Department of History
   
   
  

Academic profiles

We put some probing questions to some of our staff to help you get to know them and how they found their way to studying history. Read their answers below.

Meet History department staff at an open day – book here

Disclaimer: The modules we offer are inspired by the research interests of our staff and as a result may change for reasons of, for example, research developments or legislative changes. The modules mentioned on this page are examples of typical modules that we offer but not guaranteed to be available in any particular year.

Sascha Auerbach
Lecturer in Modern British and Colonial History

If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why?

Dr Martin Luther King or Mohandas K Gandhi.  I would like to ask them if they realised that they were making history and how they found the courage to confront violence and oppression without anger.

If they could visit Nottingham for a day, where would you take them?

To the National Justice Museum. Seeing where prisoners carved their names into the wall, sometimes just before they were about to meet the hangman, brings the importance of Nottingham in the history of law and justice home in a very dramatic fashion.
Read more from Sascha...

If you could travel to any period in history, which would it be and why?

1920s Paris. For a flowering of art and culture, and for sheer dazzle and beauty, it’s a time and a place almost without peer. Watching the City of Lights recover and thrive after the carnage of the First World War would be truly extraordinary.

What is your favourite module to teach and why?

Definitely my third-year special subject, “The Chimera: British Imperialism and Its Discontents.”   It is amazing to nurture the intellectual progress of students over the course of a year’s intensive study. They arrive knowing next to nothing about both the history and historiography of the British Empire, and they leave as formidable researchers and analysts of the subject.   Most of that progress is of their own doing — I give guidance, but they pursue their own particular interests, and often produce marvellous and unexpected results. My view often changes in surprising ways from reading their work.

What inspired you to teach your subject?

My father came from a family of Holocaust survivors and was a veteran of the Second World War. He rarely spoke about either, but the stories he used to tell of Prague in the 1930s, and of working in Hollywood after the war were just mesmerising. I could never hope to live a life half as interesting as his was, but through the study of history, I could become a time-traveller of sorts. 

I always tell students that being a historian is like watching a movie where the film is running backwards.  You can look on a busy urban landscape and think about what it must have been like when it was just a small town, a village, a Roman or Celtic trading post, a battleground, a sacred site, or maybe all of these at one point or another. Everything and everyone has a past just waiting to be discovered, and the stories that beckon to us are almost beyond imagining. History, for me, is not only inherently fascinating because of these stories, but also because it offers the best insight into the nature of human societies, how they change over time, and what role we, as individuals, for good or ill, can play in the larger events unfolding around us.

 
Dean Blackburn
Lecturer in Modern British History

What is your favourite module to teach and why?

In recent years, my module on the post-war Labour Party has been particularly rewarding to teach. When students obtain a better understanding of the party’s past, they often develop some very interesting ideas about contemporary politics. And the rise of Jeremy Corbyn has allowed us to make some interesting comparisons with other moments in British political history.
Read more from Dean...

What book would you recommend to a prospective student?

Although it is not a work of history, I would strongly recommend Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head: How To Flourish in an Age of Distraction (2015). Crawford is a philosopher-cum-motorcycle mechanic. And in this powerful and wide-ranging book, he challenges many of the assumptions that inform contemporary social attitudes.

What inspires you to teach your subject?

I enjoy guiding students through difficult analytical problems. When a student grasps something that once seemed daunting or unintelligible to them, it is very rewarding.

 
 
Richard Gaunt
Associate Professor

If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why?

I suppose I should say one of the characters in whom I have invested many years of my life and research – be it the 4th Duke of Newcastle or Sir Robert Peel. But I suspect it would be someone about whom I have an abiding curiosity based on a mixture of reading, film portrayals and stereotypes – like Henry VIII of England, Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Anastasia, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, or Philip Marc, an archetypal ‘bad’ Sheriff of Nottingham from the 13th Century.

If they could visit Nottingham for a day, where would you take them?

Nottingham Castle – whether now or following its £29m makeover – would be a must-see attraction. For a mixture of history and open space, Newstead Abbey or Wollaton Hall are conveniently located. Walking anywhere in Nottingham’s green spaces – whether those preserved within the city or more famous attractions like Sherwood Forest – would allow time for a proper chat!
Read more from Richard...

If you could travel to any period in history, which would it be and why?

I suspect I would still feel a stranger in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain, in spite of working on this area for most of my active research career!

Nevertheless, it would be good to be a ‘fly on the wall’ in London in the time of the French Revolution or, for a contrasting experience, eavesdrop on conversations in Thomas Hardy’s Wessex or Jane Austen’s Winchester.

What is your favourite module to teach and why?

I particularly enjoyed developing my third year optional module on social satire and political caricature in Britain from 1750-1850. The sources are so fresh, lively and humorous, yet it can be challenging to understand all the detail. It was a long-held ambition to develop the module and I have always enjoyed teaching it.

What inspired you to teach your subject?

A mixture of inspirational teachers and the ‘spark’ which got me into history from childhood. Reading about the past and visiting the places where ‘history’ happened has always been a fascination. The older you get, the more important this becomes.

 
David Gehring
Assistant Professor in Early Modern British History

If you could meet any historical figure, which person would you choose and why?

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, a humanist intellectual of the early 16th century. His mind was piercingly sharp, his satire biting, and his intellect deep, but his sense of moderation and personal diplomacy offered a wonderful sense of balance during one of the most tumultuous periods in European history.

If they could visit Nottingham for a day, where would you take them?

The boating lake. I’d like to row out on the water with him and simply listen to him speak.
Read more from David...

If you could travel to any period in history, which would it be and why?

The year 2500. I’d like to know how the future looks back on our own period.

What is your favourite module to teach and why?

The year-long special subject. My final-year students get to dive deeply into the 16th century in all its wonderful messiness. Also, it is only by situating Tudor England in a wider context of European (and global) developments that students can get a good sense of how this island nation relates to the rest of the world.

As an English traveller of the Elizabethan period put it, ‘For hard sure it is to know England, without you know it by comparing it with some other Countrey; no more than a man can know the swiftnesse of his horse without seeing him well matched.’

What inspired you to teach your subject?

At the University of Wisconsin in the United States, I benefited from some fantastic professors who conveyed their love of the history, but my study abroad here in the UK (and frequent travel throughout the European mainland) sealed the deal. By walking the streets, visiting castles and cathedrals, and listening to chatter in the pubs and beer halls, I tried to get a better understanding of European heritage and American origins. I can only hope to convey my own love of the subject to my own students, just as my professors did for me.

 
 
Anna Greenwood
Associate Professor

If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why?

I am a colonial medical historian, so it would be fascinating to have met the Victorian explorer, David Livingstone (1813-73). Not only would I be interested in the kind of medical theories he took to Africa, but I would also be enthralled to hear what his more general impressions were upon seeing African landscapes unknown previously to European eyes. Everything must have seemed so strange and alien. I wonder how he communicated with the indigenous people? I wonder if his adventures were truly as romantic as his books describing them imply? What drove him to keep going when conditions were so harsh? What kind of a man was he to choose this highly unconventional life? Livingstone would be a fascinating dinner party guest at so many levels.
Read more from Anna here...

If they could visit Nottingham for a day, where would you take them?

My favourite place in Nottingham is, without a doubt, Newstead Abbey. The gardens behind the Abbey are so beautiful and hidden behind a relatively innocuous gateway, which gives no hint of the beauty that lies behind it- that element of surprise appeals to me. I don’t know if Livingstone would have enjoyed these tamed landscapes, because they contrast so greatly with those he encountered on his expeditions, but it would be fun to take him around this manicured and controlled environment. Perhaps we would bump into Byron, who must have had a very different personality to Livingstone?  Both were Victorian celebrities, but I would imagine that they had entirely different preoccupations and sensibilities!

What inspired you to teach your subject?

I was inspired to study medical history through an undergraduate module at university. I had a brilliant lecturer and he just brought the whole subject alive for me. He made me think in ways I had not done before, particularly reflecting on my own experiences as well as those of other people historically. I had always preferred social history to political or economic history, but this niche subject perfectly brought together all my interests in the human body, human experience and culture. The way people relate to themselves and their health is such an important part of everyone’s identity.  I was surprised to learn how much people’s expectations with regards to health have changed over the centuries. It gave me insights into mental health too. I was fascinated that things that used to be regarded as illnesses are sometimes these days no longer seen as such. The subject makes me realise that the ground is always shifting beneath our feet and things that seem ‘facts’ today, may not be ‘facts’ in our futures.

 
Sheryllynne Haggerty
Associate Professor and Reader in Economic and Business History

If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?

Queen Elizabeth I. She was an amazingly strong woman living in a man’s world. She was clearly very intelligent and had to make lots of difficult decisions. I think she would have been a person to reckon with. The other person I’d like to meet would be Samuel Rainford, a merchant from Liverpool who migrated to Jamaica in the 1780s. He was a slave trader, which of course today we find abhorrent, but he also looked after all his family in Liverpool, including paying for the education of all his nieces. He was clearly very generous. I’d like to ask him how he reconciled these two parts of his life.
Read more from Sheryllynne here...

What is your favourite module to teach and why?

I am really looking forward to teaching my third year module ‘The Rise (and Demise?) of Capitalism’ which looks at the various forms capitalism has taken in England/Britain since 1500. Whilst this course may be challenging, looking at over 500 years of history, it is extremely relevant because we are not only living in a capitalist economy today, we also still face the consequences of former versions of capitalism, which used slavery and colonialism.

What inspired you to teach your subject?

Really, this is a who! Professor Pat Hudson was my personal tutor for my undergraduate course. She really knew her subject (the Industrial Revolution) and so was a great lecturer, she was the President of the Economic History Society, raised a family – and many animals. One day she invited all her personal tutees for a get together and gave us her home-made cake. I remember thinking, ‘is there anything this woman can’t do?’.

 
 
David Laven
Associate Professor

If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why?

Metternich. Although he was long vilified as a reactionary, he was in reality the man who engineered as lasting European peace. He was also extremely charming, urbane, and funny.

If they could visit Nottingham for a day, where would you take them?

Trent Bridge. England’s loveliest county cricket ground (even lovelier than St Lawrence’s in Canterbury, where I have played), and one that is rich in history.
Read more from David here...

If you could travel to any period in history, which would it be and why?

I’d love to see 18th-century Venice. The city was not in the decline that is often suggested, but it was the site of a great deal of fun and indulgence. Good music, excellent art, fine coffee.

What is your favourite module to teach and why?

I love teaching my Special Subject on Italy at War, 1935 to 1945. I became a historian of Italy because my father was one too – so is my little sister – and he taught me to love Venice. But the reason he became an Italianist is because he ‘fought’ (operated a radio and drank a lot of vermouth) there from November 1943. So teaching on this module is in a way based on something very personal. I actually use the letters my father wrote home as a twenty year-old one of my key sources for this module.

What inspired you to teach your subject?

I cannot imagine a life in which I don’t engage with the past. It is a bit like doing psychoanalysis of whole cultures.

 
Joe Merton
Lecturer in Twentieth Century History

If you could travel to any period in history, which would it be and why?

I would go back to the 1975 fiscal crisis in New York City, a point at which the city stood on the brink of bankruptcy. This was a truly pivotal historical moment, as the decisions taken by the city's creditors – to impose a regime of austerity on New York and dismantle the country’s greatest experiment in social democracy – proved crucial to the birth of neoliberalism and the future of not just New York but perhaps all Western political economy. I would go back and scream, “There IS an alternative” in those fraught, late-night meetings that decided the city’s future. It was a time of great uncertainty and anxiety – crime rates shot up, services broke down and many feared some kind of not just economic but social collapse – but also great political opportunity and artistic creativity and innovation: graffiti arrived on the streets and subways, new art forms were produced, and wonderful music such as early hip hop and punk emerged at this time.
Read more from Joe here...

What is your favourite module to teach and why?

I love teaching my Year 3 Special Subject, Life During Wartime: Crisis, Decline and Transformation in 1970s America. Each year the students tell me how gloomy and depressing the content is, how difficult it is to resolve the “urban crisis” or listen to disco music, but each year they come up with new and amazing ways of conceptualising or making sense of the 1970s. Discussing those interpretations with them and thinking about their application to both my own research and today’s contemporary United States is a real pleasure (and challenge!).

What inspired you to teach your subject?

It has always been important for me that history, as a subject, offered some degree of social or political value, relevance or importance. When I was reading about the 1970s as a graduate student, it seemed to be the period that could explain my times and why the world around me – a world of austerity amidst plenty, inequality, limited faith in government and “experts”, selfie sticks and #YOLO – was the way it was. It suggested history was not just a straight road to “progress”, but it also offered, amongst the gloom, possibilities for change. I wanted to share the importance of the 1970s – and my enthusiasm for the period – with others, and I hope, when they have finished the course, my students feel similarly.

 
 
Claire Taylor
Associate Professor

If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why?

A person called Pons Grimoard. He was a southern French official in the service of Count Raymond VI of Toulouse in the first half of the thirteenth century. He was a supporter of the religious dissenters historians call ‘Cathars’. He got caught out and tried by the inquisition. I think his wife grassed him up, so I want to ask him about evidence she gave in the trial. I also want to know the outcome of the trial. We don’t know for sure, but if he was found guilty he’d have been burned at the stake, because it was a second offence. I’m pretty sure they burned the poor guy.

If they could visit Nottingham for a day, where would you take them?

The National Justice Museum, of course!

 

Read more from Claire here...

If you could travel to any period in history, which would it be and why?

The mid-thirteenth century, to see the inquisition in action and give out some legal advice.

What is your favourite module to teach and why?

My Special Subject, which is on the persecution of these people. It covers the Albigensian Crusade (1209-29) too, and is one of the main subjects I research and publish in. Most students have never heard about this subject matter until they start their degree here, and I try to make it accessible and so interesting that they will want to take my Special by Year 3.

What inspired you to teach your subject?

My own teachers. They opened up a new world for me. It’s not just that history is fascinating in its own right – which it is – but it helps you make judgements about what evidence is reliable in the present too. I like helping students towards making independent and well-informed decisions for themselves in all aspects of life, and to see themselves as part of something bigger.

 
Nick Thomas
Assistant Professor

If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why?

A diarist from the 1940s called Nella Last. I run a module on Britain in the Second World War and Nella Last’s diary is a key source. She was a housewife in Barrow-in-Furness in the 1940s who was married to a very controlling husband and for whom the war years provided a sense of liberation and fulfilment which she had never experienced before. She was writing for the social survey organisation Mass Observation and the diaries are a moving account which was subsequently dramatised for television as ‘Housewife, 49’ by Victoria Wood, who played Nella. Her family were unaware that in their midst was a world class writer whose powers of emotional insight place her diaries among the great literary achievements of the twentieth century. I would love to meet her, if only to tell her how important her diaries have become.
Read more from Nick here...

If you could travel to any period in history, which would it be and why?

Probably the 1940s, specifically 1940. The Second World War module spends a lot of time looking at the ways in which memory of this period has been constructed. This involves privileging particular representations of this past and forgetting or distorting other aspects. Visiting the time period would provide a fascinating contrast.

What is your favourite module to teach and why?

This is like being asked to choose between one’s children. It’s a close run thing but I would probably say my Special Subject for finalists, which is on the 1960s. It’s a fascinating period, it’s a joy to teach, and the year-long nature of the module creates a different group dynamic when compared with single-semester modules. I also act as the personal tutor of the students in the group as well as supervising their dissertations so it’s a very fulfilling teaching experience.

What inspired you to teach your subject?

Good teaching when I was an undergraduate. Specifically I attended a lecture on the 1960s which left me wondering ‘was it really like that?’ so I then went on to do a PhD on the 1960s.

 

 

 

 

Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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