May 2013

A short post, because I probably won’t have time to write one later.  This week I have worked mainly on one particular ballad, writing a short article about it that I hope to submit for publication fairly soon.  It turned out to be something of a double-edged sword, as there is more to it than initially met the eye, which was great for writing an interesting piece and for what it had to say about religious change and death beliefs during the early modern period, but not so good for getting the article finished off quickly as I’d hoped to!  There have been several things that got in the way of work this week, so I would have liked to have spent more time on it than I’ve actually been able to.

I’ve written my paper for Histfest, although of course it continues to be re-drafted as I keep reading it through.  It includes a couple of ballad extracts that I can sing…  I’ve put together half a powerpoint presentation for it, so that will need finishing as a priority.  I’ve also submitted a pair of short paper proposals for the HistoryLab seminar series next academic year, which my friend and I prepared.

In other news, I’ve had my first singing lesson since before I was taken ill, which was very good fun.  I’ve also nearly finished my Historical Association  Programme for next season.

This week seems to have seen me concentrating on moralising ballads.  On Wednesday I had a long meeting with my supervisor, discussing them and the reformation of manners.  He suggested I read an article by Peter Lake on Puritanism, Arminianism and a Shropshire Axe-Murder!  I read it this morning.  Fascinating, it was.  So many layers of meaning to one pamphlet; so many things that it provided evidence for without even intending to.

I spent two long days at the beginning of the week combing the Stationers’ Registers and my spreadsheet of ballads for moralisations and original, unmoralised versions.  It was slow and tedious and although normally I quite enjoythat sort of thing as a means to an end, I just couldn’t manage to enjoy it this week, possibly because I am so incredibly tired.  (I picked up a bug a week or so ago and I can’t seem to shake it off.)  I created yet another table out of the results, which was quite revealing in itself.

On Wednesday afternoon I went to see the careers service, which is something I’ve intended to do for ages but haven’t quite got around to until now.  I was quite reassured by the suggestions that she made and especially by the various websites she showed me, some of which relate to opportunities  for funding.  As a self-funded student that, in particular, was very welcome.

This afternoon I spent writing my paper for Histfest in June.  It needs a lot of work, but there’s plenty of time for that.

This is blatant recycling of material I’ve written for my Bolton Historical Association blog, but I’m very glad my supervisor’s work for the H.A. has been recognised.  Although I have to admit that the size of the photograph on this blog is more than a little bit scary!

Historical Association Bolton Branch

The Bolton Branch is pleased to announce that our Vice President, Dr Glyn Redworth, has been made an Honorary Fellow of the Historical Association.  Dr Redworth provided some of the first Historical Association podcasts on Golden Age Spain and is a regular speaker to branches across the country.  He also wrote the  classic HA pamphlet on Government and Society in Late Medieval Spain.

A Reader in History at the University of Manchester, Dr Redworth’s research interests are in the history of gender in the early modern period, reformation history, and Britain’s relations with the continent. His study of Luisa de Carvajal, a female missionary to England during the reing of James I, was published in paperback by Oxford University Press in 2011 under the title ‘The She-Apostle’.  In 2012 he edited and published a two volume translation of Luisa’s letters.

Dr Redworth will be speaking…

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Issue 29, 2012 (The University of Manchester).


 My Manchester News

  •  > Issue 29, 2012

Why I love PhD students, by Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell

Published on 15 May 13

I was asked the other day if I had any regrets about taking up the position of President and Vice-Chancellor. The answer was: “Remarkably few.” But one was that I am no longer able to be the lead supervisor for PhD students

One of the greatest joys of my career as an academic has been supervising PhD students- in fact I have been the main supervisor for more than 50 of them. Each one has been very different, with varied skills, approaches, aspirations and worries. I am thankful that all apart from three completed their PhD in the designated time, one had a serious accident, another decided that research was not for her and another experienced a major family tragedy. I am in contact with very many of my former PhD students, who have gone on to varied and very successful careers (only about 10% are in academic careers), and we try to have a reunion about every five years.

PhD students are critically important to our University for many reasons. They are the potential researchers of the future, are major contributors to our current research and contribute to many aspects of our teaching and supervision. PhD students are the life blood of a research group, but can also present significant challenges and place major responsibility on their supervisor.

My first PhD student (as a primary rather than secondary supervisor) started in 1987, just as I moved to Manchester. She was soon joined by others, and before I knew it, I had six students; quite a challenge for a relatively junior member of staff and actually very bad planning on my part.

I later learnt to take PhD students only when I had the time to supervise them, or had other academic staff or post-docs to share in the day-to-day supervision, which, in science in particular, is essential.

Back then there were no advisors, no additional training, no checks on progress or support for students who were struggling. Now, of course, all of these are in place. Nowadays, some staff complain about the additional requirements on PhD students and their supervisors, including the courses that they have to attend and regular checks on progress. I see this training as vital, because it means that students receive broader training which is relevant to their likely careers and have support from a wider range of people, rather than all of the responsibility falling onto the supervisor.

I am very aware though, that we cannot make training too generic and it must be seen as relevant to each student and their supervisor. Ensuring good progress through a PhD is essential, but we have to make sure that our monitoring systems are simple and quick.

I also welcome our system whereby each PhD student has an advisor or a second supervisor, or in some areas, a supervisory team. This takes a huge burden off supervisors and provides diversity of expertise. I wish I had benefited from this level of support back in 1987 when I had six PhD students!

Things have certainly improved in terms of support, but have also become more complicated and regulated in every area of our academic lives. As a PhD student myself (very many years ago), I barely considered issues like conflicts of interest; ownership of research and intellectual property; authorship of publications; PhD completion dates; collaboration with industry (part of my PhD was in industry); let alone the more controversial areas of research or any aspects of the ‘politics’ of research and funding.

But I was very lucky. I had a fantastic supervisor who, like many academics at that time, had rather limited pressures on his time, so could always find time to chat. He had a passion for all of the wide ranging issues in science. He persuaded me to read books well outside the area of my PhD, to consider public communication of science, to broaden my experience in teaching and to take a course in the philosophy of science.

Fast forward to 2013, and we see a very different picture, of academics balancing numerous pressures and challenges, yet still anxious to provide the very best inspiration, training and leadership for their PhD students. We all want our students to graduate on time, with great publications and a glittering career ahead of them. Yet it doesn’t always work out that way.

The best advice on PhD supervision that I ever received was that completion of a PhD begins on the day the student starts; that every result matter seven if it wasn’t what was expected; to look for the unexpected and to stretch every PhD student as much as they can manage. But there is no formula for successful PhD supervision – each student is unique – which is part of the real pleasure!

We have an aspiration in our University to increase the number of PhD students. This is an important goal but also a real challenge – not because of lack of excellent applicants (applications are up by over 30% this year), but because of limited funding. External funding for PhD students seems to be ever decreasing. We are committing our own funds, for example through our ‘President’s PhD Scholarships’. This scheme is just in its first year, but it already looks to be very successful with more than 100 award holders so far. Recruitment of the next cohort is now underway with some truly outstanding applications.

Most funding bodies are now moving towards Doctoral Training Accounts, which means that a block grant is provided for us to decide how we spend it. The flexibility here is good, but it raises many challenging questions, such as how many students do we recruit and for how long? For example, we could accept more students for three years or fewer students for four years; how do we allocate student funding and how do we select the best students for the best projects and the best supervisors?

I hope we will increase the number of PhD students in the University, but the quality of our students, the supervision they receive and the research they conduct is so much more important than quantity. I am reminded – that it’s time for another reunion.

Professor Nancy Rothwell

President and Vice-Chancellor
Publication date: Tuesday 14th May 2013
Thank you from the President of the HA

In response to a speech by Michael Gove on 9th May 2013, the following letter from 54 historians was published in The Times on 14th May 2013. As President of the Historical Association, I would like to thank the signatories for their support’.

Professor Jackie Eales

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

In defence of The Historical Association

This letter was published in The Times today:

As historians from the Higher Education sector, we deplore Michael Gove’s extraordinary and misleading attack on the Historical Association in his recent speech at Brighton College. Mr. Gove suggested that the HA favours a dumbed-down or infantilised version of history teaching in schools. Citing a single sentence in an article by an experienced teacher in the Association’s journal Primary History, he claims that ‘the Historical Association suggest students learn about the early Middle Ages by studying the depiction of King John as a cowardly lion in Disney’s “Robin Hood”.’ In fact, the journal piece is a very thoughtful one which explains how
students can be helped to realise that they should not take film depictions of history at face value. Mr. Gove at any rate ignores the important statement that ‘Publication of a contribution in Primary History does not necessarily imply the Historical Association’s approval of the opinions expressed in it.’

Mr. Gove would have us believe that the HA is an ideologically motivated organisation dedicated to the erosion of academic standards. In fact, its 6000 plus members have widely divergent political views but are united by their love of history and their devotion to bringing high quality scholarship to schools and the wider public. The key skill that the study of history teaches is the ability to evaluate evidence. Regrettably, what Mr. Gove has demonstrated in his speech is a remarkable capacity for manipulating and distorting it.

Dr Sophie T. Ambler, King’s College London

Dr Sara Barker, University of Exeter

Professor Jonathan Barry, University of Exeter

Professor Eugenio F. Biagini, University of Cambridge

Dr Adrian Bingham, University of Sheffield

Dr Helen Birkett, University of Exeter

Professor Lawrence Black, University of York

Dr Elizabeth Boyle, University of Cambridge

Professor Kathleen Burk, Professor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary History,
University College London

Dr John-Henry Clay, Durham University

Dr Timothy Cooper, University of Exeter

Dr Pat Cullum, , University of Huddersfield

Professor Martin Daunton, University of Cambridge

Dr Simon Ditchfield, University of York,

Kenneth F. Duggan, Doctoral Student, King’s College London

Dr Ann-Marie Einhaus, Northumbria University

Dr Steven Gunn, Merton College, Oxford

Professor Sarah Hamilton, University of Exeter

Dr Freyja Cox Jensen, University of Exeter

Dr Helen Foxhall Forbes, University of Exeter

Dr Felicity Heal, Emeritus Fellow, Jesus College, Oxford.

Professor David Hendy, University of Sussex.

Dr Clive Holmes, Emeritus Fellow and Lecturer in History at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford

Dr Matt Houlbrook, Magdalen College, Oxford

Dr Bronach Kane, Bath Spa University

Professor Evan Mawdsley, Senior Professorial Research Fellow, University of Glasgow

Dr Helen McCarthy, Queen Mary University of London

Dr George Molyneaux, All Souls College, Oxford

Dr Staffan Müller-Wille, University of Exeter

Jamie Page, PhD student, St Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies

Dr Hugh Pemberton

Senior Lecturer in Modern British History

University of Bristol

Dr Catriona Pennell, University of Exeter

Dr Tim Rees, University of Exeter

Dr Matthias Reiss, University of Exeter

Dr Catherine Rider, University of Exeter

Dr Laura Sangha, University of Exeter

Dr Levi Roach, University of Exeter

Dr Mark Roodhouse, University of York.

Professor John Shepherd, University of Huddersfield

Dr Nicholas Terry, University of Exeter

Dr. David Thackeray, University of Exeter

Professor Patricia M. Thane, Institute for Contemporary British History, Kings College, London

Professor Andrew Thorpe, University of Exeter

Dr. Hereward Tilton, University of Exeter

Dr Daniel Todman, Queen Mary University of London

Laura Tompkins, PhD Candidate, University of St Andrews

Professor Richard Toye, University of Exeter

Professor Paul Ward, University of Huddersfield

Dr Cordelia Warr, University of Manchester

Tosh Warwick, PhD candidate, University of Huddersfield

Professor Jane Whittle, University of Exeter

Dr Alun Withey, University of Exeter

Professor Matthew Worley, University of Reading

Professor Chris Wrigley, Professor Emeritus, Nottingham University

The following also wish to be associated with the letter:

Dr KH Adler, Department of History, University of Nottingham

Dr. Sascha Auerbach, Department of History, University of Nottingham

Ann Garfield, PhD Student, University of Nottingham

Dr Robert Alexander Hearn, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Universita degli Studi di Genova, and formerly University of Nottingham

Professor Michael Jones, Correspondant de l’Institut, Emeritus Professor of Medieval French History, University of Nottingham

Dr Conor Kostick, Advanced Research Fellow, University of Nottingham.

Dr Joe Merton, Teaching Associate, University of Nottingham

Matt Phillips, PhD student, University of Nottingham

Laura Sumner, PhD student, University of Nottingham

Dr. Claire Taylor, Associate Professor in History, University of Nottingham.

Professor John W. Young, Professor of International History, University of Nottingham

The big news of the day is that I’ve had my first conference paper accepted for Histfest at Lancaster University.  This will be my first conference paper and as far as I’m concerned it has several advantages as a first conference: it’s just up the road, so I’m nearby and I’m not going to get lost on the way there; it’s a postgrad conference so it’s a good first step; and it’s got a reputation for being very friendly.


I’ve also submitted my first article to a journal.  Now for the waiting game: it will take about three months for the peer review process, which I suppose will take me through to mid-August.  I might as well just forget about it for a while!



Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve spent some time this week working on my writing, trying to improve the style and clarity.  I’ve been looking at the moralisations of ballads that appear in the Stationers’ Registers for my period, so I thought I’d give serious consideration to how I wrote about them in the light of last week’s lesson on how to write a sentence.  I sent a couple of paragraphs off to my supervisor for inspection and I’m happy to report some improvement.  I think I’ve probably become a bit sloppy because of my tendency to splurge ideas on paper without thinking about where they are going or how I am setting them down.  I also suspect that the bar has suddenly been raised and I’m no longer getting away with things that didn’t matter in the past.  That’s fine.  I know (even though he hasn’t told me) that my supervisor’s making me work harder because he knows I can do better, and that’s a good thing.  I’ve printed out the last set of corrections that he sent and I’m keeping them by me on my desk, to remind me how it should be done!  I’ve written about a thousand words this week, which is great because I know that they are better quality ones.  I hope that in the long run, they’ll need a little bit less messing about with later!


I took advantage of the beautiful weather on Tuesday to work in my garden office.  It was warm and sunny, so I ran a lead out the back door for my laptop and sat at the patio table to work.  It turned out to be a very good day for thinking.  I wrote about 6 pages of ideas in one of my research books.  The questions I came up with have kept me going for the rest of the week.  That helped to improve my writing, because I knew what I wanted to talk about before I started to say it.

English: Queen Mary, University of London's Ch...

English: Queen Mary, University of London’s Charterhouse Square site, home to student accommodation and departments of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last thing I did before knocking off on Friday afternoon was to book my place as a delegate for the Psalm Culture conference at Queen Mary University, London, in July.  I’m looking forward to going, but I have to say that the idea of spending three days in the capital all by myself is a bit daunting.  I am so used to going everywhere as part of a package that the idea of being a professional person in my own right for several days without interruption is somewhat scary.   I’ve booked everything – trains, hotel and conference – so that I can’t back out of it!


Publication date: Friday 10th May 2013

Cartoons and Mr Men

On the morning of Thursday 9th May the Secretary of State for Education delivered a speech at Brighton College entitled “What does it mean to be an educated person?” The focus of the speech is a criticism of those who have opposed his department’s proposals for the new National Curriculum – it made the usual inferences that those who opposed the changes were opposed to young people learning.

As Mr Gove responded to his critics subject by subject he launched an ill-researched attack on the Historical Association. Founded in 1906 and granted a Royal Charter in 2006 the HA has more than 50 branches across the UK and supports and represents thousands of children, teachers, academics and enthusiastic amateurs, that all want to ensure that history is discussed, debated and promoted – ensuring historical knowledge and research are recognised as important for all ages and abilities.

The attack accused the HA of promoting cartoon history suggesting that it recommended in its resources that young people could learn history through watching Disney cartoons – in fact he is referring to an article in the HA publication ‘Primary History’ from December 2012 by Jane Card which is a critical piece on using film in the classroom to teach history. The article reminds teachers at primary level (those very teachers who are not experts) that film is not truth and that young people need to be guided through film when it is used to portray the past and factual events. The whole article has been misrepresented by Mr Gove – why, who is he undermining the HA or teachers across the board?

He then cites another ‘resource’ on the Third Reich that uses Mr Men to explore the traits of the Nazi leadership. The inference in his speech is that this is another HA resource that promotes cartoon teaching. Fortunately for Mr Gove the officials of the DfE credited the correct organisation for the Mr Men lesson and we will leave  Active History to explain how their work has been misinterpreted.

But why the attack on the HA? Is it because we:

  • Have criticised the proposed new curriculum but with evidence;
  • Because we met with over 500 teachers face to face in less than 6 weeks to collect our response evidence;
  • Because we presented Mr Gove face to face with the evidence collected by an annual survey that 96.2% of secondary teachers felt that insufficient attention had been given to teachers in the new NC;
  • That through an online poll with over 1700 responses only 4% thought the new history NC was a positive change;
  • Because we represent teachers, who have been trained to have a breadth of historical knowledge, who have opinions and can think both critically and with expertise and come from all sides of the political spectrum?

Whatever Mr Gove’s reasons are for wanting to diminish the Historical Association we will continue to produce respected and credible resources, to listen to teachers, academics and all those who think history is something that young people are entitled to learn about without the political messaging of governments. Our core mission for over 100 years has been to help raise the standard of history teaching and learning in schools and we will continue to do so irrespective of political agendas.

Perhaps Mr Gove should read Professor Sir David Cannadine’s book ‘The Right Kind of History’ that reports that there was no golden age of history teaching in schools and that in the past politicians of all parties avoided prescribing history content because only totalitarian regimes want to control what young people think about their past.

A Red-legged Partridge in Kirkmichael, Scotland.

A Red-legged Partridge in Kirkmichael, Scotland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Proof, if it were needed, that I live in a beautiful part of the country.  This morning we did a three and a half mile walk near Caton, Lancaster, and although we got rather wet (where did that rain come from?  It wasn’t forecast…)  we all rather enjoyed it.  We drove back over the tops through Quernmore,  past the tower, down towards Abbeystead and then turned towards Scorton.  A red-legged partridge crossed the road in front of us too!

So now I’m looking forward to a quiet family weekend.  We’re thinking of having a barbecue if the weather is as good as the forecast suggests and there are several things that need doing in the garden (planting beans, putting hanging baskets together, a bit of weeding).  My husband has promised to take the children out and play some cricket with them too.  We’re hoping for a family day out walking and perhaps visits to the grandparents.  There’s homework to fit in, of course, and the usual weekend cleaning and tidying jobs, but generally speaking I’m hoping for a relaxing weekend!



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Weather-wise, it’s been a much better week.  Yesterday the weather was beautiful, but unfortunately I wasn’t in a fit state to enjoy it.  My eldest kindly brought  a bug home from school earlier in the week and having had a sleepless night on Tuesday, I wasn’t in a fit state to kick it out of the house.  So I spent most of yesterday in bed with a bug.  Anyway, the garden is looking lovely, I think.  We had the redpoll and the siskins back in the garden this week too.

Work is going slowly.  I’ve started work on my second chapter, but at the moment I’m researching rather than writing.  I have a wild theory up my sleeve that involves heraldry and ballads!   I’m in the process of comparing several ballads about Lent, which is actually proving to be a lot more interesting than it sounds!

On Wednesday I survived a lesson in how to construct a sentence!  I have an annoying habit of leaving subjects out of sentences, which is fine if you happen to be inside my brain as I know what I’m talking about, but apparently other people can find it a bit hard to follow my train of thought…!  I have been told to think about my sentences as musical phrases, in order to make them more balanced.

In other good news, I have my lovely middle-aged laptop back (as opposed to the old one that I need to get repaired next), which means that I’m back on  Windows 7 and no longer have to attempt to work round Windows 8 which, as far as I am concerned, is the stuff of nightmares.  Windows 7 works.  It just gets on with things.  Windows 8 thinks it needs to be at the forefront of your work all the time – it’s far too in your face.  Also, today I got the document reference I needed to complete my article, so it’s now all ready to go.  This feels very strange.  I think I probably feel the way a rhinoceros must do when it’s about to give birth – this article has been two years in the making!