British Studies in a Broken World: Info

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Chris Moores

The Conference is nearly upon us and we are very excited to welcome people here. This blog provides some important information about the event.

It also outlines the conference guidelines on social media, some info for presenting and chairing sessions and invites you all to use this blog to respond to the conference and to participate in our PGR-led events on the morning of Wednesday 5 July.

I hope all this is useful – but get in touch if we have missed anything obvious.

Change of Venue & Registration

The most important thing to note is that the Conference will be taking place in a different venue on the University campus than previously advertised. Because of building works, we will now be using the Gisbert Kapp Building (this is G8 on the green section of the attached campus map) for panel sessions and the Education Building (R19 in the red section of the map) for plenary sessions and conference roundtables instead of the Arts Building. Gisbert Kapp is a 5-10 minute walk from the University Station.

We have updated our travel, accomodation and accessibility information on the blog to help with this change. This includes a description of getting to the building from University Station and the routes between buildings.

More general directions to the University itself can be found here.

Registration will take place in Gisbert Kapp and will be open from 8.30am on Wednesday. The first full plenary session will start at 1.00pm the Education Building, so please make sure you allow time to register before making your way over there.

Information on accessibility for Gisbert Kapp can be found here: and here for the Education Building. If required there are plenty of spaces designated for Blue Badge holders to park outside Gisbert Kapp. It is a short walk between the two buildings, and members of MBS will be around to provide directions and assist if required. Please get in touch if you require any further information on accessibility on or around campus.


The full programme can be found on our conference pages here:

The Conference provides lunch on Thursday and Friday. Refreshments will be available during morning and afternoon breaks on each day. These will take place in the Link space in the Gisbert Kapp Building (1st floor). Wine receptions will be held on both the Wednesday and Thursday evenings after the final session/lecture. On Wednesday this will be hosted in the University’s Barber Institute (a short walk from the Education Building) from 6.30pm and the wine reception on Thursday will take place in the Link in Gisbert Kapp at the same time.

Once you arrive you will recieve the conference programme which contains guides to campus, eating and drinking in Birmingham and lots of other helpful information.

PGR Workshop

The conference opens with a postgraduate workshop taking place on 5th July from 9:30am – 12:30pm. The morning will consist of two sessions: a roundtable discussion exploring the possibilities for new researchers in the academy and a publishing workshop led by Josie McLellan (University of Bristol) and Guy Ortolano (New York University).

Although we urge PGRs and ECRs to come along, attendance is not limited to new researchers. We also encourage tenured and senior academics are also present to listen and share in the debate: the more diverse and inclusive the room, the more valuable the discussion. We will provide lunch for participants, but need you to register separately for this event. If you are interested in attending, please sign-up using this Eventbrite.

Panel Sessions

In standard panels with three speakers we ask that presentations last a maximum of 20 minutes to allow 30 minutes for discussion. For those with four speakers, each presenter has 15 minutes to also allow 30 minutes for discussion. On roundtable sessions, we are happy for organizers to be more flexible, but please also allow plenty of time for discussion with those not speaking on the panel. We insist that all speakers keep to time as all chairs are under strict instructions to keep things punctual (see below).  All lecture rooms have AV equipment, we ask that you bring your presentations on a USB device, as we do not have access to the various adaptors required by different computers. We also ask that you arrive to your session early, in order to make sure that your presentation is set up and ready to go when attendees arrive.

Chairs Instructions and Discussion

We strongly encourage and expect Panel Chairs to keep speakers to time. Timings are tight across the conference, so we need to make sure that everything runs smoothly. It is important that each speaker receives the same amount of time and that we have adequate time to discuss the work presented.  Please make sure that you take questions and comments from New Researchers as well as familiar faces. For those asking questions or offering points for discussions, please keep your observations fairly short and to the point to allow us to take opinion from the whole room. In accordance with our social media policy (see below), we also ask chairs to let the room know if panellists do not want their panel to be live tweeted by those in the audience.

 Plenary Sessions and Final Roundtable

The conference features three plenary sessions (details in the programme). Speakers will be talking broadly around these themes and/or reflecting on how they relate to their own practice before we open up to a more general discussion. These will be big sessions featuring all those attending the event and we hope to encourage a participatory and collaborative conversation across the conference.

Because not everyone – including the conference organizers – likes speaking in massive rooms, we are also happy for people to send questions before or during the conference to the organizers using the address These will be passed onto our plenary chairs for discussion where possible. If you wish for your question to be anonymous, please indicate this on your email. To avoid distraction, we will not be taking email questions during the sessions, so please send in good time.

There will be a final roundtable to pull together some of the threads of the conference and reflect on the event together. We encourage people to send questions in advance to this session and we will do our best to put them to the panel and the room as a whole. Obviously, we cannot guarantee that all questions will be asked, but we at least hope to include more participants this way.

Social Media

Modern British Studies aims to make the conference as accessible as possible. We encourage the use of social media, especially the live-tweeting of panels, so that those unable to attend are able to keep track of the discussions and follow the main talking points that arise from these. If you would like to contribute, the hashtag that we are using is #mbs2017 which we hope will create an intruiging contrast with the American Legion Boys State of Missouri (whatever that is) which is currently occupying the hashtag. After the conference, we aim to collate as much of the twitter discussions as possible into a number of ‘Storify’ threads, that we will then publish on our blog for posterity and later use.

At the same time, we also need to respect the intellectual property of individual panellists and understand that you may not want public comments on work in progress to circulate. Moreover, we are aware that some find tweeting off-putting during panels and we want sessions to be as welcoming for both panellists and audience members as possible. If you would rather social media engagement kept to a minimum during your panel or prefer your paper not to be commented on, please communicate this with your chair beforehand, who will ensure that the room is aware of this at the start of the panel (see above).


In the weeks following the conference, we will curate a series of reflections on the conference, touching upon its themes and how they interact with the current state of historiography on modern Britain, conferences, working conditions, etc…  In keeping with the value that we place on the importance of postgraduates and early career researchers within these discussions, we are especially keen to publish personal reflections from PGRs/ECRs. This was productive at our previous event and helped us shape aspects of the programme this time around. You can read these here.

If you are interested in writing a short blog post on your experience of the conference, get in touch with Jacob Fredrickson, who you can email at: Jacob will be pestering you all for blogs and responses as part of his paid Postgraduate Taught Research Scholarship, please be nice to him as he curates the response to the conference.

With a conference this big, we will have inevitably misses something, so please let us know if you have any queries or if we have forgotten some key bits of info.

Masculinities, Contraception and Sexual Health in Late-Twentieth Century Britain, 1967-1997: Call for Interview Participants

I am looking to conduct face-to-face interviews with men – of any sexual orientation with experience of sex and relationships – born between 1950 and 1975 for my PhD research on men’s decision-making around contraception and sexual health at University of Birmingham. This project, funded by the Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures (BRIHC) will enrich understanding of a previously un-researched area of the modern British past, especially regards the period on which this project focuses, between 1967 and 1997 during the supposed ‘sexual revolution’.

Historians who have already written on contraception and intimate life in the second half of the twentieth century assume that women claimed control of contraceptive decision-making in a remarkable shift; the result of a long struggle to gain power over their fertility, aided by the arrival of the contraceptive pill. It is likely this narrative has been vastly over-stated, however it has been seldom critiqued and alternatives have scarcely been explored which provide men’s role in and their experiences of this apparent shift. As well as understanding the changing nature of contraceptive practice, I am also interested in how individuals negotiated the rise of ‘safer sex’ in this period and the general impact this initiative had on ‘real life’ sexual practice and on intimate relationships.

By providing your personal testimony, you will allow for individual, personal perspectives on this history to be told and made visible in the historical record. Oral testimony of this kind also makes possible a more nuanced history of intimate life in this period. As well as capturing previously untold experience, your testimony will create the possibility of understanding how people’s experiences are remembered and the external influences at a particular moment in the past and since then that have affected remembering and retelling. All testimony will be treated as confidential and anonymity will be ensured, unless you, as the participant desires to remain identifiable.

For more information and if you wish to be interviewed as part of this project, please email me at to arrange an informal conversation prior to interview.

Continuing the Conversation: Modern British Studies PGR Roundtable

MBS Logo PGRAs in 2015, this summer’s Modern British Studies conference will begin with a postgraduate workshop on the morning of 5th July. We have decided to split the session into two-halves: the first taking stock of conversations we began over two years ago about the working conditions of early career academics; the second, a training session on academic publishing led by Guy Ortolano (New York University) editor of Twentieth Century British History and Josie McLellan (University of Bristol) former editor of Contemporary European History and current editor of Gender and History journals.

As current PGRs working at Birmingham, it is the former we want to reflect on here. We’ve come a long way since we began the conversations that culminated in our collaboratively written Working Paper Two. In that paper, we argued that market-based education systems place restraints around PGRs’ ability to produce research that speaks to major debates and issues confronting our society today. Since then we have developed our own intellectual agenda centred on exploring the relationship between the material conditions of our labour and historical research through a series of blog posts, group discussions (Forum for Early Career Researchers), dedicated conference sessions and workshops (Seeking Legitimacy; Visibly Hidden). Although we have often differed on particular issues, as a group we would still argue that impact agendas, tough funding competition and short-term contracts have implications on the historical and intellectual choices we make, and are therefore inseparable from conversations about the future of Modern British Studies as a field.

But what work can these conversations do for us now? The ideas first emerged at a time when the subject of our debates was the supposed fragmentation of British history as a field. Now, as the title of this year’s conference British Studies in a Broken World so ominously reflects, we are in a moment of troubling global crisis. Significant social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental changes make the historian’s role in public life and debate more important than ever. At the same time, however, the rhetoric of ‘fake news’ and ‘Brexit’ suggests popular belief in expertise is failing. Given the enormity of the political crises we face and the ensuing social, economic and cultural instability, it feels indulgent to return to our ongoing debate about the position of postgraduates and early career researchers within the academy. How can we justify putting the time and energy into debating our own careers when we are already so privileged compared to so many? Is it responsible to look inward when we urgently need to be facing outward?

We have always believed that thinking about new researchers in the academy illuminates, rather than shuts down, important debates about expertise and authority in public life. Indeed, we argue that pausing and zooming in on the position of PGRs offers a particularly useful vantage point from which to examine the power structures that allow some of us in society to become experts and not others. The precariousness of our position reveals how slippery the boundaries are between those inside and outside the academy; those who are perceived as experts and those who are not.

In the process of becoming academics, we choose the kind of history that emerges, but our position within the academy is far from secure. Although we are currently able to privilege certain narratives and emphasise certain historical subjects, unless we successfully negotiate the job market, our interpretations become invalid. The subjects we painstakingly brought into being, are returned to the past. As Ben Mechen reminded us at our PGR/ECR workshop Seeking Legitimacy, our dual position simultaneously carries power while rendering us powerless. How many untenured researchers take on ‘difficult’ historical subjects that some senior historians may find frivolous or even offensive? How many of these challenging case studies disappear back into the archives at the end of unsuccessful bids for funding? Whose perspectives do we lose because we fail to tackle structural inequalities?

Our current conditions should remind us of the importance of working together collaboratively to dissolve the boundaries between academic and non-academic history, between historians and our publics. But we cannot do this without confronting the conditions that allow some of us to become historians, and not others, especially when those of us on the ‘inside’ do not yet represent the broad range of human experience. Despite occasional calls on Twitter for gender and racial equality (see #noallmalepanels or #thanksfortyping), there are only 115 female BME professors in UK Higher Education, compared to almost 4,000 white female professors, and 450 male BME professors compared to 14,500 white male professors. Conversations are important, but we must insist on change. We can work within the current landscape, by discouraging all male panels for example but we all must continue to rethink the structures within which we work, questioning where the boundaries of the academy lie and work together to move them.

A few of us have tried to confront this issue through our own historical research by being open and reflexive about our privileged, if temporary, positions as historical experts. Although we are working on diverse issues such as race, religion, citizenship and ordinary life, we all explore the fact that history-writing risks perpetuating the exclusionary power structures of the past. Going further than simply bringing marginalised individuals and groups to light, ‘difficult’ case studies can challenge seemingly natural categories of analysis. By recognizing the historical contingency of concepts that we use to make sense of the contemporary world, we confront our starting points, particularly who we include and exclude when we make assumptions about today’s social and political structures.  History is a powerful form of critique, revealing the fragility of contemporary assumptions.

We have always believed then that debates about PGR/ECR labour amount to more than a fraught commentary on the status of job markets. By persistently highlighting the relationship between conditions of labour and our historical outputs, we have insisted that questions about who gets to be a historical subject are never distanced from questions about who gets to be a historian. In the tumultuous setting of 2017, we are not distracted by questions of our labour but argue that our precarity is an important point of connection to those outside of the academy. By both using history to critique contemporary assumptions that exclude or marginalise and by being reflexive about our own privilege in getting to this point, we can weaken the seemingly established and uncompromising boundaries of the academy. As we stand on the edge of the academy, we must embrace our vulnerability as it is our precarious position of becoming historians that most keenly reveals the relationships between academic and non-academic, between experts and non-experts, between history and our present moment.

Ahead of the forthcoming Modern British Studies conference in July, we ask everyone who wishes to attend the PGR and ECR morning session – indeed anyone hoping to attend MBS 2017 – to read the Call for Papers for Seeking Legitimacy and ‘New Researchers and the Future of MBS’. We need you all to take part so that we can broaden these discussions outside Birmingham, and establish a PGR and ECR community across the modern British studies field committed to rethinking the future of historical practice.

The full programme for the morning can be found here.

Ruth Lindley & Laura Sefton on behalf of PGRs within Modern British Studies.