Faculty Present in London on 800th Anniversary of Magna Carta

| January 16, 2015
Department of History, Politics, and International Relations faculty members Gwyneth Williams and David Pennington traveled to London to present at a Magna Carta conference about the Magna Carta, on the occasion of its 800th birthday. Shown with Williams and Pennington are Lady Sophie Laws and Tom Russo.

Webster University professors Gwyneth Williams and David Pennington (left) traveled to London to present at a Magna Carta conference. Shown with Williams and Pennington are fellow presenters Lady Sophie Laws and Tom Russo.

Faculty across Webster University are celebrating its centennial in 2015. For faculty in the Department of History, Politics, and International Relations in the College of Arts and Sciences, this year also marks another historic milestone: the octocentennial of the Magna Carta (“The Great Charter”). The document signed by England’s King John in 1215 is widely viewed as one of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy, as it established the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law.

David Pennington, assistant professor of history, and Gwyneth Williams, professor of political science, traveled to London in January to participate in a symposium on Magna Carta at the International Partners Conference at Regents University/Webster University London. Pennington and Williams were joined by professors Tom Russo of Drury University, who presented the political and intellectual context of the actual signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, and Lady Sophie Laws of  Regents University.

The Importance of Magna Carta in English History and U.S. Political Thought

Pennington’s presentation explored the importance of Magna Carta in the decades leading up to the English Civil War of 1642-1649. Parliament and taxpayers’ belief that royal government ought to be limited by the liberties enshrined in Magna Carta severely hamstrung the early Stuart monarchs, leaving them unable to quell revolts in Scotland, Ireland, and ultimately, England itself.

Williams focused on the symbolic meaning of the Magna Carta to American political thought, from the time of the first colonial settlements to the present. She emphasized the ways in which the American and British interpretations of the Magna Carta began to differ in the 18th century, resulting in the document ultimately having more symbolic importance to Americans than to the British.

While in London, Pennington spent several days in the British Library researching the diaries of members of the House of Commons from the year 1624 as part of a larger project which explores how political conflicts in Elizabeth and Stuart parliaments reshaped England’s political economy.

Williams attended the exhibition “Women Fashion Power” at the Design Museum in London, of which she is writing a review for the Journal of Fashion, Style, and Popular Culture. This exhibition explored the ways in which powerful women have used clothing to express their influence and sense of self.

“I really appreciate Webster’s willingness to fund these opportunities for professional development,” Williams said. “This is what makes us a truly global university.”

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