History Inc.

History Inc. Newsletter


April 2019

This year marks two anniversaries important to British historians.The final end of the Great War, when the newly-established Weimar government signed the instrument of surrender on 28 June 1919; the Peterloo massacre of 16 August 1819. For this reason, History Inc will be presenting special courses on Wednesdays during the summer term, marking these two events. It is our intention to focus not only on these actual events but also to examine their historical context and consequences. This will enable us to analyze their impact, significance, and legacy. 

The 1919 Paris Peace Conference was convened to ensure that the Great War would be 'the war to end all wars'. For the first time in history, a significant majority of independent nations came together for a few short months, to construct a diplomatic system predicated on the principle of collective security, as well as "promising to pursue a policy of multilateral disarmament". This experiment failed, as attested to by the outbreak of a new global conflict in September 1939, resulting from the increasingly bellicose attitude of Germany, Italy and Japan during the 1930s. These three nations were held in the thrall of dictatorships bent on military adventurism. Why, precisely, did the peacemakers fail in 1919? Could a better and more workable solution been found? Why did the League of Nations fail to prevent the rise of totalitarian regimes threatening world peace? In the face of the collapse of the German, Russian, Hapsburg and Ottoman empires, why did it prove impossible to secure long-term peace and stability for these regions?  We hope to answer these and other questions in the first of our Wednesday summer term courses, entitled End of All Wars? 

Our second Wednesday course entitled Peterloo deals, not only with the famous 1819 massacre in Manchester itself, but also rise of radicalism from the 1780s onward, which spearheaded the demand for universal suffrage. A victim of 'Pit's Terror' during the French and Napoloenic wars, radicalism nonetheless survived and flourished as an underground movement during and after the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. The Peterloo massacre provided a stunning object lesson in the futility of state repression, in the face of a growing national demand for democratization, both by middle and working class activists, determined to break the political stranglehold of a repressive aristocracy. We will examine the changing nature of protest and the political impact of the wars against the French, which re-defined the very nature of radicalism. By 1815 this underground movement had come to include a number of highly articulated demands, including rights of women, a free press, the right of public assembly, the right of workers to self-organization, etc. Thus, we see glimmering of the future Chartist and Anti-Corn Law League mass movements of the later 1830s. The irony was that state repression resulted in the 1819 Peterloo massacre, which created a national wave of anger and condemnation, giving impetus to the movement for extension of the vote of the 1820s and consequently, to 1848.


The following text books are recommended for the above courses:

Macmillan, M., Peacemakers: Six Months that Changed the World (London, 2003)

Margaret Macmillian's excellent analysis of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference is well worth the read, detailing as it does attempts to prevent another cataclysmic conflict. She argues that, despite the apparent failure of the Conference, nonetheless foundations were laid for future and more successful forms of collective security. 

Hargreaves, R. & Hampson, A., Beyond Peterloo (Philadelphia, 2018)

This recently published book examines the radical legacy of Manchester's forgotten reformers at the time of Peterloo, thereby providing historical context and background to the event. 

Martin R. Jervis (Editor)



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