OL Spotlight
Clare Jackson (1990)
Thursday 16th May 2024

For our latest OL Spotlight we're delighted to feature Professor Clare Jackson (1990); author, broadcaster, Honorary Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Cambridge and Walter Grant Scott Fellow in History at Trinity Hall.

Q1. What ignited your passion for history?

"I’m honestly not sure! As a child, I loved R.J. Unstead’s Looking at History (1953) and remember also being fascinated by a primary school project on the different bridges built across the River Thames in London from the Roman era onwards. While I always wanted to study History at university, I had my heart set on pursuing a career in journalism. As a student, I worked quite a bit for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, but somehow got diverted into pursuing a Master’s and then a PhD in History."

Q2. What do you enjoy most about your role at the University of Cambridge?

“Within the university, I’ve had different roles and last year stepped down after ten years in a senior management role as Senior Tutor of Trinity Hall. But whatever the role, I’ve always especially enjoyed supervising postgraduate Master’s and PhD students as well as final-year undergraduate dissertations. It’s a real privilege to work with phenomenally talented students from all over the world on a wide range of subjects. This year, for example, I’ve been supervising projects ranging from Gypsies in early modern Scotland and sixteenth-century studies of the Anglo-Saxons, to the architectural conversion of former monasteries into country houses and themes of witchcraft in Robert Burns’ Tam o’ Shanter.”

Q3. What’s been the biggest success of your career so far?

“In June 2022, my book, Devil-Land: England under Siege 1588-1688 won the Wolfson History Prize, which was a huge surprise. The most valuable history-writing prize in the UK, the Wolfson History Prize has twin criteria for its award: excellence of academic research and written in readable prose for a general historical audience. This also happened to be the 50th anniversary year of the Wolfson History Prize being awarded and it’s been an immense privilege to join the roll-call of previous prizewinners that includes distinguished historians such as Mary Beard, Eric Hobsbawm, Richard Evans and Simon Schama.”

Q4. What's next for you?

“I’m currently finishing a book for Penguin/Allen Lane on King James VI & I to be published in 2025 in the 400th anniversary year of his death. James has long attracted popular interest on account of his sexuality – as seen in the recent Sky Atlantic mini-series, Mary and George – as well as his involvement in witchcraft trials and being the target of Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot in 1605. But at a time when the make-up – and potential break-up – of the United Kingdom is under renewed scrutiny, I’m interested in revisiting James’ ideas regarding creation of a new multinational Great Britain when he succeeded Elizabeth I as English king in 1603.”

Q5. What advice would you give to current Lorettonians?

“Enjoy living by the sea – it’s something I’ve always missed since I came to Cambridge as a student in 1990, never imagining I’d still be living here over three decades later! More seriously, a colleague once reassured me that “It only needs to work once” when I was feeling daunted by the prospect of submitting one application, alongside hundreds (literally) of others, for a postdoctoral post. It’s good advice that I’ve since found can be translated to lots of different situations, such as house-hunting!”

Clare’s time at Loretto:

“When I was at Loretto (1988-90), it was only co-educational for the last two Sixth Form years – which brought unexpected opportunities for the relatively small number of girls. At my previous all-girls’ school, I’d never been involved in drama or school plays, but in my first year at Loretto, I loved playing Maisie Madigan in Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock. The production was brilliantly directed by Mr Geddes, with Vic Galloway – now BBC Scotland music legend! – starring in the lead role. As I recently advised my teenage son, everyone should be involved in a school play at least once in their life!”

Future OL Spotlights

To be featured yourself or to nominate someone else, please get in touch at society@loretto.com.

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