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How do historians know the past? Documentary evidence is obviously key. Visual and material culture is important too. But historians also know the past through in-person, often on-foot, encounters with landscape.

Reflecting on Professor Readman’s past and current work, this lecture explores how embodied experience of landscape has played a pivotal—and to date underappreciated—role in history writing between the late eighteenth century and the present. For historians of various kinds—from amateur antiquarians to university-based professionals—it supplied observable, open-air evidence. But, more profoundly, it was critical in stimulating their historical imaginations, allowing them to recover the richness of past human experience, in place as well as time. These are points worth emphasising today, when our sense impressions, understanding and navigation of the outside world are increasingly mediated by digital technology. While the benefit such technology brings to the historian cannot be denied, this lecture reasserts the importance of direct personal experience of the physical environment to our understanding of the past, and—following the philosopher R.G. Collingwood—our reenactment of it as history. Through such means is the past fully realised as history.

The lecture will be followed by celebratory drinks.

Professor Paul Readman

Paul Readman was appointed Lecturer in Modern British History in 2002, being promoted to a personal chair in 2015. Author or editor of seven books, he is especially interested in the interrelationship between landscape and British national identities, a subject he explored in Storied Ground (Cambridge University Press, 2018). Since 2013, he has led a major AHRC-funded project on historical pageants in Britain, details of which are available via the Redress of the Past project website. He has also worked on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century electoral politics, the politics of the English ‘land question’, and the lived experience of borderland landscapes. He was Co-I on the AHRC-funded research network, ‘Changing Landscapes, Changing Lives’. His current book project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, addresses the themes discussed in his lecture.

At this event

Paul Readman

Professor in Modern British History

Event details

Council Room
King's Building
Strand Campus, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS