Dr Su Lin Lewis. Protest & Education in Burmese History

Dr Lewis of Bristol University is a specialist in twentieth century global and transnational history particularly in South and South East Asia. She gave a very relevant and topical talk about the historical roots of protest in Myanmar which she traced back to the late nineteenth century and British Colonialism.  She used little seen photographs of Rangoon University and its students to describe the culture of the 1920’s-1940’s and some of those students who became leaders of the Nationalist movement including Aung San Suu Kyi’s father Aung San who was Myanmar’s first democratic leader and founder of the Burmese Army.  The lively atmosphere at Rangoon University in the interwar period with its mixture of female and male students was fascinating. The talk linked these nationalist protests by students to the much more recent events in which Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as a national icon. It also stressed the part played by thousands of ordinary people (many in education) in these protests and what they had suffered as a result. 

The audience of thirty asked many questions at the end of the talk on a topic we all felt was highly relevant not only because of the protests in Myanmar but also because of the role of the young in protests in our own country.

Dr Richard Stone Detective of the Slave Trade – “An academic with a laptop on the shoulder of giants

Last night Dr Richard Stone gave a fascinating lecture on Bristol’s First Slave Traders.  Not only did we learn so much that was new about the topic many Bristolians think they already know all about, but again we learnt about how historians use and interrogate evidence. Richard had used the Customs Records of the docks, the Port Books, to trace the changes in trade that showed that slave trading was going on in Bristol long before the monopoly of the Royal African Company was abolished in 1698.  Tell-tale clues including cargoes containing glass beads and felt hats suggested slave trading.  Using spread sheets and pie diagrams Richard pinned together the trail of slave trading voyages but he also showed he had walked in the footsteps of other historians of Bristol including Professor Charles M MacInnes, “Mac” and Professor Paddy McGrath “giants” in researching the History of the City and also the work of Professor Madge Dresser whose knowledge of the social and cultural aspects of slavery complimented his own forensic analysis of these long neglected written sources. 

It was a brilliant talk which sparked off both lively questions and some very knowledgeable comments from our audience. The success of the talk is shown by another large audience and some appreciative texts and tweets, notably from Professor McGrath’s daughter Antonia one of our original members of 2017 “my father would have been delighted to know the type of research he is involved in and his methodical approach” and two tweets on the HA National website this morning from Richard Kennett and Dr Jo Edwards

Just watched @Dr_RGStone deliver the @BristolHA lecture on Bristol’s 17th century slave voyages. So interesting. A genuinely brilliant lecture explaining the historical process and sifting the archives to find evidence of illegal voyage

Superb @BristolHA lecture on the evidence of trade of enslaved people by Bristol merchants pre-1698. Particularly enjoyed the details on methodologies and explained historiography. A greatly talented and entertaining speaker – thanks @Dr_RGStone. PS finish that book!

I think many of us would agree with Jo we are dying to read Richard’s book when it comes out.

Henry VII. Our largest Zoom event yet.

With our largest Zoom audience so far (140 souls), our Branch had an amazingly comprehensive lecture on Henry VII on 24th February.  Henry VII’s isolated childhood and weak claim to the throne, his path to 1485 and his long battle to ward off threats after his succession were explored in fascinating detail by Dr Cunningham.  As an archivist he accompanied his lecture with a lovely mixture of illustrations from Ladybird books, contemporary art featuring Henry and his closest collaborators and rare late medieval manuscripts.  The tragedy of how Henry’s long reign was dogged by family tragedy once he had shaken off threats of imposters and how he wore out his own closest advisers in his need to tighten his hold on his country was brought out in fascinating detail.  This was a King who never got to enjoy his power but built a dynasty.   After the lecture Sean was happy to deal with some very well informed questions from our audience mostly from A level students and undergraduates who really appreciated this lecture. 


We will be sending out the link for our next lecture on either Monday or Tuesday.

We are tightening up our ‘admissions’ procedures as a result of a Zoom bombing issue at our last event.

  1. We will only admit people from the waiting room if they are on our ZOOM LIST. There are currently 144 names on our list which includes 67 Bristol Historical Association members, 53 National HA members from across the country (with a sprinkling of history teachers) and 24 school or college students. The University of Bristol will be sending a list of their students who have signed up for this event.
  2. When you get the link please do not pass it on to anyone else. If they are not on the ZOOM LIST they will not be admitted.
  3. Similarly, it is imperative that people use their FULL NAMES when logging on to Zoom. If you are using someone else’s computer or Zoom check the login name first. If you do not know how to change your Zoom name there is some guidance on the website.
  4. Arrive early. To make it easier for everyone we will be opening the doors at 6.45. We suggest you sign in and go and make a cup of tea.
  5. School and college teachers have been asked to send me the names of students taking part by Friday 19th February. We ask that students put the name of their college or school after their name.
  6. We record our lectures and they usually go on our website a day or two after each event in the FULL PROGRAMME section.

We are really looking forward to Sean Cunningham’s lecture and look forward to ‘seeing you’ next Wednesday.


The Vikings Reappraised: New Discoveries and New Approaches by Professor Katy Cubitt. Wednesday 27th January.

With one of our largest audiences so far in 2020-21 (70 souls) Professor Katy Cubitt took us through the ways that Christian chroniclers had presented the Vikings and how the scholarly orthodoxies of the late 20th Century had been overturned in part by the discoveries made by metal detectors!  The lecture outlined the four main invasions from 790 AD to 865 AD. She explained with fascinating maps and diagrams the conquest of East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria that left only the Wessex of King Alfred free to co-exist with the Vikings. She also presented the view from the 1970’s onwards that the Vikings were more traders than raiders who had come to Britain in their hundreds rather than their thousands; an elite who took over large areas of the country.  But then Professor Cubitt showed how the research of place name and language specialists had challenged this and how the archaeological finds by humble metal detectors had overturned the prevailing orthodoxy.  In particular she showed how the finds at Torksey in Lincolnshire uncovered by fieldwalking showed a large winter encampment. Particularly fascinating to some of us were the coins including large numbers of Arabian Dirum that showed the reach of Viking trading. Professor Cubitt also included lots of links to resources including a Horrible History song on the Vikings.  The lecture was followed by lively questions by members and guests. A really good start to 2021.

Patrick Vernon. 100 Great Black Britons.

ZOOM EVENT Wednesday 9th December

Last night we had brilliant end to our first Zoom term with, as ever, a large supportive audience who participated with lots of questions at the end.  Dr Patrick Vernon gave us a very personal historical talk about his project ‘100 Great Black Britons.’ Starting with his school days in Wolverhampton Patrick discussed how the education system often let down young black Britons leaving them with no knowledge of their place in British History.  He talked about how his successful career in the NHS and his voluntary work as a mentor to young Black people had led first to his ‘Every Generation’ website and then this project. He has been involved in it for over seventeen years. He was very funny in discussing his reaction to the BBC’s original series 100 Great Britons and their problems in the noughties with tackling Black British History.  The website that he and Dr Angelina Osborne set up was so obviously needed that when it opened it crashed within hours because of the interest.  He highlighted how in 2013 working with Nick Clegg he had saved the place of Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equiano in Michael Gove’s revision of the History National Curriculum.  Patrick explained the criteria for inclusion in the new version of 100 Great Black Britons which spans from the Tudor period to the present day including overcoming barriers, being at the top of their field and using their privilege to help their community.  What was most inspirational about Patrick’s talk was the many ways he has given his time to make History available and lively including designing a board game about migration which encouraged story telling and campaigning for the ‘Windrush Day’ to be remembered annually. Not only was this a great talk about Black History, it was great inspiration to the hear that History is more than what written in books and taught in universities. However the book ‘100 Great Black Britons’ is available on Amazon  and includes the list of 1,000 nominations which sounds like a great starting place for further research!!!


Penelope Harnett is one of our members. She writes………

I was interested in hearing about Ronald Hutton’s experiences in Eyam since my father was Mompesson’s 22nd successor and we lived in the old Georgian Rectory at Eyam  (Mompesson was the Rector at Eyam who co led the quarantine). This building was definitely haunted by Mrs Mompesson who died in the Rectory in August 1666.  She was a very aimable ghost who made her presence felt.

It was living in Eyam which generated my fascination for history  –  so many of the villagers had ancestors who had died of the plague  and that history created all the village traditions which were still practised.

We had great celebrations in 1965/1966 with a son et lumiere in the church and an outdoor play performed in a quarry both directed by L du Garde Peach of Ladybird fame who was a friend of my fathers.

Ronald Hutton’s Famine and Plague

Last night Professor Ronald Hutton gave a lecture to our largest meeting yet (66 people). A brilliant lecture on a highly relevant topic to a modern audience.  The lecture combined fascinating critical analysis of primary sources such as parish registers with much wider patterns and theories about how famine and plague affected England in the Early Modern Period. Professor Hutton’s lecture showed how victims’ bodies were disposed of at the height of the plague outbreak when even the record keepers were dying.  He showed how the experiences of plague and famine could be very different within the same country never mind in town or countryside.  Members were given a ghost story about his visit to the famous plague village of Eyam, where 75% of its population died when it was isolated for a whole year.   Many of our preconceptions about the causes of plague and famine were challenged. Its long-term effects on the country in making it tougher and more resilient and its eventual end not because of science but because of mass action were thought-provoking.    After the lecture we had some excellent questions including whether the present government could have learnt anything from how early modern governments handled plague outbreaks.   There were also some lovely comments in the chat box.