Learning and Researching at QuB

Spotlight on: Irish Studies

Why study an MA in Irish Studies at Queen’s? Hear more about this unique interdisciplinary programme from academics and students.

History Learning and Researching at QuB Life in Lockdown

Spotlight on: Public History

What’s it like to study an MA in Public History at Queen’s? The course director, Dr Leonie Hannan, recently held a webinar on this unique programme. You can watch it below to find out more.

Learning and Researching at QuB Life in Lockdown

Spotlight on: Conflict Transformation and Social Justice

What’s it like to study an MA in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s? The course director, Dr Fiona Murphy, recently held a webinar on this unique programme. You can watch it below to find out more.

Analysis of Impact / Covid-19 Learning and Researching at QuB Politics

COVID-19 and what it means for the study of Politics

Muiris MacCarthaigh
Senior Lecturer in Politics

In this short video, political scientists at Queen’s University Belfast – Dr Muiris MacCarthaigh, Dr Elodie Fabre, Dr Andrew Thomson, and Dr Stefan Andreasson – share their perspectives on COVID-19’s impact on the study of politics.

Learning and Researching at QuB

A History of Pandemics

As Covid-19 affects us all in unexpected ways, academics at Queen’s have looked back at pandemics from the past. Dr John Curran looks at pandemics in the Ancient World; Dr James Davis examines the horrific scale of the Black Death in the fourteenth century; and Dr Marilina Cesario highlights how people thought comets were a portent of disease and death. How did society cope and what was the broader impact of disease? You can access the podcasts by clicking the image below:

Learning and Researching at QuB Politics

Ending of the hybrid House of Commons breached fundamental democratic principles

Professor Meg Russell, Director, Constitution Unit, UCL
Dr Ruth Fox, Director, Hansard Society
Professor Michael Keating FBA and Professor Nicola McEwen, Co-Directors, Centre on Constitutional Change, Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen
Professor John Garry, Director, Democracy Unit, Queen’s University Belfast
Professor Graham Smith, Director, Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster
Professor Cristina Leston-Bandeira, Co-Director, Centre for Democratic Engagement, University of Leeds
Tim Hughes, Director, The Involve Foundation (Involve)
Anthony Zacharzewski, President, The Democratic Society 

This blog piece was originally posted on The Constitution Unit website at UCL:

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg has demanded the end of ‘hybrid’ arrangements allowing MPs to participate and vote remotely during the COVID-19 crisis. In this open letter, a group of senior democracy specialists – including Professor John Garry, Director of the Democracy Unit in HAPP – point out this breached the fundamental democratic principle of equality in decision-making, because the MPs most benefiting from remote participation (e.g. due to ‘shielding’) were excluded from the vote. They urge the Leader of the House to reinstate procedures allowing all MPs to participate fully in all Commons business.

Dear Mr Rees-Mogg

We write to express our very grave concerns about the way in which the ‘hybrid’ House of Commons was suspended. As specialists in the principles and practice of democracy it is clear to us that these actions breached fundamental democratic principles.

The ‘hybrid’ arrangements, allowing for a mix of virtual and in-person participation in parliamentary proceedings were brought about by necessity, to enable the House of Commons to continue to fulfil its essential functions of scrutiny and representation during the coronavirus crisis. Parliamentary accountability is crucial at any time, but more crucial than ever when ministers have taken unprecedented emergency powers, and the broadest possible public consent for health measures, and restrictions on citizens’ usual freedoms, is needed.

At the initial stages of the crisis there were troubling suggestions that parliament might close down completely for up to five months (as reported in The Times on 5 March). Thankfully, attention soon moved on from this drastic (and fundamentally anti-democratic) suggestion, to exploring how parliament could keep working through the crisis.

Parliamentary staff have worked tirelessly to devise innovative technological solutions to allow MPs to contribute virtually, and online select committee meetings began during the Easter recess. The Speaker, and the House of Commons Commission, offered admirable leadership, with essential additional input from the Procedure Committee. At the early stages there was a clear commitment to working on a cross-party basis to ensure that the Commons could continue to function in a way which maintained essential representation and accountability, while protecting public health. The motions on 21 and 22 April to enable members to participate and vote remotely were warmly supported by opposition parties and unanimously agreed. This consultative, cross-party approach was exactly what was needed when bringing about such far-reaching changes to the functioning of our democratic process. It showed inclusivity and maximised the chances of maintaining public trust and support.

The attempt to dismantle the hybrid arrangements has, unfortunately, followed the reverse approach. Through a lack of consultation and cross-party decision-making it has sown unnecessary division. Furthermore, it has breached the fundamental democratic and parliamentary principle of equality in decision-making, excluding many MPs from the choice about how to run their own institution. It has done so to the detriment of some of those who are most vulnerable in this crisis.

Your refusal prior to the Whitsun recess to renew the temporary orders facilitating the hybrid parliament was met with widespread criticism across the House, including from the Labour Shadow Leader of the House, and her counterpart from the SNP. At this point it was clear that the cross-party approach facilitated through the House of Commons Commission had broken down. Despite appeals that the hybrid arrangements should continue in order to protect the health of both members and the wider public, the government used its power over the House of Commons agenda to prevent the renewal of the temporary orders being discussed and decided upon. As a consequence, members’ ability to vote remotely – including those members who are ‘shielding’ due to age or serious health conditions, or who are living with others in this position – lapsed.

On the return of the House on 2 June, you proposed a motion that confirmed the ending of the hybrid arrangements. This was opposed by all opposition parties, and also by the Conservative chair of the Procedure Committee, Karen Bradley, who laid amendments which were signed by 15 other select committee chairs. Due to the government’s timing, it was clear that those members most affected by the crisis, and therefore those most dependent on the facility to participate remotely, had been excluded from the debate and from the vote. This was demonstrated by the fact that only 427 members participated in the division on Karen Bradley’s amendment to restore remote voting. Although 31 Conservative members – along with all opposition party members – supported the amendment, it was defeated. But there were over 200 MPs absent from Westminster, including 90 Conservatives, many of whom were prevented from attending for age or health-related reasons. Many of them had publicly stated that they opposed the ending of the hybrid parliament. Had the absent voters divided in the same proportion as those present, the Bradley amendment would have been only very narrowly defeated. However, it is far more likely that those absent would have supported the amendment, as it promised to restore their participation rights. 

In other words, the government only brought about the ending of the hybrid parliament through disenfranchising the very MPs that it was there to support.

You have indicated that you wished to end virtual participation in order to return to the necessary scrutiny of government legislation particularly in public bill committees. However, there has been no barrier to bill committees meeting in socially distant form at Westminster since 21 April. Had the government wished to do so, the Commons could also have run hybrid or virtual bill committees, as is now happening in the House of Lords.

Given that many MPs are unable to attend under medical advice, while others – particularly those representing areas furthest from London – are reluctant for fear of spreading the virus through travelling between Westminster and their constituencies, it remains unclear why the government has been so determined to end the hybrid arrangements. It certainly does not ‘set an example’ for employers, who would likely be subject to legal proceedings if they treated staff with serious health conditions in this way. In fact, the ending of online participation is even problematic for those members who attend: the time-consuming nature of the new voting arrangements (about which some also have health concerns) cuts into much-needed time for debate and scrutiny. Images of these arrangements have been widely shared in the UK and international media, causing much derision, and risking reputational damage to government and parliament alike.

During the debate on your proposals, and subsequently in Prime Minister’s Questions, you and the PM announced several adjustments to your original plans. These adjustments, approved by the House on 4 June, mean that MPs who are unable to travel to Westminster may continue to participate in questions and statements virtually and MPs classed as clinically vulnerable will be eligible to apply for a proxy vote. However, they will still be excluded from participation in legislative proceedings and those who are unable to travel to Westminster due to lockdown restrictions, shielding or caring responsibilities will be ineligible to vote by proxy. You have suggested pairing as a solution, but this requires MPs to be recorded as absent, and assumes that they would have followed the party line. In short, these compromise measures are far from acceptable solutions.

As you yourself repeatedly emphasised in winding up the second reading debate on the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill on Tuesday evening, democracy rests on the principle of equality. Our parliamentary democracy requires that all voters and all parts of the country be equally represented in the House of Commons by their MP. The hybrid arrangements were introduced in order to maintain that principle in exceptional times. Ending those arrangements now, when many MPs’ movements remain restricted, clearly violates the principle. We urge you to think again and reintroduce arrangements that allow all members to participate in the full range of Commons business.

History Learning and Researching at QuB

“How to explore history? 5 good reasons to do it at QUB.”

Aglaia De Angeli
Lecturer in Modern History

You may have wondered how historians can research and write about the past, explain it to a wide public, spread the knowledge to academia or to the general public, and thought I want to do that. But, where should I start? If you think that one day you will become an historian, I can tell you five good reasons how you can realize your aspiration at Queen’s University Belfast.

First: at Queen’s we teach from undergraduate to  doctoral level the whole way through to becoming an historian. We teach you how to read, research, write, and publish about American, Asian, African, European, Irish and British history, from antiquity to the present, through the lenses of social, gender, race, urban, religious and political points of view. And, you can do it with the support of our dedicated staff at HAPP.

Second: we have two MA options for students interested in history: MA in History and MA in Public History. The MA in History will teach to build your own expertise across a range of modules that offer important methodological, theoretical and source-based training opportunities. You can develop your specialism in the area of your interest or try a thematic approach, or combine both with an interdisciplinary approach. We will teach you how to become an independent researcher and prepare for your PhD.

The MA in Public History offers you the opportunity to participate in class seminars, field trips, practitioner workshops, and it teaches you the ways in which history is represented to a range of public audiences. It also provides you with a guaranteed work placement. You will be trained in historical theory and research methods to work in museums, specialising in oral and digital history, contested or difficult histories and visual representations of the past.

Third: we have a Centre for Public History that provides a lively hub for people engaged in researching, teaching, and practicing public history. It nurtures excellent research, provides a forum for debate, and develops working dialogue between academics, practitioners, and the public around issues relating to the practice of history in the public sphere. The Centre hosts monthly seminars with invited speakers both global and local in scope, such as the new Histories in the Making series, the  Keith Jeffery Annual Public History Lecture, and the Wiles Lectures.

Four: at The McClay Library we are proud to host a treasure in rare, early printed books and manuscripts of unpublished collections. Special Collections & Archives includes the printed collections of important figures such as the Scottish economist Adam Smith, John Foster, the last Speaker of the Irish House of Commons; books and pamphlets collected by Dr. Stanley Fowler Wright, Commissioner of Customs and Personal Secretary to the Inspector General of the Chinese Maritime Customs, Sir Robert Hart and the extensive historical medical collection of Dr Samuel Simms to name but a few, three maps collections relating to Ireland dating back to the mid-16th century and more than fifty individual collections of manuscripts including the personal papers of Edith Somerville; correspondence of the English Composer and Feminist, Dame Ethel Smyth; the personal papers and correspondence of Sir Robert Hart, Inspector General of the Imperial Customs, Peking, 1863-1908 as well as papers relating to communism in Ireland, and the history of science in the Thomas Andrews and James Thomson collections.

Fifth: at HAPP, in collaboration with the Centre for Public History and Special Collections, we work on many engaging international research projects, in particular  the Sir Robert Hart project. Hart, a graduate of Queen’s and later Inspector General of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs from 1863 to 1908, was the most senior Westerner in China’s metropolitan bureaucracy in the later nineteenth century. During his tenure Hart built the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs (CIMC) into the first Western-style administrative institution in China, helped to establish the postal service, lighthouses and other key elements of China’s infrastructure. He played a crucial role in China’s imperial politics, significantly influencing its internal reform and diplomatic policy.
The Sir Robert Hart Project includes the transcription of Hart’s diaries in 77 volumes and other elements of the Hart collection. The Hart Project has established collaborations with the Institute of Modern History in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing and with the China Customs Museum, Beijing.

I gave you five good reasons why you should come to QUB to study, research and explore history with us at undergraduate, Masters or PhD level. Do you want to know more? Contact us!