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Department Newsletter

Department Newsletter

Department Newsletter

Weekly update from the Head of Department

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Hello everyone

We made it. Here we are at the end of term. Well done you, yes, you there, reading this thinking I am just referring to everybody. Well, yes, I am, but so too am I talking to you. You who found this term, since Christmas, a slog, who wondered at times if you could keep on going with work when everything seemed so unpredictable and difficult all around, but you did and you are. And whilst much remains to do before the end of this academic year, you have most of it done and upon this you can build. But first, over Easter, think about time off – time away, well if not from home, from your desk, your screen and your to do list. Do something different even if it’s just a walk in a new place, an attempt at a new hobby, making something other than banana bread (note to self). We need to self-consciously look for ways to refresh and recharge. So that’s a task for all of us: what are we going to do that’s different over the Easter vacation? Stay tuned for some suggested variations on the theme of…Marmite.

Before we get there, we have to wrap up this term and lots has been going on, as ever! Last Friday Professor Sarah Ansari gave the keynote lecture at an online interdisciplinary workshop organised by the Cambridge Centre for South Asian Studies). Professor Ansari said it was great to see so many people now working on the region of South Asia that ‘back in her day’ (surely her day is now too!) was an area where she was the only scholar.

The life of an academic does not of course keep to the working week and Professor Helen Graham proved as much when last Saturday in front of an audience of 180, including from across continental Europe and the US, she was in conversation with Professor Paul Preston at the Len Crome annual memorial conference discussing the question, ‘Was the Spanish Republic worth dying for?’  The event was hosted by the International Brigade Memorial Trust of which Professor Graham is a patron.  The International Brigade Memorial Trust keeps alive the memory and spirit of the 2,500 men and women from Britain and Ireland who volunteered to defend democracy and fight fascism in Spain during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.  

Today, Professor Humayan Ansari will be talking to the college’s Islamic Society (ISOC) on the history of Muslims in Britain from medieval to modern times. I am delighted to say the ISOC have made the event open to all.

Also today, Professor Andrew Jotischky will be taking part in a panel called 'Crusading Things and the Material Outremer', which is part of a project at Johns Hopkins University. It starts at 3.30 GMT, and anyone who wants to attend needs to pre-register at Webinar Registration - Zoom  And on Monday, Professor Jotischky will be giving a paper to the IHR History of Liturgy Seminar on 'Liturgy in the Holy City: Greek Orthodox Jerusalem under Crusader Rule'. This is at 5.15pm; pre-registration at History of Liturgy Seminar | Institute of Historical Research

The PGR Interdisciplinary Series Sharing Spaces will be running their next monthly get together today at 4-5pm. All Humanities PGRs are invited to join ‘A Tip and A Question’ which will focus on organisational / research techniques that work and those that don’t. No prep expected, all PGRs welcome. Click here to join the meeting

I wanted to draw your attention to this short film written and produced by LLM student Renee Landall featuring alumni and current RHUL students called "Living in Black Skin"? The film highlights several (anti-Black) racial injustices and systems e.g. educational inequalities, health disparities and police brutality. The film can be accessed here: Its a powerful and important watch.

This year BME, led by Dr Shahmima Akhtar, has been a key focus of department priority. The BME mentoring scheme has been a great success and both Dr Akhtar and I would like to thank Harsimran Jabbal (2nd year History); Fahmida Begum (3rd year History); Jasmine Thaker (3rd year History); Pranoy Choudhury (2nd year History); Nazmeen Ali (Foundation year: 1st year History politics and international relations) who all volunteered  to mentor 1st year History students this year. This has been a really excellent initiative of which the department should be very proud, and I am grateful to these students for playing such a vital role. We shall be running a similar initiative next year.

A number of students have also played a massive role this year in helping students self-isolating in halls this past year delivering post, food and conducting events. See this Facebook link for details. The Hall Life team are now recruiting Hall Life Duty Officers and Hall Life Assistants (both paid roles) for the academic year 2021-22.    The Hall Life Duty Officer leadership role may be of particular interest to PGTs/PGRs, while the Hall Life Assistant one may be more suited to UGs looking to develop their confidence and communication skills.  Applications close midnight, Wednesday 31 March.    Not sure if the role's for you? Check out the Instagram and Facebook for video messages from our current staff, accommodation sneak-peeks, top tips on applying and fun quizzes on the role.   

Just when I think I have some idea of what you are all doing, I receive an email which makes me realise I know nothing! And such was the case when3rd year undergrad (BA History and English) Ashley Penfold sent me details of the 8 (!!) hour bounce-athon her and her housemate did last weekend for Unicef. Ashley and her housemate Maddy managed to raise £460 – which we I think you will agree is an incredible achievement!

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Well done Ashley and Maddy!

If bounce-athons aren’t your thing, how about getting involved with HeritageJam 2021 which is happening over April. The Heritage Jam begun in 2014 under the direction of Dr. Anthony Masinton and Dr. Sara Perry as a way to bring people together to design and create forward-thinking pieces of heritage visualisation in a short space of time based around a central theme, which this year is "Sensation". Heritage Jam is open to anyone interested in the way heritage is visualised: artists, animators, game designers, programmers, archaeologists, historians, conservators, museum professionals, heritage practitioners, and any interested members of the public. The outcomes of the Jam are hugely varied - ranging from fine art pieces, 3D models and games through to stories, sketches and videos. The only limits on creation are the theme, time and your imagination! The Jam is open to anyone and everyone and the only constraints for what you can create are the timeframe, theme and your imagination! Both team and individual entries are encouraged. Dr Cat Cooper’s team came Highly Commended in 2015  so if anyone is interested she could love to know and see if a team from the department might be created. Do give it some thought!

And talking of good ideas, do you have entrepreneurial spirit? Do you think outside the box? Have an idea for something that could improve the student experience? If you – or a group of students – have a creative or innovative concept for a project, social enterprise or activity that requires funding to get you kick started, applications for the Student Opportunities Fund are now open! Funded by Royal Holloway alumni who donate every year to support projects and initiatives which enrich the student experience here on campus, you can apply for anything between £100 and £3,000.Recipients will also benefit from mentorship to help ensure that ideas are successfully translated into applications. Our supporting mentor departments include; Volunteering, Sports, Student Advisory & Wellbeing, Careers, Library, Education, Student Engagement, Academic Schools (via Directors of Student Experience), and Doctoral School. Royal Holloway are now accepting applications for projects taking place in Summer term, so if you have an initiative that you want to kickstart then find more information online and apply!”

The Historical Fiction Bookclub will meet to discuss Patricia Highsmith's Carol on Friday 9 April, with Professor Kate Cooper and Dr Amy Tooth Murphy as guest co-host. Published under a pseudonym as The Price of Salt in 1952, it is not technically a historical novel, as it was written about its own time, but it is a fantastic example of fiction evoking a place and time, and the intersection of a 'story world' and its logic with a specific historical moment. Here is the meeting link: Click here to join the meeting Definitely a wonderful read for the break!

(NB For those who would like to use the College Library's e-book, here is the permalink:

Just a reminder that the library remains on hand to support us over the vacation. The  'Books To You' service is now available to complement the additional work they have been doing to widen access to electronic resources during COVID-19. This service is to support Postgraduate Researchers and Postgraduate Taught students, as well as Undergraduates doing dissertation or independent essay research, by enabling access to resources that are not currently held in the Library’s collection, or that are in the collection but students are currently unable to physically access due to Covid restrictions. In addition, if students are living on campus or visiting for an essential reason, the library can order physical books if no ebook is available. And the Inter-Library Loan service is available for any journal article requests

And, so to our regular feature, ‘why do you do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of Dr Weipin Tsai-

“I am from Taiwan. I teach modern Chinese history. My undergraduate degree was in journalism, but towards the end of my first year I became fascinated by western political philosophy, and spent most of the next three years reading the classic works in this field. It was this interest that brought me to England for postgraduate study. However, for my PhD I made another turn, to work on modern Chinese history. My perspective on this topic has been continuously evolving ever since my schooldays. At age eight or nine, we were told it was our duty to liberate our ‘poor countrymen’ in Mainland China because they lived in a condition of ‘deep water and hot fire’. As we grew older, our task was to memorise details of all the ‘unequal treaties’ inflicted on China, from the Opium Wars, to the Boxer Uprising, to the terms of the treaty of Versailles. Although I loved history, it was not easy to sit in the classroom and be confronted with this ‘humiliating past’, endured alongside a strong measure of nationalist expectation. But going deeper led me to another conclusion: that the 19th and 20th centuries are a fascinating period in Chinese history, and great fun to study. What changed? I think in part because I came to appreciate the drama that is an essential ingredient in what is an exciting story. Also, I have also come to appreciate that by being in the UK, I have space to engage more freely with this period in history. Observing friends in Taiwan and China, who face all sorts of external or institutional pressures to be mindful of particular sensitivities and use the ‘right words’ in their publications and lectures, I am glad I am here.  Intellectual freedom is a precious gift, something to be treasured and never taken for granted. Another thing I am very sure about is that I enjoy being in a Department of History alongside colleagues studying many topics across many countries and time periods; my knowledge horizon has expanded considerably.   My current research topics are the history of Chinese Post Office and the Chinese Maritime Customs Service. In addition to sources written in Chinese, I read a lot of reports by foreigners employed by these two influential institutions in every corner of in China, written between the 1860s and 1949. Many spent decades in China and were fluent in Chinese, but still their perspective as ‘outsiders’ is valuable. As the saying goes, ‘the past is another country’, and their careful observations and rich, detailed descriptions of places and events can be very refreshing and informative, albeit with hints of ‘colonial gaze’ – a modern buzzword that has some value, but is not always entirely helpful in unpacking the complexities of the period. My first visit to China was in 2002. China then was very different to China today, and my own feelings towards the country have changed over the years. The current political regime has reduced academic freedom not only in China, but globally. I hope this situation is temporary. “

As do we all Dr Tsai. Thank you for this and for raising the very important issue of academic freedom.

So that’s about it for this week and for this term. Do remember what I said about trying something new or different over the vacation. Some of you may remember earlier in the year my experiment with a marmite omelette- possibly my greatest achievement to date. Well, if like me, you are a marmite fan, why not try some of these out: marmite butter, marmite smoothies…

And Megan Zander (PhD student) tried something new only yesterday, making braided bread for the first time! How wonderful, check this out


And also from Baking Corner, and indeed fresh from the oven, PhD student Sandra Lipner’s Banana Bread

What can I say?! I am, when it comes to Banana Bread, merely an apprentice. .. that’s what I need to aspire to!

Finally, thank you, all of you – staff and students for being so fabulous this term. Each and every week I am impressed with what you are doing and achieving. Earlier in the year, you will remember the ‘build a bridge’ initiative when I encouraged people to reach out and make contact with someone as we all wrested with the isolation of lockdown. Next term, I would like us to celebrate our Department Heroes, people who have done things, large and small, which have made a different to you when you needed it. Please send suggestions to me and we shall start sharing these next term.

Have a good Friday and a relaxing weekend when you get there. Please take care this Easter and remember outside of the bank holidays and staff annual leave, we are here to support you. And remember, given lockdown, we might just have to be our own easter bunny, and that is absolutely allowed! In other words, treat yourself to something: a chocolate egg, a bunch of daffodils or perhaps even a Marmite Smoothie...

Failing that, here’s a touch of spring from PhD student Daniel Seal, currently based in the north. How lovely.


See you on the other side


Hello everyone

How’s your week been? There is now just one more to go before the end of term and then we can all go on an Easter Egg Hunt  - literally or metaphorically! And if you needed an excuse for an early night, today is World Sleep Day! I certainly need no encouragement! Sleep is so important for physical and mental health and we should see it as essential as food and water. Sleeping at regular times – bedtime and wake up time – really aids restorative sleep. Most adults need between 6 and 9 hours of sleep every night.  Ideally we should avoid using smartphones, tablets or other electronic devices for an hour or so before you go to bed as the light from the screen on these devices may have a negative effect on sleep, although in my case that’s definitely easier said than done. There are however some really good sleep apps to help turn our brains off, and they are well worth checking out.

Ok that all said, what of our waking hours? As ever, there has been lots going on…

Following the SU You’re Valued Awards for Dr Rob Priest, Dr Stella Moss and Professor Jonathan Harris I previously announced,  I am delighted to say another one of our academics , Dr Selena Daly, has  been nominated for going above and beyond.  Her students applaud the support she has given during this unprecedented pandemic year and the ‘guiding light’ she has provided through the weeks of stress, and instability…  . Her nomination read, ‘Selena is approachable, consistent, compassionate and very efficient. She is an inspiring lecturer, a supportive tutor and an asset to the college...” Congratulations to Dr Daly but also to all our staff who have continued to work to an exceptionally high standard with commitment and compassion throughout the year. It is so lovely to see our students rightly applauding their tutors in this way and I know they appreciate it hugely.

Throughout the year, department and School staff have been keen to hear the voices of students and respond to their questions, concerns and suggestions.

All the academic staff in the department are continuing to reflect on how we can respond to the needs of students and hear your voices. Mid way through the term Dr Greenaway the School Director of Undergraduate Education and I met to discuss with the department reps to learn more about what you're dealing with and to collectively identify further ways we could support you through the rest of your teaching term and into Term 3.Together we came up with a list of agreed 'You Asked We Listened' actions. These are listed here. I'm really grateful to all the reps who participated and shared their/your experience and good ideas.  I'm pleased to say the Dissertation writing drop-ins are now live and underway - do join in - and all Dissertation students should have received an email with details and times of their Department sessions.Another great suggestion was an Academic Support talk on Managing Your Term 3 Assessments. This has been set up for Wednesday 24th March 1-2pm. Please join via the link here: Managing Your Term 3 Assessments Weds 24 March 1-2pm

The official Open Book Exams timetable will be released on 23 March. At that point you should have all the coursework questions and assessment dates.

I am always very keen to hear of the extra-curricular activities students in the department are involved with, and this week I am delighted to highlight the work of Action Tutoring a great programme that provides GCSE and SATs assistance for disadvantaged pupils across England.  One of our final students, Tommaso Vilona, is a volunteer tutor and is keen for others to join. Action Tutoring has recently been approved as a provider for the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), which is funded as part of the government’s £1 billion coronavirus catch-up package and will provide additional support to schools to help disadvantaged pupils whose education has been most affected by school closures.  Action Tutoring supports pupils in Year 6, 7 or 11 with their English or maths in weekly one-hour sessions at a local partner school, or online, for 7-10 weeks. Volunteers are provided with initial training, a DBS check, resources for the tutoring sessions and the ongoing support of a Programme Coordinator. If you are interested, more information can be found on the volunteer area of the website.  Tommaso and  the RHUL volunteering team will be hosting an introductory session on Teams next Wednesday, 24 March from 17:00 – 18:00. To access the meeting please use the link below:   

Next Wednesday 24th March the PIRsoc is hosting a Suffrage Movement Panel Discussion which, alongside our very own Dr Shahmima Akhtar, features Professor Krista Cowman (University of Lincoln) and Professor Julie Gottlieb (University of Sheffield),and Helen Pankhurst, political activist and great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst!

If you would like to attend do email Ben Askew to get the Teams link.

As advertised in last week’s newsletter, the London Centre for Public History and Heritage held its annual lecture om Tuesday evening. It was a highly engaging talk delivered by Colin Grant based on his book Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation. For anyone interested in Black British history in general and post -war migration to Britain from the Caribbean in particular, this recording of the lecture is well worth a watch.

For those of you graduating this summer, the following job opportunity for the post of Digital Officer at the Gurkha Museum may be of interest to you.

Talking things digital and multimedia, PhD student Jess Thorne has played a role in a new mini-doc series on the history of the Paris Commune, directed by journalist, film-maker and author Paul Mason. Jess lent her voice to one of the most important and remembered figures of the Commune, Louise Michel. Wednesday marked the 150th anniversary of the Commune, which saw a working class divided by skill, and a left divided by attitudes to the state, seizing power and running society for 72 days. The link to the first episode is here:

And now to Baking Corner. By her own admission, Dr Cat Cooper hit ‘peak lockdown’ last weekend by not only making sourdough but also making our own butter to go with it. Check this out

Wow, peak lockdown indeed!

And so to our regular feature, ‘Why do you do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of 2nd year undergraduate Katy Allison:

“When Dr Whitelock asked me to write a response to this question, I felt my answer would be somewhat inferior to what I’ve read in other weekly newsletters. After all, doing a History degree is not what I imagined myself doing two years ago! I initially joined Royal Holloway in 2018 as a BA Geography undergraduate because I’ve always felt that Geography was the right thing to do. I’d studied Geography at GCSE and A Level, so I thought that doing a degree would be the natural progression. However, after finishing my second term I realised that I was only studying what I was good at, and not what I enjoyed. It was a lightbulb moment for me. As I sat in a lecture for my Politics, Society and Development module, I realised that I wasn’t interested in sedimentary rocks but the history and politics which shape our world today. Aside from my Archaeology A Level, studying History was something I’d never done before so I took the plunge and applied to change my course. Immediately, I knew that this was the right decision! I’ve always loved visiting museums and learning about the past. Weirdly, I remember visiting the London Museums with my dad after going to a Geography applicant day back in January 2018! After having visited the British Museum, I realised that many of its artefacts held within them a dark legacy of Empire. Upon educating myself, and subsequently taking Dr Manktelow’s HS2001 and HS2211 Empire modules this year, I found that I have a particular interest in dissecting the impact of the British Empire on contemporary society. Even during the one year of my Geography degree, the topics I was most interested in centred around the Empire and its legacies! 

History is the essence of humanity. Over the last two years, I’ve studied many different modules ranging from the Mongol Khatuns, to the impacts of Section 28 on the LGBTQ+ community. What I’ve discovered is that History envelops society as we see it today. The reason we are here and the reason the world is as it is, is because of History. Reflectively, I realise that History has always been a topic close to my heart. I love learning about the world before us, allowing us to clearly see how it is now, therefore allowing us to project this knowledge into the future.However, I return to this question of WHY do I do what I do? I think the answer is simple, although there are a multitude of reasons. I study History at Royal Holloway because I love learning about the past, and Royal Holloway is an incredibly historical institution. I study History because I want to progress into teaching, and inspire future historians into making informed decisions on the future of our world based on the past. I study History because I love it, and it’s not just the easiest option. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” - Nelson Mandela.

Ain’t that the truth! Ok folks, that’s about it for another week. Have a good Friday and a good weekend when you get there. Make sure you get plenty of sleep as well as deciding which Easter Egg you are going to be requesting from the Easter bunny this year…


Hello everyone

So, it would be fair to say that, beyond being HoD, I have had a rather busy week following That Interview. Who saw it? And what did you think? There’s certainly been a lot of discussion and I have been across the airwaves around the world reflecting on its significance: important, I think but not, constitutionally consequential, at least for now. That was the focus of the Centre for  the Study of  Modern Monarchy’s inaugural event last night, a panel discussion ‘The Queen’s Gambit? Meghan, the Media and the Monarchy’ with legendary BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond; IPSO Mori Polling boss Ben Page; Graham Smith CEO of Republic the campaigning group which seeks to abolish the monarchy; Ed Owens, author of The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public 1932-1953’  and broadcaster and former political adviser Ayesha Hazarika. With some 200 audience members, it was a very lively discussion with lots of fascinating debate. It will be the first of a number of public events which the new Centre plans to hold.  A recording of the event will be available shortly

It’s certainly one of the few silver linings of the pandemic, that it is possible to pull together an event with a stellar line-up in just a couple of days and host a big public event. And the department does these so well. The annual public lecture of the London Centre for Public History and Heritage to be delivered by Colin Grant will consider’ Voices of the Windrush Generation and Black British History’. The event takes place next Tuesday 16th March, 6.30pm, and Centre directors Dr Edward Madigan and Dr Amy Tooth Murphy warmly invite all staff and students to attend. Colin Grant is a critically-acclaimed author and historian whose work has explored the Caribbean, African-American and Black British experiences of marginalisation, protest, migration and belonging in the 20th century. His most recent book, Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation (Penguin, 2019), is a ground-breaking oral history of the men and women who came to Britain from the West Indies between the late 1940s and the early 1960s. In this online lecture, he will discuss the process of writing this extraordinary book, and comment on the challenges of incorporating the lives of ordinary people, liberating them from the patronising narratives and official archives of the past to create a holistic and inclusive picture of Black British history. Due to popular demand, extra tickets have been made available for the event. The talk will be streamed live via Zoom and all are welcome. Attendees who have signed up and booked tickets in advance will be e-mailed a link two days before the event. Please register via Eventbrite

And next Wednesday 17th March 2-3.30 pm, the Bedford Centre host their annual lecture, ‘“Believe me there is such a thing as a broken heart”: heartbreak, emotions and embodiment in Britain c. 1720-1850 which will be delivered by Dr Sally Holloway . Dr  Holloway is a Vice Chancellor's Research Fellow at Oxford Brookes University; author of The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions and Material Culture (2019) and a co-editor of Feeling Things: Objects and Emotions through History  (2018).

It is fantastic that the department has such dynamic research centres which run public events such as these. Centres are very much intended to be hubs of research and wider engagement activity for staff and students and so if you would like to get involved with one of our centres do contact the Centre Directors. Full details of the department’s research centres can be found on our webpages.

Dr Nicola Phillips, Director of the Bedford Centre, appeared on a BBC History Podcast panel on Women's History to mark International Women’s Day.

The  discussion tackled the central issues of women’s history, including overlooked historical figures, exciting recent developments, whether men should write women’s history, and what work is still left to be done. The panel featured Maggie Andrews, chair of the Women’s History Network; Stella Dadzie, author of A Kick in the Belly: Women, Slavery and Resistance, Helen McCarthy, author of Double Lives: A History of Working Motherhood and Nicola Phillips, director of the Bedford Centre for the History of Women and Gender." 

The latest Historians for History blog post hosted by Dr Edward Madigan from the Centre for Public History and Heritage is now live and features Emily Murrell’s  engaging account of the extraordinary life and times of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, the enslaved African orphan who became Queen Victoria's goddaughter. Emily is one of our MA in Public History students and herself and Iona Bentley were awarded the highest grades in their cohort for the blogpost assignments they submitted before Christmas. You can view the post via the following link:

As ever, if you would like to contribute a piece on any aspect of public history to the website, please get in touch with Dr Madigan.

The history Society’s Magazine HISTORIA is published this week and focuses on LGBTQ+ History and an interview with Dr Amy Tooth Murphy. 

Last Friday the Historical Fiction Book Club hosted by Professor Kate Cooper, held what we hope will be the first of many meetings (at 5 pm on the first Friday of the month) to discuss Madeline Miller’s Circe. Despite it being 5 pm on a Friday we had a lively, lovely discussion, not only about the book itself but also about why books about Greek women have become so popular (and here as a party favour is a slide prepared by Amelia Cook to show how very many books on this theme have been published recently), and about why it is that interior monologue-heavy books about individuals who are living strange, alienated lives (think A Gentleman in Moscow, All the Light We Cannot See, Hamnett) have been so popular recently. 

Our next meeting will be on Friday 9 April when we will chat about Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel Carol, originally published as The Price of Salt under the pseudonym ‘Claire Morgan’. Professor Cooper is happy to report that Dr Amy Tooth Murphy has offered to join the discussion to give a bit of background on the historical context of the novel in its 1950s setting. (Technically, The Price of Salt isn’t actually ‘historical fiction’, since it was contemporary fiction at the time it was written, but it is certainly a super-interesting source for the social history of the 1950s!) Another stroke of good fortune: this time around, the library not only holds multiple copies, but it has an ebook! (Link: A teams invite for the session on 9th April will be circulated shortly. 

So many of our students, organise activities and events and this week 3rd year Leah Jayne who is President of  Amnesty International in college is organising an online event on modern day slavery. The event takes place on Friday 26th March at 2pm and features guest speaker Simon John a retired solicitor, a member of the Amnesty school speaker panel and secretary of RAGAS the Rotarian Action Group against Slavery. He will speak about to the modern origin of the prohibition of slavery; compares transatlantic and Modern Slavery, its current  prevalence (especially among children); the distinction between slavery and labour abuses; the sectors in which slavery is found and a look at the demand side and what students can do to reduce demand. IF you would like more information about the event and the link to join do email Leah Jayne.

Now to Baking Corner and what an arm wrestle we have this week for star baker. You may remember that last week I set the pretzel challenge and wondered if anyone would have a go at the recipe I saw in the Guardian. Well needless to say I didn’t even try, it would have been a disaster, but I am delighted to say that first year Joel Davies did! Check these out -

I am SO impressed. But equally impressive is this from Zara Overton. She writes, ‘my younger sister is obsessed with bubble tea or ‘boba’ - despite not being a university student and living 300 miles from rhul she still has a loyalty card for Pearls bubble tea in Imagine! So for her birthday I made a chocolate cake that emanates a bubble tea, with a carved out middle so I could place her favourite tea inside the cake and she could drink from the cake itself. It was a labour of love which cheered me up immensely.’

WOW! Clearly, we have two Star Bakers this week. Josh and Zara these are brilliant efforts, well done!

And so, to our regular feature, ‘Why do you Do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of Teaching Fellow in American History Dr Robert Pee:

Why do you do what you do?

I have been interested in history for most of my life, driven by curiosity about the factors and patterns that shape events and explain how the world worked – and how it works now.

My interest began with a book of Ancient Egyptian myths that my parents brought home from a museum one day. Next to each story of pharaohs, magicians and mummies was a short discussion of what was happening in Egyptian history at that time, and soon I was hooked. Next, I moved onto Roman history and Rome’s decline, and soon I became more interested in why states rose and fell and why rulers made the decisions they did.

Luckily, I also had inspirational history tutors at A-level, such as Alan Hobday, who switched me on to American history, and Dr David Ryan at university, who got me interested in the Cold War, the Third World, and superpower interventions. Both triggered my interest in modern history – what we could call the backstory of now.

I love research because nothing compares to being able to track down forgotten documents by policymakers that explain their fears, intentions and motivations, and show why events progressed as they did. In the topics I’ve often focussed on, such as Cold War history, covert action and propaganda, the explanations given by the archives can be very different to those floated to the public.

I’m interested in Reagan’s America because I think that the global trends in government, economy and culture of the last forty years were created there. Indeed, while teaching the course at Royal Holloway, it’s been pretty spooky how seminar topics have sometimes tracked the key issues of the day, for example, the AIDS pandemic/coronavirus, civil rights/BLM and so on.

Now the ground is shifting under our feet again, as our current order is reeling from COVID, austerity and the rise of new powers with new objectives and ways of influencing our world. It will be interesting to see what emerges from this tangle, and I think the history of previous shifts will help us to interpret it.”

Thanks Dr Pee.

That’s about it for this week but just to say thank you for the messages I received from you in response to last week’s newsletter and my mental health story. I am really glad that this helped some of you and if nothing else made you feel that you are not alone if you are struggling with your mind and emotions. Do remember talking always helps, and the college’s wellbeing team is there to support all of us. Do get in touch if you feel you need to. Sometimes we all need a listening ear and at least a virtual hug.

Ok have a good Friday and a good weekend when you get there. I think it could be good kite flying weather, pictures please!


Hello everyone

It’s that time of the week again. Time seems to be moving in such odd ways at the moment: some days seem to go on for ages, but then the weeks seem to move really fast, although not fast enough when we have the prospect of lockdown freedom in the distance. Yesterday was University Mental Health day, which aims to fight stigma, promote the sharing of experiences and support for those struggling with mental health difficulties at university. Given that and in a spirit of solidarity with those among us who are struggling with mental health issues, I thought I would briefly share a little of the mental health challenges I have faced and which I first experienced when I went to university.

I had been a very hard-working student who worked obsessively through my A levels probably, on reflection, as a way of escaping from the pressures of life and my own wavering emotions. Much was expected of me, but I expected even more of myself. I got the excellent results that I had worked so hard for, and set off to Bristol University full of expectations but also with a knot of uncertainty and anxiety. I wasn’t worried about the work, it was actually more about the social stuff, about being on my own and outside the structure, routine and support of home, school, friends and family. To cut a long and difficult story short, I lasted a term. I did the work but increasingly found socializing a pressure which I couldn’t sustain. I began to isolate myself and feel into a state of great anxiety and depression. It was like a light went out and days became darker. All my self-confidence drained away and I just couldn’t keep going. I ended up having to leave university before Christmas of the first term. I had counselling and was put on anti-depressants but for the first few weeks I did little beyond laying on my bedroom floor feeling like I had failed, and that life would never feel good again. Time and talking helped. Gradually I found a different routine, friends drew me out of myself (sitting alongside me on benches or sofas rather than face to face which I found oddly difficult) and things began to get lighter and brighter. My inner sense of ‘I can do this’, ‘everything isn’t bad’ began to return and at the end of the year I took up a new university place at LSE where, living at home for the first year, I managed to find myself again and then flourish. My depression is something I have accepted that I must live with and understand. I have got to know it and the signs that the dark clouds might be beginning to gather one more. Tiredness is for me a crucial trigger, as is the ‘come down’ after busy, adrenaline filled days. Sleep and a day with my hood up (literally and metaphorically) away from the pressures of social interaction really helps. I still take antidepressants as I have been diagnosed as a manic depressive. It’s a poisoned chalice. The mania can be highly productive and creative at times, but the slumps of depression and social anxiety can be really hard. The medication helps to keep things level, as does running which helps me to regulate my energy and clear my head, and having a daily routine.

I hope this may be of some use or interest to some of you. At the very least, I hope I can show that suffering from mental health difficulties, even those that at times derail you, are something it is possible to live with, and we should all be as comfortable talking about mental health as we are physical health. I hope and believe our department is a place where this is absolutely true. If you are experiencing difficulties at this time, do reach out and talk to someone. The college has an excellent wellbeing service which I know has helped a number of you. And you might also want to check out the resources available on

Ok, what else has been going on?

PhD student Jess Thorne has been working on a new archival project which aims to create a memorial archive for the late Scottish anarchist, Stuart Christie.  Stuart became one of the major figures of post-war British anarchism, but the most spectacular detail of his life was connected to Spain. Stuart's life (10th July 1946-15 August 2020) spanned several revolutions, a three-year stint in a Francoist jail, exile, conspiracy, and one of the longest criminal trials in English history.  In 1964, he gained celebrity status in Britain for crossing the pyrenees intent on the political assassination of General Franco. If you're intrigued to find out more about Stuart, as well as the archive that is being set up in his name, you can listen to this interview on his life and legacy.

Meanwhile, some of you may have heard me on the BBC Sound’s You’re Dead to Me Podcast with Greg Jenner and comedian Larry King talking about King James VI/I. Here’s a pic of us recording the podcast. 


And Professor Jonathan Phillip’s 2009 Holy Warriors, was published in Italy last week as Sacri Guerrieri - La straordinaria storia delle crociate.

Next Wednesday (10th March) Dr Amy Tooth Murphy will be taking part in the University of Plymouth History Research Seminar, where the topic will be ‘Queer Oral History and Community’. She’ll be talking about ‘Butch on Butch: Historicising Butch Identity via Oral History’. The other speaker is her friend and colleague Dr Alan Butler, who’ll be talking about intergenerational queer history. All are welcome - just email for the link. The seminar kicks off at 4pm. 

Also next Wednesday but at 6-7.30pm, we will be hosting radio and television journalist Anita Anand for a talk as part of our Department EDI series. Anita has  presented, among other BBC shows, Daily Politics, The Heaven and Earth Show and Newsnight. She is currently the presenter of Any Answers on BBC Radio 4. Her first book, Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, received widespread acclaim. Her new book, Koh-i- Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond, is co-authored with William Dalrymple and published by Bloomsbury. 

ZEE JLF Conversations: Anita Anand | Verve Magazine

The Women’s History Network are hosting their first ever student conference on International Women’s Day this year. Studying Herstories is a day long conference, taking place on Monday 8th of March, via Zoom. 

The Nineteenth Annual Hellenic Lecture “The Greek Revolution of 1821 and its Multiple Legacies” will be delivered by Professor Gonda Van Steen on Thursday 11 March at 6pm.

Since the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, the Greek people have celebrated three major anniversaries: the 50th, 100th, and 150th anniversary date of the inception of this revolutionary war that led to sovereign statehood after nearly four centuries of Ottoman rule. These three jubilees, each with their own legacies, have come to represent three different ways of celebrating Greek statehood that have, nonetheless, much in common. They posited a linear progression from Greek antiquity through postclassical, Byzantine, and post-Byzantine (Ottoman) times. The lecture will explore in what ways the celebrations and re-enactments, with their commemorative events and symbolic images, acquired a prescriptive character, which advanced their aim to educate youth in state-promoted nationalism, and to what extent the present 200th anniversary celebrations differ from the three aforementioned ones. Professor Gonda Van Steen is Koraës Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature, Director of Centre for Hellenic Studies, King’s College London. The Lecture will be hosted by Professor Ken Badcock, Senior Vice-Principal (Academic Strategy, Partnerships and Resources) and Chairman of the Hellenic Institute Steering Group at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

The Lecture is part of 21 in 21 programme of events celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Greek War of Independence (1821-2021). All welcome. For further information please contact Dr Achilleas Hadzikyriacou at the Hellenic Institute.

A couple of our finalists have expressed an interest in a leavers’ s hoodie as a number of students in Life Sciences have ordered. If you would like to do something similar do click on this link and then request a  ‘History’ hoodie.

Also for finalists, do please remember to complete the NSS survey which is here And check out these opportunities from the Careers Service

  • Research opportunity: apply for one of these 10 hour research posts for an Arts and Humanities funded research project interviewing people from diverse communities about their stay at home experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic.  This will be of particular interest to those who can reach out to and engage communities most affected by the pandemic.
  • Kittle Group are looking for final year students to train to become bid writers. They say “We have no preference over the type of degree a graduate has, although most of our staff tend to have degrees in humanities subjects or law. We are currently based in Henley-on-Thames but because of growth, we are actively looking for a new office.  We cannot be sure of where we are going to end up in the autumn, but it will be close by, likely within the Reading area.”
  • Aspiring journalist? Applications are now open for the Scott Trust Bursary to study one of the following MAs: MA in Newspaper Journalism or Interactive Journalism, City University, London; MA in Journalism or Digital Journalism, Goldsmiths College, University of London; MA in Journalism, The University of Sheffield. This is open to all students with a right to work in the UK who have a 2:1 or above, in any subject. The bursary covers fees and includes £6,000 living costs, as well as 6 weeks work experience at the Guardian. There is also the possibility of a 6 month full time contract with the Guardian on completion of the course.

For everyone - we have another Ask US Anything in the diary for Wednesday 10th March 4-5pm. This is an opportunity for anyone in the department to log on and ask any questions of me and other members of staff about issues around assessments, extensions, extenuating circumstances, wellbeing, MA study or anything else (ish). If you would like to ask a question in advance, email me or you can post anonymously on this Microsoft form  I will send a Teams link for the session.

I have mentioned before you never really leave us after graduation and always remain part of our community, and we are always keen to learn of your news. I was therefore delighted to here that Florence Swan, who got an excellent 1st last summer and is now doing an MA in Medieval Studies at Oxford, has just been offered a CDA PhD award at Durham to work on a project on medieval food tastes. Excellent news.

And so, to our regular feature, ‘Why do you do what you do?’, and this week it’s the turn of second year undergraduate, Zara Overton

“I suppose the question I get asked the most is why am I not studying a politics degree? Which although has some merit to it, completely misses the point of what learning about history can offer.  I delivered papers for four years and will cheekily admit I read a customer’s copy of the Guardian every morning (sorry 14 Kingswood Terrace!), giving me access to the world of politics – one that seemed quite far away from a teenage girl in Newcastle. I slowly began to start conversations on current events, or sit in the back of debate club, as I loved collecting different peoples’ opinions before forming my own. After a while, I started to see more injustices in the place I lived (I, Daniel Blake always comes to mind here) but I felt unable to challenge them – even with years of watching and listening, gathering information, I wasn’t in a position to use that knowledge to help anyone. It was at that point I set out to work in politics, so I could become a person that was able to help. Studying modern history in high school taught me so much about the problems we face in society today and my teachers were the first people who encouraged me to go and do something about these problems. 

Since then, everything I’ve learnt about the past, I’ve connected to the present, trying to find solutions for the issues we face. I take this knowledge with me everywhere – it went into legislation briefings when I interned for an MP, it comes with me when I meet politicians on my Patchwork programme, and I will take it with me when I work for the Democrats in the New York Mayoral Race this year (covid pending of course).  “

Thanks Zara.

Finally, something you might be interested to read over the weekend. This article in this week’s Financial Times by Yuval Noah Harari entitled ‘Lessons from a year of Covid ‘ explores what we can learn for the future?

Yuval actually doesn’t mention it in his ‘lessons’, but lesson for this week at least, is that silicon loaf tins are so much better than tin ones and allow for banana bread to emerge intact after baking! Talking of which our Star Baker this week is  3rd year PhD student Kimberley Yancheson who has made this amazing  American Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake with American buttercream frosting. Wow!


For the bakers among you, I wanted to challenge you to make these pretzels.

Felicity Cloake’s pretzels.

I saw the recipe in last weekend’s Guardian and am sure some of you could make these with ease. If you decide to rise to the challenge and have a go, do let me know, with pics! I may even have a go myself..

Ok that’s it for another week. Have a good Friday and a good weekend when you get there. Remember to take care of yourselves – mind and body- and give yourself some time away from screens this weekend.


Hello everyone

I hope you have had a good week. The end of all of this is, we hope, just weeks, or a few months away. We can all now look forward to a summer of near normality and the opportunity to look back on the academic year with genuine pride for what we have all achieved. For some of you that will mean the end of your undergraduate studies, for others a year of study done, with a more normal academic year to look forward to for 2021-22.

Meanwhile, I know it’s been another busy week for all of you and, despite the light on the horizon, I know many of us continue to struggle with lockdown, the general monotony of each day, or separation from friends and family. I think we are all struggling with an overwhelming sense of exhaustion after all the stress and restrictions of the last year. It’s been a challenge to ‘keep it together’ and to keep moving forward, but we have, we are and we will!

So, what’s been happening? Well, I made another banana bread and did another jigsaw... I know,  know Groundhog Day or what?! I’ve also been doing lots of planning for next year and our undergraduates will now be preparing to do their options for next year’s modules. If you are third year wondering about what next, do have a chat with your personal tutor or me. MA study may be a really good option and we offer a range of courses which we would be happy to tell you about. There is also a Postgraduate Online Event on 18 March, 3-6pm which you may want to attend. For general MA queries do contact our PGT Lead Professor Sarah Ansari.

It’s been fantastic to see 3 of our academic staff  - Dr Stella Moss, Dr Rob Priest and Professor Jonathan Harris - receiving SU You’re Valued Award. This award is for staff members who have gone above and beyond for their students, as well as embodying the values of both the SU and the University. Students praised Dr Moss for ‘all her hard work, dedication and enthusiasm, for creating positive learning environment and is always happy to schedule 1-2-1 meetings to talk with students to try and help us achieve our best.’  Dr Priest was celebrated for ‘his dedication’ and for keeping students ‘in the loop’ despite being struck down with Coronavirus, ‘ensuring the dissertation students still had people to contact and develop their questions and proposals, that we knew what would happen with our module and how our topics would be reshuffled to ensure we still learn all the content. Keeping to his high standards for delivering the course and not conceding on that.” It would only be right to acknowledge Dr Daniel Beer, who stepped in to cover Dr Priest’s classes and to support his students. And finally, Professor Jonathan Harris, was singled out for going ‘above and beyond for his students. He's a brilliant professor and is beloved by everyone who takes his course… we look forward to his lectures every week. It’s not often you find someone that’s as passionate about his subject as him, and he’s kept us interested and excited about medieval history during these modern-day historical events. We all appreciate him so much as we’re struggling through the effects of this pandemic and he deserves to be rewarded for all his hard work and positivity.”

These are so brilliant to read and exemplify all that our academic staff have been doing to ensure you are supported and receive the best possible learning experience, despite this pandemic year. It’s also very gratifying to see students wanted to celebrate their tutors in this way. You are all a credit to the department. Talking of which, thanks to Eirwen Burgess, Charlotte Bookham and Patrick Ronan for helping out at this week’s online applicant event. Recruitment is a big focus at the moment as we try and attract the brightest and the best students (like all of you!) to join us next year. If you are in touch with your old school do perhaps suggest giving a talk to their year 12 or 13 about university study and RHUL. If you would like to do a ‘double hander’ a talk with me or Dr Priest our Recruitment lead or another member of staff, do let me know. You are all ambassadors for us!

In other news, Professor Giuliana Pieri, Head of School and Dr Prue Chamberlain, the School Director of Student Experience, held a meeting this week  with student reps to talk about the reorganisation of space in the International Building to help make it more student friendly. Items discussed included, creating more communal spaces, or even perhaps a common room to congregate, socialise and study away from the library and other shared college spaces. The School will look into the use of more notice boards throughout the building to enable students to share more actively some of their amazing achievements, society information and so on. Itwas noted that, during summer term/exams, especially, when the library is full people look to find alternative spaces to study. The School will look into potentially posting on every room its daily timetable which means you know when each room is vacant and available to be used for private study or group project work. It was also discussed that for commuting students, the creation of a pantry with a fridge, microwave, coffee etc. would be beneficial. There was also a brief discussion that this redesign of space should be based on ensuring sustainability.  If anyone has any ideas they wish to submit on how to ensure sustainability is achieved, or what spaces they would like to see the school create, please do not hesitate to contact the undergrad rep Alexander Garment or Dr Prue Chamberlain.

Last week, along with colleagues at the University of Roehampton, Dr Amy Tooth Murphy co-led an intensive PhD study day on ‘Queer Futurity’. The event was the first in the ‘Queer Feminist Currents’ series, funded by the Techne Conflux scheme. Queer futurity has been a major concept in queer theory over the last decade and although it can be very complicated once you get into it, essentially, in the words of José Esteban Muñoz, “queerness is an aspiration toward the future. To be queer is to imagine better possible futures”. As Dr Tooth Murphy writes, ‘ It was an amazingly stimulating and exciting day, and I had the pleasure of getting into some fascinating discussions with a range of scholars and activists utilising queer theory across History, Performing Arts, English Literature, Postcolonial Studies, and beyond. Our keynote speaker was queer theory superstar, Professor Jack Halberstam (!), whose book Female Masculinity is perhaps responsible for setting me on the path to where I am today. I also gave a short provocation on ‘Butch Renaissance’ at the start of the day to get the conversation started and ideas flowing. Sharing the bill with Jack Halberstam is a career highlight so far! You can watch both my provocation and Jack’s lecture on ‘An Aesthetics of Collapse’ on the Queer Feminist Currents website.”

PhD students Richard Asquith and Dilara Scholz have - with the kind help of Dr Cat Cooper - launched the Eventbrite for their  Death History conference in April [Until Death do us Part: Historical Perspectives on Death and those Left Behind, c.1300-c.1900]. It features excellent keynote speakers (Professor Julie-Marie Strange and Dr Jessica Barker) and contributions from all over the world, exploring the newly emerging field of death history. The conference will run over two days, all details can be found on the Eventbrite page

You may also be interested in an (online -obvs!) Digital conference taking place next week, 4-5 March hosted by the University of Oxford and Durham University. This conference brings together researchers, students, and professionals from art history, museology, digital humanities, geography, history, archaeology, classics and computer science, who share an interest in digital approaches to the study of visual and material culture. Themes include: Digital Approaches to Art History (Digital Visual Studies) and Digital Approaches to Architectural and Cultural Heritage (Sites and Objects).

And also happening next week, Professor Helen Graham will be giving a paper to CHIA at the University of Leeds entitled, ‘A Dream of Total Control: What practices of preventive detention tell us about Francoism from the 1940s to the 1970s (and about what came next)’. She will be talking at 4pm on Wednesday on Teams so if you would like to ‘attend’, do email the CHIA seminar organiser, Angel Smith (  who can send you the link.   

Beyond conferences and seminar papers, I am looking to schedule another well-being and/ or baking session. If one of you , or someone you know, might like to lead this and offer a session, do let me know. A cooking demo or talk would be fantastic...I mean I could do a live bake or banana bread but I’m thinking there might not be the interest...

Talking of which, PhD student Megan Zander, made these delicious looking brownies for her bubble.

Brownies could be something I could graduate to, although I’m thinking flapjack could be safer…

I know many of love reading and writing (creative fiction or non-fiction) and might even be interested in making a career out of it. If that’s you, do go along to I want to write on Monday 1 March, 6-7.30pm to hear from alumni from across the College that are doing just that - find out how they got started, what their jobs entail and what advice they have for those of you wanting to do something similar. Panellists include:

  • Ashna Hurynag, Sky Correspondent
  • Julia Armfield, Fiction Author
  • Kat Harty, Copywriter
  • Ben Golding, Creative Lead at Fox & Hare
  • Tanyel Mustafa, Freelance Lifestyle Journalist

If you are more a reader than a writer, you may be interested int this GQ feature on the ‘102 best books to read right now’. It’s a really interesting and eclectic list ranging from Bill Gates’ How To Avoid A Climate Disaster, to the trans realist novel, Detranistion, Baby by Torrey Peters. You can see the full list here.

And finally, our regular feature, ‘Why do you do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of Christie Pavey one of our postgraduate research students:

“There’s a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indy explains the significance of the Staff of Ra and draws how it could be used to find the Ark of the Covenant.  The excitement with which Indy puts pieces of the puzzle together isn’t just about finding a treasured relic; his excitement is from playing the game set out by individuals in the distant past.  This is exactly the delight I find in studying History.  

Through my teenage years and into early college, I was attracted to the debate and logic of law.  However, in preparing for a legal career, I also studied Latin.  When I realized that, through Latin, I could actually have a conversation with ancient Romans, it was like the world had opened up.  Cicero writing on the value of the liberal arts, or the danger of sedition (o Catilina!), or the four cardinal morals of virtus pierced the centuries and cultural and language boundaries separating us.  He seemed to create a dialogue that really has continued to the present day.

As it turns out, the ancient Roman lawyer, along with one or two wise moderns, convinced me to leave the study of law and pursue all things ancient.  The years since have confirmed this decision and given me more tools for exploring the ancient world and for communicating with those in the past.  Studying History, and especially late antique history, is exciting because I get to piece together puzzles, in conversation with other scholars doing similarly, to understand life in the ancient world and to carry their dialogues into the present—as if they’d drunk from the Holy Grail.”

Thanks Christie. Ok, that’s about if for this week folks.  I have loved the warmer weather this week and the lighter evenings. Do make sure you get out in the air over the weekend, it really does make everything feel better.

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


Hello everyone

I hope you are doing ok. We are now over half way through the term and, as the days begin to stretch a little longer, the prospect of spring, of renewal and, of rebirth looms on the horizon. This spring and summer will, I hope, be a very special one, as we all taste again small freedoms that for so long we have been denied: sitting with friends in the sunshine, gathering together for food and drink, hugging and holding our close friends and family. Last Sunday was Valentine’s Day and I was very conscious that some of you would be apart from partners and special someones. I know it’s just a day and in itself insignificant, but it highlighted just another thing which is so difficult about Lockdown and I just wanted to acknowledge that I understand that, for some of you, this will be an area of real stress, anxiety and upset which no doubt impacts on your ability to work, concentrate and generally remain upbeat and motivated. In any case, focus and motivation is a daily challenge, and this week I hope you have tried to take some small breaks for walks and fresh air during the working day, as we discussed last week. I know we have some keen gardeners among us but I was wondering whether there might be some interest in a Life in Lockdown session on ‘small space’ gardening? In other words gardening in a ‘window box’ for those with very limited space. Let me know if that might appeal, and I will see if I can get someone lined up for one of our next Living in Lockdown wellbeing session. Talking of which, we had a fantastic hour with MasterChef Professionals winner Gary Maclean on Wednesday. Gary talked about his career, his time in the MasterChef kitchen, including interesting revelations like the food is all cold when the judges eat it(!), his work now as Scotland’s national Chef and he even had time to advise on how I should cook the salmon fillet that I had planned for dinner! Gary’s book Kitchen Essentials comes highly recommended so do check it out

Kitchen Essentials: The Joy of Home Cooking

Ok so what else has been going on?

Well firstly, and perhaps most importantly, I wanted to share with you the most brilliant thing which I am sure will move and inspire you as much as it did me (although not to the extent that I am contemplating doing something similar!) Last Sunday a fundraising campaign led by Lizzy Harvey-Hawes, friend to one of our students Zara Overton, and the partner of dear Alice, the daughter of our great and much missed friend and colleague Justin Champion came to a head (as it were). In an effort to raise money for Brain Tumour research, Lizzy shaved her hair!

May be an image of 1 person   May be an image of 1 person and standing

Details of the campaign can be found here where it is also possible to make a donation

Justin’s influence, and the timeliness and importance of his research and external engagement, remains ever present. Some of you may have heard a repeat of one of his programmes on Religious Toleration on BBC Radio 4 last Sunday. 

We are a large and diverse community and, as I have said before, you never actually leave us even when you graduate, and we hope you will remain engaged with all we are doing, attend events and perhaps even mentor future students. Some of you may even return as Honorary Research Associates and Fellows and we have a whole range of these in the department including Horrible Histories Chief Nerd and presenter of Radio 4’s HomeSchool History and You’re Dead to Me Podcasts, Greg Jenner. Another such Honorary Research fellow, is Margaret Bird who has been in the department since 2006. She is a prolific historian and in the last eight years alone has  brought out nine volumes (5800 pages) on the eighteenth-century Norfolk diarist Mary Hardy (1733-1809).   At the age of 75, Margaret has decided to now step back from her work and her time as a Fellow in the department. We wish her well and thank you to the contribution she has made to our community.

This week we had our first Ask Us Anything session for students with an ‘expert’ panel of academic members of the department and from the admin team. It was great to be able to help the students who ‘dropped in’ and we want to make this a regular fortnightly event. We are also aware that some of you might be a little shy to ask questions or raise concerns so Dr Cat Cooper our digital whizz has set up a link to a Microsoft form that will allow students to anonymously submit a question to us to be addressed in the Ask us Anything sessions. The next session will be in a fortnight (details to follow) but you can send in any questions any time. If you have queries do please just Ask. I have heard of various WhatsApp groups with students wondering together about various things. First of all, why am I not invited ? L but more seriously, don’t just wonder, ask and we can then stop speculation, stress or concern.

Next Tuesday 6-7.30pm there is a Careers event open to all students in the School of Humanities. All the speakers are former English department speakers but now come from a range of different secots and careers. By attending the event, you’ll learn about what they do, what they like about it, how they chose their career and how you could get into the industry, in a friendly and informal atmosphere. Watch this 2-minute video to meet all our fantastic speakers Book online here or click here to join on the night.

Dr Amy Tooth Murphy,  is one of our most regular newsletter contributors, and this week she shares this: “I saw someone on Twitter say the other day that being a queer historian in February is like being a shopping centre Santa in December. I have to agree! Of course, it’s great that people are keen to learn about LGBTQ histories but it does spread the rather small band of queer historians a little thin in LGBT History Month. So I’d like to propose a new bumper sticker campaign: ‘LGBT History Month is for life, not just for February’.

Anyway, this week I was delighted to take part in a Historic Environment Scotland Event called ‘We Love LGBT History Live’, which was streamed on YouTube and on Facebook. I was joined by Dr Jeff Meek from the University of Glasgow and together we had a lovely time chatting all things LGBT history. For those who would like to watch at your leisure, the video is available on the HES YouTube channel. Next week, on Thursday 25th, 6-7.30pm I’ll be taking part in an LGBT History Month event being organised by the PIR Society and the LGBT Collective. More details to follow!”

Thanks Amy.

One of the things that continues to impress me, is the resilience, ‘keep calm and carry on’ attitude of so many of you despite the fact that 2020 and 2021 will go down in history as years of dramatic incident and significance. Nevertheless we carry on, working and learning together regardless, and this week I wanted to highlight the work of students from Dr Cat Cooper’s Digital Histories module ran which for the first time last term, the culmination of which involved all students producing a bespoke digital history project on a subject of their choice. They really are fantastic. Check out a sample of them here!  

  • Rachel Lawrence produced this incredible podcast entitled Women in the Works about Emily Wilding Davison.
  • Samuel Smith built this amazing StoryMap celebrating the 1950 F1 Season.
  • Georgina Shortland came up with this amazing auralization of trenches during WW1.
  • Vishali Sahans also produced “Coming from the Commonwealth” two podcasts about the BAME community in Britain. First episode and Second episode.

Finally, our regular feature, ‘why do you do what you do?’ and this time it’s the turn of Ann McCormack, one of our MA Public History students:

“When Dr Whitelock posed that question, I hesitated to commit my inferior answer to print for fear of it appearing superficial – it’s 2020 and this is my Plan B! And, why indeed, as some dear friends pointed out, would someone in the post-work phase of life want to subject themselves to the unnecessary trial of an MA – and in the presence of all those ‘bright young things’?  I have studied history previously but never had a job in history. I have written a few pieces – a form of self-flagellation - but never worked in a professional history role. My voluntary work, travel and leisure always find a historical link  – but I am not a real historian, am I? Not so, said Dr Madigan at our induction meeting last September. Apparently, we ARE all now historians, and were instructed to go forth and pronounce this good news. So, here goes.

Why am I here? First, the superficial bit. Time! I fall into that elite category of self-congratulatory realists who, despite the confusing optimistic woffle, recognised that 2020 and much of 2021 would not follow Plan A. I also fall into the more common category of fantasists, who long for more time to do this or that. When time is thrust upon us, we discover we are not automatically drawn to a backlog of mundane tasks. By June, I was looking around for another focus for the coming year. Not much happens down on the allotment in winter and I was weary of throwing things at the television. How could I escape fake news, irrational political discourse, and unscientific theories on the current plague? I found myself browsing the website of my old stomping ground, RHUL History Department in the desperate search for intelligent life forms at the end of an illogical tunnel. 

That is the WHY NOW - but WHY HISTORY. Do we agree that we are living through a riveting period of history? Brexit, BLM movement, chaos in USA, a pandemic, and let us not forget the happy fish. I cannot help thinking events might be going more smoothly if the protagonists were more historically literate. Instead, we seem to be witnessing the collapse of leadership and the failure of reason. In my imagination, I visualise those who watched events unfold in the 1930s and figured, ‘this is crazy’, ‘it’ll never catch on’, ‘reason will prevail’. But, sadly, reason does not always prevail and that is why we need to engage in history, to research and write, to tell and retell those stories of the past. Every new generation must know them, and we all need a recap – because, as a species, we seem to be quite forgetful. I know it is a cliché, but it is worth being reminded of the adage that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. So, let us have more history. But first, some politics.

Consider one example, Brexit. I would say that the failure of reason, the failure of historical argument, is nowhere more evident that in the discourse surrounding Ireland and Brexit. We know there is a gap - in even our short-term - collective historical knowledge, when an MP can stand up in the Mother of all Parliaments and be cheered for asking the following question. Would the Prime Minister guarantee that Great British Sausage will be available in the north of Ireland? Amongst the array of potential problems facing us in 2020, a deficiency in agricultural produce in Ireland was not one of them. Nevertheless, this piece of wisdom will be recorded for posterity in Hansard. Reducing the complexities of the hard-won Irish peace process to trivia demonstrated historical illiteracy. I could also add ignorance of geography and economics, since, ironically, the unfortunate sausage is more likely to be travelling in the opposite direction! So, behind every bit of disastrous politics there lurks poor history.

I put my hand up and confess to be an unrepentant Remoaning Remainer, still reeling from the collective failure to put into perspective the historical argument for Remain. I know – other opinions are available. Enough of politics. Let us have more history and maybe we will have better politics, and better understand ourselves and each other. In the past couple of weeks, I have been a part of such diverse conversations as immigration, the Bethnal Green train disaster, Irish soldiers on UN missions, the reading habits of lesbians in post-war Britain, masculine identity in a post-industrial era, digital archives in Ireland, Britain and Malaysia, intersubjectivity in oral history.  Last night I listened to the amazing poetry of a young, female, British Muslim, and this evening I will join the Watching Club to discuss the documentary, ‘1916: The Irish Rebellion’. Then, I must really do some actual work. Maybe I’ll start tomorrow, or perhaps Monday!  Writing is hard work. But if this was easy it would not be called an MA. I’m reminded of the Seamus Heaney poem, ‘Digging’, where he contrasts his father’s labour with the spade to his own labour with the ‘squat pen’. Before I’m allowed back to my allotment, I’ll probably have to forego some of the extracurricular pleasures on virtual offer at RHUL, as I too must come to grips with my own rusty pen.

Ann has also shared a picture of her Friday night feast - fish pie with cheese topping - buttered asparagus - accompanied by a nice, chilled, NZ sauvignon blanc