Exploring Local Histories: Oxfordshire Students Shine in Historical Association’s Great Debate

Friday, February 2, 2024

Category: Blog

By Dr Jason Todd, Departmental Lecturer

Oxfordshire students recently participated in the regional heat of the Historical Association’s Great Debate, held at Trinity College. The competition involves students presenting a five-minute speech defending their perspective on a given question. In this instance, the question was: “Which historical place or person from your local area deserves greater recognition?”

The speeches demonstrated impressive ingenuity. One student poetically advocated for Abingdon Abbey. The range and quality of talks made the judges’ task challenging. The discussions seamlessly integrated local elements, taking the audience on a journey to various places, including Crete, Shanghai, and Sofia, Bulgaria, through a migration story that prompted reflection on how we understand the concept of ‘local.’

The presentations delved into the world of ideas, from science to ideologies like communism and fascism. Participants urged the audience to consider evidence, reminding us that ‘Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence’. Above all, the debate encouraged contemplation on how history operates, revealing how societal structures and mindsets can suppress certain narratives, underscoring the dangers of forgetting.

The winner, Zak Cunnington, chose to highlight the historical significance of Patrick Steptoe, a pioneering British gynaecologist pivotal in the development of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Zak underscored Steptoe’s contributions, addressing the ethical challenges and scepticism he faced. Ultimately, Steptoe’s work revolutionised fertility treatment, leading to over five million IVF births worldwide. Steptoe had a connection to Zak’s school, Henry Box School, and emphasised the idea that historical significance can be found in seemingly ordinary places, urging us to appreciate the history right under our noses.

Following the heat stage there will be a semi-final stage held virtually to select the 24 participants that will take part in the final in March 2024. Special thanks to Trinity College for hosting the event.