History at Newman

The process of the literature review

In the first of the new dissertation series, Namit, a third year history student, shares her thoughts on choosing a topic and getting started on her project…


I’ve always been interested in diplomacy and international relations. So, I knew from the outset that I wanted to focus my dissertation on something related to how countries interact. I’ve also especially been fascinated by America’s role in the world, in fact, my first assignment at University was on how WWII transformed the Anglo-American Special Relationship, where America’s foreign policy went from isolationism to interventionism. Needless to say, the Second-Year module, HSU506 The Making of the Modern World, is one of my favourite modules and inspired and focused my dissertation.

I spoke to the module tutor a few times and I went back and forth on a few ideas which varied from slavery, OPEC, and human rights. After doing some basic background research on each topic, I was able to narrow down my ideas to human rights, which President Jimmy Carter is most associated with.

Once the academic year was complete, I arranged my first serious meeting with my supervisor on Carter’s human rights initiatives. I was recommended some reading, given invaluable advice and set out a rough plan of the Literature Review. Although the contours of a plan can and will change tremendously, I found it helpful drawing up a rough plan at the beginning to guide my research.

I knew that I didn’t want to delve into the research of the Literature Review in a lot of depth straight away, so I set myself a very do-able target of getting through 3 works every week for the first month. I started off with the recommended reading and began to pick up the big names and debates rather quickly. I also noticed that there were certain works which were referred to quite often from several historians, this was important to keep a note of and look at later.

After picking up the basics such as the narrative of Carter’s presidency, I noticed that there were very clear debates surrounding his human rights policies, and his presidency in general. I noted down the main historians and works from the bibliographies of recent literature, and researched them. When carrying out a literature review, recent works are incredibly useful as they tend to comment on the historiography, put forward their own views and provide other useful context. This was especially important for me because looking at foreign policy also means looking at other countries and understanding their leaders, politics and even domestic issues.

After weeks of battling procrastination, I finally went back to researching. I dedicated a few days every week for going through as much literature as I could. I researched for books in local university libraries and tried to get a hold of eBooks. Gutting books was interesting. I flicked through the context and index pages to see whether a book was useful and then skimmed through the content to try and find the author’s argument. Sometimes I felt like I was at a dead end. I felt like I had gone through all the literature I could access but nothing seemed useful. Then I took a step back and reviewed my notes. Added these arguments to my plan and realised that I wasn’t at a dead end, but that perhaps it was time to stop the research and start the writing. Researching history never stops, but I knew that it was better to start writing now and do any extra research afterwards if I needed.

I spent a few days on my plan simply because that’s the core of any work and helps bring structure and cohesiveness. I altered my plan a few times and once I was happy, I sent it along with my bibliography to my supervisor. Once approved, I began writing. I carried out some more research that I was missing on the schools, and then I had finally completed my literature review a week early.

The main differences from a literature review to any other assignment are quite vast. This is very much independent so it is important to spend quite some time figuring out what your topic of interest really is. This will be your summer love. Whilst it’s important to forget about university during the summer, so you’re not brain dead when third year starts, it’s also important to manage your time well. Take it slow. Set aside some time for friends, family and Netflix, whilst also ensuring you’re making progress on your literature review. It is a review of the literature produced on your chosen topic, so although context is important for your understanding, it does not mean that you must include this in your work. Keep an eye on the word limit. In order to review the literature, you must understand what the historian’s argument is and why they argue it. Keep a rough plan and add to your bibliography from the beginning to ensure you save hours of scrummaging through 43 pages of notes (yes, that’s how many I had). Finally, don’t compare your research, notes and length of bibliography with your mates. You’re most likely researching different topics and so have different literature to review. I actually enjoyed it. Keep in touch with your supervisor and good luck!


Call for Essays: Catholic Communities in England, 1778-1791

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A proposal for publishing a volume of essays examining the urbanisation of Catholic communities in England in the generation after the Relief Acts of 1778 and 1791. (18 George III c. 60 and 31 George III. c. 32.) 


The great majority of this post-Relief generation of lay Catholics lived by profit made in trade and manufacture, or in the provision of professional services. The number of the Catholic gentry was declining to a few hundred, and old missions on their estates were in many cases being transferred to towns.

By 1840 there were over 700 Catholic missions in England, almost all in towns- county towns, ports, leisure towns and, most frequently, industrial towns.  They each had a good-even handsome- church, a presbytery, Sunday schools and charity schools. Their chapels stood on the High streets, alongside the new chapels of the Methodists, the Baptists and the Independents, and in their Classical architecture asserted their pride in the one true faith.  These were paid for by the middle class of the town missions, in the same way as their fellow townsmen who were Church of England or nonconformists, supported their new churches, chapels and schools.


This generation of English Catholics, replaced old habits of getting along with a new assertion and pride.  Catholic life was conducted within the hortus conclusus of home, church and school, secure in the conviction that the Catholic Church was the only true church. Catholics became- and remained well into the 20th century -a fortress church, defending themselves against the not infrequent outbursts of local popular anti-Catholicism, and strengthening their networks of support.


The work of John Bossy, Leo Gooch, and Michael Mullet has transformed understanding of the laity in this period but to take the work further there is need to dig deeper into the experience of Catholic lay men and women of the poor, working and middle class. This requires a collection of specialist local studies using the tools and techniques of social and local history, as well as ecclesiastical sources. Much work of this kind has been done in the last twenty-five years, but published only locally or in unpublished Ph.D. theses.


Possible topics for such essays could include

Catholics, their occupations, relationships, wills.

Church buildings, sacred space, architecture, finance, location in the town.

Ritual, prayer, services other than Mass, Mass attendance in towns.

Church music, at weekly services and for special occasions.

Catholic social events, publications, printers and bookshops

Social conditions and circumstances of the Catholic poor, location in the town.

Sunday schools, Charity schools, education, middle class schools.



For more information or to submit a proposal, please contact Marie Rowlands (Honorary  Research Fellow, Newman University, Birmingham) at

Organised by: Professor Michael Mullett Emeritus Professor, Lancaster University.  Ian Cawood Reader in Modern History Newman University, Marie B. Rowlands Newman University, Birmingham,   Professor Judith Champ Oscott College, Birmingham.


Fighting the War on Poverty

Emma Folwell on researching race in 1960s Mississippi, and her forthcoming article

Mississippi in the 1960s is inextricably linked with race in our collective memory. It is associated with white supremacy, Klan violence and the bravery of murdered civil rights activists such as Medgar Evers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Henry Schwerner. I have spent much of the last few years researching Mississippi in the 1960s, seeking to uncover some of the less well-known stories of black activists and their white opponents.

A large part of my research focuses on the War on Poverty – a series of federal programs launched by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. These programs were funded by the federal government and intended to eradicate poverty in the midst of plenty. President Johnson wanted to ‘help replace… despair with opportunity.’ He recognised though, that money and support from the federal government was simply one facet of this attack on poverty. ‘Poverty is a national problem,’ he said, ‘but this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the State and the local level and must be supported and directed by State and local efforts.

This, for me, is where the really interesting aspect of the war on poverty lies. It took federal money and channelled it directly to local people. Most often, this money bypassed state and local governments. This was a radical departure from previous attacks on poverty, which funnelled money through state government. And it was this feature of the war on poverty that made it so revolutionary, particularly in the Deep South.

War on poverty funds in states such as Mississippi bypassed the state mechanisms of white supremacy. No longer could state and local officials deny African Americans federal funds. Through the war on poverty the federal funds could actually reach the poorest and most vulnerable Americans – many of whom were African Americans. The war on poverty thus became another front on which many African Americans fought for the economic opportunity that would render meaningful their newly acquired civil rights. These battles raged in communities across the Deep South, transforming communities and the war on poverty. My forthcoming article ‘White Opposition to Head Start in Mississippi,’ in the Journal of Mississippi History describes the earliest and perhaps most significant of these battles and its legacy.

Graduate Profile: Ramiz Khan

Ramiz Khan graduated with a BA (Hons) in History in 2015. During his degree, Ramiz acted as a Student Rep’, Student Ambassador and, in 2015, won the Student Voice Award. Since graduating, he undertook postgraduate study at the University of Nottingham and now works as a Project Assistant at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham. Here, he tells us a little about his current role.


Ramiz Khan, BA (Hons), History (2012-2015)

I work within the Cancer Research Department here at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. It is a fascinating work environment, as I oversee various clinical trials that relate to breast cancer and radiotherapy. Coming here presented a huge learning curve, especially coming from a historical background as I felt slightly disadvantaged, but it is a nice challenge. Many of my trials are looking into new drugs and therapies to combat cancer. I must say it is wonderful opportunity to work so closely in this area.
I essentially source my data from various assessments and scans, and samples taken. I then ensure these results are in the agreed range of data we are given by our sponsors. I also maintain all on site documentation relating to the various trials to which I am assigned.

Upon completing my MA in Ancient History, I briefly worked for Lloyds Banking Group, assisting with current accounts and debt management. A keen eye for detail and identifying problems was essential, along with presentation and delivery skills I honed at Newman. Shortly thereafter, I began working in the complaints department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and my skills gained from my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees assisted greatly here.

During my first post in the NHS, I was required to investigate each and every complaint, identify the root cause and failure, and then assign to the relevant area within the Trust. It was essential to have excellent time management and organisational skills, but also communication skills. As I was required to work closely with numerous senior personnel on a daily basis, as well as key external contacts, being able to work efficiently came into its own.


I hope this helps show current and prospective students going into History that History alumni go into careers other than teaching!

The Chris Upton Memorial Lecture, 6 November 2017

Chris Upton
Dr Chris Upton (1953-2015), Reader in Public History

To celebrate the career of our friend and colleague, Chris Upton, we are delighted to confirm that the second Chris Upton Memorial lecture will be held at the Library of Birmingham on 6 November 2017.


The annual lecture showcases the key ideas that were so central to Chris Upton’s work: historical research, probing questions and, above all, making the past accessible to all. This year’s lecture will be presented by George Demidowicz.


For more information on the lecture and how to book your ticket, please visit The Iron Room blog.

History Q&A: Ian Cawood

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Ian Cawood is Head of the History Subject Area. A graduate of Cambridge and Leicester, Ian is Reader in Modern History. Here, he answers some questions on his role at Newman and his interests.


Tell us about your role at Newman.


I am head of the history subject area, programme leader for the MA in Victorian Studies and Reader in Modern History



Give us an insight into a typical day for you. What do you spend most of your time doing?


After 15 years, I wish I could say what a typical day is! In term time, dealing with issues relating to students’ needs comes first, whether that is making arrangements for the programmes I’m responsible for, preparing and delivering my modules and contributing to others’ or sorting out students’ problems and planning for the future. Outside term time, admin is still pretty demanding, but I do enjoy quite a bit of time to do my research and to get involved in research networks.


How did you get interested in History? What pushed you to pursuing it at a higher level?


I grew up in the pre-Star Wars days, which I call the ‘Airfix’ generation. All our toys as children were World War II related – Action Man, Airfix, Dinky toys – even most boys’ comics were war comics set between 1939 and 1945. In about 1972, I saw a TV programme called ‘The World at War’ with my parents, who were old enough to remember the war very clearly. The conversations we had led me to realise that there was something quite dark and real behind these childish toys and thus began a fascination which only grew once I started studying history at school. I regarded history as an interest, so it was one I studied willingly (often to the detriment of my other subjects!). With some encouragement at school, I decided to spend 3 years at University studying it – it seemed better than doing something I didn’t want to do.


What do you remember of your first year at university? What stands out?


Well, I can hardly call myself a model first year, I’m afraid. I had worked quite hard and not had a huge amount of money growing up, so to be faced with the freedoms and opportunities of University, I threw myself into the social side of life, joined lots of societies, wrote for the University newspaper and didn’t work as hard as I should.  On the other hand, I met the people who are still my best friends that year.


Tell us about one thing that you found tough as a first-year student. What did you do about it?


I did quite poorly on my first year exams (a novelty for me!) and so I decided that I needed to get my act together. I knuckled down in my second year and learnt how to balance my social life with my work. I still could have worked harder, but I knew that the experience of undergraduate life wasn’t one I’d probably be able repeat.


If you could give just one piece of advice to incoming Freshers, what would it be?

Get the balance between work and socialising worked out by Christmas. Don’t find yourself facing an exam paper with zero knowledge of the topics in your head!


What careers did you and friends consider when studying History at University?


A lot of my friends went into research – sadly I didn’t really have the funds to afford to do this. Others went to work in the financial sector (it was the 80s) but I’d rather chew my own leg off than do that. I did think about going into journalism, but a spell on a local paper was so dull, I gave that up after 6 months. Eventually, I realised that my passion for history was still as strong as ever, so I decided to do a teaching course, not sure if I’d be suitable. First day in front of a class and I suddenly realised that this was what I’d always wanted to do.


What do you think makes studying History at Newman distinctive?


When we wrote the history UG programme (over ten years ago!) we always wanted to make sure that our students were properly prepared for life outside university. We thought about including a range of transferable skills, a large range of historical periods and a work placement, so that Newman history students would stand out from other history graduates. Our programmes have always started with the question ‘what do students need to succeed?’ rather than ‘what do we feel like teaching?’ I think it is this student-centred approach that makes us distinctive, but you need to tell us if we’re not getting it right!


To find out more about Ian’s work, view his profile on our webpage here.

History Q&A: Noelle Plack

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Noelle is Reader in French HistoryOriginally from California, Noelle has taught at Newman since 2005. Here, she tells us about her role and what makes her tick.


Tell us about your role at Newman.


I wear two hats at Newman, one as a Reader in French History and the other as Postgraduate Research Coordinator.  In the first role, I teach undergraduate modules on 19th century Europe and the French Revolution as well as supervising 3rd year dissertation students.  In the second, I mentor, support and coordinate PhD students in various disciplines across the University.



Give us an insight into a typical day for you. What do you spend most of your time doing?


Like many academics, many days are spent reading and writing.  I’m old school and like to do my research work in the mornings when I’m fresh and have a quiet, clear mind.  This includes reading documents from my trips to the French archives and writing chapters for my new book on wine and the French Revolution.  In the afternoons, I then go ‘on-line’ to answer e-mails and surf the web!


How did you get interested in History? What pushed you to pursuing it at a higher level?


Whilst studying for a BA in Sociology, I loved the theories of Karl Marx and was drawn to his idea of revolution.  During my undergraduate degree, I also took many courses on US and European history, including the revolution that started it all, the French one in 1789!  I then switched to History for my MA in San Francisco and ultimately moved to the UK for my PhD in History from the University of Birmingham.


What do you remember of your first year at university? What stands out?


Arriving at a big new campus and feeling so small!  But as the weeks and months passed I found my feet and learned to love learning.


Tell us about one thing that you found tough as a first-year student. What did you do about it?


Trying to decode and understanding what I found to be complex readings set by my lecturers.  I asked others if they found it the readings difficult as well – they said ‘yeah, we have to read them twice!’


If you could give just one piece of advice to incoming Freshers, what would it be?


If the readings are difficult – read them twice, or three times!


What careers did you and friends consider when studying History at University?


Some of my friends went on to become teachers, but others went into urban planning and development as well as working for international charities.


What do you think makes studying History at Newman distinctive?


There is a wonderful community feel to Newman and you’ll find the people, both the students and the staff, very warm and friendly.  The lecturers also really care about you and your development, so they’ll push you to reach your full potential.


To find out more about Noelle’s work, check out her profile now. 

History Q&A: Chris Langley

Chris is senior lecturer in early modern history. He taught at Aberdeen and York before arriving at Newman in 2014. 


Tell us about your role at Newman.

I arrived here in late 2014 and teach most of the modules on early modern history. I also teach on the MRes programme. I send a lot of emails. Drink a lot of tea.


Give us an insight into a typical day for you. What do you spend most of your time doing?

Term time is usually pretty hectic so, like all of us, I have plenty to keep me busy. We usually have a few days per week teaching and doing admin’ like marking or setting up reading lists or webpages for modules. I go to meetings with colleagues from across the University from time to time.


I spend as much time as I can researching projects. I am currently finishing a book called Cultures of Care and writing articles on various aspects of ecclesiastical history in Scotland and Ireland. I’m incredibly fortunate to get to visit different universities across the country to discuss work with colleagues elsewhere.


How did you get interested in History? What pushed you to pursuing it at a higher level?

I had terrific History teachers at school. In fact, I had terrific teachers in a lot of subjects – I had just managed to alienate most of them outside of History.


One teacher – he’s actually retiring this year – was a tremendous guy. In addition to being an utter man-mountain rugby enthusiast, he had such a keen eye for detail. He’d come into classes bang-on time, hurl a chair to the front of the room and drop his rugby-wearied body onto it. For the next two hours, he’d just hold court. His intensity was awesome.


What do you remember of your first year at university? What stands out?

In the first few weeks, I remember disliking it immensely. I found it difficult. Not so much academically but socially. The University experience was very different to my sixth form days. Campus was somehow both vast and claustrophobic. None of my sixth form friends attended the same institution so I found myself as a very small fish in a gigantic pond.


Lectures felt other-worldly, though. It was pretty awe-inspiring to see lecturers who were at the top of their game waxing lyrical about a subject in which they were the expert. A couple were particularly legendary. I remember one girl sitting in front of me in a lecture in first year. As the rest of us sat there, entranced by one of the professors, she turned to her friend and said ‘I really don’t understand why this is so important and why people bang on about him’. There was almost a riot involving everybody within earshot.


Tell us about one thing that you found tough as a first-year student. What did you do about it?

Getting into the groove with seminar discussions. I remember being outside of seminar rooms in a ramshackle line with other students, waiting to get in. The silence was awkward. It was almost unbearable. I remember flicking a phone out of my pocket and pretending to do something deeply interesting on it.  I looked up and noticed several other people doing the same thing. Or were they just that interesting? The seminars themselves were pretty awkward. It was even worse when somebody did the heavy lifting in the discussion because you knew you should be contributing. I wondered about the purpose of all of those A-Levels.


It got better over time. Although I didn’t set out with a grand plan to fix things, I did two specific things that went some way to helping me. I deliberately picked modules that I knew would ‘click’. Not having to worry about the content – just getting it – allowed me to relax a little and be myself. The second thing was that I established a way of preparing for sessions. I realised years later that this is what people meant by ‘taking responsibility’ for my own learning.


If you could give just one piece of advice to incoming Freshers, what would it be?

Appreciate that your voice is important, too. You’re here because you care about the subject so embrace it wholeheartedly. As one tutor later told me: ‘you’re doing a history degree. You’re officially no longer cool. Get over it’.


What careers did you and friends consider when studying History at University?

We played with a lot of ideas although we all did it in our own time. I remember remarkably few conversations about it. Eventually, the range of careers was very wide. I had friends who became lawyers, art curators, script writers, teachers. civil servants, publishers. Some had a clear idea what they wanted to do. Most didn’t and ended up finding their niche over the course of their degree.


What do you think makes studying History at Newman distinctive?

Size. I’ve worked at larger institutions and it took me longer to get to know students. This meant that I couldn’t really gauge where they were – with their studies or personally – until much later. We don’t have that problem here. I initially found this slightly creepy but it’s a great privilege to have a ringside seat to see students progress through their studies.

History Q&A: Charlotte Lewandowski

Charlotte is Lecturer in Medieval History and has taught at the universities of Warwick and Birmingham. She teachers a range of modules on the undergraduate programme and is convener of HSU401 and HSU402 – two key modules in first year.


Tell us about your role at Newman.

I am a lecturer in medieval history which means that my main priority is designing and delivering modules for the undergraduate programme. I also coordinate some generic modules including the dissertation module which is really rewarding. I currently have three postgraduate students so I am working closely with them as they work towards their Master’s degrees.


Give us an insight into a typical day for you. What do you spend most of your time doing?

That really depends on the time of year… Much of my teaching is in the first semester so that is a really busy time preparing, delivering seminars and marking work. However, I have spent much of the summer working on a research article and this involves lots of reading, writing and rewriting!


How did you get interested in History? What pushed you to pursuing it at a higher level?

I don’t know exactly when I became in the study of history as distinct from a general interest in the past. I suppose it was sometime during my undergraduate studies when I really started to appreciate the value of historiography and the complexity of our cultural heritage.


What do you remember of your first year at university? What stands out?

I remember feeling grateful that I wasn’t at work!


Tell us about one thing that you found tough as a first-year student. What did you do about it?

I found the reading quite challenging at first – a bit dry, and I often found it difficult to make effective notes. I would spend a lot of time reading but not in a strategic way. I solved this by stopping taking notes entirely for the first read through and by writing short summary paragraphs after I’d completed the relevant chapter or passage. It’s not for everyone but it worked well for me. 


If you could give just one piece of advice to incoming Freshers, what would it be?

Talk to your tutors and listen to your peers.


What careers did you and friends consider when studying History at University?

The range of careers are endless. I think I applied for a number of graduate schemes as well as postgraduate funding which ended up being the direction I took.


What do you think makes studying History at Newman distinctive?

The range of historical coverage and the ethos of the institution which really emphasises a supportive and free-thinking learning environment.

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