History Faculty James Ford Lectures

The Ford Lectures in British History were founded by a bequest from James Ford, and inaugurated by S.R.Gardiner in 1896-7. Since then, an annual series has been delivered over six weeks in the Hilary term and they have long been established as the most prestigious series in Oxford and an important annual event in the History Faculty calendar.

Though sometimes elected from among the Oxford History Faculty, the Ford Lecturer is often a distinguished visitor from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, or further afield; towards the end of the series, the Lecturer generally convenes a seminar for faculty members and students, where the themes and ideas of the series are discussed. Alternating between medieval, early modern and modern history, the Lectures have provided a showcase allowing distinguished scholars to present their work to an Oxford audience, in a scholarly but accessible way; the attendance, which is often very large, habitually includes people from outside Oxford. The Lectures invariably result in important books, many of them classic and pioneering works of British history.

The James Ford Lectures in Hilary Term 2020

Family and Empire:

Kinship and British Colonialism in the East India Company Era, c. 1750-1850 


Professor Margot Finn

(President of the Royal Historical Society & Chair in Modern British History at University College London)


These lectures investigate the structures and aspirations of the family as central forces that propelled and maintained the upsurge of British imperialism that marked the century from Robert Clive’s celebrated victory at Plassey in 1757 to the declaration of Crown rule in India in 1858.  Historians hotly dispute the causes of British imperial expansion, variously ascribing colonial conquest in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to ideological, cultural, political and economic push factors.  By taking family and kinship—in their myriad British and cross-cultural forms—as its focal points, this series of lectures reassesses and resituates these interpretations.  It also takes seriously the contribution made to East India Company rule on the subcontinent by the forgotten majority of the British population: woman and children.  Without reducing empire to family, the lectures argue that family imperatives made British empire in India both desirable and possible.  Contested understandings of kinship, moreover, lay at the heart of British understandings (and misunderstandings) of Indian politics in this period.  Family writ large thus emerged as a powerful and contentious paradigm for governance in the Company era.  To exemplify these lines of argument, the lectures address topics that include demographic growth, marriage, perceptions of racial difference, property relations, the material cultures of East India Company homes and Georgian and Victorian conceptions of dynastic politics.  


Please see the History Faculty's event webpage for more details.