History UK statement on cuts to History and other disciplines at Goldsmiths

History UK is shocked and concerned at Goldsmiths, University of London’s destructive plans to impose mass redundancies amongst academic and professional staff in the departments of History and English & Creative Writing. These proposals not only threaten the future of these world-renowned departments and the unique identity of Goldsmiths as an institution of learning and innovative teaching. They also constitute an attack on underrepresented histories and the accessibility of History and English as disciplines, at a time when our world needs them more than ever.

Goldsmiths currently teaches the only MA in Queer History in the world and was the first institution to launch an MA programme in Black British History in 2020. These, and other pioneering programmes have sustained Goldsmiths’ identity as a world-leading centre for progressive, creative and critical education with a strong commitment to social justice. To impose swingeing cuts on such dynamic and socially vital departments is an act of cultural vandalism.

The diversity of Goldsmiths’ student body is unique and this cohort and the potentially larger cohorts to follow must have continued access to the teaching of the world-leading academics currently working in the Department of History. Given that many other universities are currently working to secure expertise in these areas following the Black Lives Matter movement and increased awareness of the impact of historical health inequalities during the pandemic, it is remarkably short-sighted for Goldsmiths to treat the irreplaceable experts in these areas as disposable. Such a move would lead to lasting reputational damage and is likely to limit any possibility of return to the secure pre-2020 financial position.

Goldsmiths’ Civic University Agreement states its commitment to working to improve the lives of people in the locality. Two out of five Lewisham residents are from a black or minority ethnic background, while Lewisham is one of the most deprived local authority areas in England. Two of the four priority areas in the agreement are ‘economic prosperity, jobs and growth’, and ‘culture, health and wellbeing’. The socially aware and engaged Department of History makes invaluable contributions to these priority areas: running an Integrated (Foundation Year) degree that supports socio-economically disadvantaged students to return to study; partnering with cultural institutions in London and beyond to provide these students with work placements; and working with schools and community research projects as well as national bodies to further equality of opportunity and aspiration for diverse, and often marginalised, groups. The cuts will make it impossible for the Department of History to continue this work, and it is difficult to see how the University can claim to uphold its commitment to the Civic University Agreement while undermining on-the-ground achievements in this way.

The proposed cuts also threaten scholars from groups that are severely underrepresented and/or marginalised in the UK historical profession. The Royal Historical Society Report on Race, Ethnicity, and Equality found that among UK-national staff, 96.1% of university historians are white, a figure higher than in most other subjects, while under-representation is particularly stark for Black historians. Key recommendations from the Royal Historical Society LGBT+ Report included deepening coverage of LGBT+ history throughout the curriculum, and integrating LGBT+ histories into core survey modules. The Department of History at Goldsmiths scores exceptionally well in both these areas. The proposed cuts will undermine the University’s stated commitment to equality and diversity as a member of the Equality Challenge Unit and a Stonewall Equality and Diversity Champion. They are also at odds with many of the University’s own core Equality Objectives 2017-21.

Contrary to the selective use of metrics by those proposing the cuts at Goldsmiths, which draw on out-of-date NSS results from 2020, the latest figures underscore the quality of teaching in the Department of History. For instance, satisfaction with teaching increased from 75% in 2020 to 90% in 2021, a strong increase given that the average across all subjects and institutions in 2021 was 80%. Overall satisfaction, learning opportunities, assessment and feedback, and academic support all also saw significant increases from 2020 to 2021. In 2021, History was up in all measures except one. Clearly the subject is on a rising trajectory, not failing, and to suggest otherwise is a flagrant misrepresentation of the metrics so cherished by university management.

Moves to cut History and other subjects at Goldsmiths have occasioned widespread condemnation from the academic community, including an open letter currently circulating to protest these redundancies with 3500 signatories and rising (see also a recent RHS blog post). History UK adds its voice to the rising chorus demanding that Goldsmiths rethink these proposed cuts and work to develop long-term strategies to secure these world-leading areas of research and teaching.

Pandemic Pedagogy 2.0: Ruth Larsen – Oh, the places we will go! Running virtual field trips

In the seventh in our series of posts that build on Pandemic Pedagogy, Dr Ruth Larsen of the University of Derby talks about some of the challenges and possibilities of running virtual fieldtrips during the pandemic. You can tweet Ruth @RuthMLarsen

This post is based on a presentation at the East Midlands Centre for History Learning and Teaching workshop that took place on 11 January 2021 and will be published on the EMC website as well (https://eastmidlandscentreforhistorylearningandteaching.education/).


For staff and students alike, one particularly enjoyable element of some modules is the field trip. Study visits can provide a great opportunity for applied learning as well as being a great way of creating a sense of cohort identity. However, with many museums and heritage sites closed, and the idea of squeezing students into minibuses feeling like a distant dream, it can feel like the only option is to cancel planned trips and offer ‘yet another zoom lecture’. However, in recent years, and especially on the last twelve months, museums, galleries and other heritage sites have created more and more online provision, which means that there are viable alternatives. This short blog is a guide to running a virtual field trip, and provides a brief guide to some useful resources.

Setting up a virtual field trip

In much the same way that running a ‘live’ field trip requires preparation and consideration, it is important that virtual field trips are properly prepared and introduced to students. Before running the trip, do make sure that you reflect on its purpose, consider its role within the module, and focus on what you want students to get out of the experience. In order for it to be an effective part of the students’ learning you may want to:

  • integrate examples about the place and its collections into the module before the go on the virtual trip. This can include some discussion about the ways in which collections are presented or history discussed within museum and heritage sites.
  • give clear instructions to students: guide them to certain elements of the virtual site, or set them particular questions to consider, so they know why they are there.
  • create a short guide or video ‘walking’ students through the site (especially if there is no help section on the providers’ website). Many of the virtual sites can be a little difficult to navigate at first, especially those which have a virtual reality element or are very large.
  • provide guidance about how long to spend on the exercise, which is especially important if you are visiting one of the bigger museums which have numerous virtual rooms.
  • consider the students’ diverse learning needs, and think about how the accessible the virtual site is for all learners on the module.

Where can we go?

One of benefits of running virtual field trips is that it possible to go to places that would have been previously inaccessible due to time and/or financial constraints. In particular, the opportunity to visit museum and heritage sites overseas is now open to many more students, meaning that field trip is not the preserve of British history modules.

One of the best collections of virtual museums is provided by Google Arts and Culture. This site includes virtual resources for a wide range of heritage sites, archives and other cultural institutions from around the world. They have tours of some museums, including Rijksmuseum, and the National Museum, Delhi. Other institutions provide virtual exhibitions, such as this one from the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, which can be a really rich resource for students to engage with.

For other institutions, you have to get directly to the museums’ websites; this includes large museums such as The Louvre and The Vatican Museum. There are numerous guides to virtual tours, but one of the best for British heritage sites is curated by the Art Fund, which is regularly updated with information about new exhibitions. The provision is expanding all the time, so it worth rechecking the website of a favoured institution to see if they are offering virtual visits, guides or exhibitions.

Follow up activities

In my experience of running virtual study visits, I have found that students have generally got a great deal out of the experience. However, it has been the post visit discussion and activities which have been central to embedded the learning. By setting up the field trip carefully you can then use the experience in later sessions in the module; this can help to stop the exercise from feeling like ‘busy work’, and instead help students to understand how it was integral to module.

As one of the benefits of running a conventional field trip is the ways in which it can help to form a sense of a student community, you may want to consider running small group activities following a trip. These could include collectively writing a review for the site, sharing ideas about a learning resource for school children, or maybe collectively curating their own exhibition based on objects that they identified in the virtual field trip.

While there can technical teething issues at first, by guiding students, embedding the learning from the trip fully into the module, and by using it as an opportunity for group working, virtual field trips can be a really positive addition to a module. The chances to visit sites from across the world, to compare and contrast different approaches to public history and to get access to places that are normally out of the reach of the students means that virtual field trips, along with their traditional counterparts, may remain part of the way in which we teach in the long term.


 

If you would like to contribute a short blog post or podcast/video that addresses how the pandemic has changed or affected history teaching and learning in Higher Education then please email Dr Sarah Holland (sarah.holland@nottingham.ac.uk), History UK’s Education Officer.

History UK student video competition – What’s it like to be a history student in this new digital world?

The move to online and blended learning has had a big impact on university staff and students alike. At the same time, COVID-19 and related restrictions have highlighted the important role the arts and humanities can have in times of crisis.

History UK invites video submissions from current undergraduates and taught postgraduate students that offer creative and imaginative insights into what it’s like to be a history student in this new digital world. You might reflect on the different ways you or other students have navigated the shift to online or blended learning, or you might want to explore the ways the pandemic and related restrictions have made you think differently about history and the relevance of your degree. Submissions can be made individually or as a team.

The entries will be used by History UK as part of its mission to support historians in higher education in the UK. Through its Pandemic Pedagogy project, History UK has gathered a lot of feedback from staff and provided them with guidance on online learning. We’re now keen to gather some student perspectives to complement these resources.

 

Deadline: Wednesday 28 October, 5pm.

 

Eligibility: undergraduate (i.e. BA) and taught postgraduate students (i.e. MA/MSc) of History currently registered at UK higher education providers.

 

Prizes:

1st: £250

2nd: £100

3rd: £50

 

Submission requirements: 

Submissions should be made by emailing historyuk2020@gmail.com by 5pm on Wednesday 28 October with a link to a downloadable version of your video file (e.g. Google Drive, Dropbox, MS OneDrive, WeTransfer).

  • The video should be in a YouTube acceptable format (.MOV .MPEG4, .MP4, .AVI).
  • It should be a maximum of 120 seconds long (excluding credits).
  • You must include credits citing all the materials used.
  • Music, sound effects, and stock footage should have a Creative Commons license attached (from CC-BY-NC-SA up to Public Domain) and be cited in the credits.
  • Audio quotes can be used but comply with the concept of fair dealingand fair use. This typically means editing down to the length of time needed to make the point clear (typically less than 20 seconds).
  • You must get written permission from all people in the video.
  • Along with your video submission, please provide your name(s), your course(s) of study, institution, and the contact details of a tutor who will be able to verify your identity.
  • Entrants will retain ownership over their entries. By submitting an entry, entrants grant History UK a non-exclusive, royalty-free, right and licence to display, publish, transmit, copy, edit, and use the entry in any media, to promote History UK or for educational purposes.

Download a pdf of this call here.

Some good reasons why History really matters

We’d like to thank Rachel Best and Leanne Smith, current and former students of History at the University of Sunderland, for contributing to this blog post, and Dr Sarah Hellawell (Sunderland) for encouraging them to share their experiences with History UK.


Unfortunately, several History programmes have closed down, including the announcement of the end of history-teaching at the University of Sunderland earlier this year, with recent stories about cuts to Humanities departments suggesting that more bad news may be just around the corner. However, as History UK’s response to the closure at Sunderland makes clear, History degrees – and humanities subjects more generally – remain highly relevant and valuable subjects for a wide variety of reasons, including:

  • The best potential employees in a modern dynamic economy are not, as all good employers know, those taught to perform a narrow and specific task, but confident, well-rounded, flexible, and, above all, thinking individuals.

  • History students gain a range of skills in information gathering, analysis, and communication that are relevant to almost all employment areas.

  • The best guarantor of employability, as a joint CBI-UUK report from 2009 argued, lies in developing precisely the ‘soft’, transferable, and person-centred skills which history degrees excel in providing.

  • As well as supplying a pipeline of skilled, creative, and dynamic graduates, history contributes directly to the economy through the heritage sector. A recent report from Historic England on behalf of the Historic Environment Forum showed that for England alone Heritage provides a total GVA (gross value added) of £31 billion and over 464,000 jobs.

The contemporary significance of History has been underlined by the Black Lives Matter movement, while simultaneously being called into question by recent government rhetoric around ‘low value’ degrees, not to mention the outright hostility of some figures in the public eye to academic historians.

It is notable, however, that while professing to speak for students, many critiques of History (and Humanities more generally) at university don’t let students speak for themselves. There is no reference, for instance, to the discipline’s consistently high student satisfaction ratings. The student voice (or voices) purportedly so important to policymakers, is rarely heard.

We were therefore delighted to receive the following contributions from two students of History from the University of Sunderland, which we think give a real flavour of why History matters for them.

 

Rachel Best, 2nd Year History student, University of Sunderland

The years before I considered doing any sort of degree were years languishing in, what the present government calls, unskilled work.  It is far from that, however, but, to some, it may become unfulfilling when these types of jobs become the only option in which to earn a living.  I decided, then, to apply for the Politics and History BA Honours course at Sunderland University, as the choices of Politics and History graduates are many when the time comes to explore career options.  Additionally, this course allowed me to have an eye on my future, while exploring my passions in an academic setting. It revealed so many more avenues of interest than my mere hobby status in these subjects allowed.

At the beginning, I believed my personal focus would err towards a political weighting of the degree.  But, as my studies have progressed, I have found the History modules I chose to be of greater interest and inspiration.  I have met many people from the long eighteenth century I had never encountered before, who deepened my understanding of the “whys” and “hows” that frame our engagement with society and the state we live in now.  I have met people from Africa, the Americas, Russia, France, Germany, the former Dutch Republic and, of course, the United Kingdom, who have all contributed to, through critique or celebration (but mostly critique!), the social and political organization we see all around us today. It reveals how we are all connected.

Studying this course has opened an inner world that I barely knew existed before I embarked upon my advanced studies. I can write. I never knew that before. I can present evidence and analysis in support of concepts that I was hitherto ignorant of only two years before. I want to be better at this. I have tapped into the rich reserves of academic thought that present humanity at its most complex.  I want to know more! This course has given me a purpose. By engaging with the past, History has given me a future.

 

Leanne Smith, PhD Candidate at Newcastle University, BA and MA History graduate from the University of Sunderland

I had always regretted not going to university when I left school so after the birth of my son, I took the opportunity to fulfil this life-long dream. What I would study was never in question. Whether it was visiting museums, art galleries, watching a documentary (anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy a documentary), or simply reading a book I have always been fascinated by history. I completed an Access to Higher Education course at college. After attending an open day and an amazing taster session I applied to the University of Sunderland. The course was exactly what I was looking for and as my son was still young, so it was important that I stay local.

As a mature student, I was nervous about attending university. I had never written an essay and had taken my last exam in 1996 but I graduated with a first- class honours degree in 2017. I immediately enrolled onto the new Master’s degree course in Historical Research, also at the University of Sunderland, to pursue my interest in intellectual history. It was during my MA that I started to think about the possibility of applying for a PhD. Because of my circumstances as a single parent I knew that without funding it would be too much of a challenge. With the support of the lecturers at both Sunderland and Newcastle University I put forward and application for funding through the Northern Bridge Consortium. I am now over half-way through the first year as a fully-funded PhD student at Newcastle University.

Studying history has not only expanded my knowledge of the past and allowed me to develop a long list of ‘transferable’ skills but more importantly it has also shown me why knowing our past is important. I had previously, and rather naively, accepted without question what had been written. The history I had known was stories of progress and glorification. Studying history has taught me to challenge the existing historical narratives. To question what I have read and heard. To challenge my own preconceived ideas. For me personally it has provided me with a new way of not only looking at the past but also seeing and understanding the world around me.

Panic Not: The Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook

In 2020 History departments suddenly had to think seriously about how to move teaching online. For most, this ‘emergency phase’ was a daunting and challenging time, but for some historians, there was also a sense of cautious excitement.  As a subject-area, we have tended to prefer physical settings and interactions over digital ones. The Canadian historian Dr Sean Kheraj has observed that COVID is making us use tools that are unfamiliar to many historians and forcing us to upskill to work within a digital landscape that we have often overlooked.

At History UK, we recognised a need to support the history community during this time of transition. From late May 2020, a group of Steering Committee members have been meeting to discuss how to do this. Our Pandemic Pedagogy subgroup have run a series of Twitter chats to see what colleagues have learned from the new role online learning has come to play. As part of this process, we have written a series of short posts (on learning design, lectures, contact hours, assessment, accessibility, and community building in the classroom and in wider cohorts) and gathered feedback from the wider community.

As a result of this work, we have produced a short guide to help colleagues in thinking about what it means to move our teaching online – The Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook. You can access it at the The Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook webpage, where you can also download the full Handbook and each of the individual sections in PDF format. 

We framed the Handbook around a number of questions:  

  1. What happens to our students’ experience of learning, in and out of the ‘classroom’?
  2. What happens to accessibility?
  3. What happens to community?
  4. What happens to seminars?
  5. What happens to primary source work?
  6. What happens to lectures?
  7. What happens to assessment and feedback?

This is not the end of our commitment to creating a space for collaborative conversations around pedagogy in the time of a global pandemic. We invite colleagues to write short posts that we can share on our blog in order to keep the conversation going. Topics could include (but are not limited to): practical case studies of teaching online, think-pieces that address any aspect of the move online such as equity, diversity and inclusivity, community building, teaching and learning. technology, digital humanities. Please share your insights into any of these areas, especially if you have practical examples of approaches to teaching History online, and encourage colleagues to do the same. 

We are also interested in receiving feedback on the Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook itself. Please do let us know if it has informed your practice using the comments section on the Handbook webpage and/or @history_uk.  

We would like to thank everyone involved in putting together this guide. The project was led by Kate Cooper (Royal Holloway/ @kateantiquity); steering committee contributors were Lucinda Matthews-Jones (Liverpool John Moores/ @luciejones83), Yolana Pringle (Roehampton/ @y_pringle), Manuela Williams (Strathclyde/ @ManuelaAWill), and Jamie Wood (Lincoln/ @MakDigHist). We were joined by Louise Crechan (Glasgow/ @LouiseCreechan) and Aimee Merrydew (Keele/ @a_merrydew) as Pandemic Pedagogy Fellows.