Doctoral Masterclasses

This is a series of five one-off masterclasses run by visiting professors at the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, in their field of expertise and specialist research. If you wish to attend, please contact in advance Jana Comfort ( to sign up.

Wednesday 4 November 2015, 6-8pm, Room 401, 30 Russell Square

Topic: Rethinking Gender and Labour History

Sonya Rose, Professor of History at the University of Michigan

For Professor Rose’s CV see:

Thursday 3 December 2015, 6-8pm, Dreyfus Room, 28 Russell Square

Topic: Microhistory in the river of time: notes from the banks of the Tiber

Mark Seymour, Professor of History at the University of Otago

For Professor Seymour’s CV see:

The river of western historiography used to be a powerful and reliably flowing stream whose main narratives were grand and came from left and right. As the river has approached the coast of the present, it has developed an increasingly complex set of tributaries and encountered various rapids, some of which have been so rocky that they have almost altered the very course of the river itself. Closer to the banks are sometimes inconspicuous little pools and eddies that seem to have a life of their own, apparently heedless of the central flows in deeper areas. This is where microhistorians, who investigate small, well-defined historical phenomena, insisting that their reduced scale of observation can add to and even change the big picture, like to paddle. In this discussion we will talk about microhistory, which first came into fashion in the 1970s, placing it into historical and historiographical context. The main aim is to gain a better understanding of the basic questions of scale that all historians must ask themselves. Illustrations and examples come from my own research in nineteenth-century Rome.

As preparation, I ask you to read a journal article and a book chapter:

  • Richard D. Brown, ‘Microhistory and the Post-Modern Challenge’, Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 23 No. 1 (Spring 2003), pp. 1-20.
  • Mark Seymour, ‘After Respectability: Women, Sexuality and the Circus in Pre-SexologyItaly’, in Valeria Babini, Chiara Beccalossi, and Lucy Riall, eds, Italian Sexualities Uncovered,1789-1914 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 80-100.

If this subject is of special interest to you, consider also reading this brilliant and provocative piece about using a lock of hair as an historical source (about as ‘micro’ as you can get):

  • Jill Lepore, ‘Historians Who Love Too Much: Reflections on Microhistory and Biography’, The Journal of American History, Vol. 88, No. 1 (June, 2001), pp. 129-144.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Topic: Public History

John Tosh, Professor of History at Roehampton University

For Professor Tosh’s CV see:

Professor Tosh will explore the contentious and imprecise theme of public history. Often seen as the preserve of amateurs and popularisers, the talk will explore the ways in which historians can place their research expertise at the disposal of the public, thereby enhancing the quality of public understanding on a wide range of topiocal issues. It would be useful to take a look at the History & Policy website before the session, especially those papers posted by PhD students and early career historians (

Professor Tosh’s publications on public history include Why History Matters (2008). His main research field is British gender history, which he is currently exploring in relation to colonial emigration during the 19th century.

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Topic: ‘The Fruits of the Archive: Manuscripts and Their Uses in Historical Research’

Michael Hunter, Professor of History at Birkbeck College

For Professor Hunter’s CV see:

This presentation will reflect on Professor Hunter’s experience in finding and deploying hitherto unpublished manuscript material in his writings on early modern intellectual history. It will also aim to offer some advice to budding researchers about the advantages and potential pitfalls of making use of material of this kind.

Michael Hunter is Emeritus Professor of History at Birkbeck, and a Fellow of the British Academy. For many years his chief preoccupation was Robert Boyle: he is the principal editor of Boyle’s Works (with Edward B. Davis, 14 volumes, 1999-2000), Correspondence (with Antonio Clerucuzio and Lawrence M. Principe, 6 vols., 2001) and workdiaries (with Charles Littleton, available online at He is also the author of Boyle: Between God and Science (2009), which won both the Samuel Pepys Award and the Roy G. Neville Prize in 2011, while his Boyle Studies: Aspects of the Life and Thought of Robert Boyle was published by Ashgate in 2015. His numerous other books deal with various aspects of seventeenth-century intellectual history, including the early Royal Society and its milieu. Currently, he is working on a full analysis of the frontispiece to Thomas Sprat’s History of the Royal Society (1667), a study which also reflects the concern with the visual culture of the period that led him to set up the website, British Printed Images to 1700 ( A further interest is in attitudes to magic in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, on which he has published various papers as well as The Occult Laboratory (2001), an edition of early accounts of second sight in Scotland.

Wednesday 4 May 2016

Topic: ‘20/20 vision? How to see the state’

Jane Caplan, Professor of History at St Anthony’s College, Oxford

For Professor Caplan’s CV see:

James Scott’s classic Seeing Like a State (1998) invited us to see through the eyes of the state. But what kind of optics do historians need to look back at the state? According to the American Optometric Association, ‘20/20 does not necessarily mean perfect vision. 20/20 vision only indicates the sharpness or clarity of vision at a distance. There are other important vision skills, including peripheral awareness or side vision, eye coordination, depth perception, focusing ability and color vision that contribute to your overall visual ability. Some people can see well at a distance, but are unable to bring nearer objects into focus. Others can see items that are close, but cannot see those far away.’ I’ll use this optical metaphor to explore what historians can learn about the state (and power) by deploying the full range of focal lengths and visual skills.

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