Letter from the Chair

Welcome to the Faculty of History’s spring newsletter.

Last time this year we were in lockdown, and most students were studying remotely from home. So it is particularly pleasing to report that the Lent Term has begun in its usual fashion and that, as in Michaelmas, we are lecturing and teaching again in person. Omicron has brought fresh challenges, but Cambridge is returning to life as the pandemic gradually wanes and we are hopeful that the coming weeks and months will see further improvements.

Professor Alex Walsham
Professor of Modern History and Chair of the Faculty of History

Alex Walsham

We are delighted to relaunch two of the Faculty’s named lecture series this term. The Trevelyan Lectures will be delivered by Professor Lauren Benton (Yale University) on 9-10 and 16-17 February. Her subject is ‘On Small Wars: Legalities of Violence in European Empires’. The lectures will be given in person but also livestreamed. If you wish to register to attend or to receive the link to the webinar, please do so via this webpage: Trevelyan Lectures 2022 | Faculty of History University of Cambridge. The Ellen McArthur lectures will be delivered by Professor Bob Allen (New York University, Abu Dhabi) on ‘From Foraging to the First States: An Economic History’ on 2-3 and 9-10 March. For further details about how to register, see McArthur Lectures - March 2022 | Faculty of History University of Cambridge.

As described below, we are also continuing our series of alumni lectures this year and very much hope you will take the opportunity to attend these online events. We hope to begin to engage even more actively with our alumni in the coming months, as we begin a programme of activities and events to mark a series of Faculty anniversaries – the establishment of the Regius Chair in History in 1724, the beginning of the Historical Tripos in 1873, and the founding of the Cambridge Historical Journal in 1923. Please watch this space. If you would like to be involved, do let us know.

Within this newsletter, our newly appointed Assistant Professor in Black British History, Dr Michael Joseph, who joined the Faculty in October, introduces himself and his fascinating work on anti-colonial thought in the Caribbean between the 1880s and 1930s. Clare Jackson, College Lecturer in History at Senior Tutor at Trinity Hall, explains the origins and argument of her celebrated new book Devil-land – an intriguing study of European perceptions of England ‘under siege’ in the century between the Spanish Armada and the Glorious Revolution. Professor Peter Mandler reports on the newly established Robert Silver Prize, awarded for an essay on the twentieth-century British Jewish history. One of our undergraduates, Yang Zuo, provides an account of his research on China’s environmental policy. And PhD student Jasmin Bath discusses her research on poor single mothers in antebellum New York City.

We hope you will enjoy reading this newsletter. Do get in touch if you have news of your own to report. We greatly enjoy hearing from our alumni about what their time in Cambridge has meant to them and the journeys they have undertaken in the years since.

Devil-Land. England under Siege 1588-1688

By coincidence, I signed the contract with Penguin to write Devil-Land. England under Siege 1588-1688 in the week that followed the referendum held on 23 June 2016 in which a majority of the United Kingdom’s electorate voted to leave the European Union. I finished the manuscript in the week after the UK’s final departure from the EU, following expiry of the ‘transition period’ on 31 December 2020.

Clare Jackson, Devil Land: Book cover and author photo

Robert Silver Essay Prize 2022

Robert SilverRobert Silver (1956–2019) had a lifelong passion for politics and history. Born in London, he was awarded a History scholarship to Trinity and studied in Cambridge from 1974–77. After his death, his family and friends set out to preserve his memory with an essay prize in his name on his three great passions: history, politics and Jewishness.

The aim of the prize is to attract submissions from undergraduate and postgraduate students, young academics, journalists and writers in the UK. The deadline for submissions this year is 23 April, and we'd like to ask you to spread news of the prize more widely.

New Appointment: Michael Joseph

A historian of the modern Caribbean, Britain and France, Dr Michael Joseph is our new Assistant Professor in Black British History. Michael joined us in October 2021 from Oxford, and here he tells us about his latest book project – a comparative study of anti-colonial political thought on five islands: Barbados, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Martinique and Trinidad.

Michael Joseph


Exploring our students' research

Jasmin Bath

Studying single motherhood in times of turmoil

Words by Jasmin Bath (Clare)

I am a second-year doctoral candidate investigating the lives of poor single mothers in New York City between 1827 and 1857. Research on poor single mothers, in an era before comprehensive health care and welfare support, is now particularly relevant, as we begin to comprehend how poor working people survive in times of upheaval and turmoil. The ongoing pandemic has meant that many families have seen the loss of breadwinner wages – whether through unemployment, disease or death – and yet rent still needs to be paid and children fed.

Wind turbines

Climate change politics: China’s environmental policy as grand strategy

Words by Yang Zuo (Fitzwilliam)

Haze, sandstorms, and polluted, smelly groundwater: this is what came to my mind when I thought of China’s impressive economic growth in the 2000s. I can still recall the smog mixed with coal ash released from steel factories in my hometown. Probably because of these childhood experiences, I have always thought of economic development as a nemesis of environmental protection. However, I was astonished to see thousands and thousands of wind turbines installed in Inner Mongolia when I was travelling not long ago. It was then that I started asking how this dramatic change in China’s environmental policy related to its grand strategy.