From Merrie England To The Civilized World: History At Sheffield, 1963-1988, Part 2 – Brave New World


The core of compulsory papers in English history in the Department was defended by the Professor of Modern History, Ken Haley, who retired in 1982, chiefly on the grounds that it gave the degree course a clear identity and the students a common culture and a framework for a coherent view of the past. Most of his colleagues agreed on those objectives, but they held that the traditional curriculum no longer served them, if it ever had.

Accordingly, the single honours syllabus which came into operation in 1985 was also based on three common elements: “World Civilizations, 600 – 1900”, taught throughout the second year, “Modern Historical Thought”, begun in the second year and completed in the third, and a dissertation in the third.

There was, of course, nothing new about the dissertation, advocated by syllabus reformers throughout the twentieth century, and famously the culmination and emblem of Tout’s Manchester School, but of 25 English and Welsh curricula surveyed in 1966 only Manchester and four others required one, while four more (nine by 1975) offered it as an alternative to an examination paper.

The common papers were wholly new, and nothing like either of them had been attempted anywhere else. Historians were still notoriously distrustful of all theorising about their subject, and confident that students exposed to it would, like them, be either baffled or bored, a view sustained by such courses as were occasionally offered (though never in Sheffield) on historiography understood as superseded accounts of this topic or that, or as a cloudy “philosophy of history” without visible connection to its actual practice. Neither had much in common with the serious attack on “hard questions about why historians write what they do and why past historians did it differently” that was devised and taught by Michael Bentley.[1]

In the first century of its existence academic history had concerned itself with the world beyond Europe only in the context of European imperialism (or, as it was more politely called, expansion). The regions in which it took place and their inhabitants were assumed to be, in the words of the anthropologist Eric Wolf’s devastating indictment of 1982, without History.[2] The histories of other literate civilizations were confined with their languages and literatures to area studies: Gordon Daniels of Sheffield’s Centre of Japanese Studies had offered History students an option on the recent Far East since 1963. “World History” occasionally appeared, as in Sheffield, only as in “European and World History”, usually since 1870.

In the 1960s and ‘70s this became increasingly difficult to accept, especially for a generation growing up in a world torn by conflict in Vietnam, turmoil in the Middle East and revolution in Iran. At the same time the idea that world history was something that might be undertaken by professional historians, as opposed to cranks, prophets and social theorists, was beginning to take shape, notably through the work of W. H. McNeill in the US and Geoffrey Barraclough and John Roberts in the UK. [3]

World History came to Sheffield early in 1978, in the form of an entirely unprovoked telephone call inviting me to edit a historical atlas for students to replace Ramsey Muir’s, which had been effectively alone in the field since 1911.[4] That two departmental colleagues, Mark Greengrass and Bernard Wasserstein, were willing to join me as editors made it possible to accept, and the finished product included ten contributors from six Sheffield departments.[5] Compiling the list of maps, since the publisher had stipulated only that we should begin at the beginning and continue to the present in 80 maps, forced us to form a view of world history as a whole, then a novel experience for most historians. It was the most exciting intellectual exercise I have ever engaged in (I still think it would make a wonderful first-year module), and permanently changed my historical outlook.

Though World Civilizations was the first undergraduate course in long-term world history to be offered in the UK (or as far as I know, and as distinct from “Western Civilization”, anywhere else), therefore, it was a product of its time, and of local experience. In being taught by a combination of lectures and seminars it also reflected the collective determination of the Department to strike a new path, by accepting the argument of David Luscombe, then its Head, that if something so novel were to have so central a role everyone should take some part in it. Everyone did, and for several years readiness to do so was among the advertised requirements of every appointment.

Enthusiasm for that arrangement naturally varied among the teachers, but the course was popular with students, and produced some of the best undergraduate work I ever saw. As a medievalist I was particularly struck not once to hear the drearily familiar complaint of “irrelevance” directed at its early beginning: the wide comparative context seemed to make the long chronological perspective come naturally. But, in retrospect, it was bound to be short-lived, at least in its original form. In 1985 the ordinary preconditions of teaching did not exist. There were no textbooks, and no field of established academic discourse that corresponded to either the scope or the concerns of the course, so finding suitable reading was an acute problem.

Like Henry Adams in an earlier pioneering age, we had no alternative but “frankly to act on the rule that a teacher who knew nothing of his subject should not pretend to teach his scholars what he did not know, but should join them in trying to find the best way of learning it.”[6] The course’s essentially transitional character is betrayed by its title: Eurocentrism was not easily escaped simply by the use of a plural. By the 1990s the academy was beginning to take world history seriously, and rapid advances both in published knowledge and sophistication of approaches underlined the uncomfortably Heath Robinsonish aspect of the course, while looming modularisation, managerialism and massive student numbers made reorganisation inevitable.

For the University the 1980s was a decade of austerity and reconstruction, which it entered among those most affected by the earliest cuts of the Thatcher era. It responded by accepting that it had too many small and weak departments, rejecting the easy solution of “equal misery” and building on such strengths as it had, while avoiding compulsory redundancy. In 1982 the Academic Development Committee based its recommendations to this end principally on the criteria of research income and the quality of undergraduate admissions. By these measures Medieval and Modern History came out well, unlike Ancient History and Economic History, and its position was further strengthened when – again, unlike them – it was one of Sheffield’s embarrassingly few departments to emerge with a high rating from the first Research Assessment Exercise in 1986. Hence the merging of the three departments in 1988, which, though not without its pains, created a Department of History beyond the dreams of George Richard Potter.

If you want to find out more, click here to go to Part 1.

R. I. Moore taught History at Sheffield from 1964-1993, and is now Professor Emeritus at Newcastle University. His recent publications include ‘L’hérésie dans le jeu des pouvoirs’, Cahiers de Fanjeaux 55 (2020), Le “catharisme” en questions, pp. 157-72, and ‘Treasures in Heaven: Defining the Eurasian Old Regime?’, Medieval Worlds, 6 (2017), pp. 7-19.

Cover image: University of Sheffield in April or May, 1972. Courtesy of David Dixon©, [Accessed 14 February 2021].

[1] Michael Bentley, ed., Companion to Historiography (Routledge, London, 1977), xi ff for the critique, and for the alternative ibid. 395 – 506, separately .as Modern Historiography (1999).

[2] Eric Wolf, Europe and the People without History (Berkeley, 1982).

[3]The term “global history” came into use later, from the social sciences, and with specific reference to the processes which produced the present globalised world. For that reason I continue to prefer “world history” as more comprehensive and, implicitly, less prescriptive.

[4] J. Ramsey Muir, Atlas of Modern History, (London, 1911), and many subsequent editions. Neither the publisher nor I knew that the far larger and lavishly funded Times Historical Atlas, ed. Geoffrey Barraclough, was in preparation: when it appeared later in 1978 our scheme was complete and production well under way.

[5] R. I. Moore, ed., The Hamlyn Historical Atlas (London, 1981), various subsequent editions, most recently as Rand McNally Atlas of World History. Wasserstein left Sheffield for Brandeis in 1979.

[6]  Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, ch xx.

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From Merrie England to The Civilized World: History at Sheffield, 1963-1988, Part 1 – Expansion


The History Department that emerged in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework as one of the top three in the UK had travelled a long way in the previous half-century. When a dramatic expansion of the university system was launched by the publication of the Robbins Report on Higher Education in 1963 it was a small and obscure department in a provincial university. The Robbins Report transformed British Higher Education, and nowhere were those transformative effects more keenly felt than in Sheffield.

The world of civic (“Redbrick”) universities before Robbins is brilliantly captured by Kingsley Amis in Lucky Jim (1956, based most directly on Leicester and Swansea).[1] The department that Clyde Binfield and I joined in 1964 is described there with uncanny fidelity, not least because George Richard Potter, who had been its head since 1931, was one of the most plausible among several contemporary candidates for the original of Amis’s Professor Welch. He was a kindly and charming man, but no slave to innovation. One of the sixteen Single Honours students in the class to which I gave my first lectures told me that the notes she took from Potter’s lectures had turned out to be identical with her mother’s. Except occasionally in the final year Special Subject, formal lectures were the only means of teaching: gowns were worn, notes were often dictated, and it was considered subversive to allow students to interrupt with questions. Marked essays were returned through pigeon holes or baskets in lobbies, with a perfunctory assertion that the marker might be approached for further comment. Only the cosmopolitan had heard of the strange American custom of “office hours.”

Departments in the late Victorian generation of Redbricks were regarded as appendages of their Professors, many of whom (like H. W. Appleton at Sheffield) were appointed initially with responsibility for several subjects, and gradually shed subjects, and then acquired Assistants, as student numbers increased. Hence by 1963 Sheffield had Departments of Medieval and Modern History, Ancient History, Biblical History (soon to become Biblical Studies), and Economic History, the last, in the Faculty of Social Sciences, recently created for Sidney Pollard, who had previously been in the Department of Economics. Cooperation between these petty fiefdoms was minimal: all were weakened by the dissipation of sparse resources between them, and the consequent jealousies generated a mutual defensiveness which ensured that each pursued and taught its specialism in the narrowest and most conventional ways.

History was often an exception to the general rule of one Professor per Department. Even the smallest departments, of which Sheffield was one, commonly had Professors both of Medieval and of Modern History, and separate departments of Medieval History were rare. [2] This reflected the origins of History as a degree subject, first introduced at Oxford in 1850 in conjunction with Law, and from 1870 as a single school, suitable for men (sic) who “not being candidates for distinctions which require greater powers of intellect as well as application [i.e. classics], might nevertheless be usefully employed on subjects within their grasp.”[3]

The syllabus that would equip them to rule over their own estates or their country’s colonies was based accordingly, in the words of the Regius Professor of Modern History, W. H. Stubbs, on “a continuous reading of our national history” since the Anglo-Saxon conquests, examined in three compulsory papers, and another on English constitutional history to 1307.[4] To these were added a period of European history, the history of Political Ideas, and a Special Subject based on prescribed texts, not from any continentally-inspired enthusiasm for primary sources, but because in the long tradition of classics teaching “set texts” constituted a minimal guarantee of intellectual respectability. This was the English version of History as nation builder that by 1900 underpinned its centrality in education systems across the world. As Cyril Ransome, first professor of History at Leeds (and father of Arthur) put it, “if History does not teach young men to be proud of their country the less they learn of it the better.”[5]

The arrival of Potter’s successor as Professor of Medieval History, in 1965, was the turning point for Sheffield. Edward Miller had been a senior member of the Cambridge History Faculty and was one of the country’s most distinguished medievalists. His appointment immediately boosted our status in the university, where he was promptly placed on several of the main committees, and his standing and wide interests put us on the national map. His infectious warmth and cheerful ebullience made the department a pleasant place both for students, for whom he immediately initiated a regular tutorial system, and academic staff, whom he encouraged to break out of the strait-jacket of lecture-based and conventionally defined outline courses, as far as the syllabus allowed.

In 1963 the Department had a permanent academic staff of seven, of whom two had been there since 1926 and 1931 respectively, and two since just after World War II. By the early 1970s four of the seven had been replaced, and eight new posts had been filled by people in their mid-20s, so that the Department had more than doubled in staff (and much more than doubled in student numbers), and the age profile and seniority of its academic staff had been dramatically reduced. This expansion made possible – indeed, almost compelled – the appearance of new and more varied courses, but the growing generation gap also produced increasingly sharp differences about what their nature should be, and how they should be combined.

Stubb’s Oxford syllabus became the model for almost all those that followed.[6] A survey titled History at the Universities published by the Historical Association in 1966 showed that History degrees in England and Wales were still based on the continuous political History of England (sic), divided at 1485 if in two compulsory papers, or around 1307 and 1660 if (more usually) in three, and garnished with constitutional documents, with lengthy outlines of European and occasionally American history as little more than background.[7] Such courses were inevitably taught by formal lectures, and conventional in content. Sheffield in that respect was typical. The new generation of lecturers appointed in the wake of Robbins, recruited largely from Oxford and Cambridge where individual tutorials were the rule, were outraged by what was offered to their students, and everywhere pressed for small-group teaching, and for syllabus changes that would make it possible. This was one of the chief causes, and leading demands, of the widespread student unrest of the late 1960s.

Nine years later a second survey showed a dramatically different picture.[8] The weight of student demand, in defiance of pundits and policy makers, meant that History had expanded enormously everywhere, and especially in the new (“Plateglass”) universities of the 1960s, now well established. Some, like Sussex, UEA and Essex, initially offered History only in multi-disciplinary schools, of English Studies, American Studies and so on, or as an adjunct to the Social Sciences, without dedicated departments or degree courses. The stubborn preference of applicants for History in its own right eventually forced them to retreat on that, but their immediate impact forced historians everywhere to a new openness to the wider relevance of their subject matter, and the potential of broader approaches to it. Where new History departments were established they broke, deliberately and self-consciously, from the traditional curriculum and its principles: Lancaster placed social rather than political history at the core of its teaching; Warwick became the first British university to offer History degrees without medieval history; York, which had quickly established itself as one of the best departments in the country, treated English as part of European history, in selected periods rather than continuously, and placed much emphasis on team-taught courses on thematically defined topics in comparative history, such as “Aristocracy” or “Revolutions”.

The 1975 edition of History at the Universities showed how widespread the impact of these innovations had been. Almost everywhere courses on European and extra-European (especially American) history dealt with much shorter periods, and were more precisely defined, and taught through seminars, with a far greater variety of topics and of inter-disciplinary and comparative approaches. Room had been made for innovation by dismantling the Stubbsian core. Chronological breadth was still insisted on, and the whole of English history was still taught as such (and still English) in most places, but only a handful of departments now made students follow it from beginning to end in compulsory papers.

Sheffield was one of them. The age of Lucky Jim was gone. The quality of teaching, of the history taught, and of relations between staff and students, had improved immeasurably. But, as Katie Crowley commented in her blog for History Matters, “it appears that there was little development in the historical content taught at the university between 1910 and 1975.” The appearance is deceptive to the extent that new approaches often lurked behind old titles, and that more and better options were offered in the parts of the syllabus that allowed them. But new appointments had been used to fill gaps in the old curriculum, not to extend its scope or change its structure, or the principles on which it was based, which were still those of Stubbs. To the increasing frustration of the younger, and numerically greatly predominant academic staff, change of that kind had to await the 1980s.

If you want to find out about what happened next, you can read more in Part 2.

R. I. Moore taught History at Sheffield from 1964-1993, and is now Professor Emeritus at Newcastle University. His recent publications include ‘L’hérésie dans le jeu des pouvoirs’, Cahiers de Fanjeaux 55 (2020), Le “catharisme” en questions, pp. 157-72, and ‘Treasures in Heaven: Defining the Eurasian Old Regime?’, Medieval Worlds, 6 (2017), pp. 7-19.

Cover image: University of Sheffield in April or May, 1972. Courtesy of David Dixon©, [Accessed 14 February 2021].

[1] For a somewhat more sober but almost equally brilliant account, William Whyte, Redbrick (Oxford, 2015).

[2] Sheffield never had a separate department of Medieval History. Katie Crowley’s comment follows the (highly tendentious) account of the merging of Ancient History with History in the 1980s, in Helen Mather, Steel City Scholars (London, 2005), pp. 288-9. Mather gives the succession of departments correctly at 447.

[3] J. A. Cramer, inaugural 1843, quoted by C.H. Firth, Modern History in Oxford, 1841-1918 (Oxford, 1920), p. 7.

[4]  Based on William Stubbs, Select Charters and Other Illustrations of English Constitutional History, known to generations of History students as Stubbs’ Charters.

[5] In a letter to T. F. Tout, 1893, congratulating him on the publication of his biography of Edward I in the ‘Great English Statesmen’ series (1893).

[6] Manchester under Thomas Frederick Tout was a partial exception, though much less than he would have liked: see R. I. Moore, “‘The origin of parties, the development of principles…’ Stubbs, Tout and undergraduate History”, Durham University Journal, December 1978, pp. 9-16. The Cambridge approach was rather broader, but its underlying principles were essentially the same.

[7] G. Barlow (ed.), History at the Universities (1968).

[8] S. Blows (ed.), History at the Universities, 2 ed. Historical association (1975).

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‘Holy Satan’- Visualising the Letters of Gregory VII (1073-1085)


‘You are seeking many things of me who am exceedingly busy, and you send a messenger who presses me too much at his own pleasure’.[1] Writing in 1076, it is unsurprising that Pope Gregory VII was annoyed by a bishop’s questioning.[2]

Only a few months earlier, Gregory had taken the astonishing measure of excommunicating (the first of three times!) Emperor Henry IV. He was simultaneously attempting to implement a reformation of Latin Christianity itself, now commonly known as ‘Gregorian Reform’.[3] It is safe to say that Gregory was indeed a ‘busy man’.

I’ve spent much of the summer looking into what kept Gregory busy, by studying the Register of his letters which is preserved in the Vatican Library. Using new digital techniques that have never been systematically applied before to Gregory VII’s letters, I’ve discovered a few things that might come as a surprise.

A page from the Register of Gregory VII (showing the so-called Dictatus Papae)

But let me begin with the Register itself, and its 389 entries. How can such an important figure have written so few letters over 12 years? Part of the answer lies with the use of messengers, with Alexander Murray noting that it was ‘more remarkable’ when a messenger came with a letter than without one.[4] As a result, although there certainly were some letters that weren’t copied into the Register, it’s likely that the Register is at least broadly representative of Gregory’s correspondence as a whole. [5]

The process of collecting and analysing the data led to some interesting discoveries even before we started to crunch the results. We noted for instance a probable mistake in the 1920s edition of the register by German historian Erich Caspar. Gregory wrote two letters on the first and fourth of March 1077 from a place Caspar identified as Carpineto, and two subsequent letters on the 21st and 23rd of March from Carpi and Bianello. But Carpi and Bianello are both around 500km away from Carpineto. It is therefore more likely that Gregory was in Carpineti which is only around 50km away and makes more sense travel-wise.[6]

These same entries may also shed light on Gregory’s travel speed. On the 21st of March, two letters are recorded, issued from different locations. The first, letter 16, is written from Carpi, while the other entry is written from Bianello. These locations are approximately 44km apart and so may show us something like the distance Gregory could potentially cover in a day’s journey.

However, things started to get really interesting when we began to work on the data itself. Two key themes that we explored using visualisations are the strategy behind Gregory’s letter sending, and factors affecting this strategy. As can be seen from the map shown below, Gregory’s recipients were far and wide, even reaching areas such as Norway. This matches Cowdrey’s view that the papacy increasingly saw its function as ‘one of world-wide vigilance and activity’.[7]

All the locations that Gregory VII sent letters to

This ‘world-wide’ aspect is demonstrated even more when we map the recipients of these letters onto the ancient Roman road network. While the majority fit on these Roman roads, we can also see that Gregory is communicating with areas not part of the ancient empire, especially in the northern areas of eastern Europe. This visualises Gregory’s personal strategy of making sure the Roman church was ‘in the fullest sense the universal mother’, concerned with Christians ‘whether or not they lived within the boundaries of the Roman empire at the apogee of its prosperity’.[8]

The destinations of Gregory’s letters in red, imposed onto a map of Roman roads at the time.

Another element of Gregory’s strategy is his politics. The historian Cowdrey believed Gregory wasn’t purposefully political, instead acting upon ‘flexible’ values and methods to pursue goals that were at root ‘religious and moral’.[9] Looking at the number of secular versus clerical recipients of his letters supports this idea of Gregory and his strategy. This data shows us that for the large majority of Gregory’s pontificate, the majority of his communication was with clerical figures. At no point did he really try and specifically increase his political involvement with secular figures.

The number of secular recipients and clerical recipients of Gregory’s letters over time

A second dimension of these letters that the data helps us understand regards the factors that determined their sending, notably the issue of travel. In a world where we can send a message thousands of miles almost instantly, it seems alien to think about a messenger carrying a letter over a number of months. This is how Gregory’s letters were delivered however, with 3-4 months being the standard time for a message and reply.[10]

With this amount of time travelling and the method of travel, weather conditions could become an important consideration. This is explored in the two visualisations below. The first one colour coordinates all the destinations of the letters by season, and seemingly doesn’t show any clear trend. It even shows some of the furthest away letters like those in Norway being sent in winter – which at first glance seems to contradict the idea of season being important. However, if we take the figure of 40km per day as an average speed estimate, we can see that by dispatching the letter in December, the messenger could be expected to arrive in Trondheim sometime around the start of March, and after a stay of a month or two arrive back in Rome well before the autumn, thereby
avoiding the Scandinavian winter.

The destinations of Gregory’s letters colour coded according to the season they were sent

And looking more closely, consideration of season seems to have been quite important to Gregory. By examining the average distance letters were sent in each month, it can be seen that letters sent in the months of March, April and May covered the most distance; with those sent in January and February generally travelling the least distance. This suggests that Gregory considered not just politics but also seasons and weather when sending his letters, with implications for medieval diplomacy more generally.

The average distance of the destination of Gregory’s letters according to the month they were sent

A linked issue concerns the average number of letters Gregory sent each month. Looked at in aggregate, it can clearly be seen that Gregory’s correspondence spikes around March and April, before falling off in the summer and rising again as winter approaches. This trend probably reflects the liturgical calendar. Easter would have been an important time for Gregory, and is also when he held a number of councils. February and August were by contrast very quiet times for the papal scribes.

The total number of letters sent by Gregory in each month

The use of data analysis and visualisation can give us an alternative and valuable perspective on sources that have already been extensively studied by conventional means. They shed new light on existing historiography, such as looking at whether Gregory really was a ‘holy Satan’ or ‘political pope’ by looking at the recipients of his letters. But they can also even perhaps open up new avenues to explore, such as how earthly limitations like seasonal travel may have played an important role in how figures like Gregory VII conducted business. The use of these tools can open up an array of possibilities that would greatly benefit any field of history.

George Litchfield is an undergraduate student at Sheffield. The project Mapping Pope Gregory VII’s letters was supervised by Dr Tom Stafford and Dr Charles West.

Link to the dataset and expanded overview this article is based on:

[1] H. E. J. Cowdrey, The Register of Pope Gregory VII 1073—1085: An English Translation (Oxford, 2002), p. 208.

[2] Ibid., p. xi.

[3] Norman Tanner [Review], Reform and the Papacy in the Eleventh Century: Spirituality and Social Change (Manchester, 2005), by Kathleen Cushing, The Heythrop Journal 48.2 (2007), pp. 293-94.

[4] Alexander Murray, ‘Pope Gregory VII and His Letters’, Traditio 22 (1966), pp. 176-77.

[5] Cowdrey, The Register of Pope Gregory VII 1073—1085, p. xii; Murray, ‘Pope Gregory VII and His Letters’, p. 163.

[6] Cowdrey, The Register of Pope Gregory VII 1073—1085, pp. 224-229.

[7] H. E. J. Cowdrey, Pope Gregory VII, 1073–1085 (Oxford, 1998), p. 10.

[8] Ibid., p. 2.

[9] Ibid., p. 2, 86.

[10] Murray, ‘Pope Gregory VII and His Letters’, p. 168.

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Maintaining the Status Quo?: A Brief History of History at the University of Sheffield


In 1905, the University of Sheffield received its own Royal Charter as an independent red brick university and welcomed at least 114 full-time students through its doors. Since that time, there has been lots of change in how History has been taught at the university: but why and when did things change, and is there more that still needs to be done?

During the first decade of the University’s life, there were two history courses, on Modern History and Ancient History, with one single individual, a Professor H.W. Appleton, in charge of both. As you might expect, the modules mainly consisted of Eurocentric histories, particularly centred on Britain. By 1914, the exams were separated into 4 papers on Ancient History and 3 papers on Modern History, and most of the questions were either focused on the victories and strategies of key battles, or on the significance of political and substantial figures of the time. By 1910 ecclesiastical history became a degree, which again was focused on England.

Excerpts from 1914 Modern History Examination Questions. Used with permission from the University of Sheffield libraries.

Looking at the University Calendars, which record all of the University’s courses, it appears there was little development in the historical content taught at the university between 1910 and 1975. As someone who tends to focus on gender history, it is striking to me that there was no aspiration to teach about women’s roles in British history. There is no evidence to suggest that prominent women such as Emmeline Pankhurst or even the monarch herself were being discussed in history classrooms. There was definitely a desire to emphasise the positive aspects of British history at this University, and this celebratory interpretation seems not to have subsided until the early 1970s. This contributed to generational assumptions surrounding major elements of British history, such as colonialism, that continue to spark debate around how far the Empire shaped the way that we view the world and our place within it.

It is by the 1970s that we begin to see a slight shift towards looking into non-European histories, and sensitive topics such as the Third Reich, Slavery and the Russian Revolution began to be offered to History students to take as part of their degree. There are several arguments to explain this dramatic shift within the education system during the 1960s and 1970s. The political atmosphere during the mid-20th century, with the rise of the student movement, the New Left, and the women’s liberation movement, could have played a role in this change in what was taught. The counter-culture of the mid-1960s, which created a sense of opposition to institutions within society, could explain the move away from ‘traditional’ forms of teaching.[1] Another reason for this change could be the steady increase in undergraduate places in History in Sheffield in the early 1970s, as more opportunities became available to previously disadvantaged minorities: Black, Asian and Minority Ethic (BAME) communities, immigrants and women.[2] However, it must be noted that History taught at BA and MA level still focused on Western history during the 1970s, and there was still a lack of BAME histories being taught despite the growing student population.

In 1975, the Medieval History and Modern History departments were merged into one combined department. As Dr Helen Mathers notes, within two years of the merge, none of the original staff (before the merger) remained.[3] Yet despite these major departmental changes, the university was still rather conservative in terms of how historical topics were approached. For example, the 1976 exam questions on the United States, while wide ranging, had little on the lived experience of slavery and abolition.

Excerpt of 1976 examination questions on the United States. Used with permission from the University of Sheffield libraries.

It was only by the 1990s that we see the first instances of non-Western history being taught at the University of Sheffield. East Asian Studies, already established in 1963 as the Centre for Japanese Studies, saw a large expansion in the number of courses taught by the end of the 1980s, with BA courses offered in Korean Studies in 1980 and Chinese Studies in 1996. By the mid-90s, Sheffield was home to the third largest collection of Korea-related academic materials in Europe.[4] Although these Departments had a focus on economics and social sciences, their courses were offered as part of a dual degrees with History, which allowed History students access to a wider range of historical geographies.

Today, the History department at the University of Sheffield aims to explore different narratives in History, with varied courses from women’s emancipation and Irish republicanism, to the migration and settlement of South Asians. However, more can still be done to give a greater representation to non-Western scholars and histories. There should be renewed efforts to explore different historical narratives in greater depth, helping us to move away from limited understandings and rehearsing old narratives about Britain as a glorious and civilised empire. This can only be accomplished by opening our doors to new stories and by challenging traditional historical arguments. As debates surrounding the removal of controversial monuments such as the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol continue, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this momentum needs to be reflected and be embodied within UK Higher Education.

Katie Crowley is a MA Modern History student at the University of Sheffield, currently working on documenting and exploring the lives of the women from the Greenham Common Peace Camps for her MA dissertation. You can find her on twitter @marmaladetears. This blog is based on a research project on the archived calendars and examination papers held in the University’s Special Collections.

Cover image: University of Sheffield in April or May, 1972. Courtesy of David Dixon©, [Accessed 5 July 2020].

[1] Christopher T. Goldie, Modernisation and the New Left, Ph.D. thesis (Sheffield Hallam University, 2005). For a wider look at the cultural changes within British universities and the wider student movement of the 1960s, see Colin Barker, ‘Some Reflections on Student Movements of the 1960s and Early 1970s’, Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais, 81 (2008), 43-91 and Connor Woodman, ‘The Repression of Student Movements in the UK’, Pluto Press Blog (2019),[Accessed 5 July 2020].

[2] For the history of BAME communities within the education system see Dennis G. Hamilton, ‘Too hot to Handle: African Caribbean pupils and students as toxic consumers and commodities in the educational market’, Race Ethnicity and Education 21.5 (2018), 573-592.

For the history of women’s education during the 1970s, see Eve Worth, ‘Women and Adult Education during the 1970s’, Social History Society (June 2019), [Accessed 5 July 2020].

[3] See a wider history on the University of Sheffield see Helen Mathers, Steel City Scholars: The Centenary History of the University of Sheffield, (London, 2005).

[4] More on the History of East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield, see ‘About the School’ page on the University of Sheffield School of East Asians Studies website: [Accessed 5 July 2020]. For history of Korean Studies at the University of Sheffield, see Professor James H. Grayson, ‘The History of Korean Studies’, The University of Sheffield (March 2019) [Accessed 5 July 2020].

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