History at Newman University

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.

History Q&A: Juliette Harrisson

Juliette is senior lecturer in ancient history at Newman. She has taught at Newman as well as the University of Birmingham.



Tell us about your role at Newman.

I am Senior Lecturer in Ancient History. As Newman’s Ancient History specialist, I do all teaching and supervising relating to Ancient History, including Ancient History modules, extra-curricular Latin and Ancient Greek teaching, and supervision of Ancient History dissertations, both undergraduate and at Masters level. Like all lecturers, I also write books and book contributions about ancient history and research the ancient world. My specialist areas are Roman myth and religion, and the reception of the ancient world in film, television and novels – my latest publication is a chapter on the television series I, Claudius in Wiley-Blackwell’s Companion to Ancient Greece and Rome On Screen.


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

That depends on the day! In term-time, I might spend a lot of my day teaching – anything between two to seven hours. In term-time, depending on the week, I also have to fit in staff meetings, Student Staff Consultative Committee meetings, Learning and Teaching Committee meetings, supervision meetings, essay feedback meetings and field trips, as well as marking students’ work, moderating work for other modules and planning my teaching sessions. Outside of term-time, I try to focus on writing books, book chapters and journal articles, but these usually spill into term-time as well! So on the days I’m not teaching so much, I will be collecting chapters for a book I’m editing, sending them out to reviewers, editing them myself, collecting them back in, sending out comments to the authors, and probably still trying to finish writing my own chapter as well. I also review books for journals, so I might be reading a book or writing up a review. And of course, each day starts with answering e-mails, responding to reference requests, answering student queries and so on, which can take a very long time!


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

History and English were always my favourite subjects at school, and I was going to do an English degree, until I studied a text I really didn’t like at A-Level and realised I didn’t want to have to read a lot of books I didn’t like! I had always loved History, but it was the TV series I, Claudius, the film Gladiator, and an open day presentation from a lecturer on Ancient History that got me interested in that area in particular (he explained to everybody that the world was obviously flat!).


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

At first I hated the library – it was huge and confusing and I didn’t understand how to find what I needed! But then I got used to it, and found I loved exploring the reading lists in my modules and finding interesting articles to read that would sum up the topic quickly. I also made a lot of friends on my course, and I lived in university accommodation, so I really enjoyed moving away from home and living independently for the first time.


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

It took me a while to get used to how academic research works. My first essay was on a topic we didn’t cover until right before the deadline and I didn’t understand how I could be expected to write about something I hadn’t been taught yet. I didn’t understand that lectures and seminars are a basis for work, but that most of the work needed to come from my own research and I needed to come up with my own ideas, and not follow an essay plan set out by a teacher (my A-Level History teacher was quite strict about essay plans!). But I got used to it over time, and realised that if I did reading in advance and then discussed what I’d read in the seminars, that would give me the ideas I needed to write effective essays.


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

Read! Read everything you can get your hands on. And watch TV shows and films about the period, because even if they’re inaccurate, they’ll at least help you to work out what’s going on and who’s who. And make friends on your course if you can, then you can suffer. So that’s three pieces of advice. It’s not a maths PhD that I have!


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

Law, journalism, general graduate degree programmes (e.g. in banks). After leaving, some friends went to work in the civil service and several in university administration. Some wanted to work in museums, but that is very difficult to get into and badly paid. Others wanted to be archaeologists because they liked Indiana Jones!


What do you think makes studying History at Newman distinctive?

How close everyone is – students and staff. You really get to know everyone on your course and all your tutors, you never get lost in a crowd, and everyone is always really friendly and supportive of one another.


Find out more about Juliette’s work on our website.

History Q&A: Emma Folwell

Emma is lecturer in modern American history. She completed her doctorate at Leicester and moved to Newman in 2015.



Tell us about your role at Newman.

I’m a lecturer in modern American History. I am module leader for three modules: the first year module the rise of modern America; a second year module called the making of the modern world; and a third year option exploring the black freedom struggle. I’m also involved with overseeing the second year work placement module, and co-teach the first year introduction to History at University. My research focuses on the social and political history of modern America. I research social welfare policy, civil rights activism, white resistance and the rise of new conservatism, primarily in the Deep South in the 1960s and 1970s. As part of my role as a researcher, I attend conferences to give papers, visit archives in the US whenever possible and do lots and lots of reading.


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

Most of the time I’m reading, attempting to write and catching up on my email. But what I’m reading and writing varies: during the summer I’ve been working on a new article. During semester one, I’ll be preparing lectures and keeping up with the reading I set my students!


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

I’ve always been fascinated by politics, particularly American politics. It comes, perhaps, of growing up during the Clinton administration and following the impeachment hearings. This led me to looking into Watergate, and then I was captivated by the 1960s. So many contradictions: the liberal culture sitting alongside the rising conservatism; the years of rights struggles co-existing with the continuing of racial and sexual discrimination. So I studied modern history, with very little idea of what I would eventually do with my degree – but I loved it. 


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

I remember being a little scared and getting lost a lot trying to find seminar rooms. I have a vivid memory of skipping the set reading for a seminar one week early in semester one, and then spending that seminar confused and miserable – because everyone else knew what they were talking about and I had no idea! I enjoyed my first year immensely – I liked the independence to study at my own pace and having to concentrate on just history, without other distracting (and less interesting) subjects!


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

I found some of the articles we were set really challenging. They were really dense and I couldn’t always follow the argument. I went and had a chat with my personal tutor, who was very helpful. He suggested a few different strategies to try and I did, and finally hit on one that worked for me. I’d skim read to get the gist of the argument and structure and make notes on this first, before trying to get to grips with the detail.


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

Read as much as you can. It’s the one thing I found the most helpful in making sure I didn’t feel out of my depth.


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

There are so many different options, and I think I considered them all at some point! The civil service, graduate schemes, teaching, librarianship, archivist and, obviously, postgraduate taught and research degrees. After hearing most of my friends and family ask the question: “what can you do with a history degree?” I looked into my options so I had a good answer! The career service were brilliant in helping figure out the options – and made me realise that historians develop skills that are essential in a wide range of careers.


What do you think makes studying History at Newman distinctive?

Students at Newman get to study a wide range of History – from Ancient Rome and Greece to the modern day. This makes the degree pretty special. But more than that, I think Newman’s History degree is distinctive because of the support offered: by the lecturers, fellow students and the university’s support staff. It’s a warm and friendly place to study.


Find out more about Emma’s work here.

Thinking about Postgraduate Study?

Scarlett Hall read her BA (Hons) in History with us. Here she tells us about her path to postgraduate study and the application process.


Once I finished my undergraduate degree I had a few months of relaxation – I needed it! But during this time, as I had planned to do from my second year, I applied for a PgCert in Public Heritage and History and the MRes in Humanities at Newman. I applied for both so if one fell through for financial or economic reasons I would have a backup. I was accepted for both but declined the PgCert as the MRes I felt offered enabled me to advance without narrowing my choices or opportunity for various careers.

While waiting for response from Newman regarding my applications, I put my name forward as a volunteer at various heritage sites such as Selly Manor, Avoncroft Museum, Black Country Living Museum and the National Trust’s back-to-back houses in Birmingham. Towards the end of the summer, I had a two-week volunteer position in the collections team at the Black Country Living Museum and I am currently on a six-week volunteering training course for various roles at the Birmingham back to backs.

From July 2017, I started to consider various topics for an MRes project. I decided to expand on what I already knew and continue with my undergraduate dissertation on the hagiography of St. Edward by Matthew Paris and its relation to Henry III of England. From there, my supervisor and I discussed what I found most interesting in the undergraduate dissertation. I quickly realised this was the hagiography and Anglo-Saxon history. Moving on from this I read a few articles, two lives of other Anglo-Saxon saints and then identified common themes. Is submitted my application for the MRes in August.


Find out more about our MRes programme here.


Summer Works with Charlotte Lewandowski

Charlotte Lewandowski, Lecture in Medieval History, gives us an insight into her work this summer. 

Over the summer I’ve been meeting with lots of students to discuss their forthcoming research projects at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Alongside this I’ve also been cultivating my own research ideas which move away from my last major project: my PhD thesis. Developing research questions is perhaps the most underrated aspect of academic work. Recently I’ve been thinking a great deal about the ways in which we find inspiration when formulating new research questions about the past. Sometimes these questions can fall neatly in our lap but more often than not, researchers have to agonise a great deal before picking up a book, visiting an archive or putting pen to paper. When dealing with the distant past the problem of alterity is always close the surface as we try to imagine a world which is very different from our own. And yet, it is very tempting to see similarities. Whilst we will rarely find solutions to contemporary problems in the conflicts of the past, it can be useful for researchers to reflect on current affairs in order to reframe historical questions.

My current research focuses on the notion of sovereignty and I’ve been reading a great deal about this topic in the light of Brexit. Many voters who chose to leave the EU in 2016 cited sovereignty as a key reason for their decision. It’s a term that appears frequently in media editorials and yet I’ve found very little clarity surrounding its definition and function. This, in particular, and the topic of Brexit more generally, has led me to reappraise my own PhD research. With these issues in mind I am in the process of developing an article which takes as its premise the conceptual problem of sovereignty within the context of the immediate post-Conquest period in England.

The West Facade of York Minster

From the late eleventh century, a series of disputes took place between the two English archbishoprics, Canterbury and York. Known as the primacy dispute, this has long been overlooked by political historians who tend to view it as typical ecclesiastical pedantry. Yet, I have always believed that there was something constitutionally important about this dispute. Over the past few weeks I’ve been looking back at episcopal letters and acta from the period after 1070. I’m repositioning this material as part of a wider European event: the papacy’s attempt to exercise power within emerging nation states. This raises some interesting questions about the nature of supranational institutions and how they, often unintentionally, help forge national identity. Although my research is unlikely to help David Davis, it is responding to the present-day construction of British Identity (for British read English) which has falsely emphasised long-standing and immutable sovereignty. In this sense, it’s part of a philosophical tradition of alterity and demonstrates how reflecting on the here and now can produce relevant research topics for the distant past. More to follow…

To find out more about Charlotte’s work, have a look at her staff profile on our website. 

Building the Fortress: Catholic Education Networks, 1791-1840

Marie Rowlands is Emeritus Visiting Research Fellow in History. Marie worked in the History Subject Area at Newman between 1968 and 1989 and has held appointments at Cambridge, Keele and Wolverhampton . Here, she shares an insight into her latest work on Catholic educational networks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 


 “There was a clear absolutism of belief, a competitive or confrontational attitude to other Christians, a clear distinction between the spheres of clergy and laity”

From Judith Champ in ‘Talk for Southwark priests’ gathering’, Pastoral Review, 14 (2000)


Between 1791 and 1840, despite lack of priests, money and schools for the poor, the Catholic church in England reconstructed itself as predominantly urban, middle and lower class. Evidence collected for the Parliamentary Committee of enquiry into the state of education for the lower orders of the Metropolis in 1818-1820, revealed why there was no development among Catholics comparable with the Church of England and nonconformist schools.


The dialogue between Henry Brougham Whig politician and educationalist and the Catholic Vicar Apostolic Dr Poynter records two intelligent, courteous and well-intentioned men quite unable to understand each other. Dr Poynter reluctantly explained that however deplorable the state of the poor, and especially the Irish poor in the metropolis, he could not sanction the children being taught religion by Protestants, or by laymen; nor agree to the Bible, Protestant or Catholic (with or without notes) being used as a school text book to teach children to read. The same was true of the Catechism. Teaching authority in the Church belonged to the four Bishops and through their ordination to the clergy, but the number of Catholic priests was too few to meet the need.


Nevertheless, between 1791 and 1840, Catholic mission schools for the lower orders – staffed by lay teachers – were opened in urban missions, and Catholic fee paying schools for the urban middle class proliferated. The lay men and women teachers depended on the recognition and patronage of the clergy who instructed the children weekly, in church and in school.


I am interested in these teachers, their management of their relationship with the clergy, their backgrounds, curricula and the pupils of these lay schools before the arrival of the Catholic teaching orders.



Freshers: Get to Know the Place!

Before you arrive, get to know your way around Campus with our photo tour! 


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Map of our Bartley Green Campus

The Newman Campus is built around quads – open squares between buildings where students sit in the summer or pass through on the way to lectures and seminars.

We have halls of residence on Campus – a short walk from teaching rooms. In fact, the halls deliberately encircle the whole Campus to make things a little more convenient. All on-Campus accommodation is self catering. Our offices are in the lower part of Oxford Hall so we’re on hand to talk about assignments.

The St Chad Building was opened a few years ago and houses the Library, teaching rooms, main reception and a Starbucks cafe. The Atrium in St Chad Building hosts a number of public events and fundraisers including those by the Humanities Research Centre and our Newmarts Postgraduate Group.

Naturally, our students spend a lot of time in the Library or in seminars. The Library is in St Chad building and teaching in History takes place all over Campus so you get to know the place very well very quickly.

The Chapel is at the heart of Campus. Students and staff of any faith or none are always welcome and the Chaplaincy frequently holds luncheons and get-together events. Large University events are sometimes hosted in the Chapel.

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Teaching rooms underneath the Chapel!
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Entrance to the Chapel

If you need to get home in a hurry, bus stops are at the front of the St Chad Building. You’ll see the queues! Buses are very frequent and go right through the City Centre of Birmingham. Shops are located further down Genners Lane, too.

Oh, and if you’re ever lost, just look for the statue of John Henry Newman in the Ryeland Quad. If you can see JHN, you’re right in the middle of Campus and can get anywhere in less than ten minutes.

John Henry Newman Statue, Ryeland Quad

Importantly, being so compact, the Campus is a remarkably safe and welcoming place. If you’re ever at a loss as to where a room is, then just ask somebody! You find your way around very quickly!


We look forward to welcoming you all!


‘Mingle with other Victorianists’: A View from the MA Programme

Katrina Jan tells us about her experience of our MA in Victorian Studies.


The Victorian Studies group on a field trip to Worcester, 2017

I’ve absolutely loved the MA Victorian Studies course and it really is a course unlike no other! With classes held at the Birmingham & Midland Institute, you really feel like you’ve gone back in time to the 19th century. I really enjoyed the Gothic module and found it incredibly interesting, and having classes in the evening on a winter’s day, definitely added to the supernatural atmosphere! The course also offers access to many other facilities, such as the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and my personal favourite, Woodbrooke Study Centre.


PG Writing Retreat at Woodbrooke Study Centre, 2017

As the MA Victorian Studies is an interdisciplinary combination of English, History and Theology, there is a wide range of staff who teach on the course. They are all very passionate about their subjects and their expertise is invaluable. Over the past two years, I feel I have strengthened my understanding and massively developed my research interests which have been supported and stimulated by the staff on the course. The interactive seminars have been inspiring and the organised field trips have furthered my knowledge, as well, allowing me to meet and mingle with other Victorianists!


I definitely feel the MA has encouraged me to continue onto further study and I do plan on enrolling onto a PhD straight after.




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