Why history?

Sharing insights from the past that help us to make sense of the present. Why history? is a monthly series featuring British Academy Fellows and award holders and chaired by journalist and broadcaster Farhana Haider.

Upcoming event

Feeding the people

In this event, Rebecca Earle will discuss how potatoes fit into modern history, and also touch on the relationship between food, power, colonialism, and cultural appropriation.

Women, families and money in Victorian Britain

The Victorian period is feted as a unique – if short-lived – moment of British greatness, which enjoyed sustained rises in GDP, real wages, and all other measurable elements of economic growth. But what implications did this have for both gender inequality and for women’s living standards? In this in-conversation, Emma Griffin discusses the structures of working and family life in 19th-century Britain, the dependence on male wages, the inequality of opportunity women faced and why the gender pay gap is still an issue today.

Her book, Bread Winner: An Intimate History of the Victorian Economy was published last year.

Speaker: Professor Emma Griffin, former British Academy Mid-Career Fellow; Professor of Modern British History, University of East Anglia and President, Royal Historical Society

The return of the closet?

Same-sex desire has been, up until recently, a topic largely shrouded in shame, secrecy, and silence. As a result, it is often visualised through the image of ‘the closet,’ conveying notions of entrapment, protection, and potential liberation.

In this in-conversation, Dominic Janes will situate the debates around open and hidden sexuality and visual expressions of same-sex desire since the 18th century and before the term ‘the closet’ came into widespread use in the late 20th century.

He will also explore how the arts has helped to reveal new dimensions of identity politics, gender performance and queer culture as well as considering what ‘liberation’ means today, both the politicisation and repression of LGBT+ rights across Europe and elsewhere, and whether the media shapes or is shaped by public opinion regarding LGBT+ issues.

This talk was part of LGBT+ History Month 2021

Speaker: Professor Dominic Janes, former British Academy Mid-Career Fellow; Professor of Modern History, Keele University

The Son King: Reform and Repression in Saudi Arabia

In 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi regime operatives, shocking the international community, and tarnishing the reputation of Muhammad bin Salman, the kingdom’s young, reformist crown prince.

In this in-conversation, Fellow of the British Academy Madawi Al-Rasheed will discuss the contradictions behind the crown prince’s divisive reforms, place them within a wider historical context, and counter Orientalist arguments that despotism and authoritarianism are the only pathways to stable governance in the Middle East.

Madawi Al-Rasheed’s latest book, The Son King: Reform and Repression in Saudi Arabia was published in December 2020.

Speaker: Professor Madawi Al-Rasheed FBA, Visiting Professor, The Middle East Centre, London School of Economics

Black Spartacus

Toussaint Louverture was a former slave who became the charismatic leader of the seismic Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) resulting in the most successful revolt of enslaved people in modern history. In this in-conversation, British Academy Fellow Sudhir Hazareesingh sheds light on an epic yet complex and controversial life story that cuts across slavery, racial hierarchies, imperialism, and the Enlightenment. He will also discuss the impact, enduring legacy, and contemporary relevance of “the first black superhero of the modern age”.

Sudhir Hazareesingh’s latest book, Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture was published in September 2020.

Speaker: Dr Sudhir Hazareesingh FBA, Official Fellow and Tutor in Politics, Balliol College, University of Oxford

The hidden histories of black Victorians

Society in the UK today is hugely diverse, but what do we know about Britain's multicultural past before the arrival of the Windrush generation? In this in-conversation, Caroline Bressey explores the hidden histories of the ordinary black men and women living in Victorian Britain whose untold stories have only been pieced together by historians in recent years. She will also discuss the work of early anti-racism campaigners who sought to challenge rising prejudice in this period, drawing parallels with the Black Lives Matter protests taking place across the UK today.

Speaker: Dr Caroline Bressey, former British Academy Mid-Career Fellow; Reader in Cultural and Historical Geography, University College London

Vanished: extinction past and present

In 19th-century Britain it was common to import foreign peoples to perform in special exhibitions for the paying public. While consumers were enticed by the chance to see faraway peoples and their cultures – some of whom exhibition managers suggested were remnants of dying races, scientists used the shows to conduct research into human racial difference. These shows left a lasting legacy for how we understand race to this day. Join Sadiah Qureshi as she discusses the connections between race, empire and the history of extinction, drawing parallels with the present.

Speaker: Dr Sadiah Qureshi, British Academy Mid-Career Fellow; Senior Lecturer in Modern History, University of Birmingham

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