‘Politics before democracy: Britain and its world, c. 1830-1914’ conference at UEA

Last week members (past and present) of the House of Commons 1832-68 research team gave presentations at the ‘Politics before democracy’ conference hosted by the School of History at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

Aye lobby, House of Commons

Aye lobby, House of Commons

Philip Salmon and Kathryn Rix provided an overview of the 1832-68 project and our progress to date, with well over 950 biographies of MPs and 100 constituency articles completed. Draft versions of these articles can be viewed on our preview site: for details of how to gain access to this, see here. They discussed the ways in which MPs’ biographies are shedding new light on important themes such as the backgrounds and career trajectories of MPs, the role of backbenchers in the day-to-day business of the House of Commons, and the development of political parties during the nineteenth century. Philip discussed the History of Parliament’s current development of a database of 19th century division lists, which will transform our ability to assess the voting behaviour of MPs at both individual and group levels.

Lord Palmerston

Lord Palmerston

Henry Miller, formerly part of the 1832-68 project, and now based at the University of Manchester, spoke on ‘The public face of politics: popular portraiture and politicians, 1830-1880’. His paper, which draws on research for his forthcoming book, highlighted the importance of visual imagery as a central part of 19th century political culture, and considered how politicians such as Disraeli and Palmerston sought to control the use of their portraits and photographs.

Martin Spychal and Rebekah Moore, who are both undertaking PhDs as collaborative doctoral award holders at the Institute of Historical Research/History of Parliament, shared some of the early findings of their PhD research. Martin, who is working on the drawing up of constituency boundaries in 1832, looked at the controversy which surrounded the decision to divide counties such as Norfolk into two constituencies. Rebekah’s research is on the temporary buildings of the House of Commons which were occupied by MPs after the 1834 fire which destroyed large parts of the Palace of Westminster. For almost twenty years MPs were working in what was effectively a building site, and there were considerable pressures on space, particularly because of the growing amount of business being discussed by committees.

Finally, James Owen moved beyond 1868 to talk about his own research project. His paper, on ‘The culture of labour politics in England, 1868-1888’, drew on one of the key themes of his recent book on Labour and the Caucus, exploring the relationship between the embryonic labour movement and the Liberal party. He considered the diversity of labour politics in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, and the variety of ways in which labour activists interacted with local organised Liberalism.

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