Seeking legitimacy: authority and expertise in modern Britain

University of Birmingham B15 2TT
Monday 20 June (10:00) - Tuesday 21 June 2016 (15:00)

Seeking Legitimacy is a two-day workshop for postgraduates and early career researchers (within five years of completion) that aims to explore the relationship between authority and legitimacy in modern Britain.

We wish to confront the historically contingent nature of value: who or what is valued at different historical junctures, how is value bestowed, sought after or fought for, and how do people come to feel valued (or not).

Value and legitimacy are informed by authority and expertise that necessarily engender systems of inclusion and exclusion. We are interested in whether modern Britain looks any different when claims to authority and authenticity become the focus of critique. By historicising authority, we can begin to turn attention towards groups and individuals who have been hidden from history by these implicit value judgements.

As historians, our expertise often legitimises and privileges certain narratives and case studies, inadvertently placing parameters around objects of historical study. How does this affect our engagement with the public when we are seen to be acting in the interest of the past and not their present? What happens when we become more reflexive about seeking to legitimise the past?

The first day of the workshop, run in conjunction with History Lab Plus, will explore the contested methodology of Public History. Sessions will confront the problematic relationship between the historian and the public, and question whether co-curation is ever possible.

On the second day, we invite ten-minute-long papers that reflect on themes of value, legitimacy, expertise or authority in your own work. We are interested in broad historical scope and papers can cover any topic within modern British studies.


  • If you wish to attend this event, please send abstracts of 250 words and a short biography to
  • Deadline: 22 April 2016
  • There are no registration fees for this event and travel bursaries are available. Please indicate upon submission if you want to be considered for a bursary. Please note that you must be available to attend both days of the event.
  • Timings are provisional, more information to follow.

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