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Erika Mellor on life after History @ UoG

This post comes from our former student Erika Mellor, who graduated in BA History in 2014/15.

Like many people faced with the ever terrifying idea of leaving the safe haven that is university life, my prospects narrowed down into two realistic options: work or postgraduate study. For me, the choice was relatively easy. I knew the field in which I wanted to work, so I would either spend the rest of my life volunteering in museums until I was eventually given a job (when I was closer to retirement!), or I would go on to further study and hopefully make myself more employable.

History Society

Erika (left) with the History Society (Rachael Colmer and Alicia Bowater) at an Applicant Day in 2015

I first found out about the course I decided upon, Museum and Heritage Studies at Liverpool Hope University, through my dissertation topic which was based on the city’s heritage and museums. The course covers practically every level of working, running and educating in the museum and heritage sector (even a module that included reading by former UoG lecturer Iain Robertson, which was a bit of a surprise). The course is unique in that the majority of the teaching is done within the National Museums Liverpool, an organisation of 7 museums and galleries that has become the largest organisation of nationalised museums outside of London.

Class of 2015

The Class of 2015

Within these different museums and galleries that cover everything from dinosaurs to portraits of monarchs, Egyptology to the history of Liverpool, we regularly meet professionals, work in different departments and complete a work placement. My placement is with the ‘House of Memories’ project, which has become a nationwide educational resource in combatting the social alienation of older people. The idea of using museums for social justice is something that I will be taking further throughout the rest of my MA as it will make up a large proportion of my dissertation. Both the taught course and the work placement have allowed me not only to generate an understanding of working in a museum but have provided me a way of building contacts within that sector. In the same way I learnt as an undergraduate to never say no to free food, as a postgraduate I have learnt to never to say no to creating contacts.

Erika (2nd from right) celebrating achievement at FCH

Erika (2nd from right) and her fellow historians celebrate their achievements

Although I am pleased that I have this new education challenge, I owe a lot to the University of Gloucestershire. The various opportunities the History course provided allowed me to develop not only academically, but in many other ways too. Throughout my time in my undergraduate course, I was enthusiastic to say the least. I was course rep, I ran the History Society, I took part in various events hosted by the university such as conferences, open days, and an internship in the University archives that has since got me a paid job. All of these gave me experience, practice and most importantly the confidence to go further.

I doubt I would be on an MA in a fabulous, if windy, city without the opportunities provided at the University of Gloucestershire and support of its wonderful lecturers and staff.

Book Review Opportunity!

Roll up, roll up!

You may be interested to hear that we have several copies from the publisher of the following book available for review:

Roger Moorhouse, The Devil’s Alliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941

If you would like to borrow a copy of the book to prepare a review, please contact Melanie on milic@glos.ac.uk. This is a great opportunity to practice an important skill, and a chance to write for a wider audience.The winning review will be posted on the History Blog, which has had over 27,000 hits from all over the world, and the winner will be presented with a copy of the book to keep.

DevilsAlliance

Prof. Melanie Ilic at Women and their Culture Conference in Seoul

I was invited to attend an international conference on ‘Women and Their Culture’ hosted by EWHA Woman’s University in Seoul, South Korea, at the end of January 2016. This was a great honour for me and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The papers covered a broad range of topics from the early modern period through to the twentieth century, covering both Asian and European history. Some of the papers provided an interesting and unexpected opportunity for me to make comparisons between different aspects of Soviet and Korean social and economic development.

Melanie Seoul

My paper was entitled ‘Looking for Love’ and is an early outcome of my extensive reading of a range of Soviet women’s narratives with the intention of making a book-length study of Soviet women’s everyday lives. This paper focuses on women’s attitudes to personal relationships and sexual morality and questions the often repeated statement that ‘there’s no sex in the USSR’. The discussant for my paper, Ka Young Ko (Seoul National University), completed her PhD at Moscow State University, where I also spent some time as a research student. Given my non-existent Korean, it was good to be able to converse a little in Russian.  The conference also provided the opportunity for me to meet several Korean academics who are interested in Soviet women’s history.

EWHA Woman’s University was founded in 1886 by American missionary Mary F. Scranton and it now has an extensive and rather stunning campus, including this flight of steps designed by Dominique Perrault. Actually, Seoul itself has a great many stunning buildings and is worth visiting for the architecture alone.

Melanie in Seoul II

I was fortunate to be aided during my visit by one of my former PhD students, Junbae Jo. Our visits to many sites of historical and cultural interest served to improve greatly my knowledge of Korean history and to place what little I do know into much broader context. For Junbae, this was an opportunity to revisit places he had not been to since he was at school. I was introduced to Korean cuisine and managed to persuade Junbae that he should also try to the delights of vegetarian and vegan Seoul (my pocket guidebook listed only a few places, but there are many more still to be tried out). By some stroke of luck, my first evening in the city ended in one of Seoul’s cat cafes, which Junbae didn’t even know existed!

February is LGBT History Month

As well as February being ‘Black History Month’, it has also recently been adopted as LGBT History Month. According to its website, LGBT History Month aims ‘to promote equality and diversity for the benefit of the public.’

This is done by:

  • Increasing the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) people, their history, lives and their experiences in the curriculum and culture of educational and other institutions, and the wider community;
  • Raising awareness and advancing education on matters affecting the LGBT community;
  • Working to make educational and other institutions safe spaces for all LGBT communities; and
  • Promoting the welfare of LGBT people, by ensuring that the education system recognises and enables LGBT people to achieve their full potential, so they contribute fully to society and lead fulfilled lives, thus benefiting society as a whole.

A range of events has been organised nationally for 2016. See here.

LGBT

UG is also hosting an event to celebrate LGBT History Month on Wednesday 24 February:

The university is hosting an interactive workshop evening for the LGBT Partnership to share their latest research on Wednesday 24 February at 6pm, Room 015, Fullwood House, Park campus.
Last November, the LGBT Partnership, made up of a variety of organisations including Cheltenham Borough Council, Cheltenham Homes, GIRES, Gloucestershire Pride, the university and the Students’ Union, sought the views of the LGBT community on the services and support available to them in Gloucestershire. The presentation of findings will be followed by a workshop allowing attendees to provide their feedback and help to shape future support for the community.
Staff and students are welcome, although places will be limited so if you would like to attend, please contact cpeterson@glos.ac.uk by Monday 15 February.

Black History Month – Again?

You might wonder why Black History month is being celebrated again – assuming you knew! Well, this is the American celebration started initially by the African American historian Carter G. Woodson as Black History Week in 1926. February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of the black abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, and it became a month-long celebration in 1976. What is remembered in this month, and how Black History is presented, becomes increasingly problematic. It often seems to be little more than the celebration of great black men (and women) – usually a re-telling of the events leading up to the Montgomery bus boycott or an account of the life of Martin Luther King. Perhaps this is inevitable, but black history is also about the voiceless masses, the many who endured silently, or who resisted in a myriad of different ways – some of them cultural. Not all of this can be covered in a month – and to simply place black history (or women’s history for that matter) into a neatly measured time-span of a month, or week, is in itself absurd. By now black history should be incorporated into mainstream (white) history. Perhaps Black History month has had its day? Journalist Gary Younge has, as usual, something provocative to say on this subject – https://twitter.com/garyyounge/status/694156499640147968.
Worth reading and thinking about whether in the USA or UK.image002

North Carolina Bound

This weekend I leave for Elon in North Carolina, where I will be spending four months teaching and researching as part of the Fulbright-Elon Scholar Award 2015-16. I was delighted to receive this award as I would have the opportunity to spend four months in the United States working on a new research project. However, this award would also give me the chance to ply my trade in a very different environment. Other than the occasional conference, opportunities for academics to work abroad in today’s climate can be at a premium. The increasing demands on academics throughout the year can restrict the amount of time available for that essential ingredient to engaging and innovative teaching – research. Created back in 1948 by Senator J William Fulbright, the Fulbright Commission “fosters mutual cultural understanding through educational exchange” between the US and the UK. Therefore, upon my return to the UK, I am hoping to bring back a number of experiences that will be in my teaching as well as my research.

Elon

Elon University, North Carolina

Elon University is a small liberal arts college located about a 20-minute drive east of Greensboro, the city where the 1960 student sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement began. The university prides itself on engaging and interactive teaching, and boasts a beautiful campus which was ranked by the New York Times as the nation’s #1. I’m very much looking forward to the fascinating task of teaching a course on ‘US History to 1865’, as well as ‘An Introduction to American Studies.’ We often get American exchange students at the University of Gloucestershire, and these always add a useful and ‘insider’ perspective to class discussions. However, I am positive that I will learn a lot from students at Elon about the way Americans think about their own history. I’m also sure that students will benefit from my ‘outsider’ perspective.

Being in North Carolina will also allow me to begin gathering materials for a new research project which looks at the influence of African American culture in Italy between 1930-1960. When I’m not teaching, I will be concentrating on the experiences of African Americans during WII, exploring oral histories, correspondence, and memoirs by visiting a number of archives and libraries such as the Library of Congress, the African American Museum, the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington DC, and the John Hope Franklin Library at Duke University. I will also be presenting a talk on my new book Blues, How Do You Do? (Michigan, 2015) at Tennesse State University in Nashville on March 24th.

800px-Tuskegee_airmen_2

Tuskegee Airmen at Ramiteli, Italy, March 1945

Importantly however, I will be in the South, a region which scholars of the Americas continue to study as region with a certain unique cultural heritage and history. This is a topic I have been exploring in a recent research project that examines representations of the American South on British television. I am looking forward to having a number of ‘Southern’ experiences: driving through the Appalachian mountains, visiting places such as Nashville and Asheville, historic cities such as Charlottesville, Charleston and Savannah, live music, and last but not least, barbecue!

blue ridge mountains

Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina

I also be in the US in the build up to the Presidential elections where I hope to get more of a sense of the way Americans feel about the potential candidates, and what they think about a number of the issues that make the UK news regularly, such as guns, the confederate flag, and police violence. Before all of this however will be Superbowl 50 on February 7th, which this year by coincidence sees the Carolina Panthers take on the Denver Broncos. At this point, all I can say is ‘Go Panthers!’

‘Cold Case’ Archaeology

by Dr Tim Copeland, Research Fellow at the University of Gloucestershire

In many ways all archaeology is ‘cold case,’ in that we recover and explore the physical evidence of objects and structures from the past in order to reconstruct what activities have occurred in a particular place at a particular time, who was responsible for them, and why they happened. This specific project is entirely different in that we are endeavouring to find the records of unpublished excavations: ‘cold cases’ within ‘cold cases’, and it is proving quite interesting but difficult!

The missing reports are of excavations at a Roman villa which was the country retreat for someone of great wealth. The villa was found in 1864 by a gamekeeper’s dog going down a hole chasing a rabbit, although this seems to be the ‘Creation Myth’ for so many Roman villa sites. It was ‘cleared’ (‘excavated’ would be too positive a word for what happened!) in the mid-19th Century on behalf of a Lord on whose country estate it was found. He argued that since he was a noble in the British Empire, whoever owned the villa was a noble in the Roman Empire and therefore the house should be on display. As is often the case at that time, the foundations of the building and mosaic pavements were preserved, and the ‘goodies’ such as statues, fine jewellery, coins, classical pottery from France and Italy (etc.), were removed and eventually displayed in a museum or the owner’s house. Although panoramic views were drawn, no plan of the structure was made, nor were there any attempts to show the location of where the objects were found. All the coarse ware pottery from the ‘service’ areas and kitchens, which is very useful for dating, was dumped away from the site. The Lord had been on the ‘Grand Tour’ to Italy and Greece, and so thought he knew about what a Roman villa should be like and may have added to the remains to make them more ‘complete’, and a symmetrical and pleasing shape. We have no idea about how much of the structure is from the Roman period and which from Victorian times because excavations between 1950 and 2000 using modern techniques have also not been written up. Since any archaeological excavation by its nature destroys evidence, any ‘dig’ is only as good as its report. It is through the present project that we are endeavouring to find these reports.

Chedworth-Gloucs-300AD

I have been trying to locate the records from an excavation undertaken in 1977 in advance of the construction of a visitor and administration building at the site. The aim was that the ‘footprint’ of the new structure would not destroy any evidence for the villa without it being archaeologically recorded, and if the finds were important, the architecture of the centre might be modified. The results of the excavation were recorded, but the report, if written, was thought to have disappeared. It was not certain that the excavation director was still alive, nor was it known where he was living. By researching excavations that he had undertaken after 1977 I was able, through acknowledgements in his reports, to track down individuals who had worked with him and who could give me the next link up to the late 1990s,  when I knew he had retired. Eventually, I got an address, but the archaeologist had moved after retirement, though a neighbour remembered a village in another county where he might be located. By visiting the local pub (as archaeologists occasionally do) and enquiring of his whereabouts, I found him, aged 80, almost without vision and recovering from serious surgery with just months to live. Under his desk was a box marked with the name of the villa site. He had always meant to get the report written, it was just that he had been busy and was delighted that it would be published at last. Now I had the day-to-day site note books, but the plans had got lost, although there were working sketches, the colour slides had faded and I could not find the black and white images. The finds report was also missing, and the finds themselves seemed to have vanished into thin air.  Looking at the weekly accounts in the notebooks there were several names of individuals that I recognised who had gone on to be professional archaeologists and were Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries (FSA). As a Fellow myself, I was able to access the Society’s records and locate the present addresses of these individuals. I thought that  many of them might have photographs of university students with long hair and beards, wearing flared jeans and tie-dye t-shirts, smoking pipes and with bottles of beer in hand, sitting next to excavation trenches. These were the ‘hippies’ who were on the 1977 excavation (now grey haired, often bald, retired and ‘grandchildrened’). Importantly, with all their colour photos, slides and black and white images, I was able to piece the site together, and with a modern plan of the villa, locate the position of the excavation trenches and some of the features such as walls.

Since there are a whole series of lost or incomplete archaeological interventions being researched, a colleague who was working in the Sackler Library of the University of Oxford on a 1950s project found an ‘interim’ report of the 1977 excavations. This had been written immediately after the dig was completed for the body which had funded the project, and it contained scaled-down versions of the original measured, but still not located, originals. With present imaging technology these plans could be ‘cleaned-up’ and enhanced. Now I also had the site code XX77 and in a local museum I found plastic bags, which had lost their labels, full of pottery with the letters and numbers inked onto every sherd. We could identify the layer they had been found in and date it. Unfortunately, most of the finds had been from the Victorian spoil dumps and were of limited use, although they gave information to link them to specific pottery kilns and therefore identify the trade patterns of the villa. The kilns had been discovered by excavations before the construction of a nearby motorway. It was a pity that three coins and several brooches had gone missing.

Unfortunately, the original excavation director died a few weeks after my visit, but there is now enough information, pictorial, written and oral, for me to put together a report of the 1977 exploration of the villa. It is also possible that I now have the address of the deputy director of the excavation, but he is living in New York. Will someone pay the expenses of a visit to meet him, please?

Welcome!

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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