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School of History

Winter Update 2019

A winter update on the School of History from Director of Education, Dr Dan Todman:

Published:
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Welcome to the Winter Update from the Director of Education in the School of History. There are lots of interesting developments to tell you about. One is a significant change to semester structure from the start of next year. We are also getting close to module selection time.

1) Change to semester structure in 2019-20

From the start of next academic year, Queen Mary will change the structure of its semesters. This change applies to all Schools. The autumn semester will run as currently, but there will be a two week exam period at the start of January – so modules assessed by examination which are taught in the autumn will have their exams then, rather than in the summer as is currently the case. The spring semester will then run mid-January to mid-April, with exams for whole year and spring semester module during May.  

This change poses a number of issues that we are currently seeking to address.

In so doing, we will put fairness for all students first.

Your Course Reps on the Staff Student Liaison Committee are already helping us to think through what we’ll do, but I welcome any queries or suggestions from all of you. Let me lay out some of the problems. In History, we have relatively few single semester modules that are assessed with exams – and while we remain committed to having a broad range of assessment, we have increasingly moved away from conventional paper based examinations. There is therefore a question about how the winter exam period should be used and how we can make sure that this change does not adversely affect any group of students, including those undertaking Joint Honours degrees. It has been suggested that the exam period might also be used to spread out coursework deadlines and to undertake ‘enhancement’ activities such as research, writing or careers workshops.

In considering these options, staff and Course Reps have asked us to bear in mind that:

a) a gap between teaching and coursework submission might make it harder for students to produce their best work,

b) later deadlines might make it harder for staff to return feedback on time (particularly for Teaching Associates teaching across multiple modules at different institutions),

c) attendance at additional activities could not be compulsory, since even if History did away with examinations for autumn semester modules completely, Joint Honours students might still have exams and could not have their revision interrupted – and

d) if attendance were voluntary, it would privilege those with the time and resources to participate versus those who would use the exam period as a chance to take up additional paid work, or save money by not commuting in.

As you can see, there are a lot of points to factor in. A working group of staff and Course Reps is currently meeting to find the best possible solutions, and we will of course keep you informed of the policy that is devised. In the meantime, please do let me have any queries or comments about how you think we would best adapt to this change.

2) New appointments

Over the past six months we have made a number of new appointments. Professor Andrew Fitzmaurice is our new Professor of Political Thought. He joins us from the University of Sydney and will start teaching modules from January 2020. You can find out more about him here: https://sydney.edu.au/arts/history/staff/profiles/andrew.fitzmaurice.php. Dr Charmian Mansell joined us in September to take up a fixed term post for two years in early modern British history. Next year, Dr Mansell will offer a special subject on the life and times of Elizabeth I. You can see her profile here: https://www.qmul.ac.uk/history/people/academic-staff/profiles/mansellcharmian.html.

Dr Amanda Sciampacone has taken up an eighteen month post replacing Dr Chloe Ward during her AHRC funded research leave. Dr Sciampacone works on the 18th and 19th century visual culture in Britain, looking particularly at the visualisation of science and medicine. She was formerly a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at Warwick – you can see more about her interests here: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/arthistory/staff/as/

Last week we interviewed for permanent lectureships in Modern British history and the History of Political Thought. We are very pleased that Dr Rob Waters has accepted the Modern British History post. Dr Waters joins us from Birmingham, and you can see his profile here: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/history/waters-rob.aspx. We will share the outcome of the History of Political Thought interviews when the successful candidate is confirmed.

3) Course rep achievements

Both in their own committee and as members of School committees, your course reps have done a remarkable job of helping us to recognise and address some fundamental aspects of our degree programmes. One of the comments about School communication with students in our Mentimeter sessions last semester was ‘don’t tell us that you are listening, show us what you’ve done in response’ – so I want to share these with you to do just that!

a) Changes to degree structure in History and Politics and Law with History. Students on these joint honours degrees expressed dissatisfaction with the limitations on their options in the final year. The arguments they made persuaded the School’s Teaching and Learning Committee to make the following changes, which have been agreed with the joint schools and will apply from next year: i) Law with History finalists will be able to choose EITHER a Special Subject with dissertation OR 60 credits from other Level 6 modules in the School of History; ii) subject to sufficient supervision being available in Politics, History and Politics finalists will be able to choose EITHER a Special Subject with dissertation in History OR a Politics Research Project, and to split the module credits of the final year of their degree either 45 Politics/75 History or 60/60 or 75 Politics/45 History.

b) History and Politics course reps reported a sense of lack of community in previous years (this was supported by evidence from the National Student Survey). Both Schools have therefore put significant effort into revitalising the History and Politics Forum: at the last SSLC we received excellent feedback on how good the Forum’s events have been this year

c) Module Approval Committee. A Course Rep now sits on the committee that scrutinises new module proposals and amendments. When we met in December, second year Savannah Blake provided the Committee with critical commentary on module design, content and descriptions. This was extremely useful – it provided a student’s eye view of modules which has hitherto been lacking – and aspects of all these modules have been altered as a result.

d) Equality and Diversity criteria for module content and approval. Course reps and staff have both expressed a strong belief that addressing issues of equality and diversity ought to be a priority for the School. Recent reports from the Royal Historical Society that you could read here and here indicate that these are systemic issues for history in the UK.  want to build the improvement of equality and diversity into the fabric of how we operate as a School. As part of this, a working group of staff and course reps was set up last semester to produce a set of criteria that we will apply to all new modules to make sure that they are inclusive. A draft has now been produced that will be approved by the Teaching and Learning Committee and brought into place for next academic year. I am pleased to say that our practice here is leading within the University. We are also working with the Students Union on their inclusive curriculum project: they will be conducting focus groups with students on first year modules.

As always, we are extremely grateful to the Course Reps for the time they put in to trying to make things better for everyone.

4) Study spaces

Together with QMUL Estates and the Students Union, we’ve been working hard to create more study space for students within Arts Two. You’ll see seats and desks with stools on the ground floor around the lecture theatre and on the mezzanine above. There are also more sofas and a study room on the third floor. These are _all_ for your use – please do feel free to explore them. If they don’t suit your needs, let your Course Reps know.

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You will I am sure be looking forward eagerly to choosing your modules for next year. We have a very exciting range of new and established modules being offered.The schedule for the release of information and for you to make selections is below. 

School publishes module handbook - second week of February. Your advisor will email you shortly afterwards to arrange a meeting to discuss your options

SPECIAL SUBJECT FAIR - for second and third years going into the final year only - 13 February 3-5pm (includes briefing on special subject selection and chance to meet Special module organisers)

Students enter module choices via our bespoke Module Selection Tool - 25 February -18 March. It is not first come first served so you have the whole of this period to make your selection.

 

Best regards,

Dan