Talking to an HA Branch

By Dr Peter Hounsell, FHA (Chair of the HA Branches and Members Committee), published 10th November 2022

Who is the audience?

The inevitable answer is of course that branches differ in their audiences, with some having a smattering of academics, some with teachers and others largely made up with people with an interest in the subject but not professionally involved in history. That means some people will be relying on what they learnt at school, others may have a continuing interest and will have read some of the more recent books, and others may be experts.

Your audience may have very basic questions, implying that this was their first encounter with the subject. Others may ask probing questions that imply either a good subject knowledge or a broader historical intelligence and an understanding about how history, research and historical arguments all work together.

Many academics giving branch talks want quite reasonably to talk about the latest thinking in their subject area, and will lay out the established and revisionist approaches. This can be difficult for people who don’t know the topic at all well, so it is worth spending a few minutes sketching in the events that are going to be addressed in historiographical terms.

However, do not talk down to the audience; they are there because they have an interest and they might have a very detailed understanding of your topic, and there may be a knowledgeable academic in the audience.

Speak to the chairman of the branch (or the person you’re in contact with) about the composition of their usual audience. It is easier to do that in advance rather than on the actual day of your talk.

Many branches ask for the talk PowerPoint in advance – this is so that they can check it is all working and is helpful to you as a speaker on the day of the talk.

HA Branches and Secondary schools

Given that the biggest membership numbers in the HA are schools and their teachers, branches will often be looking for speakers who can give a talk to a sixth-form audience.

Some branches such as Ealing have a dedicated meeting each year with a curriculum topic which takes place in a local high school (not our usual venue). In recent years the First World War, Nazi Germany and the Treaty of Versailles have all figured, but they have also had French historians talking about the relationship with Tudor England and Continental Europe.

Not all branches tailor all their lecture programme to the school curriculum, because it will tend to be repetitious for their non-school audience. This also allows historians of many different periods, themes and specialities to address the general audience of the HA membership.

Some speakers find giving a lecture to a school audience is also an opportunity for encouraging sixth formers to think about taking a course in history at university, and there can be interesting conversations at the end of the meeting. Some may also promote the merits of their own institutions.

The big growth in HA membership in recent years has been among primary schools. It is unlikely that teachers will bring primary-aged children to an HA Branch talk. However, primary teachers may well be looking for talks that benefit their own subject knowledge and understanding of events. There is scope therefore for lecturers to offer talks on the topics that feature on the primary curriculum – the Anglo-Saxons or Vikings for example – that provide an overview of latest research in the subject that might appeal to primary teachers, and which branches could promote to their local schools.


Talking to a branch of the HA is an opportunity to share your knowledge, latest piece of research or simply try out a new research area on a live audience.

Don't wait to be approached by a branch – feel free to approach them and to join the HA speakers list.