Conference Report | Britain – Palestine – Israel: 70 Years On What happened, and what can we do now?

Seventy years ago, in May 1948, both the state of Israel and the Palestinian nakhba (catastrophe) were created. The anniversary of Israel’s establishment – declared on 14 May, one day before the final withdrawal of British troops – will be marked by some with joyous celebration. For others, though, this month is a time to remember the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes, creating a refugee crisis that has only grown in magnitude since then.

On 1 May a one-day conference was held at King’s, co-sponsored by the History Department and the Balfour Project (a charitable organisation working for justice, peace and reconciliation in the Middle East), to consider the events of 1948, their legacy today, and possible ways forward. Both the morning and the afternoon panels comprised a Palestinian, an Israeli and a British speaker. The day focused particularly on the role of Britain. As the colonial power in Palestine during the thirty-year ‘British Mandate’ period from 1918, Britain bears considerable responsibility for the division and suffering that followed after May 1948. More recently British foreign policy on the Palestine / Israel conflict has tended to follow the lead of the United States. However, if Britain is to play a role as a force for positive change in the future, then a more active and imaginative approach will almost certainly be necessary.

Both Palestinian and Israeli speakers spoke about the personal human consequences of the conflict. Ghada Karmi, a London-based Palestinian doctor, reflected on her experience of exile, which she has recounted in her memoir In Search of Fatima (2002). Her family left their home in Jerusalem during the conflict in 1948, expecting to be able to return when the situation calmed down – but they were never able to do so. Alon Liel, an retired Israeli diplomat, observed that his primary-school-age grandchildren have already been indoctrinated with a hatred of Arabs, and noted that with similar hatred inculcated among Palestinian children the challenges standing in the way of a genuine peace are immense.


In a radical break with long-standing international consensus, the United States will mark this anniversary month by moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israel is labouring hard to induce other countries to follow suit, in the hope that this will erode the commitment of the international community to a negotiated settlement on the sovereignty of Jerusalem. In Britain, several political parties – including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party – are committed to the recognition of Palestinian statehood. This would follow the 2014 lead of Sweden, which remains the only European country to recognise Palestine, though several other countries might follow if a major player such as Britain took this step. In the afternoon session, Vincent Fean, former British Consul-General in Jerusalem (representing the UK in the Palestinian territories), advocated this step.  Others wondered if any future British government would be committed enough to put this policy into action, given the likely response from Israel, which Alon Liel suggested might include the breaking of diplomatic relations with the UK.


Discussion also focused on the deteriorating situation in the Palestinian territories. Leila Sansour, a Palestinian film-maker based on Bethlehem, described the increasing demoralisation in her home city, hemmed in by the Israeli ‘separation barrier’ and with access impeded by checkpoints: those with the means to leave Bethlehem have mostly already done so.  In the Gaza Strip conditions are increasingly desperate, and the United Nations has projected that the territory will become effectively uninhabitable by 2020 if current trends continue. There was a broad consensus at the conference that the Gaza Strip is facing a humanitarian crisis, which urgently requires international attention and structural change.


However, the clash between the competing historical narratives of 1948 and its legacy provoked heated disagreement between members of the audience. For most Israelis the conflict of that year is remembered as their ‘War of Independence’, establishing a secure Jewish refuge after centuries of persecution in Europe and initiating their nation’s continuing embattlement against a ring of hostile Arab neighbours. The Palestinian memory of 1948, in stark contrast, is of dispossession and disaster, compounded by further calamity in 1967, when Israel established control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and soon established Jewish settlements in both places, and a deepening sense of frustration and hopelessness since then. Sustaining civil debate on this topic is, because of the depth of this division, perhaps more difficult than on any other international issue. Precisely for this reason, it is vital that universities continue to rise to this challenge, and to host broad-based, challenging and controversial events such as this one.


Adam Sutcliffe

May 2018

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.

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.



Visions of Europe and the Brexit Debate

Historians of King’s College London debated the referendum on Wednesday, June 8, 2016, 4:30-6:00 PM.

EU flag

In the run-up to the referendum on Britain’s continued membership in the European Union, there has been no shortage of public debate about the possible consequences of the vote, including many forums sponsored by London’s universities.  The History Department at King’s wanted to make its own distinctive contribution to these discussions, playing to the strengths of the discipline.  The head of department, Adam Sutcliffe, therefore asked two colleagues, Jim Bjork and Anne Goldgar, to take the lead in organizing a forum that would take a step back from the immediate In/Out question and provide some broader and deeper context.  Under the title ‘Visions of Europe and the Brexit debate’, four historians were asked to discuss how understandings of Europe have evolved over time:  What ostensibly held Europe together?  What have been seen as Europe’s outer limits?  Two of the speakers (Richard Vinen and Jim Bjork) work primarily on the twentieth century, while the other two (Serena Ferente and Toby Green), as well as the chair, Anne Goldgar, specialize in earlier periods (late medieval to early modern).


The panel of historians included (from left to right) Professor Anne Goldgar, Dr Jim Bjork, Professor Richard Vinen, Dr Serena Ferente, and Dr Toby Green.

The panel of historians included (from left to right) Professor Anne Goldgar, Dr Jim Bjork, Professor Richard Vinen, Dr Serena Ferente, and Dr Toby Green.

A common theme of all of the talks was mutability in understandings of Europe and attitudes toward Europe.  The first speaker, Richard Vinen, focused on the evolution of British politicians’ views of European integration since the Second World War.  He noted that enthusiasm for British engagement in this project tended to be stronger on the Right than on the Left at the time of Britain’s accession to the European Economic Community in the 1970s, but then, as now, the attitudes of many individual politicians shifted with changing circumstances.   The next talk, by Serena Ferente, turned to the very different context of continental Europe in the fifteenth century.  She described how one familiar way of defining Europe—as a community united by Christianity—was consciously promoted by Pope Pius II in response to a contemporary challenge from the Ottoman Turks.  Dr. Ferente argued that such programmatic definitions should be seen as attempts to impose order on the continent’s underlying cultural and political pluralism and its frequent demographic disruptions, then, as now, manifested in flows of refugees from conflict zones.   Toby Green’s contribution also highlighted the historical contingency of definitions of Europe, in particular in relation to Africa.   Connections between Iberia and North Africa had been especially strong in the late medieval period, blurring the distinction between the two continents.  And in the twentieth century, attempts to disentangle (European) metropole and (African) colony in the process of de-colonization had also generated much debate and ambivalence.  Many residents of Cape Verde, for example, sought to remain part of Portugal and thus, by extension, part of Europe.  In the final set of remarks, Jim Bjork argued that uncertainty about Europe’s frontiers was paralleled by uncertainty about the continent’s centre.   Early and late modern commentators had noted the paradox of Europe’s geographic centre being marked by a sense of helplessness in the face of bids for hegemony arising on the continent’s margins (Spain, France, Britain, Russia).  This had given rise to rival twentieth-century visions of ‘Central Europe’ as either serving as the core of a robust new imperial power or, alternately, as modelling pluralistic co-existence among small nations, suggesting very different visions for the potential organization of the continent as a whole.


The initial presentations were followed by a half hour of questions and comments from the audience, composed of about 25 members of academic staff, postgraduate and undergraduate students.  In addition to following up on particular points made by individual speakers, several interventions from the audience understandably circled back to the issue of what implications these broader historical perspectives might have for the upcoming referendum.  It seemed fair to say that all speakers were sceptical of the view, advanced by at least some advocates of Britain’s exit from the EU, that the long-term histories of Britain and continental Europe ran on separate or divergent tracks.  The diversity and mutability of historical visions of Europe meant that there was no fundamental incompatibility with various visions of Britain.   But it was noted that the panel’s recurring references to contingency and flux in Europe’s past did also help to explain a widespread sense of uncertainty and anxiety about Europe’s possible futures.

Including Women

Professor Laura Gowing (KCL) follows-up her Inaugural Lecture with these thoughts on early modern women and the freedom of the city.

Over the past academic year, the History Department here at King’s has been putting itself under scrutiny.  As part of our plans to apply for the Athena Swan gender equality mark (a scheme extended from the sciences to the humanities in 2015), we’ve been systematically examining how we envisage, support, and facilitate gender equality in the department. It’s been an illuminating process, reflected in the questionnaires on diversity we circulated to students recently, and prompting shifts in our practice as we work out how best to ensure that our curriculum reflects all sorts of histories, that our student body is diverse, and that our staff have equal opportunities throughout the process of appointment, working in the department, and promotion. Like most universities King’s has a gender pay gap, and the proportion of women in the History department sits at around 40%, with many fewer at professorial level.  The staff gender ratio hasn’t changed much since I was appointed in 2002, and reflects that of the sector nationally, though not that of our students. It’s strikingly better than that of the institutions where many older staff did our postgraduate work: at Oxford and Cambridge in the 1980s it was not unusual to be taught by no women at all, and King’s appointed its first permanent female historian, Professor Jinty Nelson, only in 1970.

Alongside Athena Swan,  I’ve been working on my own research project about inclusion in a very different context: the City of London Companies in the late 17th century. The comparison and connections between the two contexts have been nudging me through the year. One of the interesting aspects of gender relations in the early modern era is that so little is actually regulated. Until the late 17th century, nothing told women they could not vote on the rare occasions that parliamentary elections took place, or that they could not hold office, but they rarely did so. Exclusion was customary and property-based long before it was legal and gender-based. Girls could always be apprenticed to skilled trades in the London guilds – organisations like the Clothworkers’ Company, the Mercers’ or the Goldsmiths’. Before 1640 they very rarely were – or at least, they weren’t recorded as apprentices in the records. In the 1640s things began to change – perhaps, as Brodie Waddell over at the Many-Headed-Monster blog has suggested, this was part of the great shift in possibilities of the seventeenth century. A few more girls each decade were apprenticed; many were learning needlework skills with the wives of artisans in different companies, others were becoming pastry cooks or button-makers.

Wenceslaus Hollar,  View of London. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.

Wenceslaus Hollar, View of London.
Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.

But when girls were apprenticed, the institutional barriers to them operating like male tradesmen became apparent. The point of an apprenticeship was, after learning a trade,  to become free of the city: only with that freedom could you practice a trade within the city walls. This was the essence of the citizenship that defined political participation in early modern Europe. Once men had the freedom, they could share its privileges with their wives and pass it on to their sons, and so inheritance of the right to trade became an important part of citizenship. Women, too, had the right to earn the freedom through apprenticeship: but they lost it on marriage, and could not pass it on to their daughters. The institution of marriage, for a woman,  was understood to operate as a fundamental obstacle to the freedoms of a qualified artisan; the same idea of the way marriage blocked careers could be seen two hundred and fifty years later in discussions at the London County Council over apprentice teachers.

Wenceslaus Hollar, A London Merchant's Wife (1643).   Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.

Wenceslaus Hollar, A London Merchant’s Wife (1643). Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.

So looking at women’s work historically involves partly discovering what they did – a mammoth task in itself, which women’s work is doing with the help of legal records. But it also means reconstructing the ideological constructs that defined labour, participation, and earning power – some of which have contributed to the edifice of gender that we are still living in today. 


For more information about Gender in Academia please read this Royal Historical Society report on Gender Equality and Historians in UK Higher Education.

A History Degree in Action: Hangmen: Re-Hanged and Live Cinema Conference 2016

Emily Brown (History student at KCL) reflects on how her degree and her interests have been brought together in the exciting new Live Cinema Conference.

As a history student, one is constantly reminded how the presentation of a strong argument is the key to a convincing piece of writing. Nonetheless, I would find it difficult to be persuaded by any claim that London is not a key epicentre of culture in Britain and that King’s College London, as a fulcrum of cultural research and innovation, is not the perfect setting for a performance which unites historical reality with theatrical fallacy. As part of the Live Cinema Conference hosted by King’s College, a multi-disciplinary performance has been devised to demonstrate the extraordinary ability of live performance, “event” cinema and “live” cinema to captivate an audience and provide a unique theatrical experience.

 Live Cinema Conference Image

Martin McDonagh’s first play in over ten years “Hangmen”, first performed during September 2015 at the Royal Court Theatre in West London, became part of the Live Cinema universe following its screening through National Theatre Live in March 2016.  The play opens in the year 1963, to the scene of a hanging, eerily paralleling the case of James Hanratty, one of the last people in Britain to be executed for murder, and defended in court by an alumni of King’s College London, Michael Sherrard. I was brought into the creative process as a researcher, working in collaboration with the writer, to excavate the historical context at the core of McDonough’s play. The process has been immensely stimulating and has ably demonstrated the applicability and utility of history in wider cultural contexts.

The performance aims to re-introduce the original play in a fresh context and through the process of research and writing, Hangmen: Re-hanged was formed. In order to provide a novel experience, it was imperative that the re-playing of the original text was grounded in historical accuracy. The predominant focus of my research was centred around particularly influential miscarriages of justice in the campaign to end capital punishment that ran through the twentieth century. Alongside better known protests and demonstrations against nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement,  protests against wrongly persecuted citizens were also gaining momentum.

Researching the lives of the wrongly executed and subsequently exonerated has brought home to me the moral difficulties and ethical dimensions of the histories we write. Although not included in the final script, the harrowing police statement of Derek Bentley, hanged in 1953 aged nineteen and finally pardoned for his murder conviction in 1998, who had suffered issues of mental health and was categorized with a mental age of ten when he was fifteen, was one of the incredible sources the research un-earthed. Reading the text and Bentley’s own words insisting ‘I did not have a gun’, which was partially written by policemen who coerced Bentley during his initial detainment, began to form part of the larger picture of the little appreciated anti-capital punishment feeling in England. Similarly, the story of the appalling trial of Mahmood Mattan, condemned from the outset by his own defense lawyer as ‘half-child of nature, a semi-civilized savage’ and discovering what lay beyond the doors of 10 Rillington Place, where four bodies were concealed within the floorboards, will always remain with me at a personal level beyond the mere facts and details of historical research.

Using the archives of King’s College London for the first time to uncover connections between the play’s narrative and King’s College, further rooting the production in a historically legitimate setting was an experience that taught me an enormous amount both as a student of history and a student of King’s. It was an indescribably satisfying experience to look back through hand-written minutes of copious Student Union meetings and leaf through the pages of Lucifer, the Student Review Magazine of the 1960s, to learn about the idealism and ambitions for change which permeate student life.

The beauty of a history degree is the diversity of possibilities it enables. As a student who previously studied for ten years at a school for the Performing Arts and currently presides as the Co-President for the university drama society, this opportunity provided the perfect amalgamation of my two passions: performance and history. Most students of history will have experienced the family dinners and meetings with strangers which nearly always result in the question ‘But how is history actually useful?’ If this experience has given me anything, it is an answer to that eternally frustrating, and short-sighted, inquiry.

Visit the Live Cinema Conference event page here.

The Pepys Estate Project and Film

A collaborative project about a south London estate with a rich history. Written by Dr Tim Livsey, Lecturer in Imperial & Commonwealth History KCL.

Watch the film

Together with the film maker James Price, I have been working on a research project about the extraordinary history of the Pepys Estate in Deptford, South London.

Pepys Estate

Pepys Estate map of the 1960s.


Our Pepys Estate Project was rooted in the observation that artists have often responded to history more arrestingly than historians. Unencumbered by the need for footnotes, contemporary artists including Gerhard Richter and Jeremy Deller have engaged with the past in visceral ways that academic historians struggle to parallel. The Pepys Estate Project was an experiment to explore an exceptionally freighted site by bringing together the methods of a historian with those of an artist and film maker.

Where the Pepys Estate now stands was the site of a Royal Navy yard originally established in the reign of Henry VIII. It was regularly visited by the diarist Samuel Pepys in the seventeenth century, whose concerns at Deptford included the threat of fire to the king’s ships and lusting after his subordinates’ wives. By the Victorian era the site was a major centre of navy victualling. A vast warren of warehouses stored the salt beef, ship’s biscuit, and rum that sustained British sailors.

Deptford Dockyard around 1800, by Joseph Farington.

Deptford Dockyard around 1800, by Joseph Farington.

As the navy got smaller in the 1960s, the site was deemed surplus to requirements and sold to the Greater London Council for housing. The warehouses still smelt powerfully of rum as they were converted into flats or demolished to make way for new buildings. An estate of around 1500 homes was constructed with a mix of medium rise blocks and three large towers, all linked by a network of raised concrete walkways to separate pedestrians from traffic. The Estate was formally opened in 1966.

By the 1980s, though, it was clear that the original vision of a harmonious working class community healthily housed in modernist buildings had gone badly awry. The Estate became associated with crime and poor maintenance. In the 1990s, the council demolished the concrete walkways and started to sell off council housing from the Estate to developers, particularly buildings with river views.

Our film, which is called Reading Pepys, offers an impressionistic take on this history. It combines footage of the Pepys Estate today with texts documenting different stages of its history, which are read by local residents. It is available to view online, and will be shown this summer as part of the celebrations marking fifty years of the Pepys Estate.

The project was funded by King’s College London Cultural Institute, and was a collaboration with Field Studies Ltd with additional help from the Pepys Community Library. Very many thanks to everyone involved.

Why campaigners need history

By Lucy Delap.

Why does change happen? It’s one of the most basic of questions for our discipline. Historians tend to discount the reasons most people assume underpin social change – we relentlessly remind our students that change doesn’t happen simply because new generations are born, or because time moves forward. Historians are enormously sceptical concerning easy assumptions of the direction of change, refusing teleological accounts that assume a certain destination, or whiggish optimism about progress. Instead, we seek fine-grained accounts of what motivates change, always willing to argue for continuities or reversals. Assessing change over time is our bread and butter as a profession, and we expend much energy arguing over cycles, waves, homeostasis and stability.  We sometimes break our analysis down into change or stasis at different levels of temporality, or assess short, medium and long term degrees of change. We try to hold within our view contingency and serendipity, recognising that many outcomes are possible, and very little is inevitable. These are the analytic skills that co-called futurists have turned into mini empires of consultancy, offering tools such as ‘scenario development’, strategic planning, trend analysis and so on, in order to shed light on what might happen in five, ten or twenty years’ time. Historians are rightly reluctant to offer predictions – nonetheless, we perhaps sell ourselves short in failing to recognise that our discipline has a huge amount to offer those who want to influence the future.

Histories of Change, a conference co-hosted by KCL’s History & Policy and Friends of the Earth, sets out a series of compelling case studies that focus on the factors that underlie or prevent change. Ranging across social, political, environmental and economic history, campaigners from civil society organisations will be thinking through the impact of events as catalysts for social change; the formation of unlikely or temporary coalitions; the means by which empathy or anger can be elicited amongst publics; and the varying contributions experts, campaigners, marginalised groups or bystanders can make to moments of change. Amongst our speakers, Abigail Woods, for example, traces the history of the intensification of British livestock farming, and notes the lack of any linear change in the period since World War One.  Her case study underlines the grassroots diversity of British farming, and lack of any single path to ‘agricultural modernity’. Understanding this history can allow campaigners to move away from destructive binaries, such as those that set organic or welfare-oriented farming in headlong opposition to modern or intensive methods.  Simon Sleight, in a contrasting field, examines the involvement of young people in city environments, and suggests the potential for campaigners for change to involve young people in planning and citizenship roles.

The case studies of Histories of Change do not offer the sometimes simplistic models that are predominant in disciplines such as economics, which have tended to gain the attention of the policy world.  History does not embrace simple accounts of cause and effect – but the conference does showcase the value of thinking about the complex dynamics and coalition building that underlies change – and, as David Edgerton’s case study of change in Britain during World War Two suggests, may lead to unexpected effects. Julia Urwin of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation notes that ‘successful social change will have several parents, all of whom are likely to be slightly disappointed in their progeny.’  Histories of Change helps campaigners and policy makers understand better the complex dynamics of how change happens, and invites historians to reflect explicitly on the theories of causation that underlie their work.

For an update on the conference, see here. To see it how it happened on Storify, please click here.

Magna Carta: conference on 17-19 June

This year sees the 800th anniversary of King John’s Magna Carta. Across the UK there are exhibitions, parties and pageants celebrating this iconic document, including the British Library’s Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, which opened in March to great acclaim. King’s History Department has played a major part in the commemorations, with Professor David Carpenter a co-investigator on the AHRC-funded Magna Carta Project, advisor to the British Library’s exhibition and author of a magisterial new book on the Charter, published by Penguin Classics. Along the way David and other members of the Magna Carta Project have made some momentous discoveries, which have hit the headlines across the world and put this 800 year old document in a new light. These revelations – and much other new research – will be showcased in a major conference, held at King’s and the British Library 17-19 June.

BL Cotton Claudius D II f.116

BL Cotton Claudius D II f.116

Historians from King’s (David Carpenter, Anne Duggan, Jinty Nelson, Alice Taylor) will be joined by scholars from across the UK, France and the USA to reveal the world of Magna Carta in unparalleled breadth and depth (you can view the whole conference programme on the Magna Carta Project website); from the Charter’s background and later use to its place in medieval law; from propaganda and political ideas in King John’s reign to kingship in medieval literature; from John’s military campaigns to the scribes of his court; and from the Charter’s continental and British context to its impact on society.

There will also be a reception at the Maughan Library (spaces are limited, so book now to avoid disappointment!), where the J. C. Holt Undergraduate Essay Prize will be awarded by Melvyn Bragg, and a rare opportunity to enjoy a private viewing of the British Library’s Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition, introduced by lead curator Claire Breay. Those attending day three of the conference are also being offered free entry to the British Library’s Early European Parallels to Magna Carta evening event (again, spaces are limited so book now to be sure of a place).

You can read more about The Magna Carta Conference, and book your ticket, on the Magna Carta Project website.

Sophie Ambler, Research Associate, The Magna Carta Project, University of East Anglia