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Established in 1964, the History Department built a reputation in the 1970s and ’80s for exemplary teaching and outstanding research. A particular forte in the early years was social history, of which Lancaster was widely acknowledged to be the pre-eminent centre in the country. The Department also developed a strong commitment to local and regional history. While our intellectual interests may have changed over the years, our commitment to research-led teaching has not. Cultural history, business history, landscape history, religious history, history of science, women’s history, digital history, and postcolonial history would nowadays figure as prominently in the list of Lancaster staff members’ expertise.
You may have first encountered us through the Lancaster Pamphlets series published from the early 1980s, a pioneering attempt to bring the latest advances in historical research into the school classroom. Our commitment to bringing the highest quality historical scholarship together with innovative and committed teaching remains at the forefront of our objectives. Whether you are an undergraduate student in one of our degree programmes our wide–ranging menu of varied course offerings or a postgraduate student in our rapidly expanding MA and PhD programmes, Lancaster is an exciting place to be.
Our students can expect to be taught by scholars who are always active researchers and in some cases world leaders in their fields. To take two recent instances, James Taylor's Creating Capitalism: Joint-Stock Enterprise in British Politics and Culture, 1800-1870 won the Economic History Society prize for the best first monograph in Economic and Social History published in 2006-7, while Patrick Hagopian’s The Vietnam War in American Memory was a Choice "outstanding academic title" for 2009 and received an honorable mention in the 2010 American Studies Network Book Prize.
The Undergraduate Experience
For most of its existence History has been one of the largest undergraduate teaching departments at Lancaster. In recent years the quality of our student intake as measured by A-level grades has increased significantly, and we have progressively raised our entry requirements. There is a vibrant undergraduate History Society. Despite our size, we have maintained a deserved reputation for a ‘personal touch’. Our students find the Department a friendly and helpful environment and invariably rate their courses and teachers highly in questionnaires. It says much for our commitment to our students that since 1991 nine of the University’s Pilkington Awards for excellence in teaching have gone to History staff, several of whom have also won national teaching awards.
We have recently reorganized our undergraduate syllabus in order to make a good product even better. We have introduced a new Part I course and redesigned our Part II menu to expand the range of student choices and make optimal use of staff members’ expertise. The new Part I, From the Medieval to the Modern: History and Historians, involves most academic staff in the Department and is designed to introduce students to a wide range of periods, themes, debates, and sources. Part II is built around an array of more specialized one-term half-units covering a very broad span of periods and topics, a year-long Special Subject designed for intensive work with primary sources, and a 10,000-word Dissertation on a topic of the student’s (supervised!) individual choice. All of our undergraduate modules are excellently supported by course websites accessible only to Lancaster University students.
The aim of this shake-up has been to design a programme that not only gives a rigorous academic education but also equips our students with transferrable skills that will stand them in good stead in an increasingly competitive job market. We also want our degrees to be attractive and engaging, and we do not believe one size fits all. We think that the chronological and geographic range of history modules we offer and the flexibility we give our students to choose courses that engage with their own interests compare favourably with any university in the UK.
Postgraduate Study at Lancaster
Lancaster has offered Masters and Doctorates in History since the Department’s inception, and graduate students have always formed a vital part of the departmental intellectual community. 54 PhDs have graduated since 2000, while our MA enrolment has averaged around 20 students per year. The highly successful annual Histfest postgraduate conference, which is wholly run by PhD students, is now in its 15th year. The 2010 Histfest attracted 27 papers from participants in 16 institutions across the UK. Our postgraduates also run their own fortnightly seminar, and fully participate in departmental research symposia.
In 2009 we took the decision to seek to double the numbers on both our MA and PhD programmes by 2014, giving postgraduate students a correspondingly more prominent role in the life and priorities of the Department. While this is an ambitious target in the present funding climate in the UK, we have taken giant strides towards it by making our programmes more competitive and providing increased funding opportunities for postgraduate study.
We fine-tuned our MA in 2010 to allow for two distinct pathways to the degree: four taught courses and a long dissertation, or six taught courses and a shorter dissertation. The second pathway includes a new course, History for Life, which is designed to show the value of historical skills for careers outside the university sector. We plan to introduce a tailor-made Research and Professional Skills course for PhD students, covering topics ranging from publishing an article to scoping archives, in the near future. We have been able to provide significant financial support for research and conference-related postgraduate travel.
We have recently offered a number of studentships and fee-waivers at MA and PhD level from a range of internal sources and hope to be able to continue to do so. We have been very successful in obtaining support for History PhD students in University and Faculty competitions. We employ our PhD students wherever possible as Graduate Teaching Assistants, providing invaluable professional experience as well as additional income.
The Research Environment
A wide variety of internationally recognised research activity takes place within the Department. We have a strong commitment to individual research and scholarship as well as to collaborative work involving specialist teams of academic staff, research associates, and visiting scholars. We operate an annual teaching release competition to support staff members’ research, as well as providing funds to support research and conference travel.
Research by Lancaster historians extends in time from the early medieval era to the modern and post-modern periods, and in space from the British Isles and central Europe to North America and the Caribbean, North Africa and other Mediterranean lands, India, Japan, and Singapore. Our research embraces socio-economic, environmental, cultural, political, religious and intellectual history, and often has an innovative cross-disciplinary emphasis. Several members of the Department have a background in other humanities and social science disciplines ranging from sociology and geography to film and literary studies. Two academic journals, the Journal of Historical Sociology and the Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, are edited within the Department, and we organize a regular program of thematic research symposia involving participants from Lancaster and beyond.
Currently most of our medievalists are involved in a major research programme entitled The Norman Edge: Identity and State-Formation on the Frontiers of Europe, c.1050-1200, which is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. A second AHRC-funded project, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, is The Cultural Politics of English Pantomime, 1837-1901. The Dynamics of Memories Group, whose membership is drawn from different disciplines across the University, has a particularly strong base in History. The Department is also associated with the Victoria County History of Cumbria, and it hosts a Newton International Research Fellow as part of a scheme run by the British Academy and the Royal Society to promote transnational research leadership and cooperation.
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|Department of History, Bowland College, Lancaster University,
LA1 4YT, UK | Tel: +44 (0) 1524 593155 Fax: +44 (0) 1524 846102 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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