Chatham House’s founders pioneered the unique and disruptive concept of an organization dedicated to the study of international affairs. Their vision altered the course of international politics and helped create the international consensus that followed the world wars.

Our history is one of building understanding between nations and driving world-changing policies. We continue to set a high bar to champion positive solutions.

Ashes of war

1919

From the ashes of war

On the sidelines of the Paris Peace Conference, the British diplomat Lionel Curtis advocates the creation of an institute for the study of international affairs. His vision is to foster mutual understanding between nations and for the institute to propose solutions to the biggest challenges facing the world.

1919

World leaders at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference
World leaders at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Picture: Getty images.

1927

1927

The Chatham House Rule

The Rule is formally adopted, encouraging a trusted environment designed to understand and resolve complex problems. The Rule states that:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

Sketch of Ghandi at Chatham House

A sketch of Gandhi made during his 1931 address at Chatham House.

1930s

A blueprint for others

The concept for an organization for the study of international affairs rapidly catches on. Others look at how Chatham House is helping to shape the way governments organize foreign policy.

Over time institute staff help found and influence institutes in Australia, Canada, East Africa, Japan, Nigeria, South Africa and elsewhere.

World leaders are drawn to Chatham House as a unique forum to share views, engage in debate, and push for change.

Mahatma Gandhi is an early speaker, telling the audience that ‘the best way of arriving at the solution to any problem, political or social, is for the protagonists of rival views to meet one another and talk things out with sincerity and candour’.

1930

Between two wars

Australian Economist Felix Somary warns a Chatham House audience that unless ways could be found to prevent tensions between France and Germany worsening, ‘the present crisis will be but a prelude to a dark period to which the historian of the future will give the name Between Two Wars’.

1930

Shaping the economic order

John Maynard Keynes considers the role of gold in the international monetary system in Chatham House study groups. His subsequent publications strongly influence the design of the Bretton Woods institutions and underpin the post-war economic recovery.

1931

After dinner complaint

A six course dinner is held to acknowledge donors to the institute. The cost of the dinner is met by Sir Abe Bailey, a South African diamond tycoon. The all male guest list draws 10 letters of complaint from female members of Chatham House.

1933

Nobel Peace Prize

Sir Norman Angell, Council Member of Chatham House, receives the prize for his 1910 work The Great Illusion. The book analyses economic interdependence and the futility of conquest.

1938

Survey of Africa

The Chatham House survey by William Malcolm Halley marks a seismic shift away from prevailing European attitudes, which had previously sought to understand the continent in terms of how best to control it.

1939

Outbreak of war

A Committee on Reconstruction begins work on postwar welfare, medical relief in Europe, air transport and future international organisations.

The best way of arriving at the solution to any problem, political or social, is for the protagonists of rival views to meet one another and talk things out with sincerity and candour.

Mahatma Gandhi, during his 1931 speech to Chatham House

Influence in conflict

1940s

Influence in conflict

Chatham House researchers generate unique insight throughout World War Two with the creation of the Foreign Research and Press Service, which provides a coherent picture of conditions in Axis-occupied countries. The Service influences British wartime intelligence and post-war planning.

Many staff relocate to Balliol College, Oxford. Others are seconded to government departments. In St James's Square the institute continues to operate under acting director, Margaret Cleeve.

The Institute arranges courses for armed services officers and provides research facilities for refugee and allied scholars.

Soldier in Chatham House

A soldier addresses a meeting at Chatham House.
An army officer addresses an audience at Chatham House.

Trucks cross the 38th parallel in Korea during the Korean War

Trucks cross the 38th parallel during the Korean War. Picture: Getty images

1950s

New tensions

As tensions rise between the Soviet Union and the West, Chatham House publishes Defence in the Cold War: the Task for the Free World and Korea - the Lie That Led To War. Insights into life behind the Iron Curtain are gathered through interviews with former citizens and dissidents.

1951

The new Europe

Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor of West Germany, addresses a Chatham House audience. He states that peace had, again and again, been wrecked on the rocks of nationalism. The only way to preserve peace in Europe would be an international community transcending national frontiers.

1953

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth

The Queen becomes patron of Chatham House. She will engage with the institute throughout her reign, receiving briefings from Chatham House staff on major events including meeting Nelson Mandela. She also gives her name to our Academy for Leadership.

1956

Elizabeth Monroe and the Suez Crisis

Elizabeth is a major contributor to the institute's work on the Middle East. She lives and works in the region as a researcher and journalist, informing the institute's understanding of major events including the Suez crisis.

1958

Promoting racial justice

The Institute of Race Relations is created from Chatham House's work promoting racial justice in the UK and internationally.

1960s

1960s

Africa's Advance

As countries in Africa start to gain independence, Chatham House is integral to the study of the complexities of transition. Hastings Banda, Kenneth Kaunda and Julius Nyerere are among the new leaders who engage with the institute, along with figures from nationalist movements like Bernard Chidzero, Eduardo Mondlane and Oliver Tambo.

1960s

Julius Nyerere carried on the shoulders of his supporters
Julius Nyerere, president designate of Tanzania, is carried on the shoulders of his jubilant supporters. Picture: Getty images.

1970s

1970s

Charting Britain's Course in Europe

The 'Europe Since 1972' study group examines the implications of the enlargement of the European Economic Community (EEC), including Britain's accession in 1973.

Business people and policy makers turn to the institute for expert briefings and deeper understanding of the EEC and Britain's place within it.

1970s

Margaret Thatcher speaking at a meeting of the party's campaign to keep Britain in the Common Market
Margaret Thatcher speaking at a meeting of the Conservative Party's campaign to keep Britain in the Common Market. Picture: Getty images.

The pace of development in the international economic system has accelerated, is still accelerating and will probably continue to accelerate... in consequence, it is out-distancing and out-growing the rather more static and rigid international political system.

Susan Strange, from 'International Economics and International Relations: A Case of Mutual Neglect'

1980s text

1980s

Sounding the alarm on climate

Following the discovery of the depletion of the Earth's ozone layer, Chatham House inaugurates an annual climate change conference to promote international cooperation on this critical global challenge.

Research on climate and environmental issues evolves from long standing work on oil and gas, the Middle East and sustainable development.

Climate

Paradise Bay, Antarctica, in 1981.
Paradise Bay, Antarctica, in 1981. Picture: Getty images.

Reagan

President Reagan addresses the institute.

In from the cold

1990s

In from the cold

In the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the institute facilitates track-two diplomacy and direct engagement with governments of former Warsaw Pact countries.

The Institute partners with the BBC on a major 10 part radio series, The World That Came In From The Cold. Listen to episodes now.

1990s

Shaking hands through the Berlin Wall.
Shaking hands through the Berlin Wall. Picture: Getty images.

New York Firefighters amid the rubble of the World Trade Centre following the 9/11 attacks.

New York Firefighters amid the rubble of the World Trade Centre following the 9/11 attacks. Picture: Getty images.

2000s

International terrorism

In the wake of 9/11, research is stepped up on the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, international security and international law.

2001

United States Discussion Group

The Group is created to assess America’s response to 9/11. Based outside the United States, the forum allows for a more open and nuanced discussion of the issues than is perhaps possible in the US itself.

2002

Managing interdependence

The institute publishes Controlling Imports of Illegal Timber: Options For Europe, providing ideas for how the EU can use its regulatory power to tackle illegal logging.

2002

Forest governance

Chatham House is an early adopter of research on forest governance, illegal logging and deforestation. The institute identifies robust and effective policies and, in particular, shapes the EU FLEGT Action Plan - the European Union’s initiative to combat illegal logging.

2005

The Chatham House Prize

President Victor Yushchenko of Ukraine is the first recipient of the award, presented by Her Majesty The Queen. This annual award recognises an individual or organization that has made a significant contribution to the improvement of international relations. Prizewinners are voted for by the institute’s members.

2005

The Iraq war

The Institute's research paper, Security, Terrorism and the UK links the growing threat of terrorism in the UK with the invasion of Iraq. It is widely cited and provokes strong criticism from the UK government.

2006

Oil Titans

The book provides a rare insight into how state-owned companies are striking a balance between their national mission and their commercial needs, breaking from the US-centered narrative which was typical of the time.

The Asian century

2010s

The Asian century

China's economy and influence grow, along with global concerns about the impact of rapid industrialization and climate change.

Analysis from Chatham House influence’s China’s establishment of low-carbon economic zones - including in Jilin City - ensuring integrated, international action on sustainable development between China and the EU.

The institute launches a new research centre to explore a sustainable, thriving resource economy for citizens and the environment. The Hoffmann Centre’s ‘Reinventing’ series explores how new technologies will better meet future and social and environmental needs.

2010s

water being released from the Three Gorges Dam, a gigantic hydropower project on the Yangtze river, in Yichang, central China's Hubei province.
Water being released from the Three Gorges Dam, a gigantic hydropower project on the Yangtze river, in China's Hubei province. Picture: Getty images.

Attenborough

In conversation wiht David Attenborough and the BBC Studios Natural HIstory Unit.

International problems have never been more international, more crucial and more pressing than they are today.

David Attenborough, winner of the 2019 Chatham House Prize

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