What’s the best thing about being a lecturer in history?
History is a fascinating topic, which allows you to see humanity from a different perspective. It is not only about understanding the past, but also about learning how to ask the right questions and engage with ideas, events, people. No matter what our students do after their degrees, having studied history will make them better free-thinkers.
What advice would you give a student starting out at university for the first time?
Read. History books, fiction, magazines, articles – anything you can get your hands on. And whatever you read, try to see how the world around you relates to what we’re discussing in class. By seeing how your degree relates to you and the world around you, you’ll be able to get so much out of it.
What made you want to get involved in teaching in higher education?
I enjoyed researching for my doctorate, but teaching gave me a real thrill. Preparing lectures takes a long time because you need to read up on the latest material, thereby expanding your own knowledge, which is always fun. There are few professions where you are constantly learning in such a way. Sharing that with students is then an amazing feeling. You share your knowledge but also the students generally give so much back – as a teacher in higher education you are not just stating facts, but starting a conversation. That is truly exciting.
What are your biggest successes?
When students tell me I have helped them see things differently. My book. My son. Seeing my third-year students graduate with their parents and family and friends standing proudly beside them. Seeing my students get firsts or upper 2:1s on their dissertations. Getting a seminar class buzzing over an issue. I once had a class heatedly debating the novel The Silence of the Sea, which is about passive resistance – the class time ran over more than twenty minutes.
What is the best part of your job?
Freedom – to think, to talk, to ask questions. Making a difference in young people’s lives as they embark on this new phase.
How does your research inform your teaching (and vice versa)?
I’m a historian of France and the Second World War, and I teach a lot in the area of 20th-century history. I give lectures on this topic and introduce students to sources that have been key to my research. But teaching also gets you thinking about your research. At the moment I’m starting a new project on post-war objects. I am also teaching on the commemoration of the First World War. Turns out, my post-1945 objects are very much linked to the Great War, and students’ engagement in that class gets me thinking about new ways to approach these objects.
What do you love about working at the University of Westminster?
The students are really diverse, fun, smart and spontaneous. They are eager to learn and have huge potential. The location is perfect and my colleagues are great. It perfectly reflects the diversity and vibrancy of London.