Great Future

94.6% of our undergraduate students go on to work and/or further study within six months of graduating

(Destinations of Leavers Survey 2013/14)

Northern opera finds its forum through a new research network

opera singer

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 15:20:00 BST

‌‌The Northern Opera Research Network will promote “new, multi-disciplinary research into the art form”

logo OPERA is as exciting and relevant as ever, says the University of Huddersfield’s Professor Rachel Cowgill, who has played a central role in establishing an inter-university organisation that promotes new, multi-disciplinary research into the art form.  Its first conference featured speakers and performers from around the world.

It is named the Northern Opera Research Network (NORN), and in addition to pooling the expertise of leading academics in the field, it has links with performers and organisations, notably the acclaimed Leeds-based Opera North.

Professor Rachel Cowgill “We also work with some of the less-established, new opera companies that are springing up to do interesting things and take opera in all sorts of new directions – for example, out of the opera house and into the streets,” said Professor Cowgill, a musicologist who is Head of Music and Drama in the University of Huddersfield’s School of Music, Humanities and Media.  Her research and her active involvement with opera feed into an undergraduate module that she teaches – Music on Stage: Opera and Musical Theatre from Orfeo to Matilda.

Huddersfield music students have also benefited from NORN.  Some contributed a flash-mob to its inaugural conference, and the Opera North tie-in has enabled them to attend dress rehearsals and speak to performers and directors to learn more about how opera companies work.

Professor Cowgill is one of the steering group that has set up NORN, alongside Dr Sarah Hibberd of the University of Nottingham and Dr Kara McKechnie at the University of Leeds.

The organisation’s philosophy is that opera “offers an ideal platform for bringing a range of different disciplines into dialogue, including music, performance studies, sociology, policy research, history, philosophy, politics and drama”.   The aim is to hold study days, conferences, workshops, and performances.

The inaugural conference was held earlier this year at the University of Huddersfield’s Heritage Quay and the University of Leeds' Alec Clegg Studio in the School of Performance.  Titled Operatic Immersions, it included a sequence of discussions on topics that included 19th-century practice, composing, commissioning and producing operas, and approaches to Wagner.  There were speakers and practitioners from universities around the UK and from the USA, China, Ukraine and Latvia.  Organisations taking part included Opera North and new company Operasonic, based in Wales and aimed at creating new opera with young people.

logo Professor Cowgill is in no doubt that opera is a thriving art form.

“It is still very valuable and significant and, what is more, it is bursting out of the opera house and appearing in all sorts of different contexts – we’ve seen ‘headphone opera’ in railway stations, and even opera on mobile phones,” she said.

“A whole generation of new companies are re-inventing opera and engaging with other traditions of music theatre.  I think it is an exciting time.”

She rejects accusations that opera is elitist.

“It has indeed always been associated with sovereignty and the aristocracy and those who can afford luxury, but it is also a profoundly rich way of understanding the world through music and drama.  It has such a lot to say to anybody who is willing to engage with it.”

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Monash University signs MoU with Hudds music department


The University's Professor Aaron Cassidy signing the Memorandum of Understanding in Melbourne

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 14:43:00 BST

Line-up The Memorandum of Understanding will explore research in musicology, composition, British music studies and performance practice

THE University of Huddersfield’s music department has formed a partnership with Australia’s largest university.  It will lead to new research collaborations and opportunities for student exchange visits.

A Memorandum of Understanding with the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music at Monash University in Melbourne has now been signed, and there are many areas of research that are shared by the two departments, says the University of Huddersfield’s Head of Music and Drama, Professor Rachel Cowgill.  They include musicology, composition, British music studies and performance practice.

But there are also specialist areas of expertise at both Huddersfield and Monash, she added.  For example the Melbourne University is renowned as a centre for the study of ethnomusicology – particularly the music of Indonesia and South-east Asia – and this could open up new possibilities for researchers at Huddersfield.

Professor Rachel Cowgill
The link between the two music departments was established by Professor Cowgill (pictured left).  In November 2015, she was a Visiting Scholar in Musicology at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, when she delivered a keynote lecture at a symposium.

She also held talks with Dr Paul Watt (pictured above far right), Senior Lecturer in Musicology at Monash, and acting Deputy Associate Dean for Research in its Faculty of Arts.  He has a speciality in historic British music and music criticism.  This regularly brings him to the UK, and he has now been appointed a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Huddersfield.  He will continue to collaborate with Professor Cowgill on a variety of projects and early in 2017 he holds a research seminar for master’s students at Huddersfield.

There is also a prospect that University of Huddersfield PhD studlogo ents might visit Monash to work with Dr Watt or some of his colleagues, added Professor Cowgill.

“Equally, students at Monash might come over here, particularly if they are using British sources or because they want to work with members of staff here.  There’s a lot of complementarity between the two departments,” she said.

The Memorandum of Understanding was signed at Huddersfield by the University’s Pro-Vice Chancellor, International, Professor Dave Taylor.  There was also a signing ceremony at Monash, attended by Aaron Cassidy, who is one of the University of Huddersfield’s Professors of Composition.  He was visiting Australia for the premiere of one of his works at the Bendigo Festival – close to Melbourne – and took the opportunity to help seal the relationship between the two music departments.

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The J.H. Whitley Conference

John Whitley and Dr Christine Verguson

J.H. Whitley's grandson, John Whitley, is pictured with the J.H. Whitley prize-winner the University's Dr Christine Verguson

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 15:14:00 BST

Sir Alistair Graham Held at the University on Friday 16 October

THE University of Huddersfield is home to an archive of material that documents the life and times of John Henry Whitley, MP for Halifax from 1900-28 and Speaker of the House of Commons from 1921-28.  He was also the creator of a conciliatory form of industrial relations – dubbed “Whitley’s” - that played a key role in the public sector for decades.

Every year, the University hosts a J.H. Whitley lecture and the 2016 edition was titled Have Trade Unions a Future?, given by Sir Alistair Graham, former general secretary of the Civil and Public Services Association – for a lecture report see here.

This year the lecture was followed bya University of Huddersfield conference that commemorated the life and times of J.H. Whitley.  It was chaired by Professor Paul Ward – Head of the Department of History, English, Languages and Media.  Here the historian Dr Neil Pye, author of The Home Office and the Chartists, 1838-1848: Protest and Repression in the West Riding of Yorkshire, gives his account of the event.


Conference summary by Dr Neil Pye

Dr Christine Verguson AFTER an opening session  that charted the origins of J.H. Whitley’s journey in life, the first presentation was given by Dr John Hargreaves who spoke about how J.H. Whitley’s later role as Speaker of the House of Commons was shaped by his roots in Halifax, where he worked at his uncle’s cotton spinning business.  This was followed by C.S. Knighton’s talk which examined J.H. Whitley in the context of the Clifton Liberal tradition.  In his early life, Whitley attended Clifton College, Bristol, where it was said that his views became ‘softened and civilised’.

Clyde Binfield’s lecture J.H. Whitley: A Model for Free Churchmen looked at Whitley’s political career as the Member of Parliament for Halifax from 1900-28.  During that time, he spent ten years as Deputy Speaker and eight years as Speaker of the House of Commons.  Binfield’s lecture treated those present to an excellent study of the Whitley family tree, for which the inter-connecting relationships cut across various areas of political and public life.  He said that “Whitley Councils were more notable for their potential than their achievements”, and like his speakership, were ‘rooted and organised’ similarly to Whitley’s Congregationalist beliefs.

The second part of the conference had a focus on J.H. Whitley’s role in broadcasting.  In doing so, Dr Christine Verguson (pictured right) from the University of Huddersfield – winner of the J.H. Whitley prize for research – lectured on J.H. Whitley and the BBC.  She charted the BBC’s experiment with local radio during the 1920s and 1930s, especially in Huddersfield, Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield, where relay stations were set up.

From 1930-35, J.H. Whitley was Chairman of the Board of Governors at the BBC, where he oversaw many of these changes.  In 1932, when the BBC’s Empire Service was created, now aptly known as BBC World Service, Whitley’s voice was the first to be heard when the service opened.  Also, his son Oliver later went on to become head of the BBC’s World Service.

John Whitley ‌John Whitley (pictured left) – J.H. Whitley’s grandson – spoke on his grandfather’s appointment as Chairman at the Board of Governors at the BBC.  Prior to Whitley’s appointment at the BBC in 1930, Lord John Reith, who served as Director-General from 1927, previously had a fraught relationship with J.H. Whitley’s predecessor, the Earl of Clarendon, who was the BBC’s first-ever chairman.  Whitley took on the role of Chairman of the BBC after retiring as Speaker of the House of Commons in 1928, on the grounds of ill health.  In this role, he was noted for his ‘excellent wisdom and immense enthusiasm’, which shaped an excellent working relationship with Lord Reith.

The debate returned to Whitley’s early political life.  The University of Huddersfield’s Professor Keith Laybourn gave a paper titled J.H. Whitley and Halifax politics, 1890-1900: The politics of social reform.  It discussed why Whitley was successful as a Liberal Party politician at a time when the Labour Party was growing, for which Halifax, next to Bradford, was the second most important centre for the emergence of the Independent Labour Party.

Professor Keith Laybourn Professor Laybourn (pictured right) began his lecture by outlining some themes, insofar as J.H. Whitley through his local business interests and non-conformist views reflected the characteristics of New Liberalism, which emerged under David Lloyd George during the period.  It was his views of citizenship; social harmony and aspiration, which enabled Whitley to strike a chord with the Halifax community and forge a relationship with the ILP that helped cement his position as the Member of Parliament for Halifax.

Professor Greg Patmore, of the University of Sydney, spoke on Industrial Relations and Joint Industrial Councils: the UK and beyond, comparing and contrasting Whitley Councils in the UK with German Works Councils during the early twentieth century.  “Whitleyism” was not confined to the UK public sector, but also had appeal in Australia and Canada through the railway unions.  This paper also provided an excellent insight into both the efficiency and anomalies of Whitley Councils in managing worker/employer relations, as well as the mechanics of how those councils operated.

Professor Richard Toye Professor Richard Toye (pictured left) of Exeter University – who gave the first J.H. Whitley lecture in 2012 – examined Whitley’s role as Speaker.  The focus of this fine presentation was the context of Whitley’s speakership and the importance of Parliament during an era of great political upheaval and instability.

When he became Speaker in 1921, the Conservatives and Unionists were highly suspicious of Whitley’s appointment, mainly because of an incident in 1913, where as Deputy Speaker, he was accused of not playing by the rules in allowing a Liberal speaker to stray during a debate, without giving order.

Toye’s lecture examined how J.H. Whitley as Speaker of the House, handled David Lloyd George’s Liberal Government, which was said to have had a reputation for high-handedness in Parliament, as well as the “rowdyism” associated with Labour MPs in 1922.  In his role as chair, Whitley successfully restored order, for which Toye said that his gentleness and persuasiveness ruled and often subdued opponents.  He also asserted that J.H. Whitley’s brand of Liberalism was largely based on “rational consideration” that coalitions were good.  For that reason, Toye said that Whitley’s success as Speaker of the House and Halifax MP represented the strange survival of Liberal England that transcended its division and gradual demise as a major political force throughout the twentieth century.

In a presentation titled J.H. Whitley and the British Empire, Professor Paul Ward, with Amy Stoddart, a third-year undergraduate, and history graduate, Amerdeep Panesar – who is about to begin a PhD – plus Sarah Wells and James Turner, examined sources relating to J.H. Whitley’s chairing of the Royal Commission of India.  Whitley was appointed to the role on the basis of his vast experience in labour relations and good knowledge of imperial matters.

Professor Paul Ward This very good team presentation drew on information taken from a series of workshops about J.H. Whitley, as well as a broad study of his archives at Heritage Quay, which were donated by John Whitley to the University of Huddersfield five years ago, to encourage scholarly research.  Professor Ward (pictured right) made a very good point when he asserted that the Liberals embraced the notion of Empire and Imperialism just as much as their Tory counterparts.

All three speakers gave excellent talks which charted Whitley’s work for the Royal Commission, which included two tours during 1929-30, and official meetings held in London and Delhi.  From this, we are given an insight into J.H. Whitley’s humanitarian side, for which he felt saddened by working and living conditions he witnessed in India.  This gave rise to a number of recommendations made by the commission which included better workplace conditions, basic health and safety rules, as well as improvements made to women’s rights and child labour conditions.  All of the proposals were put forward at a time of huge social, economic and political instability caused by the Great Depression during the late-1920s and early-1930s.  They not only contributed to the immediate political stability in India, but also helped improve labour unrest, which largely came about as a result of Whitley’s agility and impartiality as chairperson.

The final presentation was delivered by Professor Keith Robbins, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales.  It was titled, Home Rule All Round: Mirage or Solution? and examined how J.H. Whitley’s political career which centred on Halifax, translated itself at Westminster.  The question-and-answer session afterwards threw up some puzzling conundrums about Whitley’s views about international politics.

For example, Professor Robbins noted that in the sources, there is very little about World War One.  Also, hardly anything is known about J.H. Whitley’s thought on the the Germany Question.  Whilst Whitley’s views about Armenia and Boer War are fairly well-documented, Professor Robbins said there is very little that Whitley, even when Speaker of the House of Commons, “engaged with hard-nosed political issues”, for which the centre of his political world was clearly rooted in Halifax.     

All credit must go to the organisers and everyone involved who contributed towards putting on a first-class conference, which ended with more questions than resolutions being raised about the life and times of J.H. Whitley.

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Sir Alistair Graham delivers the annual J.H. Whitley Lecture

left to right Professor Tim Thornton, Sir Alistair Graham, Mr John Whitley

Pictured (l-r) is the University's Professor Tim Thornton with guest speaker Sir Alistair Graham and Mr John Whitley.

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 13:16:00 BST

“Whitleyism” and the future of the Trade Unions

J.H. Whitley ◄ Speaker J.H. Whitley

PROMINENT 20th Century politician John Henry Whitley is remembered for his stint as Speaker of the House of Commons in the turbulent 1920s.  But another claim to fame – the creation of a new style of industrial relations – meant that his name became the basis for a word, “Whitleyism”.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the use of Whitley Councils or similar methods for dealing with relations between employers and employees”.

The University of Huddersfield, which houses the J.H. Whitley Archive, is the setting for an annual public lecture commemorating the politician, who was Liberal MP for his hometown of Halifax between 1900 and 1928 and Speaker from 1921-1928.

Past lectures have been delivered by leading historians and politicians, including current Commons Speaker John Bercow.  The 2016 edition was titled Have Trade Unions a Future? and given by Sir Alistair Graham, whose varied career in public service included two decades as an official and eventually general secretary of a large civil service union, the Civil and Public Services Association (CPSA).

He furnished figures that illustrated the steep contemporary decline in union membership and provided a range of reasons for this.

“Trade unions are in a harsh environment, but they have shown a flexibility and tenaciousness that should ensure their long-term survival,” said Sir Alistair, who was in no doubt that “the balance of power between workers and employers has tilted too far in favour of employers”.

Whitley cartoon “I believe trades unions play a vital role in civil society.  They are needed and I hope they will prosper in years to come,” he added, before condemning the 2016 Trade Union Act, which, he stated, is “deliberately designed to undermine trade unions and their support for the Labour Party, together with their scope for organising industrial action, without a shred of evidence to justify such changes.

“In my view this legislation is political viciousness of the worst sort.”

Sir Alistair’s lecture began with an outline of the history of Whitleyism and its origins in a report compiled in 1917 by J.H. Whitley.

“It was urged on employers and workpeople alike as a basis for reorganisation of industry.  Many people hailed Whitleyism as a saviour from industrial anarchy on the one hand and from socialism on the other,” said Sir Alistair.

The new system of consultation and negotiation did not take root in the private sector, but did become embedded in the Civil Service and Sir Alistair told his audience at the University’s Sir George Buckley Lecture Theatre that for years, his working life was dominated by Whitleyism.  

But this was also the period, he added, when Whitleyism “ceased to be a process for fostering good industrial relations in the public service”.

The end came, he said, when the Government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher withdrew from a long-established, system of pay negotiation in the civil service.  This led to a 1981 strike, eventually lost by the union.

“But even during that difficult period, the feeling was that we should keep communication and discussion open,” said Sir Alistair, who told how in the spirit of Whitleyism, leaders and senior civil service officials had informal walks around the duck pond in St James’s Park, in order to keep communications open.

Mr John Whitley “To this day – and I’m a member of it – there is a luncheon club for retired senior civil servants and ex-civil service trade union leaders that meets once a quarter.  It is called The Owls – which stands for Old Whitley Lags.”

Sir Alistair said that he had first became involved in Whitleyism in 1966, when he became national officer of the CPSA.

“In my view Whitleyism did foster a shared management and staff approach to the public service.  Alongside strong trade unionism in the civil service, from the 1920s it produced crucial developments such as equal pay for female and male civil servants – which was a radical step – and it produced ground-breaking civil service pension scheme.”

The J.H. Whitley Archive is kept at the University of Huddersfield’s award-winning Heritage Quay. It was deposited at the University by the former Speaker’s grandson, Mr John Whitley (pictured left).  When he introduced the 2016 lecture he said that “it is five years ago that we deposited the papers here and with the passing of each year we are more convinced that we did the right thing.”  The archives were being used by increasing numbers of researchers, including students, he added

The annual lectures are organised by the History Department at the University of Huddersfield and Professor Paul Ward – Head of the Department of History, English, Languages and Media – presided over the wide-ranging question-and-answer session with Sir Alistair that followed his address.



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