Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Why history matters

This is a blog post I wrote for the history department at the University of Northampton, please click the link below to see more blog entries from some amazing students!


I have been asked so many times, ‘what is the point in studying history?’ and ‘what good is a history degree?’ So, I thought I would write a blog about it!

                                            What drives your desire to study? Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

I have always been fascinated with the history of medicine and have recently been listening to an American podcast called This Podcast Will Kill You
 It is hosted by two epidemiologists who discuss viruses and explore the biology of viruses, the history of the disease and the impact it has today. It was whilst listening that I thought, why are the sciences and humanities often put in opposing corners when this extremely successful podcast looks at the history of medicine as well as the science. They explain why it is important to understand the history of disease as often this explains people’s attitudes today. So, what better way to outline why history matters than with a 5-point list!!

1) We can learn from past experiences.

History allows us to explore the past, this could be in terms of politics, culture, gender, economics, religion etc. We are already (hopefully) learning from the mistakes made during the Covid-19 pandemic. This can extend further to see how people in the past responded to pandemics, what worked for them and what didn’t? We can see what happened when far right or far left groups entered politics and gained power. What were the warning signs, and can we spot them today to prevent any future harm?


2) To become good citizens.

A lot of citizen tests refer to the history of the country, this is partly to ensure that people have an understanding of why things are a certain way. Studying history means you can explore why people have fought and continue to fight in some countries for the vote and human rights. Homosexuality is still illegal in many countries and here in Britain the LGBTQ+ community can still receive hatred and hostility. Perhaps a better understanding of their struggle could create more empathy amongst the ignorant. Studying history enables us to think critically about information we receive and understand the origins, for example, why did we join the EU? Do those in power who argue against this understand the implications that could have?

        With great power comes great responsibility. Use your knowledge for good! Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

3) To become better humans.

Studying history isn’t just about kings and queens (unless that’s what you’re interested in). History can be family history, learning about your ancestors or even your local community. This isn’t always positive but that isn’t a bad thing, it’s good to feel angry or disappointed about people’s past decisions. By feeling angry that means there has been a change and we can continue to change hopefully for the better. We can see how far humanity has come and explore where we could potentially go.


4) History directly impacts today.

History is often referred to as a ‘dead’ subject but decisions from the past can still be felt today. The media often claim that we should return to having the death penalty, but I feel that if people understood why the death penalty was abolished and what an execution actually looked like, then they wouldn’t be so quick to throw that idea around. The NHS has been in crisis for a long time, but do we understand why the welfare state was created and what we would lose if we no longer had it. We are so fortunate in this country to get free medical care but in countries such as America, there are those who can’t afford cancer treatment and who get into extreme debt because they can’t afford health insurance to cover their HIV medication.


5) History is fun!!!

So, after all that doom and gloom I thought I would end on a positive note. History is so much fun and isn’t just about remembering key dates. The areas to explore today are endless, history covers witchcraft and folklore, sexuality, sports and leisure, crime, the media, medicine and so on. I regularly feel like a curious child asking BUT WHY! The next time someone says, ‘can you get a job studying history’, the answer should be a big fat yes. You can get a job studying history, it provides opportunities to develop many transferable skills such as being analytical, being creative, being able to construct an argument and being able to communicate in a variety of different ways. But, job opportunities aside, it is a fascinating subject! I have really enjoyed the virtual talks from museums since Covid-19, but I can’t wait to be able to visit them again and absorb the history, when it is safe to do so.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

A Curious History of Sex by Kate Lister (review)

This is a blog post I wrote for the history department at the University of Northampton, please click the link below to see more blog entries from some amazing students!


                                        Hang on, cheeky, that's just two lemons...Photo by Dainis Graveris on Pexels

SPOILER ALERT! I loved this book!

I wanted to read A Curious History of Sex for so long and I was not disappointed when I decided to treat myself. It was so well written, I was constantly sending pictures of paragraphs to my family saying, ‘you need to read this book!’ A word of caution however, I would not advise reading this around young children. Titles such as ‘A History of C**t’ or ‘Sex and Bread’ could lead to some awkward conversations. Kate Lister’s writing is so down to earth that it makes it accessible to general readers, whilst academics can enjoy it as she has fully referenced. Lister is witty throughout the book which kept me fully engaged. Descriptions such as, ‘In possibly the most champion act of mansplaining in the whole of human history, two Renaissance anatomists proudly claimed to have ‘discovered’ the clitoris in 1559. (Cue slow- clapping)’ had me laughing out loud and cheering along.

A constant feature throughout was the changing terminology used for describing genitalia. Lister provided a whole new set of words and phrases along with the date they were being used. I thought I was fairly up to date with my slang, but I will now be using ‘flapdoodle’ and ‘pudding bag’ much more regularly. Lister explained how language and meanings changed over time. I now feel completely justified in my continual use of the word c**t as vagina is much more offensive (it is a sheaf for a sword/penis).

The images used throughout are divine. If you follow Lister’s other Twitter account ‘Whores of Yore’ then you will be familiar with her historical sexual images. I think they are great as often they would be images deemed pornographic or shameful, but Lister encourages the reader to embrace them whilst contextualising them. Some of my favourites were the Victorian ladies who were naked cycling. Who knew bikes were such a controversial object.

One aspect that I think should be acknowledged and praised is that the book examines sexuality on a global scale. The focus was not white, European centred but explored sex in Asia, Africa and racial prejudices. Images from India of devils having sex were bright and beautifully designed whilst practical images from Japan about menstruation were fascinating.

Overall, I think this book is a must read whether you want an introduction text to the history of sex or an interesting read during lockdown. It wasn’t a complete history of sex, but Lister never claimed it was. If you are interested in the history of sex, medicine, gender, language or culture then I think this is definitely something you should have look at. I will be buying everyone a copy for Christmas!

Mary Wollstonecraft statue

This is a blog post I wrote for the history department at the University of Northampton, please click the link below to see more blog entries from some amazing students!


                                                    A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft in Newington Green, London. 

After taking part in my Citizenship and Gender class on feminism, my lecturer informed us that a statue of Mary Wollstonecraft had been unveiled and he would like to hear our opinions on it. The summer had seen a lot of publicity surrounding statues with the Black Lives Matter movement and so I was excited to see what this new feminist statue would look like. I was so disappointed when I saw images of the statue and read some of the comments from the artist. Wollstonecraft promoted equal education for boys and girls, she was an author and had so many achievements and yet, I don’t feel this statue represents any of this.

In case you haven’t see it, the statue is a small, silver naked woman on top of what appears to be a giant mass. The statue is not of Mary Wollstonecraft but is supposed to represent ‘everywoman’. The artists comments explained how the ‘everywoman’ statue conveyed the body that most women aspire to have. I find this message extremely problematic for multiple reasons. How can there be an ‘every’ woman? Where is the ‘every’ man? The statue doesn’t look like me, my mum, my sister or my neighbour, in fact I can’t think of anyone resembling it. It doesn’t look like amputees or women with physical disabilities. The statue doesn’t represent women of colour. The statue doesn’t represent trans women. The statue doesn’t represent plus size women. The statue doesn’t represent all ages. The list of things this statue does not represent is extensive and yet it is supposed to represent ‘everywoman’.

As a woman who advocates body acceptance this statue is problematic. It is an exclusive icon and doesn’t embody the different shapes and sizes that women come in. In a society that is trying to teach the younger generations not to body shame but instead think about their personal attributes, I feel this statue is almost outdated. Mary Wollstonecraft wanted better education opportunities for girls but how does this statue convey that?

Why must society continue to sexualise woman? As a feminist and reformist, none of her achievements involved nudity and yet, a commemorative statue celebrating her work is of a naked woman. Why is it that statues of male reformists and radicals will be of them, no doubt fully clothed?  The message I receive from this statue is that the best way to get the publics attention is to have a naked woman involved. This statue doesn’t acknowledge the intellectual achievements of Wollstonecraft but instead shows a naked, imaginary woman.

I’m so disappointed by the execution of this statue as I think it had to the potential to be so much more powerful and positive than it actually was. Hopefully the next feminist statue will be fully clothed and will focus on their impact in history.

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie, c. 1797

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Black Lives Matter

This is a blog post I wrote for the history department at the University of Northampton, please click the link below to see more blog entries from some amazing students!


I wanted to write about my thoughts and feelings on the Black Lives Matter protests as I feel it is a really important thing to recognize and acknowledge.

I completely agree with the protests and understand whole heartedly why they are happening. The accumulation of a global pandemic and black people continuously being treated unfairly has resulted in widespread public outrage. The unlawful killing of George Floyd was the event to tip things over the edge.

By studying riots and rebellion at university I discovered that public protests have been a legitimate way for the public to express their dismay. It is all well and good that individuals can petition parliament and write on social media, but it is only public disruption that really gets the government’s attention.

Once the economy is affected by looting and destruction, that is when people are suddenly outraged. I still don't understand why so many people are so intolerant and angry about the destruction of shops, but not by the murder of people. The police brutality has been video recorded for the world to see time and time again, so it isn't as though people are reading about these events or overhearing about them, but not seeing them.

I live in a village and the people in this community seemed lovely and really friendly, however, since the protests I have seen really ugly language used by people I live around. I am mixed race but very light skinned and often people don’t realise that I have black origins and so I hear a lot of the racial comments they make.

As for racism, I have experienced this from people who would not consider themselves racist. I was told at school to straighten my hair for interviews, so I look more professional.

My paternal grandmother was Italian and my paternal grandfather was from the West Indies, my maternal grandparents were both Scottish. I have had multiple partners say to me not to tell their friends or family that I am mixed race or to say I am Italian. I have had people look at me in shock when I tell them where my grandparents were from and say, ‘but you are so well spoken’. 

I have had people think I am adopted because my brother looks white and my mum is white, whereas I have olive skin. I was labelled ‘quarter cast’ throughout school because my dad was ‘half cast’.  I have had assumptions made about me time and time again.

As I have olive skin, I have been present when people have spoken in negative ways about black people not realising that is my heritage. I don’t consider myself part of a ‘black’ community and don’t think of myself as of colour until people make comments. I will always remember the story my dad told me of when my grandad came to Britain.

There were signs up in cafes and shops saying, ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’. He went into a cafĂ© that said, ‘blacks welcome’, he was then told to leave because he was ‘too dark’. I think there is a wider problem in society not only that black people are treated unfairly but also that some black and other ethnic minorities are treated more unfairly than others. I have seen people have prejudice towards African people but then say, ‘oh I’m not racist because I have a friend who is black’.

I feel deeply anxious and overwhelmed at the state of Britain and the world at the minute. I think the government is encouraging racial disturbances by not acknowledging and supporting the protests that are occurring.

Yes, there is a pandemic at the moment but if you were to listen to the government then we are doing exceptionally well at managing this. The media applauded the crowds of people out on the street for VE day. They were mildly disappointed by the huge gatherings on the beaches and I feel that the reporting of the protests has been completely misleading.

I fail to understand how someone cannot get the concept that ‘Black Lives Matter’. Why retort with ‘All Lives Matter’, nobody has said that all lives do not matter. It is the same as saying everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.

This issue does not just apply to black people but other minority groups. I have heard people saying there should be equal rights for men the moment you mention equality for women. As soon as equality for women is mentioned then people start labelling them ‘angry feminists’ as though it is a negative thing. The same thing applies for the LGBTQ+ community, if there is gay pride there should be straight pride.

I hate how divided our society is and I honestly think Brexit has just fuelled this expanding gap. Our current government seems to want to divide people rather than unite, but then they are surprised that they get an uprising.

Lockdown and studying online

This is a blog post I wrote for the history department at the University of Northampton, please click the link below to see more blog entries from some amazing students!


We have all been impacted by Covid-19 for months now and I just wanted to give people a bit of an insight about my experience of how the history department at the University of Northampton has addressed this.


Seeing Covid-19 moving across Europe was quite a scary experience. Never before have I and many others lived during a pandemic. Not only did I have mine and my family’s health to worry about but there was the uncertainty of what will happen with schools, universities and work. 

Thankfully, the history department shouldered part of that burden. We moved to online learning instantly! It was a lot to adapt to but a lot of the infrastructure for integrated learning was already in place. 

We were kept updated about what would be happening and what options were being explored regarding assessments. We were given three separate dates to sit exams and submit work to relieve some of the pressure. For example, we could sit exams on the original dates in May or the future dates in July and August with no detriment to our grades. The exams were also going to be online, with an extra hour and open book. Personally, this was a massive weight off my mind. I have two children and so having the flexibility to sit exams at different dates was a huge help.


The history department held regular virtual drop in sessions where we could all speak about our concerns with the course, life in lockdown and the future. They have been so supportive and have said they will continue to hold virtual drop in sessions over the summer, even though we wouldn’t be at university then. Staff also held virtual exam revision sessions. 

This wasn’t easy for students or staff as normally we would have face to face interaction. It was a huge help though knowing that the staff were also trying to adjust to online learning and all that entailed.


Access to resources was another concern for a lot of us. No one could go and get library books due to the lockdown, so the lecturers put this forward to the library staff to try and digitise more books. In the grand scheme, not having library books was not a massive priority but for us university students it was a real concern. We were given information about different organisations that were giving free access to their materials which I definitely utilised!


On a lighter note, the history society and staff organised a virtual quiz that students could attend, and the staff had question rounds. Some staff were not as kind with their questions…I’ll mention no names! This was a really fun evening where we got to see students from other year groups and have a bit of a giggle. Some students were more competitive than others and I look forward to many more virtual history quizzes in the future.


It has been really reassuring for me seeing how the history department has handled the move to online learning. It definitely gives me peace of mind that should we have to have integrated learning in the future, the department will be able to handle it with ease.

Being a mature student

This is a blog post I wrote for the history department at the University of Northampton, please click the link below to see more blog entries from some amazing students!


I have been reflecting about my university experience a lot recently as I am entering my final year as an undergraduate history student at the University of Northampton. I have seen a lot of blogs and helpful guides about going to University as a college leaver and moving away from home, but very little about mature students…So here I am!

When I enrolled at the university I was 28 with two boys aged almost 2 and 6 (I had to just ask my son how old he is!) I had been battling my anxiety and depression for years, but it peaked after my second son was born. I had spent almost a year trying to get my self stable because my desire to study and improve my life was being hindered by my anxiety. 

It was a tough journey, but I made it. I was absolutely petrified that first day, but I thought, ‘take it one step at a time, what’s the worst that could happen...’ I never would have imagined that I would now be close to graduating and have met so many amazing people.


If you are like me you may have many worries about being a mature student, especially on a more academic course like history. Vocational courses tend to have more mature students who have experience working within their chosen field. 

I imagined history to be all young people that I wouldn’t be able to connect with. I’m not going to sit here and lie and say, ‘the classes were so diverse’. 

Of course, most of the students were under 21 but something I did start to realise was that age is irrelevant. There were young people who had really meaningful and insightful contributions to give to class discussions. There were mature students who were more reserved and quieter. What mattered most were people’s personalities! Most of the people I sit with are all young, but I have never felt my age to be of any significance.


Another area that I was really concerned about was how tolerant would staff be of my situation. 

I didn’t want to fall behind but at the same time I didn’t know how much flexibility there would be if my children were sick or my car broke down. I was worried that I could pay all this money and then have to withdraw if I couldn’t get the right balance. I hadn’t studied for almost 10 years and my conversations revolved around Peppa Pig and bedtime routines. I had no idea if my brain could even work in the adult world anymore! 

My mind was very quickly put at rest. Everyone has other responsibilities outside of studying whether that is a job, sports or caring for a relative. 

But what I found amazing was how supportive the staff and students were. As a year group we have been really close. We send notes and update people if they can’t make a class as well as sharing reading if it is overwhelming. We each have a PAT (Personal Academic Tutor) but you are encouraged to approach another member of staff if you have a better relationship with them. Lecturers always put their drop-in hours up on announcements so you can always go visit them to discuss a concern or for a chat.


The one piece of advice I would give everyone, not just mature students is to try not to be afraid. I have found everyone within the history department extremely supportive, understanding and approachable. If you have a problem, then talk to someone before it gets out of hand. They all want you to succeed and will go above and beyond to give you help if that is what you want, but you need to be open.

 I hope this blog has reassured some of you who might be thinking, ‘how can I relate Mr Tumble to the 18th century?’

Advice for people starting university

This is a blog post I wrote for the history department at the University of Northampton, please click the link below to see more blog entries from some amazing students!


                                                                    You can do it! Image from Unsplash

Try not to stress out

As a mature student I didn’t have the nerves of waiting for A level results to see if I had got into the university of my choice. I knew months before that I had an unconditional offer from Northampton, but in some ways that was worse! This meant I had much longer to worry and stress about what university would look like for me. If I could tell my past self one thing it would be to try not to worry (I know, easier said than done), but everyone is in the same boat. Whether you are a school leaver or mature student, you will likely be going in knowing no one and that’s ok! I did not meet one person who was rude or didn’t want to speak to me or made me feel uncomfortable. Everyone wants to make friends and you are no different.

Try new things    

There is a long list of things I would like to go back and tell myself. However, another university related word of wisdom I would give is to try and experiment with your writing style and explore subjects you haven’t looked at before. Your first year doesn’t count so use this time to make mistakes and try new things. All of the lecturers offer to meet up and give you more feedback on your assessments, definitely use this! Don’t be too hard on yourself if you aren’t acing every essay, if you could do it all perfectly then you wouldn’t need to go to university.

Enjoy yourself    

Finally, try and enjoy yourself. For a lot of people, it will be their first time in a new city and living away from their parents. Don’t compare yourself to other people, we are all on our own journey and you will find your way. Your experience will likely be slightly different from mine due to Covid but I would recommend using all the support available if you need it. One thing I really like about Northampton university is that the classes aren’t held in the old-style lecture theatres. This means that you get to know the lecturers and they get to know you. You aren’t alone, the history department are (mostly) really friendly and willing to help, all you need to do is ask!