Simon Mackley

Professional Meetings

30th May 2013:

Imperial & Global History Network, Planning Workshop

Initial planning workshop for the development of a Imperial & Global History Network, initially comprised of PGR students from Exeter, Bristol, Plymouth and Southampton. Presented research and discussed ways in which the network might develop.


23rd January 2015:

Ex Historia Symposia Series

Paper presented: '"Standing up for the honour of old England"? British Liberal rhetoric and the aftermath of the Jameson Raid'


On the evening of 29 December 1895, Dr Leander Starr Jameson of the British South Africa Company led a force of approximately 500 men in an armed invasion of the South African Republic, a self-governing settler state occupying the Transvaal region of South Africa. The action, subsequently dubbed the Jameson Raid, aimed to overthrow the SAR’s government and install an administration more amenable to British imperial interests.  The Raid ended in total failure however, and the resulting controversy and scandal brought the South African question right to the foreground of British imperial politics.

Eschewing the traditional focus of historians on the political and economic causes of Jameson’s 
action, this paper examines the rhetorical responses of leading British Liberals to the events of the Raid, with a view to assessing the key ideals and assumptions which underpinned the Liberal Party’s approach to imperial politics in this period. In doing so it is argued that the themes of character and good governance played a central role in Liberal rhetoric on Empire. It is further suggested that in many ways Liberal rhetoric on the Raid was distinct from both earlier and later iterations of the South African question, thus potentially granting us further insights into the operation of late-Victorian Liberal imperial politics.

5th September 2014:

Victorian Sustainability - British Association for Victorian Studies conference 2014

Paper presented: 'A threat from Pretoria or a threat from Westminster? Empire, the Transvaal Crisis and the rhetoric of late-Victorian Liberalism'


The Transvaal Crisis of 1899 and the resulting South African War have long been recognised by historians as having brought the divisions and anxieties of the late-Victorian British Liberal Party over questions of Empire into stark prominence. The nature of the perceived challenge the Boer republics presented to British authority and British ideals in South Africa was fiercely contested in Liberal circles, as was the wisdom and justice of the British government’s response. While the imperial politics of the conflict represents well-trodden ground for scholars of late-Victorian Britain however, the rhetorical dimension of the crisis in relation to the Empire has been relatively neglected.

Drawing upon my wider doctoral research, this paper examines how Liberal speakers cast the crisis within the rhetoric of imperial sustainability. Making use of newspaper records as a source base, the paper will assess the rhetoric of a range of high-profile speeches from the time of the crisis, covering the run up to and the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of war. I argue that both Liberal Imperialist and pro-Boer speakers constructed narratives of the crisis based around the notion of a threat to Empire and the risk of imperial decay. In examining these rival Liberal narratives, it is suggested that both were symptomatic of an essentially ‘conservative’ Liberal imperial viewpoint, in which the strength of the Empire was understood as the product of a long-running natural or evolutionary process. Undesirable actions or situations were thus presented by Liberals of all stripes as threats to the status quo constituting a direct threat to the Empire itself. Liberal rhetoric on the crisis was therefore not only situated within wider Liberal assumptions on the nature of Empire, but drew upon broader Victorian narratives of sustainability, risk, and decline.

22nd May 2014:

The Rhetoric of Empire: Imperial Discourse and the Language of Colonial Conflict

Paper presented: '"We don’t want a pirate Empire": imperial governance, the Transvaal Crisis, and the anxieties of Liberal rhetoric on Empire'


At the dawn of the twentieth century, the British Liberal Party found itself struggling to hold a coherent line over the question of imperial affairs: in particular, Liberal speakers found themselves grappling with tensions and anxieties over how exactly to appear ‘Liberal’ when discussing the Empire. This paper makes use of speeches and newspaper reports to examine how two contrasting Liberal ideals of imperial governance emerged in Liberal rhetoric: that of good government and that of self-government. Focusing in particular on the outbreak of the Transvaal Crisis as an episode of imperial salience in British politics, this paper will explore how Liberal supporters and opponents of the conflict attempted to cast their positions and ideals of governance within the wider rhetorical framework of late-Victorian Liberalism. This paper will additionally explore how such rhetoric of governance drew upon broader Liberal assumptions about the nature of imperial expansion, the character of the Liberal imperial statesman, and the role of race in the ‘Liberal Empire’. Furthermore, it will be suggested that such disputes and anxieties over imperial affairs masked a far greater degree of consensus as to what the characteristics of an ideal ‘Liberal Empire’ would actually be.

6th February 2014:

Ex Historia Symposia Series

Paper presented: '"You would have the Empire shattered in a month": Liberal rhetoric, the Transvaal Crisis, and the idea of an Empire under threat.'
As the year 1899 drew to a close, Liberal statesmen in Britain found themselves forced to articulate responses to a rapidly escalating imperial crisis in South Africa, as long-strained relations between the British Empire and the self-governing Boer republic of the Transvaal were pushed to breaking point. The failure of negotiation and the subsequent outbreak of the South African War shattered the fragile unity of the Liberals, splitting them into factions dubbed the Liberal Imperialists and the pro-Boers, while a weakened party leadership attempted in vain to bridge the gap. Through an examination of the rhetoric of leading Liberals during the period of initial crisis, this paper eschews the traditional characterisation of the split as being one of imperialists versus anti-imperialists, instead demonstrating that both Liberal supporters and opponents of the conflict were concerned with the idea of an Empire under threat. Significantly, such threats were not limited to immediate concerns over Boer strength but were instead often founded upon more fundamental Liberal anxieties about the nature of imperial governance. In assessing the varying means by which Liberals justified their positions on the crisis in the context of such threats, it will be suggested that the crisis saw a far greater degree of unity within the Liberal Party over the principle aspects of the Empire than has generally been recognised.

21st November 2013:

Ex Historia Colloquium on Imperial and Global History

Session organiser and panellist, speaking to the question 'Imperial and Global History: a marriage of convenience?'


A summary of my reflections on the question can be found here.

9th May 2013:

Exeter-Bristol Workshop on Global & Imperial History

Paper presented: 'Speaking Liberal Empire: examining Imperial rhetoric and Liberal Politics in early-twentieth century Britain'


The significance of the Empire within British politics has in recent years increasingly become a subject of historical interest. This paper argues for the utility of rhetorical analysis as a means of assessing this question, taking as its subject the relationship of Empire to Liberal politics in Britain. Compelled to discuss the Empire during moments of crisis and political difficulty, Liberal speakers presented in their rhetoric a form of ‘Liberal Empire’.  Making use of initial research into public debates on the 1899-1902 South African War and its aftermath, this paper surveys some of the key thematic tropes of British Liberal Imperial rhetoric and assesses their significance. It also outlines the basis for examination of further case studies of ‘Liberal Empire’, and discusses the potential for such research to develop our understanding of British political history’s Imperial dimension.

1st May 2013:

College of Humanities PGR Conference 2013

Paper presented: 'Party Political Identity, the Liberal National Party and the British General Election of 1935'


The recent re-emergence of coalition politics in Britain raises a number of lines of inquiry for students of British party culture. What challenges face the junior partners of coalition governments? How do such parties retain an identity separate from that of their senior partners? And what is the significance of tradition in a disrupted and uncertain party system? This paper explores these questions through a critical reassessment of the Liberal National Party, a junior partner in the National Governments of the 1930s, establishing the methods by which the party attempted to retain a ‘Liberal’ identity while in coalition. Focusing on the Liberal Nationals’ campaign at the 1935 general election, this paper examines how the party’s leading figures sought to represent the party as distinctively Liberal, despite its alliance with the Conservatives. The rhetoric and language of the Liberal Nationals is analysed, and the significance of nomenclature, policy, and tradition to the party’s appeal assessed. In doing so, this paper suggests a need to review contemporary historical treatment of the Liberal National Party, and advocates the wider study of party political identity as a key aspect of British political culture.

Graduate School Skills Workshops

4th December 2013:

'Engaging the public with your early career research'

History department career development session, held in conjunction with the Early Career Researcher seminar series. Key areas explored included:

  • Potential audiences and partners for engagement with historical research.
  • Case studies of engagement: identifying examples of good practice and potential pitfalls.

March 2013:

Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (Stage 2)

  • Theoretical approaches to learning and interactive teaching.
  • Planning sessions and teaching preparation.
  • Assessment principles and challenges.
  • Marking and feedback.
  • Microteaching [practical session].
  • Values, teaching practices and the UK Professional Standards Framework.

January 2013:

Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (Stage 1)

  • The nature of learning in Higher Education environments.
  • I.L.Os. and their relationship to teaching, learning and assessment methods.
  • Varied approaches to teaching methods and techniques.
  • The uses of technology in teaching.