We always love to hear what our former students are doing. This week, former undergraduate student Micky Gibbard has been in touch to report back on his success in obtaining funding for his PhD, and offers some advice for students starting their studies at Gloucestershire
As Gloucestershire starts its new academic year minus a couple of familiar faces I will be starting my PhD in Dundee, following the recently displaced Iain Robertson north of the border. A Cheltenham local, I graduated from Gloucestershire in 2013 and immediately went up to Durham to study for an MA in Early Modern History. Despite studying elsewhere however, I have an incredible fondness for my time at Gloucestershire, the History Department and its staff who I now regard not only as my former tutors, but my friends. The History Department at Gloucestershire very much put down the foundations for my further study and the consistent help from staff both past and present has been the major contributing factor in attaining PhD funding from the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities.
The vast majority of my research to date has looked at cartography and surveying between the sixteenth and eighteenth century (on which the university library has many excellent books, if any new undergraduates are that way inclined…). My PhD will be slightly different and although incorporating the history of surveying and cartography, the main focus will be on the principles of improvement and the foundation of new planned settlements in rural Scotland throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – something which I’m yet to comprehend and which I very much hope will change over the next three years – I will keep you updated! Some advice for the new undergraduates: continue the history society and get involved. Founded in 2013 by a small group of my friends the society went from strength to strength with many (quite liquid) historical discussions. Above all else, however, print your source sheets and forget them at your peril!
The start of the new academic year is here! Today we welcome back returning students embarking on their final year, those beginning their second year, and let’s not forget our part-time students who are at various stages of their academic studies. A special welcome goes to all our new students starting Induction Week today, we hope you are all settling in and that you enjoy the full schedule of activities for your first week at the University of Gloucestershire.
It has been a busy summer for the History team, not only in terms of research and preparing for the new year, but also because we have undergone a number of changes. First of all, congratulations and farewell are in order to two members of staff, Dr Anna French and Dr Iain Robertson – both regular contributors to this blog – who have begun exciting new journeys elsewhere. Anna will be taking up a new post as Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Liverpool in October, whereas Iain started his new job as Reader in History at the University of the Highlands and Islands on the 1st September. Iain’s departure means that Christian O’Connell is the new Academic Course Leader in History. While we are sad to see Anna and Iain leave, we are also very happy to welcome two new members of staff. First of all, early modern specialist Erin Peters is joining us after completing her PhD at the University of Worcester on print culture in Restoration England. She will be starting with us on the 28th September and begins the semester by teaching on HM4404 Renaissance & Reformation, HM5403 Religion, Superstition & Fear and HM6403 Protestantism and Puritanism. We also welcome David Howell, a Lecturer in History and Heritage who is joining us to teach HM5404 Crime, Violence and Disorder and HM6405 Social Conflict in Nineteenth Century Rural Britain.
Beyond the start of courses, there is also lots going on at Gloucestershire this term. We have lots to look forward to in terms of extracurricular activity at the University. We previously published the Gloucestershire branch of the Historical Association program. All our students get free access to these fascinating talks which are normally held at our Park Campus. We also have a number of exciting events for Black History Month in October. This year, the School of Humanities has teamed up with the local council, the African Community Foundation and local community to organise a number of events. We are very excited to host talks by the African American dramatist and critic Bonnie Greer on the 14th, and lead writer for The Guardian and The Nation Gary Younge on the 20th October.
To look at a full list of events for Black History Month click here. Remember to check out our Black History Month competition, which ends on the 27th September. We will also shortly be announcing a list of events for our Showcasing History series, which was so successful last year. Make sure you follow the blog to keep up to date with all the events, but also join the Facebook Group and follow us on Twitter.
As we await the start of the new academic year, we are drawing up a number of plans for our extracurricular activities for the year ahead. Next month, a number of events will take place at FCH for Black History Month, including talks by Bonnie Greer and Gary Younge. We are also putting together a list of events for the Showcasing History series, which are designed to get staff and students engaging with historical issues outside the classroom (more on these to follow on our blog soon).
Before all this however, the Gloucestershire branch of the Historical Association has just published its program for the coming year [download PDF]. A number of exciting talks by noted academics and scholars are in stock on topics including the Indian Ocean Slave Trade, Marcus Garvey, the battles of Agincourt and Gallipoli, Henry III, the Armenian Genocide, and American Civil War and others. See the attached program for more information.
Due to our relationship with the HA, our students can attend talks for free, but they are also encouraged to join the HA and support the organization. The talks are normally held in the Teaching Block of Park Campus in Cheltenham. The first HA talk of the new year will be held on Monday 21st September at 8.15 at Park Campus. For more information, visit the HA website. You can also keep up to date with events by joining our Facebook group.
This year, we’re opening out our annual History competition to everyone – not just University of Gloucestershire History students! To coincide with Black History Month, we’re asking people to nominate individuals in any or all of the following three categories: ‘Unheard Voices in Black History’, ‘Creating New Black Icons’ and ‘Celebrating Local Black Heroes’.
Black History Month takes place every October across the United Kingdom, USA and Canada. Its purpose is to celebrate, commemorate and raise awareness of the history of the African diaspora. First celebrated in the UK in 1987, it has since become an annual opportunity to discuss African histories of all kinds – and to ensure the debate, discussion and attention is not restricted only to each October.
At the University of Gloucestershire, we try to do our bit. Last year, for example, we took part in the events organised by the Cheltenham West End Partnership, and along with the Gloucestershire Historical Association played host to a talk by Dr Miranda Kaufman about Africans in Tudor and Stuart Britain. This year, we’re welcoming columnist for the Guardian and The Nation, Gary Younge, and critic and playwright Bonnie Greer for talks at the University, amongst other events.
Our competition is part of all this activity. Three selected competition entrants will win a Kindle Fire Tablet, and you can read more about the categories by downloading our PDF poster – please do print it out and spread the word! The closing deadline is 12 noon on 27 September 2015, and entries should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winners will be selected by an independent panel of judges and announced in October 2015.
Following the tragic events in Charleston, South Carolina, it is difficult to disagree with President Obama’s moving and powerful obituary at the funeral for one of the victims, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, that it was time to take the flag down. However, the public furore over the use of the Confederate flag has also demonstrated how quickly traumatic events can cause us to forget even the recent past.
The killings conducted by Dylann Roof on 17th June shocked people around the world. Perhaps even more surprising were the responses of family members of the victims that instantly forgave the killer. The images of Roof with the Confederate flag that have dominated the Internet since the killings have justifiably sparked an important debate over its use. To most observers, these pictures make the meaning of the flag clear: white supremacy, racism, and the South. Many – particularly African Americans – rightly share this view. During the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s, the flag came to symbolize mass resistance of white Southerners to the federal imposition of anti-segregation laws. From this point of view, it seems fairly evident that it is time the flag came down. The image of the black filmmaker Bree Newsome climbing the flagpole of the South Carolina state capitol building to remove it will almost certainly becoming an iconic image. Many American politicians, even those previously defenders of the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage and identity, have called for it to be removed (although this seems to be political posturing by many Southern politicians). Many Southern states are now debating whether to remove it from their state flags. To many Americans, most African-Americans and non-Americans, removing the flag will be a symbol of progress. However, there are a few issues that as historians we must address.
First of all, the debate around the removal of the flag sounds much like treating the symptoms rather than the disease. While this would be an important symbolic gesture, and long overdue, we have to be realistic and acknowledge that removing the flag will not eradicate racism. Unfortunately, it may also cause as much resentment as keeping it. One only need to look at the plans of South Carolina’s Klu Klux Klan to have a pro-flag rally, or to consider the many other Dylann Roof’s that are out there. There are also those that genuinely believe in the flag as a symbol of heritage and identity which is not racist. There are even black groups that have adopted and adapted the flag to symbolize a new Southern identity, such as the creators of NuSouth Apparel. The historian John M. Coski reminds of the historical origins of the flag, which lay in differentiating Southern troops from Union forces in the Civil War, but also the various different meanings the flag has held since then. Discussion on the flag are rightly and understandably politically charged, but in order to understand the various meanings it holds to individuals and communities in the 21st century, we must look to the past. That being said, whether it’s political posturing or anti-racist activism, it is clear that it’s time for the flag to come down.
Secondly, one of the frustrating elements of the debate over the flag has been the fact that it has revived the old myth that the South remains the home of American racism, that it has not moved on from the Civil Rights movement. While racism certainly still exists in the South, history, as well as the events of the last twelve months remind us that racism has never really been determined geographically. It exists everywhere, and it manifests itself differently in different places. Finally, the spree of newspaper articles, news stories and blog posts on the Confederate flag have worked as a smokescreen for one of the larger debates that characterises and plagues American life – guns. The fact remains that Roof was able to obtain a gun very easily, and one wonders at what point America will begin to tackle this issue.
Ah! – or Aagh! – that time of the year again … marking and external examining (why, I wonder??): looking at the results of a year’s hard work by both students and staff and how that translates into written work. We are often asked, “How do I get a first class grade?” Here are some obvious answers:
1. Get the basics right – a first class piece of work should at least be well-written, using sentences, punctuating and spelling correctly. I cannot see a first class essay as one that has incomplete sentences, is littered with basic grammatical errors, etc. Similarly, referencing – footnotes and bibliographies – should be in the right format. By level 6 (year 3) there really is no excuse for getting these basics wrong.
2. READ! your bibliography will reflect the amount you have read and the range – you have to engage with historians and their arguments (historiography). This means using more than general survey texts; monographs and journal articles are a must.
3. And finally – having done all the reading, you cannot just list or outline the views of other historians; a good answer is going to have an argument, a conclusion, and hopefully a point of view coming down on one side or the other, answering the question set – or in a dissertation, the questions posed by the writer in their introduction.
When a student manages this, the results are often really a pleasure to read – they show understanding, engagement, and enthusiasm. I hope your work falls into this category – but if not, keep working at it, and remember – READ!
As part of the University-wide Festival Fortnight, this week has seen a series of presentations and awards by and for History students and staff.
On Monday, students presented some of their work at the Humanities Student Research Conference, which gave them the opportunity to talk about some of the projects that have interested them the most – including group work and dissertation research. Level 5 History students Grace Cooper and Matt Saffery presented the findings of a recent project which explored early modern childhood. The group made a ‘Horrible Histories’ magazine aimed at children, which tells a story of what it might have been like to be an early modern child.
Third year students discussed the findings of their dissertation research: Jack Miles presented on ‘Edward Said and Cornwall’; and Jordan Spencer presented on ‘JFK’s Legacy’. Rachael Colmer and Erika Mellor talked about their work for the History Society, before handing over the task to their course-mates. One of the aims of both Festival Fortnight and the conference was to make interesting connections and to open discussion between different subject groups, so it was great to see our students taking part!
On Tuesday afternoon and evening the hard work of students and staff across the University was recognised at two awards events held in Cheltenham Town Hall. Some of these awards were open to nomination by students. Erika Mellor won Course Rep of the Year Award. Former History student Alicia Mascall, who now works as an academic advisor, won ‘Best Academic Feedback‘. Her citation reads:
“Alicia has given effective advice when helping students structure their dissertations. She has been described as ‘keeping students sane throughout their time at University’ and goes the extra mile to make sure students understand their feedback.”
Finally, Professor Melanie Ilic was one of a significant number of staff presented with long service awards at this event, for over 25 years of service. Congratulations all!