Dr Ben J Griffin
Fellow, Director of Studies
Even though Girton is a large college, we are a close-knit community. The History Fellows are committed to providing a supportive, intellectually stimulating environment: what one student described as ‘a safe place to be intellectually daring.’ Girton is a place where we go the extra mile to ensure that everyone can fulfil their academic potential.
All the historians at the College meet together regularly for informal ‘current research’ sessions and social occasions, like dinners in Hall and the summer historians’ garden party. Girton also has an active History Society that has organised talks by such prominent local figures as Professor Richard Evans, Professor Orlando Figes, Professor Quentin Skinner, Professor Tim Blanning, and Professor John Morrill. Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘A room of one’s own’ was originally delivered to the Girton History Society (known back then as the ‘One damn thing after another’ Society).
Since its foundation, Girton has provided a home to some of the world’s leading historians. Some of the most distinguished historians working today began their academic careers at Girton, from medievalists like Professor Miri Rubin (author of The Hollow Crown), to modernists like Professor Miles Taylor (formerly Director of the Institute of Historical Research). The present History Fellows continue this tradition and ensure that undergraduate teaching is always informed by the latest cutting-edge research. Our current fellowship includes experts on the history of the Reformation in Britain and Europe, early modern social and cultural history, modern British political history, gender history, the history of trade unions and the history of poverty. The academic distinction of Girton’s History Fellowship can be seen from the fact that Dr Griffin has won the Royal Historical Society’s Whitfield Prize for the best first book on British history; Dr Williams is a winner of the Economic History Society’s T.S. Ashton Prize; and Dr Maghenzani has received the Maturi Prize.
Each of the History fellows has a strong commitment to public engagement with history. Dr Reid was one of the founders of the History and Policy project, which applies the latest historical research to contemporary public policy; Dr Williams regularly broadcasts on the history of poverty; and Dr Griffin is one of the editors for the Guest Historians series on the 10 Downing Street website.
As one of the pioneering institutions that opened up higher education for women, the College’s archive contains the papers of many of the country’s most influential women of the last 140 years. It is a major international research centre, and is a very handy local asset for students contemplating third-year dissertations!
The Cambridge History Faculty is one of the best in the world and Girton undergraduates participate fully in it. Students can study the whole range of papers offered in the Cambridge History course: everything from Anglo-Saxon invasions to twentieth-century civil rights movements. Our students achieve excellent results: in 2011 three of the Girton final-year students in History got first-class degrees (the top classification), and one of those got a ‘starred First’ – the highest distinction possible! In 2019 five of our twelve final-year students graduated with a First, and in 2020 half of our students did so. Small group supervisions and close attention to individual written work remain at the centre of the learning experience here.
For researching their essays, students have easy access to the History Faculty and Cambridge University libraries, and the College has its own excellent library with extensive holdings in history, which we are constantly updating.
Girton welcomes graduate students studying for doctoral or Masters’ degrees in any field of history. Recent graduates have completed PhDs in the history of twentieth century intelligence communities, and the history of disability in nineteenth-century America.
Research and postgraduate students are admitted to the University by the Board of Graduate Studies. You must therefore apply centrally and not to the College, however you must be admitted to a College to be able to study at the University. To ensure that this is Girton you need to indicate this on your application form.
One of our History students once described Girton as ‘a safe place to be intellectually daring.’ That is precisely the environment that the History Fellows are committed to providing: a supportive, intellectually stimulating environment where we go the extra mile to ensure that everyone can fulfil their academic potential. The endowment of a History Fellowship at Girton has been transformative.