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Seminar Series

The Centre for History and Public Pasts organises seminars. Papers typically focus on questions of history theory, public history, and the importance of the past in the present. 

Forthcoming Papers

If you are interested in giving a paper please get in touch with the directors Mark Donnelly or Claire Norton.

Members of the public are welcome to attend the seminars and attendance is free. If you have any questions please get in touch with the co-directors claire.norton@stmarys.ac.uk or mark.donnelly@stmarys.ac.uk.

Past Papers

The Sixties and Museums: Commonwealth Art and British Identities

Date: 3rd November 2020  
Nick Ellsworth 
Nick is a PhD student at St Mary’s. His thesis is about British culture and cultural policy as the country sought to join the EEC.

Can a migration museum help us live well together? Key lessons from museums around the world

Date: 4th December 2019
Emily Miller
Emily Miller is Head of Learning and Partnerships at the Migration Museum in London. She will talk about research carried out as part of her Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellowship. 

Big and Little Histories: Sizing up the Ethics of Historiography

Date: 2nd May 2019
Professor Marnie-Hughes Warrington  
No two histories are the same size. Some are so tiny that you can nestle them in your hand, others range over many volumes. Some hold us enthralled with split-second events, others stretch our thought by accounting for changes over billions of years. In this seminar Professor Hughes-Warrington will argue that the varying scales of histories are a matter of ethics. Sketching out a number of examples, it will be asked whether history is now too big and too small for ideas of ethics focused on the actions of individuals and groups in relation to one another, and for prevailing approaches to ethical clearance and professional codes of conduct.  

Two papers on War, Memory and Heritage

Date: May 2015
Andy Pearce (Institute of Education) and Helen Bendon (Middlesex University)

Reanimating the author?: Biography and Biographical Criticism Now

Date: April 2015
Liz Oakley-Brown (Lancaster University)

Berlin’s Invisible Omelets: Human Nature and the Before Now

Date: March 2015
Stephen Rainey (St Mary’s University, Twickenham)

Round table discussion on the future of historical narratives

Date: December 2014

“What is really excellent about historians’ historical representations is that they always fail. There is no possibility that any historicization of ‘the past’ can ever be literally true, objective, fair, non-figural, non-positioned and so on, all of which opens up that which has happened ‘before now’ to interminable readings and rereadings. I want to argue [...] that this professed ability to secure what are effectively interpretive closures – the continuing raison d’etre of the professional historian in even these pluralist days despite sometime protestations – is not only logically impossible but also ethically, morally and politically desirable. […] The best (and perhaps the only) reason I can think of for saying that we might still need to have refigured histories that are simultaneously reflexive and emancipator is that they may help to prise open the mental strait-jacket of modernist historical thinking for the benefit of those who have not yet managed to get out of it.” Keith Jenkins, “On disobedient histories,” At the Limits of History, (2009) 150-1.

Historical narratives or historicisations have repeatedly failed to fulfil the roles assigned to them by the history profession and society in terms of their purported claims to truth, objectivity and fairness. So then, what explains their ongoing and ceaseless proliferation and circulation in contemporary academic and public cultures? What value is to be gained in society and academia from perpetuating such a redundant mode of historicisation?