The Parkes Institute

The Parkes Institute, University of Southampton

University of Southampton campus

Generosity for generations

The University of Southampton’s Parkes Institute is the only centre in the world dedicated to the study of Jewish/non-Jewish relations. Often regarded as ‘a jewel in the University’s crown’, the Institute comprises a unique community of scholars, students, librarians, and archivists – with one of the largest Jewish documentation centres in Europe.

Reverend Dr James Parkes (1896–1981) was an Anglican clergyman who devoted his life to exploring the roots of antisemitism, fighting against it, and promoting good interfaith relations. He campaigned tirelessly against the rise of racist nationalism in Europe, and established the Parkes Centre to develop the work based on his substantial library and archive.

In 1965, his Centre was transferred to the University, and has since extended to become the global hub that James Parkes had hoped for. Crucially, much of this growth can be attributed to the University’s partnership with Ian Karten, whose own personal papers form part of our collections.

Ian looking at a picture of James Parkes at the Parkes Institute
Ian looking at a picture of James Parkes at the Parkes Institute

Professor Tony Kushner, James Parkes Professor in History, remains inspired by the memory of Ian. Here he tells of the deep relationship between Ian and the University:

Ian karten recieves an Honoraray PhD
Ian at his Honorary Degree ceremony in 1998

“The relationship between Ian Karten and the life work of James Parkes goes back a long way. Indeed, its origins were when Ian first came to England as a refugee from Nazi Germany where he resumed his studies. James Parkes was perhaps the first person in this country to realise, as early as the mid-1920s, the threat that Nazism posed to the Jews and to the world as a whole. Thereafter he fought against all forms of hostility against the Jewish people and did his utmost to combat prejudice. He was a practical man of action as well as an intellectual and throughout the 1930s he helped many Jews escape from Greater Germany. Many refugees stayed with James Parkes in his home in Cambridgeshire and it was there that Ian met James Parkes when he was invited for afternoon tea and dinner. The privilege of meeting James Parkes stayed with Ian for the rest of his life and on many occasions he remembered with a mixture of awe, humour and affection that summer’s day – an introduction to the very best of English eccentricity and non-conformity. Here he also saw James Parkes’ library – one that had literally taken over Parkes’ house and would be the basis of the Parkes Institute in the future. Who would have thought in 1939 that it would be this young refugee who would do more than any single individual to help realise James Parkes’ vision of creating a world famous Institute for the study of Jewish/non-Jewish relations?

Once Ian had retired and had set up his charitable trust in the 1990s it was not long before the link with the Parkes Institute was made. Whilst James Parkes had died in 1981, the University of Southampton had taken most seriously its obligation when it had agreed to take his Library in 1964. This was to be a growing resource and a live institute dedicated to teaching, outreach and research. Parkes did not want research that spoke only to itself – he wanted to make a difference to the world outside. In the early 1990s, the Parkes Institute was proving itself successful and we wanted to expand its activities. Through Ian’s astonishing generosity and enthusiasm to work in partnership with the University, we were able to establish several staff positions to help further our research and teaching during the 1990s. This enabled a real gear-change in the impact of our work and ensured a very solid foundation for the future success of the Institute.

Alongside this generous endowment giving, from the late 1990s Ian Karten also supported MA studentships for our flagship programme in Jewish History and Culture. Now a whole generation of students have benefited from that support, and many have gone onto successful careers inside and outside academia. We remain in touch with many of them and they continue to be inspired by the example of generosity that Ian provided. It was not simply the financial support – it was also the vision that Ian had of encouraging those in the way he was helped in Britain when he first arrived.

Incredibly, Ian’s generosity continued and enabled us to create the Karten Outreach and Teaching Fellow, a post occupied initially by Dr Helen Spurling. Helen created the foundation for our now extensive outreach work with schools, colleges and a range of adult education partners. This important programme continues to be supported by the Ian Karten Charitable Trust which has generously funded our postgraduate outreach fellows in recent years with outstanding results. Ian was delighted to see the work Helen was achieving and we know that he, together with James Parkes himself, would have been proud of the outreach activity which is at the heart of the Parkes Institute’s work today.

Ian Karten, together with the Trustees of the Ian Karten Charitable Trust, is one of our most significant philanthropic donors, having given more than £2 million to the University of Southampton. We now have a world class and unique Institute that is the envy of many with a superb library and archive,  eleven academics and a rich programme of teaching, outreach, research and publications. Without Ian’s support none of this would have been possible.

But as someone who has witnessed all this expansion of the Parkes Institute, I think my greatest pleasure has been to witness how much it meant to Ian Karten himself. When Ian was given an honorary doctorate by the University in 1998 it was the most joyous and moving moment of my career.

It was truly wonderful to see Ian, with Mildred and his closest friends at his side, getting the recognition he so richly deserved. Ian told me he has always felt at home at the University of Southampton. To me, a Mancunian exile, he has made Southampton seem like home. Ian’s friendship and moral support has been as encouraging as the magnificence of his financial generosity.

Ian in his garden with Professor Tony Kushner
Ian in his garden with Professor Tony Kushner

Ian Karten and the Parkes Institute were meant for each other and we thank the role of serendipity in bringing him into a chance encounter with that great man in that ominous summer of 1939.

Ian with Parkes colleagues Professors Tony Kushner and Joachim Schloer plus University of Southampton Vice Chancellor Professor Don Nutbeam
Ian with Parkes colleagues Professors Tony Kushner and Joachim Schloer plus University of Southampton Vice Chancellor Professor Don Nutbeam.

Now, as we commemorate the centenary of Ian’s birth, I feel privileged to have known and worked with Ian. He was simply an inspiration.”

Enabling scholarship

Ian Karten and his Trust have funded countless students at the University of Southampton to enable their post-graduate study in Jewish/Non-Jewish Relations. The individuals supported in this way speak of the encouragement and confidence that comes with a financial award like this from such an important donor and many of our recipients have gone on to support the development of our outreach work, further advancing Parkes activity.

Two of our Karten Scholars describe their experience and illustrate the impact of this support below:

Nicola Woodhead

Nicola Woodhead

“I would like to express my gratitude to the kindness and generosity of the Ian Karten Charitable Trust in celebration of what would have been Ian’s 100th birthday.

My studies with the Parkes Institute began during my undergraduate degree in History, where I took several modules within the Parkes Institute. My interest in Jewish History and Jewish non-Jewish Relations led me to a Masters in Jewish History and Culture, which was kindly funded by the Ian Karten Trust. It was this year that I first became an Outreach Fellow. In 2017 I returned to the Parkes Institute to pursue my PhD. My thesis focuses on the Kindertransport, specifically transmigrant Kinder by mapping both the experience of transmigrant Kinder and the memory of these experiences.

The funding for my Masters and the support throughout my doctoral studies has reduced the financial pressure considerably. The benevolence of the Trust throughout has allowed me to focus on my studies which has greatly enhanced and advanced my research. And I speak not only for myself but for fellow students who have benefited from the generosity of the Trust.

This year will be my third year working as an Outreach Fellow at the Parkes Institute, thanks to funding from the Ian Karten Trust. It has given me the privilege of being involved in widening participation schemes.

4 performers on stage during the Play outreach
Parkes staff present a 75th anniversary performance of The King of Lampedusa (Der kenig fun lampeduse), London’s most famous Yiddish play

It has been a source of pride to work with local sixth forms and colleges, fostering community relationships and raising aspirations of students. Working in this team has also provided me with opportunities to share my research. Another element of the Outreach Team I am proud of is our work with local partners in providing a Holocaust Memorial Day service in Southampton.

4 large banner posters displying the life of James Parkes
The James Parkes and the Age of Intolerance exhibition which toured around the county in 2019

Through these events, I have been able to provide research-led sessions about the Kindertransport with local audiences and sharing my research in a number of ways has allowed my presentation skills to develop further. I look forward to the events we have planned for 2021. Indeed, I hope to continue this work in future years in partnership with the Ian Karten Trust.”

Katie Power

Katie explains in this film, the impact of the Ian Karten Charitable Trust on her studies, her research and on the wonderful outreach work she has been able to achieve because of the partnership created by Ian.

Sharing the innovative work of Parkes with a wider audience

Seeking to bring the vision of James Parkes to new generations, the Parkes Institute recognises the importance of communicating its work to a broad and varied audience. The Ian Karten Charitable Trust’s funding of the Parkes Outreach Programme has enabled huge growth and development, and Dr Helen Spurling, the first Karten Outreach Fellow, speaks here about the achievements made possible by Ian and his encouragement.

“I began in post in July 2009 and, building on the good work done by Parkes colleagues before me, I was delighted to oversee the advancement of our outreach and community engagement activity. I was honoured to meet Ian and Mildred several times and share with them the wonderful feedback we had from schools and colleges, adult learners, interfaith groups, and individuals attending our lectures, seminars, workshops, and public events. It is incredibly rewarding to see up-and-coming generations recognise the value and importance of reflecting on Jewish/non-Jewish relations.

Helen with Ian and Mildred
Helen with Ian and Mildred

The Parkes Institute is fully committed to moving beyond the traditional University environment and aims to promote and provide inspiring learning activities and experiences for the wider community. Our outreach work aims to increase awareness and understanding of issues in Jewish/non-Jewish relations to the general public; encourage progression to Higher Education; raise awareness of the work of the Parkes Institute; and support widening participation and community engagement at the University of Southampton. Our current research is used to create engaging programmes that inspire attendees’ critical thinking, curiosity, scholarship, reflection and independent learning, and we have built lasting partnerships that ensure diverse audiences have a significant opportunity to explore, challenge and develop their knowledge and ideas. 

The Parkes Outreach Programme is now fully established. Significantly, it is supported each year by Karten Outreach Fellowships, which is a wonderful opportunity for doctoral students to gain experience of outreach and properly connect research and public engagement. Its successful outcomes are varied and numerous, but highlights include major established events such as commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, Interfaith Week events, regular workshops with school and college students and lifelong learners, and an annual summer school.

The creation of an outreach programme came about very much because of Ian’s vision and commitment to increasing understanding and knowledge in Jewish/non-Jewish relations. In line with James Parkes’ own intentions, we remain very grateful for this foresight and generosity because it hugely benefits diverse communities within our society as a result.

Helen Spurling

Over the years, I have spoken to so many individuals who have been moved to act or changed their thinking as a result of the Parkes Outreach Programme, and it already has a legacy that I hope Ian would be proud to have begun. I know that I will always be incredibly proud to have had the opportunity to establish this work in Ian’s name.”