Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.
Tomorrow morning my third years have their exam for my module Sex and Sexualities in the Modern British World, 1880-1980s. It’s their last exam — the end of a hectic few weeks of revision and finals and of the three or four years they’ve spent doing studying history. For me it’s an exciting chance to read their ideas and to take stock on the academic year.
The students have been fantastic. As individuals and a group they’ve been engaged, passionate, argumentative, and full of ideas about the issues we’ve discussed. From the politics of the past to the difficulties of writing histories of sexual behaviour, and from ideals and experiences of ‘modern love’ to the most sensational of scandals, they’ve consistently surprised me with their insights and imagination. This has been the first time I’ve taught the history of sexuality for a few years. Coming back to the field has meant catching up with the reading I’ve missed. It’s also meant I’ve learned a hell of a lot. Thanks to my students I now think very differently about issues I thought I understood. From my perspective, we have worked, thought, and learned about history together over the past few months in ways that have been challenging and exciting.
If I ever stop being energized and inspired by my students — if I ever lose sight of the important ways in which the study of the past at university is a collaborative project — then I should probably just give up.
This isn’t much, but I wanted to say thank you — to my Sex and Sexualities group, to those I’ve had the privilege to work with on their dissertation research, and everyone else I’ve had chance to learn from over the past year. I owe you all.