommodation.


I’m one of the student organisers for this year’s workshop, after attending last year’s workshop as a speaker. The theme last year was ‘performance and performativity’, and featured papers on topics such as blackness in eighteenth-century England, Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans, and feminist dystopias of the 1930s, as well as my own paper on C.L.R. James’s play, Toussaint Louverture. Academics from KCL and UNC acted as commentators on each of the panels, providing students with the opportunity for them to have their work read by experienced historians, thereby gaining valuable feedback. On the second day of the London workshop, Professor Paul Readman presented his work on historical pageants in twentieth-century Britain, and Professor Daniel Sherman (UNC) gave a paper on the 1906-07 Fêtes de Carthage.


The workshop’s participants had fruitful discussions with other historians working in the same field, as well as those working on topics with completely different geographical and chronological parameters. But all of the papers brought to the workshop an interpretation of ‘performance and performativity’, challenging historians to think about thematic linkages even to research seemingly far removed from their own. The same is sure to happen this year, with ‘protest, revolt, and revolution’ touching every period and place of history.

The workshop theme in action: a 'Suffrage Hike'. Photo shows the hike lead by "General" Rosalie Jones from New York to Washington, D.C. for the March 3, 1913 National American Woman Suffrage Association parade. Photo taken in Newark, New Jersey on February 12, 1913.

The workshop theme in action: a ‘Suffrage Hike’. Photo shows the hike lead by “General” Rosalie Jones from New York to Washington, D.C. for the March 3, 1913 National American Woman Suffrage Association parade. Photo taken in Newark, New Jersey on February 12, 1913.


The workshop also has a fantastic social element. Dinner and drinks are provided each night, with many participants then continuing to socialise informally later in the evening (and perhaps even the early hours of the morning!). Additionally, the workshop’s programme contains historic and cultural activities. Last year, the group visited the Tate Modern during the London leg. In North Carolina, we visited the American Tobacco Historic District in Durham. Many students also used the workshop as an opportunity to visit other places in the US, including New York and New Orleans.


Both legs of the workshop thus helped to foster stronger links between researchers in London and North Carolina, and between academics and PhD students. Through the contacts I made during the workshop I was introduced to another UNC PhD student who works on a similar topic to me, and recently went for dinner with him when he visited London.


Needless to say, we hope to replicate the elements that made last year’s workshop such a success.


If you’re a History PhD student at KCL and are interested in applying for the workshop, please send the following to by 15 January 2018:

1) An abstract of no more than 300 words describing the work you wish to present at the workshop. Please also indicate where you are in your studies and the date by which you plan to complete your degree.

2) A copy of your CV.


If you have any further questions about the workshop, please contact me at

Women in Military History

KCL PhD Student Jenna Byers reflects on the gendering of military history.

I recently attended a conference celebrating the contributions of women to the study of history, both as historians and as historical subjects. In a conference attended predominantly by women, I was not surprised to be in a minority as a military historian. I was, however, surprised by a statement midway through the day, made by a member of the audience, who suggested that women tend to study cultural and social history because they are easier than economic or political history.

If, as Clausewitz said, war is the continuation of politics by other means, then it is high time that women get involved.

For those of you who are unsure as to the distinctions between these types of history, essentially, cultural and social history are about how people behaved, how they filled their homes, or educated their children, while economic and political history are about how much money the government had to spend and what they wanted to spend it on. Now, I for one would not claim that social and cultural history are easier to study, because anyone who looks at these has to be as much a detective as they are a historian, extrapolating from physical items, while economic and political historians have any number of written sources to rely on. But this wasn’t why I felt compelled to speak out at this conference.

No, I wanted to point out that, in fact, women don’t choose social and cultural history because they’re easier than other kinds of history; we often choose these things because that’s what everyone tells us we should do. Since I was in primary school, I have been interested in the Second World War and, since I was in primary school, I have had people trying to convince me not to be. Telling people later on that I intended to study War Studies led almost invariably to the question, “Why do you want to study war?” with a subtle emphasis on the word ‘you’. After all, why would a woman want to study war?

By and large, military history has been and remains the reserve of men; it has been about the battles, the glory, the heroic figures and the bonds forged on the battlefield, bonds which, it is tacitly assumed, women cannot understand because we cannot participate in this form of bonding, being banned from the front lines of conflict in most major armies. Military history is about men doing one of the most traditionally masculine things in history; fighting with other men for territory or riches or glory. And, owing to the fact that the majority of military historians are male, military history has become, in many ways, isolated from other forms of history, tucked away in a masculine man-cave in the basement of university history departments.

Rina Levinson - a pilot in the IDF

Rina Levinson – a pilot in the IDF

Men have always feared the inclusion of women on the front lines of combat, and we can see this by looking at one case study, that of the Israeli Defence Force. It might surprise some of you to learn that, up until the late 1940’s, the IDF allowed women to fight on the front lines. However, in 1948 they reversed this decision, not because the women were struggling to fulfil their role, but because the men working with those women were having trouble. The problem was that male soldiers were developing protective feelings towards their female comrades, because these women represented, for them, a home front that was safe and peaceful and far away from where they currently were. This somewhat patronising treatment of a fellow soldier only really became an issue if these female troops were wounded on the battlefield, as this led to several instances of male soldiers losing control and going on guilt-filled rampages which increased the risk of injury to themselves and to their comrades. So the IDF decided that it would be easier to pull women off the front lines than to re-educate society to believe that women might not actually need men to protect them in this way.

This societal outlook, which says that men should be shielding women from the horrors of war, extends down to those of us who choose to study conflict. I guarantee that any woman who has ever announced her intention to pursue War Studies has encountered at least one man asking, “Why does a pretty thing like you want to go and study a thing like that?” Because society still tells women that war is a dirty, awful business and we should leave it for the boys, while simultaneously telling the boys to man up and get stuck into the mess. So women don’t study war, which is a great loss for everyone.

Dr James Barry (born Margaret Ann Bulkley) - a surgeon in the British army. Died 1865.

Dr James Barry [left] (born Margaret Ann Bulkley) – a surgeon in the British army. Died 1865.

If, as Clausewitz said, war is the continuation of politics by other means, then it is high time that women get involved. We don’t yet know what women can bring to the table, with all of our cultural and social historical experience, all we do know is that it is not 1948 anymore; there are biographies of female fighter aces from the German Reich, there are stories about Dr James Barry who lived for fifty years as a male surgeon in the British armed forces, there are all-female regiments currently fighting ISIS. We can no longer pretend that women have no place in military history, we can no longer ignore their contribution to conflicts of the past, and we can no longer allow ourselves to be surprised by the notion that a woman might be interested in studying these things.

Two Members of the Department Work with Academics and Historians at Fourah Bay College, Freetown, University of Sierra Leone

Two members of the Department of History recently worked with academics and historians at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, on projects funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the African Studies Association of the UK (ASAUK). Toby Green and Vincent Hiribarren attended as part of a writing workshop funded by the ASAUK and led by Dr Green, which ran from May 3-6.
The workshop was designed to help academics from Sierra Leone to develop journal articles for publication in international journals. Academics from Universities in Ghana, The Gambia, and the USA also attended, and the inaugural lecture was given by Nwando Achebe, the Jack and Margaret Sweet Endowed Professor of History at Michigan State University in the USA. 
The inaugural lecture, given by Professor Nwando Achebe of Michigan State University

The inaugural lecture, given by Professor Nwando Achebe of Michigan State University

16 Sierra Leonean academics attended the writing workshop from Fourah Bay College in Freetown and Ernest Bai Koroma University from the city of Makeni. They worked one on one with journal editors and received training in academic writing and the context of research in West Africa. Dr Green represented the journal African Economic History, while Dr Hiribarren led a workshop on digital resources for researching and writing African studies.
The ASAUK Workshop

The ASAUK Writing Workshop

The meeting was also funded as part of Dr Green’s AHRC Leadership Project “Money, Power and Political Change In Precolonial West Africa”. One of the impacts of this project is to begin the development of an online History textbook for West African senior secondary schoolchildren sitting the WASSCE exam, which is sat in Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and The Gambia. The meeting was a chance for historians based in Ghana, Sierra Leone and The Gambia to meet with two Nigerian historians based in the diaspora, and with Dr Green and Dr Hiribarren, to begin planning the resource.
The resource will be coded and designed by Dr Hiribarren. Writing of the chapters, editing, and coding will take place so that the resource can be launched at the next meeting of the West African Examinations Council, in Banjul in March 2018. Dr Hiribarren is including subsequent teacher training and writing workshops in the relevant countries in an ongoing AHRC funding application, which will see the project roll out across West Africa.


The City in History: Global Connections and Comparisons


Dr Jennifer Altehenger and Dr Sun Qing have organised a groundbreaking collaborative workshop which will be taking place at King’s College London next week. King’s History Department will welcome a delegation from the Department of History, Fudan University (Shanghai) on 22 and 23 May 2017 for the first joint workshop on “The City in History: global connections and comparisons”. With both King’s and Fudan situated at the heart of two of the world’s global metropolises – London and Shanghai – the city is a central theme of research and teaching at both institutions. Our staff and students explore the history of the city and history through the lens of the city from ancient to modern times, linking local and global perspectives. This workshop is a first opportunity for historians of both universities to meet and explore these common themes in our research, from public history to historical geography, political, economic, social, and cultural history, and the history of science, technology and medicine.


The Bund, Shanghai c. 1910


The rooftops of London c. 1870

The rooftops of London c. 1870

The full programme can be accessed below.

This workshop continues KCL History’s strong culture of research into, and teaching of, metropolitan history, some of which has been displayed on this blog in recent months. For example, student Charlotte Taylor wrote a fascinating review of a trip to the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton as part of the module Society and Culture in Twentieth Century London. Dr Tim Livsey also described a collaborative project about a south London estate with a particularly rich history and links to the famous diarist Samuel Pepys. And in April last year, staff and students walked a grand total of 13.8 miles, taking in 26 historic sites throughout London (all for an excellent cause). The event was given a wonderful write-up for our blog by Elle Larsson (PhD candidate).

For more information on the workshop, or if you wish to join, please contact:

Dr Jennifer Altehenger:

Location: S8.08 Level 8 Strand Building

When: 22nd (09:00) – 23rd (18:00) of May 2017


Full Programme:



Organisers: Dr Jennifer ALTEHENGER and Dr SUN Qing


Monday, 22.5.10:00 – 10:30  Welcome and Introductions

Prof Abigail WOODS, Prof HUANG Yang (via Skype), Prof GAO Xi


10:30 – 12:00 Professor WU Jingping 吴景平《英商银行与上海金融变迁》

British banks and the transformation of Shanghai’s finance world


Professor Richard DRAYTON

The cities of north-west Europe and the making of Europe’s empires, c. 1500-1800


Professor Arthur BURNS

Identifying the challenge of the city to religion: Changing views of ‘town’ among religious professionals in Britain, 1700-1900


Chair: Dr Bérénice GUYOT-RECHARD


12:00 – 13:00 Sandwich Lunch
13:00 – 14:30 Professor ZOU Zhenhuang 邹振环《近代上海的石库门与里弄文化》

Modern Shanghai Shikumen Building and Lane Culture


Professor YAO Dali  姚大力


The shift to modern forms in Chinese cities: the disintegration of the „housing compound“


Professor DONG Guoqiang 董国强

The Army in Xuzhou’s Factional Warfare,1967-1969


Chair: Dr Daniel MATLIN


14:30 – 15:00 Coffee & Tea 
15:00 – 16:30 Dr  ZHU Lianbi 朱联璧The London Aerated Bread Company and the Industrialization of Bread-making, 1860-1930s


Professor David EDGERTON

The Port of London in Twentieth-Century British History



The Trader-Stranger and the Modern City: Georg Simmel in Global Context


Chair: Dr Jon WILSON


Tuesday, 23.5.10:30 – 12:00 Dr Rory NAISMITH

Lundenwic to Lundenburh? The Londons of the Ninth Century


Professor ZHANG Haiying  张海英

Towards modernity: Shanghai in the early modern times



Constantinople in the 1400s: Venice on the Bosphorus


Chair: Professor Hugh BOWDEN


12:00 – 13:00  Sandwich lunch 
13:00 – 14:30 Professor GAO Xi 高晞Health Morality and Hygiene in the mid-19th Century Shanghai


Professor Abigail WOODS

Sick cows and the city: London 1865-7 (and Shanghai, 1869-71)


Chair: Dr Jennifer ALTEHENGER


14:30 – 15:00  Coffee & Tea 
15:00 – 16:30  Assoc. Professor SUN Qing 孙青To view the magic images from mirror (jingying镜影)——the early experiences of slides as urban residents



London County Council cultural and educational policy, 1918-1939



Patron Saint of Catholics and Hindus: St Antony and Diasporic devotions in East London


Chair: Dr Vincent HIRIBARREN


16:30 – 18:00  Final discussion & future plans 
18:00 – 19:00 Drinks 



The New Contemporary British History

Exciting new developments are taking place at KCL in the field of Contemporary British History. Read this blog post to find out more and click here to visit the CFP for the upcoming conference.

Historians at King’s are part of an exciting new venture in Contemporary British History, which will help to refashion Britain’s national story. King’s Contemporary British History (KCBH) is a cross-departmental and cross-Faculty research initiative, which brings together existing expertise in twentieth-century British history from across the university. It draws together the extraordinary strengths in the subject found mainly in the departments of History, War Studies, Defence Studies, Political Economy and English. King’s has around fifty scholars contemporary British history.


The centre’s goal is to develop a flexible and dynamic way of analyzing contemporary British society that will have genuine public relevance both at a policy and popular level. In this, historical argument and understanding has been, and will continue to be central. The Brexit vote was a clear example of how very particular historical images of the nation in the world were mobilised. King’s Contemporary British History will help refashion British national history by bringing together historical work of many different kinds.


King’s has a uniquely diverse wealth of existing expertise across various domains in the study of contemporary Britain. Our strengths include military history, science, technology, and medicine, heritage studies, imperial history, politics, religion, and gender studies.  KCBH will make these great strengths visible, and support and develop new research initiatives and postgraduate training in all aspects of modern and contemporary British history. KCBH works with other initiatives that connect to the public and public institutions such as History & Policy, Historians in Residence, and the Strand Group.


The study of Contemporary British History in London goes back to the 1960s, and was consolidated with the establishment of the Institute of Contemporary British History in 1985 by (Sir) Anthony Seldon and (Lord) Peter Hennessy. The Institute moved to King’s College London in 2010. King’s Contemporary British History builds on this distinguished tradition by creating a larger and more diverse enterprise.


The centre has recently been awarded funding from the ‘King’s Together’ scheme allowing us to run workshops (for King’s staff). It will hold a ‘launch’ conference in September 2017, and much else besides. Over the coming weeks we will be launching a new website, so look out for that. For now, you can follow KCBH on Twitter @KingsCBH and Facebook. We are also in the process of creating an internal mailing list to keep people abreast of our work and developments. If you would like to be added to this mailing list, or would like more information on being involved in KCBH, please email:

Athena SWAN and Gender Equality at KCL

A report from Dr Alana Harris, Lecturer in Modern British History, on KCL History Department’s determination to make vital strides towards gender equality in higher education.

On 3 February 2015, timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, the Royal Historical Society issued a report on Gender Equality and Historians in Higher Education. Based on over 700 responses from women and men within the profession, and across career stages, it included a forward by Dame Jinty Nelson (Professor Emeritus of this department) who described it as an ‘urgent summons to greater institutional engagement’.


Since that time, a number of universities and networks of academics have taken up that challenge, with one of the most recent initiatives a sold-out workshop at St Hilda’s College in Oxford and subsequent plans to establish a women historians’ network and series of public engagement activities.


Meanwhile, since September 2015, staff in the Department of History have been working towards an Athena SWAN bronze award, which recognizes commitment to achieving gender equality. Applying for the award is a thorough and in-depth process. It has required us to analyse the intake, progression and achievements of our staff and students; to think about the gendered nature of our organization and culture; to assess the support we provide to women at all stages in their academic careers; and to identify ways of addressing the inequalities that exist.


This work has been performed by 15 members of the Department’s Self-Assessment Team, lead initially by Professor Abigail Woods (now Head of Department) and subsequently by myself. Ranging from PhD students to professor emeritus, we have all brought diverse experiences of life within and outside work to our discussions. We have addressed matters ranging from the content of the history curriculum (now informing review of the first year syllabus), to the sharing of staff offices, and the ways in which we support, train and listen to both staff and students.


As the first department within the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at King’s (and amongst only a handful of history departments in Britain) to pursue an Athena SWAN award, we are justly proud of what we have achieved. At the same time, we are well aware of the work still to be done in order to fulfill our ambition of making the department a place in which everyone feels valued and able to achieve their full potential. In the wake of Brexit and the recent American election, this commitment to gender equality, diversity and inclusion feels even more important publically to affirm.


We have now submitted our application, which includes a forty page ‘action plan’ of new initiatives, reform agendas and the transformation of structures and cultures within the department. We will continue to share news about our initiatives, and opportunities for the involvement of undergraduate and postgraduate students in the consultation and implementation processes. Looking forward, alongside the implementation and consolidation of the transformative agendas identified through our self-analysis, we will now extend our efforts to other intersectional issues in striving for greater diversity and inclusion.

At Play in the Early Modern Tavern

Gabriella Infante, PhD Candidate in the Department of English at KCL, recounts an evening of education and entertainment in which the early modern tavern was brought to life as part of King’s Arts & Humanities’ Festival ‘Play’


Playing cards, ballads’ sheets, wine and beer on tables in a candlelit room welcomed the audience of ‘At Play in the Early Modern Tavern’ last 12th October at Tutu’s. As part of King’s Arts & Humanities’ Festival ‘Play’, the Centre for Early Modern Studies organised an event celebrating the several meanings of ‘play’ in the world of the early modern tavern.


Photograph taken by Callan Davies, University of Roehampton

Photograph taken by Callan Davies, University of Roehampton

On this occasion, it seemed apt to emphasise the hedonistic features of taverns, such as drinking, courting, and gambling. The three main segments of the event were aimed at celebrating carpe diem over nefarious consequences of extreme drinking, and planned to avoid cautionary tales, by providing a window on the dynamics originating in playful early modern taverns. Drinking and drinking places hold an exceptional place in the cultural identity of England, and it is the early modern age which defined socio-political differences between alehouses, taverns, and inns. Taverns became to assume specific features from the 1550s to the end of the seventeenth century – the period in which the songs, documents, and play performed for this event were produced.

Dr. Emily Butterworth, Lecturer in the French Department and co-director of CEMS, effectively introduced the audience to the diverse world of early modern habits of drinking, by also indicating the timeframe and the social implications linked to each type of drinking place. For her section of the event, students from King’s Music department Matthew O’ Keeffe, William Hester, and Alex Prately performed Jean Richafort’s Trut avant il faut boire, a chanson which describes and enacts the good fellowship of drinking, also reprised in the final section of the event, and insists on the importance of seizing the moment of enjoyment and fun in life car après que serons morts – because we will be dead after anyway.

David Tett Photography ©

David Tett Photography ©

As a song thought for three trained singers, and therefore created for, and more suitable to, a tavern or an inn, this was different from the second section of the event, planned by Professor Laura Gowing, department of History. King’s former MA students Charlotte Fletcher and Emma Harris and current PhD students Michelle Barnette and Molly Corlett re-enacted bits of defamation cases held in the records of the Consistory Court of London spanning the years 1572-1725. Famous and infamous locations across London, such as the Sun Tavern in St. Martin in the Fields or the Greyhounde Tavern in Soho Fields, were the set of rough verbal exchanges between citizens attending these places. The audience could enjoy a realistic peek into the dynamics of a promiscuous early modern alehouse, where excessive drinking and carefree pursuit of sexual pleasure combined to create dangerous, and illegal, situations.

As a break before the longest and final section of the evening, the ballad Good Ale for my Money and the song Martin said to his Man delighted the audience, particularly eager to read the lyrics and sing along, and to follow the three singers in a further invitation to drink and be merry.

David Tett Photography ©

David Tett Photography ©

The event ended with excerpts from the play The Walks of Islington and Hogsdon, with the Humours of Woodstreet Compter, by Thomas Jordan. This section was organised by Dr. Lucy Munro and me, both from the department of English, with the invaluable help of director James Wallace. First performed on the stage of the Red Bull in 1641, and then published in 1657, this comedy was also re-thought for the Restoration audience and King Charles II in the 1660s. The scenes selected presented an appealing cohort of gallants, attempting to juggle unhappy marriages, lovers, pregnant whores in taverns of Islington –background to many of their mischiefs. The play, like Laura Gowing’s section, was carefully chosen to convey topographical familiarity and to elicit participation by stressing the relevance of locations for the early modern drinking space.

The purpose of the event was to offer entertainment to a modern audience through accurate re-enactments of early modern life episodes in relation to drinking customs in England. The event managed to convey the importance of taverns as social, as well as political, places of cultural exchange, but its main aim was to explore the meanings of ‘play’ to the early modern mind. And what better way to do that, than in a place where every type of play, from cards to transvestitism, took place? Nunc est bibendum. Now is the time for drinking.

LAHP Doctoral Training Opportunity

Setting out their Stall: creating the East End Women’s Museum and researching women’s work at London’s markets


Dr Alana Harris (KCL), Dr Andrew Flinn (UCL) and Sarah Jackson and Sara Huws (East End Women’s Museum)


Responding to the perversion of local government planning processes in the establishment of the Jack the Ripper Museum in place of a promised space celebrating women’s history, feminists and community activists Sarah Jackson and Sara Huws are planning the creation of an East End Women’s Museum by 2018.


This project seeks to introduce doctoral students to the creative opportunities and challenges of public history and community heritage through exploring this unique opportunity for involvement in the establishment of a new museum and, secondly, to develop practical skills through contributing in tangible ways to the development of its permanent collection. Targeted at historians of gender and modern London, as well as those wishing to work with oral history or in archival and heritage management as well as cultural institutions, this intensely practical and outcome driven initiative will provide demonstrable methodological and employability skills as well as the opportunity to work with local volunteers and feminists activists.


Following an introduction to academic literatures and methodologies surrounding community-based archives, heritage and the practice of oral history, students will participate in a ‘pop up reminiscence project’ examining the history of market stalls in East London. They will undertake archival research on the economic, social and political dimensions of women’s work at East London markets (such as Crisp Street, Roman Road or Rathbone Market), conduct oral history interviews with East End residents who operated or shopped at these markets, and will then produce a series of outputs (encompassing blogs/microsites, poster displays and potential exhibitions) to feed these findings back to participants and residents as well as producing a lasting legacy for the intended museum.


Students in the first or second years of their doctoral programmes are eligible to participate. Applicants for one of the fifteen available places should forward their CV and a one-page covering letter outlining their interest in the project and its contribution to their career development to by Friday 25 November 2016. They should also be available for a preliminary meeting on Monday 12 December 2016. Thereafter, sessions will be held fortnightly on Monday evenings during semesters two and three and fieldwork will also be required on two Saturdays in May/June 2017. Chosen participants will need to commit to the entirety of the programme.