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.
Above: The first page of the first minute book - a volume from 1884 held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Picture courtesy of Special Collections.
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. The photo below shows the original members of the society in which there are at least four future Members of Parliament, an Archbishop of Canterbury and some of the greatest scholars of the historical profession.
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 (right) 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.
In over a century of continual activity, the Society has been addressed by a series of eminent speakers. 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. The following is an extract from the minute book detailing an address by the acclaimed historian, 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.
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 Society has been graced by the presence of A J P Taylor several times and his talks have include the topics of: "Intelligence Reports of the Civil War in Oxfordshire" (below left); "The War Office and the Arming of the Common Soldier" (below middle) and"The Bohemian Compromise of 1871 and later attempts at a Czecho-German Settlement" (below right).
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 (right) 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".
The Society has maintained throughout its existence a lively programme of social events. The image on the left 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.