How to Save the Union (Jack)

So, Alex Salmond won. 71-29 if you believe the Guardian. Come 18 September, Scotland will vote for independence, the United Kingdom of old will never be the same again. I’ve always thought there was quite a strong case for devolution, even independence, in Scotland. I love the place, and I’d be very sad to see…

The First Century of Welfare

Some time around Christmas 1698, Thomas Gerrard of Little Hilton asked his neighbour for help. Gerrard was sick, and he had a young family. He was poor, and wanted to make the case to magistrates at nearby Wigan that he should be receiving formal relief. It was not an especially long journey, but Gerrard felt…

Why the Civil Wars are Never on Telly

The last week in January was a big one in British history, for in 1649 it saw us put our King on trial and then cut off his head. It was one of the most radical political coups in history and a moment of astonishing drama. Not that you’d tell this from the Radio Times…

Reds Under the Archive Table

I’ve just returned from a meeting of colleagues. Sitting in a dark and smoke-filled room, we stroked our goatee beards, rustled our copies of the Morning Star, and discussed our plan to overthrow capitalism, our scheme to indoctrinate the youth against the Tories, and what biscuits to get for the common room. This afternoon I’m…

Michael Gove vs The Lefty Academics – Let Battle Continue!

Michael Gove’s scrap with the Lefty Academics over the causes of the First World War seems to be running out of steam, but fear not! Here are eight other centenaries for them to argue about in 2014. 1814: the Fall of Napoleon. Lefty Academics say: Socially-mobile Corsican defeated by forces of conservatism. Michael Gove says:…

Why We Study History

It’s interview season in Oxford. The place is always strange around this time – the nights have drawn in, the weather is cold, and an army of awkward-looking teenagers can be seen, nervously clutching paper maps of the City, trying desperately not to get lost. The History interviews are now over, and this is the…

Five Centuries of Famine

I was really lucky recently to be invited to speak to the Global Scholars Network Conference at Rhodes House in Oxford. The event was a way of getting together postgraduates studying on international scholarships, such as the Rhodes and the Fulbright, from across the UK, and allowing them to discuss some of the big issues…

Kicking Out the Poor

In 1625, the Northumberland village of Dilston decided to throw out some of its inhabitants. ‘It is ordered’, notes the record of the village court, ‘that those whose names are hereafter recited shall depart out of the town betwixt this and Whitsuntide’, or else they would face a fine of 20s. If they could not…

MOOC-ing About

It’s pretty certain now that most of you will have heard of MOOCs. ‘Massive Open Online Courses’, for that is what the acronym means, have been taking the university world by storm in the last few months. And if newspaper interest is anything to go by, they look to be here to stay. The idea…