History Now and Then

Knowledge Quarter’s partner, the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, presents ‘History now and then’ a series of six public discussions on how we regard – and disregard – the past.

They are run by the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), organised and chaired by cultural historian, writer and broadcaster Daniel Snowman, featuring top historians including Margot Finn, Margaret MacMillan, Chris Wickham, David Starkey, Taylor Downing, Diarmaid MacCulloch and Miri Rubin. Lectures will take place monthly (6–7.30pm) in the comfort of the redesigned and refurbished Institute of Historical Research in Senate House, University of London, and each has its own theme:

  • Rhodes statue and beyond (5 October): How far can or should history be re-written to accommodate contemporary values? The panel, Martin Daunton, Margot Finn, Jinty Nelson and David Starkey, will consider the pros and cons of ‘apology’. Have some aspects of history become unacceptable even to discuss?
  • History and change (2 November): Is history necessarily the story of ‘change’? Who or what creates change? Margaret MacMillan, Rana Mitter, Gareth Stedman Jones and Andrew Roberts, will reflect on the role of ‘great men’ and ‘great women’ in driving historical change.
  • The proper focus of history (7 December): Should history focus on the nation? A locality? The wider world? Or should it focus on ‘things’ instead? Should it have a short, precisely defined temporal focus or a longer Durée? (Maxine Berg, Jerry Brotton, Richard Drayton, Chris Wickham).
  • Lessons from the past (11 January 2017): Does history ‘repeat itself’? What kind of ‘lessons’ can we learn from history? The panel, Jeremy Black, Taylor Downing, Ian Mortimer and Lucy Riall, will explore the idea of counterfactual history: could the past have been different?
  • History and religion(s) (8 February 2017): What role has religion played in the unfolding of history? The panel, Felicity Heal, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Miri Rubin and Brian Young, will ask whether it has been a fundamental motivating force or a reflection of deeper socioeconomic trends and priorities.
  • The future of the past (8 March 2017): How will future historians judge today’s history writing? What do modern historians over-emphasise or under-emphasise? Caroline Barron, Anne Curry, Charlotte Roueché and Jane Winters, will discuss the influence of ‘big history’ and ‘big data’ and predict how the writing of history will change in the digital age.

‘History has never been so popular,’ comments Daniel Snowman. ‘Yet important current issues are too often discussed with little regard for the backstory. This series aims to encourage historians and non-experts alike to seek out the links between past and present, between history ‘then’ and ‘now’. For, as the great French historian Marc Bloch wisely put it many years ago: “Misunderstanding of the present is the inevitable consequence of ignorance of the past.”‘

IHR director Professor Lawrence Goldman, says ‘We are not the first generation to have reflected on the nature of historical change, the role of religion in history, and the legacy of honouring bad men, to name three of the themes to be discussed at these events. But our audience can expect original and provocative responses from some of the finest writers and debaters on the nature of history. We hope you’ll join us for monthly events that will force us to re-examine the relationship of past and present.’