Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Goodenough Annual Conference Series - War & Faith: Exploring the place of Religion in Conflict and Reconciliation, Friday 18 June 2010

Over the past nine years Goodenough College has established an internationally renowned conference series with a reputation for addressing serious issues of multi-disciplinary and global importance. This series of conferences is devised and organised by members of Goodenough College and attracts the highest calibre of specialists from political, financial, academic and diplomatic communities around the world.

This year the College will host speakers from a number of diverse fields to examine the relationship between war and faith in the past and present, particularly the extent to which religion can be seen as a cause of conflict, the religious discourses used to define the experience of war, and the ways that faith can be instrumental to reconciliation and reconstruction. The connection between war and faith stretches back for millenia, but it is one that is increasingly important to examine, discuss, and attempt to understand in the twenty-first century.

Follow the link below for more information:

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Professor Duncan Tanner

Sadly, Professor Duncan Tanner died recently (you can see an obituary here, and another one here). He was only 51, and his death was a shock to many people. I wanted to share some of the experiences I had of listening to him speak. This is not an attempt to write another obituary but to share the one or two brief experiences I had of meeting him. I have been inspired to write something based on the very positive experiences I had of listening to him.

The first time I met him was during a AHRC-sponsored event for people embarking on their PhDs. I remembering him speaking with great enthusiasm for his current area of research: the history of Welsh devolution. The second time, was at a workshop last year at the University of Birmingham on non-government activism in post-war Britain. Professor Tanner attended and spoke on the possibilities and challenges associated with writing really contemporary history. He gave fascinating and useful insights into his work and carefully described research and career opportunities for young researchers.

During a coffee break at the workshop, I asked him for some advice concerning the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. He was an expert on the workings of the Act, and was full of ideas for its potential for contemporary historians. My own research focuses on the history Citizens' Advice Bureaux, a charity designed to help individuals in their dealings with the state. I was having difficulties getting hold of certain records which may or may not have been covered by the FOI legislation. I approached Professor Tanner to ask how best I should frame a request for information.

Professor Tanner was extremely helpful in his suggestions. He gave me contacts and ideas on how best to approach the relevant authorities with my requests for information. At the same time he seemed interested in my work and gave me encouragement to pursue requests under FOI. I also remember him coming for a drink with the attendees afterwards, most of whom were doctoral students, to ask about their research.

As someone who had only a fleeting experience of Duncan Tanner, I will remember him as a very helpful and inspiring academic.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

History Lab's annual conference - Politics and Power

Politics and Power
Call for Papers
History Lab Annual Conference
29th and 30th June 2010
Institute of Historical Research, London

Political history is sometimes seen as the victim of recent turns in historical practice. This conference aims to explore where politics fits into the current practice of history, and the current shape – and status – of political history.The General Election means that 2010 would seem to be a good year in which to consider the state of politics in history, not just as Political History, but as a broader aspect of much historical research. The past can be a powerful motivator and politician’s tool, and historians play an important role in this; we need also to be aware of our own political positions when writing history. What is the place of traditional forms of Political History in the 21st century? How can this type of history interact with other approaches to history? Has the cultural turn really done for political history, or just changed the way we do it? How do we define ‘political history’ – is all history politics?

Abstracts are invited for 20 minute papers that address any of these issues, in any time period. Suggested topics include:

People, parties and networks
Elections, voters and the franchise
Inclusion and exclusion
Political theory and the practice of political history
The use of history in politics
Protest and revolution
Local politics
Power and agency
Nationalism and devolution
International politics
Identity politics
The 2010 election in historical context
‘New politics’ – neoliberalism, New Labour and reinvigoration

Please send a 250-300 word abstract by the end of Monday, 17th May to, giving your institution (if applicable) and contact details. Suggestions for two or three person panels are welcomed: please supply a title or theme for your panel, and abstracts and contact details for each proposed panellist.

Friday, 23 April 2010

David Turner (York) 'Managing the royal road: the development of managerial structure on the London and South Western Railway 1836-1881'

David Turner gave a highly stimulating account of the LSWR's managerial structure, and its development, in a paper to the History Lab Postgraduate Seminar on 22 April.

The paper analysed some of the key driving factors of organisational change in the management of LSWR, and considered how these impacted on the company's performance. An important characteristic of management was the amount of independence enjoyed by each of the departments of the company. This independence came about largely through the demands of administration, and the absence of centralised control throughout this period.

A stimulating discussion followed the paper in which questions were asked about the efficiency of the company, and the issue of social mobility within its staff.

More about David's work can be found on his blog which can be found at:

The next paper is on 6 May, when Simon Lambe, (St Mary's, London) will present a paper on the Tudor monarchy and the Somerset gentry.

Friday, 16 April 2010

To overseas conference or not to overseas conference...

One of the greatest pleasures of my career to date has been attending conferences overseas.  If, like me, you research contemporary British history and study/work in the UK, then the chances of heading off somewhere exotic/interesting/warm to hit the archives are usually limited.  I chose particularly badly on the 'reasons to travel for research' front by working on East London, where I also happened to live and work part-time.  So I needed nothing more than a zone 1-3 travelcard in order to get my research done.  In terms of meeting people from around the world in my field, I was spoilt by a) doing my PhD at the IHR where most people rock up to at some point and b) working at one of the archives my fellow specialists would travel to. 

However, whilst it's very easy to have everyone come to you, there are many, many good reasons why you should get to an overseas conference at least once in your PhD studies, beyond the getting more stamps in your passport and it looking good on your CV.   Some studentships - usually research council ones - will offer a multi-purpose research support grant that can be used for travel to conferences, and if you are in this position, then you should seriously consider using your grant for this.  If you aren't this lucky, then it is more than worth making an application to schemes such as the Royal Historical Society's postgraduate support scheme.  Money might also be forthcoming from other sources, including alumni funds from your university or school, local trust funds and the like.  The IHR's Grants in History is always worth a look, too.  The conference you are attending may also offer to pay some or all of your costs.

I've had a number of trips for conferences outside the UK: two to the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands.  The first trip was arranged by my university, and was supported by a British Academy grant, back in 2003.  The second resulted in my gaining one of my first publications in an edited collection.  I also got to go to Japan to attend an academic conference, although this was through my paid work rather than through academic channels.  The Social History Society periodically holds its annual conference outside the UK, and I've been lucky enough to get to Dublin (2005) and Rotterdam (2008).  I am involved with the British Scholar conference held by the University of Texas at Austin, which is a thoroughly enjoyable conference, having been to it twice.

So what did I gain from my travels?  Well, the EU conferences left no evidence on my passport, if the Japanese and US jaunts have.  On the most basic level, it's been an opportunity to travel and to experience something out of the norm.  But it also opens your eyes to the ways in which universities and research work beyond the UK, which are the kinds of things you discover through observation and through small talk.  I'll tackle the first point first.  If you have spent all of your educational and working life in Britain, it's easy to forget that the world simply operates in different ways.  For a start, British degrees - indeed secondary schooling - is relatively unusual in offering early specialisation.  Thus British graduates fresh from school are generally let loose on industry at the ages of 21/22 - or they can begin an MA at an equally tender age, before starting a PhD a year later.  For those who have straightforward (or at least relatively straightforward - I'm not alone in having a segue into 'real life' before doing my PhD) routes through to their PhD, the average age at completion is 25-28 or so.  Compare this with the US where a four year degree programme with specialisation in the later stages leads to a longer postgraduate programme, often interrupted by the pressures of funding studies through taking on paid work.  PhDs in the Netherlands are examined in public... so rather than sitting there in front of your examiners and possibly your supervisor, trying to avoid puking, you could be standing up in front of an audience, defending your thesis in public, trying to avoid puking.  These are a couple of examples that would suggest that the experience of doing a PhD - and later working as an academic - is not as universal as we may initially think.  It's a useful means of starting a discussion about what it is we do prepare our postgraduate students for, and whether there is anything to be learned by doing or examining a PhD a different way.

The other way in which getting out of the UK and out to a conference is in terms of the way in which it changes your perspective on your subject.  It's not just the exposure to a different narrative that counts.  It's also an understanding of how not being British, how not living and working in the UK, for example, might literally shape the way in which you come to your work.  How do you work your research questions with the practicalities of archival research?  How might the training offered where you did your PhD take you in other directions to that of a British-trained PhD student?  These are refreshing and important points, at least to think about.  In short, whether it is the way a conference is organised, the experiences that your colleagues have had, the take they have on your topic, all raise questions about the global nature of academia and how postgraduates fit into this.

So, in my view, it's worth making the effort to apply to overseas conferences and to work on getting the funds together.  Granted, options involving sea travel and Eurostar may become more important if the Icelandic volcano continues to spew ash into the atmosphere, but it's still worth it...

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

History Lab North West - Postgraduate Workshop, Weds 2 June 2010

We're really pleased to announce that History Lab North West will be holding a one day postgrad workshop on Weds 2 June 2010 at Manchester Metropolitan University.  To whet your appetite, here's the provisional programme: 

11.00am: Registration
11:20am: Welcome

11.30am Session 1: Female Experiences
Jenny Hillman (University of York) ‘Penitent Magdalenes’: Conversion and the Cabinet in seventeenth-century Paris.

Andrea Livesey (University of Liverpool) 'Sexual Interference by the Antebellum Southern Slave owner as told by Ex-Slaves in the 1930s.'
12:30pm: Lunch (please provide your own lunch)
1:30pm Session 2: Representation
Becky Williams (University of Liverpool) “Saints Alive!” Graffiti and Devotion in late medieval Europe.
Rebecca Conway (University of Manchester)‘Modern England is Rapidly BlackpoolingItself’: J.B. Priestley, Blackpooland Englishness.

Simon Williams (University of Liverpool) The Reception of a Medieval Text: Interpreting the Manuscripts of Liudprandof Cremona’s Antapodosis.
3pm: Coffee

3:30pm Session 3: Policy and Reform

Mark Seddon (University of Sheffield) State-Private Networks and the Origin of British Cold War Policy, 1941-1948.
Nick Foggo (University of Liverpool) Why was social reform in Liverpool so long in the coming?
4:30pm Simon Lambe (History Lab Chair) The Postgraduate Experience
All welcome!  For more information, please contact Carly Deering or Christina Brindley at or join our facebook group.
History Lab North West is a regional affiliate of History Lab, the network for postgraduate and early career historians, and is supported by the Institute of Historical Research.