The Great Debate Bristol Heat 23rd November 2022 University of Bristol

Last Wednesday 14 students from 11 different sixth forms took part in the Bristol heat of the Great Debate.  Our largest number of contestants ever.  Our judges were Adam Vaitilingam KC, Claire Deering and Dr James Watts from the University History Department. The topic was “Why does History matter to me?”  The contestants came from a range of local sixth forms plus two schools which had travelled from as far as Cheltenham and Bourton on the Water on a dark and stormy night.  

The students all gave interesting and articulate presentations on the topic and answered the judges’ questions thoughtfully.  Many contestants related to the question back to their own families in particular grandparents and how this had made them first interested in History these included links to the partition of India and the Troubles in Ireland.   Others reflected on what they had learnt from the History of Medicine or events in the Twentieth Century in the wider world which they felt were still not understood well enough in Western Europe. A very witty presentation by Ella Ferris explained how she had looked for reassurance in our recent political upheavals by studying the reign of Roman Emperors.  Orla McMahon after a three and half hour journey from the flooded Cotswolds gave us some excellent thoughts on the local History of her area going back its Roman British heritage.  Our runner up Molly Fleming from Bristol Grammar School gave a very well researched presentation on the need for continued Holocaust History.  Our winner Catherine Saunders explained how her interest in History had been sparked by a balloon debate. She had researched Katherine Johnson, the black American mathematician contribution to the space programme which had once been written out of American History.  Catherine’s commitment to History was about finding out about these hidden figures and she introduced us to the concept of the Matilda effect where the bias against women in science has hidden the achievements of women like Rosalind Franklin and deprived several more of the Nobel prize.  Catherine was chosen as a worthy winner and presented with her certificate by our judges.  She will go on to the national final at Windsor Castle on Saturday 25th March 2023. Good luck Catherine and well done to all our contestants, Joe Hendy (Yate) Tianna Biddick (St Brendan’s) Orla Mahon and Maya Samuel (Cotswold School), Imogen Lee and Maddie Chan (Cheltenham Ladies College), Molly Fleming (Bristol Grammar School) Ellie Gooch and Lily Wiltshire (Churchill Academy) Saifullah Ahmed (Redland Green School), Ella Ferris and Niamh West (Clifton College), Catherine Saunders (Redmaids High School) and Alice Li (Badminton School). 

Finally, a big thanks to all the teachers who prepared these students for the competition and who supported them on the night and to all their parents and friends who also came along to support them as well. 

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