This article is more than 7 years old

University history in the making

There's an exhibition on at the University of Nottingham. It's all about the history of the University. And it's fab.
This article is more than 7 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

Exhibition time

A little parochial perhaps but I did want to comment on a terrific exhibition all about the history of the University of Nottingham.
Now that’s what I call Rock & Roll
I’ve written before about the importance of University history and in particular my enthusiasm for a forthcoming history of the University of Nottingham. Beyond the production of a book, as part of the process of writing this new history of the University this excellent exhibition has been brought together by Professor John Beckett (School of Humanities), Dr Andy Souter and Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham.
It’s rare that you get to see an exhibition all about higher education but this is a small and perfectly formed one including some great artefacts and some lovely recorded recollections from alumni:

University College Nottingham opened in 1881. At a time when free elementary education ended at eleven the aim of its Victorian founders was to provide people in Nottingham access to a University education.

Positioned on Shakespeare Street, in the heart of the city, the College had just twenty-two teaching staff. Students could enrol from the age of fourteen. In 1928 Jesse Boot gifted the College part of his estate at Highfields. This became the basis of University Park as we know it today.
The Trent Building when it was shiny and new

This exhibition charts how a University College with a few hundred students grew to become the world’s first truly global University. It draws on material from the University’s own archives to focus on key events in its history, including the granting of a full University charter in 1948 and, in more recent times, the building of the University Hospital and the opening of the Jubilee, China and Malaysia campuses.

Registrars really don't slam enough these days
Registrars really don’t slam enough these days

The exhibition focuses on the student experience, using prospectuses, timetables, photographs and uniforms to explore changes in the student way of life from the days of the University College to the experiences of today’s 40,000+ undergraduates and postgraduates.

 And there are also some excellent historical news reports.
Full details of the exhibition, which runs to 3 January 2016, can be found here. If you are anywhere near then do go and see it. Otherwise you’ll just have to wait for the book (which does have plenty of pictures).

One response to “University history in the making

  1. I have just read the new history by John Beckett and am extremely disappointed. t’s a pity that the first thing in the book is the kiss of death – the encomium and endorsement of the current Registrar. This makes it clear that this is a corporately approved history. The title of the book, after all, is the University’s very own current marketing self-description (apparently it’s the only “global university” in Britain!), and for the author to have accepted it indicates that he is essentially writing with the university, his employer, looking over his shoulder (as well as funding the entire thing) and the book thus contributes to Nottingham’s own commercialised self-mythology. The word “Professor” should never appear before the name of the author on an academic book. This only ever happens with coffee table books and, when you open this, that’s what you suddenly realise it is – not an academic text by an academic historian (there”s been no peer review of this, for sure). For example, the bibliography gives no places or publication or publishers, just dates. The book has lots of strictly pointless photos (who wants to see a senior member of Nottingham staff shopping in China, for example?). On the whole, it’s a compliant, institutionally loyal account, valuable, sadly, mainly for the photos and not the text. It does point out a number of political and even moral problems with running a university as commercialised as Nottingham, especially in recent years as Nottingham has essentially run franchised operations in other countries, but it essentially waves them away as “compromises” necessary in the “modern” world. I suppose it’s better than no history at all (the truth is that Nottingham is so provincial and obscure that it’s hard to see why anyone would want to write a history of its University anyway), but all historians know that your standards are compromised as soon as you enter a pact with the institution you are meant to be writing objectively about.

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