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Department Newsletter

Department Newsletter

Department Newsletter

Weekly update from the Head of Department

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Hello everyone

Another week done, and another week closer to the thing we used to call Normality! I hope your week has gone ok and you are now back in the rhythm of term, albeit a term like none other. It was great to see many of you at the first Wellbeing club session on Wednesday evening when Pilates Teacher and Muscular-skeletal physio Emma Spearing talked us through some mindful stretches to do at the end of days spent hunched over our computer screens. It will be the first of a number of wellbeing sessions which will take place through the term .The college also runs a number of online fitness sessions, so do check out the timetable here  There will be news on the Baking Club next week.

The next Wellbeing Session  - Living well in Lockdown will be next Wednesday 27th at 5pm when Tristram Stuart international award-winning author, speaker, campaigner will be talking about the environmental and social impacts of food . His books have been described as "a genuinely revelatory contribution to the history of human ideas” (The Times) and his TED talk has been watched over a million times. The environmental campaigning organisation he founded, Feedback, has spread its work into dozens of countries worldwide to change society's attitude towards wasting food. He is also the founder of Toast Ale, a beer launched in the UK in 2016 that is made using fresh, surplus bread.

And then on  10th February at 5pm, Life coach Layla Evans will be talking about – Values: the driving force behind our lives.

Layla has sent the following blurb:

Lockdown life is hard for most people.  One of the reasons for this is that it has become difficult to align our lives with our most important values. 

We’re no longer able to meet with friends and family, so our value of ‘connection’ is not being met.  We’re not allowed to travel freely, so we can't live out our value of ‘freedom’. If these are high priority values for you, it’s likely you’ll be feeling quite unhappy about the current situation. 

When our lifestyle and choices align with our values, we usually feel happy and content. But when we aren't living connected to them, we can feel frustrated, dissatisfied and resentful. 

Come along on this journey of self-discovery where we’ll identify your top-priority values to give insight into how to improve your own wellbeing, despite the limitations of the pandemic. Event link to follow

Its been great to hear from you this week about how things have been going in the online classroom but also in life outside. Whilst I know many of us are finding this period incredibly difficult, it’s great to hear how you are spending Lockdown in creative and productive ways. Some of you might think about keeping a video diary of Lockdown life as a way of creating an archive of this period. If this is something you might be interested in, let me know.

So how about Lockdown life and learning? What’s been going on?

Well first, a few important pieces of information which may be useful to some of you.

I have had a couple of queries about the library, whether its open for those living on or near campus and what the visiting arrangements are detailed on the webpage  - link here which is updated regularly. The library building is currently open 9am-9pm for students & staff on campus. If you're off campus do use the online resources. You should only travel to campus if you're unable to study at your current location & it's absolutely essential. Students will need a valid RH card to enter the library. The click and collect service is only available for students registered with the Disability and Dyslexia office.

I also wanted to draw your attention to the additional finding available for students facing financial difficulties, for students who are experiencing financial challenges such as, but not limited to:

  • Loss of part-time work
  • Private sector accommodation costs incurred due to a change in personal/family circumstances 
  • Support needed to access teaching/library based learning resources
  • Additional costs due to travel restrictions

You can find out more about this funding and the digital disadvantage fund on the student intranet.

I know many of you will not be able to do the part time work that you would normally do to support your studies. There is however the option of becoming a Student Ambassador. Applications are now open and close on Sunday 24 January. Interviews will take place online on Monday 1 February. We offer flexible working hours, to fit around your studies, and it is a great way to make friends, and boost your employability. Please email for more information.

And finally in terms of notices and information, the annual  National Student survey (NSS )survey is now open. Please can third year Undergrads take a few minutes to complete the survey.  In doing so you stand a chance of winning a range of prizes, including a £100 Amazon gift card and £200 Virgin Experience Days online voucher. Well worth 10 minutes of your time!

Following my survey for Department Fun and Activities, undergrad Alex Garment has volunteered to set up a study group. He has provided a form to get an idea of what you would like to get out of the group and ideas for sessions. Do fill it in if you are keen to be involved.

Professor Kate Cooper has offered to run a Historical Fiction Book Club in terms 2 and 3. if there are students who would be interested in joining. Watch for a poll inviting you to vote on the first three books! In the mean time, please send nominations to

Talking of fiction, our very own Dr Barbara Zipser has been fictionalised in a new German crime novel. Dr Zipser appears in the book as Barbara Brandt who helps solve the crime upon which the book is based. The book, Tief in der Erde is written by Christa von Bernuth and published in the next few weeks! Amazing. For more information on the  book and the crime upon which it is based, do contact Dr Zipser.

Next Wednesday 27th, Dr Cat Cooper and Dr Shahmima Akhtar will be running a HistoryLab on Social Media for History and the Humanities. The session at 1-2pm focuses on how we might effectively use social media like Wordpress blogs, Twitter and Facebook to build up our social media profile as a historian. It will introduce different platforms and how it is applied as a research, public engagement and networking tool, and the positives and benefits of using such online tools and networks.  



Message from Dr Amy Tooth Murphy - Anyone within the School of Humanities who identifies as LGBTQ is very welcome to join us at our LGBTQ Culture Club. This is an informal hang-out space to meet other LGBTQ folks and chat all things queer. Last term we went from lesbian line dancing to gay tiktok, and ended the year creating a fantasy cast list for our very own Queer Christmas Carol. Where will our chats take us this term?

If you’d like to come along please email me for the Teams link: If you’d like to find out more before signing up just drop me a line. 

I am delighted to share the news that Dr Katie Carpenter who has long been a member of our department has been appointed to her first fill time lectureship at the University of Lincoln teaching Britain and the British Empire. As Dr Carpenter says, ‘I joined Royal Holloway in 2010 as an anxious undergraduate who was too scared to say anything in seminars. In my second year, Alex Windscheffel and Stella Moss’ superb teaching on The Victorians first sparked my love of the 19th Century, and Jane Hamlett’s lunatic asylums course gave me the research bug. After doing my BA, I stayed on for an MA and a PhD, and then a post-doc. I have thoroughly enjoyed studying, researching and teaching in the history department and have so many people in the department to thank for the support, inspiration and pep talks over the past ten years! I’m saying goodbye to RHUL for now, but I’ll be back soon to visit.’

I do hope so and in person, not just online!

I mentioned last week my new passion for jigsaws and, it seems, it’s a passion shared. Julia Hamilton, my PhD student and the respondent to last week’s why do you do what you do? Started a puzzle exchange with her neighbour during the first lockdown. Being brilliantly creative as so many of you are, she  also devised an online puzzle which was related to an object in the Royal Collection that had a conservation story linked to it. Check it out here -

Julia has also said she is happy to create a puzzle especially for the newsletter, which would be fabulous. So yes please Julia!

It was brilliant to receive an email from Georgios Argiantopoulos with some winter pictures from his village on the mountains in northern Greece. The mountain is called "Vermion" and the Village is called "Seli". Georgios writes, ‘ It is full of snow right now and the sunny weather has created a beautiful atmosphere. There is also a nice ski resort nearby, but unfortunately it is closed due to the ongoing circumstances. 








How jealous are we!

Closer to home Sol Harrold has been doing some lockdown baking, and writes, ‘Last week was my dog’s 2nd birthday and I used it as an excuse to make some cupcakes for the family too.

(My dog Lundi got some treats instead).

She’s started to mimic us doing online lessons, here she is stealing my seat when I went to get some water!

Sol continues, ‘my sister and I experimented with food colouring to make it half one colour on the inside.

Look fabulous Sol, thanks so much for sharing.

Dr Cat Cooper has been at it again, making this delicious looking beetroot and goats cheese stuffed pasta. So professional!

Whilst not quite as exciting as baking, (her words not mine!), Professor Jane Hamlett had an article published this week - it looks at how and why women in early twentieth-century England used new photographic technologies to create family archives and how their activities continue to influence how we understand archives in the public domain... It's part of a new Past and Present supplement on 'Mothering's Many Labours' edited by Sarah Knott and Emma Griffin. Professor Hamlett’s article is, Mothering in the Archives: Care and the Creation of Family Papers and Photographs in Twentieth-Century Southern England* and it can be found here - Past & Present, Volume 246, Issue Supplement_15, December 2020, Pages 186–214,

Excellent news and good to see the normal wheels of research and publication still continuing to turn, despite the many challenges of the pandemic.

In other news, I recorded two podcasts this week, one with Greg Jenner for You’re Dead to Me on James VI and I, and also with Dan Snow on the Tudors for his History Hit Homeschool series. That one’s out now.

And finally for this week, our regular feature, ‘Why do you do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of second year undergrad Laura Deacon:

The reason I study a joint degree in history, politics and international relations was to truly understand both how the international and domestic political sphere operates, but also to question its successes and failures. On the face of it, this is what most people studying history and politics would likely say. My reasons do ebb a little deeper, namely I wanted to be able to, figuratively of course, see between the lines of government policy and be able to tear these apart. Since this is a history newsletter, I will endeavour to stick to history. The way the past affects the present has been a constant fascination for me, understanding how an identity is constructed from past events, reflected in the present, but also in the way it subconsciously affects what will essentially be the future has intrigued me. As a result of this, my focus and interest has always remained on modern history, around the twentieth century onwards as it both feels relatable but also separate from our ways of life. Although, I have just completed a module on the Victorians in an effort to expand my historical understanding. Furthermore, history in many ways reflects patterns; it is essentially “old politics” and often resembles patterns in “contemporary politics”. Here I find it appropriate to bring in Harrold Macmillan who clearly recognised this: “events dear boy, events” – his response to what essentially dictated the length of the premiership of any Prime Minister.

Then, when did my interest in history begin? This is a complex question: over the numerous school holidays I would attempt to truly surround myself in history, not only visiting the museums in London, but also stately homes and the good old-fashioned evening BBC documentary. Naturally I had a habit of retaining knowledge from the places I had visited. My favourite was a trip to Petworth House and Gardens where I successfully outwitted an elderly couple, who previously said that the young don’t care about history – I hope their opinion changed after I successfully quoted to a tour guide a few main quotes of Jane Austin, albeit thanks to frantic GCSE revision!  In addition to these early historical fascinations, either typical or unusual, I wanted to study old documents, visit archives and form my own opinion rather than one dictated by school teachers, and later college teachers. In this sense, studying history has allowed me to do this and enjoy the process. Hence, therefore I am a second-year history student today, in order to form my opinion and not relay another’s.

Ok, that’s it for this week. Have a good Friday and a good weekend when you get there. Do share your pics, bakes or other news. I love to hear from you


Hello everyone

Happy New year (it feels ages ago already doesn’t it?) and well done,  we have almost completed the first week of term! Despite college being open, and department teaching being in full swing, I know most of you are not at your usual term time addresses. Many of you will be at your family homes across the UK, or perhaps even abroad. Others will have remained on or around campus before the lockdown. We are certainly a Department all over the place (geographically only of course!).Over the next few weeks, do let me know where you are and maybe send some pics of the view from your desk. It would be good to get an idea of where we are currently all scattered.

I have been musing this week, and indeed over the holidays about isolation. Some of us will feel this acutely if we are living alone or away from close family and friends, but I think it’s also something we might all be suffering from, regardless of how many people are in our household or bubble. The inability to spontaneously see friends, play sport, go shopping or to the cinema, have dinner with family and friends or even have a party, are all things currently out of bounds. So even though we may not actually be alone, we can still feel isolated and apart. We all need to work hard to stay outward looking, engaged with the world, and enthused and inspired by things we watch, read or do. I hope this term we can continue to share recommendations of things we have enjoyed. I spent quite a while over Christmas doing jigsaws. You may laugh, but they are bizarrely calming, mindless and demand offline presence in the real world. Maybe give it a go.

I have been overwhelmed by your responses to the Activities Survey and there is clearly a real desire to come together socially and for ‘out of class’ activities. All are intended for staff and students.There is certainly an appetite (excuse the pun) for a Baking Club, a Study Group and for a Wellbeing Club. There is also interest in a Reading Group and a Department Pub Quiz. I am going to be working with the History Society on the Quiz (Staff v Students) and Charlotte Bookman (the Society President) and I will be in touch with details in due course.

I am in the process of thinking through the Baking/Cooking Club and Wellbeing Club and have some potential speakers in mind who I am waiting to hear from. If you have expressed interest in one of these clubs and have thoughts on leading a session or what you would like us to do, please let me know. It would be good to have a few facilitators/organisers (among staff or students) to support the running of things.  The Wellbeing group will focus on ‘living well in lockdown’ but also in thinking about wider issues about wellbeing both for ourselves and the wider world during and after the pandemic. With that in mind, our first speaker is one who will speak to both the Wellbeing Group and Cooking Club. He is  Tristram Stuart, an international award-winning author, speaker, campaigner and expert on the environmental and social impacts of food . His books have been described as "a genuinely revelatory contribution to the history of human ideas” (The Times) and his TED talk has been watched over a million times. The environmental campaigning organisation he founded, Feedback, has spread its work into dozens of countries worldwide to change society's attitude towards wasting food.He is also the founder of Toast Ale, a beer launched in the UK in 2016 that is made using fresh, surplus bread. I am just agreeing a date with him so watch this space for more info.

As part of the Wellbeing Club,  I have also organized a wonderful Pilates teacher, Emma Spearing, to do a session every week – 5pm (day tbc). This will be about 20 minutes of stretching and movement and then a mindful relaxation. I will circulate details in due course. All you will need to do is log on, find a bit of space on the floor and listen as Emma talks you through the session. You don’t need to have your camera on, and this is intended to be a mind and body wind-down which I hope you can then use each day yourself.

If there is anyone who would like to curate the Reading Group, do let me know. I was thinking of a suggested novel each week or fortnightly which everyone then reads and then meets to discuss.

And finally, there was lots of votes for a Study Group to share ideas for good practice, research, and writing. I will have a think about how to get this up and running, but again, if there are staff or students who would like to help run this, do let me know and if there are particular ideas for things to discuss.

That’s quite enough from me, what have you all been doing over the last few weeks?

Well Dr Cat Cooper is an avid reader, and in 2020 she finally managed to complete the challenge to read 50 (non-work) books, which is just under one book a week. Dr Cooper says: “Admittedly by setting myself this challenge I occasionally tend towards a shorter read but what I have found is that if I’m struggling with a book I tend to put it to one side and start something new rather than trying to persevere. I use the Good Reads app to track the books I’m reading and source out recommendations and, for better or worse, it lets me review what I have read this year. In amongst some absolute rubbish (Candace Robb was a lot more appropriate when I lived in York!) I particularly enjoyed the following:

  • The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch (really captures a feel of London despite the fantasy setting, also painfully accurate depictions of archaeologists)
  • Wideacre – Philippa Gregory (Pretty dark at times but paints interesting scenes Enclosure and its impact)
  • Gut Symmetries by Jeanette Winterson (I’ve always liked Jeanette Winterson’s non-linear narratives)
  • Sula – Toni Morrison (thought-provoking and covers so many themes)
  • A Month in the Country  - J. L. Carr (for lovers of medieval wall paintings)

What a great thing to have done.

Dr Amy Tooth Murphy has also been setting herself impressive challenges. As she says: ‘Avid readers of the newsletter may recall that during the first lockdown, with gyms closed and my beloved squat rack and bench behind closed doors, I started doing more running. I’ve never been much of a runner, always pootling my way through a slow 5k every now and again. But during that first lockdown I set myself a target of doing a 10k, which I achieved at the end of June. Almost immediately after that I thought, “Right, what now?”. With no sign of being able to get back to my beloved weights in the gym, I decided maybe I had a half marathon in me. Now that is something I absolutely never thought I’d say! So from July to December, I ran in sun, wind, rain and snow, from 32C to -5C, dutifully doing my ‘easy runs’ (still not sure if I’d call them that), cadence drills, hill runs, pace runs and – of course – long runs. Amazingly, I found I enjoyed those longer runs most of all. As the miles ticked up each week, before I knew it, I was heading out on 10 mile runs. And it wasn’t actually that hard! I’m also a total gear geek, and whatever sport or activity I get into I love poring over the best gear to buy. So this was clearly an awesome opportunity to buy some new technical gear. It’s not quite my usual aesthetic but I’m doing my best to make a running belt, reflective cap and eye-wateringly fluorescent yellow jacket work for me.”

As Dr Tooth Murphy continues: ‘We’re very lucky in that where we live on the North Norfolk coast there are miles and miles of country roads, making it pretty easy to plan out a quiet route over many miles. The long runs through the countryside have been restorative instead of exhausting, and certainly meditative as the mist rises over the fields, or the morning frost lies thick on the hedgerows, making beautiful icy sculptures out of the unassuming architectural intricacy of cow parsley. Ever goal-oriented, I signed up for the Brighton Half Marathon. It was originally meant to be held in February but some months back we got word it has been postponed to June. But my training went well and I was on track to be able to complete the full 13.1 miles before the end of the year. And that’s exactly what I did! I waved a less-than-fond farewell to 2020 on New Years Eve by completing my first ever half marathon! My partner and my son drove out to ‘cheer me on’ at mile 10, and then it was head down to power home. I’d set myself a target of under 2 ½ hours and I’m delighted to say I came in at 2 hours 25 mins! My son (age 4) ran the last few hundred meters with me. If you’d asked me at the start of 2020, I’d have said there was no way I’d ever be able to run 13.1 miles. It’s so important to grab positives where we can find them at the moment. The training has really given me something to focus on, and the achievement of completing has been a great boost in an otherwise very difficult year.I’m really interested to hear if other members of our department community have taken up any new exercise or sport, or perhaps rediscovered an old one.’  

Well done Dr Tooth Murphy and yes, do share your sporting successes or just personal challenges you have set yourself.

Others have been staying sane in different ways.  Third year undergraduate Leah Jane and her housemates got two guinea pigs, called Bubbles and Squeak and they are totally adorable! 

Amid all these endeavours, the work of us all as Historians continues, albeit challenged by the pandemic and difficulties accessing libraries and archives. For those currently working on dissertations, do check out the Institute of Historical Research’s ‘Bibliography of British and irish History’ and their video on how to write a thesis in 2021

A few other research related matters. Katy Mortimer has shared this call for contributors for a new 4 vols. Encyclopaedia entitled Religion and World Civilizations: How Faith Shaped Societies from Antiquity to the Present. If anyone is interested do see the details attached.

If you are a PhD researcher, you may be interested in this upcoming conference examining Historical Perspectives on Death. For more information do contact

The Holocaust Research Institute's annual David Cesarani Memorial Lecture, will this year be given (online) by Prof. Lyndsey Stonebridge (University of Birmingham) on Monday 25th January 6.30-8pm. The title of the lecture is Love in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt in Gurs Camp and New York. To attend do register here,

And a message for all our final year undergraduates –

** MA Crusader Studies, MA History, MA Holocaust Studies,MA Late Antiques and Byzantine Studies, MA Medieval Studies, and MA Public History ​​**   - if you want to apply for funding to study on one of our fantastic MAs programmes in 2021-22, then be sure to check out the details of our current studentships as soon as possible:   Some of these scholarships on offer are just for History students, while other are more generic College scholarships.  With the first set of submission deadlines coming round at the end of March, remember that you must hold a College offer when you apply [details on how to make an MA application are available at: ].

And Congratulations are in order to our PhD student Adam McKie who this week passed his viva with minor corrections. Adam's thesis was entitled 'Utopia Ltd.? Capitalist Utopianism and Model Company Villages in Interwar England.'  His External was Prof. Guy Ortolano of NYU and his Internal was Prof. David Edgerton of KCL. His co-supervisor was our recently retired colleague Prof. Greg Claeys and his Advisor was Prof. Humayun Ansari.Adam has been with the History Department for five years. He joined us for an MA by Research on women's interwar cricket, having won a competitive scholarship funded by the Association of Cricket Statisticians. The ACS published Adam's research in book form. Congratulations to Dr McKie!

And finally, to our regular feature, ‘why do you do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of my new PhD student Julia Hamilton:

Bringing historical objects to life, be it a portrait or a property, has been central to my purpose.  I am passionate about building engaging narratives for heritage site visitors with the aim of giving them a unique and memorable experience. By unearthing archival material to develop a sense of the individual behind the object enhances the engagement with it and provides the public with lasting memories to reference and to reflect upon.  With my enthusiasm, I hope the spark a curiosity in others. 

While working Ham House, a seventeenth-century courtiers house located on the banks of the Thames, near Richmond, I developed several product offers on architecture and portraiture which delivered these aims. An external architecture tour of the house, which is still given today for visitors to take prior to entry, puts the house firmly in its historical context by referencing familiar historical events during the Stuart reign, introduces the family who resided at Ham and informs the visitor of how the house evolved architecturally and why.  The tour forms an essential introduction which enhances the appreciation of material culture on display within the house and increases the understanding of how state apartments were used during this period.

While at nearby Windsor Castle, with the Royal Collection Trust, I developed Adult Learning programming to provide unprecedented access to the collection. Study days and evening lectures ranged in topics from Edward III to Queen Victoria. Musical events were recreated including works specifically composed for and originally performed at the Castle and, for Queen Victoria’s bicentennial, rare books from the Royal Library were temporarily on display and table top Christmas trees were decorated for each of her nine children. While I certainly expanded my royal history during my time at Windsor, my heart remained with the seventeenth-century and with the baroque state apartments which were developed there during the reign of Charles II.

Interpretation within an architectural sphere can be challenging especially when conveying etiquette and ceremonial display. Much has been written to explain the hierarchical sequence of rooms which answered the needs of the hierarchical court. If used, this aids in the visitors understanding while walking through the state apartments.  It is through the stories of the individuals and how they used the spaces within the private apartments that will further enhance a visitors appreciation while at a royal residence or at a home or a past courtier.  

That is why I am so delighted to be pursuing a PhD at Royal Holloway. I seek to determine the varying needs of privacy of the Stuart monarchs and how they used spaces within their private apartments to achieve it.  My interest and experience in Stuart architecture and Stuart monarchs are brought together in this capacity of further study for myself and for those heritage sites where state apartments continue to survive.

Thanks to Julia and I am delighted to have her studying with me in the department.

I hope some of you may have baking plans for the weekend as I am feeling the lack this week! Although that said, Dr Tooth Murphy has been at it again, and here reveals what fuels her running success:

This is Dr Tooth Murphy’s Christmas baking triumph: panettone! The secret bakers’ ingredient is glycerine for an extra soft crumb.

Ok that’s about it. Before I go, just something to share with you for the new year. Its words from the author Neil Gaiman

              May your coming Year

              be filled with magic and dreams

              and good madness.

              I hope you will read some fine books

              And kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful.

              And don’t forget to make some art –

              Write or draw or build or sing

              Or live as only you can.

              And I hope, somewhere in the next year,

              You surprise yourself

Oh for some ‘good madness’. I’m looking forward to sharing in your successes and surprises this year. We will as a department be with you, every step of the way. We are and remain, all in this together.

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


Hello everyone

We made it! Finally we are at the end of term! For some of you it marks the end of your first period at university and living away from home, for all of us it marks the end of a term, indeed a year, like none other. But, we got through it, and whether you are an undergrad or postgrad, you now have a term’s study done and that represents a job well done. I am incredibly proud of each and every one of you. I am also really proud of how, as a department, we have all pulled together and made things work, despite everything. I hope in the coming weeks, you find the time to reflect on all your achievements, and to of course, relax and get ready for, what I hope and believe, will be a much improved 2021!

I asked for your #bestbits2020 and we got some excellent ones which largely, and perhaps not unexpectedly, revolve around baking! but before we get there, lets catch up on other news.

First the return to campus after Christmas. In response to the government guidance, the college have to stagger the start of face-to-face teaching to encourage students to consider varying their travel dates as they return to campus for the start of the new term. This does not affect postgraduate students, who are free to return to campus for term two as they normally would.

Term starts on Monday 11 January when all teaching will begin. UGT teaching will be online until 25th January when face to face teaching will resume; ad PGT teaching will be online until 1st February. It is important to stress that campus remains open throughout and everyone is absolutely welcome and encouraged to use the library and other facilities during that time. The department will, as ever, be open, and I will be here ready and available to help you whenever you need me. Your personal tutors will also be very keen to hear from you in the first week of term and will be in touch to arrange times for you to check in with them.

Thinking a little further into the future, our third year undergraduates might want to start thinking about MA study and with that in mind, I would like to draw your attention to two funding opportunities, the Brian Harris Scholarship and Brian Harris Award for History. Details for both are now live on the website and open for applications.

Dr Akil Awan, perhaps like many of us, dreads eating Turkey at Christmas ( I actually love Turkey!) and last year, in an attempt to understand why we eat this ‘’overstuffed dry monstrosity’ (his words), produced a short  twitter thread on the History of eating Turkey on #Xmas. Here goes:

Turkeys are originally from N America, and mitochondrial DNA of domesticated turkey has shown that they were first bred and domesticated in ancient Mexico by the pre-Aztec people around 800 BC. Alongside dogs, the turkey was the among the first animals domesticated there. The Puebloan people of the southwestern US also domesticated turkeys ~ 200 BC, but these were initially raised for feathers, which were used in rituals & ceremonies, as well as to make feather robes or blankets, but that strain vanished sometime after the arrival of the Spanish. So the turkey was actually domesticated independently at two different times by two different peoples in North America.

In pre-Colombian meso American societies, Turkeys were more than a food source. They were culturally significant as sacrifices in ritual practices. Archaeological evidence shows Turkey bones were rarely found in domestic refuse in Mesoamerica & most turkey remains found had not been eaten; some were found buried in temples and human graves, perhaps as companions for the afterlife. This fits with what we know about the iconography of the period, where we see turkeys depicted as gods and appearing as symbols in the calendar. The Ocellated Turkey was viewed by the Maya as vessels of the gods, used in religious rites & honored accordingly, becoming coveted symbols of power & prestige. One Maya ruler even chose a royal epithet with Turkey in it: Chak Ak'ach Yuhk “Great Male Turkey, Shaker of Cities”. The Aztecs considered them to have great cultural significance, using them as sacrifices in ritual practices. The Aztec name for turkey was wueh-xōlō-tl (guajolote in Spanish), a word still used today alongside the term pavo [incense burner handle as Tezcatlipoca, the turkey claw oyster sauce, a fine sirloin of beef roasted, some peas soup and an orange pudding for the first course, for the second we had a lease of wild ducks roasted, a fork of lamb and salad and mince pies” But It's really not until the Victorian era that turkeys began to be popularised, although were still very expensive compared to alternatives. Famously, in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, Scrooge sends Bob Cratchit a massive turkey to replace his goose [illus. Charles Edmund Brock 1905]. Even during Queen Victoria’s reign, turkey was not the most popular Christmas roast. But changes in production, transportation & refrigeration technologies all helped make turkey more affordable and less exclusive. It certainly helped that Turkeys no longer had to be ‘driven’ by foot from Norfolk all the way to London for the Christmas trade, wearing little leather boots to protect their feet on the arduous journey. Even in the1930s, a turkey would cost the average person a week’s wages to buy, but this changed with refrigeration, particularly after WWII. Today in the UK, we eat ~10 million turkeys every year for Christmas. We share this tradition with the US, Canada, Australia & New Zealand but surprisingly, pretty much everyone else rarely eats Turkey at Christmas. One of my favourite invented traditions is the Japanese who eat KFC for Christmas! Whatever you eat, enjoy!


And of course no Christmas dinner would be complete without Christmas pudding! Dr Emily Manktelow has helpfully shared this -

In 1926 the Empire Marketing Board promoted the Empire Christmas Pudding as a way to fuse the festivities of Christmas with celebration of the British Empire. Signed off by the King’s Chef and with the King and Queen’s consent, the recipe showcased the breadth and benefit of inter-imperial trade, boasting that a whole Christmas Pudding could be made with ingredients sourced from around the Empire. The recipe was published in newspapers around the country and across the colonies in an attempt to bring together an increasingly fractured British Imperial world. Indeed, the purpose of the Empire Marketing Board was to boost the public’s engagement with imperialism and to convince them to ‘buy Empire’. While the Empire Marketing Board wasn’t able to save the British Empire from its post-WWII collapse, it did boost the public’s cultural engagement with Empire, shaping many of the imperial stereotypes that still exist with us today.

Ok, now to your #BestBits2020.  First up is 2nd year historian Laura Deacon, who made crumpets pictured here-

As Laura said, these were very necessary in a 2020 dominated by little other than Brexit and Covid. Ain’t that the truth?! Laura said she made six crumpets but they proved such a hit with her family that there are none left! Apparently during Lockdown 1, Warburtons released their secret recipe in an effort to cheer up the public.  Here it is

Lockdown lasagne and Irish soda bread were the best bits of Lockdown 1  for Ann McCormack, MA Public History student.

Now we are in the vacation, Ann will resume watching the hostage thriller Inside Man (2019) on Netflix. I may well give that a try as I am looking for something new having just finished watching Unorthodox also on Netflix.

Baking #BestBits for MA Holocaust Studies student Marria Akhtar, was her amazing lemon drizzle cake pictured here -


PHD student Charlotte Gauthier made cakes to help her work through writing problems, and today made a  blueberry, lemon and pistachio cake. One of her #best bits was having a 900-year-old place to write in. Charlotte, tell us more!

PHD student Megan Zander finally managed to get together with family for a belated Thanksgiving which, together with this amazing spread, definitely makes some of her #BestBits.


And finally Imogen Dalziel whose #bestbit of the year was passing her doctoral viva in October! Congratulations to Dr Dalziel and to all those who completed A levels; a first degree, MA or PhD this year. Imogen also kindly acknowledged the newsletter as a weekly #best bit, allowing us all to reach beyond loneliness and uncertainty and see the creative ways in which students and staff have made the best of a difficult situation. Absolutely! Editing the newsletter and hearing all the things you have been doing has definitely been among my #best bits.

And so to our regular feature, ‘why do you do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of PhD student and visiting tutor Amber Pierce:

I am a Royal Holloway history student born and bred, having completed my BA, MA, and hopefully soon my PhD at Royal Holloway. Given this path, it felt like the natural next step was to take on the role of Visiting Tutor. I am teaching three history seminars this year on the ‘Conflict and Identity: A History of Modern Europe’ course. This is a course that I studied as a first-year undergraduate, so I hope that I can pass on some of what I learnt when I was studying this topic!

My passion for history in general began during high school. I was lucky enough to have some amazing teachers that taught in unique ways making the topics (in particular the Holocaust) very engaging. My interest in the Holocaust grew throughout my BA: a clear turning point was Dan Stone’s course on Genocide in my second year which introduced me to the debates surrounding the definition of crimes against humanity and genocide. The legal differences between crimes against humanity and genocide later became the focus of an essay I wrote for my MA in Holocaust Studies. Throughout my MA there was a consistent legal focus, looking at evidence presented in Holocaust trials and the impact the trial narratives had on the wider public’s engagement with the Holocaust. My PhD is therefore the culmination of all of these interests, focusing on Holocaust Law. I am researching the evolving role of the historian as an expert witness in Holocaust trials from 1947-2000, and I am currently finalising my thesis.  For me, undertaking a PhD was an opportunity to take my interest in the Holocaust and law to the next level. I am fascinated by the dynamics of the interdisciplinary relationship between history and law and the constant debates surrounding whether history and law can work together. Through my research, I have found that there is a place for history within the courtroom and it serves to demonstrate how far reaching and important history is as a discipline. Without historians, several of the landmark verdicts during Holocaust trials would not have been possible, and to leave history out of the courtroom (as some judges have argued) would do significant damage to the wider Holocaust narrative. This conclusion is equally applicable in other settings, such as historians appearing as expert witnesses in more contemporary International Criminal Tribunals.

I have been fortunate enough to experience a vast range of opportunities as a result of studying history at Royal Holloway, such as traveling around the world to different archives (US) and lectures (Nuremberg) and engaging with likeminded people at conferences. My most notable experiences however have occurred as a result of meeting new people through interviews conducted for my PhD. Some of my interviewees were able to provide insight into previously understudied Holocaust trials. It was, and continues to be, a privilege to be able to contribute to the history of Holocaust trials and society’s understanding of how Holocaust trials are conducted by assessing these previously understudied, or in some cases unstudied, trials. This privilege and excitement, of being able to find unstudied topics and offer revised interpretations of history in a way that one-day may influence students similar to my younger self and to those I currently teach, is why I continue to do what I do.

Thanks Amber.

So that’s it folks for the term and for this year. You all absolutely deserve a break, and I hope whether it be virtually, or in person, you are able to spend time with your friends and family. This Christmas is going to be different that’s for sure. For the first time, I won’t be around my parents table over Christmas, but instead will join them outside for a socially distance walk. Its going to be odd, probably cold and certainly different than normal, but that’s really been the story of this year. We all just have to hang in there for a  few more months and until better, warmer, safer times return.

Christmas can be a tough time at the best of times, and if over the holiday period you find yourself struggling with your mental health or feeling alone and in need of support, please do reach out. You can contact me, the college’s wellbeing team or of course, the NHS. Please remember you are not alone and are very much part of this community. Every single person has achieved something quite exceptional this year, and survived and thrived in the most trying circumstances. Things are now going to get better and I for one can’t wait for 2021 and the Beginning of the End of all this!

‘til then, take care of yourselves. I think you are all fab and am so proud of the caring, creative community we have together created.


Hello everyone

Here we are at the end of the penultimate week of term and I know many of you will be on the move, getting tests and travelling home as well as completing assignments, and attending online classes and perhaps even thinking about Christmas shopping! It’s always a frantic time of year, but this year feels at once incredibly busy but somehow also slow, laborious and unyielding. There are lots of plates to spin, but perhaps rather less energy than normal to spin them! At least that’s how I feel. That all said, I am always energised by you and all the things that go on in our department be that on campus or on line. This year we have certainly proved that our department is not simply a corridor in the International Building or a website, it is a community of people bound together by a fascination with the past and by a critical engagement with the present, and indeed the future. And our community rocks: its lively, busy, creative, brilliant and resilient. We are #covidproof! Now, on that theme, I want to set a challenge. I was listening to the podcast of an episode of BBC Radio 4s’ Woman’s Hour and a discussion with the Universities Minister Michelle Donelan who talked of how much students had ‘endured’ this term. Now of course you have, we all have, but I also like to think that we have endured and enjoyed at least some of this term. My challenge is to find some Best Bits for next week’s end of term newsletter. Amid the virus stuff, the social distancing the face masks, the hand washing, what are your #Bestbits2020 ?  Do send thoughts, pics or whatever!

You may have seen in the media, the new government guidance on the return of students for term two. The college are now hard at work reviewing these and planning for our safe return. We shall get details by the end of next week,  but in the meantime do remember, our campus never closes, there's always students here and we’ll be open to welcome you back for term two.

But before we get there, let’s get back to this term! Last Friday Dr Weipin Tsai organised a workshop for colleagues in our department and from Media Arts with academics and PhD students at National Taiwan University. The workshop theme was ‘Reimagine Asia’ and  compared East, South and West Asian approaches to the study of 'Asia' as an epistemological space. There was a great range of papers - from Sherlock Holmes adaptations in Chinese cinema to the procurement of herbs and vegetables amongst Vietnamese migrant workers, and from inland treaty ports in the mountains of Yunnan to the complex urban identities of Salonica and Karachi, not to mention  modernist poetry celebrating the Bento Box on Taiwanese state railways or the loneliness of gaming arcades in the new East Asian metropolis. We are looking forward to continuing this collaboration at a physical workshop in Taipei next summer - COVID permitting. And here’s a picture of the international workshop

Nicola Froggatt and Mary Mcmahon, two of our PhD students, co-run (alongside fellow PhD students from the University of Leeds), a Zoom workshop exploring object-centred teaching and learning practices in university settings and beyond. Among those speaking were Subhadra Das who discussed working with challenging material at UCL; Marenka Thompson-Odlum on analysing object labels at the Pitt Rivers Museum, and Jim Harris on academic engagement work at the Ashmolean. Most sessions were recorded, and if anyone wants to be sent the link to them when they come out please send a request to You can find more details of the sessions at

The new issue of Historia, the History Society’s magazine, is out this week focusing on the concept and consequences of war from 1066 right up to 2020 and the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Included are some incredibly in depth and insightful articles offered by the members of the History Society as well as an interview with Dr Edward Madigan focusing on World War One, the Irish Wars of Independence and the role of Remembrance today. Here is the link to the online version:

Next week may be the last week of term , but there is still lots going on including next Friday at 4-5pm, the LGBTQ Culture Club. This from Dr Amy Tooth Murphy: ‘So it looks like Happiest Season may not be the queer Christmas rom-com we all needed. Maybe I was expecting too much! But not to worry, we’ve got it covered. All LGBTQ students in the School of Humanities are welcome at the final LGBTQ Culture Club of 2020 where we’ll be making the yuletide gay, as well as talking about how to navigate the sometimes-tricky issue of LOTS of family time over the holidays. Come armed with your favourite festive movies/shows/books to chat about, as well as any hot tips for dealing with homophobic great aunt Edna over the Christmas turkey. Meanwhile, I think I’ll get my camp Christmas kicks from Dolly. She never disappoints, even in the ‘so bad it’s good’ stakes. Email me for the link if you’d like to join us: If you’re interested in coming along but feeling nervous or unsure then drop me a line to have a chat. This is a safe space for LGBTQ people only. There’s no need to contribute – feel free to hang back and listen. We also make plenty of use of the Teams chat so there are various ways to participate.”

History Lab is also back next week and will focus on Careers. If you only have time to attend one careers workshop this year make it this one  History Lab: Your Career Toolkit (Wednesday 9th Dec 1-2pm, MS Teams). If you’re struggling to know what to do after graduation, want some quick tips to improve your CV, or you’re unsure about the virtual recruitment process, this is the session for you. We’ll cover all this and more in the 50-minute session with time at the end for Q&A. Book online

Talking of careers, I’m beginning to think we have as many brilliant bakers as we do historians in the department. First this from first year historian/baker Madeleine Torrington who made her first ever apple pie.


Wow, and a lattice top too!

Sandra Lipner, one of our PhD students, marked the start of Advent last Sunday with this amazing candy cane toffee square.

That’s what you call an advent calendar treat!

And Dr Rob Priest also spent last weekend getting into the festive mood by making this Stollen.

I think this looks amazing and I have to confess I had to double check with Dr Priest it was all his own handiwork! He assures me it was. Now if, like me, you remember back to the early days of Lockdown baking, you will recall Dr Priest’s first attempt at a loaf which was, well, let’s say pale. SoI for one am incredibly proud of Dr Priest’s progress this year as a baker! #bestbits2020. I hear he’s not a bad historian either…

Do please send me all your Christmas bakes for next week.

And finally, our regular feature, ‘why do you do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of third year historian, Leah Jayne:

“It may be surprising to some that when I came to Royal Holloway, I was initially studying psychology after studying politics, history and psychology at A Level.  I was struggling to settle into my course and one morning in late October, I woke up and realised that I needed to switch to study history, it was a light bulb moment and never in my life have I felt more at peace with a decision. ‘To be a historian’, I thought, ‘what a wonderful thing that would be’. So, fast forward two years and one month, and I am a third-year history student, thoroughly enjoying my degree.

I study history because it is the essence of humanity. I am fascinated by the rhythm and sequence of events that take place, the culmination of complex factors that layer to produce unique outcomes that are perfectly imperfect. Social history in particular is something rather captivating for me, to be able to gain insights into the lives of people in the past, learning always about how social constructs within a given society have changed and evolved overtime. To see how it was before, allows us to see clearly how it is now, therefore allowing us to project forward into the future – only by learning about how it all came to be, can we shape the future. From anthropology and sociology, to politics, art and migration – it is all intertwined in the multi-disciplinary work of history.

Over my degree I have studied many different modules, from the Russian Empire, to European history, to Ancient Rome to modern British history. What I have found is that history is all around us, how you and I think, feel, act and interact with one another is a product of our own history, and the interaction between them. Thus, I completely disagree with Rawls’s ‘original position’, because the lens from which we see the world is shaped by everything we know and all we have experienced. We must never understate the power of experience. Our lens may not be rose tinted, but it is undeniably shaped by history, and isn’t that something interesting to explore!

History shapes our morality and our morality shapes history. History provides identity and identity influences history. History helps us understand society and with that understanding our society is shaped. History helps us understand change and the importance of our own you see where I’m going with this? I find the concept of morality and power most interesting. For example, if you look at John Thomson’s archive, ‘London street life’, whereby Thomson is capturing the lives of the lower classes, you’ll find a power play between the photographer and its subjects. You will find that the narrative created is an interaction between this relationship, and the vision the photographer intended to create. Illuminating photography as a socially constructed, culturally constituted and historically situated practice – perhaps it is art with a modern agenda?

So, I do what I do for a multitude of reasons, but George Santayana’s quote that I saw at Auschwitz-Birkenau will always remain clear in my mind, ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’.

Thanks to Leah for that very thoughtful contribution.

Ok folks that’s about it for this week. Have a good Friday and a good weekend when you get there. Stay safe wherever you are, stay in touch if you need to and remember I want your #bestbits 2020…


Hello everyone

How’s your week been? I’ve had a kind of distracted one with all the talk about Christmas and discussion about what we might or might not, should or should not, do. You will have received information about testing on campus and the travel window for those leaving from campus residences. You can find out more about lateral flow testing here and the testing and travel windows here. Tests are free for all so do take the opportunity to get tested and so return home safely. Do take advantage of the library ahead of that time and if you have particular questions, do ask your personal tutor, module tutors or supervisors.

We can all agree it’s been a turbulent year, but as the newsletter showcases each week, out of adversity comes creative, community and opportunity. And, if nothing else, this year has taught us what matters and also perhaps whom we should look to as role models. The BBC’s list of 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2020 is really interesting and showcases women leading change and making a difference during these turbulent times. There are many women on here that I hadn’t heard of, and so its well worth a read. 

History is, of course, useful in all kinds of ways not least for giving a sense of  perspective as this cartoon, ‘The New Normal’ by John Atkinson illustrates: