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24 Sep 2013

Top historian in town for lecture on local-born politician-historian Macaulay

One of the country’s top historians Sir Christopher Bayly will deliver a talk on Lord Macaulay at Macaulay’s birthplace Rothley Court next month (24 October).

Sir Christopher is Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History at the University of Cambridge, Fellow of St. Catharine's College, Director of the Centre of South Asian Studies at Cambridge and a trustee of the British Museum. He was awarded the prestigious Wolfson History Prize for his book The Birth of the Modern World 1780-1914, lauded as one of the 'most significant works produced on global history in recent years’ (Linda Colley, Princeton University).

The lecture marks the life and times of one of England’s most famous and controversial historians Thomas Macaulay.

Dr Robert Knight, an international historian in the Department of Politics, History and International Relations at Loughborough University, has organised the lecture and hopes it will become an annual event.

While he is far from an uncritical Macaulay fan he thinks that it is important to foster public discussion of his legacy.

“Chris Bayly is one of the country’s leading historians so it’s a great honour for Loughborough University and its Centre for the Study of International Governance to be able to welcome him here,” said Dr Knight.

“I was pleasantly surprised that he accepted our invitation. He is an enormously impressive scholar who has expanded his writing from Indian history to a new kind of history which transcends national boundaries and is genuinely global.”

Thomas Babington Macaulay was born in 1800 at Rothley Temple, which in the Middle Ages was home to some of the Knights Templar, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon.

Although his family moved to London soon after he was born, Macaulay often returned to Rothley and became not only a leading reforming politician but a hugely popular historian. His most famous work The History of England from the Accession of James the Second,was first published in 1848.

He was also a poet and wrote a series of popular ballads about heroic episodes in Roman history, including the famous poem about ‘how Horatius saved the bridge’.

Dr Knight says Macaulay used to be regarded as the ‘greatest English historian’ but adds that he has always been controversial: “He was often triumphalist: everything that was good came out of Europe, Britain and the Empire.”

Winston Churchill took offence at Macaulay’s slights on the Duke of Marlborough and rebutted them in a biography of his ancestor. He wanted ‘to fasten the label “‘Liar’ to his genteel coat-tails.” Karl Marx referred to him as a ‘systematic falsifier of history.’

In her lecture at Rothley Court four years ago Professor Catherine Hall (UCL) critically examined Macaulay and his father as ‘Imperial Men’.

The title of Sir Christopher’s lecture is ‘Indian thought and the Shadow of Macaulay’. In it he will discuss the continuing controversy about Macaulay’s famous – or notorious - Minute on Education, which he wrote for the Governor General’s Council. It argued for the promotion of the English language in India and referred to Indian literature and the Hindu Religion in derogatory terms. Professor Bayly will argue that it also reflected a particular global moment of reform, progress and colonisation.

The lecture takes place at Rothley Court Hotel on Thursday 24 October from 5pm. Entry is free but places are limited. Anyone wishing to attend should contact Dr Matt McCullock on m.r.j.mccullock@lboro.ac.uk

−ENDS−

Notes for editors

Article reference number: PR 13/176

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