The Danger of Nostalgia: Historicising the Early-Career Debate by William Whyte

In a rather heated moment during the recent early career ‘twitterstorm’, History Lab Plus offered to host any responses to Matthew Lyons’ original piece that were constructive and sought to move the debate on. We were pleased, as historians, to see that William Whyte, a historian of universities, answered calls for a historical perspective on the debate. His response is below. We continue to be open to any constructive responses from all. E-mail us at to contribute.

Historians need to be careful when they extrapolate from their own experience. History may be a broad and catholic discipline, but at its heart is surely a basic attempt to historicize: to relate past and present; to situate individual experience within broader, historical categories and trends.

In his article for History Today, Matthew Lyons raises an important issue, articulating some complaints of the early career researchers he has encountered, and (though he does not acknowledge it) also echoing many other voices within universities who are similarly concerned about the conditions in which temporary staff of all sorts currently have to work.
But in order to make his argument, he falls back on a fundamentally presentist, ahistorical – indeed anti-historical – peddling of myths. Like so many people writing about universities, he wholly ignores history and instead invents an idealized past – a past, which of course, never existed.

He’s far from alone in this. ‘Nostalgia is a big thing in academia’, observed Diana Warwick, head of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals in 1996; ‘everything is worse today’. And it’s true that even those who ought to know better are prey to the myth of the golden age – indeed, when the London Review of Books turned its attention to life within Britain’s universities in December 2011, it found a variety of laments and a range of dates identified as better than now, from Keith Thomas’ celebration of the mid-1950s as a ‘golden age of academic freedom’, to Rachel Malik’s description of the mid-1990s as a ‘wonderful’ time to work in academia. In the last ten years or so, a variety of different writers have favourably compared every post-war decade with the experience of life in the twenty-first century university.

If the past is always golden, the present is always dark. Hence the language of decline, of betrayal, and crisis. In his lecture to the Australian Historical Association on 7 July, Peter Mandler challenged the notion of a broader ‘crisis’ in the humanities, pointing out that ‘It is hard to take too seriously talk of a crisis in Britain when even by the narrowest definition of the humanities the absolute number of humanities students has increased fivefold since 1967, and by the broader definition almost 10-fold’. One might do the same for Matthew Lyons’s notion of a ‘great betrayal’ of early career researchers now.

Of course, for all those individuals trapped in nine-month contracts (or worse); for those who have a PhD but no job – and seemingly little likelihood of getting one, this will seem like a crisis. As Harold Wilson is said to have observed, for the individual unemployment is 100 per cent. If anyone was ever lured into postgraduate work by the promise that they would find it easy to become a tenured member of a university, then they are quite right to feel betrayed. We mustn’t, too, make the equivalent mistake of arguing that everything is fine now, and that there is nothing to complain about. That is isn’t true, either. The work of History Lab Plus illustrates just how much more universities ought to be doing for their temporary staff.

Nonetheless, it is worth challenging the notion that there was time in which post-graduate funding was easy to obtain and permanent jobs were just there for the taking. The Robbins Report of 1963 noted that each year only 300 state-funded scholarships were available for the arts, humanities, and social sciences in the whole of the UK. In the 1980s, there were only 200 funded places for PhDs in sociology and just a few more for history.
Nor were jobs easy to obtain. Far from being, in Matthew Lyons’s words, ‘a generation which benefited from free education to degree level and generous support into postgraduate study’, the most senior staff at most universities today were amongst the very few people who managed to gain employment in the far darker days of the 1980s. Public expenditure cuts after 1981 led to the loss of about 5,600 academic jobs and creation of very few new posts. Even the Thatcher government realized that this was creating a demographic crisis in which a generation of postgraduate students would be lost forever, and in 1983 the ‘New blood scheme’ was created to hire some of the very best. It is an index of just how little this benefitted the humanities that in its three years of operation, only 66 posts were created for the arts and 78 for the social sciences. An over-privileged generation, this was not.

In that sense, our current problems are not the product of cuts, or decline, much less betrayal. They are rather the consequence of success. The number of universities, university teachers and researchers, and the number of postgraduate students has simply grown and grown. Moreover, in recent years, a rise in university income, driven by tuition fees and by increasing research funding, has enabled institutions to employ a growing – not a declining – proportion of permanent staff. By 2000, one survey estimated that half of all academics were on temporary contracts; in 2010, HEFCE produced figures suggesting that nearly 90 per cent were now in permanent employment. Moreover, about half of these people would previously have held at least one temporary job.

It is this remarkable growth that causes us so many dilemmas. Last year no fewer than 539,000 people were enrolled as postgraduate students, compared to 135,000 in 1994 and around 10,000 thirty years before that. It is quite clear that, even were universities to continue to expand, there is no way in which all of these people can expect be employed as full-time, tenured academics. It would be quite wrong for anyone to promise any one of these people that their path to a university job would be smooth or easy.

But therein lies our difficulty. Twenty or thirty years ago, most of these people would not have been able to undertake postgraduate research. Many of the institutions they attend had no history department and no tradition of taking research students at all. If the problem is the overproduction of PhDs, then which are the institutions who should be stopped from training doctoral students? Who are the individuals who should be prevented from starting research? Or do we just have to accept that there is a structural imbalance and that most doctoral students will not go on academic work?

It is a valid debate, but not an easy one. And it’s not one that will be helped by bad history or accusations of bad faith.

Don’t Call It Lucky: A Personal Perspective on the ‘ECR Debate’

N.B. This guest post was sent to us by an ECR who wanted to contribute to the debate but was unsure about doing it in their own name. We are happy to publish responses, whether anonymous or otherwise.

This post is about the ECR issues that have been convulsing Twitter. It is a story of personal experience, and as such it does not contribute very sensible calls for systematic evidence-based debate. But I do think that stories of personal experience have a place in this discussion, not as an alternative to the wider trends we need to identify, but in terms of addressing how individuals are dealing with these problems, and what range of solutions might be available.

I have some ideas, all of which stem from my identity and experience, but perhaps that identity and experience is worth thinking about. I hope my colleagues can understand that I have chosen to write this anonymously, even though it is a deeply personal post.

Let me begin, then, by saying that I do not deal well with uncertainty. No need to paint a picture, but I book travel a long time in advance, arrive everywhere early, and like routine. I am a lousy gambler.

Now put this character sketch into a situation: the situation of the early-career researcher. When I was finishing my doctorate, I started applying somewhat haphazardly for junior fellowship positions at Oxford and Cambridge. In the end, I got a six-month research fellowship, and spent most of it applying for the next round of things: more postdocs, the same junior fellowships, but also teaching positions both temporary and permanent, the British Academy. I put out feelers about the Leverhulme, the Wellcome Trust, the AHRC.

I managed to pick up some teaching to carry me through another year. And I started applying again.

This was the worst time for me. The same schemes where I had had limited success before (interviews, personalized rejections) were now rejecting me outright.
Did I mention that I do not deal well with uncertainty?

Around February, things started to look up. A Cambridge college wanted to interview me for a three-year fellowship, and – to my surprise – another university wanted to interview me for a permanent lectureship.

Long story short: I got the permanent job, a year after I finished my doctorate.

You could call this lucky, but it isn’t.

I know what you’re thinking, but I can get this out of the way pretty quickly: the obvious alternative to ‘luck’ in my story is not ‘hard work’.

Hard work is not optional on the lower rungs of the academic ladder.

I have known many different people from a variety of institutions and backgrounds, and ALL of them, without fail, and despite what they sometimes seem to worry, work very hard indeed.

I suspect that very few people who don’t work hard make it to graduate study and then to the end of the doctorate. (I do not mean to insult anyone who does not finish: there are many, many reasons not to complete a doctorate, and I doubt problems applying enough effort is a particularly common one (quite the opposite!).)

All I mean to say is that the problem – as I see it – is not that ‘luck’ is more important than ‘hard work’ in the current system.

So, you could call my story lucky, but it isn’t.

It is privileged.

I am privileged to have held positions and had income in the months after my doctorate, I am privileged to have worked with excellent people at prestigious institutions, and I’m not under any illusion that my journey has been tough compared to that of many others.

I freely admit it: I have had a privileged education (Oxbridge most of the way) and the support (including financial) of my family throughout. I have not had extensive responsibilities caring for family members or raising children. I have never felt discriminated against because of the colour of my skin or because of my sexual preference, gender identity, or a physical or mental disability.

My story is the story of one good-enough-person among a great many whose success – I like to think! – did require talent and determination, but also actively relied on these privileges in many complex and important ways.

I am not saying this to boast. Far from it – hence the anonymity.

There is nothing to be proud of about the fact that the system I was born into, and the place I have gradually taken in it rewards individuals not simply on merit, as we sometimes like to believe, but a complex cultural-symbolic maelstrom of identity issues.

If I’m not saying it to brag, then why bother?

Because a lot of relatively junior people I know who are in relatively secure jobs in academia seem to feel (like me) that the recent spats triggered by Matthew Lyon’s piece for History Today are not helping the discussion, but instead alienating people who should be involved.

So I did not, by any means, have the toughest transition from doctorate to relatively secure employment, but there was still transition, there was uncertainty, and I did personally deal with some of the problems that are at the heart of these arguments.
And as someone who does now have relative job security I am still deeply concerned by these problems.

I think there are structural problems with the current system, which cannot be reduced to ‘too many PhDs, not enough jobs’. The oversupply of excellent ECR is a catalyst that allows institutions and the system as a whole to exploit junior academics and perpetuate unfair disadvantages, but I do not believe that oversupply justifies exploitation and injustice.

And let’s not kid ourselves. Some people really do believe that. It’s a tenet of the neoliberal attitude, which believes the ECR situation should be ‘corrected’ when students realize that academia is not an economically attractive career.

The problems of precariousness and the role of privilege in this system should be corrected by sustained efforts by academics to pressure institutions for specific concrete changes that make academic careers fairer: by which I mean accessible to people from a range of backgrounds, accessible to people with different responsibilities as carers and parents, with different needs and requirements.

How? These are my suggestions. The value of speaking from personal experience is that I – like others – can explore the things that have helped me as I went through the harder times.

My guiding idea is that some of the privileges I have had from financial support and from prestigious institutions should be expectations.

ECR should reasonably expect they will get support of various kinds: this should not be a privilege limited to people who come from the right place and fit a certain image.

1 Get ‘em early

We could begin by going further back, very briefly. Everything I know from the excellent work of the Sutton Trust suggests that a deep cause of some of these inequalities lies way before university. We need a less unequal education system now more than ever, and of course, now more than ever, we have a government that is fundamentally opposed to the measures that would encourage a wider range of young people to arrive at the age of 22 or so and think academic research is a possibility, and a desirable one. Hell, we lack a government that is committed to encouraging mature students to feel that way, too.

These are debates (or despair?) for another day, because there are things we can be doing within academia to address these problems, too, even if the underlying issues of education and inequality have deeper roots…

2 The Code of Good Practice

I see it as part of my responsibility to ensure that the institution I work for meets the suggestions in the Royal Historical Society Code of Good Practice for temporary contracts, drawn up with History Lab plus, available here:
This, from the first page, a thousand, thousand times: “for those on short- term teaching contracts a few simple things, such as being included on email lists and invited to seminars, could make a big difference to their experience of a department.” The code goes on to suggest a short and straightforward list of things departments can do to make working in temporary jobs a better situation than it sometimes is now. Having an office, being included in meetings and research discussions, these should not be ‘perks’.

They should be expectations.

3 Making job applications less onerous

I would only add that – in my experience – some institutions could be more sensitive to the position that applicants are in when they apply for jobs. Is it really reasonable, in the situation we find ourselves, for every single institution in the UK to have a different hiring process? How much time is wasted producing tailored research or teaching statements for jobs at universities that never even have the courtesy to formally reject your application?

Could we have a national, standardized system (not unlike UCAS or the NHS job system)? There are obvious risks. Departments might complain that they will be swamped with even more applicants than they get at the moment and this will make their task harder.

Well, from what I can see, the problem here is not how hard it is for those of us who are looking for new colleagues. The problem is the immense pressure these potential colleagues are coming under from a variety of angles. And a standardized application system might be one way to reduce some of that pressure.

And let’s not forget that many of the same people who would have a tougher job sifting through applications in this nationwide model are the same ones who are besieged with demands for references. How would you like to write just one reference a year per candidate instead?

Of course there are other problems with this idea. Who will decide what the application should include? I suspect we would never reach any agreement on what it would look like.

And how would applicants tailor their pitch to the institution?

Well, not very much. Or rather, they would only get one shot. They’d have to pick what kind of institution in the abstract they wanted to go to, and then write a general enough pitch that those kinds of institution would be interested in them.
What else could institutions do to treat applicants better? Well I understand that personal letters to every single applicant may simply never be possible, but I will just say that every single time I got a personalized rejection, it meant a huge amount to me. Several times I asked for feedback from unsuccessful interviews and got none. I think that is broadly unacceptable. Colleagues have suggested that people worry about complaints, even court cases if they are too honest about why candidates are not good enough. I do not think this can be the main problem.

I wonder if institutions and the academics within them are very happy with a system where the criteria that exist on paper do not have to be addressed in decision-making. (I am thinking especially of Oxford and Cambridge, where the depressing spirit of academic libertarianism – both right and left wing – reigns supreme).

But let’s be clear about this: a system where departments have no accountability even to people who came very close for why they chose someone else… that is a system where privilege will continue to dominate.

4 Eliminating temporary contracts where possible

Beyond these thoughts about making life easier for people working in temporary contracts and helping job applicants, I am broadly committed to the idea that no job should be done by temporary staff that could be done by permanent staff.
Anyone who has experienced or witnessed (for instance) the misery of nine-month contracts, where staff are hardly paid to prepare teaching materials, and receive no pay at all over the summer, only to face possible renewal for another nine-months can justify the existence of temporary staff where they are not absolutely necessary. Of course temporary staff may be needed to cover periods of research leave, maternity and paternity leave, illness.

But I believe one of our goals should be to ensure that the slide of the UK system towards a US adjunct system must be arrested.
I have too many thoughts about this to contain in one post. I want to end on a positive note, although this is easier said than done.

Academia can be fantastic, and that is why so many people want to be academics. But I would hardly be the first person to point out this does not mean that any of them should have to work in financial insecurity.

Nor would I be the first to point out that the blame game turns very hurtful very quickly, not least since experiences of being ECR are clearly hugely variable.
Senior academics who feel they ARE doing their best to help junior colleagues might rightly feel pretty annoyed with recent finger-pointing. Mid-level academics with some security can quickly feel alienated from conversations because they are no longer the ones who have to deal with everyday insecurity. But as a group with BOTH 1. recent experiences (never underestimate how insulated other academics might be from what the job market is really like) and 2. a little more power within the system, surely these early-to-mid-level people must be key to making sure that change happens?

Getting angry about people who got desirable jobs without having to do X or Y blames those job-seekers (your former peers!) for systematic problems.

As the History Lab Plus Twitter account put it: ‘Let’s take the energy of this debate and channel it into working together as historians to make things better.’

So this is my declaration of hope, and also shame.

Because of course it would be easy to feel somewhat divorced from the struggle once the uncertainties are less present. My attention turns towards new uncertainties: my book, articles, the REF, research funding, teaching, the godawful Teaching Excellence Framework – to mention only my professional concerns.
I’m ashamed of that temptation and do honestly want to continue helping to reform the current situation.

And I feel bad for times I have made light of privilege in academia.

I think there is a very real problem whereby junior people are devalued in ways that make them cynical. Cynicism turns to sarcasm, and I might find myself joking about how so many jobs go to Oxbridge graduates, for instance.

It isn’t funny.

In fact, I’m ashamed of those tendencies towards cynicism in the darkest part of my between time, because, after all, I am a beneficiary of a system that is demonstrably unfair.

The only avenue for hope in the face of this shame must be: we can change this.

Teaching History in Higher Education/New to Teaching History

Here at History Lab Plus, we’re very pleased to support both the New to Teaching History event taking place at the Institute for Historical Research on 7th September and the Teaching History in Higher Education Conference, also taking place at the IHR on the 8th and 9th September. Both will be excellent events and the programme below includes some great speakers, many of whom have contributed to History Lab Plus events in the past. The New to Teaching event is free to PhDs and early-career scholars (scroll down to the link to register at the bottom of this post); there are also a limited number of conference fee bursaries for the larger conference for ECRs, but you must contact Peter D’Sena at the email address below for details. Attendance is highly recommended!

Teaching History in Higher Education Conference

Institute of Historical Research, Senate House

8-9 September 2015

Click here for the provisional programme: PROVISIONAL PROGRAMME Teaching History in HE conference 8-9 Sept 2015

BOOKING to attend the conference is now open.  Please go to:

REGISTRATION FEE: £96.05 per person for both days; £53.65 if registering for only one day.  For information about bursaries for students, please contact Peter D’Sena by e-mail at peterdsena@yahoo.comFor early career academics, bursaries are available – but please contact Peter first!


On the evening of Tuesday 8th September, there will be a meal nearby at a good quality restaurant. Information will be sent to all delegates about this as soon as we have an idea about numbers.  The approximate cost will be between £40 and £50.  In the past this has always been a convivial occasion and a good way to carry on networking with delegates.

There’s also a New to Teaching event on Monday 7th September (see IHR site).  It’s free (funding to support that from the RHS). The event is now on IHR Histevents:

Registration to attend the History New to Teaching event at:

Teaching and Technology: Notes and Reflections

Our event on ‘Teaching and Technology’ at Liverpool John Moores University on 15 March led to a very productive and inspiring discussion. Here, co-organiser Lucinda Matthews-Jones reflects on the themes that emerged and how we can embed digital technology in the History classroom in meaningful ways.

Universities are increasingly being asked to make their courses more digitally informed. History is not exempt from this. Indeed, as a subject area, we have benefitted from the digitisation of many of our sources. Like many historians, I have enjoyed thinking about how to use these digitised sources in the classroom. But I’m also increasingly aware that we need to reflect more widely on the relationship between pedagogy and the digital. I was therefore delighted to be asked to co-host, with Catherine Feely, an event on this theme for History Lab Plus. In this blog post I will provide notes on the themes that emerged from talks by Elliot McGaffney, Bob Nicholson, Melodee Beals, Jamie Wood, Allegra Hartley and Martin Hewitt and in the ensuing conversations.

Students have a very different relationship to digital media technology then we as teachers do. They appear to be constantly connected to social media, and digitally savvy about their interactions there. But, as Helen Rogers observed, this does not necessarily make them ‘digital natives’. Melodee Beals expanded on this idea to suggest that the relationship students have with digital media technology is more complicated than the suggestion that they are simply ‘natives’ in the digital sphere. Rather, students come from safe, enclosed, digital spheres which can make the transition to the digital tools we ask them to use difficult and unfamiliar. This was apparent in Bob Nicholson’s paper on his experiences of teaching his third-year module ‘Digital Detectives’ where students are generally unaware of how to search digital newspaper archives effectively. This raises questions about how we perceive the ‘Google Generation’. As Bob Nicholson noted, many of the digital resources we use look and feel very different from what students are used to. They are more familiar with apps than databases. It’s possible that the advantage is actually with the older generation: Melodee Beals pointed out that many academics have some memory of DOS and familiarity with coding.

Our digital modules can therefore shatter the safe digital spaces that students have created for themselves. This raises interesting questions about how we design and construct digitally informed modules. Many of the digital modules that were discussed at this event are taught in blocks of 2 hours or more. These sessions are often an exclusively digital classroom exercise. ‘Digital Victorians’, a module run by Paul Ward, Allegra Hartley and Martin Hewitt, provides an innovative way to think about how to design digital modules. Balanced with fieldtrips and other offline content, students are introduced to Pinterest, Google Maps, Slidely, timeline software, Youtube and Vine. They are, like Helen Rogers’s students on ‘Prison Voices’ and ‘Writing Lives’, encouraged to use social media to share their findings. Allegra Hartley’s engaging paper discussed digital assessments. She noted how students used digital resources that had not been discussed in class, confirming that once equipped with the skills for digital research, students are capable of doing it for themselves.

One of the reasons we are being encouraged to embed digital skills into our courses is to create more digitally savvy employees for the world of work. Is it enough, then, to include digital skills only in certain modules? There was a sense at this event that many of our digital modules were free standing, viewed as add-ons to courses, and that they don’t necessarily include all students on a degree programme. Should this be the case? Should specific digital option modules be devised simply as a tick box exercise without incorporating all students and – dare I say it- staff? I would argue that digital skills need to be embedded at all levels, with a foundational first year module in digital history. Jamie Wood showed us how he uses social book marking in a first year skills module to understand how students read and engage with secondary and primary sources. By using social media book marking students would then devise seminars by providing key questions. Meanwhile, Jamie would then be able to look at how they had engaged with and understood their reading by looking at how they had highlighted and archived their work.
When we get digital pedagogy right we can enlighten and enliven the learning experience for our students and train them to be the digital historians we want them to be. As Allegra Hartley noted, many of her students found ‘Digital Victorians’ to be ‘liberating’. This was confirmed by Elliot McGaffney, who gave a paper on his experiences as a mentor on Helen Rogers’s ‘Prison Voices’ module. Having finished this module last year, Elliot assisted Helen by mentoring students, helping them set up their own blogs, proof reading student’s work and writing support material for other students. This experience, he noted, now takes centre place on his CV. It was wonderful to hear from a student about how they had benefitted from being involved in a digital module like this one.

We need to remember that digital history is an expansive field. The papers at this event demonstrated that there are a wide range and variety of digital tools that we can incorporate into our degree programmes. These can range from blogs, social bookmarking, newspapers, database retrieval and social media tools. But, we also need to think carefully about the digital platforms that we use. Jamie Wood noted that both students and staff do not perceive VLEs to be the places where the best digital learning occurs. This is largely because we envisage VLEs to be lecturer led, and as repositories for lecturer created materials.

At the same time, we need to think more about the rooms we create for digital modules. There was a feeling that static PC rooms were not useful for digital modules because they prevent group work. It was also noted that desktop PCs create a barrier between students and between student and lecturer, whilst also being noisy. Universities therefore need to think more about infrastructure. Many of us were impressed by the classrooms that the University of Huddersfield have created. PCs are hidden in the tables, which are arranged in small groups in front of a flat screen TV which can show a lecturer’s PowerPoint or used by the small group. One of the reasons I really like this room’s arrangement is that it encouraged us to think more about how we incorporate digital skills into our sessions. At the moment, we separate digital and non-digital modules by the fact that our seminar rooms do not have IT provisions for all students. I believe that this needs to change.
All rooms should have computer provision these days almost all teaching involves digital content of some kind. I’m always surprised at lecturers who bemoan the lack of ‘good’ reading and ‘good’ primary material when marking student essays. But how are students supposed to define the good, the bad, and the ugly within our modules if we do not actively teach them in the classroom? I also believe that all seminar activities should include the primary source databases that our libraries subscribe to. This would not only show off what we have in our e-libraries, but also incorporate all our colleagues and hopefully prevent the idea that there are those staff members who are digital historians and there are those that aren’t. We are all digital historians.

There must therefore be greater training offered to staff in this area. We need to recognise that academics need to work in safe digital spaces. The only way we can fully respond to our students needs as future digital workers is if universities and professional bodies also start to recognise that we need training in this area. Moreover, we need to consider how we disseminate our digital teaching practices and resources. Martin Hewitt noted his surprise that we still don’t share these more fully. I’ve been pondering this questions ever since. We don’t need to reproduce the same material all the time. Perhaps with digital resources this is especially the case. More importantly, this has led me to think about how we talk about teaching more generally. It’s interesting that we all describe our modules as either research led or informed. But, we rarely offer a teaching strand in our conference calls for papers. Teaching is usually confined to teaching conferences. Academic conferences should surely start reflecting on how we teach our research. These would be a great place for us to learn how our colleagues are advancing digital pedagogy.

Catherine Feely and I plan to organise an event that picks up on these themes. Let us know if there is a particular digital tool you think we should look into.

Dr Lucinda Matthews-Jones, Liverpool John Moores University – @luciejones83

Further Resources

Elliot McGaffney’s presentation on ‘Blogging Beyond the Classroom

Jamie Wood on ‘Social Bookmarking and the Questioning Historian

Allegra Hartley’s blog post on ‘Digital Victorians

History Lab Plus Events: More Dates for your Diaries!

We have a busy few months ahead at History Lab Plus, with events coming up left, right and centre all across the country. Here are a few details of upcoming events, a Call for Papers and some preliminary dates for your diary.

First of all, we are running an event on Teaching and Technology: Making Digital History‘ at Liverpool John Moores University on 14th March 2015. A stellar line-up of historians will share their experience of engaging history students with digital technologies and will help you to develop your own course ideas. You can read more details and book for this exciting event on our Eventbrite page.

Our very popular event ‘Life After the PhD’ will again be exploring a whole range of post-PhD careers, both academic and non-academic, on 21st April 2015 at Senate House, London. More details will follow very soon.

On June 12th, we’re pleased to be sponsoring a one-day symposium on ‘Teaching World History’ at the University of Derby. This Call for Papers invites proposals for 10-15 minute presentations about how to engage students on international topics. The deadline for proposals is 31st March 2015.

Also in June, we’ll also be running our annual joint event with the Royal Historical Society and this time we’re moving out of London! Watch this space for a announcement of date and brand new location very soon. In the meantime, here’s some of the excellent advice our professors gave last year to be going on with.

In July we’re also proud to be sponsoring early-career workshops at the ‘Rethinking Modern British Studies‘ conference at the University of Birmingham and the Leeds Medieval Congress.

There are also other events in the planning, including one on becoming a freelance historian or heritage professional. So there’s even more to come! Hard to believe, I know; we do our best for you …

Teaching World History: Call for Papers

Call for Papers: Teaching World History
One-Day Symposium at the University of Derby, 12 June 2015

World history has become a vibrant field in UK Higher Education, with strong research outputs, a plethora of conferences and exciting collaborative projects. This only seems appropriate at a time when HEIs are also asked to engage with a diverse (but at times ill-defined) internationalization agenda, manifesting itself in attempts to attract a more international student audience and in efforts to internationalize existing curricula. All this has brought opportunities as well as challenges for those engaged in teaching undergraduates and postgraduates, too. How do we engage students in studying the history of countries that are often very much beyond their usual frame of reference? How will research and teaching influence each other in this particular field? Do we have a responsibility to turn our students into ‘global citizens’?

This symposium will provide opportunities to discuss the challenges and opportunities that come with the teaching of World History. We are looking for presentations of 10-15 minutes’ duration, to serve as starting points for further discussion and debate, and as an opportunity to share good practice. This symposium is being sponsored by History Lab Plus, the network for early-career historians, and we would therefore particularly welcome contributions from postgraduate and postdoctoral teachers of World History as well as those more established in their careers.

Possible topics include:

• How can we encourage students to understand the political dimensions of World History, and can we use World History to challenge student perceptions about the world?
• How can we make use of film and other media to teach World History?
• What assessment strategies are best suited to teaching World History?
• What are the challenges involved in using study visits and field trips to engage students in World History?
• How can we encourage undergraduate students to conduct primary research on world history?
• Does the secondary education curriculum adequately prepare students for an international HE curriculum?
• How can we develop interdisciplinarity in teaching World History?

Please send expressions of interest, including a brief abstract of a 10-15 minute presentation to Tom Neuhaus,, by 31 March 2015.

NEW EVENT: Teaching and Technology: Making Digital History, 14/3/2015

Teaching and Technology: Making Digital History

Liverpool John Moores University, 14th March 2015, 10am-4pm

From newsreels and newspapers to medieval manuscripts, in the last decade the number of primary sources available digitally has exploded. At the same time, there are increasing pressures on University History programmes to develop the ‘digital literacy’ of their students. This practical workshop will explore how we can use digital resources and methods of assessment – such as blogs, youtube videos, and wikis – to actively engage our students in the process of historical research. We will also explore the difficulties and practicalities of developing digital history modules, especially from the perspective of early-career historians. What are limits of what technology can achieve in the classroom? What skills do we need to develop in order to properly support our students? Please note that this is an interactive workshop: you will be asked to share and develop your own ideas as well as hear about the experiences of others.

Speakers include:
Dr Helen Rogers, Liverpool John Moores University/’Blogging Beyond the Classroom’ @blogging_beyond

Dr Jamie Wood, University of Lincoln/’Making Digital History’

Dr Bob Nicholson, Edge Hill University

Dr Kimm Curran, University of Glasgow

To book your place, please visit our Eventbrite page.

This event is being organised by Dr Cath Feely (Derby) and Dr Lucinda Matthews-Jones (LJMU). For further information, please e-mail Dr Cath Feely at

Draft programme can be downloaded here: Teaching & Technology Prog Mar 2015.

Wanted: PhD Students to Run History Dissertation Workshop at Loughborough

Five paid positions are available to current or recently graduated PhD students to run a one-day workshop, supported by academic staff. The workshop will prepare second-year undergraduates to write their final-year history dissertations and is funded by a Loughborough University Teaching Innovation Award.

The selected postgraduates will receive half a day’s professional training in peer-assisted learning, then work alongside Loughborough’s History faculty the following day to develop undergraduates’  dissertation proposals. Each undergraduate will also receive formative written advice on their draft proposal after the workshop. Participants must be available to attend on-site training from 2pm on Wed 25 March and the workshop itself from 9am to 4pm on Thursday 26 March. Each postgraduate will receive £272.50 pay, travel costs, overnight accommodation at Loughborough (if required), meals and a great line on his or her CV!

To apply, just record a three-minute video in MP4, MOV, WMV or FLV format explaining why you would like to participate and how undergraduates would benefit from your involvement. Please include your email address in the file name of the video recording (so we can contact you) and upload it to the Google Drive folder at

The closing date for applications is Friday 23 January. If you have any queries, please contact the History Programme Director, Dr Marcus Collins, at

Early Career Life in 2014 – Niamh NicGhabhann

In the final of our reflections on early career life in 2014 (for now), Niamh NicGhabhann writes about how her career has taken her in unforeseen directions this year and on the importance of finding focus. We hope you’ve enjoyed these first series of posts, and if you’ve written to us about doing a reflective blog, we’ll be in touch very soon as we hope to make this a regular feature of the blog. We’d especially like to hear from you if you feel like you’ve had a different experience to those we’ve had so far. Over to Niamh …

On 31 December, as I was working my way towards my 3pm New Year’s Eve essay-marking cut-off point, I saw a note on Twitter looking for ECRs to write about their life and experiences post-submission. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. Anything beats grading, after all. I was also motivated, however, by the fact the I’ve learned so much about academic life, the jobs market, publications and general good working practices from Twitter and from similar blogs, and would be delighted if my few experiences could be of any value to others in a similar way.

I completed my PhD in TRIARC: the Irish Art Research Centre at Trinity College Dublin ( in 2011 and graduated in 2012. My thesis was on the preservation of medieval ecclesiastical buildings in Ireland, and was completed under the supervision of Professor Roger Stalley. My undergraduate degree had also been at Trinity College Dublin, following which I spent a year working as a tour guide, as an education intern in the National Gallery of Ireland, and finally as an administrator for the Irish Museums Association. Since my undergrad, and throughout my postgrad years, I was keenly aware of the fact that I would emerge from university in need of a job – this led me to take on a series of jobs and internships with festivals and contemporary art galleries. I did everything from writing essays for art books to sanding down gallery walls. I was lucky to have a funded doctoral position – on the IRC (Irish Research Council)-funded Reconstructions of the Gothic Past project, yet I knew that this would not last forever. The years of my PhD, therefore, were busy ones – I was working on my thesis, doing as much gallery and curatorial work as possible, and trying to attend and present at as many conferences as possible. The fact that I did my PhD within a larger funded project meant that I was more supported, with team meetings, regular working patterns, and a major conference and a publication at the end to showcase findings. A digital humanities component was also developed ( , which I didn’t work on directly, but which did give me some insight into the world of DH. Was this strategy of busy multi-tasking successful in the end? I do worry that it made me more of a Jill of all trades, and sometimes wish that I had simply found the key to the ivory tower for those three years, hopped in and put my head down. However, when I graduated, I was glad to have had those experiences, as they stood me in good stead when it came to negotiating the jobs market.

On graduating, I found myself taking on too much. I was teaching in two universities, and got a job as a researcher on a new digital humanities project based on medieval buildings. I was afraid to let anything go, but ended up having to drop one set of teaching – I regret not being more aware of this earlier, and letting the university know in advance, as I fear I risked some of the goodwill which I had built up there. Working and teaching gave me time to recover from the final year of the PhD – I found myself being able to work from a US college for a period, which opened my eyes to that system. Around this time, I realized that I needed to give myself a bit of a kick in terms of ensuring that I was working on publications – I put a book proposal together and was accepted ( . I also started several articles, finished a few, and had some rejected. I presented at different conferences, but did not find that this was a particularly good research period for me. Bad habits are slow to break, however, and I took on further gallery and curatorial work, and not only that, founded a company with three of my colleagues aimed at providing historical project management and research skills to a variety of clients. We were successful in our first tender bid for a large government project exploring the history of a former psychiatric hospital in Co. Monaghan. This experience was, like many others, was a positive one, but took up a lot of time and energy, and brought me into yet another career direction. In setting up the company, I was involved in innovation and enterprise training, and also ran a conference and established a research project (with some small funding) on the subject of Innovation and the Humanities (

(What you don’t see here, of course, are the worries, the crappy flats, the breakups, the incredibly supportive partner, family and friends, the exhaustion and self-doubt, but they are very much part of this picture too).

The world works in mysterious ways – despite feeling increasingly worried that these varied experiences would render me unemployable, I found myself applying for the position of Course Director for a new MA Programme in Festive Arts at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance ( . This position allows me to combine my experiences and passion for curating, arts management and policy, innovation, together with my research expertise in the ritual and festive uses of post-medieval spaces and landscapes. The Irish World Academy is based at the University of Limerick, and I have taken full advantage of their research mentoring schemes – I have been advised to do what I have known all along – focus! Find one direction and work there! I have been in my new position for a year and a half now, and it has been extremely challenging and extremely rewarding. Putting a new course together, positioning the discipline, promoting the course to potential students and learning the ropes at a new university has had me jump through more hoops than I thought I could. I am now at the point where I am finishing a number of projects – I am stepping down from the company as entrepreneurship is a full-time job, and I simply don’t have time for two of those, I’m waiting for the first set of page proofs of my book, and I am tying up some final essays and projects which have been in the pipeline for a few years. I write a blog ( , which I find is a useful place to put thoughts and ideas not for publication or other projects (although blog posts have often led to other opportunities).

My next stage is to consolidate my research, teaching and supervision, and to define a new direction that I feel combines my various research interests in a unified way, and to work in a focused way in that area. I’ve also started mentoring undergraduate students within TCD’s GradLink scheme. I want to cull some of the more eclectic jobs that I had accumulated in my very-ECR years, and to give myself more recreation time. The things that I have learned – go for opportunities (even if they seem beyond you at the time), take your own place at the table (speak up, get used to the sound of your own voice), and take time off (you can do anything, but only if you stop often enough).