posted September 5, 2012

Book Examines Changing Politics of London’s West End

Historian Dr. Marc Baer of the Hope College faculty takes a holistic approach in exploring how in the space of a bit more than a century London’s most radical and contentious election district became its most conservative and tranquil.

It’s the focus of his book “The Rise and Fall of Radical Westminster, 1780-1890,” published this summer by Palgrave Macmillan, part of the Macmillan Group of the United Kingdom.  He’s been fascinated by the topic ever since he began graduate studies in the latter 1960s, when he did his first research on London’s politics.

“What struck me as interesting about that place is the reputation it had in the 18th century for its politics being extremely violent,” said Baer, a specialist in modern British history.  “One hundred years later, it’s the most conservative and it’s also the quietest—and that’s remained true down to today.  And that conundrum grabbed me.”

Baer, who is a professor of history and chairperson of the department, considers multiple dynamics as he tracks the change in political culture in Westminster—home of Parliament, Westminster Cathedral and Big Ben—as England made the transition to modern democracy.  The 350-page hardcover book examines developments in political language; the role of crowds and the decline of disorder; the evolution of political rituals and civil society; the use of civic, public, private and social spaces in politics; the influence of political art; and a variety of the period’s leading figures. 

“It’s only by getting at that sum total that you can explain the answer to the question,” he said.

Baer’s research focuses on the cultural, social and political history of Britain, especially London, since the late 18th century.  His first book, “Theatre and Disorder in Late Georgian London," was published in 1992 by Oxford University Press. He is currently completing a book on seven major Christian figures in Britain c. 1750-1950.  As well, he has published 17 articles and given 40 papers or invited addresses.

A member of the Hope faculty since 1983, he teaches courses including “British and Irish History to 1700,” “British and Irish History Since 1700,” “Modern Imperialism,” “London Histories” and the “History Seminar,” as well as “Introduction to Modern European History” in the college’s Cultural Heritage program and “Exploring Faith and Calling” in the Senior Seminar program.

His external awards and honors include three fellowships through the Summer Seminar program of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). He has also held research grants from the NEH, the American Philosophical Society and the Michigan Council for the Humanities, in addition to local organizations such as the Padnos Educational Fund and the Holland Community Foundation.  Through the years he has also been active in a variety of professional associations.

He spearheaded the effort to organize the college’s “Veritas Forum,” a three-day event which considers Christian faith and the life of the mind from a variety of perspectives.  The event debuted in January 1997 and has been held every two years since, most recently in January 2011.  He is also the founding director of the college’s Pew Society Program, which began during the 1997-98 school year, and which mentors students considering an academic career.

Among other activities, he has co-led a Hope spring break mission trip to New York City and participated in a seminar during the college’s 1999 “Winter Happening” regarding a 1998 trip to India by Hope students, faculty and staff to share the experience of Hope’s contemporary worship program with colleagues at Indian Christian colleges.  He delivered the college’s Opening Convocation addresses in August 1997 and August 2011.  In May 2001, he received Hope’s Vanderbush-Weller Development Fund award for having a strong, positive impact on students.

He joined the faculty as an assistant professor of history, and was promoted to associate professor in 1986 and full professor in 1992.  Prior to coming to Hope, he taught at Frostburg State University, where he was named “Teacher of the Year” in 1983, and Case Western Reserve University.

He holds his bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University, and his master’s and doctorate from the University of Iowa.  He has been married to his wife Patricia for 40 years.  Together they have three children and four grandchildren.