The York Historian Meets: Oleg Benesch

Source: The York Historian Meets: Oleg Benesch

My interview with historian Oleg Benesch.


Friendships, Lesbianism and Identity in Victorian Britain

The York Historian

At first glance of the identities and sexuality of women in Victorian Britain, one assumes that the Victorians ‘denied, controlled, or muted public expression of active female sexuality’, however in the Victorian era it is clear that women were able to express a certain amount of sexuality through passionate friendships with other women. Friendships that women had with other women had an impact on society’s views of female sexuality and identity. There is a wealth of writing to support this idea; however, some of this writing also supports the idea of a lesbian identity that merges both female and male identities to create an identity, which can be seen by looking at Anne Lister, a lesbian, landowning woman in the 1800s. This separate identity was often viewed by the outside world to be very similar to that of a normal passionate friendship. Therefore, many people accepted this as a suitable…

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The York Historian Meets: Michael Walkden

My interview with faculty member and PhD student Michael Walkden :).

The York Historian

“It’s essential for universities to keep producing citizen historians… the university historian doesn’t have to be the only gatekeeper of the truth of the past.”

18217378_1689544898015825_1591864777_nThe York Historian meets Michael Walkden, a third-year PhD student in the History Department, studying early modern medical history. Michael’s research, “The Gut-Mind Connection in Early Modern Medicine and Culture, c.1580-c.1740”, delves into the mental and physical connections observed in the digestive system during the early modern period. Together, we discuss Michael’s perspectives on academia, the postgraduate process and the role of the Historian in everyday society, with existentialist digressions along the way.


00:00 Introduction

00:32 Teaching seminars

03:56 Michael after PhD

05:33 Networking in academia

09:22 Writing essays

11:29 Doing an MA in a related field

13:56 PhD funding and process

18:59 Choosing what to study long-term

25:39 Approaching PhD research

27:34 Finding relevance in research

29:51 Using history to explain the…

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Plans for a video series…

So recently, I had the idea of stepping up activity to this blog via regular short videos introducing and briefly explaining historical events and concepts aimed primarily at GCSE and A-level topics to help students. I thought this would be a useful staple to my History blog while not taking long in terms of production. For example, a 1 minute video where I try to explain WW2 as fast as possible, potentially accompanied by a longer 5-10 minute video going into more detail. I think this may be helpful and interesting to secondary education students looking for snippets for revision purposes or to introduce them to complex topics that are on their curriculum.

This idea may become a reality, but is it good idea?



At Terms End

First year university student of History.

First term done.

Most of the lessons I was warned I’d learn came from the environment outside of the classroom. Seminars came easy and lectures were dull. Big news. When it came to adjusting my sleep cycle to the free days – that were free only in name – and providing food for myself, I fell short. Repeatedly. Homesickness wasn’t a problem I encountered much except missing my girlfriend. Part of me seemed to know that my family had been ready to accept my absence for a while, while me and my girlfriend obviously hadn’t. It was harder to be apart from this relatively new love in my life than the stable presence of my family that seemed immortal to me.

When one hears of the flat living horror stories that university students like to peddle, it’s hard to relish the thought. However I found my flat to be really nice people who frequently looked out for each other and organised social events for everyone. In fact, it is I who has become the flat terror, playing pranks of increasing annoyance on everyone, still testing their threshold of tolerance. I hope they don’t get sick of me as I have become too fond. Sometimes I make pancakes for everyone or anyone in proximity which hopefully makes up for it.

The culture of ‘societies’ and self-development through extra curricular activities at first bored me, alienated me and then empowered me. I quickly became disillusioned with the constant club socials and pub crawls most societies hold to fill their event quota and struggled to see anything I’d want to do. I mean no disrespect to any society, as they clearly entertain the majority and bring people together. The opportunity to create my own society however, sparked my interest and lead to the creation of ‘Slam Society’. My love of poetry and specifically performance poetry inspired me to create a platform specifically for that. We held a modest event with around 12 people in the last week of term and I’m really looking forward to growing the society next term. To me, this was probably the most engaging aspect of this term, trying to do something I had absolutely no experience in and buying too many mince pies for an event.

Seeing as this is primarily a History blog, I couldn’t finish without touching on it. The History department at the University of York is great. With one module based on history skills and discussing historiography – the writing of history – I struggled to be entirely interested, but everyone involved was quick to emphasise that that was not the point. The objective of the module was to read around the subject – something it isn’t always obvious to do – and to work on essays that were different to A-level exams and of course, increasingly to university standard. While I agree that this was probably a necessary module, I enjoyed the period module much more. Titled “The Last Days of the Samurai and the Invention of Modern Japan”, the module followed Japan from around 1854 to 1912, through its period of rapid modernisation. The tutor of the module, Oleg Benesch was excellent and each seminar had a really comfortable atmosphere. The only flaw with this was that I was perhaps too comfortable with having the wrong answer, however this only served to stimulate debate even further. Anyone interested in East-Asian and Japanese History should definitely check out Dr Benesch’s website for further reading.

I think I’ll finish there.



Dr Oleg Benesch

Slam Society

Truth, Facts, and Politics in the Digital Age — L.M. Sacasas

On election night, one tweet succinctly summed up the situation: “Smart people spent 2016 being wrong about everything.” Indeed. I can, however, think of one smart person who may have seen more clearly had he been alive: Neil Postman. As I’ve suggested on more than a few occasions, #NeilPostmanWasRight would be a wonderfully apt hashtag with […]

via Truth, Facts, and Politics in the Digital Age — L.M. Sacasas

Is it easier to forget?


I’m currently reading a book called ‘The Uses and Abuses of History’ by Margaret Macmillan, a short book that explores how History is seen and interpreted by society. One of the most interesting aspects was a section on how the history of war can be censored or restricted, especially as veterans or people who experienced the war object to certain revisionist viewpoints on war. Macmillan argues that the people experiencing the war cannot understand the minutiae of, say, Truman’s decision to drop the nuke on Japan when confidential files and such would not be released for years afterwards. In this sense, Historians hold the power over perspective and often seem abrasive to people who lived through a period being studied or talked about. The sensitivity of periods like war and social backwardness like the Holocaust or other heinous genocides often leads to a distortion of the facts, or at least that’s what Macmillan argues.

The relevancy of History is, surprisingly, as contested as that of Literature and Art. How can anything that contrasts modern society be relevant to us? With everything that’s been written there is a lesson and it is often the Historians job to interpret and promote this lesson responsibly. Macmillan discusses the abuse and distortion of History by fascist demagogues like Hitler, who used nationalist sentiment to motivate an entire nation to hatred and war. Germany is now one of the most metropolitan countries in Europe, and the world. Perhaps due to guilt, or determination not to repeat History, Germany never allows herself to forget what happened. This morality is absolutely vital to a functioning society and growth.

The sensitivity of History is contested by those who unwillingly wish to forget it. For example, the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign at Oxford University currently hopes to bring down a statue of famous British imperialist and white supremacist, Cecil Rhodes. However noble it is to oppose such a figure of oppression, Cecil Rhodes was a key figure in the expansion of the British Empire and is thus ingrained in the history of my nation. The most immoral thing to do about such an immoral figure is to ignore it or try to erase it. It’s a dangerous practice which allows the actions of people such as Rhodes to be forgotten, the persecution of Africans to be meaningless. If Oxford University want to condemn Cecil Rhodes and deny him his part in their History, then they should aspire to produce fine impartial Historians and Teachers and Writers who promote a well read culture absent of prejudice in any form.

For a better developed and well researched account of the influence of History I fully recommend Margaret Macmillan’s book “The Uses and Abuses of History” which you can find on Amazon or your local book retailer for under £10.

Until next time.

Stuff I used:

The Uses and Abuses of History

Margaret Macmillan

Rhodes Must Fall

Seattle Times – Cecil Rhodes Statue



My name is Paul Kerr and I hail from Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire. I study History and will soon be moving to university to continue my studies. In my spare time I write poetry and watch films. This blog will predominantly be about History and Poetry and my exploration into both. I believe both aspects of study require creative perspectives, primarily the latter of course and I hope to receive feedback and positive contributions from people with similar interests, or perhaps differing interests that can offer insight into my discoveries. That’s enough with formalities, more to come! I have no blogging schedule as yet so posts will be sporadic and spontaneous. If you’re reading this, say hello.