Posts Tagged ‘Birkbeck’

Sport and Leisure History Seminar

April 28, 2018


One of the perks of being a part-time academic is having to do lots of unpaid work aimed at raising one’s profile within your discipline. However, sometimes this work is more a pleasure than a chore. Such is the case with being a co-convenor on the IHR’s (Institute of Historical Research) Sport and Leisure History seminar series.

Our next seminar is by a postgrad researcher, Amelia Clegg, of Birkbeck College. Friends and perhaps some readers of this blog (the link will take you to a post I wrote about Birkbeck many moons ago) will know that Birkbeck is a place very close to my heart. So it’s a great pleasure to host Amelia for her first paper at the IHR whose abstract concerning the British Army and the South African War is included below.

My own thesis touched on South Africa in several places but one source I wasn’t able to include in any substantial way was the surprisingly enjoyable read by the official historians of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.* An illustration of its less than sensationalist style can be ascertained from the following quote …

Captain Dibley was almost on the top of the hill when hit. He had a dim recollection of the gallant Adjutant of the Royal Irish Fusiliers racing up almost alongside him at a distance of a few paces only. He snapped his revolver at him, but only to fall senseless next moment with a bullet through the head. Marvellous though it seems he made a comparatively speedy recovery, and he was able to ride into Ladysmith, at the head of his company, in the following February, having been in hospital in the besieged town in the interval. Evidence of the temporary nature of the discomfort caused by a bullet in the head is afforded by the fact that he is today one of the most best bridge-players in the regiment.

So that’s all good.

Amelia Clegg will be speaking in the Past and Present room at the IHR at 5.30pm on Monday 30th April. 


‘This paper concerns itself with the divergent character of masculinities, manliness and manhood through examining the British soldier in the South African War, and the extent to which gender affected soldiering during a colonial conflict. I investigate the competing and changing nature of masculinities, manliness and manhood, and analyse the impact of gender on the identity and leadership of the British battalion officer of the Coldstream Guards. I argue that the leadership styles of the regimental officers were shaped by their personal histories, circumstances and professional experiences that likewise resulted in a gendered performance of command.

I assess the extent to which the change in the nature of the conflict, from set-piece battles at the start of the war in October 1899, to guerrilla warfare from September 1900 onwards, contributed to the divergence of masculinities of two case studies, Major Arthur Henniker and Major Harry Shute, and how the shift in the war impacted their leadership styles. Following the disbandment of the battalions into separate companies with the officers having to deal with small bands of Boer guerrillas, a greater deal of individualism and initiative was demanded of Henniker and Shute.

I additionally consider Boer masculinities, and the Boer commando as institution in comparison to the British Army in order to illustrate how the personal attitudes of both sides were shaped. This comparative approach demonstrates how personal attitudes changed and adapted over the course of the war as the two sides came into closer contact with one another. I closely analyse the variants of gender within these two opposing sides not only through my discussion of the differences.’

* Romer, Sir C. F. and Mainwaring, A. E., The Second Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the South African War, with a Description of the Operations in the Aden Hinterland (London, 1908)

#History #London

A paean to Birkbeck College

April 12, 2015

This week saw a celebratory lunch with two friends who I first met on my MA course at Birkbeck some ten years ago. Out of a dozen or so people on that course (London Studies, sadly now defunct) three of us came away with doctorates. I wouldn’t know the hit rate for people turning MA dissertation subjects into successful theses (and I’m not going to spend Sunday morning finding out) but I suspect it’s fairly low.*

So what does this mean? Obviously we were

1) Good at that shit

2) Worked hard, and

3) Had the fortune to find

i)  subjects we cared about

ii) supervisors who helped us to see the process through to the end.**

This has been done before but unoriginality never stopped me banging about something in the past (sorry Denize), so here are some thoughts on what to consider when you’re considering embarking on a PhD if you’re an old dudette or dude, like me.*** I may come back to thinking about what to consider while you’re doing The Thing ( as I referred to it until I’d finished) when I feel the urge to pontificate.

The Subject

Think very carefully about how interested you are in your subject. You have to live with this thing in your head not just for the duration of your PhD (2 years minimum, mine was 6 years) but most likely for a year or two afterwards as you try and turn it into a published piece of work. That could be 8 years of thinking about, researching and writing about the same thing ALL OF THE TIME. So if you have any doubt about whether you want to write on your subject don’t even begin.

You will also have to talk about your thesis to people who are only asking you about it out of politeness A LOT. This person may be a friend, family, your partner, your kids, colleagues or complete strangers (yeah, sorry to that woman on the plane to South Africa). If you can’t explain what the idea of your thesis is in a couple of sentences you have no coherent thesis and you have no right to bore someone else at a party talking about it. A thesis is around 70k words but it is, more importantly, an idea. Or a series of ideas (if you’re really brainy).

If you have no idea, or argument, that can be simply explained to the average civilian don’t start your PhD until you’ve found one.****

The Supervisor

I didn’t exactly choose my supervisor. I was writing about South African cricket and Hilary was the southern Africanist in our department at Birkbeck. I was lucky that we got on. This doesn’t always happen but I think it was crucial to my completing the thesis. Having a distant, unsympathetic or (and it happens) hostile supervisor will ruin your writing, and potentially ruin your life for a while.

Your supervisor may be someone you don’t meet that often but for a while they will be parent, boss and friend (or none of these if your relationship is disfunctional). They cannot make you complete – only you can do that – but they can certainly prevent you from completing.

Think hard and choose wisely. The illustration below is of a busted horsehair sofa. You will feel like that A LOT during the course of you PhD.

So I should round off as I began by praising Birkbeck again. While I may think that I’m great (though I suspect that I’m not) I know for certain that Birkbeck College is one of the most remarkable institutions in London.

If you’re thinking of studying there do that thing.

* Actually, I did try and find out but could find no definitive answer. Slate reckons around 49% of humanities PhD students complete their thesis; assuming (generously) that around 25% of MA students begin trying to turn their dissertation into a thesis that would produce a 12.5% hit rate.

** thank you Hilary, you are a saint.

*** I started my MA when I was 30 and finished my PhD when I was 40. My children were 6 & 8 when I started, they’re now both nearly grown up. I worked in two jobs throughout the process and co-managed a football team for two of those years.

**** Preferably original.

A busted horsehair sofa

A busted horsehair sofa

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