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Department Newsletter

Department Newsletter

Department Newsletter

Weekly update from the Head of Department

Newletters by Date

Hello all


es, we did it! We got through this crazy academic year. For some of you this will mark the end of your undergraduate studies or progression into the next year [or to MA study]; for our postgrads it will mark, perhaps, a temporary pause, before research continues in earnest over the summer. For our academics, it signals relief: relief that we have got you, our students, through the year, and relief that we now a moment to transition into research and, a little rest. We certainly all deserve a break and time to reflect on what we have all achieved this year. We have all been through something significant, and whilst that represents a personal triumph for each of us, it also represents a big achievement for us as a department community. Countless emails, module surveys and conversations over the last year, have demonstrated how we have all appreciated each other, worked hard to keep our ‘show on the [virtual] road’ and even had social (and baking!) successes too. My priority has been Building Bridges and Being Well and I think we have managed to achieve that and, indeed, continue to like and respect each other! I am incredibly proud of the department and what we have managed to do and be, despite being online and all over the place [steady, I meant geographically ..!]

Based on the information available to us now, we are excited to be planning to return to studying on campus in September. We’re planning a mix of face-to-face, on campus, teaching and learning support, with some digital elements. We hope that all legal restrictions will be removed by September so there will be a  full programme of face-to-face events and experiences. The college is also planning for facilities such as the Library, gym, cafés and bars to be open and a full range of student support services. More details on dept teaching and the return to campus will come over the summer.

But before that, we have this term to put to bed and it’s been another busy week…

Bibliophilos: Books and Learning in the Byzantine World, coedited by Dr Charalambos Dendrinos was published this week. It is a Festschrift in honour of the distinguished Byzantinist Costas N. Constantinides. The title of the volume reflects Professor Constantinides’ major contribution to the fields of Greek palaeography,Byzantine history, scholarship and education, and Cypriot manuscripts and culture.

The Sultan Saladin's travels continue with a Portuguese edition of Professor Jonathan Phillips book A vida e a lenda do Sultao Saladino published this week.


The book has had lots of media attention such as big reviews in Portugal's principal newspapers, radio features , a TV book review and forthcoming TV interview. It was also mentioned in a lecture delivered by a cleric in Ramadan

Today  from 5 to 6 p.m the Historical Fiction book club will welcome  Dr Alison Knight as the guest co-host for the final session of the year, a discussion of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. As usual, please feel free to join the discussion if you haven't finished the book (or have only seen the television series, or are just curious!). As usual, the discussion will run from 5 to 6, but those who would like to stay for a few minutes afterward to plan for next autumn are very welcome to do so! Be thinking about what books you would most like to read and talk about next year!

The Online Seminar Series organised by the Women’s History Network continues next Wednesday 16th June 2021 at 4pm with two speakers, Rachel Alexandra Chua (PhD Candidate, University College London) with ‘Space, Gender, and Medicine: Chinese Female Doctors in the Late Qing and Early Republican Periods’, and Dr Xuejiao FU (PhD graduate from the School of Oriental and African Studies) with ‘Western Art Music Education and Chinese Women in Republic China, 1917-1948’. Click here to register:, and abstracts can be found here:

Every week it is such a privilege hearing from you about what you have been doing and have achieved, and this message from Daniel Seal, a 2nd year PhD student, couldn’t be a better example:

‘It’s safe to say it’s been an academic year like no other this side of the year 200.  For me, as someone who works on the history and archaeology of medicine, disability, and disease, it’s been an interesting and challenging experience – witnessing events first-hand, knowing that someday future scholars in my own discipline, will be examining these days.  To help them, I’ve put together a small collection of newspaper stories, photographs, and objects of significance.  It includes my diary, and tickets for a music festival which never happened.  While it’s not possible to put the pandemic to one side, 2020 will also always be, for me at least, the year I became blind, while 2021 will be the year I had regained my sight after surgery on both eyes a few months ago.  In the space of five months, I went from struggling a bit with reading, to being unable to make out the largest letters on an eye chart, and a few months after that I could distinguish between light and dark, but that was about it.  There’s a deep irony to this as the topic of my thesis is blindness, deafness, and mutism in medieval English miracle literature!  I’ve recently been commissioned to write a piece for Wellcome Collection Stories on the experience and how becoming functionally blind gave me an insight into the evidence in my thesis in a way I would never otherwise have had.  It should be out at some point over the summer.’    

What an inspiring story which sums up the ‘can do’ attitude of so many students in the department. Thanks to Daniel.

Final year students should keep an eye out for a special newsletter for finalists only, which will drop into your inbox over the next couple of weeks. This will provided details of the postponed Graduation Ceremonies.

For finalists, and second year students, the College has launched a new scheme of placements this summer.  Each placement project will last for approximately one month between July-September 2021.Upon completion of the placement, each student will be paid a stipend of £1200. Application is simple – click on this link to read more about each placement, and apply by submitting a CV and statement of suitability.

At the end of this academic year, we will be bidding a very fond farewell to Professor Francis Robinson after almost 50 years, and Professor Helen Graham, also long-serving (although not for that long!) both have been incredibly popular and prolific members of the department with internationally acclaimed research as well teaching popular courses and supervising many doctoral students. Both have now become Emeritus Professors and so will remain, I hope, active members of our department community. Thank you to both for their contribution over the years .

A number of you have been out and about this week in the sunshine, Dr Emily Manktelow has sent some pictures from her local park where the azaleas have finally come out (about 2 months late because of the bad weather). 

Second year undergrad, Polly Wang went to York last week to visit a friend who she hasn’t seen for two years! She also visited York Minister and looked at other churches around  the town and , as she says, so much history all around.


After a few weeks of silence on the baking front, Emily Smith has been back at it again this week  mainly, as she admits, because it’s excellent therapy and a distraction from PhD writing! She has recently been diagnosed with coeliac disease, so has been trying out lots of different gluten-free recipes. This week she made a summer fruits polenta cake which she managed to enjoy outside with some friends in the glorious sunshine we’ve been having! She can confirm that it tastes even better with some Haagen-Dazs ice cream.


Looks absolutely delicious. Talking of ice cream, did you know, that ice cream from street vendors, known as a ‘penny lick’ in Victorian England, was first served in thick glasses or a ceramic bowl? As the name implies, you could get a scoop for a penny, lick it clean and then return it to the vendor to be washed and served to the next person. Of course, this wasn’t particularly hygienic. The penny lick was banned in London in 1898 due to the spread of diseases like cholera, and vendors all over England were threatened with closure! The ice cream van as we know it today – flashy graphics, rounded roof and screen doors - is a British invention that’s been exported to every continent. While ice cream has been sold out of street carts and trucks for way over a century, the technology in most vans today was invented in Crewe, Cheshire, by refrigeration engineer Bryan Whitby in 1962. Bryan revolutionised the ice cream van by making the machines run directly from the engine, which meant the vans were a lot lighter and able to be built in their recognisable shape… A good bit of trivia I thought..

And so for the final time this year, are regular feature, ‘why do you do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of third year undergrad and dept rep Josh Buttler:

“I suppose I have always been interested in history. As a child I lapped up the stories about my great grandfather flying for the RFC in the First World War and being shot down by the Red Baron, and of my grandfather fighting in the gruelling heat of the Burma campaign in the Second World War. However, it remained just that, an interest, a hobby, something to the side of my ambition to be a chemical engineer. I enjoyed GCSE history and ended up picking it for A-Level as a fourth subject, one I thought I would drop at the end of the year to focus on the maths, biology and chemistry I needed for my dream job. However, like many others who have previously written here, my generic interest in history became a love of the subject after I was taught by Mr Evans in the first year of my A Levels. He is somewhat of a legendary figure at our school, and he brought the events of 20th century Germany and 19th century Russia to life for me in his classes. It was due to him that I completely switched tracks and set my sights on studying history at university instead of chemical engineering.

I've now come to the end of three turbulent years studying the subject that I love here at Royal Holloway, characterised by strikes (solidarity with the staff and the UCU) and the pandemic that we are living through. One of my highlights has been further exploring my interest in Russia's history this year through Daniel Beer's brilliant module "The Pursuit of Power", about the Russian Empire and its transformation through an age of reform and revolution. It was an incredibly engaging module, combining detailed discussions focussed around each week's reading, analysis of primary sources centred around a certain theme or event; as well as more unusual activities such as fun thought experiments that placed Keir Starmer in a time machine and sent him back to late 19th and early 20th century Russia, asking us to ponder what one could have done to try and resolve the issues the Russian Empire was facing.

Another highlight was discovering James C Scott's work through Becky Jinks seminars on his scholarship and the subject of States, Violence, and Subaltern Resistance. I found his writing incredibly thought provoking. Seeing like a State explores the history and growth of the state as a concept through post-revolutionary urban planning in France, a history of surnames and the centralisation of traffic patterns; his analysis continues to feel extremely relevant. His reflections on the distortion of events through the study of history also resonated with me. He described the work of historians like watching a TV broadcast of a football match. Historians are removed from the action, like fans watching the game through the eyes of the camera, which allows them to see things the players themselves can't, but also misses bits of the action offscreen as there are only so many cameras.”

Its great to hear Josh’s approval of Dr Beer’s module, as we are all set to benefit from Dr Beer’s charismatic leadership, wisdom and passion for teaching, when he takes over as HoD on 1st August. For me, this is my last newsletter. My aim in starting the newsletter two years ago, was to help build the department into something more than a collection of people studying or teaching History, but also a community of likeminded people who, despite what we are studying or what level we are at, all share a passion for history and lots more besides (baking, gardening etc etc). It has been a total pleasure to hear from you all each week and thanks to all those who have sent messages of appreciation for the newsletter over the last few days. We have definitely proved that we are so much more than simply being an academic department, and whether it be the visit of MasterChef Professionals winner Gary Maclean, or the tour of his cellar of pickles from cook and environmentalist Tristram Stuart or the fantastic lecture from Peter Frankopan, or our quizzes, we are a community that likes to live well as well as to learn well. We have done more than survive the pandemic, we have thrived,  and that achievement belongs to each of you. well done.

As ever, Have a good Friday, a good weekend when you get there…and a good summer! I’m off to make perfect my Banana bread and buy a new pair of red shoes..


Hello everyone

I hope you have had a good week and even managed to enjoy some sunshine! Doesn’t it make everything seem better? Although I have to say (despite being more than 20 years from my last exam), I still associate the summer with studying and exams. At least everyone was spared the intense heat of a tense exam hall this year. We are now moving towards the end of term [Futures Fortnight continues for UGTs next week, do look out for the details] although research students are, I know, frantically booking slots and making visits to archives in an attempt to make up for times missed. Many of you have been on campus, and I hope that has been a welcome return which has reminded you of why we all love to be face to face and work and socialise together in Egham. I very much hope its going to be much more like normal next academic year. On that, I should announce that I will be stepping down as HoD at the end of July.  It’s been quite a ride over the last two years with the strikes and then the pandemic, and, as I begin to lead a big research grant from August ,it feels like the right, and necessary time, for someone new to lead us all. I have been hugely honoured to have this job and most of all to get to know you -  staff and students -  and all that you do and are both inside and outside the classroom. You really are a talented, hardworking and generally exceptional bunch. I am delighted to say that our new HoD will be the very excellent Dr Daniel Beer. Dr Beer is a popular member of the department among both staff and students, has an exemplary research profile as well as being a dedicated teacher. He has been my Deputy this year and has been an invaluable support. We shall be working closely over the next few weeks to ensure a smooth handover but, given we live near one another, I will remain on hand to help and support him in any way I can (as long as he supplies me with coffee..). I trust you will show him all the support, patience and help you have shown me.

So enough of that, what’s going on now?

Today at 12pm our History Society are  teaming up with History Hit, an online streaming platform for history documentaries, articles and more founded by my old friend Dan Snow, to talk about careers in the media, what a company like History Hit looks for, and how best to get into this sector. The talk is open to all RHUL students and will feature talks from the marketing team and graduate staff about their experiences working in media, along with a Q and A at the end.

Next Thursday 10th June 3-4pm, we will be celebrating the end of term with a Dept History Quiz. This will be open to EVERYONE (finalists will have received separate save the date emails about specific graduation celebrations). Do put this in your diary and the teams invite will be sent next week.

On Thursday 10 June from 10-1pm, ‘Women in History: a Wikipedia editing workshop’ will take place simultaneously in PC lab 005 (International Building) and on Teams is hosted by Professor Kate Cooper (History) and Dr Victoria Leonard (History), with support from Wikimedia UK. The event is for all RHUL staff and students who are interested in enhancing the visibility of women in Wikipedia's history pages (including female historical actors, female historians, and female practitioners in historical fiction and media). The event will follow a workshop format in two parts. In part one, after an introductory presentation, participants will work in small groups to make minor corrections or additions toto existing Wikipedia pages. In part two, each participant will set up a new Wikipedia page for a subject of their choosing, adhering closely to the Wikipedia editing guidelines. One-on-one support will be provided during part two.
A calendar invite will be circulated for those who wish to attend via Teams, but if you want to attend in person, please sign up here:  (due to covid restrictions, the number of in-person space is limited!).

We have a number of achievements to celebrate. First,  Professor Francis Robinson’s former research student, Eve Tignol, has just been appointed to a permanent research position in France's Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique.  Eve’s doctoral thesis was on nostalgia for past glory amongst north Indian Muslims in the C19th and C20ths.  A brilliant linguist, she has subsequently gone on to work on poetic networks in the same period. 

I am also delighted to announce that Dr Amy Tooth Murphy has been nominated for the National Diversity Awards in the category of Positive LGBT Role Model. The nomination came from within our wonderful College community, and whether it was colleague or a student Dr Tooth Murphy wanted to  say a very sincere thank you. The nomination mentioned the LGBTQ Culture Club, which Dr Tooth Murphy runs with Dr Prue Bussey-Chamberlain from English. Both are fantastic colleagues and incredible role models. As a department we have become mainstays of the National Diversity Awards – nominations and shortlist and so this is really excellent news and very well deserved. Speaking of the Culture Club, the final meeting of the academic year <gasp><sob> will take place next week (time TBC) and anyone in the School who identifies as LGBTQ and who would like to join us can email Dr Tooth Murphy for the link or to find out more.

And last but not least, what has Professor Sarah Ansari done that Hillary Clinton failed to do? She’s only gone and become President… well, President, the first woman ever, of the Royal Asiatic Society

The Society was established in 1823, receiving its Royal Charter from King George IV in 1824 ‘for the investigation of subjects connected with and for the encouragement of science, literature and the arts in relation to Asia‘. Professor Ansari explains its significance: “ Very much a creature of its time (we might describe it as a classic example of a learned society with orientalist tendencies), its founders comprised British scholars and colonial administrators.  Later members included Sir Richard Burton (1821-90), the notorious explorer and translator of One Thousand and One Nights and the Kama Sutra, and Sir Aurel Stein (1862-1943), renown archaeologist of the ‘Silk Road’ whose work also focused on the art and literature of Buddhism.  There were others too who hailed from Asia itself, in large part thanks to Britain's global imperial interests. Indian members, for instance, included Rajah Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833), the early 19th-century social reformer (famous for his efforts to abolish the practice of sati), Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-98) whose 19th-century educational reform movement had significant knock-on political repercussions for South Asian Muslims, and Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the hugely important Bengali writer and poet who was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1913).  Though far fewer in number, there were also women members, such as the explorer Dame Freya Stark (1893-1993) who travelled extensively in the Middle East, particularly Iran, before the Second World War.  My tenure as President coincides with the 200th anniversary of the Society's foundation, and so much of my contribution over the next three years will be to help drive and deliver the events planned to mark this.  But, more broadly, I hope to see the Society engaging with an increasingly diverse range of audiences who can collectively celebrate the rich cultures of Asia, past and present!”

What fantastic news and a wonderful achievement for Professor Ansari to have smashed that glass ceiling!

In other news, last Friday evening  ( whilst waiting for my Deliveroo) I appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row with Kirsty Lang  reviewing the new Channel 5 Anne Boleyn drama. It’s an interesting watch and has a diverse cast including a black Anne Boleyn which has caused some debate. I think it’s very well acted and certainly worth a watch. Let me know what you think if you decide to give it a go.

Now I know you all like (maybe) a survey. so please take5 minutes to complete this one. Its for a project sponsored by History UK (HUK) and the Royal Historical Society (RHS) on Post-Pandemic Pedagogy. The questions cover all aspects of learning history, within and outside scheduled teaching sessions, asking respondents to make direct comparisons between their experiences before the pandemic, the changes during the pandemic and their preferences after the pandemic. By reflecting on past and current practice, they collectively outline a vision of how history could and should be taught from now on. 

    Please click on the relevant survey  

Also, on the issue of teaching, RHs and HUK are running online training over the summer for PhD students, postdocs, ECRs and new lecturers with an opportunity to discuss History-specific practices and issues in HE pedagogy. It has proven very popular in the past and we would ask that you circulate the details to interested students and colleagues at your institution and via other networks. 

And, on learning, volunteers are warmly invited to help develop guidance on the most infamous task history students face - Gobbets! Working alongside colleagues at Lincoln, Nottingham, and UCL, Kate Cooper is part of a research project on how History students read primary and secondary sources. You'll receive a calendar invitation for a short Teams discussion on this topic on Monday, 7 June at 3 pm, with a back-up session on Thursday 10th June at 3 pm for those who can't attend on the Monday. Your help is warmly appreciated!

Our resident cook and user-uper (should be a word!) of leftovers Emma Hood has been at it again and this week writes: “For many years I was chef-owner of a restaurant on Sloane Square.  Our 'differentiator' was bringing the countryside into the city.  At this time of the year I always made elderflower cordial to the following recipe:

25 large fragrant heads of elderflowers (most scented on a sunny day, avoid roadside locations)

 If you can find some of the black varieties such as sambucus nigra 'black lace' it adds a lovely pink hue to the drink.  

2 oz citric acid (from chemists)

4 lbs sugar

3 pts boiling water.

Pour the water onto the other ingredients and stir.

Stir once daily for three to five days, then strain through a muslin.

Bottle in clean recycled containers.  

To serve:

Dilute one part cordial to ten of sparkling water, add ice, fresh mint and lemon slice to decorate.

Keeps in the fridge for two months.  Freezes well.

Sounds delicious Emma, and so good on a hot day (that’s my top tip!)

Dr Cat Cooper has also been busy and made this amazing passionfruit and mascarpone cake. Look at that thick topping of Icing! It was a birthday cake for her mum. Dr Cooper definitely gets the star baker accolade this week and the award for most dutiful daughter

I on the other hand am a less deserving daughter and am showcasing not my own (non-existent) horticultural prowess, but that of my mum! Here’s some pics from her amazing allotment area which I took on a visit to Suffolk last weekend.  As you can see, there’s a lot going on, not least the plastic bags aka scarecrows (?!), and items in production include rhubarb, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, runner beans, strawberries, gooseberries. Looking forward to my next visit….

I requested some “out and about” pictures.  Here’s a selection from the past week from Final Year English and History student Kayleigh Fryer who has been enjoying the sun on campus and working at the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace.  She works at Historic Royal Palaces as a Public Engagement Assistant and this week has been busy managing the children's half term and holiday activities! What a great job and opportunity to put her history degree into practice.






PhD student Sandra Lipner has also been out and about, and last weekend went with her family for a visit to Ely. She writes: “I loved seeing the cathedral and particularly the elaborate 19th-century ceiling set inside a late medieval structure. I wonder what cultural historians make of this instance of communal meaning making spanning multiple centuries. And I am also always curious where tracing the revenue stream that funded the works would lead us? “

Here’s a few pics from Sandra’s visit:

And finally, our regular feature, ‘why do you do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of MA Crusader Studies student StJohn Brown:

“My interest in History was triggered, I assume like many other people, by an inspired teacher when I was 7 or 8. This was further developed at my senior school which meant that History was the only subject I seriously considered studying at University.  Like many of my generation university was a time for partying, playing cricket, growing up, making friends, not attending lectures, not taking full opportunity of learning from an array of outstanding tutors, and reading much less history than I should. I left Oxford having had a wonderful time, but with a feeling of unfinished business in terms of taking History seriously as an academic subject. My business career took me to Hong Kong and Singapore for 10 years, and then 6 years in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. I was in Singapore for the 50th anniversary of its fall in the Second World War, and if friends came to visit in the Netherlands I would take them on day trips either to the battlefield at Waterloo, or on the route, which started just south of Eindhoven, to Arnhem following the land forces (the "Garden" part of "Market Garden" - better known as A Bridge too Far), the attempt by the Allies to secure crossings across the Rhine in September 1944. Understanding and analysing these events led to some detailed research and thinking about what leads to success and failure and confirmed a desire to do some sort of post-graduate degree.

I have a son is in the army, who is based in Jordan. Visiting him in 2019 I was given a popular history of the Crusades to read (a subject I had carefully avoided at Oxford because of the demands it would make on my inadequate Latin), and was taken to visit a number of the ancient and medieval sites, including the stunning castle at Kerak. This confirmed to me that it was time to act rather than just talk about going back to university. I researched places to study the Crusades. It became clear that Royal Holloway was the obvious choice, and so I was delighted to be accepted on the Masters' programme. I still work so the part time, 2 year option, is perfect. My interest in great men, battles, and political and military history remains strong. What has been fascinating, and taken me to a completely new world, is the "Women in the Crusades" module. It has helped me understand an under-represented part of society, as well as introduced me to areas like Gender Studies, to which I have never been exposed. I have enjoyed the discipline of having to start from the contemporary texts. I have even enjoyed the Latin classes, which I never thought I would say, thanks to some excellent teaching. The teaching staff have done an excellent job of keeping the show on the road via Teams seminars but it has been sad not to have had more personal interactions with both the staff and fellow students. Like everyone, I hope that next year will allow a more normal university experience, as well as letting me get to grips with further aspects of the Crusades. “

Thanks to Stjohn for a very interesting read.

Ok folks, that’s about it for this week. Can you believe that next week will be the end of term and so the last newsletter of the academic year and indeed my last as HoD!  Let’s make it a bumper packed edition with lots of news celebrating you and what you have achieved this year: big wins, or just little joys, it would be great to hear from you

Have a good Friday and a lovely weekend when you get there



Hello everyone

So, I have ventured out this week – for wine last Friday and then to Derbyshire at the weekend. It was nice to be out and about, but things are definitely different: forms to sign, facemasks to wear; signage to follow; surfaces to wipe; distances to maintain. This new normal is certainly going to take some getting used to. How about you? Have you been venturing out? And how did it feel?

It’s been a busy week, as ever, in the department. As our academics beaver away with marking and we all continue to plan for next year, many of you are doing brilliant things, as ever.

The RHUL Staff Cricket team played its first game last Thursday, featuring a strong History component of Humayun Ansari, David Gwynn (captain), Toby Bromige and Stephen Pearce. Whilst they did not win, this was  more than ever before, an occasion where just gathering together to play a game was what mattered, and that made it brilliant!

On Wednesday 19th and Thursday 20th May members of the History Department, both staff and students, were involved in the interdisciplinary symposium 'Unpalatable, Inedible and Indigestible: Exploring Boundaries, Constructs and Communities in Human Food Practices.' The symposium, funded by HARI, was a School of Humanities initiative featuring short papers by colleagues and students from all four departments, including, from History, Dr Stella Moss, Dr Markus Daechsel, Professor  Andrew Jotischky, Katy Mortimer, Rachel Myles, Kiran Matharu and  Beth Turner. Many other History colleagues participated, and we are especially grateful to Professor Kate Cooper for chairing a session and to all colleagues and students who attended. The range of papers and contributions extended across the whole College, including colleagues from Biological Sciences, Geography, Media Arts, PIR and Theatre. We were treated to papers on subjects varying from fermentation to indigenous food activism and from sustainable seed agronomy to meths drinking. The symposium was designed as a scoping exercise to share research and teaching interests in food cultures and sustainability across RHUL. The website at Unpalatable, Inedible and Indigestible ( will host resources including recorded papers and an image bank, and we look forward to generating further work on food cultures through devising cross-disciplinary PGT courses, fostering further research and promoting sustainability at RHUL. The symposium was a huge success, but it could not have taken place without the help of two people from the department in particular who should be especially thanked: Dr Cat Cooper and Katy Mortimer.

Next week, 1-2June, the 2021 ICS Virtual Byzantine Colloquium "Sacred Mobilities in Byzantium and Beyond: People, Objects and Relics", co-organised by the Institute of Classical Studies (ICS), University of London, The Hellenic Institute and the Centre for the Geohumanities at Royal Holloway, University of London will take place. All religious belief implicates space; all religious practice makes geography. In the broad sense, the term ‘sacred’ indicates something ‘different’, ‘set apart’, ‘other’, as well as something invested with special meaning. Yet, where do the boundaries of the sacred lie? Is sacred space an ontological given, or is it a social construction? Is it a portion of territory or the product of a set of embodied practices?  Is it permanent or ephemeral?

Over the past two decades, the construction, experience and use of sacred space have generated increasing scholarly interest in the humanities, including Byzantine studies—from Alexei Lidov’s pioneering studies in hierotopy (2006) to more recent interdisciplinary initiatives (e.g., Mapping the Sacred in Byzantium at Newcastle University). Far from being understood as a fixed given entity, in these recent studies sacred space has intersected with issues of embodiment and performance, with environmental perceptions, attitudes and practice, with social mobility and identity, with the relations of private and public space, and with geopolitics and territorial imaginations. At the same time, the so-called ‘Mobility Turn’ (Sheller and Urry 2006) has extended from the domain of the social sciences to the humanities, prompting among historians, archaeologists and art historians new questions, approaches and understandings of issues of transport, movement and circulation of people, objects and ideas. Our Colloquium aims at setting these two strands—sacred space and mobility—in conversation with each other, in order to gain further insight into Byzantine and post-Byzantine spiritual culture. In addition to conventional sacred spaces such as churches, shrines and religiously significant topographical features (such as holy mountains or caves, for example), holy people, sacred objects and relics were frequently used to create or sanctify other public or private profane spaces in the Byzantine and post-Byzantine world, and remain key to Orthodox worship. The mobility of certain sacra linked sacred sites with potentially new sacred destinations; it created new trajectories; it helped articulate and sustain the extra-ordinary within the ordinary. Sacred mobilities thus upset the dichotomy of the sacred and the profane as mutually exclusive. Examples of such mobilities include, but are not limited to travelling icons, processions, pilgrimages, the translation of relics, the reproduction of holy images and architecture.Twelve speakers from Britain, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Romania, Russia and USA will reflect on different types of sacred mobilities, including the use of sanctifying materialities, the duration of the transformation of sacred space, and the creation of ‘infrasecular geographies’ in the Byzantine and post-Byzantine world. For further information please contact Revd David-John Williams (

This week PhD student Keith Alcorn who is co-supervised by our former colleague Dr Zoe Laidlaw (now at the University of Melbourne) passed his viva. Keith’s thesis is entitled The Empire in the Garden: The Introduction of Exotic Plants into Britain, 1780-1850. The thesis explores the economic and cultural histories of exotic plants as introduced to British gardens and estates during this period, highlighting the central role of global trade, the nursery business and the circulation of plants, seeds and horticultural knowledge within the UK. The thesis draws on a wide range of archives across the UK, including those of the Royal Horticultural Society, RBG Kew, numerous estates and nurseries.  Keith’s PhD was undertaken part-time and funded by AHRC through the Techne DTC.  Congratulations Dr Alcorn!

Precious Olisaokafor, one of our second year History Politics and International Relations students, has been selected for the university’s academic graduate mentorship programme. Here she tells us about the programme and why she applied: “Recently I got selected for the UNIQ+ Digital Programme, which is an academic graduate mentorship programme at the University of Oxford. The programme is aimed at providing insights into postgraduate study, and the University’s research community. It also looks to provide mentorship and academic support in a desired field of study along with offering opportunities to attend talks and debates on global challenges in the field. Most importantly the programme will last from July – November and also includes support with postgraduate applications and mock interviews.

As I am interested in studying international Development as a postgraduate degree, the programme was an opportunity to gain some experiences within my desired field and to meet postgraduate students and experts that are already contributing to various research regarding international development. I look forward to learning more about this topic (particularly as I am very new to it), and also seeing whether it is a field I can definitely see myself studying in the future. I would like to say much thanks to my personal tutor Dr Dendrinos Charalambos and my Independent research supervisor Professor Sarah Ansari, for helping me through the application process especially with regards to my personal statements, it is much appreciated!”

Well done to Precious, this is a great opportunity and I look froward to hearing about how she gets on.

I am delighted to say that MA Public History student Ann McCormack has sent in an update from her allotment. Whilst the weather has ravaged some delicate species, she looks set to have a bumper harvest of potatoes, rhubarb, and gooseberries.


This looks fantastic, I love gooseberries and rhubarb, possibly even together?! (never tried that…)

PhD student Anastasia Utke has been busy in the garden this week. As part of the spring re-growth cycle, she planted some beautiful plants and also tended to the tomatoes, courgettes, radishes, herbs, and broccoli she has growing.




Very impressive indeed. I’ve got a bit obsessed with courgettes recently – courgetti with salt and olive oil is my new dish of the day. Yes, I know, it doesn’t involve much skill but I can’t live on banana bread!

More creatively, PhD student Emma Hood has been at it again and making leftover soup. This week her ingredients were peas, beans and carrots, leeks with crème fraiche and, her magic ingredient: one Jerusalem artichoke. She writes, ‘These artichokes look like potatoes and need long slow cooking in acidulated water (lemon to prevent discolouration) but they add intense flavour to any dish.
Indispensable cooking utensil - food drill

And Emma has also written her for our regular feature, ‘why do you do what you do?’

 “As a child my school reports typically said ‘could do better’.  Initially I took this as a compliment, then I began to try aiming beyond my reach.  This is daunting but is much more fulfilling in the longer run.  Even trying and failing has the benefit of knowing that at least one tried, bringing its own peace of mind. 

Now, at the other end of my life, I am grateful.  I can tick off certain achievements that were hugely challenging including undergraduate and graduate degrees, starting up my own company and taking it public, running the London Marathon, climbing a 6,000 meter mountain and raising my family (not necessarily in order of difficulty).   The metaphorical mountain remaining lies in academia.    I am in awe of those who research and write, teach and inspire.  Whenever I have struggled, it has been through study that I have found the oxygen and energy needed to push through, re-invent, discover the next challenge and begin to recover my equilibrium.With the luxury of time to reflect, I want to write on a topic that matters very much to me and to know that it has been done as well as I could possibly manage.  For my work to be taken seriously, it needs to be academically rigorous.  I am honoured to have been taken under Anna’s wing and to have eight years to give it my best.  It is the right timing, totally absorbing and the biggest challenge yet.  “

What an inspiring and interesting contribution from Emma, which aptly demonstrates what a varied community we are, with students of all ages, from all backgrounds and with all kinds of experiences. We have much to learn from each other. 

Ok that’s about it folks, have a good Friday and a good bank holiday weekend when you get there – it could even be sunny… And undergrads, do remember Futures Fortnight kicks off on Tuesday with a whole range of post-exam events! Definitely worth checking out



Hello everyone

Another week down, and we are hurtling our way towards Flaming June, or so they say. Not much evidence of summer in Cambridge from where I am writing. Rather, it’s been raining endlessly. I don’t know about you, but despite being ‘released’ this week from total Lockdown, I have yet to use my new found freedom although tonight I am going to a wine bar/shop. Brilliantly it is just a few doors down from my house. It will be a taste of normality, as well, I hope, a taste of something rather more exciting!  I hope you are doing something this evening or over the weekend which marks the end of the working week and acknowledges what you have achieved. Life punctuation marks are so important: ways to separate the working days from the evenings; the weeks from weekends and of course, birthdays and anniversaries, family gatherings and holidays. I hope some of these are on your ‘to do’list before too long. After all, we all need to ‘suspire’ [16th century word: to let forth a sigh, and (finally) breathe out.] I’ve been doing rather too much ‘latibulating’ (17th century): hiding in a corner until conditions improve….] As you may have guessed, I have started following Countdown’s Susie Dent @susie_dent on twitter and all her words of the day!

Anyway, enough of all that, what have you all been up to or got coming up?

Professor Dan Stone has co-curated an exhibition at the Wiener Holocaust Library which explores how  how forensic and other evidence about the death marches has been gathered since the end of the Holocaust. It chronicles how researchers and others attempted to recover the death march routes – and those who did not survive them. Efforts to analyse and commemorate the death marches continue to this day. Towards the end of the Second World War, hundreds of thousands of prisoners still held within the Nazi camp system were forcibly evacuated in terrible conditions under heavy guard. Prisoners were sent out on foot, by rail, in horse-drawn wagons, in lorries and by ship. Conveys split, dispersed and rejoined others, with routes stretching from several dozen to hundreds of miles long. Thousands of people were murdered en route in the last days before the war’s end, although it is impossible to know the exact numbers. Many of these chaotic and brutal evacuations became known as ‘death marches’ by those who endured them. They form the last chapter of Nazi genocide.The exhibition is now open for visitors.

The PGR ‘Stepping Stones’ Colloquium is happening on 3rd June. For more information see here or Click here to join the meeting

The LGBTQ Culture Club is still going strong through Term 3 and might be just want you need to take a break from studying and writing, and instead talk all things queer for an hour. All students in the School who identify as LGBTQ are welcome to join. We’ll meet today at 2-3pm on Teams. Email Dr Amy Tooth Murphy for the link or to find out more.  

News from the Historical Fiction Book Club: We have two more meetings this term, and  two marvellous guest co-hosts will join Professor Kate Cooper. Tonight’s gathering 6-6pm will explore Daphne du Maurier’s, Rebecca (Guest co-host, Stella Moss) Click here to join the meeting

The final meeting of the term will be Friday, 11th June, 5-6 p.m and the focus will be on Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (Guest co-host, Alison Knight) - link will be circulated next week.

As always, the discussion will be super-informal - those who haven't finished the book, have only seen the film or TV series, etc, are very welcome!