Dr Peter Catterall (1999-2000). I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Westminster, not least because bringing the family was a great way to get involved in a very different community to my home city of London! Westminster was smaller, more intimate but also more diverse in a number of ways. I would play basketball (badly) with guys from a range of disciplines – whereas back at my home institution of Queen Mary University of London I don’t even know all the people in the departments I teach in. As the narrow dictates of the Research Assessment Exercise push British academics to specialize more and more in less and less, I look back fondly to the contrasting lively and wide-ranging teaching culture of Westminster. For instance, I really enjoyed the challenge of Western Civilization and acquired a taste for putting on wide-ranging courses I have indulged ever since. Indeed, giving talks all over the US and Canada whilst at Westminster on all manner of subjects has given me the confidence to believe I can tackle anything (within reason). I recall numerous occasions of being asked with no notice to go into a class and talk about whatever in universities from Mobile to Duluth. At least at the latter they didn’t mistake me for an Australian, which happened all too often at the gas stations in Fulton. But then, after being in Missouri for a while I went down to Georgia to give a talk to an audience which had a Londoner in it. I’d obviously been in the US too long by then, because he sounded Australian to me.
Being at Westminster helped shaped my existing research in areas such as Anglo-American relations. It helps to understand the simple geo-politics of how different the world looks from the middle of a continent compared to a small island off the coast of Europe. My sojourn has also very much informed my work in constitutional history and politics. This is not just in terms of research. I now have an involvement in the British equivalent of the Fulbright program, the Foreign Office’s Chevening Scholarships, for which I teach a series of post-graduate and practitioner-level courses on ‘Democracy and Public Policy’ through the Hansard Society based at the London School of Economics. Students on this course are frequently from new or non-democracies. Doing workshops on democracy at Westminster was very good training. And I cannot help citing the Westminster student who came to see me to say how the workshop had upset him because he knew that America had the best democracy in the world and then, as he was leaving, turned and said, ‘Of course, I never vote because it doesn’t change anything’.
Westminster gave me the opportunity to forge large numbers of friendships. I now regularly host American visitors I first met when there and continue to regularly return to visit, give talks and conference papers in what all my family continue to regard as our second home. Those friendships have given me access not only to the world of historical scholarship in the US but so much more. They have connected me to the think tank world of Washington. And, as the result of a chance meeting at midnight in a Waffle House in Hattiesburg, Mississippi when on one of my Westminster lecturing visits, I now annually host a summer school for a consortium of universities from Texas and New Mexico at Queen Mary University of London, where I continue to teach History and Public Policy. Not least, I teach a senior level course on Churchill, reprising a course I first offered in Fulton, though without access to anything like the resources of the Churchill Institute! And the interest my time with the Churchill Institute sparked in the challenges of developing of tourism continues to inform me in my extra-curricular activities as Cabinet Member for Leisure, Arts and Tourism in the London Borough of Bexley. I nevertheless still get time for some research, as well as editing the academic journal National Identities which I founded in 1999. I am currently completing work on the final volume of Harold Macmillan’s diaries, to be published as Prime Minister and After: The Macmillan Diaries 1957-66. Meanwhile, with one of the many American friends I made whilst at Westminster, I am also working on an idea for a book on Churchill’s relations with contemporaries such as Macmillan.
It is fair to say that my time at Westminster substantially shaped my research and teaching trajectories, often in ways I did not anticipate. It was a wonderful experience for my entire family and, I think I can say without exaggeration, the happiest year of my life.
Staff Page: http://www.history.qmul.ac.uk/staff/catterallp.html