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UCL-Institute of the Americas Post-doctoral Visiting Fellowship

UCL Institute of the Americas

During the second semester of next year, I’m pleased to say that I’ll be taking up a British Association of American Studies (BAAS) UCL-Institute of the Americas Post-doctoral Visiting Fellowship.

The UCL-IA/BAAS is designed to facilitate the development and completion of a significant research project focusing on the United States, and is designed for early career researchers. I’ll be provided with office space at the Institute and will be able to take full advantage of the London libraries for my research. Last year, the award was given to Dr Nick Witham, Senior Lecturer in American Social and Cultural at Canterbury Christ Church University, for his research on the concept of the “public intellectual” within the American historical profession during the Cold War.

My own research will explore the manner in which the black American South has been represented on British television over the last half decade. Documentaries such as Sir Trevor McDonald’s ‘The Mighty Mississippi’ (2012), TV chef Rick Stein’s ‘Tasting the Blues’ (2012), the comedian Hugh Laurie’s ‘Down By the River’ (2011) and the series ‘Stephen Fry in America’ (2009) are indicative of the current popular transatlantic interest in the life and culture of the South.

The project will examine how these explorations serve to maintain popular transatlantic stereotypes of African American life and culture in the 21st century. I will trace the development of present day stereotypes by linking the documentaries to mid-20th century programs such as The Black and White Minstrel Show, and the representation of African American culture during the blues revival of the 1960s.



Dr Rodney Atwood, ‘The British Army’s Victory in Afghanistan, 1880′, 17th March 2014

rodneyatwoodIn this post, one of our first-year History undergraduates, Ben Stagg, writes about the recent talk by Dr Rodney Atwood at the Gloucestershire branch of the Historical Association.

On the evening of Monday 17th March 2014 (St. Patrick’s Day, no less), an intrepid group of students and staff from the University of Gloucestershire’s History department attended a lecture of the local Historical Association at Up Hatherley library, given by Dr Rodney Atwood, on the subject of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Particular focus was given to the role of then-Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Roberts, who went on to become a Field Marshal and one of the greatest heroes of the late-Victorian army.

The presentation was in equal parts educational and entertaining, and provided an interesting comparison with contemporary military activities in Afghanistan, with the general feeling from the audience that perhaps President Obama and our own government could learn a thing or two from the success of General Roberts! As most of us had not had the opportunity to learn about the period before, it was a highly stimulating experience, with a fair number of amusing anecdotes thrown into the mix! As an added bonus, some lucky few of us acquired signed copies of Dr Atwood’s book, The March to Kandahar: Roberts in Afghanistan.

It was thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended, and we hope to attend many more interesting and entertaining talks with the Historical Association. I would heartily recommend the experience!

Diarists & History


In most of the tributes to the former Cabinet minister and lifelong left-wing campaigner Tony Benn, much has been made of his legacy: his political goals, many have argued, were frustrated (the queen remains on our postage stamps, and he never became leader or deputy leader of his party); but, as the Guardian’s obituary pointed out, his memory – and influence – will linger through his writings:

“In the end, his reputation will be significantly greater than the sum of his achievements because of the vast archive he accumulated and the quality of his diaries. He was like Samuel Pepys – someone who described an age without ever having shaped it – and is remembered for his words rather than his deeds, and by many for his personal kindness and generosity with time and conversation.”

It’s no coincidence that Benn picked Pepys’s Diary as one of his six favourite books in an article for the Express late last year. “It is his eye for detail and the description of the everyday life – the river transport, the food, the clothes, the servants’ speech – which bring the Diaries to life,” Benn said, and, of course, it is this detail – this narrative not just of events but of cultural milieu – which make diaries so important to historians.

Thus Benn’s diaries will provide him a place in twentieth century history above and beyond his political career. We focus a good deal on source skills with our undergraduates, and I vividly recall some of them poring over Benn’s thoughts on the Profumo Scandal recently. This wasn’t precisely in my own comfort zone of seventeenth-century diarists, but the mix of personal reflection, high-stakes gossip and intellectual substance seemed somehow familiar regardless.

Thursday, 28 March
Had a long talk to Dick about the Profumo-Keeler scandal. He said that Dr Stephen Ward, the Harley Street osteopath procurer, ran a sort of brothel on the Astor estate at Cliveden. Profumo lied in his statement to the Commons and Wilson is putting a note of what happened to Macmillan with a warning that it will be raised if something isn’t done about Profumo. I’m not in favour of private life scandals being used politically but it certainly makes the Government look pretty hypocritical.

Sometimes, a historical figure earns their place in a textbook as much for what he wrote as for what he did.

Second Year Field Trip to Cordoba

Second year students taking the module HM5050 are currently enjoying their field trip to the Spanish city of Cordoba.  Dave Webster over at RPE is keeping us up-to-date with their time away on the Religion, Philosophy and Ethics Flickr pages.  Here are some photos I especially liked!  I think certain History staff may have their eyes on tickets for next year…


Women’s Library at the LSE


Further to my post on Saturday about International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, here’s some good news in the Guardian:

The Women’s Library, the oldest and most extensive collection on women’s history in Europe, is about to open its doors again in what campaigners hope will be a permanent home, after almost a century of repeatedly having to pack up and move a unique archive of books, letters, diaries, magazines, protest banners, pamphlets and photographs.

[...] A formal opening ceremony for its new home, a handsome fourth-floor reading room within the LSE library, with speakers including the former Irish president and UN high commissioner Mary Robinson, will be held on Wednesday, and it will open to the public at the end of the month.

[...] The library was originally housed in a converted pub in Westminster, which suffered bomb damage in the second world war, was taken over from the cash strapped Fawcett Society in 1977 by the City of London Polytechnic, which later became part of the London Metropolitan University, and finally moved in 2002 to the washhouse in Aldgate, whose transformation with a £4.2m Heritage Lottery grant won an architectural prize. It was intended as its final and permanent home, but it barely lasted 10 years.

The Women’s Library has an area on the LSE’s website, and you can access a selection of the collection here.

International Women’s Day 2014

International-Womens-DayInternational Women’s Day has been recognised by the United Nations since 1975, but it has its roots much further back in the early twentieth century (the first National Women’s Day was celebrated in the USA on February 28th, 1909). It has a background in labour movements – workers’ rights, democratic socialism – and today continues that campaigning message by asking people to consider the contributions to society, culture and history made by women, and therefore also consider their value and how to increase women’s opportunities for further contribution.

Indeed, it isn’t only women of the past who require that kind of advocacy: though many of our modules here at Gloucestershire attempt to focus in whole or in part on the particularly female experience of history, there are plenty of issues today, too – from equal representation to female genital mutilation – which require us to consider why women are still treated differently to men by society at large. (In the Independent yesterday, Katie Grant went so far as to say, “To those who can’t see the point of International Women’s Day: you are the very reason it exists”).

March, too, is Women’s History Month, giving historians a particular opportunity to emphasise the often over-looked role of women in the past (BBC Radio 4′s Woman’s Hour began a series of historical segments to this effect on Monday). I’m excited to be taking part in two conferences this summer which focus on various aspects of the female experience in the early modern period and beyond, and in my Gender and Power course here at Gloucestershire help undergraduates understand the ways in which gender and femininity can be imagined in such a way to limit women’s choices (not only an early modern problem!) … but also how women throughout history have learned to negotiate these visions of femininity in order to express themselves and win agency.

That’s why today – and Women’s History Month as a whole – is so important. It allows us all, women and men alike, to consider how gender is constructed … and how, therefore, we can just as easily reshape it in order to create better and more equal circumstances for women everywhere.

So think about your favourite woman from history today. And then go and discover a new one.

Glasshouse College, Stourbridge

ghc-building-news-largeNot far up the M5 from Cheltenham is the Black Country town of Stourbridge. The town is perhaps most famous for its glassmaking (the process of using glass to make a range of vessels, from bottles to bowls), and was historically part of Worcestershire – though it has long since been merged, controversially for local residents, with Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council. I grew up not far from there, so it was with interest that I read an email sent to me by one of our Research Fellows, Dr Tim Copeland, concerning a project of ‘historical archaeology’ about to be launched in the town.

Tim tells me that Stourbridge’s Glasshouse College wishes to develop its car park – and that under planning regulations the remains of the late seventeenth-century Coalbournebrook and Coalbournehill Glassworks, which underlie the area, have to be archaeologically evaluated and explored. Glasshouse College is a specialist further education establishment operated by the Ruskin Mill Trust, which works to provide Practical Therapeutic Skills for young people aged 16-25 years. These students have a range of learning difficulties including autistic spectrum disorders and behaviours which challenge.

That opens up some really interesting educational opportunities for the excavation. Indeed, the Ruskin Mill Trust has gained contributions from the Heritage Lottery Fund for an archaeological assessment of the remnants, followed by a Community Archaeological Excavation. The work is being undertaken by Nexus Heritage – and Tim will be designing the heritage and community involvement strategies as part of his wider research.

“Initially,” Tim writes, “the site will be explored by professional archaeologists, to evaluate the preservation of the remains of the glassworks – which closed in the 1950s without leaving behind any documentary evidence associated specifically with them. Once the extent of the remnants is determined there will be a four week excavation by the students from Glasshouse College and volunteers from the area, specifically members of the local historical society who largely comprise of retired persons. The excavation will end with an ‘Open Weekend’, when members of the local community will be invited to visit the excavated structures and examine the artefacts retrieved from the site. The Glasshouse College students will act as guides. It is likely that there will be oral histories connected with the glassworks and these also be collected by the students.”

Tim continues that, following the excavation project, and depending on the quality of the structures, decisions will be taken about the physical conservation of the site as well – alongside ‘preservation by record’ in archived documents, and both an academic and a popular publication (providing both an authoritative and accessible accounts of the work). It sounds like a really interesting project on many levels: historical, social, pedagogical and (for me, at least!) local.

I hope we’ll hear more from Tim as the project progresses.


This blog provides a forum for the students and staff of History at the University of Gloucestershire. Here, we’ll post news on our teaching, student experiences, research, publications, resources, events, and anything else even remotely connected to studying history at Gloucestershire.

There are also short bios of our teaching staff, along with some contact details, and a whole bunch of useful links. Enjoy, and please don’t hesitate to leave a comment!


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