The Practice of International History in the Twenty-First Century

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Humanities


The international challenges facing British society today underline the crucial importance of understanding the nature and dynamics of world politics. International historians must play a role in furthering this understanding. The Practice of International History in the Twenty-First Century will create an international research network comprised of historians, international relations specialists and officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The core objective is to establish an inter-disciplinary forum for collective reflection on the nature and practice of international history and its role in contributing to wider British society. The research network will include leading scholars from the UK, the European continent, North America and Australia. It will be made up of established researchers, PhD students, post-docs and early career scholars. This will provide a framework to allow UK-based international historians to make an important contribution to wider debates on the current and future state of our field.

The past two decades have seen the emergence of fundamental challenges to the philosophical and methodological underpinnings of international history. Advocates of a 'cultural turn' have argued for greater attention to race, gender, religion and collective memory as a means of deepening our understanding of international politics. The emergence of 'transnational' history has presented a different kind of challenge that rejects the nation-state as the focus of analysis to concentrate on the flow of people, ideas and technologies across what are in many ways arbitrary national frontiers. This 'transnational turn' complements a turn away from 'Eurocentric' historical approaches that is a central feature of the new 'global history'. Debates among international relations [IR] theorists over the relative importance of ideas, institutions and material power have the potential to further enrich the work of international historians. A final challenge to practices in our field is the need to engage more fruitfully and systematically with the UK policy community in general, and with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO] in particular.

International historians in North America and Europe have recently been active in addressing the implications of the issues raised above for the practice of international history. Scholars in the UK have been far less active. This project will provide a framework for redressing this silence while at the same time creating structures for ongoing engagement with the policy community as well as teachers of international history at all levels from schools to postgraduate university courses.

A number of core questions have been identified to provide a conceptual framework for four one-day workshops. Historians and IR specialists from the UK, Europe, North America and Australia and FCO officials will participate in these workshops. The chief 'outputs' produced by the project will be a 'state of the field' collection of essays, an inter-active web-based resource for teaching and research in the history of international relations and durable structures for engagement with policy stakeholders. Achieving these aims will leave the present and future generations of international historians better-equipped to teach, research and to contribute more effectively to meeting the ever-changing international challenges of our time.

Planned Impact

Principal Beneficiaries:
1. Academic researchers in the fields of international history; transnational history and the cognate field of politics and international studies.

2. Teachers of history and politics in the United Kingdom at all levels from secondary school to university undergraduates and postgraduates.

3. Cultural institutions dealing with the course and impact of international politics on modern societies.

4. Policy-makers involved in the formulation and execution of the United Kingdom's foreign and defence policy.


The project will pursue a two-stage process for achieving impact.

Stage 1: The network will work to overcome barriers to effective knowledge exchange that exist among academics and between academics and user groups. The interdisciplinary colloquia will bring together academic and non-academic participants including university historians and political scientists but also official international historians working for the British government, museum professionals and teachers of international history. Moreover, by assuring a prominent role for research students, post-docs and secondary school teacher, the project will also contribute significantly to capacity-building in research and teaching international history in the UK.

Stage 2: Stage 2 provides the framework for the public-facing dimension to the project. The proposed network will produce a digital resource capturing the practices and debates of leading international historians working in the UK. The project will create a website of its discussions that will serve as an open-access "users' guide" to the contemporary practice of international history. This web site will serve as a sustainable resource for researchers and practitioners. It will outline the contours of international history as it is practised today and its relationship with cognate disciplines of political science, historical sociology and cultural studies.

The project proposes three immediately actionable pathways to impact:

Pathway 1: The Practice of International History & Government: Our field has been placed at the heart of British foreign policy by the British government (not least by the recreation of the Foreign Office Library and the established practice of witness seminars). It has done so as part of an explicit critique of the historical ignorance that, it is argued, has undermined British foreign policy in the past. One proposed solution has been to expand the role of official historians. The presence of Professor Patrick Salmon, Chief Historian of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office as a core member of the network ensures that the project will connect directly to this increasingly important unit within the UK policy-making establishment.

Pathway 2: The Practice of International History & Culture: The network leaders Ball and Jackson work with a range of cultural institutions that interpret international history on a day-to-day basis. These institutions are:
i) The BBC Documentary Unit produces the long-running Radio 4 historical investigative series, Document. Both Ball and Jackson have worked with this unit recently on projects concerning secret intelligence and Anglo-German relations.
ii) The National War Museum in Edinburgh has worked in partnership with the University of Glasgow, especially Ball, since 2003.
iii) The Federal AlliiertenMuseum in Berlin in Germany is wholly devoted to the interpretation of international history. Ball and Salmon serve on its International Advisory Board.
iv) The newly opened Musée de la Grande Guerre at Meaux in France dedicated to the memory and interpretation of the era of the First World War era. Jackson teaches at its annual summer school.

The bid will invite four institutions to take part in the colloquia. Their engagement and advice will help project managers craft the most effective dissemination of the project's digital resources to the target groups outlined above.


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Description Key findings for this project can be divided into three categories. Firstly, there is considerable scope for greater intellectual engagement and collaboration between historians of international relations and political scientists interested in this same field. The geneal sense from the very intersting and thought-provoking workshop on this topic was that historains and IR-Political Scientists are interested in many of the same answers but tend to ask different questions and deploy different methodloglies. Projectgs that borrow across this disciplinary divide are rare but should be prusued. Secondly, the current tensions between the sub-field of international history, on the one hand, and those of transnational and global history, on th other, is both unnecessary and unhelpful. Greater engagement from all sides is necessary to enrich all three sub-fields. This requires moving past simplistic stereotypes to think about the compolex interrelationship between relations between state actors, on the one hand, and the role of other actors and other conceptual approaches to international space, on the other. Finally (thirdly), there is huge scope for fruitful interaction between policy-formulating and decision-taking stakehoeders, on the one hand, and academic historians of internaitonal relations, on the other. This would involve stakeholders acknowledging the richness of academic debate and avoiding treating history as a 'data-base' that can provide straighforward answers to tricky questions. It will also involve historians making the effort to find opportunities to engage with stakeholders who are often very busy and hard to pin down.
Exploitation Route The edited collection fot he International History Review that will publish the best reserach from this project is in preparation and will appear in 2019. It is to be hoped that the fruits of our reserach, as well as the reflections of research network members, will inspire both practicing international historians to engage further with other disciplines, other sub-fields and with policy stakholders in government. We have provided a bluepirnt for one way to approach these challenges. There are obviously many others.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

Description We engaged througout the life of the project with both the historians of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO] in the UK as well as mid-level and senior policy-makers within that organisation. The FCO historians took the lead in organising an internal seminar that gathered together practitioners and academic historians to discuss the advantages and pitfalls of using history to inform policy. This work was undertaken in conjunction with 'History and Policy' with the assistance of Professor David Reynolds. Teh result was a very stimulating day-long workshpo that has generated considerable interest for subsequent exchanges by various participants. Several of the contacts made duing this seminar have agreed to take part in the PI Jackson's AHRC-funded project 'The Weight of the Past in Franco-British Relations since 1815' (with co-investigators Rachel Utley and Rogelian Pastor-Castro). Two have also agreed to come up to Galsgow, one for an event on internationa law and contemporary foreign policy challegnes (which took place in late November 2017) and another for an event on the role of international lawyers at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. We have also engaged with the Austrian Diplomatic Academy in Vienna. Dr Barbara Haider, of the University of Vienna, is now part of our network and has committed to organising a seminar at the Diplomatic Academy to discuss the same issues that are to be addressed at the FCO seminar.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

Description Two seminars are in preparation after extensive consultation with network members. The First will be held at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The second will be held at the Austrian Diplomatic Academy in Vienna. Both will discuss the advantages and potential problems inherent in using history to inform foreign policy formulation and decision-making.
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The seminars have yet to take place but they will fail abjectly if they do not encourage foreign policy practitioners to reflect on the use of history in their everyday practice.
Description AHRC Standard Research Grants
Amount £847,813 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/R00515X/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2018 
End 05/2021
Description Research Funding
Amount £14,450 (GBP)
Funding ID 58814 
Organisation Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 02/2020
Title Database of International Historians working in the United Kingdom 
Description A database of the names, areas of specialism and email addresses of historians of international relations working in the UK. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact A useful database for scholars and students wishing to get a picture of the landscape of international history in the UK and looking for specialists in their field of interest/reserach. 
Description Collaboration with HIstorians at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office 
Organisation Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Organisation of a one-day workship entitled 'History and Foreign Policy'.
Collaborator Contribution Provided the Durban Room at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, made time for a range of mid-level and senior policy-makers to attend ad to contribute their thoughts. Provided lunch.
Impact Several papers from the workshop will appear in the special issue of the International History Review devoted to reserach outcomes from 'The Practice of International Histotry'. Publication is scheduled for Spring 2019.
Start Year 2015
Description Partnership with the University of Paris I (Pantheon-Sorbonne) 
Organisation Pantheon-Sorbonne University
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Joint research project on the historiography of international relations since 1945. Result is one chapter in an edited collection.
Collaborator Contribution Contribution to chapter and editing of the collection.
Impact P. Jackson and T. Imlay, 'Des différentes voies menant à la même destination : le problème d'agent-structure dans l'histoire des relations internationales en France et en Grande-Bretagne après 1945' in L. Badel (ed.). "Pierre Renouvin et Jean-Baptiste Duroselle: La construction d'une discipline, l'histoire des relations internationales", (Paris, 2018).
Start Year 2016
Description Partnership with the the University of Vienna 
Organisation Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We invited Professor Dr Barbara Haider, of the Department of History at the University of Vienna, to attend our workshop. PI Jackson agreed to go to Vienna to give a lecture and meet with Professor Haider's research team.
Collaborator Contribution Professor Dr Barbara Haider, of the Department of History at the University of Vienna, will attend our workshop and assist in publicising our initiatives and research. She may also contribute to our edited collection.
Impact None as yet.
Start Year 2016
Description Partnership with the the University of Vienna 
Organisation University of Vienna
Department Department of German Studies
Country Austria 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We invited Professor Dr Barbara Haider, of the Department of History at the University of Vienna, to attend our workshop. PI Jackson agreed to go to Vienna to give a lecture and meet with Professor Haider's research team.
Collaborator Contribution Professor Dr Barbara Haider, of the Department of History at the University of Vienna, will attend our workshop and assist in publicising our initiatives and research. She may also contribute to our edited collection.
Impact None as yet.
Start Year 2016
Description Articles in 'Teaching History' and the British International History Newsletter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Articles desribing the work of the project were published in the above outlets. Their reach is described above.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Discussion of the role of history in foreign policy-making with civil servants at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The network held its final workshop at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 1 June 2017. In attendance were network members as well as staff from various desks of the European policy unit from the FCO. The event was managed on the FCO end by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Official Historians, led by Prof. Patrick Salmon.
The day was a tremendous success and several of the FCO policy staff indicated surprise at the extent to which present policy issues were rooted in the past as well as the way subject constructions of the past shaped understandings in the present.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017