The PhD students who are giving history a lift





Serious research can be a solitary affair. As Malcolm Noble and Matt Neale, two first-year history PhD students at Leicester University discovered, long hours in dusty archives and obscure collections all too often follow the bustle and camaraderie of undergraduate life. But they have found a cure for the loneliness of the historian: the New History Lab.

The Lab is an act of mild insurrection. Leicester's conventional postgraduate seminars – in which students read papers and comment on one another's work in a formal setting – lacked pulling power. "It wasn't at the centre of postgraduate life. We got a low attendance of four or five people," says Noble.

Students wanted a more stimulating forum. "Our motive was to set up a postgraduate community where history was such a good and confident activity, where ideas could be shared," says Neale.

Several students approached Rob Colls, professor of English history and director of postgraduate studies, and suggested a new format. The seminar would be held on Friday afternoons, a range of outside speakers would be invited, tea and homemade cake served, culminating in a trip to the pub.

"The inspiration for the New History Lab came from the idea that scientists sit around in labs and chat to each other about their work. Historians don't have that," says Noble, who is doing comparative research into how the urban governance of Edinburgh and Birmingham developed in the early-to-mid-19th century. Neale is studying crime in 18th-century Bath and Bristol. "It can be quite lonely" adds Noble, "especially for research students. We thought it could be better."

Professor Colls gave his blessing to the experiment and the university stumped up some cash to support it. The first meeting was held last October and was an instant success. ...


comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list