History at Newman University

Ecclesiastical History Society Postgraduate Colloquium, 2018

We’re delighted to be hosting the latest Ecclesiastical History Society event with colleagues in Theology. The provisional programme is out now.

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Chamberlain, Reputation & the Chamberlain Highbury Trust

Head of History, Ian Cawood, reflects on historical icon Joseph Chamberlain and the recently-formed Chamberlain Highbury Trust, Birmingham.

As many people will know, I have a rather ambiguous relationship with Joseph Chamberlain, three times mayor of Birmingham in the nineteenth century and the man regarded as the greatest civic leader the city has ever had. There is no denying his impact on the city he moved to as a teenage entrepreneur in the 1850s, though I feel that his reputation in Birmingham unfairly eclipses that of his mentor, George Dawson, and those of his successors on the City Council, including his own son, Neville.

I mainly have problems with his career after 1876, however, when Chamberlain became MP for Birmingham and then sacrificed a promising career as a radical Cabinet minister, to resign over Gladstone’s plans to grant autonomy to Ireland in 1886. He became an ally of Lord Salisbury, the reactionary leader of the Conservatives, to resist Gladstone’s plans. Although he continued to make grand promises to address the serious social problems of late Victorian Britain, in reality he was unable to deliver on almost any of these and he was forced to take the position of Colonial Secretary in order to mend his relationship with the Tories. Nearing 70, he suddenly resigned from the Cabinet in order to pursue a last campaign for a tax free Empire trading-zone (which would no doubt appeal to Michael Gove) despite the fact that there was little support for the idea in the country and even less across the Empire. Although Birmingham stayed loyal, his actions led to the 2nd worst electoral defeat of the twentieth century for the Conservatives in 1906. When he had a stroke later in that year, one could sense that many in his party breathed a sigh of relief that he would no longer trouble them.

When I was invited last week to the launch of the Chamberlain Highbury Trust at the home he built just outside Kings Heath, therefore, I was in two minds as to whether to attend. As I discovered when I organised the international conference to mark the centenary of Chamberlain’s death in 2014, many people in his adopted city dislike any criticism of the first Chancellor of the University of Birmingham. To make matters worse, the main speaker at the event was Tristram Hunt, former Shadow Education Secretary who had given up his seat in Stoke-on-Trent to accept the directorship of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and who is an outspoken admirer of Chamberlain. I largely regard my role in the city as trying to point out to its citizens that Chamberlain’s national and international career was little short of calamitous and one eminent historian commented that, in light of my summary of his legacy in my edited collection, Joseph Chamberlain: International Statesman, National Leader and Local Icon (Basingstoke, 2016), it was just as well I don’t live in the city.

I was also conscious that, twice in 2017, I had rather undermined my intellectual credibility by saying nice things about members of the Chamberlain family within the walls of Highbury. Firstly, I had given a talk at a fund-raising lunch for the Birmingham Hospice during the summer at which I had not said anything critical of Chamberlain (fearing that this might rather spoil the tone). Secondly, and more seriously, I had been asked to appear on BBC1’s Inside Out programme and to defend the reputation of Neville Chamberlain on the 80th anniversary of him achieving the Premiership. Neville Chamberlain’s historical standing, following his disastrous handling of international affairs between 1937 and 1940, is perhaps the lowest of any modern Prime Minister (until David Cameron, anyway), so I am sure it was the challenge of trying to persuade an audience that an argument in his defence could be mounted that swayed me. And, as is common with most academics, I will do anything (almost) to get my name on the TV. To my acute embarrassment, my rather selective reading of the events surrounding the Munich Agreement of 1938 and the outbreak of World War 2 convinced the audience and I won the debate, no doubt much to the chagrin of the expert on the topic from Liverpool John Moores University, who, with some justification, blamed a ‘home crowd’ for letting Chamberlain off too lightly.


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Highbury Hall, Birmingham


I need not have worried about the Chamberlain Heritage Trust event though. It was organised by the Trustees, who include such eminent scholars as Dr Malcolm Dick, director of the Centre for West Midland History at the University of Birmingham (and honorary research fellow in history at Newman University) and Professor Ian Grosvenor at UoB, who was one of my predecessors as Head of History at Newman. The City Council, who are backing the campaign to restore Highbury, also have a critical view of Chamberlain, thanks to Councillor Phil Davies, the Heritage Champion on the Council, who has fought valiantly to protect the city’s libraries, art galleries and museums from the worst effects of government funding cuts. The booklet on the project ‘Restoring the Chamberlains’ Highbury’ (a copy of which is in the Newman Local History collection), notes that Joseph Chamberlain’s ‘prominent national career was controversial and ultimately unsuccessful’ and that he ‘was  both adored and hated’. Perhaps my twenty year campaign to tarnish his reputation is finally paying off!

The Trust needs £8 million to fully restore the house and the estate (part of which makes up Highbury Park opened in 1933) and we were all pleasantly surprised to be told by Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, that the Council was able to provide money from bequests to begin the appeal. The Trust hopes to use the building as a learning and business hub and to promote greater understanding of the Chamberlain legacy (both good and bad) – which is probably why I was invited. It also aims to use the house to ‘identify, educate and develop the leaders of the future’ by engaging with a diverse range of communities.


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Chamberlain’s study, Highbury Hall, Birmingham


I did point out to the Trust that care would be needed to ensure that the association with Chamberlain doesn’t backfire. Recently there have been campaigns to disassociate Liverpool University from the name of William Gladstone, purely on the basis that his father made money from the transatlantic slave trade. There have been calls to remove Nelson from his Column in Trafalgar Square, simply because he didn’t speak out against slavery. While these may have been somewhat extreme and not reflective of wider public opinion, the campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes, a noted imperialist statesman, from the University of Oxford seemed to generate wider popular support, largely as there were plenty of critics of Imperialism at the time that Rhodes sought to exert white settler control over regions of Southern Africa. This affects Chamberlain’s reputation as it is suspected by many, such as his eminent biographer Professor Peter Marsh, that Chamberlain collaborated with Rhodes in his attempt to undermine the independent Boer republics of South Africa and that these events caused the second Anglo-Boer War in 1899, still known in South Africa as ‘Joe’s War’, in which thousands of Africans, thousands of Boers and thousands of British soldiers died. Chamberlain himself controversially stated the following at the Royal Colonial Institute in 1897:

I do say that in almost every instance in which the rule of the Queen has been established and the great Pax Britannica has been enforced, there has come with it greater security to life and property, and a material improvement in the condition of the bulk of the population. No doubt, in the first instance, when these conquests have been made, there has been bloodshed, there has been loss of life among the native populations, loss of still more precious lives among those who have been sent out to bring these countries into some kind of disciplined order, but it must be remembered that that is the condition of the mission we have to fulfill.

The Trust notes its concerns that national membership of Heritage Boards only comprises 23% of women and a mere 5% from BME backgrounds. It is determined to encourage greater participation from these groups, especially as Birmingham is one of the most diverse cities in Europe. I would encourage anyone who believes that the full story of Chamberlain’s dynasty, its imperialism, its association with elite groups, its problematic attitude towards the women in the family and its ambiguous relationship with the poor of the Birmingham needs to be told, to get in touch with the Chair of the Trust, Les Sparks OBE. The Trust has a huge mountain to climb in fund-raising and community engagement and will not do so by focusing on the needs of academics and the chattering classes of Birmingham. If it is to fulfill Birmingham’s city motto: ‘Forward’ it needs your help. So I’m not volunteering to join – I’d like you to do so! The next public meeting to update everyone on the project is on 28 February at 7.30pm. There will be a private viewing in the Drawing Room of our fabulous newly commissioned film about the Chamberlain Family and the history of Highbury. A Q&A session will take place, with tea, coffee and biscuits available.

Ian Cawood

For more information visit:

Follow the Trust on twitter at @CHighburyTrust

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Ecclesiastical History Society Postgraduate Colloquium 2018

We’re delighted to be hosting the 2018 Ecclesiastical History Society Postgraduate Colloquium on 7 March 2018.




Professor Scott Davidson and the History of Newman University, Birmingham

To celebrate the start of a year of celebrations to mark the University’s fiftieth birthday, we’ve manage to enlist the help of Professor Scott Davidson, Vice Chancellor of the University, to give us an insight into a little bit of institutional history.




You may have noticed the appearance of the University’s new logo on our entry and direction signs and on some of our publications. Eventually the logo will be placed on all our media, including our new website and intranet, the launch of which is imminent. The adoption of this new symbol is designed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the University’s foundation as Newman College in 1968. In 1988, twenty years after its opening, Newman College received Letter Patent granting it Armorial Bearings (colloquially known as a coat of arms) by royal authority from the York Herald of Arms of the College of Arms. A coat of arms is only valid if it is granted by a representative of the College of Arms. On the 50th anniversary of Newman’s founding, it seemed only right to give more prominence to the institution’s history by replacing the former ‘petal’ logo with a logo derived from elements of our coat of arms. The coat of arms itself will still be used for formal documents such as degree testamurs or certificates.


Original Letters Patent Granting Newman College Armorial Bearings. In possession of the University Council.


Coats of arms, as the name suggests, were originally designed to distinguish friend from foe in battle, but subsequently came to represent families, allegiances, cities, towns, professions and universities. A full coat of arms is usually quite an elaborate affair with symbols signifying meanings that we may not always associate with them. The main symbols are contained on the shield and can signify a place, activity, attribute or quality. They are often accompanied by a motto more usually expressed in Latin, although this is not always so. Take Birmingham’s coat of arms, for example, which carries the single word ‘Forward’, used to signify civic progress. Newman’s coat of arms from which the elements of the new logo are taken all have specific meanings, and we have a Latin motto, which I shall explain below.


Before looking at the symbols contained in Newman’s coat of arms and logo, it is worth noting that heraldry (the devising and study of armorial bearings) has its own recondite language to describe these symbols, but this is for true enthusiasts. I will stick to more conventional language. The first thing to notice about the logo is that the shield is divided by a zig-zag line. This is taken from Blessed John Henry Newman’s own coat of arms and is simply a method of dividing the shield into two parts or fields. Above the line are two crosses of St Chad. St Chad’s cross is distinctive in shape and symbolises the University’s connection with the eponymous St Chad, a seventh century Bishop who introduced Christianity into the then Kingdom of Mercia. The two crosses also symbolise a balanced and rounded education, looking to the past and the future, as well as marking Newman’s religious foundations. The two crosses flank a flame which represents the torch of learning. This speaks for itself in describing Newman University as a place of education. The rampant wolf (i.e. rearing up on it hind legs) has multiple meanings. First, it commemorates the name of the first recorded owner of the land on which the University is situated, a Saxon called Wulfwine. It is presumed that his sign would have been that of the wolf from which his name was derived. Second, we often think of wolves as fierce and aggressive creatures, but as heraldic animals they are seen as noble and courageous. (In the full coat of arms, the rampant wolf holds a St Chad’s cross from which the flame of learning blazes.) In the logo we have reversed the way the wolf is facing. We didn’t want it turning its back on the University’s name.


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The evolution of the University’s visual identity since 1968


While we do not use the University’s Latin motto in the new logo, it is worth referring to this as it resonates nicely with the idea that the light from the torch of learning seeks to illuminate those shadowy areas in which ignorance might flourish. The motto is ‘ex umbris in veritatem’ which means out of the shadows into the truth, a phrase which is taken from John Henry Newman’s own writings.


Although the new logo, which is derived from the essential elements of the University’s coat of arms may at first glance seem somewhat anachronistic, none the less it speaks to Newman University’s past, its place in the present and its hopes for the future. As a modern, diverse and inclusive institution we want to celebrate where we have come from but continue to emphasise that the light of learning remains at our core and that, like the rampant wolf we should be noble and courageous in pursuit of this.


Professor Scott Davidson

To be part of the fiftieth birthday celebrations, keep up to date with the Newman Alumni team on their website or via Twitter.


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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.


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