History UK statement of solidarity with historians facing cuts at Aston University and London South Bank University

History UK is dismayed at yet further threats to History in higher education, as seen in news of course closures at Aston University and London South Bank University (LSBU). We stand in solidarity with colleagues at these institutions, alongside others whose jobs are at risk across the sector.

First, we would like to recognise the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty felt by so many historians working in higher education. There is never a good time to learn about cuts, but the timing of announcements at Aston and LSBU, coming on the eve of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, when access to mental health support was limited, raises questions about these universities’ duty of care for their staff and students.

Second, we are concerned by the apparent lack of consultation over plans to cut History provision in these institutions. Public statements outlining the reasons for such changes having not been forthcoming, making it difficult for colleagues, union representatives, and organisations such as History UK to respond. The implication that cuts to History at Aston is a result of it not being ‘identifiable with Aston’s image as a technical university with a focus on employability’ is particularly concerning, not least because such generalisations are not supported by evidence. History graduates are just as employable as those in STEM, yet also represent confident, well-rounded, flexible, and thinking individuals.

Third, we urge individuals and organisations to continue to make the case for the value of our subject—and related humanities disciplines—in response to such cuts. In addition to the need to shift false perceptions about the value of our degrees, and the prospects of our students, we need to continue to stress the importance of humanities subjects in universities that take widening participation seriously, and which have often been at the forefront of initiatives to create inclusive and dynamic curricula.

If you have ideas about how History UK and other subject organisations can respond to cuts such as these, please get in touch. We are on Twitter (@history_uk) and our DMs are open.

History UK signs A New Deal for UK Higher Education letter to ministers for education

Along with 47 other subject associations, History UK has just signed a letter to ministers with responsibility for higher education at Westminster and the devolved governments. It calls for a ‘new deal’ for higher education across the nations of the UK. You can read the full text of the letter below. Please share more widely on social media. A pdf of the full letter can be downloaded here.
Dear Ministers,

We are writing to you as officers of 48 professional associations representing diverse research fields to express our profound concern about the future of higher education in the UK. COVID-19 has simultaneously highlighted the huge importance of university research to tackling the virus and its social and economic implications as well as the unsustainability of the current funding model for tertiary education.

Higher education makes a fundamentally significant contribution to society. It expands our knowledge and understanding of the world through an array of research discoveries, improves the life chances of individuals by enhancing social mobility and opportunities, advances the economy by carrying out innovative research, and provides each new generation with cultural knowledge as well as cutting edge skills and expertise. Yet, currently, UK public spending on tertiary education amounts to only a quarter of university budgets, which is not only the lowest among OECD countries, but comprises considerably less than half of the average spending among the OECD’s other 34 countries. It is therefore not surprising that nearly 25 percent of all UK universities were in deficit even before the pandemic and that now, due to a dramatic drop in projected income, almost all higher education institutions in the country will face huge obstacles to carry out their mission and remain internationally competitive without government support.

A vibrant and robust higher education system is absolutely vital for the UK’s future. We believe that the current government funding model for higher education is inadequate for this task and we therefore call upon you to use the current crisis as an opportunity to create a new deal for higher education. Rather than providing a one-time bailout, it is paramount that the UK and devolved governments substantially increases public spending on tertiary education in line with the OECD average in order to ensure that our tertiary institutions remain at the forefront of global research, education and innovation.

Yours sincerely,

African Studies Association of the United Kingdom – Professor Ambreena Manji

Architectural Humanities Research Association — Professor Jonathan Hale

Arts and Humanities Alliance — Professor Susan Bruce

Association for Art History — Professor Frances Fowle

Association for German Studies — Professor Margaret Littler

Association for Welsh Writing in English — Professors Kirsti Bohata and Matthew Jarvis

Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, UK and Ireland — Dr John Miller

Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland — Professor Claire Taylor

Association of Programmes in Translation and Interpreting Studies — Dr JC Penet and Dr Olga Castro

Association for Publishing Education — Professor Claire Squires

Association of University Professors and Heads of French — Professor Marion Schmid

British Association for American Studies — Dr Cara Rodway

British Association for Cognitive Neuroscience — Professor Jamie Ward

British Association for Slavonic & East European Studies — Dr Matthias Neumann

British Association for South Asian Studies — Professor Patricia Jeffery

British Association for Study of Religions – Professor Bettina Schmidt

British Association for Victorian Studies — Professor Dinah Birch CBE

British Association of Academic Phoneticians – Professor Jane Stuart-Smith

British Association of Critical Legal Scholars — Professor Adam Gearey

British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies — Dr James Leggott

British Comparative Literature Association – Professor Susan Bassnett

British International Studies Association — Professor Mark Webber

British Philosophical Association — Professor Fiona Macpherson, FRSE, MAE

British Society for Middle Eastern Studies — Professor Haleh Afshar

British Society for the History of Science — Drr Tim Boon

British Sociological Association — Professor Susan Halford

British Universities Industrial Relations Association —  Professor Tony Dobbins

Council of University Classical Departments — Professor Helen Lovatt

Economic History Society – Professor Catherine Schenk

English Association — Dr Rebecca Fisher

Feminist Studies Association — Dr Laura Clancy and Dr Sara De Benedictis,

History UK — Dr Lucinda Matthews-Jones, Dr Yolana Pringle and Dr Jamie Wood

Linguistics Association of Great Britain — Professor Caroline Heycock

Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association — Professor Anita Biressi

Modern Humanities Research Association – Dr Barbara Burns

Newcomen Society – Dr Jonathan Aylen

Oral History Society – Professor John Gabriel

Royal Musical Association – Professor Simon McVeigh

Royal Society of Literature — Professor Marina Warner, DBE, CBE, FBA

Socio-Legal Studies Association — Professor Rosie Harding

Society for French Studies — Professor Judith Still

Society for Latin American Studies — Professor Patience Schell

Society for Old Testament Study — Dr Walter Houston

Society for Renaissance Studies — Professor Richard Wistreich

Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry – Professor Frank James

Standing Conference of University Drama Departments – Professor Kate Newey

Theatre & Performance Research Association – Professor Roberta Mock

University Council of Modern Languages — Professor Claire Gorrara

Women in German Studies — Professor Ingrid Sharp

History UK’s Pandemic Pedagogy initiative – starts today!

Over the past few weeks members of the HUK Steering Committee, coordinated by Prof. Kate Cooper (Royal Holloway) have been putting together a project to support historians as we move out of the ‘emergency’ phase of online teaching and start planning for the next semester/ term. Following our Steering Committee meeting in early June, we ran a survey of members’ views. This has helped us form a working group to generate some useful resources and to run (online) events. We are keen to reflect on the ‘emergency’ phase of teaching and learning and to share best practice through collaborative problem-solving.

To that end, we’ve divided our ‘Pandemic Pedagogy’ activities into two broad strands:

  • Lucinda Matthews-Jones (LJMU), Yolana Pringle (Roehampton) and Manuela Williams (Sitrling) are developing the strand on inclusivity and community-building.
  • Kristen Brill (Keele), Kate Cooper (Royal Holloway) and Jamie Wood (Lincoln)are working on our second strand on pedagogy and online tools.

The inclusivity strand will kick off with the first of a series of Twitter chats today (Weds 3rd June) at 11am. Here’s the poster:

Poster for June History UK twitter chat number 1

We hope that you’ll be able to join us.

Alongside this, the pedagogy and technology group aims to produce some pages for the History UK website over the next few weeks, each of which will involve a short summary of the results of our information-gathering on three topics:

  • An overview of tools for online teaching – an annotated list introducing various digital tools people may have heard of but not used.
  • An introduction to various ways of staging digital small-group interactions that move replication of face-to-face teaching (e.g. lectures or seminars).
  • A page focussing specifically on tools and strategies for collaborative close ‘reading’ (including images and other media) and annotation of ‘texts’.

Our key aim here is to produce short, user-friendly and practical resources (i.e. case studies rather than research papers or theoretical works).

To draw on the knowledge that’s already out there to inform this initiative, we are conducting a survey of historians in HE. Please follow this link to complete it:

We will be sharing the results of our work as soon as possible via the HUK website and/or Twitter account.

Finally, if any historians are interested in joining our group to help out with this initiative, then please do get in touch with any of us directly.

 

Kristen Brill (Keele)

Kate Cooper (Royal Holloway – @kateantiquity)

Lucinda Matthews-Jones (Liverpool John Moores – @luciejones)

Yolana Pringle (Roehampton – @y_pringle)

Manuela Williams (Strathclyde – @ManuelaAWill)

Jamie Wood (Lincoln – @woodjamie99)

 

 

History UK statement on the closure of History at the University of Sunderland

It was with a feeling of dismay that History UK learnt of the decision of the University of Sunderland to close programmes in History.

We will not comment on the factors that may have led to Sunderland’s failure to recruit sufficient students for 2020 entry, when regional applications to study history have risen. Our sympathies are with the staff – staff who helped the subject climb seven places in the most recent Good University Guide league table, and who contributed to one of Sunderland’s best performances in the 2014 REF. Our sympathies are also with the department’s current students, whose studies will be harmed by this decision, and potential future students, from predominantly disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, who will be denied the opportunity to study history at their local institution.

The decision is all the more disappointing as it comes at a time when the study of history has never been more important for the health of our civic culture, and our sense of national self-understanding. Whether it is negotiating our new post-Brexit place in the world, evaluating our colonial legacies, or comprehending and contextualising contemporary social movements (from the #MeToo movement to populism, and from the climate emergency to a resurgence of anti-semitism), an historically-informed public debate is vital for our future. History departments and historians need to be part of that debate and both ought to be core to the activities of any university deserving the name.

This makes it imperative that History UK challenge and refute the central justification given by the University of Sunderland for their decision: that the discipline of History is not sufficiently ‘career-focused’. In making this argument, and deploying their Vice-Chancellor David Bell, to repeat it in the national media, the closure of Sunderland’s history department represents an attack on the entire discipline.

Arguments for the value of studying the humanities in general, and history in particular, have been made many times in the past, and the following represent a selection of key points worth emphasising:

  • 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.

As historians, we are keenly aware that we ‘have been here before’. Back in 2003, the then Education Secretary Charles Clarke was alleged to have argued that history lacked a ‘clear usefulness’, while in 2018 Robert Halfon, the chair of the Education Select Committee, made a similar point. Both are wrong, and the continued popularity of history as a degree level subject shows that A-level students have a better understanding of its value than many MPs.

Our discipline faces many challenges, including threats to marginalise history teaching in secondary schools and the need to do more to attract BAME students to study our subject. Our task need not be made more difficult by those who seek to minimise their own role in the closure of a department by traducing the reputation of our discipline.

Karin Dannehl (Wolverhampton)

Lucinda Matthews-Jones (Liverpool John Moores)

David Stack (Reading)

Elizabeth Tingle (De Montfort)

Jamie Wood (Lincoln)

Report – Teaching American History: Secondary School Teachers Panel at the 2019 BrANCH Annual Conference

We are delighted to share a report from the association of British American Nineteenth Century Historians (BrANCH), who received some funding from History UK to run an event at their conference this autumn:

Building relationships with secondary schools has long been an aspiration of the association of British American Nineteenth Century Historians (BrANCH). Thanks to History UK, we have now made an important first step towards realising that goal.  This October, funding from History UK enabled teachers from local secondary schools to attend the 2019 Annual BrANCH Conference at the University of Edinburgh to participate in the association’s first Teaching American History Panel.

Katie Hunter from St Thomas Aquinas Secondary School Edinburgh opened the session with an overview of American history curriculum currently on offer at Scottish schools, complete with reading lists and exam questions. The following panellists included academics who each proposed ways to translate the latest developments in the field of U.S. history into the classroom. Professor Robert Cook summarised the last half century of Civil War historiography before highlighting several “active debates” to engage students’ interest, including ongoing disputes over the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces in the United States. Dr Elizabeth Clapp then suggested ways to incorporate women into Civil War history lesson plans, from the activities of female abolitionists to concepts of gender in wartime propaganda.

Professor Tim Lockley (Warwick) introduced several databases, including Documenting the American South, which hold oral and written testimonies by former slaves in the American South. Dr David Silkenet (Edinburgh) finished with an overview of websites, including Essential Civil War Curriculum, which provide lesson plans created by historians that breakdown key topics in U.S. history into digestible segments to be utilised in classrooms.

The room then engaged in a lively plenary discussion regarding structural barriers which inhibit communication and collaboration between historians and teachers in the UK. Among these was a lack of institutional support – both financial and in terms of workload allocation –to enable teachers to participate in academic events. Another was the difficulty of encouraging exam boards to ensure that their questions reflect recent methodological and historiographical developments in the field of American history.

These are formidable challenges. Thanks to suggestions made by speakers and audience members during this panel, however, BrANCH has devised several initiatives to address them. For example, our members are currently creating teaching packs, including reading lists and source materials, which will be made available on the association’s website for the use of teachers at all levels of the education system. This December, moreover, the BrANCH committee will attend a follow-up workshop to discuss long-term collaborations with staff at the St Thomas Aquinas Secondary School. Finally, a Teachers’ Panel will be a regular fixture at BrANCH’s future conferences with a view to enabling the association to develop a network of relationships with secondary schools across the country.

Undoubtedly there is a vast gulf between how American history is studied within the academy, and how it is taught in secondary schools. This panel, however, revealed just how much enthusiasm there is among teachers and historians alike to close this gap. With the help of History UK, BrANCH has laid the foundation of what we anticipate will grow into a dynamic, mutually-beneficent relationship between our members and American history teachers throughout the UK.