Since 1868, the United Kingdom’s Royal Historical Society has served as a leading learned society for historians of all kinds. The society boasts nearly 4,500 fellows worldwide, including two historians sure to be familiar to those studying the discipline at UCF: Assistant Professor Duncan Hardy and Associate Professor and Department of History Chair Peter Larson.
“For more than 150 years, [the Royal Historical Society] has existed to promote the findings of historians to the wider world and advocate for the field — a bit like the National Geographic Society here in America did for geographic and scientific disciplines over the same timeframe,” Hardy says.
Based at University College London, the society supports academic publishing, events, research training, grants and awards, among other principal areas. It publishes its own academic journal, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, exclusively open to submissions from fellows of the Society. Perhaps most notably, the society’s Bibliography of British and Irish History offers a comprehensive guide of over 630,000 records for those researching and teaching the history of the region.
“More recently, it has become an advocate of the discipline of history in the United Kingdom; like the United States, the U.K. is seeing numerous debates about history and history education,” says Larson. “For example, the murder of George Floyd sparked protests in the U.K. and has intensified debate over the U.K.’s role in slavery and imperialism.”
Hardy became a fellow of the society in late 2019, and Larson was elected shortly after in the summer of 2020.To become fellows, they had to apply for election and demonstrate a record of scholarship in the field. A scholarly book or the equivalent is the minimum requirement, as well as sponsorship from a current fellow who can attest to the importance of the work. Hardy was elected for his contribution late medieval and early modern Central European history, while Larson was elected for his first book, Conflict and Compromise in the Late Medieval Countryside: Lords and Peasants in Durham, 1348 to 1400, and subsequent research.
As members of the society, Larson and Hardy have a responsibility to support the its mission of promoting history in all its forms. They also have the opportunity to vote in elections or run for office in various leadership roles. In return, their research benefits from access to the society’s network of outstanding scholars based in universities, libraries, archives and other scholarly settings around the world, offering a great way for historians to connect with others in the field.
“This is especially useful for us in North America, as many RHS members are based in Britain, and typically to become a member you have to have some kind of connection to the historical profession in the U.K.,” Hardy says. “I myself am British and studied then worked at British universities before moving to Florida, so the RHS is a great way to stay connected with people in my field.”
Having this access to the society’s network of scholars is a boon to historians like Hardy and Larson, whose work supports UCF’s mission to become a leading public metropolitan research university. Being a fellow is strong evidence of a historian’s credibility as a researcher, which can help open doors to U.K. archives that would otherwise require a letter of introduction for admittance. This allows fellows like Hardy and Larson access to rare or delicate records that would normally be difficult to engage with.
“Since it’s a U.K. institution, there are relatively few non-U.K. fellows, but many of those fellows tend to be at the top of the field and very involved or connected with history in the U.K.,” Larson says. “So, becoming a fellow demonstrates both what I’ve accomplished but also my dedication to British history and desire to stay connected and be involved.”