SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Workshop on History, Security and Arms Control

Dr Caitríona McLeish and Prof Brian Balmer (UCL) organised a one-day international workshop to explore the role that history has had, or could have, for arms control and security.

Held in London on 22 June 2016, as part of the research project ‘Understanding Biological Disarmament: The Historical Context of the Biological Weapons Convention’, the workshop focused on the history of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in order to explore and address the following themes: 

  • What constructive and practical conclusions can be drawn from historical studies of security and arms control for policy-makers and practitioners?
  • What are the limits of the utility of history?
  • What is the relationship between researchers and the non-academic community? 
  • How do the products and practice of historical research differ when historians are ‘embedded’ in the organisations they are researching?
  • What role can ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘unsettling’ histories play in informing security or arms control policy and practice?

Those attending came from government, academia and civil society and, amongst other things, enjoyed talks from: 

  • Dr Anna Feigenbaum, Bournemouth University, on a communications approach to historical work in this field
  • Professor Michael Goodman, Kings College London, on his role as the official historian of the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee
  • Professor Jeanne Guillemin, MIT, on what social scientists have to offer historical work in these areas
  • Professor Jacob Hamblin, Oregon State University, on the scientific contexts of total war and arming Mother Nature
  • Professor Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, George Mason University, and Professor Kathleen Vogel, North Carolina State University, on the use of oral history methodology to capture memories of those involved in the US and Soviet bioweapons programs and how memory of the past can inform current international security problems
  • Professor Brian Rappert, University of Exeter, on researching and writing about uncomfortable histories
  • Professor John Simpson, Southampton University, on the role of academic advisers in negotiations
  • Dr John Walker, ACRDU, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on how history supports arms control and disarmament work in the UK

Mr Nicholas Sims, LSE, provided the closing remarks for the day with his talk on ‘Setting the record straight?  Disarmers, diplomats and historians’.

In addition four students at different stages in the doctoral process briefly introduced their work, including Alex Ghionis who will be starting at SPRU in September. 

This workshop is the last in a series of events that are associated with the AHRC funded project ‘Understanding Biological Disarmament: The Historical Context of the Biological Weapons Convention’ for which Prof. Brian Balmer is the Principal Investigator, Dr Caitríona McLeish is the Co-Investigator and Dr Alex Spelling is post-doctoral research associate.