Department of History

Academic profiles

The Department of History has over 30 members of academic staff and researchers. We put some probing questions to a selection of our staff here to help you get to know them, their interests, and why they are passionate about history. Read their answers below.

To get an idea of our breadth of research specialisms for supervising undergraduate dissertations and postgraduate research, visit our Find an expert page. 

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.

Headshot of Claire Tailor

Claire Taylor

Associate Professor

Specialisms: Medieval European history; heresy and religious dissent; French political, social and cultural history.

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.

 
Read more from Claire...

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

The National Justice Museum, of course!

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.

 
Headshot of Johnathan Kwan

Jonathan Kwan 

Lecturer 

Specialisms: 19th century European history; the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy; liberalism and nationalism.

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

At the moment I have been reading a lot about the period from 1815 to 1848 in Europe so I could imagine being a middle-class student at a German University talking about philosophy (Hegel, for example), revolutions, literature and music in the local taverns. It is peacetime (always a positive), following the Napoleonic Wars, and an incredibly fertile time for culture and intellectual life (another positive).

At the same time, I would find the rural poverty, chaotic urbanization, oppressive factory conditions, famine and other social problems of the time difficult to ignore. In any case, as some comfort, Beethoven, Schubert, Rossini, Balzac, Dickens, Goethe and many others were producing masterpieces year after year.

 
Read more from Jonathan...

What book would you recommend to a prospective student? 

One aspect that is rewarding from the study of history is a sense of a life in different, changing circumstances. So my recommendation would be the autobiography of Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European.

Zweig, born in 1881, came from a cultured, successful, assimilated Jewish family in Vienna. He would subsequently become one of the most widely read authors in the German-speaking world  until he was forced to flee from Austria in 1934. He sought refuge in Britain, then went to Brazil, where depressed by the war and its effects, he committed suicide in 1942.

Germany, whose culture and language he loved and treasured, was burning his books and systematically killing his fellow Jews.  Zweig – homesick and depressed -  wrote about the world he had lost, yet not with bitterness but with nostalgia and yearning. In his autobiography and through his eyes, we walk the streets of fin-de-siecle Vienna, meet great cultural figures such as Richard Strauss (with whom he collaborated), Sigmund Freud, Thomas Mann, James Joyce, Romain Rolland and many others, then observe the rise of Fascism and the targeting of Jews.

History is about people and Zweig’s book is one testament to a continued belief in European culture. 

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

My main area of research has been Austrian liberalism. I would like to meet some of its leaders (who are totally forgotten today) – Eduard Herbst, Karl Giskra, Moriz Kaiserfeld, Josef Lasser, Leopold Hasner, for example – in a Viennese coffee house and ask them questions that have been circulating in my mind for years. What did they read? Who influenced them? Did they have any mentors? What were their guiding principles? What were their goals when they became ministers? How did cabinet government work in 1867?

I would make a recording and I am sure it would be very illuminating. If the conversation flagged, we could fortify ourselves with coffee and cake, then continue onwards. 

 
 
Headshot of Anna Greenwood

Anna Greenwood

Associate Professor

Specialisms: history of medicine after 1850; social and cultural histories of British imperialism, especially in Africa.

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...

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 do you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

There is no substitute for reading full texts - websites and quick summaries ultimately don’t cut it!

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.

What history book do you think more people should read?

Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather (1995)- now a classic, but so fundamental in terms of understanding the way race, gender, sexuality and class shaped British imperialism.

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

The Welcome Collection - a free museum and library exploring health and the human experience
 
Headshot of David Gehring

David Gehring

Assistant Professor

Specialisms: early modern British and European history; Tudor and Elizabethan England within the world context.

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.’

Read more from David...

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 (at Highfields Park, adjacent to the University Park Campus). I’d like to row out on the water with him and simply listen to him speak.

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 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.

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

King Richard III Visitor Centre, Leicester.

What history book do you think more people should read?

Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776), an abridged version is just fine.

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

Newbury research library, Chicago, with lots of great material digitized for research and teaching.

 
 
Headshot of Kate Law

Kate Law

Assistant Professor

Specialisms: African gender history; the British Empire; modern South African and Zimbabwean history

What is your favourite module to teach and why?  

Villains or Victims? White Women and the British Empire, c.1840-1980.

This module relates directly to my first book, so it’s a topic I’m passionate about. It’s a privilege to be able to teach a course that’s completely devoted to women’s history, and I really enjoy working with students to think through the myriad ways in which ideas of ‘gender’ and ‘race’ interacted in this period.

Read more from Kate...

What book would you recommend to a prospective student?  

It’s very difficult to pick just one, but I always find myself returning to: Claire Midgley’s 1998 edited collection Gender and Imperialism.
My favourite writers are Antoinette Burton, Philippa Levine, Dorothy Roberts, and Loretta Ross, so if you are interested in issues relating to the historical construction of ‘race’, activism and social justice then be sure to check them out. 

 
Headshot of Dean Blackburn

Dean Blackburn

Lecturer

Specialisms: Modern British history; the intellectual politics of twentieth-century Britain.

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 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.

 
 
Headshot of Onyeka Nubia

Onyeka Nubia

Lecturer

Specialisms: Black studies and intersectionalism in early modern Europe

What areas of your research and teaching are you most passionate about?

Early modern history, British myths and mythology, diversity in early modern Europe, diversity in the age of Enlightenment, history in film, nineteenth century activism before Civil rights, ethnography in classical civilisations.

I teach the special subject, African Atlantic and the British Slave 'Trade' with particular reference to African agency; diversity in early modern Europe, Africans in early modern England, public history is our history.  

What did you wish you'd known before starting your undergraduate degree?

That students often know more than their teachers. 

More from Onyeka

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

The National Portrait Gallery, London.  

What is your favourite historical film?

Lawrence of Arabia, directed by David Lean (1962), despite its obvious contradictions.

What history book do you wish more people would read?

Niccolo Machiavelli's, Discourses on Livy (1517) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), a translation from Italian of the founding document of modern republicanism.

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

British Film Institute's National Archive.

 
Headshot of Rúben Leitão Serém

Rúben Leitão Serém

Assistant Professor

Specialisms: 20th century European history; Spanish, Portugese and Lusophone history.

What areas of your research and teaching are you most passionate about?

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), General Francisco Franco's regime (1939-1975), the Portuguese Estado Novo dictatorship (1932-1974), the far-right in interwar Europe (1919-1939), and Memory Studies.

What did you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

That I could seek advice from my personal tutor whenever I felt I couldn't cope with the stress of university life. 

More from Rúben...

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

Without a doubt, the Valley of the Fallen, the largest (and most intimidating!) surviving fascist monument in Europe. Wondering where to find the largest Christian cross in the world? Check this out

What is your favourite historical film?

Butterfly's Tongue (José Luis Cuerda: 1999). It has English subtitles. You can find more information here.

What history book do you wish more people would read?

Paul Preston, The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, revolution and revenge (London: William Collins, 2016). A gripping account of a civil war in an underdeveloped nation that soon turned out to be a pan-European conflict, attracting idealists of all persuasions, and leading to the establishment of four decades of fascist rule in Spain.

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

The Southworth Spanish Civil War Collection.

 
 
Headshot of Martina Salvante

Martina Salvante

Assistant Professor

Specialisms: 20th century European history; modern Italy; social, gender and disability history.

What areas of your research and teaching are you most passionate about?

Twentieth-century Italy and Europe with a focus on gender and disability history and on the period from the First to the Second World War.

I convene the second-year module European fascisms, 1900-1945, which examines and compares the rise of fascist movements in Italy, Germany and other European countries.

I also convene the special subject Transnationalising Italy: A History of Modern Italy in Transnational Perspective, which looks at the history of modern Italy from a transnational framework in order to illuminate different facets of the connections between Italy and the wider world.

More from Martina...

What do you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

The importance of the first year to find your way into your course of study. 

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

Museums: Museum of the 20th century in Mestre/Venice (Italy) and House of European History in Bruxelles (Belgium)

Heritage site: Palazzo della civiltà italiana (Palace of Italian civilisation) in Rome, Italy

What is your favourite historical film?

Roberto Rossellini’s war trilogy Roma, città aperta (Rome, Open City, 1945); Paisà (Paisan, 1946) and Germania, anno zero (Germany, Year Zero, 1948)

What history book do you wish more people would read? 

Lynn Hunt’s Inventing Human Rights: A History (2007)

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area... 

The International Encyclopedia of the First World War

Europeana - diverse cultural heritage stories from across Europe 

 
Headshot of Richard Goddard

Richard Goddard

Associate Professor

Specialisms: Late medieval English social and economic history.

What do you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

The effect that doing a degree would have on me. I never realised that it would change my perception of the world from two-dimensional black and white to three-dimensional full colour HD! 

What history book do you wish more people would read?

This is actually an article but, 'Haberget: A Medieval Textile Conundrum’, Medieval Archaeology, 13/1 (1969), pp. 148-66, by Eleanora Carus-Wilson (1897-1977). It's a brilliant example of how to uncover a huge amount of information from one small, surviving artefact.

More from Richard...

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

The Roman/medieval walls of Istanbul (Constantinople) in Turkey. These massive and spectacular largely surviving defensive stone walls were one of the most elaborate defensive systems ever built. First built in the late Roman period, these walls successfully defended the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire against numerous sieges from the 5th century until the 15th century. Following a six-week siege, the city finally fell from the sheer weight of Ottoman forces attacking it in 1453. Well worth a visit.   

What is your favourite historical film?

Danger Within (1959). The action takes place in a prisoner of war camp in Northern Italy during the summer of 1943. But this is no ordinary war film or POW escape drama, because someone within the camp is murdering the prisoners. Also, the prisoners suspect there is an informant amongst them. They have to find out who the informant is and who is behind these deaths…  Brilliant stuff. 

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

England’s Immigrants - a huge amount of easily-accessible data on immigration into England in the later middle ages.

 
 
Headshot of Arun Kumar

 Arun Kumar

Assistant Professor

Specialisms: Modern British imperial, colonial, and post-colonial history.

What areas of your research and teaching are you most passionate about?

Social and economic history, educational studies, and labour history in 19th and 20th-century India, exploring different facets of working-class life histories including their dreams, education, night-time histories, and childhood.

I teach the following modules:
Rule & Resistance in Colonial India
Global Histories of Labour & Capital: Perspectives from India

Read more from Arun...

What do you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

I wish somebody had told me that the knowledge that I was about to encounter in my undergraduate years will shape my personality and career for the rest of my life. 

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

The Foundling Museum in London,a museum about childhood and workhouses.

What is your favourite historical film?

The Death of Stalin (2017) directed by Armando Iannucci.

What history book do you wish more people would read?

The London Hanged: Crime And Civil Society In The Eighteenth Century (2006, Verso) by Peter Linebaugh.

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

British Library blogs on the topic of South Asia

 
Headshot of Maiken Umbach

Maiken Umbach

Professor

Specialisms: Modern history; National Socialism; Cultural history of cities, landscape and nature.

What areas of your research and teaching are you most passionate about?

I work on the use of images as historical evidence. At the moment, I direct a multi-disciplinary research project called "Photography as Political Practice in National Socialism". We explore how to interpret photos, the problem that most photos used in Holocaust education and commemoration are taken by Nazi propaganda photographers, and how we can make better use of the private photos of Jews to understand this history. 

Read more from Maiken here...

What do you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

This may sound silly: but quite how exciting History is! I contemplated lots of different degrees; History at school I found a little boring. But doing historical research is really different. Digging through old trunks of family photos, letters, papers: often material nobody outside the family has ever looked at before. It makes the past come to life. And it enables us to challenge mainstream historical explanations of why people behaved in the way they did. I love every minute of it! 

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

The National Holocaust Centre and Museum. It's tucked away in the middle of the East Midlands countryside. Not many people know it: but it is an amazing place, and every time I am there, I feel inspired. It gives my work a real sense of moral purpose. 

What is your favourite historical film?

Chimerica. It's a mini series about the famous photo of a man standing in front of a tank on Tiananmen Square. And teaches us a lot about all the wrong conclusions we jump to when confronted with "visual evidence". 

What history book do you wish more people would read?

Unusually for a historian, I am not going to recommend an academic book. Nora Krug's "Heimat", or "Homeland", is a graphic novel, by a German artist who has emigrated to New York. This book combines her drawings, text, and historical photos to take you on her very personal journey of discovery about her family history, and a past that can never be "mastered". 

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

Hands down best website on Nazism and the Holocaust is by UHSMM in Washington.

I also want to point out a short animated film about our own research, which you can see on the BBC iPlayer: Through whose eyes?

 
 
Headshot of Spencer Mawby

Spencer Mawby

Associate Professor

Specialisms: Contemporary history; post-war British foreign and colonial policy.

 What do you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

The obvious lesson that it took me decades to understand was that History would happen to me. I went to university long before the internet and mobile phones had become integral to our everyday lives.

Although I read about ordinary Victorians keeling over in fright at the approach of a steam train, I had no sense that transformative technological changes would catch up with my generation and transform all our lived experience in such a profound way.

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

As a dog-lover from the northeast of England I will signal the importance of the Greyhound Hall of Fame in Abilene, Kansas which I really have visited.

Possibly more accessible is the Sir John Soane’s Museum which I feel obliged to recommend partly on the grounds of its astonishing content and partly because I used to study at the London School of Economics, which is just around the corner. 

Read more from Spencer here...

What is your favourite historical film?

I like The Long Day Closes but nobody under twenty worth their salt will sit through that. So at the opposite extreme, my recommendation is the 1970 film Waterloo featuring Rod Steiger as Napoleon. 

What history book do you think more people should read?

If they have a lot of time on their hands I would suggest Diarmaid McCullough’s A History of Christianity. For those less devoted to ecclesiastical history and who want something accessible I recommend Lloyd Bradley’s Sounds Like London: 100 Years of Black Music in the Capital

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

It is presented in a very dull manner as a simple facsimile of the published version but I feel obliged to recommend the thousands of otherwise unpublished documents in the British Documents on the End of Empires series which offers background on the struggle for independence in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt and Malaysia as well as the Caribbean territories.

 
Joe Merton

Joe Merton

Lecturer

Specialisms: Post-1945 American political and cultural history, especially race/ethnicity, crime and the American city, as well as electoral politics and political ideologies. 

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.

What do you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

It’s good to talk and share ideas in seminars - you get so much more out of them, and meet new and interesting people. And remember that the loudest or most confident voices in class are not always the most knowledgeable. 

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.

What museum or heritage site would you recommend to prospective students?

The People’s History Museum in Manchester is essential for a different insight into the history of modern Britain – told from the perspective of working people – from the one you’ve often been taught at school. If you’ve just arrived in Nottingham, also check out City of Caves – one of the best introductions to the city you can get.  

What is your favourite historical film?

It’s barely historical, but Do The Right Thing (1989) – a fantastic study of racial division and urban life in 1980s New York. And for a classic Cold War conspiracy, I love The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

What history book do you think more people should read?

In my research area, Kim Phillips-Fein’s book Fear City is one of the best accounts of New York’s fiscal crisis of the 1970s, a critical historical moment which empowered the orthodoxies of market-oriented restructuring and welfare state retrenchment that – at least until very recently – continue to dominate today. And it’s journalism rather than history, but Norman Mailer’s account of the tumultuous political conventions of 1968, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, is the book which drew me into American political history. 

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

If you like American political history, especially histories of the presidency, and want to listen to presidents and their staff at their most honest (and profane), try the Miller Center and its collection of White House tapes and oral histories.  
 
And for the history of New York, read the blog entries and browse the online archives of the Gotham Center for New York City history.

 
 
Headshot of Sascha Auerbach

Lecturer 

Specialisms: 19th century Britain and the Empire; Race and Law.

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students? 

Everything has a heritage and a history. We have flowers outside the department whose ancestors were planted by medieval monks! I always encourage students to think about the history of every space they encounter. History is not something you go to, it’s something you live in (whether you realise it or not).

What is your favourite historical film?  

Herzog’s masterpiece about conquistadores sailing up the Amazon, Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972).

The Mission (1986), which similarly explores the tragedies of colonialism, is up there as well (and it has Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro). More recently, probably Angels and Insects (1995), which explores the beauty and decadence of the 19th c. English aristocracy. 

My students seem to enjoy the war-based films, but as history, they’re pretty awful. Anyone who has actually fought in a war could tell you that it’s endless hours of tedium followed by brief spasms of horrifying brutality—that doesn’t make for a very good film.

Read more from Sascha...

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.

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 history book do you wish more people would read?

The Travels of Ibn Battuta—it’s like Marco Polo, but from the perspective of a Moroccan Muslim Berber explorer.  C.L.R. James’s Beyond a Boundary is also a book that everyone in Britain should read, even if they don’t like cricket.  

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

Many of the national archives in former British colonies are doing a terrific job of digitising their collections. The “Legacies of British Slavery” website is also chock-full of fascinating content. But really, why go online at all when Nottingham’s Manuscripts and Special Collections is 10 min. away by Hopper Bus! That place is fantastic for material that connects the history of the Midlands to the history of the empire.  

 
Headshot of Richard Gaunt

Associate Professor 

Specialisms: British political and electoral history between 1790 and 1850; local and regional history.

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 – 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.

 
 
Headshot of Anna Rich-Abad

Assistant Professor 

Specialisms: Medieval history; Jewish history in general, but with focus on Mediterranean communities and gender.

What do you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

I would have liked a bit more warning on how big and intimidating university can be and what kind of support is offered. We do this in open days and on induction week, but in my times and the place where I studied there was no such thing. Also, I would have liked some more warning about how different is learning in school to learning at university and I would have had some more equipment in independent thinking and work. 

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

My favourite museum is the British Museum in London for the sheer amount and quality of the pieces and its monumentality and the spectacular exhibitions. However, I really like visiting places like York that have kept a lot of their medieval past, or Lincoln because of its rich medieval Jewish heritage.  
Read more from Anna...
What is your favourite historical film/s?
I am quite old fashioned, A Man for All Seasons about the confrontation between Henry VIII and Thomas Moore although not necessarily for its historical accuracy, but for its characters. Same with The Lion in Winter, because of the strength of Katherine Hepburn playing Eleanor of Aquitaine. 
What history book do you think more people should read?
The Historian’s Craft, by Marc Bloch. A classic to be kept in the bedside table.
  
Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...
 
Headshot of Nick Baron

Associate Professor 

Specialisms: Russian/Soviet and East European political, cultural and social history.

What history specialisms are you most passionate about in your research and teaching?

Modern Russian and East European history – this means mainly twentieth-century history, though I am interested in the late nineteenth century, and also teach post-Soviet developments in Russia since 1991.

Thematically, I am mostly interested in cultural, social and political history – that’s to say, the way people lived their lives; how film, art and literature portrayed people’s lives; and how governments shaped the identities and experiences of social groups and individuals, for example by ideology, propaganda and violence.

 
What is your favourite historical film?

I’m a bit of a fan of historical films (I used to teach a module on this!), so find it hard to name one favourite. The German film The Lives of Others (2006) about the East German secret police and dissident intellectuals is very gripping. For a lighter look at East Germany and the country’s re-unification, I’d suggest Good Bye Lenin! (2003). 

Read more from Nick...

What do you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

That speaking in front of other people isn’t so scary, once you know that most people are as scared as you. That history isn’t so much about what you know (the ‘facts’) as about how you acquire knowledge and present it to others (the ‘research process’ – historical skills - and argument).

Appreciating that has really changed the way I read books and articles, as well as the way that I write.

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

There are innumerable fantastic places to visit. I adored castles when I was a child and still visit castles whenever I can (although I study modern history).

Battlefields can be very evocative, if you see the historical events in your mind’s eye when you visit. But also I recommend just finding out a bit about the history of the place you live in, walking around the streets (or fields) and trying to visualise how people in the past saw it, experienced life there – and thinking about how everyday places have shaped everyday lives, which are just as interesting (more so!) than the lives of ‘great men’ (and the occasional ‘great woman’) in history.

My favourite place is Moscow, a city I know really well. Every street and building evokes the past for me, even as the city itself has changed over the years I’ve visited (in parts, beyond recognition). 

What history book do you wish more people would read?

Sheila Fitzpatrick’s work on how Russians lived in the Soviet 1930s, Everyday Stalinism, is brilliantly researched, well-written and really insightful. For an overview of Soviet history, you still can’t beat Geoffrey Hosking’s very readable History of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991. I love everything by Robert Darnton, a cultural historian of eighteenth-century France (you probably know his book of essays The Great Cat Massacre), and AJP Taylor’s always fun to read – very opinionated and incisive in his analysis.


Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

Definitely 17 Moments in Soviet History 

 
 
Headshot of Julia Merritt

Associate Professor

Specialisms: Politics, religion, culture and society in England 1558-1660; history of London 1500-1700.

What do you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

That I was going to end up as an historian of early modern Britain. I did my undergraduate degree in the US, with degrees in History and French literature.

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

The Museum of London. The collections, images and resources are rich for the early modern period, but in fact span from the Romans to the modern day, using London to explore a broad range of historical events and themes as well as the history of the capital itself.

Read more from Julia...
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Headshot of David Appleby

Lecturer

Specialisms: Early modern British history, particularly British Civil Wars (from Scotland in 1639 to Barbados in 1652); the Restoration (1660-1689); seventeenth-century military medicine and welfare; veteran politics and post-conflict culture.

What do you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

How taking my studies just a little bit more seriously would have resulted in a First! How well you do at university really can affect the rest of your life, so do put the effort in – but at the same time, be sure to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Read more from David...

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

One which stands out as a really enjoyable memory is Alnwick Castle in Northumberland  – there’s so much to see there (and it was used in the Harry Potter movies).

I have to recommend the National Civil War Centre in Newark, as I work closely with the staff there.

If you ever travel as far as the USA, then the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming is fabulous – but be warned you will need at least a couple of days, as there is so much to see, including artefacts relating to Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull and Chief Red Cloud. 

What is your favourite historical film?

By far and away the best history film I’ve seen recently is Napoleon (2019), starring Tom Burke and Rob Brydon. The Duellists (1977), starring Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel is also set in the Napoleonic period, and is very atmospheric.

One film which hilariously explores the love-hate relationship between historians and filmmakers is Sweet Liberty (dir: Alan Alda, 1986), starring Michael Caine, Michelle Pfeiffer and Alan Alda.

What history book do you wish more people would read?

Margaret MacMillan's The Uses and Abuses of History (London, 2010) on how history is often hijacked for political agendas through suppression, manipulation, and sometimes outright deception.

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

I’m part of a big project which is working with archives around England and Wales in order to recover the lost stories of maimed veterans and war widows between 1642 and 1710.

This resource is absolutely free to use, publicly accessible, and is growing bigger by the month: Civil war petitions.

Maybe start by checking out our blog section!

 
 
Headshot of David Laven

Associate Professor

Specialisms: 15th - 20th century Italian history; the Venetian Republic in the years between the fall of Napoleon and the Fascist seizure of power.

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 a 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...

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.

 
Karen Adler talking and gesturing in a seminar room

Lecturer  

Specialisms: 20th century France; histories of race and gender. 

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

Ellis Island, New York City. A museum in an important historical location – the main landing point for millions of immigrants from Europe to the US in the nineteenth century – which manages to give the visitor a real sense of the place and the experience. The presentation is such that it can appeal to children, young people wanting to know more, and also the specialist historian who wants to delve into the history rather more deeply.

What do you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

How much I would love it!

Read more from Karen...

What history book do you wish more people would read?

My own book, Jews and Gender in Liberation France (Cambridge University Press, 2003)

This book takes a new look at occupied and liberated France through the dual prism of race, specifically Jewishness, and gender - core components of Vichy ideology. The imagining of liberation and the potential post-Vichy state, lay at the heart of resistance strategy. Their transformation into policy at liberation forms the basis of an enquiry that reveals a society which, while split deeply at the political level, found considerable agreement over questions of race, the family and gender. 

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

The Alfred Dreyfus collection at the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris 

 
 

 

Rob Lutton

Lecturer

Specialisms: The social and cultural history of medieval England; popular religion, including heresy and heterodoxy, church history, and memory.

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

There are so many to choose from, but I would have to say a woman who was tried for heresy in early-sixteenth-century England, called Agnes Grebill. I researched her for my PhD when I first worked on Lollard heresy.

Her husband and two sons gave evidence against her in her trial, presumably in her presence. They admitted their heresy and so escaped with their lives, but Agnes refused to recant and stated 'I regret ever having born those sons of mine.' She was almost certainly burnt at the stake.  

I would like to ask her why she took the stand she did. It's a tragic story, but it goes to the heart of what I continue to explore in my research: the power and importance of religious belief but also how belief is thoroughly entangled in human relationships.

Headshot of Peter Russell

Teaching Associate

Specialisms: Medieval and early modern history; fifteenth century English and Scottish political history.

What do you wish you had known before starting your undergraduate degree?

That medieval history rocks! 

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students? 

Any medieval building, anywhere. 

Read more from Peter...

What is your favourite historical film?

Tous les Matins du Monde (1991), set in the court of Louis XIV.

What history book do you think more people should read?

Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman (1959)

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England. An invaluable resource containing the translated records of every parliament from Edward I to Henry VII.  

 
 
Headshot of Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas

Associate Professor

Specialisms: Social Change in Britain during the Second World War; the 1960s; protest movements.

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.

What museum or heritage site outside of Nottingham would you recommend to prospective students?

The Imperial War Museum, whether the excellent website or the various physical museums around the country. 

What is your favourite historical film?

British war film, Went the Day Well? (1942), adapted from the Graham Greene novel.

What history book do you think more people should read?

Alan Allport’s Browned Off and Bloody Minded, about the experience of people in the armed services during the Second World War. It presents a rather different picture to the one you might expect and is the exact opposite of glorification. 

Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...

The BBC People’s War site, which includes a vast number of interviews with ordinary people about their wartime experiences. 

 
 

Department of History

University of Nottingham
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