Michael J Cass: First of all, what brought you to the University of Manchester?
What really took me to this institution is the fact that there’s way more to the job and the community than just the teaching and the research. You have a variety of institutes here like the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (HCRI), the Brooks World Poverty Institute, the Centre for the Cultural History of War; you’ve got plenty of things that add many dimensions to what I can contribute here.
What did you do before academia?
I took about a six or seven year break between finishing University and getting into graduate school. So I spent a good chunk of my twenties wandering around, really, trying different things, and trying some independent underground film projects. Heading off to China to try my hand at freelance journalism without a resumé that could get me a job in a newsroom, I had to try and get in through the back door. The idea, then, was to go to a part of the world that was somewhat under-reported, in other words a part of the world where a news room would be excited to get news copy. I got some contacts in a few newsrooms around the world, mainly in Tokyo at the Japan Times, and wrote stories from China, using an interpreter because I had no Chinese at the time.
Do you think History students from the University of Manchester can learn from your experience?
In the field of journalism, resumés don’t necessarily matter. If it’s journalism we’re talking about, it’s the ability to manage an uncomfortable environment and find a story; what a newspaper wants to read. Those are things that that a resumé won’t necessarily help you with. Of course, you’ve got to network in terms of what you can get published. I’d encourage any Manchester student to head out there and see what they can do be- fore they get a full-on graduate degree, because it’s also very useful when you’re getting a graduate degree to approach it from another, outside academia perspective. One of the ways I was able to finance grad school is that there were fellowships out there which were fellowships for people who can demonstrate an ability to put out academic work that you can put out there for the wider public. So that required a sort of journalistic style, a certain style of writing and so I came to grad school with a portfolio, it also helped fund my graduate schooling.
Which courses are you teaching this year?
Right now I’m teaching is a Level 3 course called The Margins Mobilise. Looking at the modern experience, how modernity is seen through everyday people, in other words; working girls, refugees fleeing crises, rebels against the state. It’s sort of an everyday history of the modern period.
Do you have any advice for History students coping with their workload?
One thing I would strongly, strongly suggest is: visit your professors, your lecturers way more often. I think many students don’t realise that there can be a conversation beyond the classroom; where they want to take their work, how they want to approach their reading, how they want to approach the course. See your lecturers more; I would suggest for students to show up for the lectures and the office hours and talk about the challenges of the course. The lecturers would be, by and large, happy to because it makes their lives easier as well. The other thing is to be deliberately conscious about how you approach the readings.