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.