The Hist declared world's oldest student society
Posted on: 18 September 2023
The 253-year-old debating society has been recognised by Guinness World Records.
Above: The Hist auditor Áine Kennedy and fellow Hist members Katy Harrington and Tom Francis, looking at old photos in Trinity's Old Library to support the Guinness World Records bid.
Trinity College Dublin’s Historical society, more commonly known as The Hist, has been recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest student society.
The society was founded on 21 March 1770, to pursue “speeching, reading, writing and arguing, in Morality, History, Criticism, Politics, and all the useful branches of philosophy.” It precedes the foundations of both the Cambridge (1815) and Oxford (1823) unions, both of which were modelled after it.
It took the Hist two years to prove its longevity. To achieve Guinness World Records recognition, the society had to prove – by photographic evidence and other means - that it had operated without interruption since its establishment. Independent, expert witness statements in confirming the Hist’s credentials were made by renowned historians Prof. Roy Foster of Oxford University and Prof. Marianne Elliott of Liverpool University.
Hist Auditor Áine Kennedy (pictured below) said: “We are thrilled at this official recognition of our Society as a seminal institution in student intellectual debate, organisation, and action. The Hist continues to devote itself to learning lessons from the past and discussing the most pressing issues of our day. This achievement demonstrates a remarkable tradition of encouraging student voices, radical discourse, and oratorical excellence.
“For over two and a half centuries, the Hist has continued to cultivate these ideals. I want to acknowledge the time and effort invested by previous auditors into proving our case as the world’s oldest student society and thank our alumni for their unwavering support”.
Nick Adams, on behalf of Guinness World Records, said:
"On review of the expansive evidence submitted, and with the corroborating expert witness statements from historians Profs. Roy Foster and Marianne Elliott, Guinness World Records™ is pleased to recognise the College Historical Society of Trinity College Dublin as the oldest student society."
To prove the Hist’s case, former auditor Luke Fehily collated an enormous volume of evidence of the society’s longevity and continuous activity from the extensive records collection of Trinity’s Library, contemporary newspaper articles from the Irish Times archive, and historical essays. Hunting down the evidence was difficult. At times, the Society had a troubled relationship with the College authorities, particularly when it was led by revolutionaries Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet. The Hist was expelled twice by the College Board, but there was unambiguous evidence that the Society continued to exist and meet during that period.
After the Hist was readmitted in 1843, W. B. S. Taylor in his History of the University of Dublin  wrote that "Although twice under the ban of the college authority, [the College Historical Society] has always preserved a real existence”.
The Hist will officially receive its Guinness World Records certificate at a celebratory dinner on 20 October 2023.
This will form part of a week-long series of events, including:
· Corresponding Societies Debate, GMB (Graduate Memorial Building) Chamber, 19.30-21.30 18 October 2023 (open to public) .
· The Future of University Education – Exam Hall panel discussion, 1300-1400 20 October 2023 (open to public).
· On the Importance of Student Debate. Keynote address 1500, 20 October 2023 (open to public) .