History Schools Dinner, Trinity term

Merton College History Society


Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, this year has been a successful one for the Merton History Society. It began with a virtual Freshers’ Tea, our first chance to connect the freshers with the finalists. This was followed by a quiz, in which we were pleased to see many entries for our first round, as attempts to recreate historical events from Michaelmas modules using the props available in people’s rooms included Percy Pig as Joan of Arc being burnt at the stake, a bathtub full of tea representing the Boston Tea Party and recreations of David Bowie album covers.

This was followed by a well-attended talk by Merton’s new Junior Research Fellow Emily Rutherford entitled ‘Gender difference and gender segregation in British universities after coeducation’, which commemorated the centenary of women being granted degrees at Oxford and the 40-year anniversary of the first female students at Merton.

Hilary term saw virtual events continue, with another quiz attended by the Tutors, Merton historians and their families. Professor Steve Gunn’s wife, Jacquie, was invited to judge culinary recreations of historical events, including a breadstick in the eye of a potato smiley face (the arrow in the eye at the Battle of Hastings), six cupcakes representing the wives of Henry VIII and a chocolate log Anderson shelter.

Trinity term saw the welcome return of in-person events, with the success of the Schools Dinner for finalists and the annual society Garden Party, with Pimm’s and croquet aplenty. This offered us finalists the chance to put some names to the faces of freshers we had seen on screen all year.

Throughout the year, I have been ably assisted on the History Society committee by the Secretary, Jess Hinks (2018), and the Treasurer, Rachel Lo (2019). It has been my pleasure to serve as President for this year, and I am pleased to leave the responsibility for the society in the hands of Michael Zajak (2020). I wish him all the best for next year.

Joe Hyland Deeson (2018) 
History Society President 2020-21 


It has been another successful year for the Merton College History Society, notwithstanding the unusual circumstances that we have seen towards its end. In what seems like a lifetime ago, we kicked off Michaelmas in time-honoured fashion with the Freshers’ Subject Tea. The opportunity to get to know each other better over afternoon refreshments proved as popular as ever with freshers and older years alike. It was particularly encouraging to see the enthusiasm with which the second-years took to their newfound position as advice-givers, taking the reins for their own event at which they furnished the freshers with more tricks of the trade that they had learned in their first year – as ever, accompanied by refreshments. However, this year the new faces in the Society were not all students, as we also welcomed Dr Jennifer Altehenger to Merton as our Jessica Rawson Fellow in Modern Asian History and Associate Professor of Chinese History. It was great to hear Jennifer speak about her most recent research with such infectious enthusiasm at our first speaker event of term. I know I was not alone in having my eyes opened about the potential for using furniture as a lens through which to examine modern Chinese history. Jennifer’s talk was followed by the customary History Society Formal Hall, which allowed discussion to continue long into the evening.

Hilary term brought a new year, a new decade and a new schedule of events for the Society, which showed no sign of losing momentum as attendances continued to be strong despite the intensification of the academic workload for many students. Continuing to cast the chronological and geographical net far and wide, we welcomed Professor Christopher Tyerman and Dr Lucy Wooding for talks on the creation of a political space for ‘commoners’ on crusade, and the survival of religious images through the iconoclasm of the English Reformation, respectively. Both speaker events were well received by students, who ensured that the speakers earned their refreshments by fielding some very thought-provoking questions. That is not to say that Merton’s historians can only talk about history, as they proved at the annual History Society Dinner. The company was even better than the food, which is saying something. We are eternally grateful to the Hall staff, without whom the four History Society Dinners that I have had the pleasure to attend simply would not have been possible. We also appreciate our tutors (most of whom have been to far more than four of these dinners) for their unfailingly insightful and entertaining speeches. It was particularly pleasing to be joined by Dr Matthew Grimley, who has been on sabbatical this year.

Few might have predicted that the dinner was to be the last time that Merton’s historians could gather under one roof, as the global pandemic changed life as we know it. While this has regrettably robbed us of a normal Trinity term, including the annual Garden Party, I for one have been able to draw optimism from the togetherness that our cohort has shown over the last few months. My experience of Merton’s historians has always been one of a particularly cohesive community, and these unprecedented circumstances did nothing to shake this. It was particularly reassuring to see the finalists keep in close contact with each other as they sat their exams further afield than they would have liked. It is for these reasons that although the results of the election for the next History Society committee are yet to be announced, I have complete faith that the success of the Society will continue in 2020-21. In the meantime, I would like to thank the Treasurer, Grace Clark (2018), and the Secretary, Olivia Tan (2018), for their endless support throughout the year. They, and the rest of our cohort, have made my year as President a great pleasure.

Josh Travers (2016)
History Society President 2019-20


The Merton College History Society has had a highly successful year with a wide range of events that have seen excellent involvement from all historians within the College. Our first event of the year was the annual Freshers’ Tea in the JCR where we sought to welcome the new cohort of historians with plenty of snacks, refreshments and advice from the older years, including the graduate mentors.

Aiming to broaden the historical interests of those in the society, we had three speaker events this year, all of which were very well attended. In Michaelmas term, we firstly welcomed Professor David Carpenter (Christ Church, 1964), whose legendary works are now viewed as essential reading for those studying Medieval British History in first year. It really was a pleasure for us all to have the chance to hear him speak with such passion on his field of study. He delighted in revealing to us that Merton College has a unique version of Magna Carta! We also welcomed Professor Robert Gildea (1971) who interested us greatly with a talk on the miners’ strikes of the 1980s and their relevance to our political culture today. Brexit, naturally, was a prevalent part of discussion. Our final talk of the year was given by Merton’s very own Professor Steven Gunn (1979), Acting Warden, who entertained us all greatly with his analysis of accidental death in early modern England. Steven Gunn’s research in this field has reached such wide acclaim that it was even mentioned on QI. It therefore really was a privilege to have the chance to hear him discuss his research in person.

Other highlights included the first ever History Society Pub Quiz with rounds ranging from sport in history to Greek mythology. Lots of fun was had by all and hopefully this event will be repeated in the future. The annual History Society Dinner is always excellent fun; from the prosecco reception, through the dinner itself to the port and chocolates held in the MCR afterwards, much revelry was had with plenty of excellent historical discussion. Our final event of the year was the annual History Garden Party. The need for it to be held in the MCR due to poor weather did not dampen spirits. The abundance of snacks and Pimm’s provided the third years with a wonderful way to relax and celebrate after completing their exams and the first and second years with a very welcome break from work for Prelims and coursework.

I am very grateful to our Secretary Jack Phillips (2017) and our Treasurer Jessica Sheridan (2017) for all their help and support this year in ensuring that the History Society maintains its tradition of success. It is consequently very exciting to introduce the incoming committee for 2019- 20 where Josh Travers (2016) will be taking on the role of President, with Grace Clark (2018) as Treasurer and Olivia Tan (2018) as Secretary.

Emma Ball (2017)
History Society President 2018-19

President Miranda Gleaves (centre) and guests at the annual History Society Dinner - Photo: © Sebastian Dows-Miller
President Miranda Gleaves (centre) and guests at the annual History Society Dinner

Merton College History Society has had a wonderful last three terms, with five speaker events over the course of the year, and a History Formal Hall every term. We kicked off Michaelmas with the traditional Freshers’ Tea, this year hosted in the JCR to give all the new history students a chance to get to know the older years and the graduate mentors. We were also very lucky to have a fascinating talk from Timothy Walker (University College, 1977), former Director of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, entitled ‘The first 100 years of the Botanic Garden’. It was very well received, and it was so interesting to learn more about such a historically significant institution right on Merton’s doorstep.

Hilary term saw a very well attended talk from Dr Nicholas Cole (University College, 1997) on ‘History in the Information Age’, which covered not only how new computer programs will help the study of history in the future, but also how current research into the American Constitution is being aided by programming. We also enjoyed the annual History Society Dinner, a memorable black-tie occasion which saw entertaining speeches from Steven Gunn (1979), Matthew Grimley (1989) and myself. Much prosecco was drunk – within reason – and a post-dinner wine and cheese reception in the JCR went down very well.

Trinity term was particularly busy, with talks from Dr Alan Strathern (Trinity, 1993), Steven Gunn, and Mairi MacDonald (formerly of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust), discussing cultural interaction, accidental death in early modern England, and the Gunpowder Plot respectively. We also hosted a History Garden Party in the sunshine on Chestnut Lawn at the end of term. This was a wonderful opportunity for the outgoing third-years to say goodbye, and for the freshers and second-years, who have got to know each other rather better over the course of the year, to escape the library for an afternoon.

The Secretary Elena Grant (2016), the Treasurer Jake Harrison Woods (2016) and I have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and it has been an honour to run the Merton College History Society for 2017-18. We are excited to see what the committee for 2018-19 achieve and are delighted to introduce the new President, Emma Ball (2017), the new Secretary, Jack Phillips (2017), and the new Treasurer, Jessica Sheridan (2017).

Miranda K. Gleaves (2016)
History Society President 2017-18


The past year has been very busy for the Merton College History Society. Michaelmas Term began with a tea in Freshers’ Week to welcome the new history students and give them an opportunity to meet historians in older years. We also held a Subject Formal in Hall which was a well-attended and enjoyable dinner. In November we held our Speaker Event for the term when Dr Erica Charters, Associate Professor of the History of Medicine, discussed ‘Humanitarianism and war in the 18th century’, which was thought-provoking for the students, both from Merton and other colleges, as well as other guests who attended the event.

In Hilary we had our annual Subject Dinner, which was attended by more than 30 students and tutors. The dinner was an enjoyable evening with highlights including Professor Steven Gunn (Fellow; 1979) sharing various stories of accidental deaths, and Dr Matthew Grimley (Fellow; 1989) drawing on similarities between a tutor writing a speech and a student writing an essay. Our speaker event for the term was by Dr Andrea Purdeková, Departmental Lecturer at the University of Oxford in African Politics. Dr Purdeková explored the topic of commemoration in post-war Burundi, by looking at three sites, and how memory is erased and misplaced through the memorialisation of those sites.

Trinity Term started with our speaker event, for which we were fortunate to have Professor Lyndall Roper, Regius Professor of History at Oxford, Fellow of Oriel and Honorary Fellow of Merton. Professor Roper discussed Martin Luther, marking 500 years since the Reformation, and those present shared their thoughts on the commemoration of the Reformation in this special anniversary year. We also had a garden party on Sundial Lawn, which was a chance for historians from different year groups to catch up with each other in the sunshine, particularly for finalists who had finished their exams.

The Secretary Bethany Brand (2015), the Treasurer Baruch Gilinsky (2015) and I have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and it has been an honour to run the Merton College History Society for 2016-17. We are excited to see what the committee for 2017-18 achieve and proudly introduce the new President, Miranda Gleaves (2016), the new Secretary, Elena Grant (2016) and the new Treasurer, Jake Woods (2016).

Sinéad Duffy (2015)
History Society President 2016-17