EdgeHist Magazine

Welcome to the 2021 edition EdgeHist magazine — an annual bulletin edited by Edge Hill’s history students. This year’s issue opens with a welcome from History’s programme leader, Roger Spalding, who reflects on our return to ‘normal’ following lockdown. Next, Nicky Tsougarakis introduces us to his exciting new second year module on the history of the crusades, which now allows students to continue studying medieval history beyond the first year. Charlotte Donald reports on last year’s conference which explored ‘1989-1991: The Birth of Contemporary Europe?’ Finally, Jacob Scott reflects on his experiences organising a student-led, international conference on Palestine.

Welcome/Welcome Back — Roger Spalding

University is about much more than lectures and seminars. Important though they are, it is about meeting new and different people, developing new perspectives, and engaging with a wider world. Sadly, many of those elements have not been available to students in the past year because of the pandemic. As we emerge back into what we might call the ‘old normal’ it is perhaps worth thinking about what a university education really means.

Clearly, learning is central to the University experience, but too often the approach to learning is geared towards the qualification which, it is believed will lead to the good job. It is true that a degree will open the way to a variety of new opportunities; earlier this year, one of our recent graduates was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Navy, for example. The learning on a degree course is much more though. It is about equipping oneself to engage in a national and often an international conversation about policies, culture, and identity. On a history degree, students need to recognise that the topics they engage with are as much about the present as the past. Your learning is not just about getting that precious certificate, it is about your self-development, and your ability to engage with the world.

When one is growing up it is easy to unconsciously accept the values and lifestyle of parents as the norm. This was certainly the case for me coming from a small East Anglian fishing port. At university I met a wide range of people from an equally wide range of backgrounds, and was introduced to different attitudes, outlooks, and lifestyles. This is not to say that these were necessarily superior to those of my parents. However, the experience made me aware of diversity in a real sense, and it enabled me to make choices for myself to, if you like, re-create myself. The same opportunity is there for you.

In his 1945 novel, Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh said that Oxford (meaning the University) ‘exhaled the soft airs of centuries of youth’. Universities are still predominantly communities of the young; people brought together in an intense environment at a formative stage in their lives. It is not surprising that in this situation valuable friendships are formed that, based on this common experience, last a lifetime. The novelist E. M. Forster once wrote: ‘Friends before country’, which some may find controversial, but it does bear testimony to the sustaining nature of long-term friendships.

Outside of the normal teaching timetable there are other events to attend that are incredibly valuable like film screenings, conferences and guest lectures, all of which are usually free and add to the transformative experience of university.

Finally, of course, there is academic work. To succeed you must be prepared to work hard, to manage your time and your self-development, to aim to beyond what is needed to produce coursework. Although, tutors are there to help you so do not be afraid to approach them. It is not a sign of weakness, it is good sense to do so. University offers many opportunities; it is down to you to grasp them. As Shakespeare put it:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”
Brutus, in Julius Caesar

Welcome to new students, and welcome back to existing students.

— Roger Spalding, Programme Leader BA History/BA History and Politics

The World of the Crusades — Nicky Tsougarakis

The History programme at Edge Hill has long included a first-year survey module on the Middle Ages. Until recently, however, students did not have the option to continue studying the medieval period after their first year. This changed in 2020 with the introduction of a new second-year module on the crusades. HIS2036 – The World of the Crusades, gives students the opportunity to continue engaging with the history of the Middle Ages through their second year and thus, potentially building the foundation on which to build a dissertation project on a related subject in their third year.

The crusades were one of the most important events of the Middle Ages, but also among the most misunderstood. Though their effects were undeniably far-reaching and, arguably, consequential even in our own times, the crusades are invoked misleadingly in public and political discourse (as well as art, e.g. cinema) and the popular understanding of the movement is very limited. The renewed conflicts in the Middle East in recent decades have been accompanied by a resurgence of popular interest in the crusades but also of further misuse of crusading history, both in the West and in the Muslim world. Given its currency in modern world politics, an accurate understanding of this medieval phenomenon is more important than ever, not just for historians, but for active, critically thinking citizens more generally.

This module examines the varieties of crusading in their medieval context. Beginning from the first crusades against the Muslim rulers of the Holy Land and the foundation of the crusader states, it moves on to look at other crusading theatres, such as the Balkans, the Baltic as well as crusading in western Europe, e.g. Iberia and France. The latter part of the module examines the historiography and popular memory of the crusades in the modern world. More specifically, it explores how the major ideological currents and events of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries affected historians’ views of the crusades and how this, in turn, shaped the popular understanding and misunderstanding of crusading history.

This module thus aims to give students an understanding of the medieval context of crusading, while also familiarising them with the broad contours of late medieval history, including religious culture and ideology. It also aims to give students insights into the modern memory of the crusades, on how this was shaped and on its uses in modern political and cultural discourse.

— Dr Nicky Tsougarakis, Senior Lecturer in Medieval History

Conference Report: 1989-1991: The Birth of Contemporary Europe? — Charlotte Donald

On Monday 22nd March 2021, the ‘Edge Hill University Undergraduate Conference: 1989-1991: The Birth of Contemporary Europe?’ was held on Teams. The conference included nine live speakers across four panels, with 48 people attending the morning session and 55 people attending the afternoon session. The conference looked at contemporary Europe by exploring a range of perspectives and insights on this dramatic period of European History. The conference started with a few introductory words from the conference organiser Dr Dan Gordon who explained that he had originally had the idea for the conference in the Summer of 2019 to have an intergenerational dialogue around the 30th anniversary of the collapse of Communism in Europe and had intended it to be held in person in March 2020, but due to Covid it had to be rescheduled. His pre-recorded introductory conference lecture 1989-1991: The Birth of Contemporary Europe? is now publicly available as a teaching resource on the EdgeHist YouTube channel.

The first panel of the day was entitled ‘Inside and outside perspectives’ and was chaired by Dr Mari Hughes-Edwards from the Department of English and who founded the Gender and Sexuality Research Seminar and the arts resilience network ‘artdoesnotgetyouajob’. The first paper of this panel was given by Dr Ruxandra Trandafoiu, a Reader in Media and Communications, who presented her personal view of 1989 in Romania. She started by looking at the word ‘revolution’ as a means to describe the events that took place and wanted to ‘defend’ its use to describe it as such. Ruxandra then went on to discuss what life was like in Romania before 1989, stating that it felt like you could ‘never let your guard down’, as the government in place controlled every aspect of your private life. She then brought the discussion onto referring to some of the factors of the revolution of 1989, by highlighting that the satellite television and the media revolution was a large part of the cause. This is because it led to a ’mental migration’ from their reality, making Romanian people want a change to be made. She finished by linking her experience to the current events we are experiencing with Coronavirus, as the lockdown reminded her of the lack of freedom and the masks related to the lack of freedom of speech in Romania in the period before 1989.

The second paper of this panel was delivered by Owen Evans, a Professor of Film and looked at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany from a personal perspective. Owen started by describing his first visit to Germany as a 17 year old in 1984, where he remembers noticing all the cameras and uniformed people in East Berlin in comparison to the west. He referred to the time his friend asked an East Berliner what he thought of the Berlin Wall and he went very silent and guarded, which highlighted the tensions people felt about the subject before the fall of the wall, which made him feel like before 1989 there was no indication of change. Even when he returned to Berlin in 1988, he felt there was still no sense of change coming, highlighting his memory of 3 days before he left when he and his family left Checkpoint Charlie, the authorities kept back his family and his sister and made it difficult for them to leave. Therefore it did not feel as though liberation was coming in East Berlin and Germany, yet within months of this experience the wall had come down.

Following a lively discussion about these papers, we moved on to the second panel called ‘Student Work in Progress’ which was chaired by Amy McKiernan, a third year History student who became interested in this period of history from her second year modules. This panel began with a paper presented by Ania Wojcik, a second year History student, entitled ‘Why was there a revolution in Poland in 1989’, giving a unique and personal account from a Polish family. Ania began her talk by giving the participants a brief history of the events that lead to the actions of 1989, including the life in communist Poland where many shortages such as of toilet paper and food and control were experienced. Ania then went on to explain how communism has continued to be a presence in Poland which she and her family witness. For example Ania’s life in Elblag (her hometown in Poland) is very different to the North-West of England because of the impact of communism which she first noticed when she moved to England which was the first time she had had a back garden. She finished by saying that even outside her family’s own life, the legacy of communism is still in some policies such as abortion. This is because abortion was legal in communist Poland, but has been made much stricter as a result of the collapse of communism.
The second paper on this panel was presented by Grace Marks a third year History student and Maïa Grall a third year History and Politics student addressing the subject ‘Why was there a revolution in Estonia in 1988-1991?’. They started off with a brief context of Estonia’s push for independence from mainly Russia and Germany, highlighting how Estonians had been marginalised in their own country but they did not take this lying down, using underground movements to prevent domination. A lot of these underground movements came through music such as Rock and Punk concerts. The Soviets tried to put a stop to these however they could not end them. The way Estonia fought for independence through the Singing Revolution was very different to the other parts of the Eastern Bloc. Rock, punk and hippie movements in Estonia indirectly and directly led to independence. This panel was again followed by a discussion on to which both students and lecturers contributed. It included reference to the insider/ outsider oral testimonies about Estonia and East Germany specially recorded for this conference on Panopto by historical witnesses Ene Pold, Eva Nienkirchen, Mary Horbury and Patrick Irwin.

The third panel of the day was on ‘Britain At The End Of The Eighties: Conservative Hegemony Challenged?’ and was chaired by Paula Keaveney the Programme Leader for Politics. This panel was started by Matthew Trafford a third year History and Politics student who presented a paper called ‘The 1989 Hillsborough Disaster: Legacies of Injustice’. Matthew’s father survived the Hillsborough disaster when he was 16 and therefore Matthew was able to give a more personal experience in his paper. He started by talking about how it was a foreseeable tragedy as it had happened before. After the event it was blamed on the victims and survivors, however Matthew stressed that it is still an ongoing issue and that there has only been some justice. He then went on to talk about the media’s response to the disaster for example ‘The Sun, the BBC and the Daily Star’ who continued to blame fans for the disaster. He finished by discussing the campaign that tried to free the fans from blame and to improve football stadiums so something like this would not happen again. Matthew then showed a picture of a banner used to promote justice for the disaster, which was made by a friend of his and his dad’s who was also a Hillsborough survivor. The talk was ended with some examples of extra reading and research people could do.
The next paper of this panel was entitled ‘Out of the blue: the Green Party in the 1989 European parliamentary election’ and was presented by Dr Andrew Pearmain a former Research Fellow in history at the University of East Anglia. His talk was based on his article which he wrote for the Green History UK website at
https://green-history.uk/articles/opinions/out-of-the-blue-the-politics-of-the-green-party
Andrew started by highlighting the key facts and figures of the Green Party’s votes and how this related to other parties in 1989 in the year of ‘The great Green vote in the sky’. He showed how they got this reaction and support by providing an example of Green Party political literature which was used to campaign their policies and gain supporters and mentioned the slogan ‘neither left nor right but forward’ as being a favourite of the Green Party’s campaign. Andrew highlighted that their campaign worked on many people, including him as he showed us a picture of his family on a protest for ‘no more roads’ which links to the Green Party’s politics. He finished by making a comparison to the German Green party, who were arguably more successful.

The final panel of the day was on the subject of ‘Western Europe in the Nineties: the Impact of the Collapse of Communism’ and was chaired by Dr Patrick Soulsby an Associate Tutor in History at Edge Hill University and the University of Liverpool. The first paper came from Dr Paddy Hoey the Programme Leader for Media, Film and Television, who presented his paper on ‘Irish Republicanism and the death of Communism’. Paddy started off by talking about Republicanism and Socialism in general and where it found itself during 1989 to 1991. Throughout his paper Paddy gave insights from many other historians and political studies researchers such as Kevin Bean, as well as people of the time. Republicanism in Ireland drew its influences from a variety of places. Paddy then discussed Irish Republicanism in jails, as it thrived in these places which can be seen in the hunger strikes that took place there. He finally highlighted that when Gorbachev was gone from power, any idea of communism or socialism becoming strong in Ireland was gone.The final paper of this panel and of the day was presented by Dr Francesca Bernardi a Creative Methods researcher and art teacher. She discussed the collapse of the Italian First Republic and the rise of Silvio Berlusconi: the Partito Personale, Consent, Abnegation and the Mediatic Monocle. Francesca was a social activist living in Italy during this period and therefore was able to give us a personal account of these times. This began with the many years of student protests occurring at the time campaigning against a number of issues across Italy in universities in which she was involved. She then discussed how this time was a journalistic and media orientated period, as even the term ‘First Republic’ was a journalistic phrase. Silvio Berlusconi himself not only portrayed his politics through television but changed the discourse of Italian television. During the discussion section of this panel, in response to a question from the audience Francesca said she felt that Berlusconi was a non-political figure leading a political party, which can be seen as many modern figures have drawn influence from him such as Donald Trump.

After this, everyone said their thanks and goodbyes and it was the end of a brilliant conference. What was particularly successful about the day, was that the papers drew on personal experiences and stories in order to communicate history to the audience which made each talk interesting and compelling. Watching the conference from a student perspective was impactful, as it allowed to me to see how the history I have learnt in books and lectures, effected people in their real lives and what experiences they had during these times. Following the conference, Professor Owen Evans commented, ‘Thank you for organising such a great event! I can easily imagine how inspirational it will have been for students, as well as showing how to turn adversity, and forcible separation, into something still so meaningful and communal. And those students who presented and chaired, were scarily good. Well done all of you!’.

— Charlotte Donald, second year History student

Graduate Grace Marks reflects on her their experience presenting a talk with fellow graduate Maïa Grall (then third year students), where they asked, ‘Why was there a revolution in Estonia in 1988-1991?’

“The conference was such an incredible opportunity and insight into academic life after undergraduate study. I spoke about the Estonian Revolution with Maïa as we both were keen to take part in the conference and thought it would be fun to do it together, and it definitely was fun! We had a great time in the Catalyst researching the topic together and it was nice to create a joint research project rather than individually as is normal for assignments. It was also a fantastic opportunity to share that research with an audience, another thing we don’t do with our essays.”

“After hearing the other impressive presentations, it was nerve-wracking to start our topic, but once we got into the flow of presenting I definitely felt more comfortable and confident. I never thought I would have the opportunity to speak at an academic conference during my degree, but am so happy I did. It was a great confidence booster and something I will proudly put on my CV. I am very grateful to Dan and everyone who organised and supported the conference to give us such an opportunity, and especially to my co-presenter Maïa for all her incredible contributions. This is one of the highlights of my degree, I wish I could do it again!

 

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