Magna carta

  M I C H A E L   P R E S T O N – S H O O T


One of four surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta. This copy is one of two held at the British Library. It came from the collection of Sir Robert Cotton, who died in 1631. In 1731, a fire at Ashburnam House in Westminster, where his library was then housed, destroyed or damaged many of the rare manuscripts, which is why this copy is burnt.

Having turned down the opportunity to undertake a doctorate in mediaeval ecclesiastical history, I entered social work with ideas that it was about contributing to social justice through working with people within their families and communities. I took a therapeutic turn after qualifying and then, once in social work education, found law as an avenue for combining the aspiration of making a difference at an individual and collective level. History continues to inform my teaching of law and of social work practice, looking to see what lessons we can learn from our individual and collective pasts.


I chose Magna Carta because …

… It combines my longstanding fascination with history with a more recent, but still some time ago, encounter with law for social work practice. Looking back over forty years in social work, I can see how social work, and the legal rules that surround and underpin it, have evolved, sometimes in keeping with social work values and research evidence and sometimes not. I can see that sometimes we have learned from social work’s history and sometimes not. Having studied mediaeval history and social work, both have informed my curiosity about how things are constructed and how we should challenge assumptions and images in order to reach a more informed understanding of our world and our position within it. Above all, however, Magna Carta’s on-going influence reinforces the importance of human rights and reminds us all that history matters and, like the present, speaks to people’s lived experience and it is that with which social workers continue to engage.

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