You are invited to the launch of the Monroe Group

The newly established Monroe Group is an interdisciplinary research network for the study of politics in the Americas.

The network is designed to encourage dialogue between scholars in the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences working on all aspects of politics in the American continent. It has been developed in response to recent expansion of staff and student recruitment working in the field of US and Latin American politics at the University of Reading.

The Monroe Group will be home to existing UoR researchers and PhD students working in this area and will facilitate new collaborative projects, research grants applications and teaching development across all disciplines. In particular:

  •  US foreign policy
  • Climate Change Diplomacy
  • Gender, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Representations, Rhetoric and Media
  • Policy

You can discover more about this new research network via their blog and thier Twitter page.

New Monroe Group blog site

Check out what the Monroe Group are up to via their blog.

The Monroe Group’s will be officially inaugerated on 2nd May by the Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, who will launch the new research network and introduce the keynote speaker, Professor Andrew Rudalevige (Bowdoin College).  This will be followed by the one-day conference ‘Trump’s First 100 Days‘ (conference programme below).  Registration for the conference can be made via the University of Reading’s events pages.

The conference is followed by the workshop ‘Engaging with Politics in the Americas‘ 27th June.

This is a half-day, multidisciplinary event for UoR-based staff already working on politics in the Americas related topics, or those who are interested in developing new research in this area (or just learning more).  All academic disciplines are welcome and you don’t need prior experience of politics in the Americas research to participate.

The objectives for the afternoon are for participants to:

  • Learn more about the themes of the Monroe Group, and how they interlink.
  • Get to know one-another, what our research interests are, and how they potentially relate to the Monroe Group.
  • Start to think about major politics in the Americas research questions, and how these might be developed into project ideas/proposals.

As part of the workshop, we would like to invite participants to make short, 5-10 minute presentations about an area of their research related to politics in the Americas.

If you would like to do this, please contact Dr Mara Oliva (, Dr Mark Shanahan ( and Dr Madeleine Davies ( with a provisional title for your presentation.

What is  more, the Monroe Group already have plans in place for at least one event per term!  Events already scheduled for the next acadmeic year are:

  • Autumn term 2017 – High Commission of Barbados (led by Department of Politics and International Relations)
  • Spring term 2018 –   Gender, Diversity & Inclusion (led by Department of English)
  • Summer term 2018 – Climate Change Diplomacy – (led by the Department of History)


Conference Programme - Final with flag 1

Conference Programme - Final with flag 2

Posted in American History, Events, International History, US Election 2016 (blog posts) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Registration now open for ‘Trump’s First 100 Days’ 2nd May, 2017

We are pleased to announce that registration is now open for the forthcoming conference ‘Trump’s First 100 Days’, 2nd May 2017.

A copy of the conference programme is available below.  Registrations should be made via the University of Reading’s Conferences and Events pages.

Conference Programme - with flag 1

Conference Programme - with flag 2

Posted in American History, Events | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Co-living: Utopia 2.0?

by Dr Andy Willimott [1]

Utopia 2.0, 1

Eight months on from its opening, in May 2016, the London-based co-living enterprise known as The Collective Old Oak is still going strong. The residential concept, situated between North Acton and Wilesden Junction, now boasts 546 residents. The project has piqued the interest of locals and the media alike. Aimed predominantly at a generation of millennials locked into the notoriously prohibitive and uninspiring rental market, The Collective seeks to change the way people live in urban centres. Residents pay rent on small private bedrooms, but gain access to a range of spaces and facilities, including kitchens, dining rooms, and lounges. There is also a communal library, cinema, sports bar, restaurant, games room, laundrette, gym, spa, and rooftop terrace, as well as regular community events. As much as anything, residents are offered a “fulfilling lifestyle” and a sense of community.

Co-living is a trend that emerged in America during the opening decade of the 21st century, starting in the “hacker mansions” of San Francisco, offering affordable accommodation to young techies drawn to the area by the various app startups taking root there. By 2013, attempts were made to formalize and expand the provision of co-living. Tom Currier dropped out of Stanford to establish a real estate startup called Campus, which purchased San Francisco property, equipped them with hot tubs and other shared facilities designed to promote a fun, but more affordable lifestyle, and then sold co-living “memberships.” Before long, co-living ventures spread to New York and other cosmopolitan centres. Campus eventually ran up too much debt and folded in 2015, but others have picked up where it left off.

The organization behind The Collective was conceived in 2010, in the LSE Library, by Reza Merchant, a student who thought it was possible to provide something other than the low quality, overpriced accommodation suffered by many young people in London. Initially providing serviced accommodation with some shared facilities on a relatively small scale, Reza made the jump to full-blown co-living provider in 2015. The Collective is now the largest complex of its type in the world. And there are plans to build more.

So is this a new utopia? Utopia 2.0 for the millennial generation, where shared spaces, Facebook groups, and synced event calendars offer a new sense of community?

Utopia 2.0, 2a


The Games Room, The Collective Old Oak. Used with permission.[2]


Certainly, co-living providers have appropriated the language of radical utopia. Residences are referred to as “the collective” or “the commune”; they provide an “intentional way of living,” a rational “design to life,” and they accent the formation of new types of “community.” This language emerged out of the visionary projects of the early utopian socialists, Henri Saint-Simon, Robert Owen, and Charles Fourier, each of whom sought to design vanguard communities that would harmonise human relations at the start of the nineteenth century. And as recent scholarly insights into utopia have revealed, we should not assume that utopian projects were divorced from realitythat “utopia” is just a pejorative term, signifying the unrealistic. Where the socialist utopias of the nineteenth century arose in response to the challenges of the nascent modern world, so co-living for millennials has emerged against a backdrop of expensive housing, crony landlords, and an impenetrable housing market.

The cooperative communities Owen established in New Lanark and New Harmony represented an attempt to mitigate the hardships of early capitalism and laissez-faire economics. Community and capitalism were harmonised, as residents formed a jointly owned venture that supported and provided for members. And while the communities themselves did not become a template for wider society, Owen’s vision of jointly owned enterprises gave rise to the hugely significant cooperative movement. As Vincent Geoghegan has noted, “the very greatest of the philosophers of the past […] used utopianism to puncture the complacency of their contemporaries.” Maybe the latest trend for co-living will help to solve the challenges of urban housing in the twenty-first century. Co-living providers are expressly targeting a generation of young professionals who want to experience city life, but feel aggrieved at the prohibitive reality of places like London and San Francisco. Those promoting co-living also cite growing concerns about a “loneliness epidemic,” as the modern world continues to limit our social interaction. Co-living promises community and shared experiences with like-minded people.

Utopia 2.0, 2


Robert Owen’s plans for New Harmony. Public Domain by ArtMechanic via Wikimedia Commons


But, lest it need stating, the latest trend for co-living lacks the holistic vision of “the very greatest of […] philosophers.” Co-living borrows from a long tradition of collective designs for life, from the Owenite communities and Fourier phalanxes of the early nineteenth century, to the urban communes and constructivist housing that emerged out of the Russian Revolution, and on to the hippie groups of the 1960s. But in its current incarnation, co-living is devoid of ideology. It’s postmodern: it is, in part, a response to the problems of a modern world, but it doesn’t share modernity’s conviction that the world can be perfected. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to avoid the arrogance of some utopian thinkers; the idea that progress can be made by ripping apart the past and starting afresh prevented men such as Owen from realising the shortfalls of their visions. Yet, given the genuine challenges co-living promises to tackle, a broader perspective, and input from the municipal or government level surely wouldn’t go amiss.

And we should be aware of some potential pitfalls. One clear limitation to co-living is that there is no collective ownership or viable long-term provision. It doesn’t solve the housing problem more broadly; it offers a temporary solution for young professionals who want to enjoy urban life and partake in, as New Yorker columnist Lizzie Widdicome put it, an “extended adolescence.” And, with this, there is the danger that transient young people will tend to occupy The Collective and other such co-living ventures. This has prompted concern over the wider impact that co-living residences might have on pre-existing communities.

Will co-living prompt a different attitude or approach to housing? Will housing “experience” really become a commodity, as the latest co-living startups suggest? Time will tell.


[1] This blog is accredited to OUPblog, and ‘Co-living: Utopia 2.0?’ was first published there on 4th March 2017.  Our gratitude to them for allowing us to republish the blog piece here.
[2] Featured image credit: The Collective Old Oak, London. Used with permission.
Posted in Cultural History, International History, News | Tagged , , , ,

So that was International Women’s Day…

by Dr Jacqui Turner

So yesterday was International Women’s Day and women were everywhere – literally we were all over the place, in the media, online, on TV and crowded around both front benches in the House of Commons as, in yesterday’s budget, the Chancellor announced a further £5 million for projects to celebrate the centenary of the partial franchise in 1918:

It is important that we not only celebrate next year’s Centenary but also that we educate young people about its significance. It was the decisive step in the political emancipation of women in this country and this money will go to projects to mark its significance and remind us all just how important it was.





Yes, it was, and yes, it is. My initial reaction, of course, is that this should be done in schools every year and beyond a few weeks on the GCSE History curriculum.   So maybe we do need that £5 million from Mr Hammond, which was  allocated alongside £20 million to tackle domestic violence and abuse and £5 million for ‘returnships’ to support people returning to work after long breaks.

The positioning of women around the front benches on significant days or when key legislation is being announced is a long-standing tradition –very few ever find themselves there by seniority, some maybe, but they are often window dressing.  And why do they need to be there at all?  Are we harking back to the days of our first female MP, Nancy Astor, who would ‘disrupt proceedings’ with claims that she knew best on issues relating to women because she was a woman?  She may have done, but it is the very old feminist debate – equal rights versus inherent suitability based on gender difference (whilst acknowledging that the gender debate is much wider today).

The history of women in parliamentary politics is much broader than the centenary of the partial franchise, it also concerns those women sitting in the chamber of the House of Commons. I am a historian and as such I cannot help but look back, it is in my DNA and I research the work of female MPs in the 1920s.  Who, you may ask?  Exactly my point, can you name any? I am also inclined to point out that the partial franchise in 1918 was not the only monumental piece of legislation relating to women and political power passed in 1918. While we joyously prepare to spend the Chancellor’s £5million to celebrate the centenary of the partial franchise, a very small, seemingly innocuous piece of legislation that is of equal importance also passed through Parliament that year. Sandwiched between two major pieces of legislation The Representation of the People Act 1918 and the Sex Disqualification Removal Act 1919 came 26 words that changed British democracy forever. The Parliament (Qualification of Women Act) 1918 enabled women over the age of 21 to stand for election to Parliament and changed our democracy forever. It simply stated that

“A woman shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage for being elected to or sitting or voting as a Member of the House of Commons.”


IWD 2a


That was it. No more and no less. It was ushered in quietly, three weeks later and arguably it was timed to avoid women reasonably organizing a campaign to stand in any great numbers at the 1918 General Election. It was also something of a contradiction when taken alongside the Representation of the People Act – some women over the age of 30 and with property qualification gained the vote but any woman over 21 could stand for parliament and sit as an MP.  Jennie Lee MP, elected to Parliament at the age of 24 in 1929, sat in the chamber but still could not vote as the 1928 Equal Franchise Bill had not passed into law.




In her 1926 pamphlet ‘What the Vote has Done’, Millicent Fawcett (National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship) championed the importance of the Parliamentary Qualification of Women Act amongst other legislation passed in the early 1920s.


Millicent Fawcett, What the Vote has Done, 1926 (Nancy Astor Papers MS1416/1/1/262)


Fawcett described the performance of women in elections as a result of the passing of the act that “renders it possible for a constituency to choose a woman as its representative in the House of Commons”.  Few did and even fewer women succeeded when they stood. Despite Fawcett’s pride in the success of women in the successive general elections throughout the 1920s they were few in number. Fawcett argues that those women who failed to get elected “merely shared the fate of their respective Parties.” However, the continued presence of women in the House was a reminder of the wider female electorate and the need for progressive legislation.

And so back to the £5 million windfall for the centenary. Thank you very much Chancellor but the partial franchise was arguably not the only important piece of feminist legislation in 1918.

If you would like to find out more about the centenary, the continuing magnificent job done by the Vote100 project in Parliament can be found at:

For more on early female MPs also see:


Female MP’s 1944 on the terrace of the House of Commons to celebrate Nancy Astor’s uninterrupted 25th anniversary as MP for Plymouth Sutton.


Here at the University of Reading we are also looking forward to continuing the work on women in Parliament with the vote100 project but we are also looking forward to launching the centenary of Nancy Astor taking her seat in Parliament in 2019 – watch this space for more information relating to Astor100 coming soon.



The Nancy Astor Papers can be found at:
Posted in British History, Cultural History, In the Media, Intellectual History, International History, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

International Womens’ Day: An Interview with Rebecca Rist

International Womens Day - Interview with R Rist 1This month is Womens’ History Month and today, 8th March, is International Womens’ Day.

So we’ve taken the opportunity to talk to Dr Rebecca Rist, one of the few young female academics working on the medieval papacy, and find out more about her research.






What are your research and teaching specialisations?

I am a Medievalist, specialising in European History in the High and Late Middle Ages. My research and teaching interests include the history of the papacy, crusading, heresy, Jewish-Christian relations, the medieval Church, religious belief and political ideas.


What made you choose this area?

So many reasons! An inspiring history teacher at school; a gap year in the Middle East; my Catholic upbringing; my Jewish grandfather; my original training as a Classicist which gave me proficiency in Latin and Greek; the fact that young female academics working on the medieval papacy – the ultimate place of spiritual and political male power – are few and far between…


Was there a moment when you realised that you had become a successful academic?

Yes, when my first book The Papacy and Crusading in Europe, 1198-1245 (London: Continuum, 2009) was awarded the University of Reading Early Career RETF Prize for Best Research Output (2010).


What is an exciting development currently in your area?

At the moment I am particularly interested in examining the medieval papacy’s treatment of heretics and religious dissidents in the High and Late Middle Ages. Medieval heresy is a very popular subject area but there has not been much written recently from a specifically papal perspective – looking at how different popes treated different heretical groups and how they decided who to include and exclude from the Church. This new research follows on from my recent book Popes and Jews, 1095-1291 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016) which examined papal polices towards Jews and Jewish perceptions of the papacy in the High Middle Ages.


What advice would you have for prospective students wanting to become involved in this area?

Choose an inspiring Ph.D. supervisor who works in your area of interest and be prepared to work very hard! Also, try to read as broadly as you possibly can in the field of medieval history – don’t specialise too early before you really have a grasp of the context in which your research area fits.


What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Travelling; creative writing (I am currently writing a children’s book); playing the violin; singing in my local choir.


Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

My former Cambridge Ph.D. supervisor, Jonathan Riley-Smith who was Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Cambridge, and my parents – I owe them so much – they taught me how to think critically and to question everything.

International Womens Day - Interview with R Rist 2

Posted in European History, Medieval History, News | Tagged , , , , , , , ,