Tuesday, 10 February 2015

2015 so far

Blink and you end up a month and a half into the year! The days are getting longer and the sun a little warmer; it won't be long before we're surrounded by daffodils, swallows, lambs, rabbit-shaped chocolates and other harbingers of springtime. Meanwhile, here are my thoughts on the labs we've had so far, and what we can look forward to over the rest of the term...

New History Lab Showcase

Our original timetable for this term started on January 30th, but we decided that we simply couldn't wait that long. Also, while we love having eminent guests sharing their knowledge, part of the remit of the lab is to encourage postgrads to speak about their own research and propose their own events. With this in mind we planned an 'in house' lab with talks from myself, Katie Bridger and Matt Wale. With our different interests (colonial Khartoum, medieval Leicestershire and Victorian scientific periodicals respectively) we also hoped to have something to appeal to everyone.
I won't say much about my talk except to mention that I really, really hadn't slept much before writing and delivering it. If this was discernible to those of you there, I apologise. Katie's talk on the gentry of North West Leicestershire introduced me to an area of history I knew little about. In particular, I found the linking of the histories of particular families to landscape and architectural history fascinating. This has much to add, I think, to how we relate modern concerns around the construction of place to more traditional histories of elites.
Matt's evocation of the lively discourses carried on in the pages of nineteenth-century scientific journals featured an intriguing array of characters and claims. Many contributors were amateurs who had day jobs but also pursued an intense interest in (for example) hedgehogs. The cheap printing of the late nineteenth century enabled the growth of specialist journals through which likeminded scientists could exchange thoughts, plans and specimens.
We were gratified to have a good attendance for an event near the start of term, and it was great to gather in the pub once again and catch up with friends after the long break.

The World's Your Oyster

Two weeks later we gathered for an event that was something of a departure from our usual format: rather than a talk, or set of talks, we would be hosting a discussion of how best to introduce undergraduates to global history through a first year module currently being designed. This was an opportunity for the lab to play a role in shaping the undergraduate curriculum, and to gain some insight into how modules are constructed.
Toby Lincoln and Deborah Toner began the session by outlining the aims of the module and the structure agreed upon so far. There were additional contributions and comments from Clare Anderson, Bernard Attard, Katherine Foxhall and Prashant Kidambi. After some general discussion, attendees broke into groups to work on proposals for themes that might attract an undergraduate student, and which could provide linking threads through the module. The session closed with more general discussion, and a white-board busy with ideas and connections.
Although much stimulating debate was had, an hour was perhaps rather a short period in which to hope to build much consensus, especially given the number of people present. Certainly the event brought out the complexities involved in designing this kind of module, and also opened up possibilities for thinking more broadly about how we approach teaching global history to undergraduates. My own conclusion was that one module can only be the tip of the iceberg, and that delivering some of the grander aims global history requires embedding concerns around international networks and flows through the broader curriculum. This doesn't, of course, deny the need for an introductory module, but I think this can only be the beginning of an ongoing process. I will quote Nicola Blacklaws, who will be known to many of you and attended the event, as saying that this course should be 'a gateway drug'.*

And All That's To Come

The rest of this term we have a great range of labs: Steven King will be talking about nineteenth century courtship; Simon Dixon from the library will be presenting an introduction to the special collections; postdoc researcher Eureka Henrich will be offering her thoughts on life beyond the PhD; and former committee member Tom Hulme will be speaking on what is the best title I have ever read: 'Bishops, Dinosaurs, and Robot Soldiers of Death: Performing 'History' in Twentieth Century Britain'. Now, should really get on with a poster to match that!

(We also have some special collaborative events in the works, which will be announced shortly. Watch this space!)

*The NHL Committee only condone the kind of substances that can be purchased in pubs