Author Archives: Katrinah Best

200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Joel Barnett – Labour politician, Fellow of Birkbeck and Birkbeck Appeal fundraiser

Lord Barnett was educated in Manchester and began his working life as an accountant. Elected as the Member of Parliament for Heywood and Royton in 1964, he served as Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 1974 to 1979 and worked closely with Dennis Healey in the Callaghan government. During this time he devised the system for allocating public spending to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which became known as the Barnett formula – something he always considered a ‘temporary fix’.

He was made a life peer in 1983 as Baron Barnett, of Heywood and Royton in Greater Manchester, and his public responsibilities included becoming a Trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum and Vice-Chairman of the BBC. He was made a Fellow of Birkbeck in 1992 and a year later he became Chairman of the Birkbeck Appeal, running the College’s successful fundraising campaign from 1993 to 1996.


Joe Curl, Law student and QC

Joe Curl is a graduate of the law school, and a QC, one of the first graduates to achieve this honour. He studied at Birkbeck, obtained a first, trained to be a barrister, and is a star of the Chancery Bar.

Joe has also taught in the Law school, and supported both the school and its graduates in many ways. Joe makes it clear that Birkbeck can have a transformatory effect on people’s lives – he also happy to help others to follow the path he has taken. Others have said of him: “He is a scholar, a barrister and a gentleman.”


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Joanna Elson, Campaigner with Money Advice Trust and House of Commons researcher and speechwriter

It was after seeing how parliamentary policies shape people’s lives during her time as a researcher and speechwriter in the House of Commons that Joanna Elson enrolled on Politics and Social Policy master’s at Birkbeck. She wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the history and potential of social change.

After graduating in 1992, Joanna worked for a financial services trade association. By working directly with the banks, she was able to expand their services, ensuring increased access to basic bank accounts for all that needed one, and actively fighting against the ‘poverty premium’. She later joined the Money Advice Trust whose vision is to help people tackle their debts. As CEO of the independent charity, this role allowed Joanna to increase her influence by helping consumers directly.

She was honoured with a CBE for her work with the Money Advice Trust and for services to people in debt in 2020.


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Zehra Miah, Bonnart Trust scholar

Formerly an Executive Assistant for Boston Consulting Group, Zehra Miah applied to study a part-time BA History at Birkbeck, followed by an Eric Hobsbawm scholarship-funded MA European History and Bonnart Trust-funded MPhil focusing on the Turkish experience in London from 1970-1999.

Zehra’s research considers whether ethnic, religious and racial labels have helped or hindered the Turkish speaking minorities in London in the recent past, which touches on her family’s experience – her father first came to London from Istanbul in 1971 and opened a restaurant on Kingsland High Street in Dalston.

Juggling her studies with bringing up her family, the scholarships ensured she could remain in her chosen field of study and is now well on her way toward her goal of an academic career. Speaking at an event honouring Eric Hobsbawm and his legacy, Zehra said that “my peers and this scholarship have changed my life.”


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Nikolaus Pevsner, Writer, editor, broadcaster and professor of art history

The first professor of Art History at Birkbeck and the most influential architectural historian of the twentieth century, Nikolaus Pevsner was a fervent believer in the value of teaching art and architectural history as full university subjects rather than adjuncts to other disciplines.

Pevsner was a prodigious writer, editor, broadcaster, and chairman of numerous organisations including the Victorian Society, but he is most famous for his 46 volumes of Buildings of England.

He had come to the UK after the Nazis dismissed him from his lectureship at the University of Göttingen. During World War II, he joined other refugees in helping local authorities to clean up the mess after the bombing. Pevsner was then employed in protecting Birkbeck’s Breams Building in Chancery Lane from fire during the night. As he wrote in a letter, “I have received promotion and am now fire-spotter at Birkbeck College. It is by no means the kind of return to academic surroundings that one would fancy, but it is a decided improvement”.


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Juliet Davenport, Founder of renewable energy company

Good Energy, founded by Juliet Davenport in 2000, has become one of the UK’s leading renewable energy suppliers. Juliet studied MSc Economics at Birkbeck in 1992, which helped her develop analysis skills touching both business and academia.

Since inception, Good Energy have repowered one of the first commercial wind farms in the UK, pioneered support for generating renewable power in people’s homes, launched a greenwashing education campaign to raise awareness about companies’ false or disingenuous sustainability claims, and lobbied for greater regulation of the green product market to stop the sharing of misleading information.

Her first degree in atmospheric physics highlighted how humans were detrimentally changing the earth’s atmosphere with CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, which became the inspiration for Good Energy.


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Julia Goodfellow, Professor of biomolecular science and president of Universities UK

Julia Goodfellow was the first woman ever to lead a UK research council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), to which she was appointed chief in 2002. Her scientific interests centre on biomolecular research into the role of water in protein structure, an important area for understanding the source of a number of human diseases.

She began her career in crystallography as Professor of Biomolecular Science at Birkbeck in 1995 and was promoted to Vice Master in 1998. She was elected Universities UK president from 2015 to 2017, the first woman to hold the role. She has also variously been Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent and Chair of the British Science Association. In 2010 she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her services to science.


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Joanna Bourke, Lecturer in history and historian of Birkbeck

Joanna Bourke is Professor Emerita of History at Birkbeck and a Fellow of the British Academy. She is also the Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College. Bourke is the Principal Investigator of an interdisciplinary Wellcome Trust-funded project entitled ‘SHaME’ (Sexual Harms and Medical Encounters, which explores medical and psychiatric aspects of sexual violence).

Joanna’s first book was “From Husbandry to Housewifery, a history of female labour in rural Ireland in the nineteenth century”. After writing a book on the British working classes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (“Working-Class Cultures in Britain 1860-1960”), her interests turned to the experiences of men and women in wartime. After a number of books on the cultural history of modern warfare (including “Dismembering the Male” and “An Intimate History of Killing”), she turned to the history of the emotions (especially fear: a book entitled “Fear: A Cultural History”) and to the history of rape (“Rape: A History from the 1860s to the Present”).

In 2022, her book 200 Years of Radical Learning for Working People was published, as part of the commemoration of Birkbeck’s bicentenary.


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Joan Bakewell, Journalist and presenter

Joan Bakewell is an author, journalist and broadcaster.

She was made a CBE is 1999 and Dame in 2008. In January 2011 she took her seat in the House of Lords as Baroness Bakewell of Stockport. In April 2013, she became President of Birkbeck College.

Joan is also an author and playwright and has received a Humanist of the Year award for services to humanism.


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Jennifer Chen, Classical musician and social enterprise founder

After finding out she was pregnant with twins on the first day of her MBA at Birkbeck, Jennifer Chen chose to study the first module before taking a year out. During the Covid pandemic, she was raised her twins in Taiwan where she was disappointed with the experience of early years music. The children were expected to be obedient and not touch any instruments. It was assumed they wouldn’t like classical music.

“So I applied the mantra I’d learned at Birkbeck: if you don’t like something, change it.”

She and her business partner performed their first children’s music class at the National Taichung Theatre, which was a resounding success. That’s when Fugue Children’s Music was born. They have since received interest-free funding from the Ministry of Culture and are expanding their work into other cities.