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Inspired by… Bringing History to life: Professor Justin Champion takes on top job at The Historical Association

Posted on 01/08/2014

As part of our Inspired by…. series, we spoke to Professor Justin Champion, from the Department of History, who will be working to engage more people with History in his new role as President of The Historical Association.

The charity - whose members include anyone with an interest in History, from schoolchildren and amateur enthusiasts to academics – will be working alongside Royal Holloway on a range of activities in 2015 to celebrate 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta.

We caught up with Justin to find out more about his new role, what we can expect from the Magna Carta celebrations and what first inspired his love of History.

What first inspired you to pursue a career in History?

I loved historical novels as a child, such as Robin Hood and an amazing book called Heartsease where a group of children went back to the 17th century. Brilliant teaching at school also inspired an interest in   the history of ideas and political thinking. The idea of getting inside the heads of historical figures really fascinated me.  

What makes The Historical Association such a valuable organisation?

The Historical Association, founded in 1906, is the only UK-wide organisation to connect academic historians and institutions with schools, local historians and the general public. There are thousands of members, loads of local and national activities and a brilliant website which provides resources for school teachers at primary and secondary level, for interested amateur historians and there are regular magazines and podcasts.

What do you hope to achieve in your role as President?

With the support of an admirable team, led by CEO Rebecca Sullivan, we hope to raise the profile of The Historical Association in enabling a more fruitful conversation between universities and communities. There are more than 50 local branches, all of which act as a hub for activity and engagement.

I aim to encourage, for example, the teaching of Black History and the long and important history of tolerance and migration in the UK. I’d also like to create an archive of podcasts with historians, not just high profile academics in universities, but also those in schools, libraries and families who have inspired others to engage with the past.

What for you is the most interesting period in history, and why?

For me it’s the long 17th century, between 1625 and 1776, which saw three powerful and enduring moments of British Revolution (the execution of Charles I in 1649, the Glorious revolution in 1689, and the last British Revolution in colonial America in 1776). This was a period of radical and intense social and economic change, combined with a transformation of intellectual and religious culture.

Next year will mark 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta, what opportunities are there for the public to take part in the planned celebrations?

 Royal Holloway will be hosting a Great Debate on the theme of ‘What does Magna Carta mean to you?’ organised by The Historical Association. The university is also collaborating in designing an app which will provide a comprehensive guide to the meadows of Runnymede and the traditions of liberty.

In June 2015 there will also be exhibitions, tapestries, art, lectures, music and festivals. In partnership with The Historical Association and other groups a comprehensive set of digital resources will be created, culminating in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Magna Carta, currently under development by the Department of History with contributions from the Departments of Politics, Geography and Media Arts.


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