History of the Society

The Society for the Study of French History owes its existence to Professor Richard Bonney of the University of Leicester, who first had the idea of founding it and who has since given a great deal of time and effort to ensuring its success. Officially the society was launched by a group of interested academics whom Bonney consulted and who have become known as the ‘co-founders’. They are Professors Robert Knecht of the University of Birmingham, William Doyle of the University of Bristol and Gwynn Lewis of the University of Warwick. They laid their plans before a gathering of some 67 colleagues at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, on 4 January 1986, and received their enthusiastic support. A major aim of the society was to counter the sense of isolation which some younger scholars might be feeling. The society, it was hoped, would provide them with a sense of belonging to a scholarly community with shared interests in French history. At a practical level, the co-founders envisaged that the society would sponsor regular research seminars on French history in various regions under elected local branch chairmen. But it was felt that the society’s main impact would take the form of an annual national conference. The inaugural meeting agreed that the first of these conferences would be held at the University of Liverpool in April 1987 on the theme of ‘The Growth of the French State’.

The essential features of the Society’s constitution, as approved by the founding conference on 4 January 1986, were as follows: a chairman to be elected for a period of three years; a committee to consist of a secretary, membership secretary, treasurer and schools representative (eligible for re-election after three years), and a postgraduate representative to serve for a non-renewable two years; a committee of not more than twelve members (representative of different chronological periods of French history) eligible for election annually for a period of five years ; an annual subscription and a reduced one for the unwaged ; a board of trustees comprising five senior academics to administer grants, bursaries and other awards that may be made available. Other clauses in the constitution set up an editorial board for the French Historian consisting of a sub-committee of the main committee. The annual subscription was fixed at £8.50 or £5 for the unwaged.

The first committee consisted of Professor Norman Hampson (Chairman), Dr. Roger Price, Mr. Malcolm Crook (treasurer despite misgivings about his name !) Dr. Joe Bergin, (Membership secretary) Dr. Kathleen Daly (Schools representative) Dr. Marianne Elliot (Conference organiser) Andrew Freeman (Postgraduate representative) and ex-officio : Professor Richard Bonney (Editor of French History), Dr. James Macmillan (editor of the French Historian) and Dr. Michael Broers (Production editor of The French Historian).

At a special general meeting held at the Institut Français on 1 April 1992 various changes to the Society’s constitution , including the addition of two postrgraduate representatives to the committee were approved to comply with proposals put forward by the Charity Commission. Charitable status for the society was confirmed by October 1992 thereby reducing bank charges and removing future tax demands.

Since its foundation the Society has grown considerably in membership, which at the end of 2006 stood at over 270. The annual conference has become firmly established as an international gathering of postgraduates, university academics and private scholars, and it has been addressed by leading international figures in the field of French history as plenary speakers. As the Society has grown in membership, developed its resources and adapted to the digital age a number of changes have been seen. The composition of the committee has correspondingly altered, the Society has been able to provide greater material assistance to students for their research, and prize competitions were launched in 2006. The Society now places greater weight on communicating electronically with its members via this website and email. It remains, however, essentially unchanged in its mission: to support, encourage and enhance the academic study in the English-speaking world of the history of France and of its current and former possessions; and to develop and strengthen intellectual contact, exchange and collaboration between historians in France and those in Great Britain and Ireland.

By Robert Knecht and Guy Rowlands.