On 13 March 2017 we hosted a conference, ‘London’s women historians: a celebration and a conversation’ held at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London (IHR). The event brought together 14 leading historians, and a 90-strong audience, to evaluate and celebrate the contribution of women historians working at the University of London and its colleges—from the early 1900s to the 2010s. As well as a celebration, the day was also a conversation. In 2017, gender equality remains one of the most pressing issues in the historical profession. This is evident from research published by the Royal Historical Society in 2015, longstanding efforts by the Economic History Society to elevate women in their discipline, and an initiative at the University of Oxford to launch a ‘manifesto’ for Women in the Humanities.


Our conference was also therefore a continuation and deepening of this conversation. Panellists and audience members were asked to think about how twentieth-century London institutions have both enabled and constrained female achievements in history.


The day ended with the launch of a portrait exhibition of 20 London women historians, on the walls of the IHR staircase. These 20 images were added alongside the existing portraits of the Institute’s former directors (all male), beginning with Albert (A.F.) Pollard in 1921. Intentionally or not, these original portraits seemed to tell a ‘great men’ story about the historical profession that nobody really believes anymore. Our 20 images identify a small selection of women scholars who contributed to the historical profession, also from the early 1900s. Identifying these images meant looking beyond the institution and, sometimes, the academy. Many of the images we’ve chosen show their sitters as active rather than posed, and many are also joyful. This is no accident.

The gallery below reproduces these 20 portraits. Each image links out to further information on that person, including (where available) to the historian’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


And further below, you’ll find video and audio recordings of each of the four panel sessions from ‘London’s women historians’, plus blog posts on the conference and the making of the portrait exhibition. Here you can also 'continue the conversation' by proposing historians not included in this exhibition; just tweet the details and ideally a portrait with the hashtag #womenhistorians.


Dr Laura Carter (Murray Edwards College, Cambridge)

and Dr Alana Harris (King’s College, London)


Further reading


• Maxine Berg, A Woman in History: Eileen Power, 1889-1940 (Cambridge, 1996)

• Joan Thirsk, 'The history women', in Chattel, Servant or Citizen: Women's Status in Church, State and Society, eds. Mary O'Dowd and Sabine Wichert (Belfast, 1995)

• Joan Thirsk, 'Women local and family historians', in The Oxford Companion to English Local and Family History, ed. David Hey (Oxford, 1996)

• Mary O'Dowd, 'Popular writers: women historians, the academic community and national history writing', in Setting the Standards: Institutions, Networks and Communities of National Historiography Comparative Approaches, eds. Ilaria Porciani and Jo Tollebeek (Basingstoke, 2012)

• Nadia Clare Smith, A "Manly Study"?: Irish Women Historians, 1868-1949 (Basingstoke, 2006)

• Helen Paul, 'Editorial: women in economic and social history: twenty-fifth anniversary of the Women's Committee of the Economic History Society', The Economic History Review (2014), part of Economic History Review special virtual issue:

• Bille Melman, 'Gender, history and memory: the invention of women's past in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries', History and Memory (1993)







Welcome to ‘London’s women historians’, 13 March 2017

Philip Carter (IHR), Laura Carter and Alana Harris (KCL)





Session 1: Women historians and London institutions

John Beckett (Nottingham and Victoria County History), Linda Clark (History of Parliament) and Caroline Barron (Royal Holloway); chair Laura Carter





Session 2: Women historians at King’s

Jinty Nelson (KCL), Alana Harris (KCL) and Laura Gowing (KCL); chair Hannah Dawson (KCL)





Session 3: Roundtable discussion

Amy Erikson (Cambridge), Pat Thane (KCL), Margot Finn (UCL) and Jo Fox (Durham); chair Helen Paul (Southampton)




Session 4: Current initiatives on gender equality

Lyndal Roper (Oxford) in conversation with Peter Mandler (Cambridge); chair Jon Wilson (KCL)





London’s women historians: a celebration and a conversation, Talking Humanities blog post, by Rozemarijn van de Wal (Groningen)


Taking action against inequality in academia, by Dr Anne L. Murphy


Creating the portrait exhibition, Talking Humanities blog post, by Laura Carter and Alana Harris


Twitter Storify: London’s women historians: a celebration and conversation, 13 March 2017


Continuing the conversation


We're really keen that the conference and website just be the start of a conversation about women historians, and we'd love to hear from you if you've got comments or feedback, especially if you have suggestions for historians we've missed out.


Please do tweet using the conference hashtag #womenhistorians or alternatively email Laura at