At a historian’s graveside

Academic conferences don’t routinely make a pilgrimage to the gravesides of their subjects, but at last weekend’s session on Thomas Frederick Tout: Refashioning History in the 20th Century, held at the Institute of Historical Research delegates did visit Tout’s grave in Hampstead parish church.

Tout’s grave in Hampstead parish church. The inscription is from Chaucer’s prologue to the Canterbury Tales, And gladly would he learn and gladly teach. The unusual deadboard or leaping board style allowed for the later burial of Tout’s wife, Mary Tout née Johnstone to be added to the other side.

Tout wrote on the reignof Edward II and on the Administrative history of medieval England, but also helped found the Manchester school of history, and pioneered what we would later call the ‘specialised’ approach to the teaching of history which included an undergraduate dissertation. What had been planned as a modest discussion amongst a select group of scholars attracted speakers and delegates from the United Kingdom and Ireland, the United States and Canada, and Australia.

Few historians can expect their works to be used and read nearly a century after their deaths, but Tout’s place in intellectual history, in the foundation of history as a profession, and in his exploration of the history of the fourteenth century seems to have maintained its hold on scholars across the world. The conference was attended by members of Tout’s family, including his grandson and great-granddaughter.

grave party
Tout’s grandson, Tom Sharpe, at the graveside with Professor Seymour Phillips, modern biographer of Edward II in the foreground.

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