University of York: Where We Encounter the Humanities . . . and Chocolate!

University of York Visit (June 8)
by Susan Albrecht (Wabash College)

Departing from the University of Sheffield, bagged lunches in hand, the group clambered aboard the Marshalls [no apostrophe!] bus again and, a short hour and a half later, arrived at the University of York.  The campus had a very 1960s feel… in a woodsy, summer-camp kind of way.

We had only a brief time on the York campus that afternoon, but it was delightful to spend a little time with the humanities and social sciences, on a 2-week tour where STEM fields were hands-down the popular curricular and research area to feature.

We heard first from Sarah Leach, Head of Study Abroad, and Nick Skeavington, Student Recruitment Officer for North America.  Dr. Mark Ormrod, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and Professor of History, then provided an overview of the Arts and Humanities at York. Next up was Dr. Christopher Ridgway, Curator of Castle Howard.  Dr. Ridgway treated us to some glorious slides of the country houses scattered throughout Yorkshire.  He discussed the Yorkshire Country House Partnership between the 12 houses and a number of departments at the University (History, English, Archaeology, Art History, and Music).  See Yorkshire Country House Partnership.  The group also heard briefly from Hilary Layton, Director of Internationalisation.

From these various presenters, we learned a bit of the university’s history, as well as the city’s.  The university was founded in 1963 and was originally comprised of one building, a manor estate.  Still somewhat rare outside of Oxford and Cambridge, York also utilizes the college system, offering a choice of nine.  The university now has over 16,000 students. Graduate students account for 25% of that population and international students also comprise 25%.

It was noted that:

  • Archaeology, English, History and Art History are notable areas of study at York, with each of those departments attaining Top Four national rankings.
  • A new Bachelor’s degree program is being offered in curating and the history of art, and counts the Tate, the National Gallery and the Victoria & Albert among its partner institutions.
  • At the doctoral level, York partners with the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds in the “White Rose Consortium” to offer a joint program in the Arts and Humanities. The White Rose offers the largest doctoral program in the UK for Arts & Humanities, with 300 fully-funded doctoral students.  [White Rose]
  • York has just launched its Digital Creativity Labs – a major £18 million initiative for “innovative research in the convergent area of digital and creative technologies.” [Digital Creativity Labs].

The presenters spoke about the City of York, as well, which lies on the River Ouse.  They described a city which, in marked contrast to the campus, has a decidedly ancient feel.  A huge cathedral, which took 250 years to construct, towers; a medieval stone wall still provides a pathway around the city; and York has been voted “Most Beautiful British City.”  Later in the afternoon, our group would witness all of this firsthand.

Our group was divided into two, each heading off to the Music Department.  One group  was assigned to a participatory musical experience with a gamelan ensemble.  The group I was with was given a sneak peek at one of the York choirs – an a cappella group called The 24 Choir – which was rehearsing for a performance that evening.  The students were phenomenally talented and the director was a joy to watch.  I’ll let these two brief videos speak for the two groups’ experiences:  York afternoon experiences

Next up was dinner at King’s Manor, the location of the city-center portion of the university campus.  This area houses the Archaeology, Medieval Studies and Eighteenth Century Studies departments, as well as a conference center. Getting there “required” a walk along the ancient wall of the city, and the views were spectacular.

At King’s Manor, NAFAns were treated to a lovely dinner in a lovely setting.  As you might have ascertained from the lead photo in this blog entry, York is famous for CHOCOLATE. Each of us was greeted with a stunning box of truffles that were both beautiful to look at and nearly impossible to stop eating.  Dinner was also a time for further learning, as we enjoyed an uproariously funny, interactive lecture by Chemistry Professor Paul Walton.   During the “Chemistry of Chocolate” talk, Paul discussed the best mechanism for creating chocolate – and also learned that, for some Americans, the word “rapture” doesn’t always have fully positive connotations. 😉   Paul was ably assisted by Andrus Ashoo and Mary Denyer, as you can see.


After solid sustenance, decadent truffles and edification regarding chocolate, we thanked our hosts for their gracious hospitality and for a genuinely wonderful time and headed back towards the hotel. Several NAFAns decided to stop for a pint or a dram along the way.  York is, as I keep noting, an incredibly beautiful place.  It was a pub sign-lover’s dream (that would be me) –


– as well as a spectacular place to view medieval English architectural features, such as in the famous Shambles, a narrow, meandering street filled with timber-framed buildings dating back as far as the 1300s.  I will leave you with this photo of the Shambles, taken by Grant Eustice, along with an exhortation to reach out to your students (especially those who are interested in the arts and humanities) and suggest they give the University of York a look.

Shambles_by Grant


Author: uknafa2016

We are members of the National Association of Fellowship Advisors touring institutions of higher education in the United Kingdom in order to better advise high-achieving students in the United States who wish to pursue graduate degrees in the UK.

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