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New Birkbeck Hobsbawm scholars announced

This year’s new Hobsbawm scholars have been announced, funded by contributions from across the Birkbeck community to support postgraduate history students.

Eric Hobsbawm

This year’s new Hobsbawm scholars have been announced, funded by contributions from across the Birkbeck community to support postgraduate history students.

Now in its second year, the scholarships aim to encourage and support historians at the college through removing financial barriers to study and research. Six students – three studying post-graduate taught Master’s degrees and three pursing study at PhD level – will benefit from the scholarship this year.

Three full-fee waivers for full-time postgraduate Master’s study have been awarded to Sean Newman, Polly McKinlay and Imran Jaffri.

Three grants have also been awarded to three history PhD students – Emma Lundin, John Siblon and Morwenna Blewett.

Art restoration in Nazi Germany

  • An interest in the role of art restorers under the Nazi regime in Germany and occupied countries emerged from Morwenna Blewett’s post as a restorer at London’s National Gallery.
  • “The history of the National Gallery conservation department is intimately bound up with the topic of my research,” says Morwenna. “The first in-house restorer for the Gallery was a German refugee displaced by the Nazi regime. Before he arrived, restorers in the UK were generally and somewhat unfairly considered tradesmen, not experts."
  • She adds, “my research looks at how conservation in Germany was affected by the Nazi takeover – among other issues, many restorers were barred from practicing for ideological reasons, and that had a huge effect on how art was used, handled, preserved and presented.”
  • Funding from the scholarship will enable Morwenna to visit Vienna for a month to uncover archival material at the Kunsthistorische Museum and other institutions.
  • Morwenna says, “this funding is important as it enables me to focus for a time on intense archival study and then to make sense of and use this material for the rest of the year. It allows me to use my time very efficiently.”
  • She adds, “this opportunity adds so much to the already excellent support I’ve experienced as a student. There’s a connectedness about Birkbeck and an extraordinary out-of-hours life. It’s fantastically collegial.”

Memorialisation of African and Caribbean troops in World War II

  • Looking at the differences in how those in service from the Caribbean and Africa were commemorated at the end of World War II is the focus of John Siblon’s PhD research.
  • John says, “the commemoration of troops at the war’s end was very white. There’s a perception that colonial forces played only a minimal part in the war because of the way it’s been memorialised.”
  • He adds, “Africans were not allowed to fight in Europe – they were allowed to be non-combatants only, though they fought as part of colonial forces in Africa. After the war, the Imperial War graves commission granted funds for three statues to commemorate the solders lost from Africa, in three sites in different countries across the continent. I want to find out what the African perspective was on having this imposed, and how the soldiers involved felt about it.”
  • John, a history teacher, will be using his funds to travel to Ghana and Nigeria for three weeks this summer to research archival material there to further his research.
  • He adds, “the funding has been vindication that my research has real academic value. Without it, this important area of scholarship, and the voices from communities across Africa involved in the war, would not have the prominence it deserves.”

Female political power in South Africa and Sweden

  • Examining the friendships, alliances and changing power structures shared between women of the African national Congress (ANC) and the Swedish Social Democrat party, spanning nearly half a century, is the focus of Emma Lundin’s PhD research.
  • Emma says, “I’m interested in women’s liberation and how women gained influence in different political parties in different continents, at a time when men dominated senior positions.”
  • She adds, “both parties implemented gender quotas in 1994 and I’m looking at how the structures of both parties became progressively more democratic. There were many links between the two parties, both formally and informally – for example, two thirds of civil funding for the ANC came from Swedish development aid.
  • The funding from the Hobsbawm scholarship has been vital to Emma continuing her research and, she feels, a fitting tribute to a man who inspired her to come to Birkbeck in the first place.
  • Emma says, “as a historian, Hobsbawm is one of the reasons I came to Birkbeck, so it feels like things have come full circle and his memory is living on in contemporary research thanks to the scholarship.”
  • Emma has used her funds to travel to Sweden to investigate women in the Swedish parliament between 1960 and 1973.

Commenting on the award of the scholarships, Professor Frank Trentmann in the Birkbeck Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, said:

“One of Eric’s biggest concerns when he was at Birkbeck was the increasing social inequality in the UK. The Hobsbawm Scholarships are vitally important as a way to address this and further the college’s mission to enable anyone, regardless of background or means, to further their education and pursue academic study.  

“Congratulations to this year’s scholars and thank you to all the friends and alumni of the college who have contributed to keeping Eric’s legacy alive.”

Following the death of Eric Hobsbawm – a much-loved member of the Birkbeck community and an internationally-renowned history scholar – in 2012, the Hobsbawm Scholarship fund was set up as a way for alumni and friends of Birkbeck to create a fitting legacy in recognition of his contribution to college life.

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