Project Officer: This interview is being conducted for the
project ‘Making history: the discipline in perspective’, and the Project
Officer Danny Millum will be speaking to Professor Sir Roderick Floud
about his experience of, and views on, changes in the discipline and
the academic profession of history.
Professor Floud, may we start with your giving us some brief biographical information?
Roderick Floud: Yes. My secondary education was at Brentwood school, and I specialised in history, doing both medieval history and economic history at A-level, together with English. I then got a minor scholarship to Wadham College, Oxford to read history. I got a second class degree and then became a student at Nuffield College to begin my DPhil.
I always wanted to do economic history. My original idea was that it would be on the second industrial revolution in the late 19th century, particularly in the West Midlands, but I was persuaded by my supervisor, John Habakkuk (who was then Chichele Professor of Economic History), that the machine tool industry would be an interesting and useful topic, and so the DPhil turned out to be an economic history of the machine tool industry from 1850 to 1914.
That led me, for reasons I can go into if you’re interested, into computing and quantitative history. And I think that helped me to get a job, as these were the days of the expansion of the historical profession – it seemed remarkably easy to get a job.
PO: Was that in the 1960s?
RF: Yes, it was 1966. I was at Oxford from 1961 to 1964 as an undergraduate, 1964 to 1966 as a postgraduate, and then immediately – without any publications or having finished my PhD – got an assistant lectureship at University College London to teach economic history, in the history department but mainly teaching economics undergraduates.
I then moved to Cambridge in 1969 with an assistant lectureship there, specifically to teach quantitative history, in which by that point I’d become reasonably expert. I was also a Fellow and Director of studies in history and tutor at Emmanuel College. I stayed at Cambridge for six years – 1969–75 – and was then invited and offered the Professorship of Modern History at Birkbeck. So I moved to Birkbeck in 1975 and stayed there until 1988, with one important year away – 1980–1 – at Stanford.
I’d become I suppose more and more involved in the management and administration of the college and with the campaigns on behalf of the college in the late 1980s when their funding was threatened. And so I was then elected as Vice-Master of Birkbeck in the spring of 1988, but decided that it would be attractive to go to what was then City of London Polytechnic, so I took up the post of Provost of City of London Polytechnic on 1 August 1988.
City Poly became London Guildhall University in 1994 and I was then Provost of that university. I became more and more involved in academic affairs on a national level and was ultimately elected President of Universities UK from 2001 to 2003. During that time London Guildhall University merged with the University of North London to become London Metropolitan University and I became, initially the Vice Chancellor, then President of the University, and retired from that in 2006. And most recently I’ve got a part-time retirement job as Dean of the School of Advanced Study.
PO: So taking it easy?
RF: Yes, that’s right – very easy. So that’s I think the basic CV.
PO: Well, I’d like to come back to your later career in academic management, but I thought we could begin by talking a little bit about your influences in terms of your development as a historian.
RF: Yes. Well, I suppose I’ve been interested in economic history from really quite early on. I can’t remember exactly when I became interested, but my parents were both Marxists and they both read history at Oxford, so I suppose it was in the family, so to speak. And as I said earlier, I did economic history at A-level and even when at Oxford I was forced by the syllabus then to do predominantly political history, I always took every opportunity to do what economic history was available.
Which really came down to Tudor and Stuart economic documents, which was taught by W. G. Hoskins, who was certainly an important figure. I was very lucky to be taught by him as an undergraduate. A. F. Thompson, who was my tutor at Wadham, also taught me for the special subject on Peel and that also was important. But I suppose the major intellectual influences on me have been Habakkuk as my university supervisor and, in a very different way, R. M. Hartwell as my Nuffield supervisor. Nuffield was an amazing environment in which not only did one have lots of money and support, but also a college supervisor as well as a university supervisor.
Habakkuk I think was a great guide to the importance of logical thought, careful scholarship and good writing style. Max Hartwell was much more of a controversialist, very much enjoyed arguing with his students, who included myself and Gareth Stedman Jones in particular at that time at Nuffield. I suppose I learnt a great deal from him about controversy in history. And later important influences were Michael Thompson, who was the Professor of Economic History at UCL when I joined there – later of course the Director of the Institute of Historical Research – and I think I learnt from him about teaching. Although I also learnt quite a lot actually from Robin Craig who was appointed at the same time. He was a maritime historian who was much older than me although also in his first job, and we did a lot of things together.
Then of course there were a number of Cambridge historians who were important, in particular Munia Postan and David Joslin, who was actually then the Professor of Economic History. He died suddenly very shortly, I think a year, after I got there, and I was faced with taking over his special subject at very short notice. I did that with Munia Postan’s help and encouragement. And Geoffrey Elton, who was also there, was always – despite his doubts about quantitative history – an extremely supportive and pleasant person. It’s not how he’s always remembered, but I remember him like that.
Then I suppose at Birkbeck the greatest influence in many ways was from Eric Hobsbawm, who was the Professor of Economic and Social History. I was formally Professor of Modern History but we taught together the MA course and other courses and that was a real privilege, to be in close contact with one of the greatest of 20th-century historians. Again, I think to a certain extent I reacted against him. Eric is a polymath – huge number of languages and so on – but perhaps his most distinguishing characteristic is deep and abiding pessimism. We would discuss politics and current affairs and history on a regular basis over lunch and other occasions and I would always adopt the optimistic role; he’d do the pessimistic. But he was a great influence.
Finally, I think the two other people who influenced me most were definitely Robert Fogel, who recruited me to the beginnings of what turned out to be anthropometric history, and his collaborator, Stan Engerman, who had been one of my examiners for my DPhil at Oxford. Bob remains one of my very close personal and family friends, as well as being in some senses a mentor. Bob – who I think is a very great historian, a very careful and clever and thoughtful historian but with a very wide range of interests – has been a great influence on the past 30 years of my life.
PO: And you mentioned your interest in computing – how did that come about?
RF: Well, I always think that the role of chance in history can never be overestimated and certainly there have been a number of chances in my career, and that was perhaps the biggest of them in a sense. When I was doing the DPhil at Oxford on the machine tool industry, I wrote to all the engineering firms I could discover who had existed during the later 19th century and were still in existence. One of them, a firm called Greenwood & Batley of Leeds, wrote back and said that they had all their records from 1856 to the present day – this was in 1965. But they said ‘You’d better come quickly because we’re about to throw them away’.
So I did. I went up to Leeds, found that they had indeed kept all the records of their production processes, labour records, materials records, patents, drawings, everything, which essentially they had put in a cellar of this large engineering factory in Leeds – in Armley. Every time they came to the end of a ledger they just put it in the cellar, so it was all there. I loaded up a transit truck with the books and took them back to Nuffield and unloaded them into my room, and then I can remember very vividly going out into the quad at Nuffield which has a big pond in the middle of it and sitting down next to the pond with a group of students and Fellows, describing these books that I’d got, and saying, ‘What on earth do I do with them now?’ There were a very large number.
And Lance Davis, who was one of the earliest American cliometricians and was a visiting Fellow at Nuffield at that point, said ‘Use a computer’ which was an entirely novel idea to me at that stage. Only two or three articles which had used computers had been published at that point in the States, perhaps only one. But I did. That led me obviously into statistics to process the material, and led me into a lot of things which are now completely irrelevant like learning programming languages and so on.
That led to a commission from Methuens to write a book on quantitative methods for historians which was my first book, written when I was finishing my DPhil. Then the fact that I was writing this book I think led to the appointment at Cambridge, then on from there into involvement with quantitative history generally, with some of the earlier associations of quantitative history. And led ultimately I suppose into the world of anthropometric history, because that was a heavily computer-intensive project.
PO: Looking at economic history as a whole over time, have you seen any particular trends emerge there? Simply because you mentioned cliometrics before and that was something that was particularly important maybe in the sixties and seventies, but perhaps less so now?
RF: Yes, I think so, but I think partly that’s just because it’s become, part of the furniture whereas in the sixties and seventies it was a novelty. I think the tradition of British economic history up to the 1960s really was heavily empirical with relatively little overt theoretical basis. That’s arguable but you probably don’t want to argue it too much. Although clearly a number of the earlier economic historians had been influenced by a neo-classical revolution in economics, by the time you got to the forties, fifties and sixties I think that the emphasis was on traditional, relatively atheoretical historical scholarship, applied to issues of economic history. There were certainly exceptions to that. Habukkuk’s work, in particular his work on American and British technology, certainly would be an exception to that, and then there was of course also an extremely important Marxist school. But the mainstream was rather lacking I think in theoretical activity.
So the two things that really hit British economic history in the 1960s and early 1970s were the neo-classical theories coming from the United States – the work of people like Bob [Fogel], Peter Temin, Donald McCloskey (as he then was) – and these were very closely allied, in the early days of econometric history or cliometrics, to computing. So it had this dual approach which showed itself perhaps most notably in Bob Fogel’s book on American railroads, where you had the alliance of (in that case) pre-computing data processing with economic reasoning in the form of counterfactuals and other forms of theory.
I found that very sympathetic, I enjoyed it, I thought it was clever and illuminating. That was not the reaction of a substantial amount of the British historical profession. I can remember when Bob Fogel first presented his ideas to the Economic History Society in Britain – there was a very vehement reaction of hostility towards counterfactuals, towards theory in economic history. I think not so much towards computing because that was really seen as being a natural extension of other forms of historical scholarship, not different in the way that some of the theoretical perspectives seemed to be.
So I suppose, going back to your question, quantitative history and econometric history generally were certainly seen in the 1960s and 1970s as very different from other forms of history. I can remember writing an article for History Workshop which I think was called something like ‘Quantitative history and people’s history: two methods in conflict?’, and that was a response to the view that essentially quantitative history, econometric history, was antithetical to labour history, people’s history and so on.
I never took that view, and although I suppose I became in a sense a missionary for quantitative history, I never saw it as being qualitatively distinct from other forms of history. It just seemed to me that you had this marvellous new tool, sometimes rather difficult to use at that point, but a marvellous new tool for processing data that you hadn’t been able to process before. But in theory, Clapham or Postan or someone would have done it if it had been available to them, so it wasn’t a new departure – it was just a new tool.
But it wasn’t taken that way by quite a lot of people who saw it as taking the heart and the life out of history and reducing everything to numbers – the tool of this alien, neo-classical analysis. So although I still think that historians don’t know enough about quantitative methods and statistics, I think most of them now recognise that they should, that it’s a perfectly legitimate way of doing history – some kinds of history, not all kinds of history – and therefore, as I say, it’s really become part of the furniture.
And in a sense anthropometric history has gone through the same cycle of seeming to be revolutionary, of large things being claimed for it and of it then becoming integrated into the mainstream. So that when we first argued in the late seventies that there might be some merit in measuring people’s heights and weights and using that as an index of the standard of living, we were derided as foolish and absurd I think, but nowadays you will find in virtually any book on economic and social history there will be references to the anthropometric data. Even people like Nick Crafts, who was initially extremely hostile to it, have now come round to the view that it has some relevance to issues like the standard of living.
Quite a lot of the initial hostility to anthropometric history actually came not from historians, but from economists and that was because economists had a very rigid and rather narrow view of how you would measure the standard of living. And it essentially equated to the measurement of real wages. I remember one of Eric Hobsbawm’s phrases in one of his articles was ‘Man does not live by bread alone’, but if you suggested that you look at other things than simply how much money people had and how much it would buy, you were told that this was totally theoretically impossible and so on. I think economists themselves become much more willing to look at measures of the quality of life, and the work of Amartya Sen and others has been important in looking at that, in changing attitudes in that way. So quantitative history went through this cycle of revolution followed by acceptance, and anthropometric history has really done the same.
PO: And in terms of economic history itself, would you say that that as well has been assimilated into the mainstream practice of history? I suppose I’m thinking of the decline in the number of separate economic history departments since, say, the seventies.
RF: Yes. Well, I think it has. I know that British economic history, together I suppose with some of the dominions and to a certain extent Scandinavia, was different from America. As far as I know, in the United States there were never any separate departments of economic history. In Britain I think they developed particularly during the expansion of the universities during the 1960s onwards, and I believed then – and I continue to believe – that it was a bad mistake.
I don’t think there should be separate departments of economic history because I think economic history is both a part of history and a part of economics, and isn’t a separate discipline in that sense. Separate topics if you like, within history and economics. Although of course there are very distinguished separate departments – particularly at LSE – there were never such separate departments at Oxford or Cambridge. I think that the existence of separate departments set the profession off from those two cognate disciplines if you like, rather than integrating them. So I’ve always been rather pleased at the demise of separate economic history departments.
PO: And you also mentioned before the Economic History Society. Are there any institutions in particular, thinking of the Society to begin with, that have played an important role in the development of the subject?
RF: Well, I think the Society and the Social History Society have both kept the subjects moving along and obviously publication in the [Economic History] Review and Journal of Economic History have been the major means of taking the subject forward, so I think they’re both important. But I think you can also certainly acknowledge the great significance of Past & Present, History Workshop and a number of other journals – the journal Social History of Medicine I think has been particularly important in a variety of phases. So in a sense I would see the Economic History Society essentially as an umbrella movement, rather than a major force for change in economic history.
PO: Okay. I wanted to ask you now a few questions about the profession in general, moving away from economic history in particular. I was wondering if it would be possible for you to observe any particular trends in the popularity of different periods, or different approaches, that you’ve seen over your career?
RF: I don’t think there have been any very obvious trends in the popularity of different periods; people still seem to be able to find interesting questions in all periods. Obviously the rise of economic and particularly social history, and some areas like labour history and so on, in the fifties and sixties was important and they in a sense become assimilated or subsided as major areas of interest in later years. Quantitative history and anthropometric history we’ve already talked about. So, no, I don’t think there have been. I may be wrong but I wouldn’t think of any others at the moment.
PO: And on a slightly different tack, how do you think that pressures on academics have changed during your career?
RF: Well, I think in general people have to work harder, certainly in terms of early career patterns in academia. As I said, I was appointed to my first job without having published anything and certainly without having to go through a series of temporary jobs and so on, and I think that has become much more common. So I think getting yourself established has become more difficult – certainly the publication demands are much greater than they were – and I think also, to some degree, the teaching demands are greater.
I don’t think my experience was entirely typical, but at University College [London] we had a teaching load of perhaps three or four hours a week in my first few years, which I think would be unusual today. Although when I moved to Cambridge I was giving 12 tutorials and several lectures a week, so that was I think much more like a modern teaching load. I’m not sure that there was more emphasis on teaching or on research at that time – they were both regarded as important and one was certainly given time to do research. It was entirely unstructured: there were no research plans and one sometimes felt it was sort of rude to ask people about their research activities and so on.
PO: So in a sense it was simply built into the timetable: that you would have a certain …
RF: Well, you had a very low teaching load. It was deliberate: you didn’t have the current arrangements with people, that in order to boost their RAE scores they would have very little teaching, but essentially one was given the time to do research, but with very few questions asked and it was regarded very much as a matter of your individual academic freedom. So I think the pressures in terms of publication have increased.
The pressures in terms of teaching have certainly increased, probably entirely for good, in terms of thinking through teaching programmes and structuring syllabi and actually thinking about desirable outcomes from your teaching, none of which was very evident when I first began teaching. I know I took part in the first course for new teachers ever put on by the University of London, which must have been in late 1966, and it remains a mystery to me as to how the academic profession has survived as long as it has without some form of structured tuition in how to teach. And I’ve always been an advocate of making, essentially, teaching qualifications for higher education teachers compulsory and when I was a leading member of Universities UK, I helped to push that forward.
So I think that the Higher Education Academy courses for teachers (new teachers, probationary teachers and so on) on how to teach are an entirely good thing. People say it’s added to the pressure on them, particularly in their earlier years. I think it’s essential and indeed the courses that I have seen have helped people to do their job better which is what they should be doing anyway.
But going back to the design of courses, which is also part of that tuition that one receives nowadays, really there was no design of courses when I first started. It was very easy to put on a course; I don’t remember anybody actually looking at my syllabus for the quantitative methods course for historians that I taught at Cambridge – I just put it on and examined it and it formed part of the tripos. So essentially no quality control of the kind that is now in existence in British higher education.
PO: And less, to a degree, co-ordination between the courses?
RF: Very little co-ordination. Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration; I mean, at University College we devised a syllabus for economic history which was designed to slot into and fit the demand of the economists and to a lesser extent the historians, and at Cambridge there was a rough idea that we ought to have courses in a range of historical topics, one of them being statistics for historians. But that’s about all it was and people were allowed to put on special subjects and optional subjects and so on with a remarkable lack of evidence.
PO: And in the answers to the last couple of questions, it seems that you were describing a previous period of university existence which was much more lightly regulated. And since then you’ve been in a position where you’ve worked as a Vice-Chancellor of a university and been involved in national bodies as well. Would you be able to make any observations on how the relationship between the state and higher education has changed in that time?
RF: That’s a very big question. I think that higher education is quite a good example of the phenomenon which is known to political scientists as the rise of the regulatory state, that is, that in many countries one has observed two complementary movements in the relationship between state and society.
This is obviously a gross caricature but essentially if you take the UK, you’ve moved from a situation in which after the Second World War you had a whole range of nationalised industries controlled by the state to a greater or lesser extent, and on the other hand you had a whole sphere of activities – of which higher education was one – which were very lightly regulated, in which the money was provided by the state and there was very little accountability for the use of that money.
By the rise of the regulatory state I think people mean the retreat from nationalisation, from formal state control on the one hand, which is then replaced by various forms of regulation through all these different offices – Ofgem and OFwat and everything else like that. And on the other hand, the increased regulation in areas which previously had been unregulated or extremely lightly regulated – and obviously higher education fits into the latter of those.
Even when I first became a Vice-Chancellor, although higher education was a political topic (and when Birkbeck’s existence was threatened by funding changes in the 1980s we mobilised public opinion, political opinion in the House of Lords and so on in its support, and that was worth doing because of the role of the state in higher education), essentially the Minister of Education (whatever he was called) was very much at arm’s length even from the University Grants Committee. Whereas the situation which we now have is one in which we have a Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, we have a Director of Higher Education in the department, and a much longer funding letter from the Minister. Much greater day-to-day involvement by civil servants in the universities than was the case even 15 or 20 years ago. So I think it’s moved in a very much greater and much more greatly regulated direction.
PO: And what do you think the effects of that on working within a university have been?
RF: Well, I think in a sense they’ve been quite profound. If I look back to the beginnings of my career, there was no such thing as a Quality Assurance Agency, there was no such thing as a Research Assessment Exercise, there were no time allocation schedules or TRAC returns. I suppose there was some kind of capital funding for universities but it was certainly not very obvious to me as a junior lecturer. So I think a whole host of things which do substantially affect the daily life – certainly the working life and annual life – of a university teacher have really been introduced since the late eighties. That was the big change.
PO: And you talked, in an interview that I’ve read with you just after the merger that formed LMU, about the university working with the grain of government policy, which was then committed to achieving 50 per cent participation. As far as I know, it still is. What effects do you think that that expansion to the tertiary sector has had?
RF: Well, I suppose in a sense I’ve lived enthusiastically with the expansion of higher education since the 1960s. As I said, at that time, after the Robbins report there was the expansion of the older universities and the foundation of the new universities as they then were, and that was the beginnings of the major expansion.
And, apart from it being very easy to get a job, I experienced the benefits of that particularly after moving to Birkbeck in 1975. I mean, I’ve always been a left-winger, a supporter of the Labour party etc., but I suppose moving to an institution devoted to part-time and mature students cemented that belief that the older elitist systems had wasted a great deal of the talent of our people and that the expansion of higher education was one way in which you would actually achieve social justice and at the same time contribute to economic growth. And I remain convinced of that. I think that, objectively, a great deal of the expansion of higher education – entirely correctly – has been to give to middle-class girls the same opportunities that middle-class boys have had for a long time. So much of the expansion actually is just a difference in gender, although I believe very strongly in that and I’ve spent quite a lot of my life campaigning for the admission of women to various institutions.
But you can’t argue that it’s really changed the social or class composition of British higher education – that has proved a much more difficult thing to do. I mean, I suppose I’ve been involved in trying to do it for 30 years and I wouldn’t claim any great success in it, except to the extent that places like London Guildhall and London Met now exist, where you do have a very, very different social mix of students from that which I had, particularly at Cambridge but even at University College in the sixties.
You asked specifically about the impact on the academic profession. You’re dealing with more students who have other things to do. I experienced that at Birkbeck – obviously, part-time students have a whole range of other things to do – but even at a place like London Met you’re dealing with students who, although formally full-time, are really part-time. All those kinds of pressures. But I don’t think the job otherwise has changed that much – in a subject like history you’re still teaching by roughly the same methods. Bigger classes possibly, certainly, but many other things remain very much the same. The volume is greater, that’s probably the difference.
PO: Quantitative rather than qualitative change?
PO: On a completely different tack, I wanted to ask you as well whether you had any thoughts on the relationship between academic history and popular history, and changes within that?
RF: I think academic history has continued, as it probably always has, to feel in a sense that it’s above popular history and that that’s a mistake in a variety of ways. I suppose I’ve always believed, and tried to put into practice with the three editions of the Economic History of Britain as it’s now called, in the view that it’s the duty of any academic to communicate his or her subject to an intelligent audience. I think it was Lord Rutherford, the great Cambridge scientist, who said that any good scientist should be able to explain his research to the charlady in the lab. I think quite a lot of scientists would fail that particular test and I think probably I would in some respects, but it’s a good aspiration. So I really think that there shouldn’t be, if you like, a significant difference between academic and popular history. And I certainly think the work that the IHR is doing – British History Online and so on – is a very big step in the direction of linking the two together and making academic historical research accessible.
I think there’s probably a lot more to do. I think that the academic historical profession has been pretty slow to grasp the opportunities presented by the rise of family history which has meant that we’ve got an apparently endless supply of people wanting to find out about the history of their family, and at the same time inevitably wanting to find out about the history of the places and work patterns and so on of those family members. I just think we haven’t really grasped that enormous opportunity, either to help it along and to profit from it if you like, or perhaps also to integrate it more fully into traditional historical scholarship.
One of the things that interested us in the early stages of the cliometric debates and the work with Bob Fogel was whether we could use the Mormon records for understanding and illuminating American demographic history. It proved a very frustrating task for a variety of reasons but I think that in a sense shows the potential of all these people writing their family histories – we ought to be able to think of a way in which we can make use of them all. At the moment they’re pretty fugitive – they’re probably all on people’s shelves if they’ve ever got on to writing them up, but we’re not using that enormous interest in history that’s been generated by family history. So that would be one area where I think there’s still too great a disjunction between academic and popular history.
PO: And in terms of contrasting the scene when you began in the early 1960s with now, do you think any progress has been made?
RF: Yes, of course it has. We now know a whole range of things that we didn’t know then and I think that computing has been enormously important in that in two senses. The first is that it’s enabled us to make use of large datasets and to explore the implications of large datasets which simply couldn’t be coped with by previous generations. And the second is that the acquisition and spread of knowledge through the internet has just completely transformed the opportunities for historical scholarship. Although you can complain about some of the stuff that’s on the net and so on, in general it seems to me that that is an enormous step forward.
PO: Certainly British History Online is very different to random publications on un-peer reviewed websites, isn’t it?
PO: Again, a slightly different question: I wanted to ask as well if you’d noticed any changes arising in or from developments in the teaching of history in schools?
RF: I just think I’m too far away from it; I’ve had virtually no involvement with the teaching in history in schools. At Birkbeck, the students had been at school many years before and it simply wasn’t relevant so I don’t think I know enough about that to comment.
PO: So in terms of when you were President at Universities UK, you were looking in a different direction rather than looking at how the schools fed into the university system?
RF: Yes. I mean, the main topics that I was concerned with as President of Universities UK were the introduction of student tuition fees and various other funding issues. There were flurries of concern about A-level marking, that kind of thing, which took up a lot of time in radio and TV studios and so on but I don’t think is significant in the long run. And I suppose I certainly did as much as I could to put forward the kinds of ideas which had been current for a long time in universities and were formulated most explicitly in the Tomlinson report, which is the need for a broader syllabus at 16–18, but the universities had been convinced of that – virtually unanimously – for two decades. It’s a question of stupid politicians and rather blinkered industrialists not wanting to change that has prevented those changes taking place.
PO: And in another one of your roles, with the European University Association, you had responsibility for the Bologna Process which was to do with the convergence of higher education systems in Europe. Do you see progress having been made there? Again, maybe compared to what the situation might have been in the sixties and seventies.
RF: Well, enormous progress, yes. The Bologna Process has transformed the syllabus and structures of higher education in almost every European country with the exception of the United Kingdom and Ireland, simply because the main feature of the Bologna reforms is the introduction of a three- or four-year Bachelor’s degree and a one- or two-years Master’s degree, on essentially the British model. So it’s required change – although it’s required change in the UK, it’s required much less change here – but for every other European country it’s been an enormous transformation and one that’s been achieved in a remarkably short time. I mean, we’re only 10 years after the first Bologna meeting, the Sorbonne meeting which preceded actually the Bologna meeting, but having been at most of those meetings until last year I think one thing that they demonstrate is the idea that universities can’t change quickly in response to proven needs is complete nonsense. We have moved much more quickly than anybody certainly expected at the time and, as I say, a great deal of change has occurred and is now spreading to the rest of the world as well.
PO: So in essence Europe and the rest of the world are coming into line with the British university system?
RF: I wouldn’t put it that way, no. I think they’ve converged.
PO: Okay. I’m nearly finished with you now. I just thought I’d ask you very quickly one last question, which was whether you had any thoughts at all on the future of either the discipline or the profession of history?
RF: Not really, because I think that historians are very bad at forecasting the future and, as I said, the role of chance has played a great role in my own academic life. Even if you had been reasonably prescient about forecasting in the 1960s, you would not have forecast the impact of computing. You wouldn’t have forecast the development of things like anthropometric history, you wouldn’t have forecast postmodernism probably, so I don’t think that it’s very fruitful. I think you just seize opportunities as they come along.
PO: Professor Floud, thanks very much indeed.
RF: Thank you.