What connects the obscure lives of neurophysiologist Geoffrey Sonnabend and opera singer Madelena Delani? Are these people even real? Is there really an elaborate miniature engraving of the Crucifixion on that seemingly ordinary fruit stone? Are we supposed to take these heroic portraits of the dogs of the Soviet space programme seriously? Are bees really seen to be so integral to the life cycle within certain cultures that they must be told if a member of the family has married or died, and are invited (in writing) to funerals? And what on earth does that have to do with Alexander Fleming? Read more
Posts tagged ‘Public History’
I learned more about the nature of the discipline of history during my PGCE and year as a Newly Qualified Teacher than I have in all of the rest of my academic study combined. It might be that I’m a poor academic historian, but rather I think it says something about the immense value of the PGCE course I undertook, and the incredible work that many history teachers across the country do every day in striving to keep our discipline alive.
Unfortunately, however, the reflective approach which characterises PGCE training is under threat. Cuts to allocations of places for university-led teacher training in favour of more “on the job”-based training programmes has resulted in even Ofsted-rated “Outstanding” university-led courses having to drastically cut their provision. It might sound sensible to base teacher training at schools – after all, that’s where they’ll have to work. But, for historians at least, the idea is not as good as it sounds. Read more
by James Lloyd – @jtlloyd3
James is a PhD student at the University of Reading/Exeter in Classics. His thesis is entitled: ”Music and Ritual in Ancient Sparta: the lead votive figurines of the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia”
In recent years, there has been a flurry of new technologies emerging at a price which makes them (just about) affordable, notably 3D scanners and printers, and such technologies have attracted attention in the news of late for their employment in the digital recreation of artefacts and archaeological sites destroyed by IS. Indeed, 3D printing is a wonderful tool for bringing the past to life: Museum3D, for example, uses its 3D prints to engage museum visitors with low-vision and Alzheimer’s. However, as this post will show, 3D scans are just as important to public history. Read more
For the first ten minutes of Helen Edmundson’s Queen Anne at the RSC’s Swan Theatre, I have to confess I was sceptical. The complex political intrigue of the reign of this little-known monarch (1702-1714) is fascinating, but impossible, I thought, to convey on stage in a mere two hours and thirty-five minutes. I was wrong. In a play hooked around the relationship between Queen Anne and her favourite, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, the audience were immersed in the world of eighteenth-century high politics.
The natural course of a life leaves an unintentional trail of breadcrumbs. Generally we never think twice of what we leave in the historical record whether it be major life moments (birth, marriage, change of address) or the little things like the discarded bus ticket or receipt for coffee that gets miraculously preserved. These fingerprints on the tapestry of history are the bread and butter of historians and while they aren’t meant for the view of others we don’t really mind their publicity. But we also leave behind more private records; diaries, love letters, disastrous teenage poetry – things that we’d rather no one else see either due to their embarrassing nature or simply because they are entirely private, they should belong only to us.
January is passing with alarming speed, and as Cambridge hauls itself into the mania of full term there are flurries of emails about talks, seminars, and events. To save you the trouble of choosing, and to ensure that you don’t miss anything essential, here are a few top recommendations for this term. Those not at Cambridge are very welcome!
By Spike Gibbs
Spike is a first year PhD student in working on office-holding in late medieval and early modern England.
London can appear to be an overwhelmingly modern city with its towering 20th century office blocks and grand Victorian architecture. Whilst there are some very famous medieval landmarks such as the Tower of London, and early modern ones such as St Paul’s Cathedral, these can appear to be oases in the capital. However, if you know where to look London has many surprises for the pre-1750 historian and here are ten of my favourites: Read more
Something strange happened last month for members of the Renaissance Society of America (RSA). On Wednesday the 28th October members of the 61-year-old historical society were informed that one of the major benefits of membership –subscription to the research tool – had been cancelled. The service claims to possess “images of virtually every work printed” in English between 1473 and 1700, constituting several million scanned images of microfilm supplied by more than 200 libraries worldwide. It is thus an invaluable tool for the early modernist, available through most, if not all, university libraries. However, the service doesn’t offer any individual subscriptions and the high price puts it out of the realm of the casual public library. Membership at a very reasonable £85 a year of the RSA (the only professional society that subscribes to EEBO) provides the vital access to these documents in a digital, searchable format. It must therefore have proved a blow to their members that ProQuest, who own EEBO, decided to cancel the RSA’s subscription. This was not due to lack of use but to such “heavy use of the subscription” by members that it was “reducing ProQuest’s potential revenue from library-based subscriptions”. Within 24-hours the decision had been rescinded with ProQuest describing the situation as a “confusion”.
‘Public engagement’ and ‘research communities’ – these are the new buzzwords from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, one of the largest funding bodies for historical research in the UK. Their message is that the gulf between the ivory tower of academic research in higher education institutions and the enthusiastic, public communities interested in historical research must be reduced. It’s an idea that has been at the forefront of university scholarship within the humanities for some time now, and it’s unsurprising considering it’s the public who fund historical investigation. In providing the opportunity to conduct research, it would seem that the same public would like us to deliver it into their hands. This in itself is not an unreasonable request, though it is one that has lead us to the general assumption that the only good history is ‘usable history’.
There are around 2,500 museums in the UK. Many of the larger ones, particularly in London, contain internationally-renowned collections of great historical and scientific significance, and are always worth a visit. In some cases, however, it is the local and specialist museums that provide the most inspiring, entertaining, and educational days out. In celebration of this, the Doing History in Public team has put together a collection of our favourite museum experiences.
If you have a favourite museum, we’d love to hear from you!
By Harriet Lyon @HarrietLyon
On 5 November 1605, Guy Fawkes, one of a number of Catholic conspirators against the Protestant king of Scotland and England James VI and I, was caught emerging from a vault beneath the Houses of Parliament that had been stacked with barrels containing almost a ton of gunpowder. The scheme having failed, Fawkes and his fellow plotters were arrested, tried, and executed for treason. On the one-year anniversary of the failure of the plot, the king issued a ‘Thanksgiving Act’, which lauded the ‘miraculous and gracious deliverance’ of the Church of England from ‘malignant and devilish papists’ and called for the annual public commemoration of the overthrow of Catholic conspiracy. The Book of Common Prayer was updated to include a sermon that could be read every year on 5 November, but it was not long before these solemn remembrances became raucous celebrations, marked with explosions of gunpowder and by burning effigies of Guy Fawkes.
As a lover of history, few things excite or engage me more than dusty manuscripts and stories from the past: the shocking, the inspiring, the scandalous, and even the mundane. Although my obsession may be particularly acute, it’s not unusual – as Laurence Goldman pointed out while opening the Royal Historical Society’s Public History Workshop at the Institute of Historical Research on 29 October, ‘history is booming’. The workshop was the first instance of what the organisers hope will be a yearly event, along with the RHS’s Public History Prize and proved an inspiring day, with many different perspectives on what it means to do ‘public history’. Several key themes emerged:
February 2015, Trinidad
Sharing a ride back from the archives to the B&B with Paula, the owner, I quizzed my driver on an article I had recently read concerning women and business ownership in the Caribbean. The writer of this article compared the percentage of female business owners on a global scale and positioned the Caribbean at the forefront with an impressive majority. Women constituted such a large proportion of business owners, as well as making up the majority of academic achievement, that there were now concerns that boys and young men were lagging and being left behind. I asked Paula for her thoughts. Read more
By Fred Smith @
The British Library is overflowing with young, frappuccino-supping undergraduates more interested in checking Facebook and watching Netflix than carrying out ‘serious’ research. At least this is the impression one might take from reading an article in The Times newspaper last month. Several prominent academics, including former professor of Renaissance literature at the University of Leeds, David Lindley, have voiced concerns over the overcrowding of an institution they believe should be reserved for individuals with a genuine research interest – individuals who currently struggle to find a seat and face ever-increasing waiting times for books. They believe that the once-exclusive library has become a trendy meeting place for London’s students to socialise over a cup of coffee and take advantage of the free wi-fi.
Museums are wonderful yet bizarre places. A treasure trove of pieces of the past. Hundreds of objects, rare, fragile, ordinary, extraordinary, arranged in glass cases, beautifully isolated from their original surroundings. This perhaps slightly sterile environment allows us to appreciate the beauty and ingenuity of objects. But is this really how we ought to view their history?