About Us

The Stubbs Society for Foreign Affairs and Defence is an undergraduate society at the University of Oxford.

Today we live in a world with fewer democracies, where armed conflict is closer to home than it has been in 75 years, and where Britain’s role in international affairs and development has changed dramatically.

We host distinguished speakers from the fields of foreign affairs and defence. As well as speakers, we run seminars, debates, social events, a blog, and an essay prize – The Brearley Essay Prize – for sixth formers.

Members of the Stubbs Society have a unique opportunity to learn from and connect with leaders in this field, as well as a chance to share and develop their own expertise through our seminars, debates, and blog. In the future, we hope to further our international cause by establishing relationships with universities around the world.

In recent years, speakers have included Sir Malcom Rifkind (Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary), Kate Adie (Chief News Correspondent for BBC News), Sir Mark Sedwill (Head of the Civil Service), Wazhma Frogh (Afghan women’s rights activist), Lord Patten (last Governor of Hong Kong and Chancellor of the University of Oxford), and Ben Ferencz (last living prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials).

Our History

A black and white photograph of the original members of the Stubbs Society in 1884. They are all dressed in dark suits, some with bowler hats, some in their academic gown and cap. "In the group Archbishop Lang is standing behind Dr. Stubbs' left shoulder - Bishop Henson sits below the Professor's feet. Of four members who afterwards went into the House of Commons, T. E. Ellis is the third figure from the left in the third row; Marriott, in cap and gown, is seated; Ryland Adkins is the extreme right-hand figure of the whole group; I myself am standing at the back in the point of the arch. The bald sitter on Dr. Stubbs' left is our American friend, Brearley, who first induced the Professor to act as father and patron to the Society, and who was the first secretary."
The original members of the Oxford Historical Seminar (later Stubbs Society) in 1882. From Sir Charles Oman’s Memories of Victorian Oxford, 1941.

The ‘Oxford Historical Seminar’ was started in 1882 by the American student Samuel A Brearley Jr. Two years later in 1884, this became the ‘Stubbs Society’, named after the then Regius Professor of Modern History, later Bishop of Oxford, William Stubbs.

William Stubbs by Sarah Angelina Acland, 1895. NPGx34767.

The group photo above includes four future Members of Parliament, one future Archbishop of Canterbury (Lord Lang), and multiple future academics.

The early days of the society involved a great deal of insightful debate in sophisticated topics, such as the connection between Lollardism and enemies of the Lancastrians.

Cosmo Gordon Lang, Baron Lang of Lambeth, by Carl Vandyk, c.1910. NPGx28741

Times have certainly changed since 1884 – it was declared in the Society’s constitution that they would raise a toast to the Greek muse Clio with mulled claret before their meetings.

Women were first admitted to the Society in 1939, 30 years before the Oxford Union. Ann Faber was elected President in 1942. One of the earliest woman members was Agnes Headlam-Morley, who later became the Montague Burton Professor of International Relations and the first woman to be appointed a chair at the University of Oxford.

A painting Agnes Headlam-Morley sitting on an arm chair with a black  and white cat on her lap.
Agnes Headlam-Morley by Robert Lutyens. St Hugh’s College, Oxford.