The Institute of Historical Research (IHR) was founded in 1921, and the first issue of its journal, the Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, followed two years later in June 1923. The introduction to this first issue stated that the journal's 'function is primarily, if not exclusively, to provide a record of the work done at the Institute itself, and of the various activities ... which it has called into existence, stimulated, or provided with a home and an executive machinery'.(1) It was very much to be a 'house' journal, and most of the short contributions, the result of collaborative work within the IHR, appeared anonymously (including the introduction, which one might have expected to be credited to the Director, A. F. Pollard).
The introduction went on to note that 'This limitation of scope helps to avert competition with existing historical reviews. It would be of doubtful advantage to historical learning if each university attempted to establish an historical review of its own' (2) – how very different to the current multiplicity of journals covering every historical sub-discipline. This concern not to duplicate services already provided elsewhere explains why the Bulletin did not publish book reviews, a policy which still exists today. The restrictions did not stop there, however. It was further stated that the new journal would not 'include historical articles except such as deal with the methods and means of historical research' (3), supplemented by the occasional piece on British and foreign archives. It would be a couple of decades before this undertaking was reversed.
The aim to use the journal as a means 'to secure publicity for additions to historical knowledge and to means of knowing which would not otherwise find their way into print' may not sound particularly exciting today, but it fitted well with the IHR's goals at the time and undoubtedly provided a valuable service to the nascent professional historical community. In years to come the Bulletin would publish corrigenda and addenda to the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) and other great historical works, reports of the Sub-Committee on Editing Historical Documents hosted by the IHR, and particularly interesting additions to the holdings of the then Public Record Office (now The National Archives), among others. Summaries of theses published 'in connexion with' the IHR would also be included.(4) These summaries would ultimately develop into the comprehensive lists of historical research for higher degrees in the UK still published annually by the Institute (they ceased to be published in the Bulletin in 1966).
Finally, the Bulletin would also include information for and about the history profession: details of new appointments, the occasional obituary, the creation of university departments, news of the IHR's Anglo-American conference, and so on. The reason given for providing this service perhaps has even more resonance today, with debates about the relationship between academic history and the popular media routinely aired, than in 1923: 'There seems no adequate reason why estimates of historical learning should be left to the inexpert arbitrament of political journalism'.(5)
Gradually, however, the journal began to change direction, and articles presenting original research were routinely included by the 1950s, although still alongside a mixture of notes, reports and DNBBy the 1960s the Table of Contents would look familiar to anyone used to reading a scholarly historical journal today.
While the Bulletin has always aimed to present history in the widest possible sense, it developed something of a reputation for medieval history, and particularly British medieval history. To a degree this rendered it immune from some of the historical debates which raged in the 1960s and 1970s – it was largely untouched, for example, by Marxist history or the Gentry Controversy. It also, however, meant that it was perceived as a worthy but rather unexciting publication, surrounded by none of the excitement that accompanied a Past and Present.
This perception slowly began to alter, however, and a decisive new direction for the journal was marked by the decision in the mid 1990s to publish through Blackwell Publishing. This led to a huge change in its profile, not the least of which was its renaming as Historical Research, signalling that it was no longer simply a 'house' journal or bulletin. A wider range of articles began to be published, with a greater geographical and chronological span, and an excellent balance was achieved between the work of early career researchers and more established names. This change further accelerated under the editorship of David Cannadine (1998–2003), with more contributions from overseas scholars, notably in the US, the addition of a fourth issue per year, and the inclusion of material from a wider range of approaches.
In recent years, Historical Research has taken full advantage of new technological developments, making it among the more adventurous humanities journals. It was among the first, for example, fully to embrace the idea of 'Online Early' publication, which allows fully citable versions of articles to appear online many months before their final publication in print. The benefit of this facility became apparent during the recent flurry of article submissions leading up to the 2007 Research Assessment Exercise, with the journal able to guarantee publication for papers submitted as late as March of that year. In the last few months, the full back run of the journal has been digitized by Blackwell Publishing, and will now reach a far wider audience than could ever have been foreseen in 1923.
Historical Research has become one of the leading generalist journals in the UK, without losing sight of the goals of its founders. This can be seen, for example, in its stated aim to serve as a place of first publication for postgraduate students, offering a well-supported and friendly introduction to the world of publishing, as well as in its concern to promote and disseminate groundbreaking research and scholarship. It offers a service for the widest possible community of those interested in history, as does its host institution, the Institute of Historical Research.
Dr Jane Winters is Head of Publications at the Institute of Historical Research, and Executive Editor of Historical Research.