On Monday, 7th January several sixth-form students from King Alfred’s Academy, the Downs and St Helen and St Katherine’s Schools attended an A Level Study Day on 18th Century studies organised by the Vale and Downland Museum of Wantage, in collaboration with the Universities of York and Leeds, the White Rose College of Arts and Humanities, and with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The day was also attended by research students and lecturers from Oxford Brookes University.
The keynote speech was given by Dr Joanna de Groot, Senior Lecturer at the University of York, who wove a fascinating interconnecting web of global history across the 18th Century, arguing that it is not possible to make sense of European history without considering its global aspects, and illustrating her talk with dozens of anecdotes and potted individual histories that supported this argument. She finished her talk by urging the students to consider viewing the world from different global perspectives and so decentre European history.
With heads buzzing with new ideas, the students then rotated their way through three main seminars, each run by different pairs of Academic Researchers from the two participating universities. One seminar, on medical humanities, considered the rise of the “man-midwife” and its cultural and political ramifications (led by Rebecca Simpson, York); and evaluated the role of children’s sleep in the 18th Century (led by Frances Long, York). Another seminar explored 18th Century literature, discussing the use of diaries and other life-writing works in the study of history (led by Holly Day, York); and the evolution of the epistolary novel (led by Helena Senior, York) with a focus on gothic novels. The third seminar questioned the ethical and cultural impact, both at home and abroad, of the practice for young gentlemen to go on a “Grand Tour” of Europe before settling down to their responsibilities (led by Lilian Tabois, York); followed by a discussion of the “Etruscan” style and Neoclassical Design, and how these patterns became incorporated into 18th Century Design (led by Hannah Kaspar, Leeds).
Hosted at the museum, the day was well supplemented with teas, coffees and delicious cakes, as well as a generous buffet lunch that allowed the students time for informal chats with the academics, as well as to engage in some academic networking.
The consensus at the end of the day was that it had been a truly fantastic event, which was supported by the discussion and calibre of the questions emerging from the students. Year 13 student Katie McDonagh commented at the start of the third seminar: “This has made me even more excited about going to university. I have loved all the discussion we have sparked off one another.”
Pam Stokell, Head of Academic Enrichment at King Alfred’s Academy, enthused: “This is yet another example of the invaluable education work done by our local museum, to the huge benefit of our students and consequently the community of Wantage. It is not without reason that the museum has, before now, been referred to as a gem at the heart of Wantage.”
At the day’s end, Mel Rowntree, Learning Access Officer for the Museum and the driving force behind the event, commented: “We were extremely fortunate to have an incredibly innovative and rigorous team of academic researchers led by seminal historian Joanna de Groot. We are so grateful to the speakers for travelling such a distance to share their time and expertise.”