The Oxford Historian: Issue XVIII (2020-21)

View from the Chair

Professor John Watts

It has been more than a year since the last Oxford Historian, but you will know very well why that is.  As I sit in my spare room at home, hearing the sounds of spring outside the window, it feels at last as if the world is waking up again.  We are very fortunate here, or so it seems right now, and I sincerely hope that those of you reading this in other parts of the world, where the disease is still raging, will not have to wait long for deliverance.

As a historian, it has been an education to live through something extraordinary – we typically revel in hindsight and the multiple perspectives on events that are opened up by the passage of time; but it’s very important to our enquiries to try to understand the authentic experience of the moment, unformed, unmediated, just felt and lived.  Among many other things, the pandemic has been a reminder that we simply do not know what is around the corner, a demonstration of people’s amazing capacity to adapt to the unexpected, an object lesson in human society under strain.  Here in the Faculty, I think we have all been grateful for the remarkable patience and constructiveness of our students, the tremendous commitment of academic staff, and the wonderful professionalism of the administrative team: people have risen to the challenges of the times in the most admirable way, and I hope this edition of The Oxford Historian, alongside our web-site, with its many reports of lockdown activities, will give you some sense of that.  You will see that our usual business has proceeded in unusual ways – Jane Ohlmeyer’s wonderful Ford Lectures on 'Ireland and Empire' are highlighted below, Mark Goldie’s excellent series of Carlyle Lectures on 'John Locke and Empire', and Jerrilyn Dodds’s Slade Lectures on Iberian art in the era of the Reconquista can be enjoyed as they appear over the coming weeks.

Outreach has been a major focus of activity this year, and Anna Connolly writes below about some of the things she has been able to do to encourage a wider group of bright young people to consider Oxford.  Working closely with Dr Siân Pooley, Anna has developed and delivered a series of programmes, all made possible by your generosity.  So far this academic year, you have given us upwards of £50,000 in response to the History Tomorrow Fund appeal, and it has had a transformative effect on what we are able to do. In addition, alumni have generously supported other important projects in the Faculty. I’d like to express my warmest thanks: our alumni are our best advertisement, and the Faculty is very grateful for your continuing support.

This is my last message as chair, I’m sorry to say.  I shall be handing over to Rob Iliffe, Professor of the History of Science, in September, and I know that he will be a terrific steward of our Faculty, which it has been a privilege – and mainly a pleasure (!) – to serve.  The last three years have not been quite as I expected – some of our plans have been thwarted by the pandemic, though I think we have pressed forward with trying to make the Faculty a more inclusive place (and you can find details of our Race Equality Action Group, led by Christina de Bellaigue and Faridah Zaman, below).  Some new projects have arisen for us too – notably what to harvest from our new experience of working online – and much thinking and discussion lies ahead.  So some things don’t change: the Faculty remains a lively, collaborative, mutually challenging, but thoroughly benign, place of thought and conversation; a wonderful community of historians of all kinds – here in Oxford and throughout the world.

Professor John Watts

Chair of the Faculty Board

The Oxford Historian - Trinity Term 2021 cover