KCBH Conference 2019

 

 

 

This is the third annual KCBH conference. This year our theme will Britain’s Futures – the ways in which hoped for or feared futures were articulated. Our expectation is that a discussion focused on the projects, promises and plans of the past will enrich our collective understanding of both British history and how it has been written.

Our four themed discussions, on National and Imperial futures, Social futures, Economic futures, and Political futures, will be led by, among others:

Clarisse Berthezène, Lise Butler, Sabine Clarke, Alana Harris, Kit Kowol, Helen McCarthy, Charlotte Lydia Riley, Emily Robinson, Catherine Schenk, Bill Schwarz, Peter Sloman, and Richard Toye.

PIMLOTT LECTURE: On the evening of 9 July, KCBH will co-host the Ben Pimlott Memorial Lecture 2019, with Twentieth Century British History and OUP Journals. Professor Patricia Clavin will deliver the lecture, which will be entitled, ‘Britain and the making of Global Order after 1919’. Anyone who signs up for the KCBH conference is free to attend the Pimlott Lecture

This event is free, but booking is essential.

England on the Verge of Brexit: Lecture by John Denham

England on the Verge of Brexit: Brexit was made in England; but will England be re-made by Brexit?

Lecture by John Denham

19 March, 6.30-8pm / Nash Lecture Theatre, King’s College London, The Strand, London WC2R 2LS

Brexit was a very English decision. Yet England was barely mentioned in the referendum campaign nor in its fractious aftermath. It remains a nation whose name is unspoken. 

This lecture will explore the roots of England’s discontent in its governance and constitutional status and the failure to tackle the nation’s economic and social divides. John Denham will argue that, unless these challenges are addressed during Brexit and its aftermath, the underlying tensions will only grow.

Prof John Denham is Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics at the University of Winchester. He is a former Labour MP and Cabinet Minister.

The lecture is jointly hosted by King’s Contemporary British history and English Labour Network. It is the inaugural event in KCBH’s England series.

To attend, please register at Eventbrite here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/england-on-the-verge-of-brexit-john-denham-tickets-57032846780

Launch of The British End of the British Empire by Prof. Sarah Stockwell

The IHR World and Imperial History Seminar & King’s Contemporary British History cordially invite you to a roundtable
and launch party for

The British End of the British Empire by Sarah Stockwell

18 March 2019 at 5.30 pm at King’s College London’s Strand campus in the History Department open space on the 8th floor.

Discussants: Gareth Austin (Cambridge), Ruth Craggs (King’s) and Michael Collins (UCL).

It is helpful if you register in advance if you hope to attend, as this facilitates access to the campus. You can do this by following this link. 

For directions to the department see https://www.kcl.ac.uk/history/ Contact-us.aspx : lifts take you from reception to the 7th floor; take the stairs to the 8th, and then turn left to the open space. We do hope you can join us.

 

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Announcement: The Ben Pimlott Memorial Lecture 2019

KCBH is delighted to announce that it will co-host the Ben Pimlott Memorial Lecture 2019, with Twentieth Century British History and OUP Journals. Professor Patricia Clavin will deliver the lecture, which will be entitled, ‘Britain and the making of Global Order after 1919’.

Tuesday 9th July 2019, 6:30 p.m.
King’s College London

Location: TBA

Please watch this space for Eventbrite registration

For more information, see here.

Patrick Porter on Blunder: Britain’s War in Iraq

King’s Contemporary British History and the Sir Michael Howard Centre for the History of War will co-host an event to celebrate the publication of Blunder: Britain’s War in Iraq by Professor Patrick Porter (University of Birmingham), in the KCL History Department on Friday 14 December 2018. Talk by the author, followed by a Q&A, and wine reception. All welcome, but booking required: see here

‘A report from the KCBH conference 2018: The UK through comparative and transnational perspectives’

As part of our ‘UK Through Comparative and Transnational Perspectives’ conference, we were able to award a number of postgraduate/early career researcher travel bursaries. Over the next few weeks these bursary winners will discuss their perceptions of the conference.

Our final winner is PhD student Matthew Myers (Oxford)  who discusses his thoughts on the day.

The second annual conference of KCBH took place in Kings College on 2 July this year. Bringing together scholars from across Britain and North America, this year’s event was aimed at situating academic work on the history of the United Kingdom in a comparative and transnational perspective. Spurred by the approaching exit of Britain from the European Union, the conference organisers wished to put Britain’s relationship with the world at centre stage.

Six separate sessions were hosted throughout the day, with forty two scholars presenting papers or chairing sessions. The program was organised around ten key books and themes which offered the potential for comparative and transnational perspectives. Subjects ranged from Ralph Miliband’s Parliamentary Socialism, the British empire and decolonisation, the Good Friday agreement, the response of government to the world 2008 financial crisis, the development of the British Welfare state, the development of suffrage, modes of warfare, and Keith Middlemas’s Politics of Industrial Society. Each session was chaired by leading scholars in the field, including leading academics based in the U.S.

Guy Ortolono (NYU) gave the conference-closing keynote, titled ‘Begrudging Market Liberalism’. Using an empirically rich analysis of the Milton Keynes Development Corporation as his starting point, Guy offered a rich exposition of the vagaries of Britain’s ‘property-owning democracy’, charting the shift from what he called ‘property-owning social democracy’ (where, from the post-war period to the late 1970s, there was a felt need on the side of government for balance between renters and owners) to ‘property owning democracy’ (where there was no such concern for balance). Guy punctured the myth of Thatcherite sloganeering which proclaimed the battle being between property owners and those advocating universal social housing provision. There was never a division between right and left on housing provision, he argued. Labour under Harold Wilson was committed in word and deed to hugely expand private home ownership. The question was of balance between public and private, not total common provision. The reality was that Labour’s housing policy was organised like its wider management of class conflict. It sought to find an uneasy balance between often contradictory social interests; a delicate balance the more nakedly market-orientated Tories had increasingly little time for.

What the conference outlined was the growing appetite amongst British historians to think outside the usual Britain-constricted frame, driven by a reading of current political developments. French and Italian historians like Patrick Boucheron (Histoire Mondiale de la France, 2017) and Andrea Giardina (Storia mondiale dell’Italia, 2017) have shown that it isn’t just the British who are taking up these questions.

Yet while the ambition to engage with these urgently necessary frames are present, the means (and possibly the will) to engage concretely with the comparative and transnational frame seem unfulfilled. As a participants noted in the first session on Ralph Miliband’s Parliamentary Socialism, the prolific figure of the British New Left made almost no mention of any figures outside the British Labour Party, let alone the world in his classic text. The chair, Professor Richard Vinen noted that Miliband’s only reference to a non-British socialist leader was Léon Blum. The choice of the book as a starting point for transnational and comparative perspectives only further highlighted the historic and deeply entrenched aversion to this perspective amongst many classic texts, as well as the distance still to travel.

To fulfil on the promise of the conference’s theme – which had been spurred by the context of Brexit and Britain’s relationship with Europe – the experience of the conference may indicate that new and possibly unsettling approaches may still be required. Questions and contributions during the sessions were often confined to the Britain-centric themes of many of the papers. To fulfil on the promise of the new comparative and transnational frame, next year’s sessions may need an explicit remit to compare British experiences with Europe and the world. As well as comparative approaches, a country historically highly integrated into global flows of people, commodities, and ideas offers immense material for transnational discussions within the discrete confines of the ‘national’ polity. Unfortunately, explicit internationally comparative frameworks were sparse throughout the day. To make such links may require engagement with non-English language scholarship in Europe and further afield.

As Britain’s place in the world is increasingly under the political spotlight, the need for a renewed engagement with comparative and transnational themes has never been more necessary. This conference was an important and necessary step in the right direction.

Matthew Myers is a History DPhil student at the University of Oxford. His research focuses on the political and social history of Britain, France, and Italy during the 1970s.

KCBH 2018 Bringing New Formats and Perspectives

As part of our ‘UK Through Comparative and Transnational Perspectives’ conference, we were able to award a number of postgraduate/early career researcher travel bursaries. Over the next few weeks these bursary winners will discuss their perceptions of the conference.

Next up is Amanda Hall (St Andrews) who discusses her thoughts on the day.

If you are organising a conference, consider this innovative format pioneered by Dr Maggie Scull and Professor David Edgerton at the King’s Contemporary British History conference. Instead of the traditional 20-minute paper format, panels were built around short introductions to an individual’s topic – such as my discussion of the how the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement has shifted debate of the Agreement’s legacy on the issue of ‘peace’ in the region – with over an hour set aside for discussion between panellists and with the audience. Rather than potentially only having the opportunity to answer a question or two after delivering prepared remarks this structure provided the chance for in-depth back-and-forth. As a non-historian attending a history conference, this format helped me to realise connections between my own work and that of scholars from other disciplines in a way that otherwise would not have been possible.

The topic of the conference, ‘UK Through Comparative and Transnational Perspectives’, was well-suited to this interdisciplinary success, as scholars across both disciplines and sub-fields concerned themselves with thinking about the history of the United Kingdom and how that may inform the near future (perhaps most obviously with Brexit). The broad theme, and its encouragement of diverse thinking and perspectives, was evident from the first panel I attended, ‘Empire, Nation, World and Decolonisation’, chaired by Dr Charlotte Riley, with presentations from Dr Michael Lambert, Dr John Wilson, and Professor David Edgerton. Using their 5-minute slots to their fullest extent, these presentations fitted together a narrative of empire-building and community-definition as an outward-facing process, even when such processes failed to bring about similar sentiments and support at home. The longer conversation between panellists and the audience contextualised the current moment in UK politics as part of a much longer historic narrative in the country, reframing the last seven decades as a period in which the current idea of ‘national identity’ was deliberately constructed, rather than organically developed.

After a short break, the second session of the conference included the panel on which I presented, ‘Post-Conflict Northern Ireland in the Transnational Lens’. Chaired by Dr Maggie Scull, I had the opportunity to contribute to the conference alongside presentations from Dr George Legg, Edwin Coomasaru, Alex Coupe, and Dr Katie Markham. My co-panellists presented on topics ranging from post-conflict issues of consociationalism; understanding Northern Ireland through the lens of pacifism, feminism, and queer studies; the role of the arts in generating cross-community space following 1998; and the role of the heritage sector in forwarding specific narratives of the conflict. I used my five minutes to discuss the question of whether the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland achieved ‘peace’ and what the definitional issues surrounding that label may be, particularly considering the development of a ‘culture war’ replacing active fighting. In my opinion, this fit into the larger conference theme through the uncertainty of the current moment in Northern Ireland and the issues regarding binary social division, a phenomenon seen in other contexts across the West today.

The success of the conference’s format was evident in the wide range of topics discussed by my fellow panellists, as well as the broad discussion with the audience that followed – both depth and breadth within a single panel that are unique among conferences I have attended in the past. The hour of discussion included topics ranging from the applicability of the lessons of Northern Ireland’s peace process to the Basque Country, the role of education in contact and division in Northern Ireland, counter-terrorism efforts, and the role of parades in drawing tourism. Despite coming from such varied academic backgrounds, the conversation allowed everyone in the room to contribute to the discussion – to the benefit of us all. I walked away from the panel with a new understanding of my own research and how it can be applied and communicated beyond the boundaries which I have previously considered. Being in the middle of my project, this helped me return to my fieldwork and notes with a wider-angle lens on the issue of the many forms of and actors in ‘peace’ in Northern Ireland, and my experience at KCBH 2018 will undoubtedly strengthen the final results of my doctoral research moving forward.

After speaking with others throughout the day, it was clear I was not the only one to walk away (after attending a final panel session on ‘Modes of Warfare’, keynote by Professor Guy Ortalano, and wine reception) with a new perspective not only on my own topic, but on the conference theme of ‘UK Through Comparative and Transnational Perspectives’ – particularly the ways that this view of the UK is relevant across contemporary scholarship, even that which is largely focused outside of the present day. Such a broad view was only apparent due to the candour and openness of the conference: a feeling encouraged by the discussion-based nature of the day. Such a broad conference theme could have felt disjointed, particularly with participants from across a wide range of topics and disciplines. Instead, due to the opportunity to directly engage with presentations and other audience members, it felt like the kind of day I imagined at the start of my PhD: the chance to discuss ‘big ideas’ with people who see things from other perspectives, while trying to see my own topic in another light. Overall, I cannot say enough positive things about the day, its content, and its structure, and highly encourage others to attend future events or adopt the format for their own conference!

Amanda Hall is a PhD Candidate in International Relations at the University of St Andrews. Her research focuses on ‘inter-referendum’ Northern Ireland, from the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to the 2016 Brexit vote, and considers the quality of peace in the region during that time.

The Study of Contemporary British History at King's College London