Weekly update from the Head of Department
Newletters by Date
26th June 2020
A few days of scorching weather signals the end of exams and marking and the start of, for some I hope, a few lazy days of well-earned rest. Even though the Lockdown is now easing, summer looks set to be a strange one and all of us will no doubt have one eye on the news about the ‘R number’ and how this might impact on our return to normal or ‘new normal’ for the next academic year. Fingers crossed there will be no second wave, and we can now prepare to return to campus in the autumn, albeit with all necessary social distancing and other necessary safety steps taken. The college/Principal has been regularly sending out updates on the preparations being made, and these emails will continue in advance of the new term. Please rest assured that teaching will resume in any event with every effort made to ensure that, as far as possible, this will be on campus but if not, provision will be provided online. More details to follow from me and the college nearer the time.
Our finalists will have this week received notification of ‘alternative graduation ‘plans within the college and department. Whilst this is no substitute for the ‘real thing’ (which will take place, virus permitting, next year), it is an opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge what they have achieved in extraordinary circumstances, and to mark the end of their undergraduate studies. I do hope that 3rd years will be keen to participate on the day. I will be making a “HoDs address” and other colleagues will also be invited to say a few words. There will then be a department quiz. Sign up for celebrations here, and we’ll be in touch in early July with more details about how to join.
The college is also producing a celebration video and would love it if you could upload a video or photo of yourself. Copies will be sent to students on the 17th July.
This week, there’s been lots of writing going on, or at least publication of writing done. Dr Stefan Bauer’s article, ‘The forgotten father of Church history’ was published in The Tablet.
Dr Daniel Beer’s reviewed Gregory Afinogenov’s ‘Spies and Scholars: Chinese secrets and imperial Russia’s quest for world power’ in an article for the TLS which explores Russia as a global player.
And Dr Emily Manktelow has written again on the Black Lives Matter Movement exploring ‘knee-jerk institutional reactions to the BLM movement that do more harm than good. It’s an important read.
On that theme, academic colleagues met this week to discuss our undergraduate curriculum. We discussed ongoing efforts to diversify reading lists; agreed to set up a working group from September (incl. both staff and students) on decolonising the curriculum with an agenda to review module choice structures for 2021-22 and review the terminology used to discuss these issues. We all agreed that the key thing was to take time to 'reflect and review' so as to ensure that any actions taken are well thought-through and sustainable.
A number of us recorded webinars with the Historical Association this week which will be used on their National Teachers Day. This is another expression of the department’s partnership with the HA which we have established. Its great PR for the department to link with schools and raise our profile and usefulness! In other news, I also popped up on Channel 5’s King George VI: The Accidental King on Sunday night.
Things have been a little quiet on the baking front this week, although Dr Madigan has promises that much anticipated first loaf of bread! Meanwhile, Dr Emily Manktelow gets the gold star this week not just for cooking but for actually growing her own dinner! Fried courgette salad which looks delicious.
Dr Amy Tooth Murphy has taken a break from cooking and besides being a star baker, is also a a keen weightlifter! There is no end to her talent! Here’s some interesting reflections from her on exercise during Lockdown:
“While bars and restaurants will re-open on 4th July, the UK’s gyms will not be joining them. Instead, the only solid reps you’ll be getting in will be raising that longed-for pint to your lips. We may be a pub-loving nation, but we’re also a gym-loving nation, with around 10 million of us having gym memberships, and many more being casual users. In fact, throughout Europe, only Germany has more fitness club members. The fitness industry is worth around £4.8 billion per year in the UK.
I’m a keen weightlifter and therefore a part of that gym-going public. Like the other 9,999,999 members I said a sad farewell to the gym back in March (and to my much-loved masochistic boot camp in my local playing field). Back in January I had set myself a number of weight-training targets, including some fairly hefty one rep maxes on the bench. Sadly, since lockdown these targets have had to go the way of professional haircuts, the availability of flour, and knowing what day it is. I was determined to stay active during lockdown and so I turned my attentions to running. It turns out I’m far from the only one. According to data gathered by Garmin via fitness devices, outdoor running has been one of the UK’s favourite sports over the last few months. On April 14th there were around 50% more outdoor runs recorded in the UK than there were on March 9th.
I have never considered myself ‘a runner’, although I have been running sporadically, intermittently, and here and there ever since I signed up for a Race for Life 5k in around 2006. Since then I have pootled along, never going much beyond 5k, and at a fairly pedestrian rate. But I am not ‘a runner’. I am not built for endurance. But then again nor am I built for speed. Basically, I am built for squats. But needs must. And when else would I have the time at home and the empty roads to have a go at improving my running? So, for the past 12 weeks I have been diligently doing sprint intervals and progression runs, working towards the second-most popular race distance (after the half marathon), the 10k.
I set myself a goal of completing a 10k before my 39th birthday in July. And this morning I did it! I ran 10k! And I did it ahead of the time I had projected for myself, coming in at a perfectly creditable 59 minutes and 6 seconds. That may not seem like anything spectacular for the marathon runners or triathletes among you. But I remind you: I am not a runner. (Why I decided to do it on the hottest day of the year is anybody’s guess. But see my earlier point re masochism). Despite not being a runner, I am now weighing up whether a half marathon might be a reasonable target.
Unlike my first 5k, there were no crowds, no finish line to power triumphantly through, no goodie-bag with branded rubber bracelets that no one is ever going to wear. Instead I had a shower and went back to my desk. But the sense of achievement is there. And in part that sense of achievement comes from knowing that running and staying active in general has given me targets and a sense of purpose during the messy haze of the last few months. Amy: 1, Pandemic: … well, still all the points, obviously. It’s a pandemic. But I’ll take a win where I can get one.
It took a pandemic to get me to a 10k, after 14 years of running a comfortable distance at a comfortable pace. I’m still not sure I’m ‘a runner’. I’m still pining for the free weights and I hear the squat rack calling. But running the roads and paths near my home has been nurturing and, at times, meditative. On my runs I’ve also witnessed first-hand the peaks and troughs of lockdown. In those initial weeks I could run for miles without seeing a single car. As things slowly eased, I found myself irritated by traffic on ‘my roads’. Now, with the psychology of the nation primed for the 4th and the mass re-opening, I’m finding I have to turn up my music to drown out the cars. Life, it seems, is set to return to some kind of normal. Meanwhile, the gym is still closed, and the weights are getting dusty. But boot camp re-starts on Sunday…
I wondered what other #fitnessgoals, achieved or intended, the rest of our department community have set themselves, or if lockdown has led you to a new-found fitness love. Let us know!
And of course, as Historians, we need evidence, and so here’s proof of Amy’s achievement!
And finally, our regular feature, ‘Why do you do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of PHD student Georgios Argiantopoulos. Here’s his answer to that most pressing question
“After completing a BΑ in history and archaeology and an MA in Black sea and Eastern Mediterranean studies, at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and at International Hellenic University of Thessaloniki respectively, I was awarded the 25th anniversary scholarship on Greek diaspora studies, to pursue a PhD at Royal Holloway. On September 2019 I moved to the UK, where I am discovering a top-level University and a very welcoming college, which provides great research, studying and teaching experience. I really admire, embrace and get motivated by the cooperative spirit of everyone in the college, from Professors to administrative staff and students. Putting aside any kind of discrimination the college has become a wide multicultural community, where you can live, study, work and excel and I am grateful for that.
My research explores themes around socioeconomic and cultural changes that occurred inside the Greek and Greek-Cypriot diasporic communities in several cities and towns in Egypt, after the establishment of the British rule in 1882. I am looking at archival material including institutional, public and ego-historical documents of Key figures of the time. The variety of nationalities and peoples is what makes in my opinion this research distinguishable, in combination with the fascinating British imperial-colonial history and the cosmopolitanism of the late 19th century Eastern Mediterranean. The indissoluble bonds and the mutual support between the Greek and Cypriot nation states and their diasporic communities, along with the investigation of similar to current situations events, gives a topical and essential character in this history dissertation. Currently I am preparing a paper in title: "The 1882 British bombardment of Alexandria and the foreign communities' response. Reconstruction and Philanthropy" for a workshop in Cairo called:Diasporas, charity and the construction of belonging: a connected history of practices of ‘goodwill’ in Egypt during the imperial age (19th–20th centuries)”
Thanks to Georgios, his research sounds fascinating.
Ok that’s it folks. Have a good Friday and a good weekend when you get there. Remember to get those trainers on! Looking forward to hearing about your successes
19th June 2020
I hope your week has gone ok and you have enjoyed a little of the sunshine. My colleagues, your tutors, have been very busy in the final phase of marking of the alternative assessments and yesterday enjoyed hearing research presentations from shortlisted candidates for a new lectureship post in early modern interdisciplinary studies which we will be sharing with the English department. I am delighted to say that we have offered the job to Dr Alison Knight, currently an ECR Leverhulme Fellow at the University of Cambridge, and she has accepted. This appointment marks exciting new developments around interdisciplinarity within the School. It was great to see how many applications we got for this position; how many people want to come and join our department and who are attracted by our teaching profile, research strengths, the quality of our students and the work we do around public engagement. We are, I believe, a department that wants to engage with important issues in the wider world and ask ourselves difficult questions about how we need to ‘step up’, speak out and, when necessary, do things differently.
The campaign around Black Lives Matter is one such example. This has, quite rightly, dominated the news, public discourse and now the agenda of all those in education. As a department, we are determined to respond to this properly, with humility, careful reflection and authenticity. It is really important that both our department community, and our courses, reflect diversity and, of course, equality. Dr Selena Daly will lead our discussions on this for the rest of the academic year before Dr Shahmima Akhtar our new lecturer in the study of Ethnic Minority Britain study joins us in September. Shahmima is currently Past & Present Fellow: Race, Ethnicity & Equality in History and works with the Royal Historical Society and the Institute for Historical Research to embed the aims of the RHS Race, Ethnicity & Equality Report in UK Higher Education History. She will bring important experience and expertise to build on our work in this area which will be a key priority for next academic year. That said, we are determined to start this revaluation of our curriculum now, and academic staff will be having a meeting next week to consider our efforts to date to decolonise the curriculum and to plan our next steps. I know this issue is important to all our students and I welcome your thoughts on how we might take things forward and there will be an opportunity for wider department discussion in due course.
We are, of course, already doing a lot and have been for some time. Professor Justin Champion our former colleague who so sadly died last week has been a trailblazer in this area and in calling for Black Lives to Matter in education. He spoke in Black History Month three years ago.
Professor Humayan Ansari has been doing teach -ins via Zoom this week on the subject of ‘Victorian Muslims. One was for ‘Everyday Muslim’, the excellent organisation that collects and curates British Muslim histories and archives and the other with Oxford University students (its Islamic Society). Dr Victoria Leonard one of our postdocs, who co-organises #WCCWiki, which helps to improve the representation of women in classics (v. broadly conceived, and extends to all sorts of women including historians, archaeologists, theorists, philosophers, etc.) on Wikipedia, is having a targeted push to improve the representation of black women on Wikipedia on 22 June. Do have a look here about how you can get involved. .
And Dr Emily Manktelow has written about the specific issue of statues and their role in history in this week’s Prospect Magazine. It’s an important piece and is a great example of members of our department engage in wider public debate. Do have a read here
Dr Selena Daly has also been bringing her expertise to pressing contemporary issues, with an interview for Royal Museums Greenwich conducted as part of Refugee week. She talked to Kurdish artist Shosh Saleh about refugee journeys across the Mediterranean and how art can respond to migration. The interview is available along with some other resources.
Dr Amy Tooth Murphy will be tackling the important issue of LGBTQ histories in an event co-organised with Dr Prue Bussey-chamberlain the School Director of Student Experience. It is online, naturally, and will take place on 25th June 11am-1pm. Dr Vicky Iglikowski-Broad (specialist in diverse histories at the National Archives and RHUL alumna) will be giving a talk on The National Archive’s Collection, with a special emphasis on LGBTQ+ Material. After the event, all historians (and other Humanities students) will have an opportunity to respond to the material, with the National Archives publishing a few of the selected submissions on their website. Please sign up if you’re keen to get involved.
Dr Stella Moss is also keen for participants for a new project in the department co-organised with the History Society to create a Corona Archive of YOUR primary sources to be deposited for long-term use by historians in the College Archives. We'll be asking for your diaries, reflections, videos and audios of lockdown life and more. Student volunteers are working right now on the aims and design of the project and we'll will be in touch over the next few days with more information on how YOU can contribute. Watch this space! For further information contact Dr Stella Moss Stella.Moss@rhul.ac.uk
Reflecting on the ‘new reality’ of the coronavirus, I was on Sky News this week talking about a very different Trooping the Colour this year with the queen in Lockdown at Windsor Castle. Perhaps she like many of us, is using Lockdown to do lots of baking! Certainly our Bake Off continues. I did try to engage with the theme of Spain this week by making a ‘Spanish Chicken’ dish which basically was Chicken with paprika and Olives?!, others have continued their bread making and Dr Amy Tooth Murphy went all northern European and made this 100% rye sourdough. Impressive as ever.
Equally impressive was this first attempt at a loaf from Dr Rob Priest. He said it tasted better than it looked but I think its looks excellent.
And Dr Cat Cooper continues to showcase her culinary acumen with this marmalade Babka. Definitely something we all need to try when we are finally reunited!
And so to our regular feature, ‘why do you do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of Anna Brown one of our first year undergraduates.
“Deciding to study history at university wasn’t always my plan. I studied English Lit for a year before realising it wasn’t for me. Instead, I kept being drawn to history, and I’m so glad I ended up here. One of the wonderful aspects of history is that it touches on everything: every single subject, hobby, area of interest, and part of the world has a history, so I feel that by focusing on this subject, I don’t have to exclude others. In addition, the more I learn, the more I realise how worthwhile studying history is, and this is especially apparent to me in these times, when there seems to be a greater awareness of how deeply unjust society can be. While the current world situation can seem overwhelming— with issues such as human rights abuses, climate change, not to mention the pandemic— I find that learning history helps me feel less helpless. I particularly love social history, to learn about ordinary people, as every single person from the past had a life as rich and complex as ours. The challenges they faced can be related to ours, especially in modern and contemporary history. To me, this brings empathy as well as understanding. Through these connections we realise that our present is deeply influenced by the past. Though we cannot change the past, and may only have a limited window into it, we have a say in how things play out now and in the future. Any action we take, however small, even if it is just listening, learning and sharing what we know with others, continues the conversation, and could lead to positive changes. If we can make any difference at all, it’s worth doing. The deeper our understanding of any issue, the more we can do to shape the future we want to create. That is one of the core reasons for my love of history. “
Great stuff from Anna reflecting, I’m sure, the view and feelings of many of us.
Finally I mentioned Professor Justin Champion and anyone on twitter will have seen the huge outpouring of grief and affection at the news of his death. There were so many tributes from academic colleagues and former students who all pointed to his kindness, his enthusiasm, his keen interest in each and every person he spoke to and of course his ferocious intellect. We are going to be showcasing some of these tributes on a special page on our department website. Do send any of your own memories or tributes and pictures too if you have them.
Ok that’s it folks. Have a good Friday and a good weekend when you get there
12th June 2020
With the alternative assessments now over, I hope all our undergraduates have found some time to relax and reflect with pride on what they have achieved over the past few weeks. You have completed your year of study, and for some your degree, in the most extraordinary circumstances. The class of 2020 is truly impressive. I am proud of all of you, as I am our postgraduates who continue to work on their dissertations from home and away from the archives where they would have hoped to have been. Again, we applaud your resilience and determination. I hope we can also all take a moment to thank the department’s academic staff who have been working so hard to support you in the final weeks of teaching. Many have had to juggle their work with home schooling their children and that’s proved rather difficult at times. It’s been a tough few weeks for them as it has been for our students, and I am incredibly proud and appreciative of all their efforts and the way our department and our community has survived and thrived despite the Lockdown.
Last week, I suggested we went on virtual grand tour and suggested Italy as our first stop for culinary delights. I can certainly say I have embraced the Italian love of coffee and maintained my quota of rather too many shots a day! Dr Cat Cooper met the challenge with greater creativity and sophistication. Here’s her homemade orange and almond biscotti which she enjoyed – one imagines she dunked (do Italians do that?) - into her Moka espresso.
Niamh Smith one of our undergraduates, also went to Italy this week and made, the very impressive sounding, sun dried tomato and caper focaccia, which was followed by a vegan chocolate zabaglione (a sort of creamy mousse). Check these pictures out! Wow
Keeping with the Italian theme, Niamh has just finished reading A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, most of which is set in Italy during WWI. She’s also planning on watching Fellini’s La Strada over the weekend which sounds like a very good idea.
Perhaps we might all consider travelling to Spain culturally or culinarily next week?
This week I have the very sad job of sharing the news that our great friend, colleague, tutor, mentor and former head of department, Professor Justin Champion has died. He had been suffering for many years with a brain tumour but had showed remarkable fortitude and determination to carry on regardless and, until very recently, has remained very active in the department continuing his research and the supervision of his PhD students. Apart from perhaps those who have joined the department in the last year, everyone will know Justin and many, many of us will have been taught, inspired and supported by him. Justin was quite brilliant and, as will become clear in the many tributes that will be shared over the next few weeks, he was one of his generation’s most significant thinkers: a man of great intellect, prodigious talent, huge scholarly significance and one of the first of the country’s public historians. Despite being deeply immersed in the past, he was also a man ahead of his time. Throughout his career, he made the case for the importance of scholarship to be communicated outside the academy and for history to be used to mobilise, empower and engage a wider public.
Justin joined our Department in 1992. He published two monographs, three editions, and fifty essays. His first book was 'Pillars of Priestcraft Shaken: The Church of England and its Enemies, 1660-1730'; and the second 'Republican Learning: John Toland and the Crisis of Christian Culture, 1696-1722'. An edition of Thomas Hobbes on Heresy and Church History, co-edited with Mark Goldie will appear posthumously. In recent months he was working with customary enthusiasm on a new project on the eighteenth-century republican and bibliophile Thomas Hollis. As Head of the Department from 2005 to 2010 he established the MA in Public History, the first to run in the United Kingdom. He also led the College’s Magna Carta 2015 activity, and played a key role in the College winning substantial Leverhulme funding to establish its Magna Carta Doctoral School. Justin also played a major role in raising the College’s profile in the United Kingdom and abroad. He served as President of the Historical Association, the national 'voice for history', in 2014-17. In 2018 he was awarded the Medlicott Medal for outstanding services to History, which goes to some of the most distinguished historians at work today. He appeared regularly on radio and television, and was a frequent contributor to Melvyn Bragg’s BBC Radio 4 ‘In our Time’. A programme on the Great Plague won a Royal Television Society Award in 2001.
As Professor Francis Robinson who was HoD when Justin joined RHUL describes, ‘Justin was one of nature’s gentlemen, humane, courteous, and above all kind. In all he did his kindness was to the fore.’ He was also, as Professor Robinson describes,. ‘a passionate cricket fan, who was always ready to go to a test match, to listen half the night to cricket commentary from Australia, and played regularly for the College staff side, relishing the opportunity that matches against local teams gave him to mix with South Asians and eat their food. In later life he greatly enjoyed playing tennis at the Englefield Green Club. There was also a period, when his daughter, Alice, was a serious footballer, when he coached one of the Abbey Rangers’ women’s teams. Justin loved music and loud tunes could regularly be heard blaring out of his office . Justin was naturally sceptical of authority, and as a good C17th historian enjoyed the achievements of the Levellers, and not least when some modern Levellers set up camp in Cooper’s Hill woods above Runnymede!
Professor Sarah Ansari points to Justin’s role in promoting the importance of black history over many years. As President of the Historical Association, he made it an absolute priority to push hard in support of Black history and he lobbied passionately to raise awareness of the desperate need for more Black historians, both in schools and in universities. At a time when white people are being reminded of the importance of ‘productive’ rather than ‘performative’ ally-ship, Justin undoubtedly epitomised the former. He called out injustice and inequality for what it was – 100% unacceptable – no messing about!
In 2018 when Justin was awarded the Medlicott Medal, he gave a powerful lecture entitled ‘Defacing the Past or Resisting Oppression?, in which he discussed removing or altering statues as well as the place of public art depicting controversial historical figures and past deeds. As the HA later put it, his talk took his audience on a tour of statues from those that had been defaced to others that had been updated, all “with the aim of exploring what the past and its physical representations can mean to current societies”. As Professor Ansari writes, ‘ I can only imagine that Justin in other circumstances would have contributed forcefully to these current debates, willing us on to be actively engaged, to put our money where our mouth is!’
That is so true and certainly a challenge we should look to meet. Justin’s life was underpinned by a determination to challenge conventional thinking. He was a restless radical; always questioning, always curious, always challenging and never cowed by convention or expectation. He sounds a very intimidating figure given such intellect and achievement, but anyone who met Justin will know that he was anything but. He was funny, friendly, gentle and kind. I think these two pictures sum up the two very different sides of Justin, the giant of a scholar and the man who loved life and people as much as they loved him.
Two of his most recent PhD students Dr Charlotte Young and Steven Franklin have penned a few words by way of tribute.
First Charlotte -
“The Oxford English Dictionary has multiple definitions for the word ‘champion’. One is ‘To fight for; to defend or protect’; another is ‘To maintain the cause of, stand up for, uphold, support, back, defend, advocate’. Justin Champion embodied all the facets of his surname and more. For hundreds of students at Royal Holloway over the years he was an inspiration, albeit a leonine and at times eccentric one. I am one of the lucky few fortunate enough to have him as a supervisor, and I count that as one of my greatest blessings. I owe him everything.
The word genius is thrown around a great deal in modern life, but it can be applied without hesitation to Justin. I never knew him before his diagnosis and that is a matter of deep regret for me. He used to apologise for the cancer slowing his brain down, but if the Justin I knew was the slowed down version then the full strength Justin must have been a typhoon. Ever since we met in 2014 when I started my MA he was the first person I would share my discoveries with, and the first person I would turn to with questions or problems. He would celebrate my discoveries, answer my questions, tell me to stop being so stupid when I began to doubt myself, and be my greatest advocate and cheerleader. Justin gave me the freedom to pursue whatever strand of research I wanted to, offering nothing but encouragement, enthusiasm, and positivity, no matter what bizarre ideas I came up with. Everyone who knew Justin can attest to his kindness, dedication, and genuine love for history. He was truly one of a kind, and he blessed the lives of so many people who will always be grateful to have known him.
Nobody on earth deserves to face the health problems Justin had to endure over the last few years, and him least of all. A phrase I’ve uttered a great deal when talking about him recently is ‘It’s just so desperately unfair’. But no matter what he was going through he never wavered in his determination to keep working, desperate to finish his epic text on Hobbes. Even that book’s completion didn’t mark the end of his work, and he launched straight into his next project. He leaves behind him an enormous body of work, and the fields of early modern religion and political thought have benefitted greatly from his scholarship.
I can’t imagine what my life would have been like with a different supervisor, and I’m deeply grateful to have had his unwavering support and guidance during the difficult years of my MA and PhD. Now I have to learn how to move forward without him at my side, but I know that his spirit will always be with me. I miss him desperately and right now adjusting to life without him seems almost impossible. He has been taken from us far too soon, but we can all take comfort in the knowledge that his suffering is over. Rest now, my dear friend. Your memory will live on in the hearts of everyone who loved you.”
And now Steven.
“It goes without saying, but there are some tasks in life that are much easier than others. As writers, we are all too aware of the difficulties of committing words to paper, and these struggles are exacerbated when faced with the task on reflecting on the life of your friend and supervisor. To put it simply, it’s impossible to summarise the impact that Justin had on my academic and personal life. No words that I write at this point will ever be enough; seem fitting and suitable; or indeed do Professor Justin Champion justice. But here goes.
I first arrived at Royal Holloway in September 2007 and Justin was at that time Head of Department. He was famed for his luscious golden locks and revered for his engaging lectures, filling Monday 9am lectures with consummate ease. Students were there because they wanted to be; everyone knew they were witnessing a master of his craft at work. However, Justin was not just master of one craft, confined by either the boundaries of historic periodisation or limited to one medium of communication. He could do it all: an exemplary model of the 21st century historian.
Justin will forever be remembered for his ability to make the most complex sound extremely simple. Whether it was through his written prose or during conversation, Justin was engaging and inspiring in equal measure. When Justin spoke on any historical subject, his enthusiasm and passion for his subject was infectious and I can only begin to imagine the sheer number of people he inspired throughout his life.
As one of his PhD students, I can say he was without doubt one of the best. Every time I met with Justin to talk about my work, I left with renewed energy and enthusiasm, a sense of purpose, and belief. Whenever Justin told me that he enjoyed reading my work, I could barely contain my excitement. I’d sit there beaming with pride because Justin was a SERIOUSLY good historian, thinking to myself that ‘if he thought it was good, it must have been.’ Sometimes it was these levels of reassurance that kept me going - even just knowing he believed in me and thought I would succeed was enough. He was always inspiring, supportive, and encouraging. He was also a reassuring presence and voice during the tougher times of writing a PhD. But, most importantly, he was always there – either in his office listening to his music or at the end of an email – always up for a chat and prepared to talk through ideas regardless of how developed they were. I don’t think it will ever feel normal not to see Justin around the History Department or knock on his door and say hello – he was almost a permanent fixture of the Department and central to its culture. We have all lost a brilliant historian, colleague, and friend. Justin’s life is one we should look to celebrate for its many positives. Strong and principled; remarkable and kind; intelligent and creative – the superlatives could go on and on. I will always be proud and fortunate to call Professor Justin Champion my supervisor and friend. May you forever rest in peace. “
As a department we will need to think of a fitting way to celebrate Justin’s life and enshrine his legacy, and we will consider what’s appropriate in due course. In the meantime, do send any memories or reflections on Justin which I will gather together and then circulate.
It is only right to acknowledge the influence Justin had on me personally. He was on my appointments committee (yes it’s his fault I’m here) and he has proved something of a mentor ever since. More recently, he encouraged me to become head of department. Stepping into shoes that he had previously worn with such swagger, made me feel rather intimidated, but also hugely proud. Professor Francis Robinson rightly points to the ‘conspicuous qualities of leadership, imagination and kindness’ which Justin displayed when he was HoD. That is so true, and Justin will remain my inspiration and example as I continue in this role.
Finally, our regular feature, ‘why do you do what you do? but this week with a difference, dear Justin, ‘why did you do what you did?’ ( this response was first published in the newsletter in November 2019)
“I do what I do because, ever since I was a small boy growing up in the mid to late 1960s In Cambridge, where my father attended as a mature student to read English Literature at King’s College, I had been surrounded by human beings committed to exploring the world of books, the past and and the vibrant culture of conversation and intellectual debate. Whether I understood what was at the core of discussion seems unlikely, but the cut and thrust of argument and disagreement was spell-binding. This engagement was nurtured by weekly trips to the then famous Heffer’s children’s book shop where I was allowed (in exchange for not requiring any pocket money) to choose the classics of young people’s history written by authors like Henry Treece, Alfred Duggan and Rosemary Sutcliffe (although these were also supplemented by every Famous Five books (especially Five go to Smugglers top!). Other standout titles, set in the C18th were Leon Garfield’s Devil-in-the-Fog (1966); Smith (1967), and Black Jack (1968) all set in the grim violence of London. That fiction, enabled me to become inquisitive.
The next impetus was driven by a series of sources folders called Jackdaws with contained facsimiles of primary documents, so I realised it was possible to get to read about real lives and conflicts (my favourites were on the Trial Of Charles I, the Magna Carta, and The Jacobites. I still have copies of these books and folders: and they have become important relics of childhood memory.
Although the pathway to the future as an historian was not predetermined, I was very lucky to have a brilliant set of young historians at school (who conducted their teaching along the lines represented in Allan Bennett’s History Boys, which resulted in me against the odds winning an entrance Exhibition at Churchill College, Cambridge, where I was fortunate enough to read for History degrees and a PhD in the 1980s. It has been a privilege to have been able to pursue such a deep enquiry into the lives of past communities: its a glib thing to say, but with access to a good library, archives and digital resources, what I do ought not to be thought of as ‘work’, but as a form of curiosity and pleasure. There are never enough hours in the day, and always something more to read!”
That’s it for this week folks. Forgive the sombre tone, but I hope you understand the significance of Justin’s’ passing for our department. He was a seminal figure and whilst we mourn his loss, we can take comfort in the fact that we knew him, he touched our lives and he shaped our department as a radical place of agitated and ambitious thinkers and of kindness and community. We will be sure to maintain that and do him proud as we go forward together.
5th June 2020
I hope you have had a good week. Lookdown life certainly seems bleaker without the sun shining doesn’t it? Such a weird time with little prospect of foreign holidays, and the opportunity to be relaxed and restored by the European sun. Perhaps we all need travel gastronomically and culturally. How about a different country each week with all of us eating and drinking, reading and watching all things from that country? Maybe this week we might go to Italy? If you decide to board our virtual flight, do send pics and details of what you consume, watch or read. Might be the only kind of travel we’re going to get although, I guess as historians we also have the luxury of time travel...
Besides the coronavirus, the news this week has been dominated by the murder of George Floyd in America and the protests there and around the world. This has prompted important and long overdue discussions of what it means not only to be a non-racist but also to be anti-racist. It is an important question for all of us and clearly words are not enough. I know many of you have been feeling frustrated, concerned and angry about what is happening or not happening, and individually, and as a department, we should rightly feel challenged. We need to speak out and act in any and every way we can.
As one of our students wrote to me powerfully and movingly, ‘we are historians, and a vast part of contemporary history has been based on social movements and people dictating change when minorities are oppressed and silenced. What we forget as historians is that everything is bound to be history. We will one day be studied. And I don’t think I am the only person who wants to be on the side of history that fought for good things when others couldn’t.’ I would welcome thoughts about how we might do this over the new few months and show our determination to promote social justice, equality and respect for all. One initiative which might be of interest to you was brought to my attention to one of our PhD students Katie Mortimer. A group of activists are keen to promote change in the British education system and in the first instance have launched a survey to gauge the state of education in the UK concerning racism, colonisation, empire etc. Their aim is to collate what’s taught, and more importantly, what isn’t and then present this to schools and lobby the government for a more representative curriculum.
Clearly education is key to change and Dr Emily Manktelow has compiled some suggested readings for those who may be interested in learning more or want to prompt a conversation with family and friends:
- Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (Bloomsbury, 2018).
- Nikesh Shukla, The Good Immigrant (Random House, 2016)
- Robin Deangelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism (Beacon Press, 2018)
- David Olusoga, Black and British: A forgotten history (Pan Macmillan, 2016)
- Afua Hirsch, Brit (ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging (Jonathan Cape, 2018)
In other news, congratulations are in order. Professor Dan Stone has won the college’s Annual Doctoral Supervision Award. This award recognises excellent performance and conduct in doctoral supervision, and now gives Professor Stone the opportunity to enter the national Times Higher Education Outstanding Supervisor of the Year Award 2020.This is wonderful, and very well deserved. Well done Professor Stone.
Research is key to what we do here in the department be it our own research, research supervision of postgraduates or research led undergraduate teaching.
Dr Weipin Tsai who is currently the recipient of a Leverhulme fellowship has launched her new project website on the history of Chinese private letter hongs with you.
As Dr Tsai explains, ‘long before the Imperial Chinese Post Office was set up in 1896, a postal system had existed for centuries. This was made up of a myriad of local, privately-owned courier firms, known collectively as ‘letter hongs’. These family firms were rooted in their local area but collaborated extensively and by their peak in the late 19th century was able to provide services across the whole of China, and indeed beyond its borders to the Chinese diaspora across the region. While there has been a huge amount of scholarship on China’s modernization in this period – largely focused on institutionally directed or foreign-influenced developments – one area only now receiving attention is the network of communications that knitted the Qing Empire together. The letter hongs formed the largest and most significant element of that network, a web of family-owned companies that established vital supply lines for information, money and goods, with a reach more fluid, adaptable and extensive than even the government’s owned military information relay service. Yet little is known of their history and methods. In the course of my work on the establishment of the Chinese Post Office, I came across many references to letter hongs, and in 2018 I submitted a grant proposal to the Leverhulme Trust, for funding to study them in depth. Being mainly small, privately held organizations, source materials are scarce. One of the key sources of information lies in the collections of letter-covers (and letters) in the hands of philatelists.
The web site launched this week is focused on making information gleaned from their collections available to the public and to other scholars. Decoding the covers – quite literally, the journeys taken by the letters are recorded in code on the covers themselves – is a very useful source of material on how the hongs operated, routes taken, transit times, charges and so on, while the letters themselves are fascinating social documents recording the intricacies of family life as husbands and wives, sons and fathers, siblings and business partners corresponded over distance.
The content of the website will continue to expand, including adding more collections and a ‘notes’ section for some of the entries with more context in English, intended to help non-Chinese speakers understand more about what they are looking at.
Lockdown life has been punctuated for me this week, by an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s World at One to discuss the new image of the queen (at 94!) on horseback and by some filming on the Queen: Duty V Family for an upcoming documentary. Professor Jane Hamlett has also been on our screens in the BBC series A House Through Time talking about domestic violence in the nineteenth century with David Olusoga.
And, most importantly, the department’s bakers and cooks continue to be hard at work. Dr Amy Tooth Murphy, firmly established as our Head Baker produced this impressive looking baton loaf this week
And Dr Becky Jinks, the ultimate ‘alternative’ cook produced this nettle ristto with home grown rocket and spinach which looks both interesting and ( I think) delicious!
I am hoping next week to bring news of Dr Edward Madigan’s first attempt at breadmaking. I believe it is set to happen this weekend and I for one will be holding my breath in the hope of a full report (with pictures) of what he manages to produce. Dr Madigan all eyes are on your oven….
And finally to our regular feature, ‘why do you do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of 2nd year undergraduate Rebecca Mowbray:
‘My interest in history really began with historical fiction. Strangely, I didn’t like history lessons at all in my early days of secondary school, but somewhere along the way between Goodnight Mr. Tom, the BBC series Merlin, and eventually reading Les Misérables I found that it was suddenly quite interesting to think about how people lived in the past – and how that still impacts the world we live in today.
For me at least, this impact of history on the world today – and our knowledge of the past more generally, with all its developing ideas and consequences – is central to understanding our own lives in the twenty-first century. Popular media is just one of the many ways in which someone might increase that understanding - and since coming to Royal Holloway, my interest in it has only increased, asa tool not just to improve my own understanding of the past but to think about the wider relationship between the public and history, and the responsibilities around that. Whether through this kind of media, the memorialisation of history all around us, or the use of historical allegories in the press, it’s fascinating to consider how we interact with history every day. Over the last three years, I’ve really enjoyed getting to explore this in more depth, and I hope to continue to do so even after I graduate this summer.
I’ve also enjoyed getting to find out for the first-time which parts of history I gravitate towards. At school, it’s not always easy to figure that out since you don’t really have any choice over what you study – but I’ve found since then that my interest lies predominantly in modern history, especially the First and Second World Wars. Having grown up surrounded by Second World War history (my hometown is where the Guinea Pig Club was founded), it’s been fascinating to explore this period in more detail – and I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to do so over the course of my degree. ‘
That’s it folks. Have a good Friday and a good weekend when you get there. Do continue to send me news and views for the newsletter and do get in touch if you have worries or questions which I might be able to help with.
Look after yourselves
29th May 2020
I am glad to say I am back after suffering with the virus. I am still struggling a bit with fatigue but am very thankfully through the worst. I would like to thank Dr Amy Tooth Murphy and a number of other colleagues for taking on the newsletter last week and would like to thank those of you who sent get well messages. It was particularly nice to hear how much the newsletter is valued as a weekly event and for the sense of community it brings.
I know many of you are in the midst of assessments and I am delighted to hear positive reports from colleagues about the quality of the work. For some of you these will be your final exams and our third years will have received an email outlining how the college will offer support over the next weeks and months. There are plans for an alternative graduation (a small gesture in lieu of the formal graduation which has been delayed until next year) as well as lots of advice around work and careers. I would also urge third years to consider Masters study. The college is currently offering significant discounts on some of our MA History, Public History and Medieval Studies so do have a look at these and our other Masters programs and consider applying. As a department we are also determined to support are undergraduates and postgraduates in any way we can, so if there is something, we could that we are not currently doing please let me know.
Internships may be cancelled but lots of History students are finding ways to build their skills from home. If you'd like to discuss how you could do the same, you could make a 20-minute 1:1 appointment with the Careers Service to help you generate some ideas. Here are some examples...
- To improve her CV, Ellie, who wishes to have a career in archaeology but is unable to go on practical excavations this summer, has been taking online courses on FutureLearn and Coursera with multiple universities including Sapienza University of Rome and the University of Pennsylvania. She has also taken part in a six week virtual excavation with the Dig Venture team and has been working on improving her language and translation skills.
- To improve her CV during lockdown, Amelia has been attending online panels and discussions hosted by professionals in the events industry which she is looking to go into. This has been useful since these events directly address how the industry will continue to be shaped by the current pandemic, providing new and interesting options to explore.
- To improve his CV, Dan is working as an Upreach Associate as he explores different job sectors. He has also attended online insight days to have a greater exposure to companies where he can access potential graduate scheme opportunities in the future.
The college is also working hard to plan for next academic year with an approach that allows face to face teaching as the government guidelines allow and, if necessary, online teaching and resources too. Details on this and all other social distancing and virus-related precautions will come in due course when we know what will be required of universities to comply with scientific and government advice. Rest assured the college is hard at work to do everything it can to allow us to get back on to campus ASAP.
We have all had to rethink our research plans because of the virus, and many libraries and archives have put resources online and are now beginning to think about how they can reopen with social distancing arrangements. Many of us depend on the IHR library and they have created and launched an online Guide to free and open access historical resources to help historians — especially MA students writing theses — to find research materials. They have also opened up other digital resources, such as the 200 volumes of premium content within British History Online and will continue to extend and update a range of digital resources — including a growing number of Open Access publications. They have also begun to plan a new online events programme. In September, the IHR will be launching a funded scheme to extend the IHR seminars nationally. They will be inviting bids for new online seminars series that may be convened from anywhere in the UK, that bring together researchers from a minimum of 3 institutions (one may be international, and would welcome cross-sector partnerships, from for example, the heritage or GLAM sectors). These seminars will be renewable for up to three years. Further details of the scheme will be announced via this blog and the IHR’s social media channels shortly and it would be worth considering how we might get involved.
So what’s been happening in our department? Dr Victoria Leonard one of our postdoctoral researchers, was a keynote speaker for the AHRC South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership Late Antique, Early Medieval and Byzantine Colloquium at , Cardiff University. Her paper titled ‘Risk and Shift: Historical Approaches, Critical Identities and Making the Network Work’ talked about historical categorisation, periodisation and networks, and explored some of the tensions surrounding the shift from PhD to post-PhD stage.
One of our MA Public History students Chloe Binderup has written a post for the Historians for History blog in which she explores the motives of the women who campaigned against female suffrage in the years before the First World War. This aspect of the story of the campaign for women's votes will be well known to historians of the period, but was largely overlooked in the recent centenaries and hopefully provides something of fresh perspective.
If any of you would like to contribute a blogpost on any aspect of public history, please do get in touch with Dr Edward Madigan.
Dr Madigan has also been pondering summer reading, and has selected six memoirs, As Dr Madigan writes. ‘Many of us are drawn to the study of the past through our interest in the simple drama of human endeavour. Novelists often capture the quotidian highs and lows of life brilliantly, of course, and the best of them impart great insights into the human condition. The memoirist, by contrast, can potentially offer us something much more personal and intimate, and it’s hard to beat the sheer thrill of reading a well-told, first-hand account of one individual’s lived experience. With that in mind, I’ve selected six memoirs that portray very different aspects of British life in the twentieth century that should provide some thought-provoking and hopefully inspiring summer reading.’
- Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth (1933)
In the middle of July 1914, a nineteen-year-old Vera Brittain attended the annual speech day at Uppingham, the public school at which her brother Edward was a pupil. Edward and his best friend, Roland Leighton, who would soon become Vera’s fiancé, paraded with the school’s officer training corps and the headmaster told the boys and their families that if a young man could not be useful to his country, ‘he was better dead’. Within a few short weeks, a world war of unprecedented violence had erupted and, in less than a year, Roland was dead, shot by a German sniper in France. In 1915, Vera shelved her studies at Oxford and volunteered to serve as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse. By the war’s end, Edward and two of her closest male friends had been killed in the fighting. This searing account of love and loss tells of a very different war to that experienced by Siegfried Sassoon and the male memoirists and stands as a remarkable tribute not to the men who died but to those they left behind.
- Brendan Behan, Borstal Boy (1958)
At the age of just 16, Irish Republican Army volunteer Brendan Behan was arrested in Liverpool and found to be in possession of a gelignite bomb. It was 1939, the Second World War was looming and Behan’s youth essentially saved him from the hangman’s noose (two other IRA men were hanged in England that year for similar offences). Charged with attempting to bomb Liverpool docks, Behan spent the next few years in English borstals (juvenile detention centres). Written in the mid-1950s, when he was on his way to becoming a world-renowned playwright, Borstal Boy draws readers into the dark and often brutal world of the British prison system at a time when young offenders had few public champions. Ultimately, though, it’s quite a moving story of friendship between young men who retain a powerful lust for life in spite of their imprisonment. The later stages of his career were marred by the alcoholism that finally killed him at the age of 41, but this is Behan at his best and the writing just roars of the page.
- Lore Segal, Other People’s Houses (1964)
In December 1938, nine months after the Anschluss that joined Austria with Germany to form a National Socialist super-state, ten-year old Lore Segal boarded a train in Vienna that was bound for England. Along with 600 other boys and girls, Segal had managed to escape in the first wave of the Kindertransport project, a rescue mission designed to deliver Jewish children from Nazi occupation. Although she spoke little English when she arrived, she learned the language rapidly as she stayed in the homes of a whole series of different families, from a variety of backgrounds, across the country. ‘I was an anthropologist’, Segal said in an interview years later, ‘An unwilling anthropologist.’ This unique autobiographical novel is thus both a moving account of escape from Nazi persecution on the eve of the Holocaust and an often-amusing study of the English class system as seen through the eyes of an intelligent and highly perceptive young girl.
- Peter O’Toole, Loitering with Intent (1992)
I bought a second-hand paperback copy of this remarkable book in a shop in Brighton a few years ago because I liked Lawrence of Arabia and some of O’Toole’s other films. I think I expected a British acting memoir in the vein of David Niven’s The Moon’s a Balloon (which is also well worth a read), so I wasn’t quite prepared for a work of such extraordinary literary merit. O’Toole was born in 1932 to an Irish father and a Scottish mother and grew up in humble circumstances in Leeds during the Second World War. The narrative takes us from his earliest childhood to the moment he is accepted to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1952, but most of the narrative focuses on his childhood during the war years. Indeed, every second chapter opens with the spectre of Adolf Hitler glowering over the author and every other child in wartime Europe; a tale of boyish hope told in a highly inventive prose style by one of the most charismatic actors of the twentieth century.
- Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal (2012)
Jeanette Winterson’s first novel, the highly autobiographical Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was published in 1985 and tells the story of a young girl who is adopted by fundamentalist Christians and raised in the small town of Accrington in Lancashire. The girl’s parents want her to grow up to be a missionary, but instead she falls in love with a woman and defiantly leaves home, after years of abuse, at the age of sixteen. Before she goes, her adoptive mother asks her ‘why be happy when you could be normal?’ In the opening pages of this extraordinary book, Winterson writes that she wrote her first account of her childhood as a novel because it was a story ‘she could live with. The other one was too painful.’ Yet although this is at times a very painful story, it’s also a beautifully honest and often comic account of one woman’s irrepressible spirit and determination to find a place for herself in a world that constantly tells her she doesn’t belong.
- Colin Grant, Bageye at the Wheel (2013)
Colin Grant won much-deserved acclaim for his ground-breaking 2009 biography of Marcus Garvey, Negro with a Hat (a must-read for anyone interested in Caribbean or African-American history). This much more personal book paints a wonderfully vivid picture of his experiences of growing up as the child of West Indian immigrants in the Luton of the 1970s. Much of the narrative focuses on his relationship with his feckless but rather likeable father – the ‘Bageye’ of the title – and his mother’s constant efforts to impose a sense of respectable normality in the home. Grant effortlessly evokes the simple struggles of working-class family life, the defiant ambition of an immigrant community, and the all the passion and frustration of adolescence. The author’s keen eye for detail and his ability to capture mixed emotions make Bageye at the Wheel both a valuable slice of black British history and a deeply personal account of English suburban life in the ‘70s.
Following last week’s Pet’s Corner, and, as I believe was promised, here’s any update on the lockdown activities of Dr Emmett Sullivan’s bunnies. Last week, Binky and Bucky bunny starred in the first episode of of ‘Well, You Join Us Live’. The YouTube video is produced by Nick Heath, who has featured on Have I Got News for You, This Morning and many other things. This isn’t the bunnies first public appearance – they are regulars on the Egham social scene and the student History Society have previously run ‘bunny therapy sessions’ at The Crown. Last term Binky and Bucky were the ‘Bunnies 4 Peace’ at the Amnesty International event at The Packhorse on 7 March; Leah Jayne (History) is the AI President for 2020/21, replacing Jess Weeds (also History).
While further plans for ‘bunny therapy’ in the Packhorse have had to be put on hold we hope that some of this can be resumed when we return to campus – although the bunnies may have to keep a safe distance! Here’s some pics from when Bunnies took over the Packhorse
And what of the Bake Off? Well this week Professor Kate Cooper wins the star baker accolade with these brioche buns, suitable, as Professor Cooper attests, with jam for breakfast, or for ambitious sandwiches (in her case, lentil burgers).They look and sound delicious.
Dr Amy Tooth Murphy has tried her hand at coffee making this week, or, more specifically cold brew coffee which is perfect for a summer’s day. She says it is ‘Very easy to make if you’ve got a decent coffee grinder and some cheesecloth (or, in her case, an old pair of tights)!
I too had culinary success this week, at least of a sort. Craving marmite and eggs I created a marmite omelette, a first for me and, rather delicious. Undoubtedly my greatest baking achievement to date!
And finally our regular feature, ‘why do you do what you do?’ and this week it’s the turn of our of our third year undergraduates, Leah Biggs.
“From a young age I have been submerged into history without wanting to escape. I found myself completely at awe with the past, even if it was a day trip out to local heritages or travelling on holidays to see different cultures, historical landmarks or even just simply beautiful ruins- I was obsessed. Whether it was the Pyramids of Gyza, Valley of the Kings, the Taj Mahal, Pompeii or Olympia, anywhere I would go I was excited to learn and challenge my imagination. Through studying History into my A levels, I learnt to somewhat replace my active learning through visiting places of historical significance into reading and studying them instead through historians’ words.
It was specifically during 2015 after becoming a successful applicant at Bristol University for ‘Access to Bristol’ that encouraged me to further my learning in History. This course, weekly, would hold seminars and lectures giving a taster of University life and studying which I wholeheartedly embraced. There was no second thought needed to understand that the right degree for me to study was a BA History, I knew it would not only challenge my independence and academic skills, but would give me the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge that surrounded the subjects that hold my interest. Mainly, throughout the three years, I opted for subjects that involved social aspects of life, i.e Victorian life, Georgian society, and the Versailles environment, as I knew this held my interest and attention.
A BA History degree not only allowed me to carry on my hobby, but also taught me many skills that can be transferred into the world after University. The challenging deadlines and the masses of reading, writing, analysing and researching has confirmed to me that I do truly enjoy the subject of history. Whether I am looking to focus upon heritage work or museum volunteering, or even pursuing a different sector in Law or Government, I believe all my skills and learning at Royal Holloway will aid me in the future. Three years of studying History I have understood why I do what I do, I have been fulfilled throughout the years and have thoroughly enjoyed every single bit of learning History to the extent I would now like to further my education into a masters.”
Ok folks that’s it for now. Do please get in touch with me if you have any questions and concerns or indeed ideas for the newsletter. Stay well, work hard and enjoy the sunshine when you can.
22nd May 2020
The observant among you will have realised that I am not Dr Anna Whitelock. For one thing I have far less hair. Although having said that, with barbers now closed for 9 weeks and counting, my quiff is taking on hitherto unknown proportions. Anna is still recovering and resting and so a few of us have decided to form a guest editorial team and hijack the newsletter in her place. In the thick of the exam period, and in testing times, it seemed that a light-hearted newsletter was in order, so read on for a bumper ‘Bank Holiday supplement’ edition.
First up, a few words from Dr David Gwynn, our Deputy Head of Department, who is ably steering our ship while Anna is recovering:
"My deepest thanks to everyone for all your ongoing hard work. We are now very close to the halfway stage in the exam period, so do please keep looking after yourselves and remember that we are still allowed to have some fun under the lockdown! Best wishes to all, especially of course Anna for her recovery. And I would just like to add that it is very heartening indeed to see the quality of some of the material our students have been able to produce even under such difficult circumstances. They make us proud".
I also wanted to give a quick update on how Anna is getting on, and I’m sure many of you will be keen to hear. Our Head of School, Professor Juliet John has sent this note:
“To all the staff and students in History, I’m pleased to say that Anna is showing signs of recovery and has begun to eat. However, she has had a ‘nasty dose‘ and full recovery may take some time. The most promising sign is that she is not listening to common sense and sending the odd quick fire email - in other words, she is showing signs of impatient eagerness to get back to work. Although she has been reprimanded by her line manager (me) for this, it is a sign that Whitelock-style normality should return down the line. But let’s not hurry her - it is only a few days ago that she was in a very bad way and recovery takes time. Thanks from her to all the History community for the messages of support, Juliet.”
Well, I think many of us will recognise that Whitelockian style that Juliet mentions. Rest up Anna. We look forward to having you back, but not before you’re ready!
Roving reporter Professor Andrew Joticshky sent this despatch from the latest departmental research seminar, led by Dr Paris Chronakis:
“On Tuesday 19th Dr Paris Chronakis, who joined the Department in September 2019, gave a brilliant talk to the School of Humanities Research seminar on his ongoing research on nationalism and antisemitism in the eastern Mediterranean in the 19th century. In ‘Navigating Dark Waters: Diaspora Greeks, Port-City Jews and a Mediterranean History of Modern Antisemitism, 1830-1912,’ Paris explored the spread of antisemitictropes such as the blood libel through a developing print culture in the newly independent state of Greece, showing how poisonous ideas gathered force and momentum by transmission through transnational communities of Greek speakers from the Black Sea to Alexandria. The talk was ‘attended’ by about 25 colleagues from across the School, and led to a lively and engaged online discussion. This was the first of the School of Humanities Research Seminars to be held remotely, and we are grateful to Paris for fronting up what looks as though it will be the normative means of delivery for the foreseeable future.
Paris’ talk was a reminder that research by staff and PG students is continuing in the Department even in difficult times. PhD students in History are used to working alone, but the circumstances are especially challenging for them, and for MA students the closure of libraries and archives has come at the worst possible moment, just as they are embarking on their dissertation research. We are all trying to negotiate the obstacles presented by lack of access to the resources we take for granted in normal times. But whether academic staff or PG students, we are continuing to research, write and develop grant proposals in the realisation that high-quality teaching and learning feeds off and in turn stimulates live research. It is more important than ever that we make a renewed commitment to learning and scholarship in the Humanities at a time when the foundations of normal life are changing in such drastic ways. As always, it is the Humanities that reminds us of enduring human and social values and anchors us in an understanding of why we are where, and who, we are.”
Dr Amy Tooth Murphy has been working with colleagues at University of Plymouth on a Covid-19 response that uses oral history to facilitate school pupils’ engagement with history during school closures, while also providing much-needed social interaction for shielded elderly people. The project, entitled ‘Oral History During Lockdown: Homeschooling History for KS2/KS3/KS4 and Well-Being for the Elderly in Isolation’ will provide a toolkit to enable pupils to conduct oral history interviews with their grandparents or isolated elderly people over the phone. The toolkit will be complemented with webinars that train teachers to run this as a lesson plan delivered remotely.
An exciting glimpse into new possibilities of global cooperation was offered by a webinar delivered by Dr Markus Daechsel at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). 'A few weeks ago I got an online e-mail out of then blue from the Vice Chancellor of the Institute who had read my book Islamabad and the politics of International Development. Very flatteringly, he said he liked it and wanted to put me on as one of their lecture schedule at short notice', Markus recalls. PIDE is Pakistan's oldest and most prestigious research institution in this field, with close links to the world of policy making, and their webinars attract an audience that includes senior members of the Planning Commission and Government. Under the banner of introducing new thinking into development policy making, PIDE was particularly interested in what development history can teach economists and other social scientists, and how it can help to develop critical approaches that challenge standard assumptions about consultancy and aid. 'It was amazing to see how well such international link-ins now work', Markus observes further, 'it was a large virtual audience with lots of thought provoking questions that gave me the feeling that Pakistani readers really got what I was trying to argue in the book. And they all joked around about the virtual backgrounds one can display on zoom!' An exciting post-COVID 19 and climate sensitive future of virtual collaborations beckons.
Dr Charalambos Dendrinos was invited to give an online paper (in Greek) on “Greek Palaeography and Editing of Texts in the Digital Age” to students and staff of the Department of Byzantine Philology, University of Patras, Greece on 8 May 2020. The paper included a presentation of the online electronic edition of an Encomium on Henry VIII addressed to Elizabeth I composed in Homeric and Attic Greek by George Etheridge, former Regius Professor Greek at Oxford University, on the occasion of Elizabeth’s Royal visit to Oxford in 1566. This interactive edition was prepared by a team of postgraduate students, academic and research staff and technical advisors of The Hellenic Institute, History Department, and was presented to Queen Elizabeth II in remembrance of her Royal Visit to the College in March 2014 . The edition provides a new source for the history of Greek Studies in Tudor England in particular and for the cultural policies of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I in general. The Greek text of the encomium is accompanied by images of the manuscript, an English translation and supplementary material that places the author, the manuscript, and the text in context. This innovative project has been designed to provide a useful tool not only for students and scholars but also for the general public. It is accessible free of charge!
Dr Stefan Bauer’s latest book, The Invention of Papal History: Onofrio Panvino between Renaissance and Catholic Reform (Oxford UP, 2019) was reviewed in History Today, Professor Peter Marshall commenting, ‘This thoughtful and judicious monograph is to be welcomed for the considerable light it sheds on confessionalisation of historiography and the cultural politics of papal Rome.’ For more info on Stefan’s book, see here.
Many of you will find your thoughts turning to life after university (there is such a thing!) and your future careers, and so you may be interested in the next History Lab, organised in collaboration with Careers on Friday 29th May, 10am - 10:30am and will run through MS Teams. Please Book Online.
Your 2020 Career Toolkit
This year has brought some unexpected challenges for anyone looking for work, or work experience. In this 30-minute online session we'll cover some key tools to support your success in 2020, including:
· An overview of the jobs market and what employers are telling us
· The basics of CVs and applications
· How to practise video interviews, which have become much more important this year
· Things you can learn or do right now from home to boost your employability
This session will be delivered online using Microsoft Teams via this link. A version of this session will also be recorded for those who can't make it on the day.
Alright, now on with the really important stuff. What do academics get up to when they’re not working? As we’re learning, there’s more to some of our academic colleagues than meets the eye. This week, gardening, brewing, furry friends, and more!
Exam Time Playlists
Avid readers of the ‘Why do you do what you do?’ section of the newsletter will know that Dr Edward Madigan had a former life as a DJ. This week he’s gone back to his record collection to bring us a couple of summer playlists. First up, for some perfect summer vibes, an old-school reggae playlist to soothe jangled exam nerves and set the tone for a sunny evening. And for those of you getting through lockdown by pounding the pavement, here’s a high octane running playlist, The Man Machine (true to form, I’m going to advocate for the gender neutral ‘The Person Machine’, although I appreciate the alliteration is lacking). Thanks Edward!
Being famously fond of four-legged friends, Professor Jane Hamlett and Dr Emily Manktelow have curated a ‘Pets Corner’ of the newsletter. They say that owners grow to look like their pets. I pass no further comment.
“In these dark and unpredictable times one thing has become certain. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a lecturer with a pet will have to show it to you on MS Teams. Here in History we have more pets than you can shake a stick at – and you’re pretty likely to lose the stick in the process. Dogs, cats, bunnies, guinea pigs, a horse and even a peacock – we have it all! So welcome to pets’ corner. Draw up a chair and prepare to immediately lose it to a furry friend (or a peacock?)
A perennial department favourite (according to the twitter likes back in February) is of course Dr. Andrew Jotischky’s Wanda. Known for her ability to stand on hind legs, and her joy of long walks in the Lancashire country side, Wanda is known to wander with Dr. Jotischky around sights of historical heritage. Take a peak at the departmental twitter feed for pictorial evidence. Of course, when it comes to grande-dames of the department, we can’t forget Dr. Alex Windscheffel’s beautiful matriarch Lady Bella, and her companion Monty. Monty, a now ageing (nearly 15) West Highland terrier may be remembered by some colleagues as a puppy when he used to venture into the department, and enjoy chasing cricket balls thrown by Justin Champion up and down the corridor of McCrea - now as you can see he has to suffer the indignities of being dressed up. And [Lady] Bella, a very rare Sealyham terrier, who is more reclusive and enjoys nothing better than sleeping. Or chasing - and occasionally catching - rats and squirrels in the garden.
Slightly ironic that our colleague Dr. Cat Cooper is a fan of dogs, but who can blame her when her clever pooch Pickle can even brew his own ale? Pickle’s Pride looks to have gone down a treat…
Speaking of pickles, many of you may be familiar with Dr. Hannah Platts’ beautiful mini-piggies, Pickle and Willow. According to Hannah, Pickle lives up to his name and is gorgeously naughty! He loves to play a game of tipping up his house or food bowl whenever possible and then running around squeaking - very proud of himself! Willow, meanwhile, is a rather more timid lady, except for when she thinks there is a prospect of food or treats (of any sort!!), then she will stick her nose in the air and shout for attention for all she is worth.
We couldn’t have pets corner without any cats! Here are Kim and Kelley who have consented to share a home with Professor Jane Hamlett. Kelley likes sleeping the sun, snuggles and squaring up to other cats on the road. Kim likes sleeping in other people’s beds, licking water from taps and bombing zoom meetings. The cats are named after a famous pair of twins… Prof Hamlett also researches the history of pets – find out more on the project blog.
While this is not of course a competition, honourable mention must be made of Dr. Akil Awan’s peacock Captain. Apparently he likes nothing more than to strut around courting the chickens (who pretty much ignore him). He is incredibly vain, and his second favourite pastime is to display in front of any reflective surface and just stand there for hours revelling in his own glory! Honestly, who can blame him? In terms of unusual pets, we must also glory in the beauty of Dr. Nicola Philips’ horse Mel. What a beauty, and quite the jumper as well I’m told!