Where does my passion for History come from?

Dr Andy Croll

"Great teachers", says Dr Andy Croll, senior lecturer in History and author of Civilizing the Urban: Popular Culture and Public Space in Merthyr, C.1870-1914.

"Some of these teachers were professionals. At secondary school and at sixth form, I was lucky to have been taught by two really committed teachers who both generated great excitement about History. Whatever the topic under consideration, they always managed to reveal why History mattered, why it was challenging and why, if it was studied correctly, it was such fun.

At university, it was one truly outstanding lecturer, Professor Dai Smith, who convinced me that I should give up my unrealistic ambition of becoming a rock guitarist and think, instead, about a career as a professional historian. History, he showed, was even more exciting than rock ’n’ roll. His classes on modern Welsh history were like nothing else I’d ever experienced. He encouraged his students to read widely, to immerse themselves in the period they were studying and to be as rigorous as possible when building historical arguments. He was also generous as a teacher and had a knack of making students feel that their arguments mattered and that they were a part of an ongoing historical debate.

But it was a non-professional teacher who first introduced me to the rich possibilities of a life in History. A Scottish uncle took me to Glencoe for a day-trip when I was about nine or ten. His recounting of the treacherous massacre that took place there in 1692 was so compelling that I was convinced that the ghosts of the poor MacDonalds were watching me from their mountain resting-places. They’ve haunted me ever since.

I don’t teach seventeenth-century Scottish history, but in my classes on Victorian Britain I do my best to recreate the intellectual excitement that I experienced that day in Glencoe and, subsequently, in the classrooms at school and university. Whether we’re thinking about the Victorian sewer as an instrument of civilizing power, the applicability of Foucaultian arguments to a study of nineteenth-century workhouses, or the cultural significance of the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders, I want us to feel we’re on a thrilling intellectual journey. That’s what my teachers did for me."

Find out more about Dr Andy Croll's work on the History Research Unit's website.