Jose Harris and Gerry Slater honoured for lifetime achievement
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History has honouredthe work of historian Professor José Harris and archivist Dr Gerry Slaterat their annual lunch to celebrate outstanding achievement
The archivist and historian joined guests at the lunch on 15 May at the House of Commons, hosted by Dr Hywel Francis, Chair of the All Party Group.
Professor José Harris is Emeritus Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford and a fellow of St Catherine's College. Her main interests are in intellectual history, political thought, and the history of social and economic policy. She wrote William Beveridge: A Biography, which was published in 1978 (and a ‘much more frank’ second edition in 1997).
Dr Gerry Slater worked in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) from 1974 to 2008; he led the institution as Chief Executive and Deputy Keeper from 1999. He is currently policy adviser to the Scottish Council on Archives.
The work of José Harris was introduced by historian Tristram Hunt MP (photo, below right). He commended her ‘remarkable capacity to trace the history of ideas’. In her writing, he said, ‘rather dry accounts sing with the power of ideas’. Her Private Lives, Public Spirit, A Social History of Britain 1870-1914 had ‘shone a perfect light on the transition from the Victorian to the Edwardian’.
José thanked the All Party Group warmly. She described herself as a ‘non-Party historian’ who believed that history was ‘open-ended and unpredictable’. She cited three historiographical influences on her thinking and writing about history: the conservative thinker Michael Oakeshott; the historical writings of Karl Marx (though not ‘marxism’ as a political philosophy); and Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which captured for historians many of the complexities of the transition to the ‘modern’ world.
Lord Bew (photo left) introduced the work of Gerry Slater at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. With the Troubles as a formidable backdrop, Gerry and others in ‘this civilising institution’ had been adamant that ‘archives were about the users’ and had done much to ensure that records were gathered, kept safe and made available. Gerry completed a doctoral thesis at the University of Ulster at Coleraine entitled ‘Belfast Politics, 1832-1868’.
Gerry was clear in his view that the All Party Group’s accolade was a recognition of the work of PRONI and all its staff over the years. As an institution it had a culture that sought to serve the whole community and open up the archives to greater use. He also praised current archive leaders across the UK for their readiness to work together as a community and for their clear focus on improving the services delivered to a diverse public.
Dr Hywel Francis spoke about the All Party Group’s work and its work to support the essential work of archives and the importance of the study and understanding of history. The Group’s annual lecture would take place in October 2013 and be delivered by Professor Malcolm Chase in recognition of the 175th anniversary of the People’s Charter. The lecture would take place in the prestigious setting of the Speaker’s rooms and would be the culmination of a number of Chartist-related activities by the Group, including a small exhibition and a seminar on Chartist archives.
Dr Francis thanked the Archives and Records Association (ARA) for its work in providing the secretariat for the All Party Group.
This was the third All Party Group annual lunch to honour the work of archivists and historians. In 2011 the Group honoured Eric Hobsbawm and Lord (Hugh) Thomas; in 2012 Lord (Asa) Briggs and Sarah Tyacke CB.
Those present at the 2013 lunch on 15 May included:
From the All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History: Dr Hywel Francis, Chair; Lord Bew, Secretary; Lord Boswell, Vice Chair; Tristram Hunt, ViceChair: Paul Murphy, Vice Chair and Lord Clark, Vice Chair.
Guests included: Professor Peter Mandler, President, The Royal Historical Society; Lisa Jardine, Historian and Patron of the Archives and Records Association; Dr Lawrence Goldman, St Peter’s College Oxford; Aileen McClintock, Director and Deputy Keeper, PRONI; Oliver Morley, Chief Executive and Keeper, The National Archives; Irene O’Brien Chair, Scottish Council on Archives; Martin Taylor, Chair, ARA; Caroline Williams, President ARA and John Chambers, Chief Executive ARA.
All photographs: Simon O’Connor for the ARA.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History has nearly 80 members. It was established in 2010 and is Chaired by Dr Hywel Francis, MP for Aberavon, a former Professor of Continuing Education at Swansea University. The Group aims to support the work of the archives sector and promote the study of history. The Group has a programme of visits and activities, meets with those who care for archives to understand the challenges and successes and hosts an annual lecture.