Dr Sasha Handley and Dr Paul Oldfield are two out of eight new, permanent staff in the History department. Between them, their research ranges from medieval Sicily to pilgrimages in the Middle Ages, and from ghosts in the 18th century to sleep habits. However, their roles within the University are not simply academic: both have taken on additional positions to enhance the relationship between students, staff and the wider public.
I interviewed them to find out about their new roles.
What is your new role?
SH: I am the Student Activities Coordinator. This involves providing financial advice and administrative support to the Manchester Historian and the History Society, and flagging things of historical interest to both. I am the point of contact between the students and the University and its staff. I will also be facilitating staff/ student events like the Pub Quiz on Tuesday 16th October.
I liaise with the Peer Mentor representatives and helped organise the first year’s scavenger hunt at the beginning of the year. Expect essay and exam clinics and events specifically geared towards first years to ease the move to university. Other initiatives I am working on include a history film night for staff and students, and I am also looking forward to contributing to the annual Manchester History Festival, alongside a number of my colleagues and hopefully some students too.
PO: Since there are more people in the History Department this year, staff can take on isolated administrative roles. I am the Schools Liaison Officer and will be acting as a point of contact for schools and colleges, organising workshops and lectures. This is not necessarily a University recruitment exercise but aims to give something back to the community.
What brought you to the University of Manchester?
SH: I worked at Manchester between 2006 and 2009 as a non-permanent member of staff. After this I worked at the University of Northumbria, in Newcastle. Manchester is not only a prestigious university but teaches the kind of history I am interested in. Here, I have similar interests as my colleagues- cultural and social history.
PO: Previously I worked at Manchester Metropolitan so there is some geographical continuity. Manchester University is a top university for research and resources. It also has a strong medieval legacy left by many eminent medieval historians, making it a sort of spiritual home for medievalists.
What is your current and future research, and what are you teaching this year?
SH: I have carried out research in ghost beliefs and ghost stories detailed in my book, Visions of an Unseen World. I am currently researching sleep and sleep habits in seventeenth and eighteenth century Britain; specifically things like how bedtime is shaped by religious beliefs and sleepwalkers in the eighteenth century. I am the course leader of the first year course, ‘Communities and States in Early Modern Europe’; second year course, ‘War and Society in Early Modern Europe’; and third year course, ‘Contesting the Supernatural in the Early Modern British Isles, c. 1600-1800’.
PO: I am a medievalist, and have carried out research on saints and pilgrimages, and medieval Sicily in the Central Middle Ages. I am teaching a range of topics from the Vikings to the Normans, and the crusades. A lot of my teaching focuses on Europe, while my supervision of MA students involves comparing the south of Italy and Sicily to Jerusalem which fits in well with my research.
Do you have any words of wisdom for history undergraduates?
SH: Students tend to stick with what they know, particularly when choosing modules. There is a whole world of opportunity when you get to university and you never know what might tickle your fancy, so be eclectic and adventurous. Dive in.
PO: Everyone panics when they are given a piece of work or essay to do. A by-product of my experience has allowed me to see the benefit of letting time pass, and then begin to read slowly. It won’t be as daunting if you read bit by bit which will allow you to hold your nerve.