School of History

Next Projects Spotlight
  • 1. Understanding Iconography: Tracing and Teaching Devotional Strategies in the Sainte-Chapelle

    Today, the Sainte-Chapelle de Paris attracts over 1.8 million visitors each year, making it the second-most visited national monument in Paris. From the date of its completion in 1248, visitors have praised Sainte-Chappelle as the most dazzling and archetypal embodiment of Gothic art, especially its stained glass windows, sculptures, and Rayonnant architectural forms. However, the content of its medieval murals have remained essentially unknown in both the academic community and the public sphere because of their poor condition. Building upon the results of Dr Emily Guerry's recent fieldwork, new evidence indicates that the design of these images constitutes a major breakthrough in the style, iconography, and function of sacred paintings in the Gothic age. These paintings testify to the role of art in the creation and affirmation of devotional strategies.

    Under the leadership of Dr Guerry, specialists in medieval visual culture at the University of Kent are conducting a collaborative educational project of public engagement in partnership with the Centre des Monuments Nationaux de France. Based on site at the Sainte-Chapelle, “Understanding Iconography” will produce significant and wide-reaching impact by:

    • Creating new aids to help visitors engage with sacred art
    • Encouraging tourism and enhancing access to this site of international heritage for people from all cultural and faith backgrounds
    • Delivering professional development activities for students of all ages
    • Offering new educational activities that brings the puzzling content, purpose, and symbolism of medieval art out of the 'Dark Ages' and into the proverbial light.
  • 2. Building the Northern Ireland Peace Process: Nationalism, Unionism and the First World War

    Dr Timothy Bowman's research has had a significant impact on the public understanding of the Irish experience of the First World War. In July 1914 Ireland stood on the brink of a civil war. Ulster Unionists had formed the 100,000 strong Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), to maintain the Union with Great Britain while Irish Nationalists had formed the Irish Volunteers (INV) to enforce a home rule settlement. On the outbreak of war, this situation changed entirely with Edward Carson, the Unionist political leader, and John Redmond, his Nationalist equivalent, both pledging support for the British war effort. The INV formed the basis of the 16th (Irish) Division and the UVF the 36th (Ulster) Division; seeing Irishmen from both political traditions serving together in the British army, most notably at Messines in Spring 1917. This understanding of a shared experience, within a wider European context, has already played a role in the peace process in Northern Ireland and is firmly embedded in the Key Stage 3 school curriculum.

    Dr Bowman's research is evidenced in his scholarship, including books, The Irish Regiments in the Great War: Discipline and Morale (2003); Carson's Army: The Ulster Volunteer Force, 1910-22 (2007) and Militarism in Ireland, 1902-16 (Forthcoming, 2016). The mechanisms of reach so far have been through radio and television programmes with BBC NI, a series of public lectures at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, the Ulster Museum, the Little Museum of Dublin and the National Library of Ireland. Cementing significance for this project will involve developing and corroborating its potential for genealogy, community sensibilities, and education.

  • 3. The History of Science and the Public: Exposure and Development

    Science's history is a contested space in the public sphere, with much of it shaped and shared by scientists and science communicators rather than by historians of science and historical research. As a Lecturer at the University of Kent (and formerly a Curator of History of Science at Royal Museums Greenwich), Dr Rebekah Higgitt's work challenges simplistic narratives about lone geniuses, heroic discoverers, the role of science, its relationship to innovation and the motivations of its funders and practitioners. This work also extends to historical and methodological questions surrounding material culture, both in terms of its role in the past and in presenting history of science to the public today. This more nuanced research emphasizes the importance of collaboration, the need to develop and support new technologies over the long term, and the complementary nature of the available technological systems underpinning successful navigation – all features with contemporary resonance for policy and public understanding.

    Dr Higgitt's research has fed into a range of talks, lectures, tours and walks that have contributed to public events programmes at the National Maritime Museum, Science Museum and elsewhere. The “Ships, Clocks and Stars” exhibition received tens of thousands of visitors in Greenwich and more have visited its touring version in the US and (next year) Australia. The curators at these overseas venues have confirmed the value of the object selection, accompanying text and the book that accompanied the exhibition, which aided their understanding, the redisplay of the objects and development of events programmes. This research has also been shared in a range of media and social media contexts.

    The research also fed into the development of and discussions around the 2014 Longitude Prize organised by Nesta, and launched to public vote by BBC's Horizon. A blog post on the ongoing Guardian blog, The H Word, led Nesta staff to write their own blog post and to make contact. This led to several discussions with staff at Nesta, sharing our findings about the nature of innovation and prizes intended to promote it and finding commonalities with their experience of challenge prizes today. They have confirmed the usefulness of these discussions and of the book Finding Longitude. These discussions and blog posts also led to a publication addressed to the Chief Scientific Advisor, who confirmed the significance of the role of history in planning and assessing science policy at the launch event. Other Scholars' work (across the Centre for the History of Science) may also be rolled into the wider case study, where appropriate.

  • 4. Gateways to the First World War: Shaping Engagement with the History of War

    Since January 2014, Professor Mark Connelly has been involved in a wide range of research-driven public engagement and impact activities. This impact case study derives from the AHRC-funded public engagement centre Gateways to the First World War, a multi-institution collaboration lead by the School of History at the University of Kent.

    The societal and cultural impact of Professor Connelly's research derives from devising and overseeing projects in secondary schools (examples include ‘Canterbury in the First World War’ in collaboration with the Simon Langton schools and the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, Canterbury and ‘Canada, Folkestone and the First World’ involving the Harvey, Girls Grammar and Brockhill Arts and Performance schools, Folkestone); acting as advisor to the National Maritime Museum's First World War galleries; working on the BBC’s World War 1 at Home project including on advising on stories and themes to be explored in the South East and devising a component for a roadshow; establishing close research links with the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ieper/Ypres, which has led to a collaborative seminar programme aimed at the wider public and the enrolment of the deputy curator on a co-tutelle PhD programme under Professor Connelly's supervision which is designed to enhance his role at the museum.

    Professor Connelly has also advised on numerous community group projects and made many direct contributions such as writing panels for the Ieper/Ypres Royal British Legion exhibition in Ieper/Ypres; planning a self-guided tour app of First World War sites in Folkestone, and providing advice to the Westgate Hall, Canterbury for its successful Heritage Lottery Fund application. Professor Connelly is also a member of the government’s schools battlefields tours academic steering group and has written and recorded podcasts as CPD for teachers as part of this programme, as well as advising on the study pack used on the tours. The Gateways project team are tracking and archiving data about these activities.

  • 5. Corporate History and its Influence on Ethical and Innovative International Business in the Twenty First Century

    The Centre for the Political Economies of International Commerce (PEIC), led by Dr Will Pettigrew has emerged as a leading focal point for research into the history of international commercial activity in the early modern period. This work addresses the need for modern day multinational corporations (and their stakeholders) to consider the long term history of international corporate activity to help businesses and the public think laterally about the role of multinational corporations in their various constituencies.

    This published research into the history of international business is now helping to change business practices and public reactions to past and present commercial endeavours in the following ways:

    • Dr Pettigrew has worked with a leading international consultancy to help FTSE 100 corporations consider their corporate governance practices in light of the four hundred year history of corporate governance in ways that have encouraged businesses to reconsider their relationships with regulators.
    • Dr Pettigrew's monograph (Freedom's Debt, 2013) about the Royal African Company informed an exhibition at the Hackney Borough Museum about international merchants and their relationships with their local settings in ways that has altered public perceptions of the connections between local and global markets in the twenty-first century.
    • His work has also reached leading representatives of the financial services industry in London via a programme of walking tours (and public talks in the City) and has provided a provocative analogue for current debates about the corporate social responsibilities of finance.
    • PEIC co-hosted a conference in London with the Runnymede Trust – Britain's leading race equality think tank – which used Dr Pettigrew's research to consider the role of civil liberties in the development of corporate cultures that nourished the inhumanity of the slave trade and, therefore, pushed present debates about the nature of ‘good capitalism’.
    • Collaborations within PEIC's seven-person research team are helping present day ‘start-ups’ and large corporates to consider the role of networks in provoking innovative corporate environments.
    • The team's research into early modern corporate activity in global spaces is being harnessed to develop digital technology to help the Indian population to learn more about the British presence in India. This work is helping to solve pressing problems for urban planners in Indian cities.

     

  • 6. Encounters with the Orient

    Encounters with the Orient in Early Modern European Scholarship (EOS) is a major, joint research enterprise, funded by HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) under the Cultural Encounters scheme. The collaborative research project Encounters with the Orient in Early Modern European Scholarship involves six academic and a number of non-academic partners in the Uk, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland. Our project presents the unique opportunity to combine the expertise and the knowledge of leading European historians of early modern times and of oriental studies and to tackle the complex history of European scholarly encounters with the Orient.

    The project aims to document the scholarly encounter with the Orient between 1580 and 1800. It is describing how the exchange of knowledge and of ideas between Europe and the Orient was organised and structured. It is following and comparing the conceptual transformations which this encounter has initiated in Biblical studies, the study of religions, in the teaching and learning of Arabic and other Oriental languages, in literature and poetry, and in historical and anthropological thinking. Hence the project is documenting the change from a religious to a cultural perspective on Oriental societies

    By focusing mainly on the Protestant part of Europe, this project singles out the Reformation and its aftermath as the central driver of early modern scholarly encounters with the Orient. Religious tensions, contests and alliances between the Christian sectarian groups and confessions were powerful catalysts for the refinement of the study of Hebrew and the discovery of its cognates Arabic, Samaritan, Syriac, Chaldaic, and Ethiopic, the huge collections of manuscripts in theses languages, translations of Oriental literature, the exploration and description of Oriental everyday culture and the interest in artefacts and antiquities from the East.

  • 7. Secret Science: A Century of Posion Warfare and Human Experiments

    From the early 1990s, allegations that servicemen had been duped into taking part in trials with toxic agents at top-secret Allied research facilities throughout the twentieth century featured with ever greater frequency in the media. In Britain, a whole army of over 21,000 soldiers had participated in secret experiments between 1939 and 1989. Some remembered their stay as harmless, but there were many for whom the experience had been all but pleasant, sometimes harmful, and in isolated cases deadly.

    Secret Science traces, for the first time, the history of chemical and biological weapons research by the former Allied powers, particularly in Britain, the United States, and Canada. It charts the ethical trajectory and culture of military science, from its initial development in response to Germany's first use of chemical weapons in the First World War to the ongoing attempts by the international community to ban these types of weapons once and for all.

    It asks whether Allied and especially British warfare trials were ethical, safe, and justified within the prevailing conditions and values of the time. By doing so, it helps to explain the complex dynamics in top-secret Allied research establishments: the desire and ability of the chemical and biological warfare corps, largely comprised of military officials, scientists, and expert civil servants, to construct and identify a never-ending stream of national security threats which served as flexible justification strategies for the allocation of enormous resources to conducting experimental research with some of the most deadly agents known to man.

    Secret Science offers a nuanced, non-judgemental analysis of the contributions made by servicemen, scientists, and civil servants to military research in Britain and elsewhere, not as passive, helpless victims 'without voices', or as laboratory and desk perpetrators 'without a conscience', but as history's actors and agents of their own destiny. As such it also makes an important contribution to the burgeoning literature on the history and culture of memory.

  • 8. The Clergy of the Church of England Database, 1540-1835

    Professor Kenneth Fincham is an internationally renowned historian whose work has focused to date on politics, religion and culture in early modern Britain. Alongside Professor Arthur Burns (King's College London) and Professor Stephen Taylor (Durham University), Professor Fincham has been part of a team compiling a database of the careers of Anglican clergymen, schoolteachers and ecclesiastical patrons between 1540 and 1835. The database is an online resource launched in 2005 and available free to all users. It provides a relational database and supporting website which has brought together for the first time a comprehensive range of sources. From the start The Clergy of the Church of England Database (CCEd) was designed to serve constituencies outside as well as within academia, and it has proved an invaluable resource for genealogists across the globe seeking information on clerical ancestors, local historians researching parish histories, independent researchers interested in the clergy, and hard-pressed archivists responsible for managing and interpreting major diocesan collections.

    The CCEd has broken new ground in five areas:

    • It makes available a vast amount of material - currently over 1.5 million evidence records - that has hitherto been widely dispersed, sometimes inaccessible and hard to integrate, relating to careers of the clergy from the Reformation to the mid-nineteenth century. As a direct result, and for the first time, we can establish the dynamics of the clerical profession: its size, education, geographical mobility, and patterns of career trajectories.
    • It has created a fundamental resource for understanding the structure of the Church of England, including the complex location of over 15,000 parishes and chapelries, the exercise of lay patronage, and the national distribution of school teachers. The website contains essays, glossaries, bibliographies and maps explaining how the Church actually operated. This is all the more important when we recall that the Church of England was the largest employer of educated males in this period, with an institutional presence which sometimes surpassed that of the state.
    • It has begun to generate significant new academic research, including three major essays by Fincham and Taylor on the Church of England from 1640s to the 1660s; it has been extensively used in at least 4 PhDs (such as Reid, Kent, 2010; Cummins, Reading, 2011), and in monographs such as S. Hardman Moore, Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home (2007) and R. Payne, Ecclesiastical Patronage in England 1770-1801 (2010).
    • It offers a model for those engaged in prosopographical research, and especially for those projects where there is a close structural relationship between individuals and locations. The Project team has advised some 20 projects, including the Surman index of dissenting ministers and chapels at Dr Williams’s Library (funded by the British Academy).
    • It is an important project within the Digital Humanities field, in part because of the challenges in supporting complex research requirements, and in part as a demonstration of the continuing value of database work and of integrated text and database resources. The team has made many presentations reflecting the methodology evolved in fashioning CCEd, which is included in the Connected Histories project (JISC).

    From its inception, CCEd was intended to be a collaborative project with three key groups, genealogists, local historians and county archivists, and was consciously designed to be an easily accessible resource in order to encourage interaction. CCEd has numerous users across the world, including Japan and South Korea. It attracted an average of 8,233 unique visitors and 569,749 hits each month between January and July 2013, and a total of more than 9.9m hits since 2010. CCEd was featured in The Church Times (2008) and The Guardian (2009) [5.6; 5.7]; earned the ‘Site of the Week’ award by the Family Tree Magazine; and was recommended by the newsletter of The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (April-May 2008). In 2009, an article in The Guardian stated that CCEd's ‘true significance may be its role in opening up the raw material of scholarship to the widest possible audience’.

  • The Attempted Cultivation of Silk in the Atlantic World

    Abstract

    This project will unveil the extent to which colonial empires competed to grow silk in their outposts around the Atlantic world between c.1500-1830. Seeking to outdo one another, and bypass the expense of trading with the great silk regions in the East (specially China), European powers tried desperately to encourage the cultivation of silk in the Americas - bringing to bear cutting-edge scientific and botanical knowledge, as well as organised labour. Silk was outshone by a range of other New World products over the course of the Early Modern era: sugar, tobacco, rice, and slaves. But while these successful commodities have attracted a large amount of scholarship, the study of silk's failure has not, though it can also shed a great deal of light on contemporary societies (both in Old and New Worlds). The project will demonstrate that silk connected the desires of monarchs and courts to the designers of new colonies and their settlers. It connected the science of proto-industrial engines to the 'mystery' and art of specialised experts in winding and weaving. It witnessed the transformation of landscapes as thousands of mulberry trees and millions of silkworms were raised in New Spain, New France, British America, and across the fledgling United States. And more than anything else, the cultivation of silk in the Atlantic world connected people - from different countries, religions, races, and backgrounds.

    Further Information

    The prospective research will be comparative, investigating the many attempts made by a range of nations, colonies, corporations, communities and entrepreneurs to foster silk in their territories. It will address both the theory of silk cultivation (utopianism, colonial ideology, mercantilism and botany) and the practice of silk cultivation (environmental history, productivity, proto-industrialisation, and labour history). It will outline the commonalities that inspired attempts to cultivate silk in places as diverse as Sweden, the Caribbean, Ireland, Mexico, Prussia, Virginia, and Louisiana, as well as the different problems that were faced in transferring the knowledge and materials. A wide range of sources will be deployed to underpin this research, including colonial records, Board of Trade minutes, customs reports, correspondence, published tracts on silk, mercantilist propaganda, and surviving fabric. Together, they will help answer questions such as: who was involved in silk cultivation? Could silk have succeeded as a New World product, and why did it fail? How did early modern administrators try to bend people and landscapes to their designs?

    This research will have an impact in several ways on the many fields that the broad subject touches upon. For instance, the history of silk production both supports and defies popular geographical and chronological models. The notion of an integrating 'Atlantic world' between 1500-1830 seems to be upheld by tracing the connections between silk experts through their writings and employment history. But the obsession with home-grown silk also grew out of 'Pacific' interactions and global patterns in the exchange of goods and ideas, thereby challenging the integrity of an 'Atlantic' orientation. Silk, frequently a heavily-protected commodity, stood at the forefront of new ideas about technology, industrialism, empire, and trade. But if it was, on the one hand, a herald of modernisation (generating new factories and machines in Britain, and new schemes in the Americas), it was on the other hand an archaic, ancient craft whose workers - many of them female and most non-British - were secretive and unresponsive to pressure. Finally, in considering how (in)effectively man was able to deliberately reshape his environment, the project will have much to offer in the field of environmental history and political economy. Overall, I hope to show that a careful scrutiny of the theories, practices, and realities of silk cultivation can tell us much about the nature of the early modern world.

Our Research Culture

The School of History is an active community of researchers producing world-leading historical scholarship across a wide range of fields, from the medieval era to the modern day.

We have over thirty permanent academic historians, as well as a range of associate specialist scholars including early career fellows and emeriti, many postdoctoral researchers and visiting fellows, and a host of postgraduate students.

We pride ourselves first and foremost on the rigorous quality of our own writing, which is at the cutting edge of our fields, but Kent also has a longstanding track record in collaborating and reaching out. This is an ethos which permeates our activities, whether with other disciplines and institutions internationally, or with partners and people around us, including schools, heritage organisations, policy-makers, and communities.

 

Our Research Specialisms

Understanding the past is a process that needs time, care, imagination, and support. We organise our research so that each scholar has space to pursue their own projects, though we typically rely on a range of national and international funding bodies to allow us to organise publications and conferences, to pull together networks, and locate and analyse archival sources from near and far.

 

Our Research Specialisms

Among the features that makes the School of History at Kent distinctive is its concentration in five key areas, in which many of our scholars have specialisms:

  • History of War, Propaganda, and Society
  • History of the Sciences
  • History of Medicine, Ethics, and Medical Humanities
  • History of Medieval and Early Modern Culture
  • History of Commerce, Colonialism and Environment

 

 

Our Research and You

These may be the most eye-catching aspects of our research landscape at the moment, and some of them are bolstered by their own centres and research programmes, but we value that our research landscape is constantly changing in response to new developments around us. It changes as individual researchers build enlivening new projects or join our community and bring fresh expertise.

We are open to new ideas, new questions, new research proposals, and to the public who we welcome to a range of lectures and seminars on and off campus. We are also happy to share our research widely, so if you want to engage with history – especially if it’s British, European, American, or African – then do get in touch.

 

School of History, Rutherford College, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NX

T: +44 (0)1227 823710 or E: history@kent.ac.uk

Last Updated: 20/03/2017