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: https://teachinghistoryinhighereducation.eventbrite.co.uk

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: http://events.history.ac.uk/event/show/14375

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, t.neuhaus@derby.ac.uk, 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 historylabplus@gmail.com

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 http://bit.ly/1r7adLG.

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

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 (https://www.tcd.ie/History_of_Art/research/centres/triarc/) 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 (www.gothicpast.com) , 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 (http://www.fourcourtspress.ie/books/2015/building-on-the-past/) . 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 (http://innovationandthehumanities.wordpress.com/).

(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 (http://chronicle.com/academicDestinationArticle/Festivals-are-on-the/233/) . 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 (http://niamhnicghabhann.tumblr.com/) , 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).

Early Career Life in 2014 – Daryl Leeworthy

In the latest in our posts about early career life in 2014, Daryl Leeworthy, who was an excellent contributor to our ‘History, Heritage and the Media’ event at Leicester, reflects on a transitional year …

Academics, unlike miserly old Victorians, don’t sit up at night on Christmas Eve awaiting the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future, to show them the error of their ways; rather, they lie awake thinking of the ups and downs of the past twelve months, hoping that, whatever has happened, a peak rather than a trough is just around the corner. At times early academic careers can appear much like the Dickensian signalman: full of life, very real, and then suddenly vanished without a trace leaving only the memorial echoes of the good times in a seminar room or in the pub after work.

I must confess that 2014 has been a transition year in a lot of ways. From January to July I was still employed as a lecturer at the University of Huddersfield. I had a brilliant group of students, many of whom did extraordinarily well in their end of year exams, and a fantastic set of colleagues. Loathe as I am to draw attention to just a few, I do want to say a special thank you to Rebecca Gill, who has been the best academic partner-in-crime that you could ask for, to Barry Doyle for being a kind of guru to me, and to Jonathan Gledhill, Janette Martin, and Paul Atkinson for making life in the North so enjoyable.

I’d also like to thank my 4th grade cat, my 1st grade hamster, and my goldfish Jack who so tragically died before my picture was released.

Oh, wait…wrong blog!

Finding a new job after Huddersfield was always going to be tough. I had several interviews – only one of which was for a permanent job. All of them were in the South of England. Travelling to this part of the world was more profound a culture shock than living in Canada or spending a lot of time in Ireland. Perhaps it was having grown so accustomed to life in the North, but a big part of me was glad whenever the institution sent the email that goes “we regret to inform you”. I didn’t think this way at the time – I was too focused on the ‘now what?’ – but I’m actually quite glad I didn’t end up moving to the South of England.

Instead I moved home, to Wales, and started writing. After three months, I’ve put down nearly 150,000 words of two books and three new articles. Two articles were finished and accepted for publication just as I was leaving, too. Looking back, the time in Yorkshire enabled me to think more carefully about what I wanted to say about the South Walian Labour Movement and how it came to be (all will be revealed in the book), and long discussions with colleagues in North America (particularly Colin Howell, Lucia Trimbur and Andy Holman) have propelled my long planned, but little actioned, book called Playing on the Border into existence. Added to the book that Rebecca and I are writing and I think this ‘unpaid sabbatical’ has been enormously productive. But it’s not a job, obviously.

Then, out of the blue a couple of weeks ago, I got a phone call from Chris Williams saying that Cardiff needed someone to teach some seminars over the forthcoming Hilary Term. It is as if my luck has turned: I had been approaching 2015 with a little bit of uncertainty, but now I can move forward with some teaching and ensuring my research is maintained at its current level. It may not mean that I can move out of my teenage bedroom any time soon, but it does mean that the new year begins with a clear sense of purpose which was not there in 2013 or (being completely honest) in 2014. For that I’m truly grateful, as I am for the means of staying in Wales for a while.

And so to end on a remarkably positive note (I’m not sure I would have a few months ago), I want to reflect on the role of social media over the course of the year. It used to be said that academic research in the humanities was a very lonely experience (obviously by historians who forgot about archivists and librarians who fill the day with such enthusiasm!). I don’t think that’s true anymore. Just the other day, Cath Feely and I shared oodles of tweets back and forth blending the joins of our overlapping research; through the last few months I’ve had scores of emails and tweets from Alun Burge all about co-operatives and the labour movement; and at every moment of despair the academic community on twitter has rallied to support. Thank you never quite covers the debt. It can sometimes seem that we’re all in competition with each other – true enough when it comes to those ever diminishing jobs, I suppose – but I like to think that we support each other because our eyes are open to new possibilities, and because we can see a different way towards the future. As we move forward into 2015, perhaps it’ll be closer to our grasp.

Blwyddyn newydd dda i chi gyd!

Daryl writes an excellent blog at History on the Dole. You should make reading it one of your New Year’s Resolutions! More early-career reflections and plans for 2015 to come next week.

Early Career Life in 2014 – Cath Feely

Continuing our reflections on life in 2014, co-chair Cath Feely shares her early career experience and her New Year’s resolution to stop worrying so much and enjoy her job …

On New Year’s Day 2014, I was packing. I can’t remember much of last Christmas as most of it was spent in a whirl of picking up house keys, surviving the hell of IKEA Nottingham and worrying about starting a new (and permanent, as much as any job is permanent) job at the University of Derby. Anyone reading this who knows me will know that worrying is, or at least seems to be, my default mode. My boss tells me that in the first few weeks he would occasionally see me from afar in the University Atrium and that my face always looked worried. A few weeks in, I had to explain to him that my worried face was just my ‘resting face’. He laughed at me (not for the last time) and I realised how ridiculous that sounded. Why was I expending so much energy worrying?

office view

The view from here. Taken out of the window of our office at the University of Derby, January 2014.

Part of it was, I think, a hangover from the previous year. Just before Christmas 2012, I had got a temporary job at the University of Sheffield, a job that required me to take over a third year Special Subject and dissertations half way through. That the group of students I inherited were the best bunch that I could have ever imagined didn’t take away the stress of the task, especially getting my head around someone else’s course based on their own research area and preparing students for an exam not set by me. At the same time, I was also in the middle of teaching my own module at the University of Durham, and so, for the first six months of 2013, my natural home was the Transpennine Express, as I commuted between my home in Manchester and Sheffield and Durham. This took a heavy toll on my health (so many station Burger Kings) and my personal life. My husband will never know just how grateful I am that he got up every morning at 6am to drive me to Manchester Piccadilly.

All of this was incredible experience, and I got excellent advice along the way, especially from my Head of Department at Sheffield. But it was always going to be temporary and, sure enough, in June 2013, I found myself at the edge of the early-career abyss. For the first time since graduating in 2011, I had absolutely nothing lined up for September, not even the odd seminar group here or there. I seriously thought this was the end of the road. I was, therefore, very relieved to get a ten month lectureship at the University of Manchester starting in September 2013. As this was the place where I had done my PhD, there was an outpouring of glee on social media from my peers and I couldn’t have been happier. But it was still temporary and I still kept on applying for permanent jobs.
When I got one, it was a bit of a shock. I had never been to Derby, I didn’t know any of my interviewers, and I hadn’t (because the interview was the week before term started at Manchester) had the time I would have liked to prepare. But I think this helped. Neither they nor I had any preconceived ideas; what they saw was what they got (so they only have themselves to blame!)

I won’t say that this last year hasn’t been hard at times. There have been significant personal compromises, and it has taken me time to adjust to a different environment and expectations. In my teaching, I have felt challenged and, as any student knows, this isn’t always a comfortable feeling. Time-management has not always been as perfect as it could (or should) be. But, overall, I think that I have grown as a teacher and scholar. I have had to go back to basics and recognise that what worked in one context, or in a 50-minute seminar, for years doesn’t necessarily work in a four hour workshop. I have learned that teaching in a team of six is very different to teaching in a team of thirty five, and that it can be as awesome as it is hard work. I have never laughed as much as I have in the last year and for that I have both my colleagues and students to thank.

In terms of research, this year has been frustrating but in a really odd way. I did far too many conference and seminar papers than was both sustainable and desirable, considering it was my first year on the job. I think I was still doing the desperate-for-a-job-say-yes-to-everything act, not quite realising that it was no longer necessary. In the coming months, I am going to say no to things that distract me from what I really want to do. I guess all I need to do now is figure out exactly what that is.

But, actually, I think that I do know what that is, and co-teaching a third year course on Material Culture with my incredible colleague Ruth Larsen has had more of an impact than she and our students know. But it has also shown me how far our scholarship is bound up in our teaching. There is a lot of talk about research-led teaching but from where I’m standing it’s all about teaching-led research. Teaching this year has stretched and forced me to clarify my ideas in an extremely productive manner. It’s not just the teaching itself that has had an impact on the way I think as a scholar, but being part of a little intellectual community where we challenge our students to do the best that they can. And, my gosh, we challenge them and they rise to meet that challenge. I will never forget the Public History conference in May, when our second year students stood up in front of 250 people and gave astonishingly good and original papers about the First World War, all of them publishable. They were incredible and made me realise just how lucky I am.

MuseomixScans049 - Cath cropped

Me, looking worried and out of my comfort zone, at the Museomix event at Derby Silk Mill, November 2014. This awesome picture was drawn by the artist in residence Sally Jane Thompson. See more of her work here: http://www.sallyjanethompson.co.uk/

So this coming year I want to follow our students and try to be the best that I can be. But that means doing a bit more adjusting and a lot less worrying. It means focusing my time and energy on the things that matter both to me as an individual and to our team, and learning to say no occasionally. It means having high expectations but realistic ones. It means not getting overwhelmed and just f***ing doing it. And, perhaps most of all, it means looking after myself and allowing myself to enjoy a job where I go to work laughing, spend most of the day laughing and come home laughing.