Last week UCL History welcomed twenty-nine students from schools across England to our residential summer school. Collaborating with some of our finest historians, they worked on research projects drawn from one of our first year modules, ‘Making History’. We tackled some of the big questions that historians are faced with, whatever their area of expertise. What counts a source? How do we make sense of people and times that seem so similar in some respects and so different – even weirdly different – in others? And who decides what gets told and retold as history?
I had the good fortune to work alongside Akif, Alicja, Chantelle, Adam, Ariane, Jess and Imogen as we grappled with the significance of UCL’s notorious mascot, the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham, which holds court in our south cloisters. (Among the gems thrown up by the group’s labour was the fact that Bentham’s arms are fully articulated. Imagine the possibilities.) Other groups investigated connections between Bloomsbury and slavery; studied the long and contested history of the British Museum’s Parthenon marbles; and used the Foundling Museum’s remarkable collection of foundling tokens to study eighteenth-century London’s poor.
Over the course of the week the students heard from Nick Draper and Rachel Lang, on the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project; from Margot Finn, on using local material culture to investigate global histories; and from one of the department’s newest recruits, Tim Gibbs, on London and the anti-apartheid struggle. We finished the week with a trip to the British Museum, where Sarah Longair gave us a fascinating glimpse of the Museum’s vast collections and talked to us about the controversial and compelling history of the Oba of Benin plaques.
Our students worked with some of the rich variety of sources made available by our Bloomsbury location. They also found time to explore a little more of what the city has to offer in terms of nightlife, with a West End musical, an evening at Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes and a trip on the London Eye rounding out the days.
It was a great, hectic week. So here’s to a fantastic group of young historians: we hope you see some of you in October 2015!
Dr David Sim is a Lecturer in US History and is also the department’s Widening Access Officer. Find out about his research and teaching on the UCL History website.
With special thanks to our student helpers: Zehrah Hasan, Emily Hilton, Honey Watson, Frankie Chappell, Lenny Hodges, Adam Dyster for all their hard work, and to Lucy Dow, Chris Jeppesen and Zubin Mistry for putting together a fine programme of events.