History at Newman

The Clergy in Early Modern Scotland Programme

We are delighted to announce the confirmed programme for the ‘Clergy in Early Modern Scotland’ conference, organised by University of Edinburgh and us here at Newman.


The conference is generously sponsored by the Royal Historical Society and the Society for Renaissance Studies.


To register, click here.

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SSCC Newsletter, March 2017

Each semester, our undergraduates elect reps to raise issues about their course with staff. This is a long-standing tradition at Newman, but we now want to show you what we’re doing in response to student comments. 

Current students can find a copy of this and minutes from the SSCC meeting on the History Metapage on Moodle. 

Our latest call for doctoral and MPhil candidates…


Notes from Oxford: MPhil Research

Current MPhil student James Brennan gives us an update on postgraduate research and his progress so far.

It is 09:45 and I have just arrived at Oxford station. I am here for my next supervisory meeting. My supervisor, currently using Oxford University whilst on research leave, suggested that we could meet here to discuss my progress. This is also a great opportunity to visit the Bodleian Libraries for my research. Therefore, prior to my journey I have requested permission to access the Weston Library – one of many under the Bodleian Libraries group. The Conservative Party Archives are held here, and there is also a great deal on the Labour Party. It takes about 15 minutes on foot to reach the Library from the station. The meeting will be held here as I will be based in the Weston Library all day. Its facilities were recently renovated to bring them into the 21st century. The building, officially opened in 1946, has retained much of its original design. A perfect mesh of old and new.
 The traditions of the University are still strong. To access the Libraries, for example, I must swear an oath promising to not damage or remove any material. Afterwards I go to meet my supervisor. The meeting goes well and so I make my way to the readings rooms to book the Midland Union records. It’s going to be a two hour wait to see them. So, I settle down and look through Labour Party pamphlets from 1918. By midday I have found a good deal of information regarding Labour Party policies after the First World War. I then go to meet my supervisor for lunch at Keble College. Once again, I am awestruck by the architecture of the University’s buildings. On the way to Keble we walk past such landmarks as the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. This is where the famous 1860 debate on evolution took place.

Certainly, history surrounds you at every corner and there is one thing that I notice when walking through Oxford – the many bookshops that line its streets. It is unfortunate that many bookshops elsewhere in the country have simply vanished. However, this serves to remind me that there are still places that cherish physical copies over e-books. After lunch, it has started to snow. This only serves to reinforce the beauty of my surroundings. I was lucky enough to go inside Keble Chapel. The organist is practicing and the music makes the experience more dramatic. The Chapel is an example of High-Church design. It also contains the original Pre-Raphaelite painting, “The Light of the World” by William Homan Hunt. Painted in 1853, this is Hunt’s original. He subsequently painted two more which are currently housed in St Paul’s Cathedral, and Manchester Art Gallery. You can see why snowfall, splendid architecture, organist music, and an artist’s masterpiece may provide an especially memorable experience.

As I have some time to spare, my supervisor takes me to see the Radcliffe Camera. This happens to be the Bodleian History Faculty Library. A spectacular structure built in the 18th century, the Camera should be a must-see for any history student. I walk out and through the Bodleian Library itself. After narrowly avoiding not one but two walking tours, I get to survey its courtyard, and the Bridge of Sighs in the background. With the Weston Library directly in front of me I go to spend the rest of the afternoon viewing the Midland Union records I requested earlier.  

 The Midland Union records turn out to be excellent. They are well written and so it is easy to take notes. However, it would be near impossible to get through each of these records in one sitting. It is nearly six in the evening and so I decide to catch the train back to Birmingham. However, I intend to make several trips to the Bodleian Libraries over the course of my MPhil. I cannot think of a more historically significant place in which to research. If you’ve got a day to spare I strongly recommend you go and see the history on offer. You won’t be disappointed!


 James is studying the impact of the First World War on the politics of Birmingham and the West Midlands between 1918 -1926.


At the Coventry Transport Museum

Another second year, Nick, tells us about his work placement…



For my second year undergraduate work placement I am lucky enough to be volunteering at the superb Coventry Transport museum.  Working with the education department, both formal and informal, I am gaining hugely valuable experience about the demands and pressures on education within the heritage sector.

I am one of several volunteers that give their time to the education department yet, feel like one of their team! Within my short time there every week I have been given huge amounts of responsibility which has kept me very interested for my time at the museum.  Something which you must have to keep yourself interested for 100 hours and the two subsequent assignments.  You’ve got to be interested!


The first project I was given was to create a family trail for the Easter holiday events.  This was a time sensitive job and would need to be executed well. The reception of it would be key.  Given that Coventry does not charge for entry the activities are charged at around £1.50 for a trail.  They are a very important part of the income targets which the museum staff are expected to meet and to keep the museum going for future generations.  There are further constraints of conducting hundreds of people around the museum, as the half-term week if one of the busiest for the museum.  My trail has been designed to take a different route from the one that runs alongside it so more people can be taken around through the days.


I am now embarking on another project with the Brose Learning Officer at the museum to try and explain gear ratios, something rather complex at its foundation to classes of Year 4 children.  A big challenge indeed, but just the sort I like!  I am currently in the planning stage but, keep an eye on my Student Union Twitter for more updates!


Applicant Visit Days…Help!

It’s that time of year when universities across the UK roll out the red carpet and invite applicants to come in, take a look around and generally get a feel for the place they might spend the next three years of their lives. One of our current second year undergrads, Bryannah Collins, gives Applicant Visit Day visitors some pointers on how to get the most out of the day…


As a former attendee of applicant visit days, both at Newman and elsewhere, I know that they may seem to be a bit boring, or if you have attended open days previously, a time- wasting activity. However, my attendance at the applicant visit day was vital in making my decision to attend Newman and it should prove vital to you too.




The key things you should use your applicant visit day for is to identify in depth the course structure and assessment methods. Although quite frankly, you’ll be lucky to find a universe where examination is not part of history degree, you should also look for assignment modes. By this I mean will you just be writing essays, or will you learn transferrable skills through blogging, presentations, posters, touring around a historic place of note or learning through placement in your desired field? This is important, as you’ll do much better if you are assessed in modes you find engaging. Do note though that good essay writing is a key skill in most subjects!


On my applicant visit day, I also wanted to ensure I got the most for my money, in multiple places of interest (a cynical method I know, but an important one too!). This included the range covered by the modules (with Newman’s course providing a variety from ancient Rome to 9/11), as you will then be ensuring that you are gaining as much information in as many areas as possible. I was also looking for quality in the facilities, and in my lecturers. This involved me simply chatting to the lecturers, who took the time to have a 1-1 with us, which made all the difference and highlighted the environment I would study in, as well as simply asking about the facilities such as the historical collection in the library.


Finally, I would advise to use your visit day to get a feel for the University, as you need to know it is a place where you’ll be happy to study and where you will be able to stay focused, because if not, you’re wasting a lot of money. Make sure you look at the way current students are interacting, the atmosphere and whether this is a place you can achieve the balance of not only the student life, but an academic life too.


Bryannah Collins


To everybody attending an applicant visit day, wherever it might be, enjoy it and try to get the most out of it that you can. To find out more about Applicant Visit Days at Newman, then visit our website.

Life at the Coffin Works

Second year student Solomon Lewis tells us about his work placement at Newman Bros. Museum…


When I was applying for placements in the first semester of my second year, I learnt a lot about application processes, how to create the perfect CV and how to stand out from the crowd. My expectations of Newman Brothers at the Coffin Works Museum have not only been matched but they have been exceeded – mainly due to the amount of work and responsibilities I have been given. The team at Newman Brothers really made an effort to make me feel welcome and have kept me busy every week. I am incredibly thankful to all the members of the team who have given up and continue to give up their time for me.

I can now say that I have a greater appreciation and understanding for what goes on behind the scenes at the museum. This is because for most of my time is spent working with different members of staff ranging from preservation, restoring, research and performing cleaning on an exhibit that would be shortly be open to the public, I found that I always had something to do. I began to appreciate the hard work and effort that museum curators put in so that people can enjoy the museum and its displays in all their magnificence. Working with different team members also gave me an insight into the different aspects of the museum and a chance to ask as many questions as possible to a team who are always patient and willing to provide answers.


Given the opportunity and the experience working on the front of house with other Newman Brothers employees, I have experienced a greater insight into how museums are run, and how important visitor relations are. Some of my front of house responsibilities includes taking telephone and internet bookings, welcoming visitors, clocking visitors in and out, offering tourist advice and where else to go locally. I am the first point of contact for our visitors, and as you know first impressions count. I am also looking forward to the opportunities as a volunteer guide, assisting with visitor surveys, helping with workshops and activities for all age groups.

Looking back on my few days spent at the Newman Brothers Museum, I feel I am having a terrific and truly fantastic time. I am experiencing a part of a museum that not many people know about, I have learnt things that few people will have heard of and I am very happy with my choice of placement. I got to learn to be proactive, not to hang back and wait to be asked to do things. Instead, I look for opportunities where I can help out and seize them. I always look for a chance to showcase my skills and add value to Newman Brothers. I am also determined to make a record of what skills I acquire from Newman Brothers. Keeping a detailed log of what I am doing to build up a bank of evidence to upgrade my CV in the future.  I am also making the most of many connections as possible at all levels and will keep in touch once my placement ends. I am planning on continuing volunteering with Newman Brothers Museum once my work placement is done.

Aston Hall: Heritage Interpreter

Second year student Aneeka Shezad tells us about her work placement…


For my work placement, I volunteer as an Aston Hall Heritage Interpreter. My role includes giving visitors a detailed and informative tour of Aston Hall whilst making sure they enjoy their visit. One of the many things that leaves anyone in awe of Aston Hall is one of the rooms inside known as the ‘Long Gallery’, due to its spectacular grandeur and length as it’s 138ft long. But as a result, it’s also one of the coldest rooms too, which is why you can see I’m wrapped up in a huge, warm coat in the photograph.


I guess in a way that’s a downside, that it’s quite cold in Aston Hall but once you get talking and walking, the temperature is long forgotten. And this doesn’t stop anyone from coming, as recently I took around a group of 23 people. It was quite nerve-racking to see so many people as you think to yourself I’ll need to be loud enough, keep their attention but once you begin, you get into the gist of it and the nerves disappear. Surprisingly enough, there are a lot of foreign visitors from all across the world who come to visit Aston hall i.e. from Hungary, Italy, Portugal, America etc. – and luckily enough they do know English so that helps in our case as we do not have any translators.

One thing in particular that sometimes becomes an obstacle is when we have school children visiting, we have to make sure that we do not clash with them so we have to amend the order of the tour, in order to make sure that the visitors are able to fully enjoy Aston Hall without these interruptions so we work around it. For me personally, I enjoy telling the ghost stories to many of the visitors and especially those who haven’t heard them before, it’s interesting to see how their reactions to these ‘presences’ at Aston Hall are.

But all in all, Aston hall is genuinely a lovely place to volunteer, do work placement, visit etc. The rich heritage is practically seeping through the wood panelling and you’re able to see that a lot of effort has been put into this Grade 1 listed building, making sure to preserve it and keep it as it is, as much as possible. I would greatly recommend visiting this place as not a dull moment goes by.

Aneeka Shezad


Life on Research Leave: Keble Photo Tour

Ian Cawood is on Research Leave at Keble College, Oxford this semester. Here, Ian gives us a deeper insight into life at Keble.

The home of the history faculty library (actually it’s in the basement, so I can’t take a photo of that).

The basement is a bit dull, so I found a slightly nicer place to work in the upper reading room.

Sadly, I needed to keep going up and down to the basement to get my books. Luckily, Hawksmoor and Gibbs have provided quite a staircase to distract one from the effort of doing so (though Pevsner thinks it ‘a little heavy in the details’). Is it too late to rethink the staircase in Newman’s library?

Inside the Senior Common Room at Keble. George Butterfield, the architect (who also designed Rugby School) chose the wallpaper. Pevsner calls it ‘a ladies’ paper’. There is bust of John Henry Newman in the SCR dining room, so I feel that he is keeping a watchful eye on me, even here.

The Bodleian history faculty library’s new books shelf. What excellent taste. My compliments to the librarian, if not to the architect.

Nuffield College, one of the newest colleges at Oxford, has an excellent political history library. Sadly, it is 5 floors up in the College tower, which is very chilly on a January morning, but provides me with a lovely view. I could do with a blanket, though…

Keble College Library (also designed by Butterfield) has an excellent collection of Victorian political history (as befits it hosting the Centre for Victorian Political Culture). It took me about 6 hours (and a good lunch in the SCR) but I got through all the books on my desk and had time to order the next day’s books from the Bodleian. I am off to hear the Ford Lecture, given Stefan Collini tomorrow.

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