Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.
Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? In October I’ll have been in Oxford for four years. This means it’s time to justify my existence and produce reports on my activities (typically in slightly different formats) for both the college and the Faculty. Trawling through old emails and the back of my mind to come up with something has been time-consuming and difficult. At least it looks like I’ve been busy though.
Reading back these reports now, there are two things that I’m particularly proud of:
Together with my colleagues Richard Hornsey (UEW) and Elizabeth Darling (Oxford Brookes) I established the 20s30sNetwork in June 2011. Bringing together a group of twelve scholars from across the humanities, this is an interdisciplinary research network dedicated to the exploration of interwar British modernities. Supported by small research grants from our respective institutions, we have held two one-day workshops: ‘Rethinking the interwar: the social, the cultural and the self in 1920s and 1930s Britain’ (June 2011) and ‘Interwar associations’ (February 2012). A third workshop on ‘Trust and authenticity in interwar Britain’ will take place in the autumn.
On the basis of these opening conversations we are now moving to put together applications for funding from the European Research Council, British Academy and AHRC. The forthcoming workshop on ‘Trust and authenticity’ will form the basis on which to develop a joint publication.
Given that so much of academia is competitive and closed and confrontational, the 20s30sNetwork has been a breath of fresh air—a challenging yet supportive intellectual space in which to explore and develop new ideas with a group of smart and lovely people.
Faculty of History Undergraduate teaching
In the four years since I arrived in Oxford I have introduced two new undergraduate modules. The level 3 special subject The Sex Age: Gender, Sexuality and Culture in 1920s Britain has developed out of my own research interests in histories of gender and sexuality and in the interwar period. More recently, the level 2 further subject Britain at the Movies: Film and National Identity since 1914 (developed and taught with Matthew Grimley) reflects my growing interest in film, photography and social problems in mid-century Britain. Teaching evaluation questionnaires and informal feedback suggest each of these modules has been extremely popular with students: The Sex Age has been massively oversubscribed each year it has run.
Both of these modules seek to break new ground in terms of content, teaching and learning strategies and modes of assessment. Each module has an interactive website—used both to circulate information and reading lists and (through discussion forum and wikis) to allow students to work together in sharing their knowledge of e.g. primary sources and historiographical texts. You can find out more about these modules at:
Britain at the Movies is the first level 2 Further Subject in the History Faculty to move away from the traditional form of assessment by three-hour examination at the end of the final year. Instead students are asked to submit an extended essay (6000 words) at the end of Hilary in their second year—the term in which they take the module. Although the module has run for the first time this year, our initial impression is that the students have really taken advantage of this opportunity and (for the most part) produced impressive, intelligent and reflective work.
There were moments when watching three films a week last term (when Britain at the Movies ran for the first time) turned into a real grind. But the chance to work with a group of motivated and enthusiastic students and colleagues on a module that is such a departure from the Oxford norm gives me a huge amount of satisfaction.
Thank you to everyone who made these two very different things so rewarding.