The history of History at Keele

History was one of the founding departments of the university when Keele opened in 1950. Many of the early lecturers came from Oxford University and the History syllabus was based on Oxford's.

History was one of the founding departments of the university when Keele opened in 1950. Many of the early lecturers came from Oxford University and the History syllabus was based on Oxford's. Basically, our students studied English History to 1558, British History since 1558 plus a period of European History. In the final year students studied a Special Subject. Examination was solely by written exams, all taken at the end of the Final Year, known as Finals. And of course then as now History was taken with another Principal Subject.

Department 1954
In 1970 we introduced what was for us a revolutionary idea of a Final Year History Dissertation, a research project based on a student's Special Subject. (It was only later we discovered Tout had introduced the idea at Manchester c.1900.) It introduced the idea that undergraduates could do research. It remains a distinctive and valued part of our offering to this day. Finals then consisted of four papers and a dissertation.

In 1977 we made a major revision of our syllabus. Instead of British History forming the core of studies, we changed to make European History (medieval, early modern and modern) the core element. These were studied over the first two years, the final year remained unchanged.

In 1984 we compressed the core element into the first year and introduced special short courses, called Options in the second year. Students studied across a broad chronological range short courses focussed down onto more limited areas. For example, Mediaeval Islam, Jew & Christian in the Middle Ages, Tudor Wales, The revolutions of 1848, Anarchism, The Far East 1842-1914, Twentieth-century guerrilla movements. This change marked a shift away from the idea that there was a key core element to History. By compressing the core element we accepted the limits of old-fashioned Whig History, i.e. the rise and rise of (Western) civilisations and replaced that with the more prosaic notion of the messiness of human experience and hence history. Our students learnt more, but about less. History ceased to be a bundle of vital facts and became an experience.

In 1992 we introduced an International History course as an alternative to the more conventional History course. For the first time we embraced contemporary history as in integral part of History as well as extending our exploration of extra-European History.

In 1994 the university changed its degree structure. The year was divided into two semesters as opposed to the traditional three terms and courses became modules mostly taught over one semester. An element of continuous assessment was also introduced. Reliance on conventional written examinations for assessment purposes was discouraged. In History we introduced a mix of conventional exams and continuous assessment. The old Finals disappeared although our Final Year students still take two written examinations at the end of the year, along with a double-weighted dissertation.

The current structure in History has been running for about fifteen years, although each year we adapt and change to meet new demands. For example our first-year Skills module, designed to develop group-work, was only introduced in 1999 and our second-year Sources & Debates module in 2000. In 2006 we shall introduce a system of “pathways” whereby students will be able to construct their own degree programme in History, following medieval, early modern, or modern courses, after a basic first-year course. The history of our course development reveals that it is dynamic and often innovative.

It isn't only structures that change, so does content. Our courses now include such diverse topics as: gender history; African history; crime in modern-day Russia; the history of crime & punishment in England; medical history; modern Ireland; the history of Water; the Holocaust. (Keele was the first British university to offer the study of the Holocaust at undergraduate level and the first to offer a third year course on Water.)

Local history

In 1977 we established the Centre for Local History, reflecting a long-standing interest in the subject. Keele graduates have flourished in this area. David Hey for example publishing The Oxford Guide to Local and Family History in 1998. Christopher Taylor, another Keele graduate became the senior officer in the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, and his book Village and Farmstead (1983) revolutionised the way we view the development of villages in the landscape. Margaret Spufford wrote her famous work, Contrasting Communities (1974) whilst at Keele. More recently Phillip Morgan published a definitive introductory guide to the Domesday Book, and Pam Sambrook a well-received work on country houses. The department has published a local history journal on Staffordshire for 40 years as well as a number of local histories. The Centre has run a seminar series since 1978, 95 in total to March 2005. It also sponsors research students from time to time.

Victoria county histories

In 1995 the editorial teams for the Staffordshire and Shropshire Victoria County Histories joined the department as lecturers and two joint appointments were made to strengthen the Staffordshire team. Since then they have published two further volumes one on Leek in 1996 and one on Burton in 2003.

Adult education

The university was in part founded because of the desire of local people for adult education. A Department of Extra-Mural Studies (later Adult Education and later still Continuing & Professional Development) was established in 1962, and the History programme was led by Denis Stuart who inter alia established the now nationally renowned Keele Latin & Palaeography Summer School for Historians in 1977. In 1992 the History department took over responsibility for the History and Archaeology courses and the Summer School which continue to thrive.


All current members of staff are active scholars. Their recent publications reflect the diversity of scholarly interests within the department with works on: Africa, Ireland, Secrecy in English society, the English Civil War, Mogul India, Crime in Russia, Palestine, crime and punishment in England, the Mongols, medieval death, modern Europe, medieval canon law and a number of local histories. (For a full list see the staff profiles.)
Keele's Historians

Historians can be found in many programmes at Keele, for example, American Studies, Criminology, Law, International Relations and Geography. Together we have produced numerous professional historians. In 2004 there were 33 Keele graduates listed as teaching history in 28 different UK universities of whom nine are professors. Former lecturers have moved on to become Professors in a number of British universities, most recently Prof. Mark Roseman at Southampton and now at Indiana, or on to Oxbridge Fellowships, most recently Malcolm Gaskill at Cambridge and Patricia Clavin at Oxford.