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.