Trump for Historians: Reflections on Teaching US History in Election Season

This week’s blog is by Dr Alexander Scott, Lecturer in Modern History at UWTSD Lampeter.

Journalists, bloggers and political scientists have produced countless words trying to explain the unexpected result of November’s US presidential election. And just as commentators have struggled to make sense of Donald Trump’s ascension to the White House, his victory poses interpretive challenges for historians. Where does a Trump presidency fit into existing narratives of US history? Are there precedents for Trump’s success or does it mark a new departure for American politics? What social, economic and cultural trends underpinned Trump’s victory and how longstanding are they?

Such questions have had particular immediacy to me. During Autumn Term, I taught my Level 5 module ‘Introduction to American History: From Columbus to the Present Day.’ This afforded plenty of opportunities to reflect on Trump’s triumph, and to consider the election result in relation to themes and topics covered in my lectures (issues of race, class and gender, US foreign policy, American national identity and suchlike). I deliberately scheduled the module to coincide with the election, hoping its topicality would generate extra interest amongst students. I was not disappointed. Lectures frequently produced lively, engaged debates and discussions, helping cast new light on my own understanding of American history.

Besides the usual module syllabus, in November I also delivered two special lectures which directly addressed the presidential election. The first, entitled ‘“Remember the Ladies”: Women and the US Presidency,’ compared Hillary Clinton to female political figures throughout US history. These included Abigail Adams and other First Ladies, plus Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to stand for the presidency in 1872. Preparing the lectures, an unexpected parallel emerged between Woodhull’s candidacy and the 2016 race. Woodhull’s campaign was embroiled in scandal after publishing accusations of sexual misconduct involving, of all things, a wealthy businessman and a New York hotel.

Another theme of the lecture ended up resonating with November’s election’s outcome. The lecture touched on the ‘enthusiasm gap’ surrounding the Clinton campaign, and its lukewarm support amongst Third- and Fourth-Wave Feminists. As a measure of this, the lecture cited estimates that Clinton actually polled fewer votes when winning the 2016 primaries than she had in her defeated 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination. Such inability to enthuse voters cost Clinton at the ballots in several key states (even if, for all her unpopularity, she still defeated Trump on the popular vote).

My follow-up lecture ‘November Spawned a Monster: The US Presidency and the Politics of Celebrity’ elaborated on a set of connected themes. It examined the brand of masculinity embodied by presidents such as Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, while also exploring the role that media have played in presidential races – something which has a very long (and undistinguished) history. For example, in 1828 Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams in an election characterised by mudslinging tactics even dirtier than the Trump–Clinton race. Campaign teams used print media to circulate stories that Jackson was guilty of slave-trading, adultery and murder. For his part, Adams faced accusations that he once acted as a pimp to the Russian Tsar!

The lecture also drew attention to celebrities who, like Trump, made threatened-or-realised bids for the presidency. These included the newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, automobile tycoon Henry Ford and aviator Charles Lindbergh. Here, mention of Hearst and Lindbergh’s involvement in the America First Committee (a pressure group that obstructed US entry into World War Two) foreshadowed another aspect of the 2016 campaign. It bore echoes to the type of isolationist rhetoric adopted by President Elect Trump.

Running my module concurrent to the presidential campaign came with its own problems, though. Embarking on my lectures in early October, there was no certainty about how the election would turn out. Planning for the final weeks of the module thus remained open-ended; victory for Clinton and the Democrats would have made a starkly different denouement than what ultimately transpired. Tricky as these issues were, they also proved useful to ‘think with.’ Deliberating how to ‘conclude’ the module offered a salutary reminder that – contra Francis Fukuyama – history does not ‘end,’ and that all interpretations remain provisional at best.

Actually, sentiments such as these have been identified as a contributor to the Republicans’ electoral success. Historians and other academics, it has been alleged, helped create intellectual legitimacy for Trump’s ‘post-truth’ politics. Commentators have equated Trump’s gung-ho attitude towards ‘truth’ and ‘facts’ to how postmodernists have relativized these concepts in recent decades. As someone who broadly ascribes to the tenets of postmodernism, and who incorporates them into my teaching and scholarship, this verdict comes as an unsettling surprise.

How to explain Trump’s victory? Turns out it was my fault!

Posted in History, Humanities Tagged with: , , , , ,

Postcard from Copenhagen

This week’s post is by Dr Magdalena Öhrman, a senior lecturer in Classics at UWTSD, who is currently or research in Copenhagen leave as part of her Marie Curie Sklodowska Fellowship.


As most of you know, I’m in Copenhagen working on my project Tex tile Reflections: Multi-Sensory Representations of Textile Work in Latin Poetry and Prose. I’m based at the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for Textile Research, where I get to work with colleagues who are experts in anything from the archaeology of Scandinavian iron age (and its textile production) to pre-Columbian Peruvian textiles as well as master craftspeople.


Early evidence for the Roman two-beam loom: the friezes of the Minerva temple in the Forum of Nervae.

Besides working on analysis of literary passages featuring weaving, one of the most exciting things I have done this autumn has been to co-organise a series of hands-on, drop-in workshops trialling weaving on reconstructions of ancient looms together with craftspeople and scholars: we have set up and woven on the two-beam loom, used in the Roman world from 1st C CE onwards and in Scandinavia during the Bronze Age, and are now preparing a weave on the warp-weighted loom.


Heddles pulling warp-threads forward.

Every time I get to experience a reconstruction of a historical loom type for the first time, some new little piece of the puzzle falls into place, throwing new light on comments made in Latin texts. When we set up the warp for our two-beam loom, we made a mistake and had to re-do the heddles around the warp, recycling the strong cotton thread we used for heddles. Heddles are the loops that you pull around every other vertical warp thread and tie around a horizontal bar to be able to move the warp in one go by pulling the bar towards you: they make it possible to weave in a mechanised way. As I was re-doing ours, it occurred to me that this is why the Roman poet Lucilius (writing satire in the 2nd C BCE) lists as valuable equipment of a housewife both heddles, loomweights, sieves, and lamps: unlike the material that goes into the warp and weft – in Rome at the time, mainly wool or plant fibres – you can re-use strong heddles again and again. Lucilius says:

Lucilius Fragment 681 M

…cribrum, incerniculum, lucernam, in laterem in telam licium…

“…sieves*, a lamp, heddle thread for the loom-weights and the loom…”

weavingCommentators on Lucilius have puzzled over the inclusion of the word for ‘thread’ or ‘heddles’ here: it seems such a flimsy thing compared to objects like the sieves (cribrum and incerniculum both seem to mean ‘sieve’) or the lamp (lucerna) it is mentioned alongside. From the weaver’s point of view, good, strong thread for heddling, however, is crucial and well worthy of mention.

We will continue with a series of workshops providing hands-on experience of ancient textile crafts this spring, so if you would like to join us briefly in Copenhagen, please get in touch. For someone interested in the ancient world, Copenhagen offers far more to see than the Little Mermaid – the National Museum and Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek both have fanastic collections…



Further reading:

Hooley, D.  (2008) Roman Satire, Blackwell Introductions to the Classical World. Chichester.

Krenkel, W. (ed.),  (1970) Lucilius Satiren. Lateinisch und Deutsch. Leiden.

Walbank, F. W. (1940) Licia Telae Addere (Virgil, Georg. 1.284-6, Classical Quarterly 34, 93-104.


Posted in Ancient World, Research Tagged with: , , , , ,

Networking in the Ancient World: Conference Presentation by UWTSD PhD Student

This week’s blog is by UWTSD PhD student Chris Fleming.


My name is Chris Fleming, I am a second year PhD student in the department of Classics. My research focuses on interstate relations in the ancient world. To this end, I am using current theories from political science to create a new framework in order to explore aspects of diplomacy in a Hellenistic context.

On 28th Nov, I was delighted to attend a conference at the University of Liverpool entitled ‘Networking in the Ancient World: Tracing Trade and Social Networks, 1400BC-AD400’. This event offered postgraduates over a wide field to come together and discuss theories behind the formation, maintenance and decline of networks, with each paper acting as a case study. These ranged from the trade of Parian marble throughout the ancient Mediterranean, to a comparison between epigraphical and papyrological evidence that gives us a glimpse into the collegia of the ancient Roman Empire.

networking-in-the-ancient-world-blog-pic-2I had the opportunity to present a paper which explored the mechanics of diplomacy by carrying out a close-reading of one diplomatic meeting (the Conference of Nicaea, 197BCE). This allowed me to collate my ideas so far, gather some initial feedback on these ideas and some suggestions on areas that are not fully developed. It also served as a valuable platform for postgraduate students to meet and network with peers.

Attending this conference gave me some new perspectives on how to approach ancient networks. For example, one paper on the impact of Rhoma festivals in the Greek world demonstrated a good example of network empire theory. In a broader context, this discussion of Roman imperialism links to my area of research via the diplomatic ties Rome attempted to establish in its relationship with the Greek poleis.

I hope that, in turn, I have highlighted the complexity of diplomacy in the ancient world at this conference. I intended to draw scholars’ attention away from the results of diplomatic meetings by looking at the process by which these decisions were made. This was received positively in the discussion following the paper, as there is very little thought given to the mechanics of this process and how this might have affected the outcomes of diplomacy.

I am very grateful to the Wiedenmann Trust for financing my journey to Liverpool, and also contributing towards my accommodation there. I would also like to thank the organisers of the conference, Juliet Spedding and Kate Caraway, the University of Liverpool for hosting the event, and all those who attended the conference for making it such an interesting day.

Posted in Ancient World, Humanities, Research, Student Life Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gateway to the Humanities at UWTSD: Opening Higher Education to All

dsc_0044For various reasons, you may be thinking about making a change in your life, or would like to take up something new.

At UWTSD, we support adults who would like another chance at education, which is why we offer the Gateway to the Humanities course. The Gateway is purposely designed for individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, to embark upon a fresh challenge and learn something new which will hopefully open up many exciting (and perhaps unexpected) future opportunities.

Classes start gently with a regular weekly timetable of only a few hours a week to get you used to being a student and to fit around your other commitments. You are taught in small groups and are given one-to-one tutorial support to get you going. You will become part of a fantastic community of students from various walks of life who are all keen to learn in a collaborative, stimulating and – most importantly – fun environment.

Anyone can apply and enrol on the course and with successful completion of the year you will be furnished with a set of skills that will have both broadened your outlook and your abilities. You can always continue your studies and embark upon a degree in a subject of your choice!

I happened to be walking through the university when I came across Jason, who I had met at last year’s Gateway to the Humanities Open Day. I hadn’t seen him since then, so it was a great opportunity to catch up and see how he was getting on. My first question – ‘how is uni?’ – was met with a huge smile and Jason filled me in on his experience over the year.

His experiences make me feel very proud of UWTSD and the Gateway programme. Jason’s tale is a prime example of how Gateway can help transform and enhance lives… I’ll pass it over to Jason!

“I come from west London originally and have been working in the Care sector for around 25 years in a supporting role to colleagues and patients.

I love my job but always wished I could have gone further and made something of myself academically. Unfortunately, though, growing up I never excelled academically and always felt there was something wrong with me but could never put my finger on it. I knew I suffered with lack of confidence and was always being treated as though I was not good enough.

Then, one day my partner saw a Gateway advertisement in the county advertiser. Knowing how I felt, she said to me why not have a read. For some reason after reading I felt this could be my opportunity of gaining some basic skills that might even take me further.

When I came to the Open Day I was very nervous, but it wasn’t long before I was approached by one of the staff that made me feel very welcome.

Slowly I started to feel less nervous as more members of staff started to explain what the Gateway was all about, how they wanted to help us to do well. I spoke to a member of staff and asked was there any support? To my surprise I was led to someone who could help set up lines of support straight away.

After doing some assessment tests to see what areas of help I needed most, it turned out I have dyspraxia. Full support and equipment was put in place for me to help achieve my goal and throughout my Gateway experiences I was supported through the challenges and I can only thank them for their patience and tolerance.

I completed the first semester of The Gateway to the Humanities and transferred straight to the first year of a degree programme. I am now enjoying my chosen degree course of BA Nautical Archaeology. This is an area of study I never thought I would end up doing, but when growing up in London it was always a boyhood dream of mine. I never thought at the age of forty-six I would actually end up doing it.

All I can say is I would definitely recommend trying the Gateway. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Dreams really can come true. Go for it.”

Posted in Archaeology, Student Life Tagged with: , , ,

Field Trip to the Centre for Alternative Technology

This week’s blog is by Frances McManus, a second-year student taking a BA in Anthropology and Chinese Studies


At the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, we had an overnight stay which was both educational and (for me) very refreshing. We were given a tour of the grounds, background information on CAT, a lecture on the goal of a Zero Carbon Britain, as well as informal talks about sustainable buildings and gardening.

img_6131CAT was started in the 70s by a group who wanted to show a different, more sustainable way of living. The site was originally a shale quarry and today still most of the grounds sit on shale waste, which many of the buildings made use of. Today CAT is an institute with a great focus on education, offering both short courses and a Graduate School for many topics within sustainability.

We walked up to see the reservoir which provides the water that CAT consumes AND uses to create some of its energy needs. We learned about how the water for consumption is piped down to sand-beds for filtration, after which UV light is used to kill bacteria. This is unlike most of Britain’s domestic water supplies which go through multiple stages and (usually) the addition of chemicals. After use the drained water from CAT is piped further down the hill (all movement uses gravity which does not require labour or energy) into reed-beds which naturally clean the water, removing things like phosphates and nitrates, so that the water quality is good enough to return to the river.

img_6118The water system is one shining example CAT offers as to how we, and countries like the UK, can change our methods to create more sustainable and efficient living systems. Many of the other examples we saw on site were buildings, such as the WISE (Welsh Institute for Sustainability Education) building which we spent the night in. I loved the WISE building. From the moment we entered, everything felt clean and fresh in a way that is absent in my own home, or in my uni hall. The building features wooden floors, doors, and outdoor walkways, all of which is untreated wood sourced locally. The walls are made from more sustainable materials than is the norm – lime is used instead of cement, hemp for insulation – meanwhile the design of each room maximises daylight to reduce the need for electricity. The theatre is a major feature, as it is the tallest ‘round earth’ structure in the UK. It is a circle of high red-brown walls which are very heat efficient (absorbing and releasing it slowly), while also ensuring that one day when the building is torn down or abandoned, the walls can simply return to the ground with no need for treatment.

theatre-1We shared twin en-suite bedrooms which were impressively warm at night, showing just how efficient the building is. This was a highlight of the visit for me, as it was wonderful to have a long night’s sleep during reading week to recover for the second half of term. I slept more on this trip than any night so far this year, I would have loved to stay longer.



Posted in Anthropology, Field Trip, Humanities, Student Life Tagged with: , , , ,

Bread making and Archaeology

This week’s blog is a guest post by Heather Hayes-Bowlzer, who is studying Archaeology at UWTSD Lampeter. 

The class begins the bread making process.

The class begins the bread making process.

So last week in my lecture we made bread. Yep, you heard me right we made bread. But not just any sort of bread, we made bread that the people from ancient Crete would have made. And we made it using similar ingredients that they would have used at the time.

Kneading the bread.

Kneading the bread.

Okay, let me explain. My name is Heather and I am an Ancient History and Archaeology student here at UWTSD Lampeter. The lecture, taught by Dr Louise Steel, was all about what people on Crete did during their normal daily routines. One of the things that they did was make bread, and that was when we got our hands stuck in! It was really fun getting our hands sticky with making the bread.

The ingredients we used were emmer wheat, honey, warm water, live yeast and a pinch of salt and they were similar to what the people in ancient Crete used. Since we didn’t really know how they did this, a little guess work was needed. It was very messy but it was so much fun and we enjoyed learning about how the people of ancient Crete would have made their bread, which is something we take for granted today, but it was something that they would have relied heavily on in the past. I especially enjoyed the part when we kneaded the bread, as I found that it was very therapeutic.

The results: baked emmer wheat bread.

The results: baked emmer wheat bread.

After we made the bread we left it to prove whilst Dr Steel taught us all about the activities that the people of ancient Crete would have taken part in the household. It was extremely interesting; and I enjoyed learning about how the people of ancient Crete carried out their day to day activities. After the lecture we were surprised to find that the bread had doubled in size.

Dr Steel said that she would take the bread home and bake it. The next day we went to the lecture to the warm smell of bread and we found the bread that we had made in class yesterday. The bread had a dense texture, similar to that of soda bread and it had a thin crust. It smelt lovely and we were all eager to try it. However when we did, we found that it tasted absolutely awful!

Despite the taste

, I found the whole process of making the bread was extremely enjoyable, and I loved doing it.





Posted in Ancient World, Archaeology, Humanities, Student Life Tagged with: , , , , ,

Anthropology at UWTSD: Dr Luci Attala’s Research into Water Supplies in Rural Kenya


This autumn Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, Luci Attala, returned to Wales having completed the first part of her research with the Giriama in rural Kenya. Supported by the Wenner Gren Foundation, Luci is funded to explore the social and economic consequences of piped water coming into a community that has until nine months ago relied exclusively on rain-fed water supplies.

picture3In an area where the climate is dramatically altering and water supplies are dwindling as drought sets in, the implementation of a water pipeline into the area should be celebrated as a success. However, initial research shows the pipeline to be fraught with material and economic concerns, not least because for the first time this community must now find money to buy their water.

Horticulturalist-pastoralists like the Giriama typically subsist without a regular income. Money, earned from small amounts of casual labour that might come into the area, may need to be found for costs such as school uniforms, but, other than various sundries families can survive through their direct relationship with the environment.

picture5Furthermore, until recently, water acted as a social leveller because water practices were not mediated through any economic system. Water fell free into the landscape and access to water was determined in relationship with the landscape rather than financially. Consequently, water as a commodity means relationships with water are altering, creating a broad social distinction between those that have the ability to purchase against those that do not have the money to do so.

Luci is set to return to continue her research in the New Year.


Posted in Anthropology, Research Tagged with: , , , ,

New Chinese School Established by UWTSD Confucius Institute

On September 4th, the new Chinese School established by the Confucius Institute for Chinese Heritage Studies at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David opened its doors for the first intake of students. 70 pupils aged between 4-14 are currently registered for the courses and are going to study Chinese language and culture on Sundays between 10am-12pm and 1-3pm. The Chinese School, which is based on the University’s Swansea Townhill Campus, currently offers three different classes ranging from absolute beginners to students who are fluent in spoken Chinese. The demand is such that another class will be opened soon.

%e6%96%af%e6%97%ba%e8%a5%bf%e4%b8%ad%e6%96%87%e5%ad%a6%e6%a0%a1_4The school provides children from the Swansea Chinese community with Mandarin language lessons and Chinese cultural activities. However, among the pupils are also children from non-Chinese backgrounds who are interested to learn Mandarin Chinese and explore Chinese culture in greater depth. In addition to language classes, the Swansea Chinese School aims to offer a wider curriculum including calligraphy, Taijiquan or learning a Chinese instrument. The school will also have Chinese text books and a small library of Chinese books and films donated by the Confucius Institute.

The initiative by the Confucius Institute at the UWTSD has the full support of the Chinese Community Co-op Centre, the
charitable body that looks after the interests of Swansea’s Chinese ethnic communities. Swansea has a thriving Chinese community with a growing number of Chinese school age children. The new school aims to enable these youngsters to keep in touch with their Chinese roots and heritage, and to provide them with the excellent Chinese language skills they will need in the increasingly globalised world of work.

%e6%96%af%e6%97%ba%e8%a5%bf%e4%b8%ad%e6%96%87%e5%ad%a6%e6%a0%a1_12The Confucius Institute has nearly ten years’ experience of providing Chinese language and culture courses and workshops in Welsh schools, universities and the community. It will offer a range of courses at the new school from Mandarin GCSE and A for older pupils, to courses that build expertise in Chinese reading, writing speaking and listening for primary school age children.

Confucius Institute UK Director, Dr Thomas Jansen said: ‘The Confucius Institute is pleased to support the Chinese community in Swansea with this vital educational service.  The collaboration will open up new educational opportunities for the local Chinese community, both in Wales and in China. As the Confucius Institute for Chinese Heritage Studies we are looking forward to working together on a range of initiatives relating to the history of the Chinese community in Wales and the long-standing contacts between the two nations.”

%e6%96%af%e6%97%ba%e8%a5%bf%e4%b8%ad%e6%96%87%e5%ad%a6%e6%a0%a1_18Parents commented on the opening of the school by saying: “Thank you for bring Chinese school to Swansea. Wishing you prosperity for many years to come!”

Mrs. Wai Fong Lee MBE, Chairperson of the Swansea Chinese Community Co-op Centre commented: “Our organisation has been supporting the local Chinese community for over 20 years. We are very delighted to be collaborating with the Confucius Institute to open a new Chinese School that promises to deliver a high standard of education.”

For more information, please contact Krystyna Krajewska, Executive Director:

Posted in Chinese Studies, Humanities Tagged with: , , ,

Global Waters: Sustainability, Harmony and Awareness Day

pic-1As rainfall patterns change in association with Climate Change, water inequalities and insecurities are set to mount. Recognising the current significance of water to global justice and planetary survival, Anthropology lecturer Luci Attala, with the support of The Rotary and WaterAid, organised another interdisciplinary event on the theme of water (this event followed a similar day delivered exactly a year ago).

The day delivered a dynamic series of talks that explored water from a variety of perspectives.  Dr Jane Fisher from The Centre of Alternative Technology offered fascinating information from a hard science perspective, whilst other speakers approached water philosophically, historically, geographically, from a religious or humanitarian point of view. Cumulatively, the day not only provided a rich, wealth of information to stimulate discussion but also highlighted the educational value of approaching a topic thematically.
pic-4Other speakers included Martha Muzona Holman and student Lucinda Walker from the charity LoveZimbabwe; Andy Bevan, lecturer in ethical and political studies who explored global challenges; Marie Curie Fellows in nautical archaeology, Miguel Martin and Selena Ali on their work underwater; Xanxia Zhao who explained a Daoist approach to water; Dr Katharina Zinn exploring the significance of water in Ancient Egypt and Luci Attala who detailed the research she has been doing in rural Kenya where climate change induced drought is deepening. (Luci’s work is funded by The Wenner Gren Foundation).

For more information contact

Posted in Ancient World, Anthropology, Humanities, Religion, Research Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

UWTSD Student to Present at International Conference in October

Jenna-Marie Heard in the field.

Jenna-Marie Heard in the field.

Jenna-Marie Heard, who is studying for an MArts in Archaeology at UWTSD, has been accepted to give a paper at the Egyptology Graduate Conference at Brown University. On 15th October she will be presenting her work, ‘Child’s Play or Goddess Worship? A Comprehensive Study of the Re-Discovery of Paddle Dolls from the Cyfarthfa Castle’, which she has undertaken as research towards her dissertation.

Jenna’s paper explores the function of Egyptian paddle dolls, which have often been argued to be either concubines or children’s toys. Using two previously undisclosed examples from Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Jenna will debunk theories that paddle were crafted in fulfilment of companionship for the afterlife or simply as child’s play, and, instead, show the evidence of Goddess worship, arguing that these paddle dolls may be equated to fertility figures.

More information about the conference and Jenna’s paper can be found at

Posted in Ancient World, Archaeology, Religion, Research, Student Life Tagged with: , , , , , , ,