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The Voice for History

The Historical Association is celebrating its hundredth birthday. Keith Robbins appraises its past and present role in acting as the voice for ‘History’.

'I am not very keen on the proposed Historical Association,’ wrote the medieval historian Reginald Lane Poole to A.F. Pollard, the recently appointed professor of constitutional history at University College, London, in April 1906. Pollard was an enthusiast for the proposal but Lane Poole explained that he was ‘not much of an historical teacher myself’ and looked forward to being even less of one in the future. That is the kind of thing scholars sometimes expressed in private correspondence in 1906. Perhaps they still do. Pollard was not deterred and the inaugural meeting went ahead the following month. One hundred years later, the Historical Association (HA) is still meeting.

 

The formation of such a body was not surprising in some respects. ‘Subject’ associations were in vogue. The Classical Association had been founded in 1893 and the Geographical and Modern Language Associations a decade earlier. The English Association is also celebrating its centenary in 2006. Every ‘subject’, evidently, had to have such a body, not only to provide services of one kind or another for its members, but as a public demonstration of its importance in public life. Such associations, it was believed, would be particularly useful for teachers in schools and colleges. As at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it was frequently stated at the beginning of the twentieth that the future of the country would depend on education (the passing of the 1902 Education Act was symbolic proof of this). Each association was there to make sure that the public at large properly understood the importance of its subject.

 

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