The Stubbs Society is the University of Oxford's oldest and most illustrious forum for scholarship in international history, grand strategy and foreign affairs.
We facilitate an extensive program of lectures, debates and conferences; assembling internationally-renowned experts in statecraft, the military, industry and academia for the benefit of enthusiastic students grappling with the most contentious and pertinent issues of our time.
Above: The first page of the first minute book - a volume from 1884 held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Picture courtesy of Special Collections.
Named in honour of the Victorian historian, William Stubbs, in 1884, the Society has throughout its history welcomed many prominent speakers across the arts and sciences.
It counts distinguished statesmen, military personnel, diplomats, journalists, academics and businesspeople, including Nobel laureates and Victoria Cross holders, among its alumni.
Notable ex-members include former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, Lord Lang (Archbishop of Canterbury), Sir Charles Oman (military historian), Sir Isaiah Berlin (political theorist) and former Home Secretary and Lord High Chancellor, the Earl of Kilmuir.
When an American, Samuel Brearley, introduced the idea of the 'seminar' to Oxford in 1882, his initiative became, first, the Oxford Historical Seminar, and then, in 1884, the Stubbs Society.
Functioning as a 'proving ground for future leaders and the founders of new fields of enquiry', the Society fostered critical thinking and intellectual curiosity under the aegis of dons such as Sir Charles Oman, E. A. Freeman, and with members including such future doyens of the historical profession as James Tait, Sir Charles Harding Firth, and Frederick York Powell.
Included on the right is an extract from a 1924 term card, then under the presidency of John Farquhar Fulton who was later to become the youngest Sterling Professor of Physiology in Yale history. Professor Fulton's research extended to the military where he led advances in aviation medicine during WWII.
The programme includes a series on "Directing Ideas"of political reformers, social & economic reformers, and religious reformers.
Above and portrait below: The Hilary 1924 term card, issued under the presidency of John Farquhar Fulton, later the youngest Sterling Professor of Physiology at Yale University.
Left: Stubbs Society president and later career diplomat, Sir Philip de Zulueta, exercising his skills. The address by A L Rowse was not met with universal approval.
In over a century of continual activity, the Society has been addressed by a series of eminent speakers in meetings famous, sometimes notorious, for the combative discussion that ensues after a paper has been read. The following is an extract from the minute book detailing an address by the acclaimed historian, A L Rowse:
Above: A L Rowse
It is not usual in the minutes of this Society to express censure on the guest-speaker of the evening. But many members of the Society wish it to be recorded that considerable surprise was caused by certain of Mr Rowse’s remarks.
That Mr Rowse should dismiss Mr Hilaire Belloc and Mr Gilbert Chesterton as mere political pamphleteers, that he should pour scorn on the works of Mr Arthur Bryant, Dr Freeman and Dr H. A. L. Fisher, is the concern only of Mr Rowse himself. But that he should cast jeers at the memory of Dr Stubbs himself, and that he should cut short and ridicule the opinions of members during discussion, caused much embarrassment to the members of the Society whose guest he was.
It is to be hoped that this behaviour on the part of one who has a valuable contribution to make to the study of history was purely unconscious and was no way disguised to affect the dignity and traditions of the Society, for it showed no purpose other than to embarrass his friends and to justify his enemies.
Above: "Intelligence Reports of the Civil War in Oxfordshire"
In another instance, Conrad Russell recalled an occasion when Geoffrey Elton was the speaker:
The first time I met Geoffrey Elton was when I was a postgraduate in 1960. After addressing the Stubbs Society in Oxford, he faced a concerted assault, begun "while Lawrence is getting his anti-tank gun into position". I rashly wandered into the cross-fire and defended him.
The speaker lineups have been appropriately diverse, ranging from Joseph Needham on the history of Chinese science, to Christopher Andrew on MI5, to Lord Sumption on the Royal Navy during the Hundred Years' War.
Other talks have include "The Bohemian Compromise of 1871 and later attempts at a Czecho-German Settlement" by A J P Taylor, "Intelligence Reports of the Civil War in Oxfordshire", and "The War Office and the Arming of the Common Soldier".
Above: "The War Office and the Arming of the Common Soldier"; Minutes from the talk on "The Bohemian Compromise of 1871"; A J P Taylor himself
The Society, whilst rooted in its rich heritage, has always been open to new ideas and it is the vibrancy of its membership and events which keeps the Society alive today. It was Lord Beloff, the Conservative peer and university administrator, who first proposed the admission of women in 1939, some 30 years ahead of the Oxford Union. Female students from Somerville, Lady Margaret Hall and other new women's colleges joined eagerly, leading to the presidency of Ann Faber in 1942.
One of the first women members of the Society was a young Agnes Headlam-Morley who rose later to become Montague Burton Professor of International Relations - the first woman to be appointed to a chair at Oxford. Professor Headlam-Morley spoke on "British Foreign Policy During the Last Century and that of Mr Chamberlain's".
Above: Professor Agnes Headlam-Morley; "British Foreign Policy During the Last Century"; Lord Beloff successfully moved that the Society should admit women
The Society has maintained throughout its existence a lively programme of social events. The image on the right shows the opulence of a 7-course meal served for the Society's 1903 triennial dinner.
Today, we continue to provide opportunities for members to engage with like-minded practitioners and students. Our annual garden party and dinner are social engagements not to be missed.
Left: The menu from the 1903 triennial dinner.