Available to play back in full, this debate on history and conspiracy touches on the Suez Crisis, Stalin's Russia, the assassination of John F Kennedy, Watergate, the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland and more.


"The further you go from the broad political centre ground, the more you find people who are attracted by conspiracy theories"

Christopher Andrew

How do conspiracies happen, how can historians use them to understand more about the past, and where do they begin and cease to be relevant to the study of history? Such questions were the starting point for this panel debate, in which Professor Christopher Andrew and Dr Stephen Dorril examine cases from Stalinist Russia, Harold Wilson’s government in the 1960s, and Northern Ireland in the 1970s, to name but a few.

The debate took place on Wednesday, 20 February, 2013 and was part of the Public and Popular History seminar series, run by the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge.

Professor Christopher Andrew has been working on the history of international relations and the intelligence services for nearly four decades. In 2003 he was appointed to produce the official history Britain’s Security Service MI5, which was published on the occasion of the service’s centennial in 2009 (The Defence Of The Realm: The Authorised History Of MI5). Among his many other publications, the one to attract most attention was his collaboration with the KGB defector and archivist, Vassili Mitrokhin, who over the course of several years recopied vast numbers of KGB archive documents as they were being moved for long storage. The two-volume work which resulted from this collaboration (The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB, 1999; and The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, 2005) is widely considered the most authoritative word on the KGB to date.

Dr Stephen Dorril, who lectures in the Journalism Department at the University of Huddersfield, specialises in the activities of the British security and intelligence services in the post-World War II period. In 1981 he co-founded Lobster, a journal of “parapolitics”, which covered such areas as the Kennedy Assassination, “The Troubles” and the “plots” against Harold Wilson, and was at the forefront of establishing the claims of Northern Ireland whistleblowers Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd. His post-war history of MI6 operations, Fifty Years of Legal Thuggery, was based almost entirely on open sources, while his biography and history of Oswald Mosley and British Fascism utilised the Freedom of Information Acts in twelve different countries (Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism, 2006). He recently completed a paper on MI6 and its relationship with journalists during the Cold War and is currently completing books on MI6 and Gladio (the European stay-behind networks), and a history of British intelligence involvement in Ireland (both North and South) from 1966 to 1996.


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