Reading Branch Programme

Reading Branch Programme 2020-21



The present circumstances of the Covid 19 pandemic unfortunately make it impossible for us to present a live programme of lectures in the usual way.


We have nonetheless scheduled six lectures, of which at least the first three (October to December) will be delivered electronically using the Zoom conferencing system at the times specified.


More details will be sent out of joining instructions, passcodes etc. in good time for the first lecture. All members and invited guests to whom this is being sent are welcome to participate.


In due course more information will be provided, concerning the second half of the programme, beginning in January.



Friday 16 October 2020, 7.30pm.

Dr Rachel Foxley, University of Reading

Greece, Rome and the English Revolution

Every seventeenth-century Englishman with a grammar-school or university education had been taught to apply the moral lessons of ancient history and classical texts to contemporary political life. Before the English civil war broke out, classical ideas of revolution and regime change shaped both the authorities’ responses to criticism and the accusations made by the critics of Charles I’s policies in church and state. Once Charles I had been executed and the nation declared a ‘Commonwealth and Free State’, republican authors drew lessons from the histories of Greece and Rome as they fought to establish a secure, stable, and (ideally) legitimate republican government and to prevent the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.



Friday 13 November 2020, 7.30 p.m.

Dr Mara Oliva, University of Reading

Nixon in China

In February 1972, Richard Nixon embarked on his presidency’s greatest adventure: a trip to the People’s Republic of China to end 25 years of hostility between Washington and Beijing. The visit’s repercussions were vast and included a shift in the Cold War balance, whereby the PRC and the US joined forces against the Soviet Union. In 1987 composer John Adams turned Nixon’s journey into the subject of a grand opera, thus initiating the slow process of rehabilitating the president’s reputation.



Friday 4 December 2020, 7.30pm Professor David Raby, University of Toronto (Emeritus)

Mexico and its Revolutions.*

Revolt against Spanish rule began in Mexico in 1810 and culminated in 1821 after a long and bloody struggle. Independence was intertwined with issues of race, class and status which would continue to divide the country for decades and would lead to revolutionary upheavals for over a century. The lecture will deal in summary form with independence from Spain (1810-21), the liberal Reform movement of 1855-67 including the French invasion and its defeat, and the eponymous 1910-20 Revolution. It will present a broad overview and focus in detail on some key figures.


Friday 15 January 2021, 7.30pm Professor Jonathan Phillips, Royal Holloway, University of London

The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin.

This talk traces Saladin’s emergence as the rising star of an ambitious Kurdish clan who drew together the Muslim Near East to take the jihad to the Christians and recapture Jerusalem from the crusaders in 1187. He spared the Christian inhabitants – in stark comparison to the massacre perpetrated by the knights of the First Crusade. He then faced a huge crusading expedition, led by Richard the Lionheart, king of England. In this epic struggle Saladin held on to Jerusalem. This talk shows how a man initially branded as ‘the son of Satan’ gained esteem in Europe and, through extensive new research, will follow how he has acted as a role model for generations across the Near East down to the present day.



Friday 26 February 2021, 7.30pm Dr David Sutton, University of Reading

Food of the rich, food of the poor: two distinct histories.

This paper presents an overview of the history of food in Europe, 1300-1800, and in particular distinguishes the history of the food of the rich from the history of the food of the poor. It begins with an analysis of the primary sources available for the study of the two food traditions, and continues by looking at historical food preferences, food hierarchies, shortages and excess, markets, the beginnings of gastronomy and the

evolution of etiquette. For the poor, the paramount importance of bread, cheese, ale and soup is underlined. Case studies range from the Banquet of the Oath of the Pheasant (1454) to the Great Nottingham Cheese Riot (1766).



Friday 19 March 2021, 7.30pm Dr Helen Paul, University of Southampton

The South Sea Bubble of 1720

2020 was the 300th anniversary of the Bubble Year. The South Sea Bubble is a very famous event, but many people know little about it. The traditional explanation is that fraud and a gambling mania caused a devastating economic crash. Economic historians take a different view. Investors did not go gambling mad. Many of the sharp practices which occurred did not lead to a financial bubble. In addition, the Bubble itself was not as catastrophic as we have been led to believe.

*This is a change of topic by Professor Raby from that included on some earlier draft versions of the programme.