Univ Dates: 2006-2014
Degree: History (BA, MSt, DPhil)
Degree Level: Undergraduate and Postgraduate
Occupation: Heritage Engagement Fellow, University of Oxford and Director of Thames Valley Country House Partnership
Biography: Oliver received his BA, MSt and DPhil degrees from Oxford. In 2013, as Oxford Humanities Division’s first Knowledge Exchange Fellow, he created the Thames Valley Country House Partnership (TVCHP) to link researchers with entrepreneurial ideas in the heritage sector. After three years developing TVCHP, he was appointed as the University of Oxford’s inaugural Heritage Engagement Fellow. He is responsible for developing collaborative projects with UK and international heritage organisations, and for managing the University of Oxford’s strategic partnership with the National Trust; including the flagship Trusted Source Knowledge Transfer Partnership. He is a Governor of Compton Verney, a Trustee of the Oxfordshire Record Society, and sits on Arts Council England’s Designation Panel and the Education and Publications Committee of The Gardens Trust. In 2016, Oliver was Visiting Professor in Public History at Texas State University.
Oliver makes regular media appearances, including Alan Titchmarsh on Capability Brown (More4) and his research on Rule, Britannia! was covered by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, The Times, The Telegraph, The One Show and documentaries with Lucy Worsley and Ian Hislop. He also lectures at popular history events including CountryFile Live and the Cheltenham Literary Festival. His Short History of the Long Eighteenth Century will be published in 2017.
At Univ Oliver rowed in the 1st VIII, was Vice-President of UCBC (2008-2009), President (2009-2010), and co-founded Friends of UCBC. He was a member of the Shakespeare Society and Captain of the Univ hockey team (2008-2009). He was a Student Ambassador (2008-2009). Oliver was Burn Scholar in 2007 and 2008, won the Frederick H. Bradley History Prize for his undergraduate thesis and finals result in 2009, was awarded an AHRC Doctoral Studentship in 2010, and the Brian Cohen Prize in 2012.
Can you tell me about your first day at Univ?
My first day at Univ… Interestingly my father had shown not that much emotion about me going up to Oxford and I think my parents appreciation of Oxford was based on that sort of 1980’s Brideshead Revisited thing that ITV did. My father had been to the University of Bradford and my mother didn’t go to university – she went straight into working in advertising in London at the age of 18 – so they didn’t have much of a sense of what Oxford was really like. So turning up on that first day was quite an emotional rollercoaster for all three of us.
I remember going into my room and thinking ‘Oh bloody hell, this is really all happening,’ and at that point my father becoming quite emotional. My main memory was that I felt I needed to have something vaguely cool for my room. We’d been to IKEA the week before along with everyone else going to university and trying to think about what bedspread to have…
How do you think Univ shaped you?
Univ has been absolutely crucial in everything that I have gone on to do because I think what Univ does is a couple of things:
One, it gives you the confidence within yourself to believe ‘Hang on, I know some stuff, I’m actually quite good at this!’ You are nurtured from a variety of different angles…
Secondly, I think the alumni network helped me position what it is that I do. A brilliant feature of Univ is this connection of former tutors and students.
In terms of my actual studies and my DPhil, the financial support from alumni that came through bursaries and Travel Grants that let me do a couple of US conferences a year was really significant in helping me to land my initial position as a Knowledge Exchange Fellow in October 2013. It proved that I could do a variety of different types of History in a variety of different places and that I could speak to a variety of different audiences. That’s something that Univ is very, very good at – if you have an idea, if you have an aim then it will support you.
How does an event like this help?
It’s the human narrative that is absolutely crucial and in an Oxbridge context that’s even more important because our face to the world is hugely impressive, it’s hugely intimidating – it’s big, it’s old, it has very few entrance points both physically and metaphorically. What a project like this does in terms of showing the faces of people who go here is that it humanises that journey and makes that connection seem possible – it makes that leap from school to university to a future career seem possible because these are real people that have done it.
So often the challenge is, when you have a series of grand old portraits of men and women who are highflying heads of this or that, the contingency element of starting out in your career is often lost. So one of the really beneficial things about today is that, by capturing our faces, it gives you a sense that there’s a lot of hard work to be done between leaving university and becoming the head of the world, but there’s a tangible connection.