A festschrift presented to Professor James Dunworthy on the occasion
of his retirement from Balliol College, Oxford; 6 December, 2075
No one can doubt the influence of Professor Dunworthy on practical history, a contribution surpassed only by Ira Feldman himself. One of the earliest students to make use of time travel at Oxford, he was a willing test subject for the then-infant science and made a number of test runs to the mid-twentieth century before undertaking his own research project to London in the midst of the second world war. He earned his DPhil in History with St Paul's Still Stands: A Study of the Cathedral Caretakers During the Blitz, which is still held by the Bodleian and inspired a number of contributers to this volume to take up the mantle of mid-twentieth wartime studies. He became a research fellow at Balliol College in 2021, and has remained with the college ever since in various capacities, most recently as Professor of Practical History and head of the History Faculty, the post from which he now retires. He has been a regular consultant on BBC Four and his long-running column in The Guardian remains more popular with the general readership than any of his monographs.
But this is Oxford, and great scholars are everywhere. It is an uncommon sort of person who can inspire in his students, even after they are grown up and sometimes great scholars themselves, the nostalgia and affection seen in the following pages. What began as essays became reminiscences, as each contributor recalled the exceptional and personal care, attention and devotion between tutor and student that so characterised Professor Dunworthy's career. I am perhaps particularly concious of it, as the person whose life has been more shaped by him than any other – James Dunworthy has been the most constant and stable role in my immediate environment since I was twelve years old, and I can say without needing a time machine to tell me that my life would have been much different, and much worse, without his influence.
The various contributions in this book, while different in topic, all say much the same thing. John Bartholomew's chapter on second world war fire watchers is closest in subject to Dunworthy's original research, though it focuses more on the micropolitics of the contemps than the building itself. But, as Bartholomew explains himself, 'the building became a symbol, not of the ancientness of England and the long-ago kings who had built it, but of the people who lived, right now, beneath it; it was everything they fought for in one great shadow, dark against a sky lit with incendiaries and flash bombs (25).' That a man of the twenty-first century, post-pinpoint and post-Pandemic, found himself working in common cause with communist activists from nearly a century before is no small thing.
It is the people, though – the small, ordinary people – that inspire us to visit history at all, and the recollections of these historians bring them to life in all their flawed and human glory. Polly Churchill's study of a theatre troupe that performed in a second world war tube station reads more like a memoir than an analysis – because it is, and the frustration and fondness she felt as a young doctoral student for all of them is palpable. Together Dr Churchill and I have offered up a second contribution, 'The Tombs of the Unknown Heroes,' pieced together from the notes of the late Michael Davis, whose research into everyday heroism during wartime came to a premature and heartbreaking end. As I typed the conclusion, I remembered only too vividly the sting of smoke and the blood that soaked into my jacket when we brought him home. Accidents in our line of work are uncommon, but inevitable.
No accident may be so well-known, however, as the Christmas influenza epidemic of 2054/2055. The disease itself only came from the past in the sense that it was unearthed in an archaeological dig at a National Trust site near Witney, but it coincided with the first drop to the Middle Ages ever accomplished, and nearly proved fatal for two of the next contributors. Badri Chaudhuri's 'Toward Accelerated Precision in the Calculation of Drop Points', drawing on the work of T.J Lewis, is the groundbreaking and brilliant culmination of his last two decades of research on the minimisation of slippage, though it is heavily technical and may not be readily understandable by anyone with less than Dr Chaudhuri's or Dr Lewis' grasp of the mathematical aspects of time travel (such as your editor). But even the layman will easily understand the emotional heft of these strings of numbers and theoretical calculations when, as Chaudhuri concludes, 'if even one tutor, technician, or colleague is saved the anxiety of wondering when a loved one has gone and if they will be able to return...I will consider my life's work well and truly achieved (71).'
However disastrous that first medieval drop, on which Dr Chaudhuri's work is based, it also provided new directions for the study of the history of the middle ages. Kivrin Engle's chapter is, fittingly, a revisitation of her first 2055 article, 'Scenes from the Doomsday Book' (English Historical Review 170) and twenty years has done nothing to dim the heartbreaking pathos of a Christmas at the dawn of the Black Death. This was both how I first met Kivrin, as an unauthorised addition to the retrieval team (otherwise consisting only of Dunworthy himself), and my first introduction to time travel, and within the pages of her vividly eloquent writing, I see reflected the barrage of questions I asked her as a bereft adolescent. Professor Engle recalls with unlikely clarity the smell of plague-ridden bodies, the echo of bells, and the desperate humanity of people seven centuries removed, but also the way those centuries seemed to close in, that people can seem so close despite being separated by vast stretches of time:
A part of me always seemed to think that if I started walking down the road toward Oxford that I would find Mr Dunworthy there waiting for me, timeless as Oxford always seems. A part of me even now still expects, when I am driving and see the turnoff toward Shrivendun, that Agnes will be waiting for me on her pony, demanding I tell her a story or see to her skinned knee. Had she grown up, she would still be hundreds of years gone, but now she is frozen in perpetual childhood, even if only in my own memory. I can only say what I did at the time – that I am glad I came, or nobody would ever have known who they were. (111)
This connection with the past is further explored by Melody Goode in 'The Time-Traveller's Granddaughter.' Ms Goode admits to taking some liberties in the title, as Merope Ward, the time-traveller in question, was actually her several-times-great-grandmother. Through interviews and diaries, all based around her relatives, she weaves the intriguing story of a family with a secret. Ward, who was undertaking research on child evacuees during the second world war, remained in the twentieth century and married a local vicar. Her adopted children, aware of her origins, maintained the secret until long after her death from cancer in 1987. They spent the following eight years on the lookout for time-travellers, tasked with passing a message on (for the outcome from the other perspective, see my own chapter); the 'family secret' continued to be passed down in various forms. So far, this is the only verifiable study of an historical family with a time travel connection (the single previous example by M. Oliver in 2063 having been debunked), and provides a new and thoroughly intriguing perspective on the consequences of our involvement with previous eras.
A chapter by Edward Henry on the effects of time lag lightens the mood somewhat from the tragedy and pathos of some of the previous contributions. While the mental and physical effects of rapid-cycle time travel are well-documented, the 2057 Shrapnell project on Coventry Cathedral, of which Henry was a part, provided the most extensive data. Henry's analysis reads like a comedy of manners at some points, especially when highlighting his own lack of preparation and what he describes as 'Oxford syndrome: the curious and immediate kinship between students of the same college, despite a century or so between them (148).' This connection through time is a recurring theme throughout the entire volume.
Verity Kindle Henry's 'Letting the Cat out of the Bag' discusses another of the great accomplishments of time travel: the reintroduction of cats to Britain. She describes the sociological effects of the reapparance of a species into modern life, while contrasting new attitudes with the Victorian disregard which led to her being able to bring cats back through the net in the first place. The technical side of this same experience is dealt with by T. J. Lewis in 'Schrödinger's Time Machine', another highly technical offering which details the conflicting nature of existing and not-existing within paradoxal time.
The final chapter is my own, though whether it is worthy to be the swan song of such an excellent volume by esteemed historians will be for others to decide. I confess that 'The Time Detective', which began as an exercise in code systems for historians, became a rambling and likely indulgent letter to the man who, more than any other, shaped my life. Forced without warning to look after me at Christmas during the influenza epidemic, he remained an unfailing constant in my life from the moment he wrapped up an old copy of The Age of Chivalry so that I'd have a present to open. He helped me get into Eton and then Oxford, guided my research, shared my obsession with rescuing lost historians, and supported my application to be a research fellow at Balliol. It is safe to say I would have ended up a delinquent, rather than an academic, were it not for his influence.
So has Professor Dunworthy always been, for all his students. A father-figure to those who haven't one already, a trusted and reliable tutor, he never let any of us feel that we were alone. From the Black Death to Dunkirk, the time-travelling students of history always knew that he was there, that if things went wrong he was trying to get us back. Long ago, on a frozen starlit night in the fourteenth century, Kivrin Engle told him, 'I always knew you'd come.'
It may be he is the reason for, rather than the enabler of, my fixation on rescuing historians.
There are, of course, voices missing from this book that should be here. My great-aunt, Dr Mary Ahrens, would have no doubt written, had she survived the influenza epidemic. Dr Lupe Montoya, late professor or archeohistory at Harvard University in America, had expressed interest in contributing before her unfortunate passing late last year. The late Professor Basingame, Dunworthy's predecessor as head of the History faculty, had proclaimed his intention to produce such a book at every Balliol Christmas party since 2062, but it is customary for such things to wait until the person receiving them is actually retiring. Whatever he might have said, we are only left to wonder.
The twentieth-century gender historian John Boswell, after the publication of Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago 1980) once received a letter from an academic reader which said, 'I have often felt intellectual "friendships" across the centuries – historical thinkers with whom I have felt such strong affinities that I feel I know them and that we speak for one another.' The clear, unifying message of the contributions to this book is that we become historians because of those 'friendships' – because voices from the past speak to us so clearly that we feel we cannot possibly be alone. The connection between human beings throughout time, this is what drives us: a fellow Oxonian a hundred years in the past, a Shakespearean actor during the Blitz, a communist firewatcher, a little girl speaking Middle English in a red cape – we bear witness to their lives, to their humanity. We leave messages for each other: coded advertisements in local newspapers, family secrets passed down through the years, bird-stump vases and bells and gravestones. We are interested not in great deeds but small ones, in ordinary people and their ordinary, desperate, funny, tender lives, because we are doers of small deeds too, and our lives are desperate, funny, and tender, if not precisely ordinary.
Ira Feldman's invention of time travel is undoubtedly the single greatest influence on the course of the study of history. James Dunworthy's teaching is the second. It is my honour and privelege to be allowed, along with fellow students and friends, to be able to present him with this book.
Research Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford