Institutions

Why We Are Reclaiming History

history reclaimed
History Reclaimed
Written by History Reclaimed

History has become one of the major battlegrounds in the culture wars that are causing anger and alarm across the democratic world. They are particularly virulent in North America, Australasia and Britain.

The abuse of history for political purposes is as old as history itself.  In recent years, we have seen campaigns to rewrite the histories of Western democracies so as to undermine their solidarity as communities, their sense of achievement, even their basic legitimacy.  There have been calls to abolish national days in Canada and Australia, and both countries have been accused of being founded on genocide.  Slavery—despite being almost universal until the early 19th century—is cast as the original sin of Britain and the United States, supposedly shaping their societies and creating their prosperity.  Figures central to their histories are stigmatised as racists or for having connections, however distant, with slavery.  Calls for massive reparations are being heard.

These ‘culture wars’ seem to be aimed squarely at demoralizing Western countries.  They are being pursued in the media, in public spaces, in museums, universities, schools, civil services, local government, business corporations and even churches.  Whether to ward off criticism or to gain advantage, institutions have rushed to embrace the most negative interpretations of their own countries’ histories.

Activists sometimes assert that ‘facing up’ to a past they present as overwhelmingly and permanently shameful is the path to a better and more ‘inclusive’ future.  But the real effect—perhaps the true aim—of their actions is nihilistic destruction.  Tendentious and even blatantly false readings of history are creating divisions, resentments, and even violence.  This is damaging to democracy and to a free society.

Free societies depend on popular participation, trust and solidarity.  They need a sense of common purpose and self-worth.  A shared history is a necessary foundation for a successful democracy.

We do not take the view that our histories are uniformly praiseworthy—that would be absurd.  But we reject as equally absurd the corrosive claim that they are essentially shameful.  We agree that history consists of many opinions and many voices.  But this does not mean that all opinions are valid, and certainly none should be imposed as a new orthodoxy.

We are an independent group of scholars from seven countries and several ethnicities with a wide range of opinions on many subjects, but with the shared conviction that history requires careful interpretation of complex evidence, and should not be a vehicle for facile propaganda.  We intend to provide context, explanation and balance in a debate in which condemnation is too often preferred to understanding.

We aim to inform and support individuals and institutions who feel uncertain in the face of the culture wars.  We have begun by bringing together on this website a wealth of writing on contested issues in history, and we will continue to produce a stream of new writing which will both set the agenda for historical debate, and call out fake history.

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“We should reclaim history, not weaponise it.”  Alka Sehgal-Cuthbert

“History is always about context, not imposing our own moral values on the past.”  Zareer Masani

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Who We Are

Editors:   

  • Prof Robert Tombs
  • Prof David Abulafia

Editorial committee:

  • Prof Nigel Biggar
  • Dr Marie Kawthar Daouda
  • Prof Saul David
  • Prof Niall Ferguson
  • Prof Simon Haines
  • Prof Liam Kennedy
  • Dr Zareer Masani
  • Dr Cornelia van der Poll
  • Prof Gwythian Prins
  • Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert
  • Prof Doug Stokes
  • Prof Elizabeth Weiss

 

For full details of editors, committee and group members, see below:

Bella d’Abrera is Director of the Foundations of Western Civilization Program at the Institute of Public Affairs, Australia. She holds a BA in History from the University of Monash, an MA in Spanish from the University of St Andrews and a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge. She is currently at the forefront of the ‘Culture Wars’ in Australia.

David Abulafia is Emeritus Professor of Mediterranean History at Cambridge and a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, a Fellow of the British Academy and a Member of the Academia Europaea.  His books include The Great Sea: a Human History of the Mediterranean (2011; British Academy Medal) and The Boundless Sea: a Human History of the Oceans (2019; Wolfson History Prize, 2020).  He has been appointed Commendatore dell’Ordine della Stella by the President of Italy, and is a visiting Beacon Professor at the newly-founded University of Gibraltar and a Visiting Professor at the College of Europe (Warsaw).

Nigel Aston, FRHS, is an Honorary Fellow in the School of History, Politics, and International Relations at the University of Leicester where he taught for twenty years until 2019. He has written and published widely on British and French eighteenth-century religious, political, and intellectual history. His most recent publication was Negotiating Toleration: Dissent and the Hanoverian Succession 1714-1760 (2019), co-edited with Benjamin Bankhurst

Anna Bailey, author of Politics Under the Influence. Vodka and Public Policy in Putin’s Russia

Nigel Biggar, CBE, is Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, Oxford, and Director of the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life. His works include What’s Wrong with Rights? (2020), and Between Kin and Cosmopolis: An Ethic of the Nation (2014). His latest book, Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning will be published by William Collins in 2022.

Jeremy Black, MBE, is Emeritus Professor of History, University of Exeter.  His books include Maps and History; Histories of Britain, Wales, England, France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal; War and Technology; England in the Age of Austen; England in the Age of Shakespeare.

Tim Blanning is Emeritus Professor of Modern European History at Cambridge, a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, and a Fellow of the British Academy. His books include The French Revolutionary Wars; The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture; The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815; The Triumph of Music; The Romantic Revolution; Frederick the Great King of Prussia (British Academy Medal); and George I.

John Bonnett is Assistant Professor of History at Brock University, and from 2005-2015 was a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities.  He is the author of Emergence and Empire (2013), which received the Gertrude K. Robinson prize.

Edward Chaney is Emeritus Professor at Solent University and Honorary Professor at University College, London.  He has published extensively on early-modern Anglo-Italian subjects and now works on the legacy of ancient Egypt in Shakespearean England. He is a Commendatore dell’Ordine della Stella della solidarietà italiana.

Jonathan Clark is Hall Distinguished Professor of British History Emeritus at the University of Kansas; he was formerly a Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and of All Souls College, Oxford; and a Visiting Professor at the Committee on Social Thought of the University of Chicago. His best known books are English Society 1660-1832 and Thomas Paine: Britain, America, and France in the Age of Enlightenment and Revolution.

Marie Kawthar Daouda is Stipendiary Lecturer in French, Oriel College, Oxford.  She studied French and English literature at La Sorbonne and at the Université de Bretagne Occidentale, and is the author of L’Anti-Salomé, représentations de la féminité bienveillante au temps de la Décadence (1850-1920).

Saul David is a Professorial Research Fellow at the Humanities Research Institute, University of Buckingham, and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. His thirteen books include The Indian Mutiny (2002), Victoria’s Wars (2006), Operation Thunderbolt (2015) and Crucible of Hell (2020). Website: www.sauldavid.co.uk

Christopher Dummitt is Professor of Canadian history at Trent University in Peterborough, Canada. He writes on Canadian political, cultural, and intellectual history. His most recent books include Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life (2017) and No Place for the State (2020) and he is the creator and host of the Canadian history podcast 1867 & All That.

Patrice Dutil is Professor of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada) as well as Senior Fellow at the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary History at the University of Toronto. His recent books include Prime Ministerial Power in Canada: Its Origins under Macdonald, Laurier and Borden (2017) and Embattled Nation: Canada’s Wartime Election of 1917 (2017, with David MacKenzie) and an edited volume, The Unexpected Louis St-Laurent: Politics and Policies for a Modern Canada (2020). He is the founder of The Literary Review of Canada and for many years was President of the Champlain Society.

Ruth Dudley Edwards is a freelance writer, a D.Litt. of the National University of Ireland, and an honorary D.Litt. of Queen’s University Belfast.  She won the Prize for Irish Historical Research for Patrick Pearse: the triumph of failure and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography for Victor Gollancz: a biography.  Among her other non-fiction is The Pursuit of Reason: The Economist, 1843-1993, Newspapermen: Hugh Cudlipp, Cecil Harmsworth King and the Glory Days of Fleet Street and The Seven: The Lives and Legacies of the Founding Fathers of the Irish Republic, which was short-listed for the Orwell Prize.  She has served as Chairwoman of the British Association for Irish Studies, and fights culture wars on behalf of honest history and free speech on Facebook and Twitter.”

Brad Faught, FRHistS, is Professor and Chair, Department of History & Global Studies, Tyndale University, and Senior Fellow, Massey College, University of Toronto. His works include Kitchener: Hero and Anti-Hero (2016) and Cairo 1921: Ten Days that Made the Middle East is forthcoming

Niall Ferguson is Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior faculty fellow of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard.  He is the author of sixteen books, the latest of which is Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe (2021).  He holds the Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Service.

Jeff Fynn-Paul is Senior Lecturer in Economic History and International Studies at Leiden University, The Netherlands.  He has published widely on Iberian, Mediterranean, and Global History, is a founding editor of the Journal of Global Slavery, and a co-editor of the Studies in Global Slavery  book series for Brill.  Fynn-Paul won the European History Quarterly Prize in 2016.  In 2020, his Spectator article “Myth of the Stolen Country” went viral, enraging large swathes of academic twitter.  His book on the history of European-New World encounters will be published by Post Hill Press in 2022.

Bruce Gilley is Professor of Political Science, Portland State University. He is the author of “The Case for Colonialism”, The Last Imperialist: Sir Alan Burns’ Epic Defence of the British Empire, and The German Colonial Achievement and Its Aftermath. A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Oxford, he is a member of the board of the National Association of Scholars.

David Gilmour is the author of prize-winning biographies of George Curzon and Rudyard Kipling, and of The British in India and The Ruling Caste, a history of the Indian Civil Service. His other historical works include books on Spain and Italy.

Lawrence Goldman is emeritus fellow of St. Peter’s College, Oxford. He taught British and American History in Oxford for three decades, convening the History Faculty’s Special Subject on ‘Slavery and Emancipation in the United States’. For ten years 2004-14, he was the Editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Latterly he was Director of the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. His books include a history of workers’ education, Dons and Workers (OUP, 1995); The Life of R. H. Tawney, the historian and pre-eminent British socialist thinker (Bloomsbury, 2013); a study of the mid-Victorian Social Science Association (CUP 2002) from which the Trades’ Union Congress emerged in 1868; and his forthcoming study of the history of social statistics, Victorians and Numbers (OUP, 2022) includes chapters on working-class statisticians.

Christopher Hallpike is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McMaster University, Ontario, Canada. His books include The Foundations of Primitive Thought, The Principles of Social Evolution, Ethical Thought in Increasingly Complex Societies, The Konso of Ethiopia, Bloodshed and Vengeance in the Papuan Mountains, and Do We Need God to be Good? He conducted several years’ fieldwork in Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea, and received a D.Litt from Oxford in 1989. He is also a sometime Bye Fellow of Robinson College, Cambridge.

Simon Haines is CEO of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation in Sydney. Currently an Adjunct Professor at the Australian Catholic University, he was from 2009 to 2020 Chair Professor of English at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he is a founding Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities. He was Reader in English, Head of English and later Head of Humanities at the Australian National University, where he taught from 1990 to 2008. He is the author or editor of five books including the prizewinning Reader in European Romanticism (2014), Poetry and Philosophy from Homer to Rousseau (2005), and Redemption in Poetry and Philosophy (2013).

Simon Heffer is Professor of Modern British History at the University of Buckingham, and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He is the author of the sequence of books High Minds, The Age of Decadence and Staring at God, and editor of the complete edition of The Diaries of Henry ‘Chips’ Channon.

Lawrence James is the author of The Golden Warrior: the Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia; The Rise  and Fall of the British Empire; Raj: the Making and Unmaking of British India; Churchill and Empire: Portrait of an Imperialist, and Empires in the Sun: The Struggle for the Mastery of Africa.

Liam Kennedy is emeritus professor of economic history at Queen’s University Belfast and visiting professor, Ulster University. He is a member of the Royal Irish Academy. His recent books include Unhappy the Land: The Most Oppressed People Ever, the Irish? (2016) and Who Was Responsible for the Troubles? The Northern Ireland Conflict (2020).

Eric Louw has a career spanning universities in both South Africa and Australia.  He has published extensively in the fields of political communication and South Africa.  His books include The Rise, Fall and Legacy of Apartheid; and Roots of the Pax Americana.

Noel Malcolm is a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, and a Fellow of the British Academy. His books include a history of Kosovo (1998), a 3-volume critical edition of Hobbes’s Leviathan (2012), and Useful Enemies: Islam and the Ottoman Empire in Western Political Thought, 1450-1750 (2019). He was knighted, for services to scholarship, journalism and European history, in 2014.

John Marenbon is a Senior Research Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, Honorary Professor of Medieval Philosophy in the University of Cambridge, Visiting Professor at the Università della Svizzera Italiana and a Fellow of the British Academy. His publications include The Philosophy of Peter Abelard (1997), Boethius (2003), The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Philosophy (ed.) (2012), Pagans and Philosophers: the problem of paganism from Augustine to Leibniz (2015), King’s Hall, Cambridge and the Fourteenth-Century Universities. New perspectives (ed.) (2020).

Zareer Masani is an author and broadcaster, whose books include Indira Gandhi: A Biography (1976), Indian Tales of the Raj (1990) and Macaulay: Britain’s Liberal Imperialist (2013).

Paul Moon is Professor of History at the Auckland University of Technology and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.  He was shortlisted for the 2014 Ernest Scott Australasian Prize in History.  Recent works include When Darkness Stays: Hōhepa Kereopa and a Tūhoe Oral History (2020) and The Rise and Fall of James Busby: His Majesty’s British Resident in New Zealand (2020)

Roger Moorhouse is a visiting professor at the College of Europe in Warsaw.  His recent works include Berlin at War (2010), The Devils’ Alliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin (2014) and First to Fight: The Polish War, 1939 (2019), which was awarded the History Prize of the Polish Foreign Ministry.  A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for services to Polish history in 2020.

James Orr is University Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion at Cambridge. He is the author of The Mind of God and the Works of Nature: Laws and Powers in Naturalism, Platonism, and Classical Theism (2019)

Cornelia van der Poll is Lecturer in Greek at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford. Her interests include Homer and early Christian literature.

Gwythian Prins, FRHistS, is Research Professor emeritus, London School of Economics having previously taught at Cambridge and been Alliance Research Professor at Columbia in New York. He is currently Visiting Research Professor, Humanities Research Institute, University of Buckingham and Director, Cambridge Security Initiative Research Unit. His research interests and publications span African cultural and medical anthropological history for which he won the Herskovits Prize, imperial histories and geopolitics with a particular specialism in applied naval, strategic and defence history. He also served a spell in the UK Defence Research Agency.

Andrew Roberts is a Visiting Professor at the War Studies Department of King’s College, London, the Lehrman Institute Distinguished Lecturer at the New-York Historical Society and the Roger & Martha Mertz Visiting Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is the author of fifteen books, including Napoleon the Great and Churchill: Walking with Destiny.

Guy Rowlands is Professor of Early Modern History and Deputy Director of the Institute for War and Strategy at the University of St Andrews. He has also taught at Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and Durham universities, and has held research fellowships of the British Academy and Alexander von Humboldt Institution. He is the author of several books and numerous articles on war and finance in France during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Alka Sehgal-Cuthbert is co-editor and contributing author of What Should Schools Teach: Disciplines, Subjects and the Pursuit of Truth

Mark Stocker, FSA, is former Curator, Historical International Art, at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.  He has taught at the universities of Canterbury and Otago. His publications include numerous contributions to The Burlington Magazine and When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 (2021).

Doug Stokes is Professor & Head of Research and Development, Strategy and Security Institute (SSI), University of Exeter; The Thomas Telford Associate Fellow, Council on Geo-Strategy; and an advisory council member of the Free Speech Union.

Robert Tombs is Emeritus Professor of French History, Cambridge, and a Fellow of St John’s College.  He has served on the Franco-British Council, and holds the Palmes Académiques for services to French culture.  Recent works include The English and Their History (2014), Paris, bivouac des révolutions (2014), and This Sovereign Isle: Britain In and Out of Europe (2021).

Elizabeth Weiss is Professor of Anthropology, San José State University.  Her most recent book, co-authored with James W. Springer, is Repatriation and Erasing the Past (2020).

About the author

History Reclaimed

History Reclaimed