First delivered in July 1969, the RHS Prothero Lecture is now the centre point of the Society’s annual events programme. Lectures, given each July, are published as articles in the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, and the journal has more than 50 ‘Prothero’ articles in which leading historians consider new subject areas, methods and historiographies. Collectively, the Prothero articles chart shifting interests and priorities in historical research over the past half century.
In this virtual issue, a selection of 16 articles, all originating as Prothero Lectures, have been chosen. They range from Charles Crawley’s inaugural ‘Sir George Prothero and his circle’ (1969) to Linda Colley’s 2020 lecture: ‘What happens when a written constitution is printed? A history across boundaries’. This year’s Prothero Lecture—‘The Gaiety Girl and the Matinee Idol’, given on 6 July 2022 by Professor Rohan McWilliam—examines celebrity culture in London’s West End, 1880-1914.
10 July 2022 also marks the centenary of the death of George W. Prothero, historian and editor, after whom the lecture is named. Prothero was President of the Royal Historical Society between 1901 and 1905 and played a leading role in the professionalisation of history and historical research in the early twentieth century.
Prothero’s contribution came initially as a researcher and teacher (he was the first Professor of Modern History at Edinburgh, 1894-1900), and later as a public advocate for the value of History. His inaugural lecture at Edinburgh had asked ‘Why should we learn history?’, and questions of purpose and approach shaped a presidency notable for ‘new plans to encourage original historical work’ (Times obituary, 12 July 1922). To his interwar successors, Prothero was the Society’s ‘second founder’, such was his contribution to its profile 35 years after the RHS’s foundation. Beyond the Society, Prothero’s commitment to the public celebration and use of History took many forms: from membership of the pre-war Village Children’s Historical Play Society to the Foreign Office where—as historical adviser—Prothero prepared extensive documentation for the Versailles Conference, which he attended from early 1919.
This virtual issue, released on the anniversary of Prothero’s death, highlights the breadth of subjects taken up by Prothero lecturers since 1969. Charles Crawley, J.W. Burrow (1985) and Michael Bentley (2009) examine Prothero’s academic world and legacy. The intersection of history, literature and literary culture is prominent in the work of Natalie Zemon Davis (1982), Roy Foster (2000) and Pauline Stafford (2012), among others. Eric E. Lampard (1972), Keith Thomas (1986), Olwen Hufton (1997), Stefan Collini (2003), Sujit Sivasundaram (2019) and Linda Colley (2020) consider thematic change over broad chronologies and, increasingly, from non-Western and global perspectives. Others reframe landmark historical events (Michael Howard, 1982) or—in the work of William McNeill (1982), Joanna Bourke (2012) and Carole Hillenbrand (2018)—present new subjects for historical analysis. In their different ways, all 16 articles—together with many more lectures published in Transactions—suggest answers to Prothero’s original question: ‘Why should we learn history?’
Please enjoy free access to the papers below until the end of 2022.