The Chiffchaff Problem

Should historians accept the existence of chiffchaffs – a warbling bird common in Europe and Asia – for the period before 1789?   These birds had not been distinguished by observers from similar species until Gilbert White recorded differences in their singing in Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne(1789). But surely there are obvious reasons why […]

Read more "The Chiffchaff Problem"

Deal or No Deal

Tomorrow’s Higher Education Committee meeting of the UCU will decide whether or not to put the offer tabled by UUK to a ballot of union members. At our branch meeting in Bristol, I was among a large majority in favour of this ballot. There are, I now realise, good reasons why the proposal should not […]

Read more "Deal or No Deal"

Solidarity is a Feeling

  There is something rotten in the university. We feel it, and we know it from simple statistics. It is the statistics on the gender pay gap. It is the collapse in numbers of mature students in higher education.  It is student mental health and suicide rates. It is staff being told year after year […]

Read more "Solidarity is a Feeling"

Who are UUK anyway?

The USS pension deficit is not the problem. The occult workings of UUK are the problem. Universities UK (UUK) exists in a realm that floats high above the firmament of the University. Even the most proactive staff and students, those who labour to understand the workings of the deans, pro-vice-chancellors, beadles, and archangels of their […]

Read more "Who are UUK anyway?"

The Turn

Historical arguments are structured like stories. This is true even for complex historiographical interventions. If you look at an academic piece that you consider historiographically innovative or important, you will find that these are often built with the structural blocks that creative writers use in plotting. For instance, creative writers often talk of the importance […]

Read more "The Turn"

Why the Truth Is an Insufficient Ideal

The Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins is very upset that the latest Hollywood take on Winston Churchill has him chatting to Londoners on the Tube. This is frustrating, Jenkins suggests, because it is an unnecessary falsification of the past. Jenkins is not a complete purist: he recognises the value of clearly fictionalised historical fictions, preferring television […]

Read more "Why the Truth Is an Insufficient Ideal"

Keep Your Reader Hungry

What suspense can there be in historical writing, given that the past is already settled? Plenty. History is never settled, which is why societies will always need historians. Even when the reader knows what the eventual outcome of events will be, historians inject suspense by pursuing their preferred questions: how and why. This is one […]

Read more "Keep Your Reader Hungry"