History Weekend 2023

Every year the Society arrange a residential weekend which includes our AGM. We enjoy a variety of talks by members around a chosen theme, plus a historically based trip out and chat and a drink in the bar at the end of each evening. This is the report for 2023


The Open University History Society held its annual conference and AGM over the weekend of 17-19th February 2023. The weather remained dry so any that wanted could before the start of each day take a walk in the local area.

For those who were able to get to Hillscourt before 6pm there was a chance to meet up over tea and coffee in the common area outside the conference rooms. After dinner which as usual was excellent quality even though that night the service was rather slow. This did mean that Alan Carroll’s talk started about half an hour late. However Alan’s talk as usual gave us a lot to think about, it was entitled “Crime or Punishment: Preserved Bodies of Europe and North America”. His talks are always enlightening and help ask the questions that help direct our history studies and research. A tradition of the conference is at the end of the day to retreat to the bar where further discussion takes place.


After a hearty breakfast the day started in earnest. We held a minute’s silence in respect of our late President Don Vincent so that we could remember all he did for the society as a Committee member then as Chairman and finally as President. A short AGM was held at the conclusion of which Alan Carroll was unanimously elected as our new President in recognition of all he does for the Society.


The important part of the conference is that all subsequent talks are by our members, many of whom have not presented a talk in public before. So this is a great opportunity to tell fellow students  past and present about research you are currently doing. Following the AGM Sue Bentley, who is studying Art History gave an interesting talk on “Art Behind Bars”. It was illustrated by some interesting pictures. As usual this talk raised a number of interesting questions. Lunch followed Sue’s talk.


Another tradition of the weekend if to go on a group visit to somewhere of interest. February is not the best time of the year to find places open, but Andy Crow (who organised this year’s event) excelled himself, booking a visit to the West Midlands Police Museum. With such a large group this year the museum volunteers divided us into two groups. While we were there the museum had an interactive activity. This was volunteers dressed as Victorian Police and prisoners to show how the museum would have been used as a Lock-Up for those held at police stations around Birmingham who at night had not been before a Magistrate. They were brought to the lockup at night and held there securely until brought before the bench sometime the following day. This was a very realistic demonstration. The guides who took us round were both interesting and informative. There was a great deal to see and I’m sure some things we missed.


With time before the coach was due to take us back to Hillscourt, Alan Clarke suggested to those who were with his group form the Police Museum that there was just time to visit Birmingham Cathedral St Philips to see the Edward Burne-Jones stained glass windows.


We were back at Hillscourt in plenty of time for supper. The evening sessions were given by 2 members new to the conference, Garry Elliott gave an interesting insight into his current research “Access to Justice for the poor people in the late nineteenth century”. Again this lead to a number of interesting questions. Garry was followed by Jack Flaherty, who’s intriguing talk was “The Golden Age of Assassinations”. It had been a long day but very enjoyable, naturally we ending the final discussion in the bar.


Our last morning again showed the wide variety of subjects again on the theme of the weekend, Crime and punishment. Starting with “The History of Blasphemy” here Alan Clarke spoke about how blasphemy has changed and shaped the world. This was followed by Anita Jays on “Family Shame” which bridged family and local history. Anita was followed after a short break by Jillian Opitz who covered some of her research on “Criminals and their Punishments in the early modern Period”, This led in nicely to the closing session in which Catriona Manners told us about “From Carpenter to Prison Governor” depicting how in the Victorian era some people could rise above their station on life.


Rooms had all been vacated before the start to the final morning, a few had to catch trains just prior to the end of the morning, while the rest ended with Sunday lunch before departing for home. We left with our thoughts on what we could present next year when the theme will be “In our backyard”.