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The Redress of the Past: Historical Pageants in Britain, 1905-2016

September 14, 2016 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Early 20th-century Britain succumbed to what people called ‘pageant fever’. Inspired by Louis Napoleon Parker’s influential pageant at Sherborne, Dorset, in 1905, communities up and down the country staged outdoor historical re-enactments before audiences that could number in the thousands. Large casts performed chronological selections of scenes, real and mythical, authentic and fabricated, from the ancient, medieval and early modern pasts of towns, cities and villages. Until at least the late 1950, pageants remained very popular, and indeed continued as a discernible element of British culture into the twenty-first century (Danny Boyle’s much-lauded opening ceremony for the London 2014 Olympics was a historical pageant of sorts). This lecture describes the origins and development of historical pageantry, emphasizing the grand scale and wide spread of these community dramas, and exploring their social and cultural significance. It also highlights the importance of the sense of local pride and identity that was presented in historical pageants, and the success that they had in promoting local community consciousness and engagement with the past.

Paul Readman is Professor in Modern British History, and also Vice-Dean of Research in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities at King’s. Paul is Principal Investigator on a large-scale collaborative research project on historical pageants, on which this lecture is based: see Aside from his work on pageants, Paul has written widely on nineteenth- and twentieth-century British cultural and political history, and has co-edited two books with UNC Chapel Hill colleagues: Borderlands in World History, 1700-1914 (2014; with Cynthia Radding and Chad Bryant), and Walking Histories, 1800-1914 (2016; with Chad Bryant and Arthur Burns). He also has interests in the history of the built and natural environment, and is presently working on a book on the meanings of landscape in England between c.1780 and c.1920.

This lecture is co-hosted with UNC’s Department of History and Associate Professor of History Chad Bryant.


September 14, 2016
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm


Center for European Studies | A Jean Monnet Center of Excellence


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