20 Questions for SHaCademics – Professor Nicholas Crowson

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1. What is your role within the History department?  As a professor, although I do a certain amount of teaching and dissertation/PhD supervision and carry on with my research, most of my time is spent undertaking a senior administrative role as the College of Arts and Law’s  Deputy Director of Research with responsibility for impact. For those who don’t know about “impact” it is a term used  to describe the way in which our academic research is translated into engagements with those outside of academia for the greater social and economic good. It carries importance for how well History (and other academic disciplines in CAL) will do in the 2021 Research Exercise Framework (we were the top rated History department in the 2014 REF) which in turn will affect the proportion of funding we receive as a result.

2. What are your research interests?  Currently I’m researching homelessness in Britain from mid-19thC to modern day, trying to integrate the historical lived experience of homelessness into narratives about policy and charity responses.

3. Where did you study (UG, PGT, PGR etc.)?  Southampton for both UG and PhD – in my day you weren’t required to undertake an MA before starting a PhD. And the motives for going to Southampton had nothing to do with studying history, but with the chance to go to a University that had, at that time, the best student sailing team (it had several Olympians amongst my cohort) and there was also easy access to the Solent and Cowes too.

4. Did you always know you wanted to go to university or in to academia?  I knew that I wanted to go to University from about the age of 13 (at a time when only about 5% of 18 year olds went to University), not because I wanted to study but I knew that it was a way of escaping rural Oxfordshire and to go sailing.

5. How long did it take and how did you manage to fund and complete your PhD?  I was very lucky to secure a PhD Archival Studentship from the University of Southampton in the weeks immediately after finishing my UG studies, so I went where the money was.

6. What was your PhD on?  Conservative Party’s responses to Neville Chamberlain’s foreign and defence policies.

7. What are you working on at the moment?  Trying to frame how I am going to write my book on vagrant life-stories, and related to this working with a theatre company Cardboard Citizens about how some of these life-stories might be dramatized (we’ve got to the final round of the BBC’s annual drama commissioning process).

8. What made you want to become a lecturer/academic?  Had nothing better to do when the chance of the PhD came up, and then got very lucky in securing this permanent Birmingham appointment in 1997 after a few years of short term contracts in Belfast and London.

9. Name three books/films/podcasts you recommend to read/watch/listen to during lockdown.  Given my answer to number 7 you’ll see that my suggestions have a theme.

  • Darren Anderson Inventory: A River, A City, A Family – about growing up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
  • Philippe Sands East West Street –  which sees the author tracing his family’s secret history back to Lithuania and leading to links to the origins of international law at the Nuremberg trial.
  • Alison Light Common People – which is another alternative story of a family history, but one which has a geographical relevance to Birmingham and particularly Cotteridge and Stirchley.

10. What is the most historically inaccurate film or scene you have watched or read?  I’ve stopped worrying about accuracy else I would never watch anything without getting really grumpy – so I’m more concerned about enjoyment. Also after a number of years collaborating with Cardboard Citizens I have come to appreciate even more the challenges of the creative process, and how once you hand over the fruits of your research to a playwright you have to learn to step back. Ultimately all history is really a partial fashioning of a story.

11. Are you staying physically active during lockdown? If so, how, and do you suggest anything?  I do a weekly one to one Pilates session by Zoom and have a love-hate relationship (well more hate) with my Freeletics app. Walking the dogs doesn’t really count as exercise as the pace that Meg the Lab sets is so sedentary.

12. Do you have any pets? If so, what? (Pictures encouraged!)  Three: Meg (an 10 yr old lazy rescue Labrador) and Lolly (an 8 year old neurotic springer-cocker cross who thinks lock-down is great) and then Izzy the cat (or Witch Cat as she’s known for swiping sleeping dogs with her claws) who is really ancient but who now thinks she’s a dog.

13. What is your favourite film or TV series?  Have just finished re-watching the entire Outnumbered series. But at the moment I’m suffering withdrawal from the lack of live rugby to watch.

14. Do you have a favourite band/album/genre of music? If so, what?  Fairly eclectic (or at least I think so, my kids have different views …). As a teenager I always listened to John Peel’s radio shows, so grew up loving the Wedding Present, the Pogues, the Fall and lots of various indie bands as well as classical music. Nowadays I listen to Peel’s son Tom Ravenscroft’s 6 Music radio show, and my play lists include plenty of tracks that I hear on those shows.

15. Do you have any unusual links or claims to fame?  The male Crowson lineage could have been erased if my Great-Grandfather hadn’t walked out a Rutlandshire village flour mill moments before the steam pump exploded killing his two fellow workers.

16. What skill would you one day like to master?  Conversational Spanish

17. What takes up too much of your time?  Impact related administration, and my dogs.

18. What songs have you completely memorized?  None, useless at this.

19. What advice would you give to your younger self?  I wouldn’t bother as I know I wouldn’t have taken it!

20. Do you have any top tips for academic work/study for our students?  Be organised.