Churchill Archives Centre By-Fellowship Report — Dr Aaron Donaghy

17th December 2015 in Archives Centre, People

Dr Aaron Donaghy

Dr Aaron Donaghy.

I had the great pleasure of spending the Michaelmas term as Archives By-Fellow at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, in 2015-16. Moreover, I had the privilege of being the first recipient of the John Antcliffe Memorial Fund, awarded for research on the Margaret Thatcher era. The experience was as enjoyable as it was enlightening.

My research focuses on the late Cold War era, circa 1979-89, with respect to British and American foreign policy, as well as the Anglo-American relationship itself. Having spent some time at the UK National Archives in Kew to study the official government files, the By-Fellowship at Churchill allowed me the opportunity to examine the private papers of an array of political luminaries, most notably Margaret Thatcher, one of Britain’s most formidable prime ministers.

The vast quantity of material in the Archives Centre provided valuable insight into the machinery of foreign policy during Thatcher’s premiership. This included her correspondence with the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank (on which Thatcher relied as an alternative to the Foreign Office), and the work of the Conservative Research Department, both plentiful within the Thatcher papers. George Urban’s papers, recounting his thoughts as one of Thatcher’s closest foreign policy advisers, shed light on British strategy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and East-West relations – the great overseas challenge of the time. Neil Kinnock’s papers, meanwhile, provided a wider domestic political perspective during his period as Leader of the Opposition, and the differing views he held on certain issues. I also examined the papers of Peter Jay, British ambassador to the United States, which contained valuable information on the Carter administration, Anglo-American relations, and the Cold War; setting the political context for 1979, when Thatcher became prime minister.

Undoubtedly, Lady Thatcher’s papers commanded most of my attention. I examined her personal correspondence with important foreign leaders, such as Reagan, Carter, Schmidt, Mitterand and Trudeau, as a ‘Second Cold War’ emerged. I also looked closely at Thatcher’s dealings with successive Soviet leaders during her earlier years in office (Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko all died in the space of three years), and the tentative beginnings of a relationship with a different kind of Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. Extensive use was made of papers relating to Thatcher’s bilateral meetings, summits and overseas visits, particularly to the United States, where she was held in such high esteem. The Thatcher papers also enabled me to learn more about other foreign issues which were vital to British interests, most notably the Falklands War, Northern Ireland, and South Africa.

The By-Fellowship experience was wonderful. It was a great pleasure to meet with other fellows from various different research backgrounds, including Warren Dockter and Peter Sloman. I have already made useful contacts and been afforded the opportunity to contribute a book chapter (which will concern Thatcher’s foreign affairs private secretaries). I owe an enormous debt to Allen Packwood (Director of the Archives Centre), Andrew Riley (Archivist for the Thatcher papers), Barry Phipps (Curator of Works of Art), as well as the archives staff. All were very gracious and helpful with their time. I would also like to thank Melinda Gilbert and everyone involved with the John Antcliffe Memorial Fund for their kind support. The By-Fellowship gave me the chance to meet some of the world’s leading historians and political scientists, such as David Reynolds, Brendan Simms and Andrew Preston. Particularly enjoyable was The Challenge of Political Leadership Symposium held at Churchill College, organised by the Archives Centre and the Møller Centre, at which Charles Clarke and Lord Mandelson were guest speakers. I was especially pleased to be present at the launch of the Sir Winston Churchill exhibition in the Wolfson Foyer, opened by his great grandson to mark the 50th anniversary of his passing.

The wealth of information I have acquired in the Archives Centre will be of enormous benefit as I begin work on a monograph and journal articles, and continue my academic career. I will move to Cornell University, New York, in 2016, to begin an EU Marie Curie global fellowship, where my historical and political research will continue. However, I certainly intend to return to Churchill during this time. To that end, I look forward to maintaining my connections here in Cambridge, and hope to work on future collaborative projects while in the United States.

— Dr Aaron Donaghy, Cambridge, 8 December 2015.


Subscribe to Churchill Archives Centre News

Receive the latest Churchill Archives news by email:



Subscribe to the Churchill Archives News RSS feed:

RSS feed

Share