Marga Small

Earlier this month we learned of the death of our colleague and friend Dr Margaret (Marga) Small. Colleagues and students within and beyond the School of History and Cultures are devastated by the loss of a wonderful scholar, an inspirational teacher, and a most dedicated citizen of her Department, School, College and University. 

Marga Small

Marga joined Birmingham in 2007 as Lecturer in Europe and the Wider World and achieved a much-deserved promotion to Senior Lecturer in 2021. In addition to her world-leading monograph Framing the World: Classical Influences on Sixteenth-Century Geographical Thought (The Boydell Press, 2020), Marga’s many publications included a prize-winning article in Renaissance Studies and another in Sixteenth-Century Studies – two of the most prestigious peer-reviewed journals in her field. 

Marga was also an extremely dedicated and inspirational teacher, who delighted in taking her students (and, indeed, her colleagues) on amazing, virtual voyages to worlds long gone. That one of Marga’s modules was called ‘Piracy, Plunder, Peoples and Exploitation: English Exploration in the Tudor Period’, conveys something of her ability to capture the imagination of students while also provoking deep thought around historical injustice and its continued presence in the world today. It is no surprise that it was often to Marga that we turned for Admissions talks to prospective students, a task she relished and delivered with characteristic aplomb to hundreds of young historians-in-training at open days and visit days.

Most of all, though, Marga had the best possible approach and attitude to her work. To her core Marga loved her job, her department and her discipline. She had the most enormous energy, passion and dedication to all aspects of being a historian, researcher and lecturer, coupled with a generosity of spirit, mountains of goodwill and a genuine desire to serve the academic community. It is hard to express the loss we feel but we are committed to keeping Marga’s memory and values alive in all that we continue to do. She will never be far from our thoughts. We loved her and will never forget her. 

Tributes to Marga for inclusion on this page can be sent to Please make sure to include your name and any institutional affiliation that you wish to be included in the attribution.

The news of Margaret’s passing came as a sad surprise. I first met her in Oxford, around 2003. We were both PhD students (I was a visitor) who shared an interest in the geographical tradition. Margaret truly impressed me by her command of both classical and Renaissance sources and her imaginative ways of linking the two. She contributed a great chapter (“Warring Traditions: Ptolemy and Strabo in the Geography of Sebastian Münster”) to a collection I co-edited on Ptolemy’s Geography in the Renaissance (Warburg, 2011). We’ve lost contact in recent years but I feel lucky that I have had the chance to exchange and collaborate with Margaret, a wonderful scholar and personality. My deep condolences to her family and colleagues.

Zur Shalev, University of Haifa

Margaret was a regular visitor in the Bodleian Map Room, perhaps 20 years ago. She became a most welcome reader, and good friend to most of the Map Room team. Whilst she was with us, there were significant problems with our aging reading room. One winter, the only way to generate any decent warmth was to switch on the radiators, but that meant a huge cacophony as they rumbled into action. Margaret had a favourite seat, which just happened to be close to one of these deafening radiators. She also preferred a quiet working environment, so we tried to make our charming guest as comfortable as possible. We switched off the radiators, and staff would offer Margaret their coats / hats / scarves in order for her to keep warm, which she gladly accepted. She could have chosen a different reading room, but we were all delighted she stayed with us.

Since that chilly winter, we have followed her career with interest, and have been devastated to learn of her passing.
Nick Millea, Map Curator, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

I’m writing on behalf of the National Maritime Museum (Royal Museums Greenwich) to express our sadness about the loss of Marga Small, whom we remember warmly from her time as a research fellow at the Museum 20 years ago.

In 2003 Marga was awarded a Sackler Fellowship by the Museum to study Neoplatonic influences on sixteenth-century exploration which was followed in 2005 by a Senior Caird Fellowship to study John Dee’s uses of Ramusio.  

Marga contributed a great deal to the Museum during her time with us. Her research brought a wholly new angle to the collections at the time (no one on the staff at the time knowing enough about Neoplatonism to consider its effects on sixteenth-century English exploration)  and her 2020 book, 'Framing the World', helped to raise the profile of the collections and place them in context. Marga’s contribution to the Museum extended to her enthusiastic participation in our research community and programme of conferences and seminars.  She never failed to acknowledge the help the Museum had given her and, in turn, her work underlined the value of the fellowship programme to the Museum and its positive effect on research output and supporting the careers of early career researchers.

Colleagues from the time particularly remember Marga’s keen intellect, her warmth, her enthusiasm and, as one former colleague expressed it ‘her ability to talk plainly about very complicated things’. She was at the same time incredibly erudite and great fun! Those of us who remember her were deeply saddened to hear of her loss and extend our sympathy and condolences to all her family, friends and colleagues at University of Birmingham.

On behalf of the National Maritime Museum: Sally Archer, Research & Heritage Partnerships Manager, and former Director of Research Dr Margarette Lincoln 

Marga was one of the first people I met on campus when I moved here from the US in 2016. She was kind then and was consistently so throughout the time I knew her, even when my mood or personality does not always invite kindness. I work with my door open and Marga would pass it on the way to her office. Increasingly over the last couple of years, she would stop in just to say hi and we would chat about work or family. She was so proud of her children, who I also met some years ago at a Christmas party. I was so impressed with them when I met them – their creativity and intelligence, their kindness and openness – and was convinced that this was the product of a combination of their own intrinsic loveliness and their upbringing by caring, loving parents. Marga and I would also talk about cycling, about trying to manage our workload, and, increasingly, about our experiences with Covid and long Covid. 

I am fortunate to be left with the memory of a recent visit from Marga to my office, that, I think, also says something about her as a person. I love a good chat and even the occasional overshare, but there are things that I tend to keep close – only for family and the very closest of friends. Recently, I’ve gone through a very big, very difficult life change. I told who needed to know, but was trying to keep it away from work, naively striving to leave my professional life untouched by the upheaval in my personal life. On one of her last visits to my office, Marga asked how I was, but in a more meaningful way than usual. I replied with my very typical “oh, you know … getting by, getting by …”  She asked, “just getting by?” and I muttered something like “lot going on, … all this work … hey ho … must send the emails …” inserting some change of subject or sleight of hand., etc. Marga would not desist. “But, is there something in particular that is going on?”

I gave in under this heavy interrogation. Who wouldn’t? And Marga, in turn, offered an empathetic ear, listened, shared stories, and reassured me that what I was going through, well, it happens and I’ll get through it. I had been going through weeks of feeling like every conversation was so stilted and fake because I was talking with my colleagues – my friends – about everything other than the most important thing going on for me. Somehow, by the end of this relatively brief conversation with Marga, it just felt … normal. Like maybe I could talk with people about my crisis, mention it, even if just in passing, after all. I have reflected a lot on what a kind thing it was that she did for me and how courageous it is to press someone like that – I don’t think I’d have it in me to do it, to be honest.  

I reflected a lot on her as a person in the days after that conversation. I thought about her as woman who offered empathy to another. I learned of her passing not even a week after that and was – am – so deeply saddened by it. Attending her services, I learned that I was just one of the many people to whom Marga had brought some lightness in difficult times. 

I will always hold her in such high esteem.   

Courtney J. Campbell, Department of History

Marga was always so kind and friendly to me from when I first started in History in 2017. She was always looking for ways to make things better, she would get involved with us in Professional Services, particularly when she was Head of PGT. She would have both blue-sky thinking about the ideal way to do things but also able to decide on small things that could be done to immediately impact on students. It was Marga’s idea to add the department Canvas Hub links into the signature of the departmental emails so information was there in every email we send to students. 

She cared so much about the students and the staff and would always stop for a chat, no matter how busy she was. I will miss her a lot.

Samantha Taylor, Team Manager - School of History and Cultures, University of Birmingham

During Marga’s appointment process, she impressed everybody during her presentation with her research topic, the history of exploration, but most of all with her language ability. Latin, ancient Greek, Spanish, Italian, French and bits of German amongst them. Whenever we met, she usually greeted me with a friendly ‘Wie gehts?’. These two words and the tone in which she asked expressed Marga’s whole personality: genuine, warm and interested. This is how I experienced her as a colleague, without any sense of attitude or entitlement, totally reliable and always willing to help and do her part in the School’s routine work and events. 

Over the last few years, we met frequently at the University’s west gate. Pushing her foldable bike through the crowd (never cycling when there were too many pedestrians around her), that came out of the train station, donning her high viz-west and deep in thoughts – until she saw a familiar face; this is when her unique smile came on, a smile that felt like a ray of sunshine on a cold day, a smile that always made me feel good. This is how I will remember her. 

We lost an incredible friend and colleague and my thoughts are with Joel, Clara and Douglas, who lost so much more.
Armin Grünbacher, Department of History, The University of Birmingham

I first met Marga in 2007, when I was the external on an interview panel for a lectureship in History. Even in the stressful circumstances of a job presentation and interview, Marga was warm and instantly likeable, and she showed an impressive ability to weather the challenges of dodgy technology and somehow keep smiling. I was delighted when she joined the University a few months later, just at the time when, with the launch of the interdisciplinary CREMS seminar, early modernists in History and my own department, English, were developing new opportunities to work together.  

Over the next few years, I saw quite a lot of Marga: we met fortnightly at the CREMS seminar, and occasionally – too occasionally – met for lunch or coffee. But the time when I really got to know Marga best was when she and I both took part in the famous CREMS trip to China in 2009. I vividly remember long and often impassioned conversations, on topics of all kinds, almost all of which she had strong views on. I never knew in advance what Marga was going to think about anything, but I always enjoyed finding out. 

In recent years, especially since the pandemic, our paths crossed less frequently. When we did meet, she was invariably the most rewarding of companions: always interesting and interested, perceptive, generous and kind. I regret not seeing her more often, and deeply regret all those future conversations we’ll never have. I cannot imagine what her family must be going through, and I send them all my most heartfelt sympathies.  
Gillian Wright, Department of English Literature, University of Birmingham

To lose a good friend and wonderful colleague so suddenly is overwhelming, and it feels unbearably cruel that we are here again. Like all of us, I have been thinking about Marga a lot over the past few weeks. I have remembered our conversations about bicycles and cycling holidays. I have remembered how much I enjoyed reading or listening to her talk about her work - her learnedness, her scholarship, her range, her passion. Above all, I have thought about the sheer vitality, energy, kindness, and importance of her presence within the department - about what we gained from having her as a colleague, and what we have now lost. 

At work I came to know Marga best through things like open days and OVDs and the long committee meetings involved with things like the curriculum review working group. Those unsung and unseen things which people often try to avoid but to which Marga seemed to instinctively gravitate. And so I have thought about what it means to be a good citizen, what it is that keeps our work going, and how we value those things. I did not always agree with Marga's answers on issues around assessment and pedagogy, but I have always known that she was asking the right questions - however difficult or challenging or unwelcome I might have found those questions at the time. It is a small example, but I don't think we would have made the progress we have with our DL programmes if it had not been for Marga's tenacity and insistence on lifting the bonnet to see exactly what was going on. Importantly, I have always known that those questions have been underpinned by Marga's unswerving commitment to doing the right thing by our students and our community. We are diminished by Marga's loss - in ways that are incomprehensible right now - but we have been privileged to know and learn from her.
Matt Houlbrook, Department of History, University of Birmingham

I was taught by Margaret in my 2nd year of undergraduate study, when around 10 of us would cram into an academic’s office for our seminars. The module was ‘Blood and Steel’, about the conquest of the Aztec and Inca Empires, and sparked a passion that later took me on an adventure to Peru. In no small part this was fuelled by Margaret’s gentle enthusiasm and the images she conjured through her teaching. When filming for an MA project two years later with a fellow UoB History grad, she bumped into us in the city centre and willingly gave her opinions on Marmite to camera with no qualms, as did her husband. Her kindness was always evident, not least when I returned to the Arts Building as an employee, based in what was then the ACS office on the 4th floor, as we would often bump into each other and she always made the time to say hello and chat about family as well as work. In 2015 I told her that, inspired by her teaching, I was finally going to Machu Picchu and she excitedly requested photo from the trip on my return. While I can’t claim to have known Marga well, I will miss our cheery, intermittent meetings, and I send my sincere condolences to her family and friends. She was lovely.
Jemma Penny, née Saunders (BA Medieval and Modern History, 2010)

I have known Marga since 2009 when I came to be interviewed for the job I have now. Marga and Alex took the group of interviewees out to lunch at Staff House. I remember us all sitting down in a slightly awkward silence and then Marga arrived at the table and promptly dropped her wallet into tomato sauce. There was some laughter (Marga was the first one to break out in laughter) and we had a pretty companionable lunch afterward. It probably helped more than I realised at the time to break the ice and took away some of the stress of the day. 
We often spoke about our children (our older children were born one day apart) and her love of her family always shone through brightly. There was no doubt that they were at the centre of her existence, her whole world. When I asked her for some advice on how to entertain the kids during the pandemic and the first lockdown, I received great suggestions full of creativity. I also received an awe-inspiring glimpse into her family life: Marga gave me a timetable for the day which explained what her children did at what time of the day. I remember telling her that she clearly had never been to my house ... 
Marga always made time for a chat. As we all know, a chat is the social glue that holds us together especially at work, the foundation for building community. Marga made time for a chat because she loved people, she cared, she got involved. Marga was our glue and we all will have to make a special effort now to continue in that spirit without her. 
I miss her and I am heartbroken thinking about her family. 
Simone Laqua-O'Donnell, Department of History, University of Birmingham

I first met Marga about halfway through my third year of doctoral research at Warwick, in February 2008: I was one of the student hosts/organisers of the regular Early Modern seminar.  Marga came and gave a paper entitled ‘A world of the mind; geography and exploration in the sixteenth century’, and I remember being spellbound by her description of the ways in which Renaissance authors transformed the idea of the oikoumene, the habitable part of the world.  Spending time talking to her afterwards I still have a really vivid impression in equal measure of her fierce intellect and the friendly and curious way she took time to get to know me and my fellow PhD students.  Three years later, when I joined the Birmingham History Department in September 2011, I was excited to have Marga as a colleague.  The Department of History is full of wonderful people, and I’m particularly lucky to have been part of the interdisciplinary Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies (CREMS), but Marga really was the heart and soul of our community.  As I tried to find my feet as a young, nervous and inexperienced lecturer, Marga was always on hand with advice, a listening ear, or an invitation to grab a quick coffee or lunch (these ‘quick’ coffees often went on for well over an hour!). 

Over the last twelve years we’ve worked closely together on so many occasion: organising CREMS conferences, away days and student field trips; talking to students on Open Days (Marga as admissions tutor would give the main talk, and I would give a taster lecture, usually (the irony never escaped us) from one of the first year lectures I had given on Marga’s own pet subject, the Renaissance); talking about how to staff team-taught modules and allocate dissertation supervisors; passing the job of MA convening back and forth and co-delivering sessions on anything from personal documents to education to oral presentation skills (the latter was a double act we performed many times but which was never dull); reforming the taught postgraduate curriculum for the Department of History.  For 2020-1, together with Tara Hamling, amidst periodic lockdowns and mostly over Zoom, we devised a new team-taught module, ‘Tudor Terrors’, which takes students from the very real domestic fears of rebellion and religious persecution, through supernatural threats from ghosts and witches, to the more exotic dangers of piracy and cannibalism.  All of this was work of course, some of it quite mundane, but doing it with Marga it never felt like it: her infectious enthusiasm, her passion, and her dedication made it joyful.  Professionally Marga would never settle for ‘good enough’: if she was delivering teaching on an unfamiliar topic, for example, she would read enough material to become completely authoritative, it simply wasn’t in her DNA to skim a few textbook chapters just to get by.  She had high expectations of herself and her students, and would put enormous work and meticulous planning into course design and seminar delivery, for example assigning individual readings to every student in a seminar so that the group would corporately attain total mastery over a complex topic; organising ‘dragon’s den’ style pitches of renaissance navigational instruments; or having students ‘advertise’ the ‘opportunities’ to be had starving to death on some fledgling colonial settlement to the unwitting folk back home. Intellectually Marga always seemed to me rather like the Renaissance polymaths she often studied: equally at home across a huge range of linguistic and disciplinary boundaries.

Marga was an incredibly principled and ethical person, and we often had long discussions about the human implications of some seemingly-arbitrary piece of bureaucracy, and would bring our problems to each other to talk through and solve.  She did many years of unglamorous but highly important work on the university’s ethics committee, considering the ethical implications of research projects across a whole range of areas, and I can’t think of anybody better qualified to have weighed in on these matters.  Marga supported me informally but invaluably through things like promotion applications, study leave applications, and grant applications, but we often made time to talk about non-work topics, such as classical music (a shared love), our families, politics, anything and everything really.  When I recently took up choral singing again after a long break, Marga and Joel made the trek from Rugby to hear our performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in Lichfield Cathedral, and when Richard Cust retired after more than 40 years in the History Department, it was Marga who invited the early modernists to a pre-Christmas gathering at her house.  As a natural introvert, I was full of admiration for Marga when she told me how happy she was to have recently moved into her and Joel’s grand new home in Rugby, because she’d always wanted to have enough space to have the kind of welcoming home where anybody in need could feel as though they were welcome to just stop by unannounced: and she certainly put this into practice, offering support to friends and their children in difficult circumstances, and of course hosting a Ukrainian family following the Russian invasion in 2022.  

Marga is one of the most brimming-with-life people I have ever known.  Sometimes it felt as though she was constantly in motion, rushing off somewhere with her folding bicycle, bemoaning the complexities of childcare and commuting arrangements, but at the same time she managed to make time for everybody, and was a meticulous and demanding perfectionist.  She was always the first to volunteer to help out if she could: for example when I moved house during term time, she was ready to step in and take on teaching and marking for me.  She had strong views on subjects like the importance of timed examinations as a form of assessment, and on the availability of opportunities for students to learn languages.  She was certainly not infallible, frequently losing or misplacing her keys, her phone, her train pass, and technology was one of her most significant bêtes noires – when the university introduced a new online system for marking student work, in the early stages Marga’s computer managed to lose her painstakingly-typed comments with alarming regularity. The frequency of her Facebook updates was only matched by their poor spelling and grammar – as she told me once, this was one concession to her busy schedule: proof-reading was for her professional life, but Facebook was for fun.  Far from being exhausted by all of the commuting, running, cycling, research, writing, teaching, administration, coffees, lunches, world book day costumes, music, reading, and travel, though, she seemed to thrive on it.  And it was clear that at the centre of her world was her family – Joel, Clara, Douglas, her parents, her siblings – and her faith.  It’s not a faith I share, but it’s certainly one I admire, and it drove her to live the kind of life that anybody would be immensely proud to live.  Everybody who knew Marga was enriched by the experience, and in losing her in her prime, so suddenly and unexpectedly, we are all diminished: but we are better people for having known her, and her memory and example will live on undimmed.

Jonathan Willis, Department of History, University of Birmingham

I first met Marga way back in 2008 when I was doing my MA at Birmingham. She taught me about Jesuit missions to Japan and I remember finding her teaching to be engaging, funny, and brilliantly wide-ranging. In 2015, whilst working on my PhD, I became a Teaching Fellow at Birmingham and I got to know Marga far better. She immediately took me under her wing and helped me navigate my new role as a teacher and gave advice on how to juggle motherhood, academia, and lengthy commutes. I worked closely with Marga throughout my time as a Teaching Fellow and I always enjoyed our weekly chats over fresh cups of tea. She was an inspirational teacher and the kindest of colleagues. 

When I left Birmingham in 2018, uncertain of what I was going to do next and wondering if I would ever find another academic job, Marga offered sympathy and lots of practical advice. I worried that I would lose touch with her but, of course, that is not how Marga operated. While we did not see each other in person over recent years, we had regular catch ups over Zoom and my eldest son remembers playing with Douglas over Facebook Messenger during the pandemic. Marga was a wonderful friend. I went to her for advice for teaching, parenting, and general life “stuff” and she always listened to my worries with ceaseless compassion and patience. We continued to work together professionally too in our roles with the IHR and History UK. I was always in awe of her ability to speak her mind and give voice to those tricky questions that otherwise might have been ignored. Her sense of justice and fairness came through strongly in all that she did. She was also exceptionally intelligent and her thirst for knowledge was insatiable. I loved listening to her talk about her research, books (she always had great recommendations), and amazingly creative teaching ideas. There are not many people who are as naturally joyful as Marga and I feel very fortunate to have known her as a teacher, colleague and friend. I will miss her immensely.  

Marga’s love for her family shone from her and the joy she derived from her children and husband was palpable. Their loss is immeasurable and I continue to hold Joel, Clara, Douglas and the rest of Marga’s family in my thoughts at this most difficult of times.

Ruth Atherton, History Department, University of South Wales

When I joined UoB in 2021, fresh out of my PhD, Marga was one of the first to introduce and offer any help in settling in. In the all too short time I knew her, Marga was an enormous support to me – as she was to countless others at UoB. Often a knock on the door would turn into an hour and half chat in her chaotic office on a broken armchair and a cup of herbal tea in hand. In those hours we talked about anything and everything – Marga was always interested and boundlessly interesting. She was the first to offer help and did so entirely without expecting it to be returned. Marga was a brilliant and steadfast colleague. 

What struck me most about Marga professionally was her intense passion for her historical specialism. It is so fitting that a woman who loved to learn, explore, and think through practical and intellectual problems studied sixteenth-century exploration. She had high standards and expectations of her students, and they sought eagerly to achieve them with her support. 

After hearing her wonderful siblings speak so beautifully about Marga, her passions and her principles, at the funeral service, it hits home what an absence her passing leaves behind for all who knew her. My condolences to her family, friends, and (the many) wider communities of which she was such an integral part.

Ben Jackson, Dept. of History, University of Birmingham

When recording my sadness at news of Marga’s death in our School Bulletin, and in anticipation of missing her horribly in the future, I wrote: ‘In research seminars, in the Arts Building with her folding bike, and on many afternoon and weekend Open Day stands, Marga will have been one of the colleagues we expected to see, and we will remember her when, in the future, we don’t. I’ve still sharp memories of her spending an afternoon in our back garden, constructing an eBay climbing frame with my wife, Beck, hampered only by the help that our two then-little children, Dan and Amy, offered to provide, and the entire absence of instructions, none of which altered Marga’s mood, or the pleasure of having her around our family.’

Tom Lockwood, Head of School, English, Drama and Creative Studies, University of Birmingham

I first encountered Margaret during my undergraduate studies, but it was during my masters that I properly got to know her as my personal tutor. Starting a masters in the middle of the pandemic was a difficult experience but Margaret was exactly what we needed in a tutor, and she went above and beyond what was expected of her. She was not only a source of professional support but an increasingly kind, caring, and considerate academic who took it upon herself to ensure that we still had a wonderful experience in difficult circumstances. Our personal tutor meetings were intellectually stimulating, and she brought with it, her passion for the discipline and incredible breadth of knowledge. 

Margaret encouraged all of us to share our own research interests with each other and always showed her boundless enthusiasm for our chosen topics. She provided a warm, friendly, and inclusive space for us to discuss and formulate our ideas. In doing so, she also encouraged us to share an interest in each other's work. 

Yet she also made it her duty to ensure that we were also able to bond together outside of work. Many of the cohort had come from different institutions and Margaret recognised how difficult it may be for a lot of students given that in-person experiences remained limited. So, Margaret took it upon herself to organise games evening so that we could get to know each other better. 

When I encountered difficulties during my studies, I knew that I could turn to Margaret, and she was both incredibly sympathetic and offered practical support. Again, she would go out of her way to check up on me to ensure that I was taking the necessary time away from work to relax. I was immensely grateful for her support. 

I look back on my MA year with fond memories and Margaret played a large role in that. I express my deep condolences to Birmingham’s history department and to Margaret’s family. 

Waseem Ahmed, former History BA and Early Modern History MA at University of Birmingham, presently History PhD, UCL

Soon after I started working at the University of Birmingham back in 2014 I was serendipitously paired with Marga for peer observation of our teaching. That first look-in on her course on explorers, conquerors and settlers showed Marga excelling in her friendly and engaged teaching style, and in my teaching on current uses of colonial heritage she proved an equally fun and inquisitive addition to the classroom: As it was, our classes joined the dots on two ends of a long spectrum from European expansion to decolonization, and we had fun exchanging views on our work. Ever since I have known and appreciated Marga for what she was: As good as a walking textbook definition of good people.

Marga was unfailingly helpful, friendly, cheerful and honest, and she cared so much about her colleagues and her students. From our later work together in the Equality and Diversity committee I  know her as a person who was never shy to speak up about problems, and never hesitated to do her very best to sort them. Equally, from many a friendly chat in the corridors I know her as someone who always had a genuine interest in those around her, and always stopped to check how others were getting on. Her love for her family was also very, very evident and she talked about them a lot. It is heart-wrenching to go abruptly from having friendly chats about our children one week to realising so unexpectedly in the very next week that Marga is gone. She made the School of History and Cultures a much nicer place for everyone to work and study and she will be missed very much.

Helle Jørgensen, History Department, University of Birmingham

I remember Marga from my earliest days at UoB: she was contributing to a shared MA across the History department and the Shakespeare Institute and would make regular trips down to our satellite campus in Stratford. From the outset she was a bright, kind, forceful presence in my life at Birmingham. She always had ideas to share and questions to ask. When I found out that Marga was taking on the role of academic lead for PGT studies in her School I was delighted by the prospect of getting to work with her more closely. I also knew that it wouldn’t be easy, because Marga never took shortcuts! You knew when she was at a meeting because she came with things to say and problems to solve – and I loved her for that. We had just started to get going with some of the plans she had for SHAC PGT, which she pursued with her characteristic passion and vigour. I will dearly miss her collegiality, tenacity, and kindness, which have left their mark on so many of us at UoB.

Erin Sullivan, PGT lead for the College of Arts and Law.

I remember Marga as a kind, generous and committed colleague, someone who was always more willing to praise than to criticise. She also explicitly recognised the importance of good quality teaching. As Head of Postgraduate Taught Courses in History and Cultures, Marga was a supporter of the value and quality of the MA in West Midlands History, which I convened and I appreciated her support for the programme. Shortly after she arrived in the University, I remember talking with her about our Canadian origins (my mother came from Saskatchewan), and I was able to share my fond impressions of visiting Edmonton, Marga’s home town. Marga was a good person and I remember her with affection. 

Malcolm Dick, History Department, University of Birmingham

A bit of good luck accompanied me when I arrived at UoB almost four years ago: I got the fourth-floor Arts Building office directly across the hall from Marga's. This meant I was able to benefit from her wisdom and good humour on an informal and spontaneous basis, regularly. Cycling, Indigenous studies, comparisons between Canada and the UK, absurd aspects of our academic employment, our daughters named Clara and our sons two years younger than them... what a wide ranging, open-ended, ongoing exchange it was. It remains difficult to comprehend that this conversation has come to such an unexpected and extremely unwelcome close. Thank you, Marga, for bringing brightness and insight to the day. We are less without you.

With my most sincere condolences to Douglas, Clara, Joel, and to Marga's extended family,
John Munro, History Department, University of Birmingham

I remember the day we appointed Marga, back in 2007. I remember rejoicing that we not only had a vibrant new early-modernist to add to our team, but one with so much energy, passion, and clearly exceptional ability. Marga not only fulfilled those hopes, but vastly exceeded them. She proved herself to be a brilliant scholar, the most collegial of colleagues, and a particularly outstanding teacher. Just a few months ago I found myself listening right through to recordings of three first year lectures she had given as her contribution to the ‘Making of the Modern World’ module. I was to give the same lectures while Marga was on study leave, and had imagined I might make quite a few changes to the content. In the end I made virtually none, for Marga’s couldn’t be bettered. Her lectures were rigorous, accessible, witty and perfectly-pitched to students new to the subject. It was a privilege to glimpse this side of her work life usually only seen by her students.

Marga also quickly became a very good friend to both Deb and I, delighting with us in good times and being a genuine comfort and support in the less good. I recall a particular work situation quite recently which had brought me to my wits end; it was Marga I turned to in despair and aloneness and she was immediately there, listening, consoling and reassuring. She turned with me at that time to her own deep, pragmatic Christian faith; Marga was always able to believe when I couldn’t. When she told you she would pray for you, she meant it, and it meant everything. 

I will miss Marga enormously, for so many reasons: her humanity; her constancy; her cheer; her memorable facebook updates; and her unfailing ability to get into improbable tussles with the Arts Building lifts and almost every unfortunate piece of technology she ever laid hands on. She was my only fellow-bearer of a Celtic accent in the department; she was almost my twin in terms of birthdate. The loss is deeply painful, personally and professionally. Worse still, I keep wanting to turn to Marga, because it’s in this very sort of situation that she’d be such a tremendous strength. The agony of her own family, especially Joel, Clara and Douglas, is worst of all though. Marga and Joel were one of the best-matched couples I know; they adored each other, and together had created one of the most loving, happy families I’ve ever seen. Their loss is beyond all description. My only hope is that in time, that pain of loss is somewhat tempered by happy memories of an amazing wife and mother whose legacy is one of pure goodness and love.

Elaine Fulton, College of Arts and Law, University of Birmingham