As we enter a new academic year at the University of Oxford, the Profile editors of the Oxford Student have introduced a new ‘Student Spotlight’ series which will span the eight weeks of Michaelmas term. We aim to celebrate and raise awareness of a selection of empowering student activists who are committed to making the University, and the wider world, a better place. Join us in reading about their work, their inspirations, advice for student activists and how they see their own activism evolving in years to come.
This week we talked history, politics, social media and big conversations with the Oxford History Review’s Editors in Chief: Molly Archer-Zeff, Oliver Shaw and James Morrison. The OHR is one of Oxford’s newest magazines, blossoming out of lockdown, it has managed to establish a great presence on social media, contribute to access projects, and hold space for student historians.
Can you explain how OHR was started?
We started during the Easter vacation, just before lockdown started. Already suspecting that we wouldn’t be returning to Oxford for Trinity, we thought the magazine would be a great way to stay connected to the university community. We also wanted to create a platform for those who are interested in sharing their views and to create a stronger sense of community among historians at Oxford, especially since we are so spread out. This summer it definitely felt like we needed stronger community connections more than ever before.
It just began as a simple idea suggested to friends, we never really expected it to work so well! We started with a Facebook page and magazine and we were really surprised at how much enthusiasm there was towards it. After our first issue, the History Faculty asked us to make a special edition for the Open Day and since then we have added new sections to the magazine, created a website and Instagram, and collaborated with other Oxford societies. We have also grown our team – for the first edition there were only three of us working on it, and now we have an amazing group of editors who are working towards the next issue!
One thing I noticed when going through your website and social media channels was how fun your illustrations/graphics are. OHR is very visually appealing, can you talk a little about this?
We really want our social media and website to be fun and appealing and we have an amazing social media manager who makes sure this happens. We started OHR as a platform for everyone – it’s supposed to be light-hearted and engaging but also have a focus on important historical topics and discussions. Making our content visually appealing helps to distinguish us from other more serious academic publications. While we aim to produce good quality content, we also want OHR to be an enjoyable break from the intensity and seriousness of our degrees. We’re currently looking to expand the team to include illustrators so look out for more arty graphics in our future content!
I really love your module review idea, very often as students we’re made to feel like our opinions on course content or structure don’t matter, or won’t be taken seriously. What is your hope for this series? Are you hoping to strengthen channels of communication with the faculty, or is this more of a student ’safe space’ so to speak?
This is definitely more a ‘safe space’ for students rather than trying to rally the faculty to change the modules. The module review section allows students to voice their own opinions on a module and this isn’t necessarily representative of the views of the student body as a whole. With so many modules on offer, it often feels like historians at Oxford don’t get the opportunity to talk to those who are studying different periods and themes, and so module reviews allow us to engage with the topics other historians are studying more meaningfully. It is also the perfect place to rant (or rave!) about your love or hate of a module and to get students thinking about what they’re actually studying!
What do you think are the most important discussions being had within history at Oxford? And what do you think are the most important discussions we are yet to have?
There are so many vital and fascinating discussions happening right now. It has to be said that an extremely important one at the moment is the issue of the Cecil Rhodes statue. We have actually produced an article about this in collaboration with Uncomfortable Oxford, which you can find on our website! The controversy not only speaks to the timeless issue of historical injustice being preserved in the iconography we see around us every day in Oxford and beyond. It was encouraging to see how many people engaged with this discussion throughout the summer, even though many of us were away from the city. We hope that there will be more discussions about historical memory and the issues it can present, something we certainly aim to include in our content.
There are so many discussions we are yet to have. Discussions that we desperately need to! One we’re particularly interested in is how noticeably the history course is skewed in regards to representation. Most freshers start with the British history modules, and they are full of sources produced by, for and about white men. These texts are often compulsory, yet the literature on women remains optional. Oxford has done a great job in recent years of introducing new modules that present a wider range of histories, however, we should extend our discussions to include solutions of how we can change the modules that already exist to be more diverse.
One of your editions was about studying history for prospective applicants, I was wondering where the OHR stands on student activism? Do you see the magazine as political, or think access and outreach will be something you continue to engage with?
We’re first and foremost a history magazine, but access and outreach is definitely something we will continue to engage with. It’s important that a range of people study history, and at the OHR we hope to show prospective students that it is a fascinating and interdisciplinary subject with endless debates. Our magazine is free and is a great way for people to engage with new and unusual historical topics.
As a subject History has made a lot of improvement in recent years, however historical research is still riddled with inequalities and prejudice. Championing diversity, and highlighting issues with the Oxford course, and the wider discipline is our way of encouraging students to be more critical about what, who and why we study what we do. So you could say that we promote student activism by encouraging readers to think about alternative pasts and the impact historical study can have on forming and sustaining inequalities.
Lastly, we always finish our interviews with a few quick-fire questions:
What is something every student should know?
That university is a great opportunity to engage in discussion and to get involved in student journalism – so don’t hesitate to do so!
What is something every student should do?
Read Oxford History Review and get involved!
What is something every student should read/watch/listen to?
There are too many amazing options to choose just one, have a look at our Editors’ Picks article to see what we suggest!