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Institute of Historical Research

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Institute of Historical Research

Institute of Historical Research
Abbreviation IHR
Formation 1921
Membership 5,500 worldwide
Director Professor Lawrence Goldman
Parent organization School of Advanced Study, University of London

The Institute of Historical Research (or IHR) is a School of Advanced Study in the University of London and is located at Senate House. The Institute was founded in 1921 by A. F. Pollard.



The IHR was founded in 1921 by British historian Albert Pollard. Appointed Professor of Constitutional History at University College London in 1903, his inaugural address, a year later, argued for the need for a postgraduate school of historical research.[1] With a generous and anonymous donation of £20,000 from Sir John Cecil Power in 1920 [2] towards the founding of the institute, Pollard's dream was realised. The Institute was formally opened by H.A.L. Fisher on 8 July 1921.

The IHR was directly administered by the Senate of the University of London, rather than being part of one of the federal colleges. It was the first organisation to be administered under such an arrangement, and as such provided the model for other Institutes—many of which later joined the IHR in the University of London's School of Advanced Study.

The IHR's first premises were in "temporary" huts on Malet Street, on a site now occupied by Birkbeck College.[3] Despite the supposedly temporary nature of this accommodation, the IHR was not to move until 1947, when it took up residence in the north block of Senate House. The new location was built by architect Mr. Charles Holden, along with the rest of the University, at a projected cost of £3000000 and duration of 30 years for the whole project.[4] Still occupying this position, many rooms in the IHR overlook the grass lawn in between Senate House and SOAS, which is where Senate House's unbuilt fourth court would have been.


Senate House, home to the IHR since 1947

The IHR's role comprises the following:

To promote the study of history and an appreciation of the importance of the past among academics and the general public, in London, in Britain and internationally, and to provide institutional support and individual leadership for this broad historical community
To offer a wide range of services which promote and facilitate excellence in historical research, teaching and scholarship in the UK, by means of its library, seminars, conferences, fellowships, training and publications (both print and digital)
To further high quality research into particular aspects of the past by its research centres – the Centre for Contemporary British History, the Centre for Metropolitan History and the Victoria County History of England
To provide a welcoming environment where historians at all stages in their careers and from all parts of the world can meet formally and informally to exchange ideas and information, and to bring themselves up to date with current developments in historical scholarship

Functioning of the IHR

In order to fulfill its role as defined above, the IHR maintains different academic institutions, such as a library, the seminar programme as well as several integrated bodies and programmes. It also continues to publish high quality historical research.


From the beginning the founders of the Institute of Historical Research envisaged a combination of scholarship and library. This tradition is continued in that the seminars still take place in the rooms of the library. The library itself (its collection policy unaltered since the its foundation) collects sources for the History of Western Europe and areas affected by the European expansion. It now contains roughly 190,000 volumes. There are sizable holdings for the British Isles, as well as for Germany, Austria, France, the Low Countries, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Latin America, the US and colonial history, ecclesiastical, Byzantine and crusader history as well as small holdings for Eastern Europe, Switzerland and Scandinavia. The library is particularly good for sources on local history both of the British Isles and Europe. It contains the largest collection of Low Countries material outside of those countries (due to gifts from the Netherlands and research interests of scholars working there), the most complete collection of French cartularies outside of France as well as collections of poll books for the United Kingdom and a complete run of the Victoria County History books. The collections have been supplemented by donations and bequests from many different scholars, such as the Wright collection (currently being integrated into the library holdings).

Seminar programme

The IHR supports and promotes a wide variety of seminars. They are accessible to all interested in the topic under discussion. Seminar topics range from the Early Middle Ages to Modern Britain, from the history of gardening to the philosophy of history. [1]


In addition to the seminars the IHR is also involved with a number of conference. Of these the Anglo-American conference is probably the largest, but there are also many others being run throughout the year.

British History Online

The IHR co-manages the digital library, British History Online.[2]

Reviews in History

The IHR publishes the online journal Reviews in History.[3] The journal was launched in 1996, and publishes reviews and reappraisals of significant work in all fields of historical interest.[5]

Integrated bodies

Besides the core activities, two research centres are integrated into the Institute. These are:

The IHR also formerly housed a third research centre, the Centre for Contemporary British History. In August 2010, however, this transferred to King's College London, where it is now known as the Institute of Contemporary British History.[8]

Interesting facts

Nazi book donation housed in the IHR Library

One of the books donated to the IHR by Ribbentrop in 1937

Among the IHR’s extensive collection of books on European history are a set of volumes of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica donated to the University of London by the Nazi government of Germany in 1937. The presentation was made by Joachim von Ribbentrop, Germany’s ambassador to Britain. These books retain their original bookplates marking them as a "Gift of the German Reich".

James Bavington Jeffreys, a student at the LSE at the time, wrote an account of the attempt by University of London students to block the donation.[9] Jeffreys attempted to rally support against the donation from the History teaching staff at the LSE. Among the staff he spoke to were Sir Charles Webster and Richard Tawney, but he was unable to raise any support amongst the academics against the donation. Eventually it was left to the students themselves to make a stand. Around fifty students gathered outside Senate House, and demonstrated as Ribbentrop arrived to make the donation. Jeffreys noted: "…more than one college of the University was represented, to show it was not just the 'left-wingers' of the LSE".[9]


  1. ^ Birch, Debra J. (1996). The history laboratory: the Institute of Historical Research 1921-1996. London: University of London. pp. 1–12.  
  2. ^ "Obituary: Sir John Power.".  
  3. ^ Birch, Debra J. (1996). The history laboratory: the Institute of Historical Research 1921-1996. London: University of London. pp. 13–17.  
  4. ^ The Evening News. 4 June 1931. 
  5. ^ Millum, Danny (2013). "Introduction to Reviews in History for Journal of Liberal History readers". Journal of Liberal History 79. 
  6. ^ Institute of Historical Research. "Victoria County History". Retrieved 2009-05-31. 
  7. ^ "Centre for Metropolitan History". Centre for Metropolitan History, University of London. 
  8. ^ "Institute of Contemporary British History". 
  9. ^ a b Academics Against Fascism? - The sad story of the gifts by Hitler to the University of London. LSE Archives; Coll Misc 945. 1989. 

External links

  • "The Institute of Historical Research". 
  • "SAS Space - electronic repository for IHR documents". School of Advanced Study, University of London. 
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