Saturday, 7 January 2012

Conference in memory of Professor Philip M. Taylor

Philip (Phil) Taylor was an intellectual powerhouse in International Communications. He was the first Chair of the subject in the UK, and helped to create the Institute of Communications Studies at the University of Leeds. I am proud to have been his PhD student (1991-94) and, since my return to Leeds in 2007, his colleague and friend. His histories of public and cultural diplomacy and propaganda are outstanding and remain the seminal works in the field today. His 1981 book, The Projection of Britain: British Overseas Publicity and Propaganda, 1919-1939, first published in 1981 and reissued in 2007, is by far his most enduring work. Based on careful archival research, The Projection of Britain is as relevant today as it ever was and should be read by every student of international communications, and should inspire every PhD student wanting to know how to research and write on historical subject matter. Phil later branched into more contemporary scholarship and was in constant demand by militaries around the world who sought his advice on communications and information strategy in the so-called 'war on terror'. His work, always informed by his all-round historical perspective, was devoted to demonstrating how communications can save lives, and he took each death of members of the US or UK psyops teams in Iraq and Afghanistan very personally.

I was honoured to organise a conference in his memory on 16th and 17th December 2011 in the University of Leeds to coincide with the first anniversary of his untimely passing. 'Organised' is used here loosely: in fact the organisation of the conference was really down to one of our star PhD students, Molly Sisson, who writes her own blog on her research on student exchanges and public diplomacy ( Many, many thanks to Molly for all her hard work on this conference.

So many of Phil's colleagues, collaborators and former students from all over the world gathered in Leeds to talk about their own research in three key areas - the history of propaganda, contemporary strategic communications, and war journalism - and to reflect on Phil's impact and legacy. The list of participants is too long for this blog, but I was delighted that journalist Paul Moorcraft, Davids Culbert and Ellwood, Nick Cull, Michael Nelson from Reuters, Stephen Badsey, Kate Utting, James Chapman, Jeffrey Richards and Piers Robinson all attended. Junior scholars, always very important to Phil, were represented by many of his former PhD students - Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob, Cristina Archetti, Elina Bardach-Yalov, and of course Molly Sisson - and Edward Corse who has just completed his PhD thesis on the British Council between the wars, thus bringing us full circle to Phil's intellectual origins. The highlight of the conference was undoubtedly the talk delivered by the BBC's Kate Adie on her experiences as a war correspondent. Phil always told a story about how Kate had saved his life in Beirut, though we are sure the story got bigger and bigger every time he told it.

Dr Cristina Archetti and Paul Moorcraft

Kate Adie and Gary Rawnsley with some of the current MA students in ICS

Molly Sisson, Professor Nick Cull, Dr Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob, Dr Elina Bardach-Yalov

Professors Gary Rawnsley, Nick Cull, David Culbert and David Ellwood

Professor Ed Spiers, Professor David Culbert, Dr Kate Utting, Professor Stephen Badsey

I should take this opportunity to thank Professor David Welch of the University of Kent at Canterbury for providing some much needed funding for the conference. David is editing a festschrift for Phil that will include many of the papers presented at the conference.

Phil helped to design the interior of the Institute's new home on the Leeds University campus. He was particularly proud of the cinema, and so it seemed appropriate to organise a ceremony at the conference to name this room The Philip M. Taylor Cinema. The plaque was unveiled by the Vice Chancellor of Leeds University, Professor Michael Arthur and Phil's widow, Sue Heward.

Professor Michael Arthur, Sue Heward, Professor Gary Rawnsley, and Judith Stamper (Acting Head of ICS) outside the Philip M. Taylor Cinema at the University of Leeds

We will all continue to miss Phil. He was such a commanding presence in many people's lives, but the work goes on. His website - a 'one stop shop' for resources relating to international communciations, propaganda and public diplomacy - is available at

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