History restored: New technology recreates JFK’s ‘unspoken speech’ from 1963

I recently gave a lecture on the nature of U.S. foreign policy during the all-too brief presidency of John F. Kennedy, who was in the White House 1961-63. Kennedy, of course, was particularly skilled at oratory, and the 35th president of the USA arguably left us with some of the most memorable speeches ever made by an American leader during the course of the late 20th century.


Thanks to an impressive breakthrough using modern technology, scholars of American history are now able to hear the final speech of president J.F. Kennedy, an address he was due to make in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963, had he not been brutally assassinated beforehand by the lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald.

As part of an initiative by the London Times newspaper (entitled the JFK: Unsilenced project), sound engineers have used new technology to recreate the voice of the 46-year old president. The paper teamed up with CereProc, a British audio technology company, and Rothco, an Irish creative agency, to construct a database that has been employed to deliver JFK’s ‘unspoken’ speech in the U.S. president’s own voice.

The team recreated JFK’s voice by analysing recordings of his speeches and radio addresses. Sound engineers then took 116,777 sound units from clips of Kennedy speaking in order to create an audio track of him delivering the ‘final’ speech in his unique cadence. Chris Pidcock, co-founder and chief voice engineer at CereProc in Edinburgh, told The Times (March 16th) that it was the first time that the company’s technology had been employed in this particular way. Pidcock’s company specialises in ‘text-to-voice’ technology, and has previously helped people who have lost their voice through degenerative disease or other such problems.

The Kennedy project was especially challenging, but also highly satisfying. The best-quality recordings of JFK’s voice were cross-referenced with the text of Kennedy’s undelivered 1963 speech, and a new computer system was then employed to recognise and recreate JFK’s oratorical ‘style’. Data from JFK’s speeches was then fed into a computer until it learnt the patterns of his delivery, and then the sounds were tweaked to make them sound more natural (as far as possible). It took eight weeks to bring to life the 2,590 words that Kennedy was never able to deliver to a lunch at the Dallas Trade Mart.

JFK assassination heading

Despite the confusion, shock and panic that surrounded that November day’s dramatic events back in Dallas in 1963, and the tragic death of JFK, the text of his speech was preserved and was given to a local businessman by Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy’s vice-president who was quickly sworn in as the 36th president.

What kinds of ideas and assertions were present in JFK’s undelivered speech? According to commentators and historians, it can be partly interpreted as a rebuke to the growing ‘populist’ politics of the time, voices on the right of politics who were sceptical about the new liberalism of the 1960s. It is a speech that warned about the ‘dissident voices’ in U.S. society, voices that played only to people’s fears, ‘finding fault but never favour’, and rejecting the progress of the period. Kennedy warned: ‘In a world of complex problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason – or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly simple solutions’. He added: ‘There will always be dissident voices in the land expressing opposition without alternative…’.

In relation to America’s wider position in the world, some familiar ‘Kennedy-esque’ themes can also be detected. His message seemed to be that America’s role and status in the world would be shaped more by its role as a ‘beacon of freedom’ than on its military might. At one point, he referred to his generation as being ‘the watchmen on the walls of world freedom’, and explained: ‘I have spoken of strength largely in terms of deterrence and resistance of aggression and attack. But freedom can be lost without a shot being fired, by ballots as well as bullets. Our success is dependent upon respect for our mission in the world as well as our missiles; on a clearer recognition of the virtues of freedom as well as the evils of tyranny’.

JFK looking presidential

While we should always be wary about the claims made by politicians, the opportunity to actually hear JFK’s voice deliver such words in a speech he never made is a real bonus for the historian.

However, the use of such technology does raise some tricky ethical and other issues for historians. As one writer in The Times (Libby Purves) put it a few days later, on March 19th, the JFK voice software should be ‘handled with care’. Purves wrote that she is unsurprised ‘but slightly alarmed’ by the technological brilliance of CereProc and Rothco on the JFK project. On the one hand, such new technology is evidently a real boon for those who lose speech through illness, but could be a potential tool for worse-intentioned users. She warned: ‘The lying creators of “fake news” will be on it soon’. Familiar voices could be harvested, analysed, and reproduced ‘to say words they never uttered’. In an age of ‘post-truth’ and alt-facts, this could be potentially dangerous.

These are powerful points. Such technology could be ‘weaponised’ by the more unscrupulous and manipulative in society, especially those with extreme ideological agendas. There does need to be a serious debate about all this. Nevertheless, from a historian’s perspective, if used responsibly, such technology can surely be very helpful in making certain aspects of the past ‘come alive’ once again for a modern audience.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(All images: WikiMedia Commons)

Posted in American history, Archives, Media history, Public History, Teaching, Uncategorized, World History | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Today (15th March): Whatever happened to the British centre ground? Kingston University History Research Series Seminar

Whatever happened to the British centre ground?

The next talk in the Kingston University History Research Seminar Series will be given by Dr. Jeremy Nuttall on the above theme, based on his latest research findings

Cameron with Blair in background

Amidst Brexit, the rise of Jeremy Corby, and the collapse of the Liberal Democrats, the British political centre appears in a state of crisis. Wider echoes of this also appear in support for Marine Le Pen in France, the AfD in Germany, the rise of populism in Italy, and the election of Donald Trump. But is the British middle ground more resilient than we think? This talk explores the ‘moderate’ tradition in British politics, from Stanley Baldwin, through Clement Attlee to Tony Blair and David Cameron, and asks whether it has a future.

Dr. Nuttall’s talk will take place on:

Thursday, 15th March, 2018, at:

5.00-6.30pm, in:

Room JG2012,

Penrhyn Road campus, Kingston University,

Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey.

Wine and nibbles provided.

All are welcome.


Posted in British history, Events, Public History, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Land and Home: The campaign to encourage more land cultivation in Surrey in 1917

During the course of 1917, in a determined attempt to cut down on the amount of food imports and to alleviate pressure on Allied ships sailing across the Atlantic, the British government initiated a national campaign to encourage as much cultivation of land as possible, and evidence of this can be seen at local level in Surrey, including in the Kingston area and surrounding districts.

David Lloyd George

In late December, 1917, the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George (pictured), made what the local Surrey Comet called an ‘eloquent address’ to the various chairmen of the County War Agricultural Committees across the nation, many of them large-scale farmers themselves. The War Agricultural Committees (including the Committee for Surrey) had been established in 1915, and many of them had sub-branches at district level across their respective counties, an organisational structure also seen in Surrey. The Prime Minister announced that the government aimed to get 3,000,000 acres of land under cultivation, and this would free more ships from carrying corn, making them available instead for carrying men, guns and ammunition from the United States (which had entered the war earlier in 1917).

The campaign was not just aimed at large-scale farmers, however. The government also emphasised how small-scale land owners, allotment holders and individual gardeners could play a vital role in the effort to cultivate more home-grown food. Similarly, pockets of public and private land, such as in parks and on golf courses, could also be identified and put into cultivation. Potatoes and general root-vegetables were especially seen as important (potato was increasingly in demand as a wheat-substitute in bread and cakes).

In Kingston-on-Thames, for example, the local branch of the ‘Land and Home League’ was active in encouraging more cultivation of all types of spare land. In early December, 1917, it was reported that the League had secured another seven acres of land for local allotments, and there had already been more applicants than the number of allotments available. The message was put out that more such land was required to meet the demand and to make full use of the enthusiasm of the applicants.

On the other hand, the League was clearly keen to ensure that any ‘amateurs’ new to land cultivation did not make mistakes, and that they had the correct type of training and advice. The League announced that, naturally, ‘first consideration’ would be given to members of the League, and all intending allotment holders who were not members of the League should join the Society: ‘Indeed, all those who cultivate land in the borough will benefit by so doing, as they will be able to obtain their seeds and tools at better prices than by individual effort’.

Save Bread WW1 poster

It was also announced by the League in the local press that: ‘All cultivators of land should be very careful in the use of seeds for the coming year. Many sorts will be scarce, and some unobtainable. A general fault, especially with those new to the work, is to sow too lavishly and too closely. This fault must be overcome. It wastes seeds and does not give the best results’.

The League added: ‘All possible food must be grown, and it is unpatriotic not to get the uttermost yield from every rod cultivated’. Evidence of ‘training’ and advice for those keen to cultivate more land and aid the home-grown food effort can also be seen in newspaper reports from mid-December, 1917.

In one such report, readers were told that: ‘The War Food Society for the Urban District of Surbiton is arranging for a course of lectures to be given at St. Matthew’s Church hall, Tolworth, on subjects of interest to gardeners and allotment holders’. The first of these lectures took place on the evening of 20th December, when Mr. G.P. Berry, the General Inspector for Horticulture to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, gave a talk on ‘The Management and Manuring of Allotments’. A report of the evening’s proceedings in the Surrey Comet also told readers that during the summer of 1917 the War Food Society in Surbiton had distributed, ‘under very great difficulties’, about 6,000 fruit-bottling jars, ‘the chance of obtaining which at small cost seems to have been much appreciated’.

Another lecture in this educational series at St. Matthew’s Church hall was reported on in the Surrey Comet in late December, 1917. Chaired by Mr. R.S. Bond, ‘who called attention to the great need for production of every possible pound of food’, the main talk of the evening was again delivered by Mr. G.P. Berry, who gave ‘a most interesting address’ on the manuring of allotments, especially on the need for lime, as many soils in the local area were ‘lacking in this essential ingredient of fertile soils’.

Food poster WW1

It is perhaps worth noting that skilled allotment cultivation, in addition to appropriation of any possible spare land, became a very important part of the local home-front war effort in Kingston, Surbiton and Tolworth during the Great War. Interestingly, the Surbiton and Tolworth areas in particular also played a very similar role just 20 years later, in the Second World War, when 96 extra acres of allotments were created along the local Hogsmill river and in the Fishponds area.

Elsewhere in Surrey, the First World War saw some notably successful efforts to cultivate more land for food production purposes. Indeed, a fascinating report from the County War Agricultural Committee in May, 1918, proudly recorded that an estimated 24,000 additional acres of land had been brought into cultivation, which was, in hindsight, a truly major achievement.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(Images: Wikimedia Commons and the Imperial War Museum)


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Whatever happened to the British centre ground? Upcoming Kingston University History Research Series Seminar

Whatever happened to the British centre ground?

The next talk in the Kingston University History Research Seminar Series will be given by Dr. Jeremy Nuttall on the above theme, based on his latest research findings

Cameron with Blair in background

Amidst Brexit, the rise of Jeremy Corby, and the collapse of the Liberal Democrats, the British political centre appears in a state of crisis. Wider echoes of this also appear in support for Marine Le Pen in France, the AfD in Germany, the rise of populism in Italy, and the election of Donald Trump. But is the British middle ground more resilient than we think? This talk explores the ‘moderate’ tradition in British politics, from Stanley Baldwin, through Clement Attlee to Tony Blair and David Cameron, and asks whether it has a future.

Dr. Nuttall’s talk will take place on:

Thursday, 15th March, 2018, at:

5.00-6.30pm, in:

Room JG2012,

Penrhyn Road campus, Kingston University,

Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey.

Wine and nibbles provided.

All are welcome.


Posted in British history, Events, Public History, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Subverting the Subversives: Did MI5 infiltrate the British entertainment industry?

New claims have been put forward that the British domestic Security Service, MI5, was not just involved with monitoring and collecting intelligence on political movements and individuals deemed as potential threats to the state in the post-war period, but was also involved in the ‘policing’ of moral standards at the cultural level.

Thames_house_exterior (MI5 HQ)

MI5 seemingly infiltrated the entertainment industry in the 1960s, with the objective of sabotaging and undermining Leftwing theatre and movie productions, and causing Communist and Trotskyite groups to lose substantial sums of money in the process.

According to The Times newspaper (February 27th, 2018), the daughter of one of MI5’s most renowned spies points to evidence that the Security Service was keen to target not just political activists, such as communists, Trotskyists and the peace movement, in the usual way, but also sought to counter what was regarded as Leftwing propaganda in the theatre and movie entertainment world.

Hon. Charlotte Bingham

Charlotte Bingham, whose father John Bingham (1908-1988) was a leading MI5 officer (and reputedly the model for John Le Carre’s famous fictional spy George Smiley), has written her memoirs, MI5 and Me (2018), and reveals that her father forced her to join MI5 when she was a teenager (see photo). Moreover, she provides some fascinating new details on the operational tactics of  the Security Service, including on how her father allowed various theatre actors to lodge at the Bingham family home in the 1960s. There was a secret purpose to this apparent generosity. Bingham reveals that her father told her that the actors could help them know ‘what kind of communist propaganda is going to be pushed at the general public… this is most important for maintaining standards’. John Bingham also apparently added: ‘A country can lose its way overnight after seeing the wrong play or film’.

Charlotte Bingham, who is herself a bestselling novelist and has also written for numerous television productions (such as UpstairsDownstairs), claims in her upcoming memoirs that MI5 even helped bring about the closure of a West End theatre production, a play which featured a ‘common man, rich capitalist and poor woman’. One of John Bingham’s actor lodgers had apparently been persuaded to ‘sabotage’ the opening night of the new play by forgetting his lines and coughing throughout the performance. Charlotte Bingham’s father then revealed to his daughter that, because of the ‘political’ nature of the play, Trotskyists had put ‘rather a large amount of party funds in it – and now of course they’ve lost the lot’. Bingham also claims that her father also later began to target the movie world: he and MI5 became interested in ‘sabotaging’ a film made by a ‘famously up-and-coming film director’, whom she calls Leslie Robertson.

‘Loyal’ theatrical agencies provided actors for the new production and then, during the shooting of the movie, two of the actors lodging at the Bingham home were persuaded to be ‘intransigent… about their interpretation of their roles’ in the movie. Bingham reveals that she realised that her father, in his capacity as an MI5 officer, ‘must be using the same tactics the commmunists were adopting to cause strikes in factories’, and was ‘getting at the target from the inside…’. She also noted that the car journeys each morning which ferried the two lodgers to their work on the film set ‘were lightened by the sound of their laughter as they planned yet more fiendish tactics destined to throw Leslie Robertson into chaos and confusion’. As the Times Arts Correspondent notes, the Security Service files from this period have yet to be released to the National Archives at Kew, so it is difficult to obtain further information or confirmation on MI5’s apparent campaign to counter ‘cultural’ forms of Marxist subversion in the 1960s.

The National Archives

Similarly, the official authorised history of MI5 by Christopher Andrew, Defence of the Realm (published in 2009), does not have any discussion of the Service’s apparent attempt to infiltrate and manipulate the entertainment industry. However, historians might find further evidence of such strategies in future releases of MI5 files to the National Archives. If the claims are true, it would certainly throw significant new light on how the state and its agencies were determined to counter what they regarded as the dangerous propaganda of the ‘cultural’ Left in the Swinging Sixties.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(All images: WikiMedia Commons)





Posted in British history, Gender History, Media history, Public History, The National Archives, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The ‘Zep’ Zapper: Horatio Bottomley in Surbiton in 1917

One Monday evening in December, 1917, Surbiton in Surrey received a visit from Mr. Horatio Bottomley, a figure the wartime Daily Mirror newspaper had called ‘London’s Answer to the Zeps’ because of his powerful oratory at public meetings.

Hoatio Bottomley portrait

With London now under attack from the air by ‘Zeps’ (German Zeppelins), together with growing food and fuel shortages across the nation (as the fourth Christmas of the relentlessly grinding conflict rapidly approached), and mounting public concerns about what was really happening on the Western Front in France, Bottomley – who edited a patriotic magazine called John Bull – had made himself a leading propagandist in favour of the British war effort. He regularly urged Britons to fight on and ‘never weaken’. He also appears to have enjoyed his image as a ‘bullish’ man who could weaponize information and ‘zap’ the enemy via effective speech-making.

His visit to Surbiton in late 1917 saw him give a lecture at Surbiton Assembly Rooms, where he again sought to inspire and rouse his audience, and also employed a mixture of humour and passion to deliver what was billed as a ‘vivid description’ of scenes on the Western Front. According to the local Surrey Comet, this talk was entitled ‘What I saw in the Trenches’, and his lecture ‘proved to be a remarkable attraction, the building being filled in every part’. In fact, this was fairly typical of the enthusiasm Bottomley often generated at his lectures and public meetings during the course of the Great War.

A big problem with Bottomley, though, is that he often exaggerated his stories and peppered his talks with some serious untruths. Indeed, Horatio Bottomley (1860-1933) was quite a colourful and controversial gentleman in many ways. At various stages in his career he was a financier, a newspaper proprietor, a journalist, a magazine editor, a propagandist, a conspiracy theorist, and a Member of Parliament (twice). In 1922, while serving as Independent MP for Hackney South, he was found guilty of financial fraud at an Old Bailey trial and was given a seven-year prison sentence. Towards the end of his life, after his release from gaol, Bottomley led a poverty-stricken existence, reduced to trying to earn a living by entertaining people in Music Halls.

John Bull magazine

Bottomley had first entered Parliament in 1906 as the Liberal MP for Hackney South. He also founded the magazine John Bull in the same year, a popular and very pro-Empire publication, which carried a combination of news on current affairs, social gossip and sensationalist scandal, and which often pedalled blatant scare-stories and conspiracy theories. Bottomley also used the magazine to very much push his own (often outspoken) personal views of politics and world events and the secret ‘forces’ supposedly at work behind the scenes. However, in 1912, he was forced to resign his seat in Parliament after he was declared bankrupt.

He was not finished, though. The outbreak of war in 1914, in a sense, was good news for Bottomley. The Great War helped restore his career and he became a well-known pro-war propagandist, constantly urging everybody to put their full weight behind the fight against Imperial Germany and the ‘uncivilized Hun’. He especially loathed pacifists and those he perceived as ‘treasonable’. At one point in the war, he publicly accused the Labour Party leaders Ramsay MacDonald and James Keir Hardie of being the leaders of a ‘pro-German Campaign’, and he demanded that MacDonald be tried as a traitor. Bottomley also used his magazine John Bull to claim that there was a ‘Hidden Hand’ secretly at work within the nation, a subversive group of conspirators who were out to undermine the British war effort.

Horatio Bottomley speaking in Trafalgar Square

The magazine saw high circulation during the war. But it was his stirring and hyper-patriotic oratory at public meetings that appeared to have the most impact. It is estimated that he addressed over 300 public meetings during the course of the war, including a very large one in Trafalgar Square (see photo). The meeting at Surbiton was also a good example, which he used to drive home his message about the ‘Hun’.

In the account of this meeting published in the Surrey Comet, Bottomley was noted for what the paper called his ‘many gifts of oratory’, and apparently ‘riveted the keen attention of the large audience for nearly an hour and a half’. Prefacing his talk with a reminder that the Surrey Volunteer Regiment was ‘in great need of recruits’, Bottomley told the Assembly Rooms gathering that he was ‘one of the band of people who, some years before the war broke out, went about the country proclaiming the fact that Germany meant mischief’. He said they were preaching ‘the doctrine that ever since the Kaiser had come to the throne he and his advisers had been engaged in an unbroken conspiracy to throw dust in the eyes of the whole world and, above all, of Great Britain’.

For that warning, Bottomley said, he and his friends had been called ‘all sorts of names, but that did not distress them’. Since the war had broken out, he had been ‘going about all over the country’, first to obtain recruits for the Colours and then ‘to hearten and inspirit the mind and conscience of the people’. He said that the British Empire was ‘not done with yet’, and he wanted to ‘arouse them to a true sense of the fact that, despite all shame and frauds, there was no Power on God’s earth… capable of bringing that old Empire down to the ground’.

After further reflections on the nature of the conflict, Bottomley revealed that he had been ‘filled with a keen desire to go and see that grim thing for himself’.  He said he had been out to France more than once, which had included a visit to the Western frontline. Moreover, he claimed that, when he had been invited to be a guest at the headquarters of Sir Douglas Haig, he had refused, as he wanted to be ‘free from every restriction’, including military censorship.  He had ‘no use for the censor’.

Instead, he had spent time with the soldiers in their rest camps and in the military hospitals, and had also made a ‘pilgrimage amongst the ruins of Arras’, which had at one time been one of the most beautiful cities in France, but was ‘now without one complete building’. He had also visited the trenches, where he was given a tin-hat and a gas-mask. He had also personally witnessed, he said, some aerial combat.

Bottomley also gave some details to the Assembly Rooms audience of his visits to Vimy Ridge, Beaumont Hamel, and the Somme area. As the Surrey Comet observed, Bottomley ‘drew a vivid word picture’ and, at the close of his lecture, ‘a number of photographs of the places visited by Mr. Bottomley were projected on the screen’.

Surbiton Assembly Rooms today

The Surbiton Assembly Rooms talk by Bottomley must have been quite a revelation to the people who attended that evening. The public were thirsty for reliable news during the later stages of the Great War, and there is evidence that some people were becoming increasingly cynical and distrustful about what they were reading in the national and local press. Bottomley was able to skilfully create the impression (rightly or wrongly) that he had somehow defied the censors, and was giving his audience a unique and direct eye-witness account of conditions at the Front. It is difficult to discern what was accurate and what was less reliable in his talks, but the Assembly Rooms meeting still provides the historian with an important insight into what was happening at local level in wartime Surbiton, and some useful evidence on the impact a well-known ‘national’ personality could exert.

Bottomley’s lecture at Surbiton also included some comments that reflected his wider patriotic and characteristic message: at one point he referred to ‘the Huns’ as ‘a race of barbarians’, who were capable of ‘hideous’ atrocities. Questioned about the probable end of the war, Bottomley said it ‘began on the Western Front, and it would end there’. In hindsight, the last comment was arguably one of the only truly reliable things Bottomley ever really said.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(All images: WikiMedia Commons)




Posted in British history, German History, Local History, Media history, Public History, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

In Defence of History: experts reject criticisms of their field of study

A short while ago I was faced with having to explain to a sceptical audience why it was still important to study the Ancient Greeks and their views of both history and politics. I pointed out that the Athenian thinker Thucydides, who is often seen as one of the very first historians, is still admired today for his rules about impartiality and the treatment of evidence, while Aristotle, often seen as one of the ‘fathers’ of politics, had profound things to say about participation and citizenship, a topic just as important in the 21st Century, especially when democracy is very much on the defensive.

Thucydides,_marble_head,_Roman copy

Moreover, both Thucydides (see picture) and Aristotle were ‘re-discovered’ in both the medieval and renaissance periods, and arguably were still being cited and used in the Enlightenment, playing a role in the development of what became modernity.

But I feel we need a bit of ‘enlightenment’ on the part of our politicians when it comes to the importance of history as a key branch of knowledge today. Sometimes the historian feels under siege. History and the study of the past has come under sustained assault in Britain in recent times, ranging from cuts to the subject being made by University managers to the narrow-mindedness of government Ministers who view the subject in purely utilitarian terms.

There have also been the absurdities expounded by post-modernists, who tend to see everything – including historical events and empirical facts – as merely about language and ‘discourse’, where all events are seen as ‘relative’ and everything is up for grabs. I have even seen such ‘cultural theory’ leading, at its most extreme, to the defence of Holocaust Denial and conspiracy theory.

A recent report in the Sunday Observer newspaper (28th January) captured the outcry caused by yet another burst of history-bashing by politicians. This time round, medieval historians appear to have been the target. According to the Observer, Robert Halfon, who chairs the House of Commons select committee on education, singled out medieval historians as ‘undeserving’ of public funding. Instead, the former skills Minister called for discounts on student fees that address ‘skill shortages’, such as healthcare, coding, construction or engineering. Halfon said: ‘If someone wants to do medieval history, that’s fine. You still take out your loan and pay it. But all the incentives from government and so on should go to areas the country needs and will bring it most benefit’.

There was both surprise and dismay at Halfon’s comments from the historical profession. At Cambridge University, for example, which – as the Observer noted – ‘has one of the largest concentrations of ancient and medieval historians in the world’, there was ‘some surprise at Halfon’s implication that history graduates do little to benefit the country’. This is because no less than three of the current British Cabinet have history degrees: Amber Rudd (the Home Secretary), Chris Grayling, and David Lidington (the latter is effectively the deputy Prime Minister to Theresa May).

Indeed, the Observer spoke to John Arnold, Professor of medieval history at King’s College, Cambridge, who pointed out that few British Cabinet Ministers in the past 30 years have had degrees in science, technology, engineering or maths: ‘They mostly did PPE [philosophy, politics and economics] and history, and seem to have prospered with that background. Halfon’s comments seem part and parcel of how successive governments have wanted to turn higher education from a public common good into a privatised commodity. This is not something we find in most other successful economies’.


In fact, as the Observer noted, it is not hard to find events in medieval times that resonate today: climate change in the 14th century – better known as the ‘little ice age’ – and the Black Death, for example, saw dramatic population decline, which led to investment in new technology and higher wages.

Chris Briggs, a lecturer in medieval British social and economic history, commented: ‘As it’s the 14th century, you might think it has no bearing or relevance to the challenges we face today. Medieval history encourages rigour and seriousness about how you handle your sources and distinguish truth from fiction, which in today’s world we could do with a bit more of’.

Similarly, Miri Rubin, Professor of medieval history at Queen Mary, University of London, pointed out that analysing documents, archaeological artefacts and paintings was a pathway to a huge variety of careers. This is something that all historians should emphasise when we find ourselves under attack.

Dr. Steve Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(All images: WikiMedia Commons)

Posted in Archives, British history, European History, Public History, Research, Teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments