History at Newman

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.




Research Update: Remembering the Reformation

Chris Langley gives us an update on some of his research plans for the summer. 

In April 2007, John Bon Jovi released one of his less-than-stellar singles entitled ‘You want to make a memory’. To cut a long story short, while performing adequately in the US singles’ chart, it was never going to reach the lofty heights of his earlier, one-haircut-for-twenty-years, approach to feel-good anthems. The thing is, and I don’t say this often, I don’t think Bon Jovi got the full picture. Memories aren’t just made: they’re developed, remade, recycled and viewed from different angles by different stakeholders. Mr Bon Jovi, to quote an earlier, more triumphant record of his, was only half way there.

This summer, among other things, I’m pushing on with a project about how contemporaries remembered the religious Reformation of the sixteenth and early seventeenth century. While this will eventually take the form of an article, I think there’s something bigger in it.

Historians have spent a lot of time trying to establish how early-Modern Protestants answered the perennial, and annoying, question posed to them by their Catholic adversaries: ‘where was your religion before Luther?’ Or, to quote Bruce Gordon (not quite John Bon Jovi) ‘where had their Church been for a thousand years?’ Much of the writing on this has revealed how Protestant reformers were particularly adept at searching through archives, dredging up old nationalistic myths and looking for exemplars of their type of piety. Sola fide and based on scripture, naturally. The thing is, once you get into the seventeenth century, we know remarkably little about what contemporaries thought about their immediate predecessors. From a Scottish context, this is particularly frustrating: in the one corner we have figures like John Knox and in the other we have the Covenanters. Never the twain shall meet.

A copy of the National Covenant, 1638
After 1638, Covenanter leaders moved quickly to write histories of the Scottish Church that legitimised their actions in protesting against the Crown. In this process, Covenanters struggled to agree over the true significance of their actions. Were events of their own time a second reformation, a restoration of the glories of the first or a rescue of the Scottish Church from the tyrannies of an episcopal settlement? More radical thinkers like Archibald Johnston of Wariston positioned themselves as potential martyrs for a new cause, while others struggled to evaluate the role of the Stuart family in the process of reform. By the middle of the 1640s a loose unity emerged: one that identified the mid-seventeenth century as part of a process of renewal whereby protest was legitimised by the courageous actions of early reformers like Knox.

This loose historiographical coherence shattered in the 1650s. Faced with the threat of schism and uncertain over how to proceed with Charles II, Scottish preachers diverged on their understanding of the historical significance of the sixteenth century. While all sides agreed that the sixteenth century was of great importance, they diverged on the extent to which the human element of the Church could err and, therefore, the legality of further protest. They could not agree on the extent to which ministers could dissent in a truly reformed Church. The examples of reformers in the past became a point of contention. In response, theologians like James Wood at St Andrews University distinguished between ‘protest against, or dissent from some particular acts and constitutions of a general Assembly’ on the one hand and cases when ‘a generall Assembly it self is protested against, and declined as unlawfull and having no authority at all’. Wood concluded that the latter – and the schism that would inevitably result – was something that ‘godly orthodox Christians in all ages of the Kirk detested and abhorred’. This was a battle royale for the memory of the Reformation. Or, as one pamphlet from 1652 put it, a search for Reformation in the ‘literall and genuine sense and meaning thereof’. What that meant in practice had become increasingly contested.

“A Vindication of the Freedom & Lawfulnes of the Late Generall Assembly” (London, 1652)
This sort of thing gives us food for thought. As the recent events across the globe have shown us, one’s initial thought on a subject can rapidly change. Shifts in the political landscape can have profound changes on how one reflects on previous acts. Memories and reflections are context-specific constructions: we should beware of thinking that such things, even in the past, were rigid and unchanging.

Research Update: Religion & the War on Poverty

Emma Folwell gives us an update on her research so far and what she plans to do over the summer. Vacation? What vacation?!

This year I’ve been exploring the relationship between religion and the War on Poverty. Building on my work on the white resistance to the War on Poverty in Mississippi, I’ve been looking to understand the Catholic Church’s response to the arrival of federal anti-poverty funds in the state. The Catholic Church in Mississippi was (and still is) a small minority of the state’s heavily church-going population, and in the early 1960s black Catholics were a minority within this minority. But I’ve found that many black Catholics and some white Catholics were active in civil rights struggles and even more involved in the state’s War on Poverty. The Church and a number of individual activists played a significant role in shaping one of the biggest anti-poverty programs in the state, a job training and adult education program called Strategic Training and Redevelopment.

In April, I attended the annual conference of the British Association for American Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University in order to share my research. It was a great conference in a beautiful location, made even better by the glorious sunshine. Unfortunately the end of semester delayed my arrival, but I was able to hear Prof. Marjorie Spruill give an incredible keynote address about her work on women’s rights in the 1970s. I was also able to hear some fascinating papers from colleagues on the latest research into civil rights activism – from the airport desegregation campaigns of the early 1960s to police brutality and sexual violence against African American women.

 Looking forward, this summer I’ll be working on final edits to my monograph, Fighting the War on Poverty and preparing for some very exciting conferences I’ll be attending in Dallas in November and Washington DC in January. More details to follow!

For more on Emma Folwell ‘s work, check out her profile page on the Newman website.

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