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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

The Institute of Historical Research (IHR) is a unique academic environment and an internationally-renowned facility for the pursuit of historical scholarship and for the dissemination of historical knowledge, and as such it is one of the larger members of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. It was founded by Professor A.F.Pollard in 1921, who sought to establish it as a „world centre“ for historical endeavour, and then as now, its aim was to complement, but not to compete with, the history departments of British and overseas universities. More than three quarters of a century on, this vision still informs the IHR’s purpose and mission: to promote the study of history and an appreciation of the importance of the past among academics and the general public; to provide institutional support and individual leadership for the broad historical community in London, across Britain and internationally; to offer a wide range of facilities and services which assist the researching, teaching, writing and dissemination of history; to further high quality scholarship on particular aspects of the past by means of collective research projects; and to nurture a hospitable and welcoming environment where historians at all stages of their careers and from all parts of the world may meet formally and informally.
Because the IHR is not a history department in the conventional sense, because it hosts and houses many varied scholarly activities, and because of its inter-linked roles (and constituents) which are metropolitan, national and international, it has evolved a system of management and monitoring which is peculiarly appropriate to itself. Each major area of IHR activity is overseen by a committee, whose members are drawn from the history departments of the colleges of London University, from the history departments of HEIs across the nation, and from other national institutions and walks of life (e.g. libraries, galleries, publishing). These committees report to, and are represented on, the IHR’s Advisory Council, which consists of twenty-four members, drawn from the same three broad categories, and chaired by a senior historian. The Council meets once a term: its agendas are full; its discussions are lengthy and lively; and its help and advice are invaluable. The Director, who is responsible for the day-to-day management of the IHR, and for developing its long-term academic strategy, is ex officio a member of all IHR committees (and chairs several of them). He is answerable to the Dean of the School of Advanced Study, and through him to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of London.
The people who work at the IHR fall into three broad (and overlapping) categories. The permanent staff of the IHR number fifty, and they are active scholars, librarians and administrators, although in practice, and as befits a place primarily devoted to research, these categories tend to meld and merge one into the other. Also associated with the IHR are its Fellows, who come under four categories: Honorary Fellows (scholars of exceptional distinction, who have also rendered signal service to the IHR); Senior Research Fellows (usually outstanding historians, working as private scholars, to whom the IHR gives recognition and affiliation); Visiting Fellows (overseas scholars, primarily but not exclusively from North America, Europe and Japan, with particular research projects); and Junior Fellows (pre- and post-doctoral fellowships lasting from six months to one year). The third and largest category are the IHR’s general membership, which is in excess of four thousand: these are working historians, from Britain and abroad, and ranging from post-graduates to senior scholars. They are mostly professional academics, but also include members of the interested public, who use its facilities, and undertake their own historical research.
As its own history shows (see J.M.Horn and D.Birch, The History Laboratory (London, 1996)), and as its name suggests, research is not merely one aspect of the IHR’s activities: it is now and always has been, the very essence of the place. Ever since it was established, the IHR has been the embodiment and exemplification of a rich and robust research culture, collectively created by the permanent staff, the IHR Fellows, and its large and growing general membership, and it has consistently responded to changes in historical methodology and to shifts in scholarly interests, while at the same time intensifying and expanding its own particular scholarly projects. Whether in a metropolitan, a national, or an international context, the IHR’s research activities may most usefully be described under three broad headings. The first is facilitation: the unique and varied services that it provides to support the work of other scholars, professional and lay, from Britain and overseas. The second is the substantive research carried out by the collective research projects which the IHR accommodates. The third concerns the researches of individual members of staff, and the opportunities for training and career development which the IHR provides for younger scholars.
A. Facilitation Activities
This side of the IHR’s research is itself best treated under three separate sub-headings: the IHR library; its publications, both paper and electronic; and its programme of seminars, meetings, conferences and lectures.
The IHR library, which consists of over 160,000 volumes, is at the heart of the IHR’s research support and facilitation activities, it is generally regarded as the best open-access library for working historians anywhere in the United Kingdom, and its holdings include many volumes unavailable in the British Library. It is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Monday to Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The collection comprises printed primary sources, three hundred and fifty periodical titles, and many reference works, guides to archives, etc. It specialises in the history of Europe since the fall of Rome, and its holdings in British local history, and in English, French, Spanish and Italian history are outstanding. It also houses important collections in ecclesiastical history, the history of international relations, and the history of the British Commonwealth and the United States. The library staff are all trained historians and they devote much of their time to assisting other scholars in their researches. The IHR’s senior librarian, Robert Lyons, for several years chaired the Libraries Committee of the School of Advanced Studies. In 1995 the IHR Library received £83,000 from the Joint Funding Councils’ Libraries Review Group for the conversion to automated form of the entire catalogue, and that conversion is in sight of completion. The unique national importance of the IHR library has recently been recognised by the RSLP, from which it is receiving an annual grant of £43,000 for three years. The recent refurbishment of the third floor and basement of the IHR has made it possible to provide each librarian with an office for the first time, and also to increase shelf-space by the provision of rolling stacks.
The IHR’s publications are in two forms, hard copy and electronic. Among its paper publications is the flagship journal, Historical Research, which is edited by the Director and is, in the company of the English Historical Review and Past & Present, one of the few journals which publishes across the last two millennia of history. In recent years, the number of submissions (both from Britain and abroad) has increased so markedly that since January 2001 it has been appearing four rather than three times a year. There are two other major publishing projects, which are invaluable research tools: the Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae (an authoritative list of all senior clerics from the middle ages to the nineteenth century) and Office-Holders in Modern Britain (which catalogues all senior government and courtly appointments from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries). In addition, the IHR publishes annually two essential reference works for all working historians: Historical Research for Higher Degrees in the UK, and Teachers of History in the Universities of the UK. In electronic publications, the IHR has long been a pioneer, ever since the then Director launched the electronic journal, Reviews in History, five years ago: it is widely recognised as an electronic journal of exceptional quality, which publishes lengthy, considered reviews, and also allows the author the right of reply. The IHR has recently launched a new service entitled History On-Line, with the support of many university presses and trade publishers, which provides details of books and articles published by sixteen major publishers in the UK in an easily searchable form on the Internet. Beginning this autumn, the Royal Historical Society’s Annual Bibliography of British and Irish History will be prepared for presentation online at the IHR, thanks to a substantial grant from the AHRB. And the IHR’s website, www.history.ac.uk is a high quality (and constantly updated) gateway for a rapidly growing volume of historical information available on the internet.
The IHR’s programme of seminars, meetings, conferences and lectures is unrivalled by any other university in the English-speaking world. Its thirty nine seminars meet weekly or fortnightly from Mondays to Fridays in term time at five p.m., they are convened by teaching staff from the University of London and other HEIs within the M25, and they regularly draw speakers and participants from Britain and abroad. Without such opportunities much research would simply never be presented to or discussed by a knowledgeable and specialised academic community and it is unlikely that it would be developed into more effective and enduring scholarship. They cover most periods of British and European history from medieval to modern times; there are specialist seminars on (for example) maritime history, military history, film in history, global history and feminism and the enlightenment; and the seminar convenors meet with the Director each term, to discuss matters of general concern, and to consider proposals for new seminars. The IHR provides financial support for these seminars and attracts funds from external sources, such as the French Cultural Services. Many professional bodies with historical interests arrange their meetings and conferences at the IHR: in an average year, there are fifty such meetings, ranging from the Anarchist Research group to the Society for Court Studies; and twenty-five such conferences, among them the Women’s Economic History Workshop and the Royal Historical Society. In addition, the IHR organises conferences of its own: some address issues of pressing professional concern (for example, Is the Monograph Dead?, and Local History On-Line, the latter in collaboration with the PRO); some are in collaboration with other institutions (for example, Monetary Unions and Impostors, held jointly with the British Museum); and some are exercises in international outreach (for example the recent Anglo-French and Anglo-Japanese conferences). The IHR’s flagship gathering, which is the largest of its kind regularly held in Britain, is the annual Anglo-American Conference of Historians, which draws between three and four hundred scholars from both sides of the Atlantic, to discuss such subjects as Monarchies, Race and Ethnicity, War and Peace and The Sea. In recent years, the IHR has also begun to develop a public lecture programme, with lectures sponsored by the Marc Fitch Fund (local history), the Leverhulme Trust (contemporary British history and metropolitan history), and the Penguin Press (an annual series of four lectures, modelled on the Trevelyan Lectures in Cambridge and the Ford Lectures in Oxford). The provision of a server on the Internet dedicated to offering video-clips, as well as video-conferencing over ISDN lines, and multi-casting on the Internet means the IHR’s seminars, meetings, conferences and lectures may now be broadcast to a wider national and international audience, and this facility is increasingly being used.

Consistent with the IHR’s mission, these activities facilitate the work of other historians, by making available to them the resources and outlets and opportunities to undertake their own research, to enhance their standing in the profession, and to disseminate their research findings. And they not only facilitate the work of individual scholars: they also complement the activities of history departments throughout the country by providing them with infrastructural services and support. In all these ways, the scholarly activities of many individual historians and university history departments are greatly enhanced by their use of the facilities and services which the IHR exists to provide. Similarly, the IHR’s Common Room, recently refurbished with a grant from the British Friends of the IHR, is a vital component in the working lives of historians from Britain and overseas, where many informal meetings and discussions take place. But the IHR not only facilitates the work of other scholars: these activities are in themselves scholarly endeavours that contribute in a significant way to the IHR’s overall research culture. The librarians advise senior historians and mentor graduate students; the publications staff undertake important editorial and bibliographical tasks; and the planning of IHR conferences and lectures is a major exercise in academic entrepreneurship and scholarly outreach. Much of this work is also interdisciplinary in character: sociologists, economists, geographers, archaeologists, anthropologists and literary scholars (from Britain and overseas) regularly attend and address IHR seminars, meetings and conferences; and the seminar series on History and Human Nature, co-sponsored by Grove Publishers and Prospect Magazine, has opened up a dialogue between historians, philosophers, psychologists, biochemists and geneticists.

Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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