Summary of Plenary Paper ‘Working Together: collaborating in research and teaching’ (4th November 2017) – Professor Chris Whitehead

 

Professor Chris Whitehead (University of Newcastle) came to working with museums and sites after a first degree in art history, which took him to museum studies and into collaborations both at national and international level. These fields, as he pointed out, rarely have clearly defined boundaries. His talk took shape around his experience over many years of working together with museums, and around giving an honest account of the challenges that such work presents. This summary of Chris’ talk is based on the features that surprised or resonated with someone who has to date only very limited experience of working with museums. 

Challenges of bringing the world of academe and of museum practitioners together

Collaborators on all sides need to be aware of the often conflicting interests – those of the academic keen to ‘collaborate’, the home HE institution of the academic and the museum/heritage sector institution, and often there are sub-groups with important agendas within each partner group. Thus: time scales, audiences that are hard to reach, conservation issues, existing/tried and tested and hence efficient ways of working, audience requirements, media interest, annual report to the trustees for the museum sector, whereas for HEIs it is REF outputs and targets, different time scales of working/research time, academic integrity (e.g. critical stance to a museum; freedom to express an unpopular view)… along with factors such as admin support for academic leads, and harvesting insights over a longer term. 

Often both sides realise that there are benefits to collaborating but especially for the museum sector, previous experiences of getting bad publicity as a result of having been made the focus of academic study or lack of buy-in from some of the museum staff may make future collaborations very difficult. 

Challenges of working ‘internationally’

Deadlines for funding applications are often tight and information routinely demanded (e.g. about the collaborative partner institution) is potentially difficult to establish, or difficult to ascertain. Thus local government spokespersons may not ultimately be the people who have to be involved in the work itself. Hierarchies and other divisions and work practices (potentially at odds with accepted UK standards) may not be evident until the grant permits further visits. 

Chris’ talk highlighted the many levels of challenges, such as communication, local historic conflicts between ethnic groups, bureaucracy and linguistic, encountered when working on a large project based in Istanbul. The reality of what he and his co-workers encountered once in situ made it expedient to treat research plans flexibly; at the same time opportunities materialised that had not been foreseeable whilst at the drafting stages for the funding application. 

Depending on where in the world the collaboration takes place, some grants may involve development assistance to countries that might be called ‘developing world’ – or grants may be treated as such by local authorities. 

Challenges of making the work count 

Since the objectives are often very different (e.g. a new exhibition room, an exhibition for the museum, which have to fit into rigid time scales, and a book/publication or ‘impact’ for the academic collaborator, equally rigid but working to a different cycle) it struck this observer that the full realisation of all and any of the potential benefits may be difficult to manage. Short-term contacts for research staff supporting a large-scale project will mean that they disappear and will be busy with the next short-term project, unable to contribute to post-project legacy analysis. 

Conclusion

Whilst the over-riding impression was of how challenging collaborative work with the museum sector can be, it was also clear that these do not outweigh the rewards for all parties concerned. The work had been life-changing for all concerned in at least some of the projects; quite possibly because everybody had been forced to go outside their comfort zone to make it happen in the end. 

Professor Whitehead’s slides are available on the History UK website (see below). Personally, his talk and those of the other plenary speakers highlighted to what extent successful collaboration can only grow out of longer term relationships between a HEI and a museum/heritage sector institution, to ensure that there is sufficient knowledge and understanding of what will work in practice. 

Event programme and additional information: http://www.history-uk.ac.uk/sample-page/2017-plenary-working-together-in-research-and-teaching/?subscribe=success#blog_subscription-2

‘Chris is the co-ordinator of the EU funded project CoHERE:  The EU-funded CoHERE project, a €2.5million Horizon 2020 study into European Heritages and Identities, working with 11 other organisations across Europe.’ 

Karin Dannehl, EHS co-opted member to History UK

History UK – Looking Forward

Heather Shore – Co-convenor of History UK

heathershoreIn the last few months History UK (HUK) has undergone a few changes and it is with these in mind that I write this post, as one of the new co-convenors, along with Lucie Matthews-Jones (Liverpool John Moores University), a long-time member of the HUK Steering Committee who stepped up to the co-convenor role in February. In the last few months we have said goodbye and thank-you to our previous co-convenors Marcus Collins and Kate Bradley, and we’ve extended our Executive. Along with the co-convenors, secretary (Daniel Grey) and treasurer (Richard Hawkins), we are very pleased to welcome our Media Officer (Jamie Wood) and Education Officer (Peter D’Sena).

In our last two blog posts, participants in the Academic Boot camp (held in May) and the New to Teaching event (held in September) wrote about their experiences and the benefits that they gained from attending these events. We hope that the events that we are currently planning will provide similar opportunities and benefits for historians, irrespective of whatever stages of their career they are at.

The first event will take place on the 22nd March at Liverpool John Moores University. HUK is very pleased to welcome the Digital History Lab Roadshow to a joint event between HUK and LJMU. We have a great line-up of speakers including, James Barker (Sussex), Bob Nicholson (Edge Hill), Claire Taylor (Liverpool) and Joanna Taylor (Lancaster) talking about their digital humanities projects. On the 20th May, we will be hosting our very successful Academic Boot Camp at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) again.

In the spring we will be collaborating with History Lab Plus on another event at the IHR, Life After PhD. History Lab Plus have run this successful event for the last few years, exploring the burning questions that postgraduates finishing their PhDs, and those who have recently completed, have in mind. In previous years the event has explored: the transition from PhD, getting grants, getting published and careers outside academia. Limited bursaries will be available for those travelling from outside the South-east (more information will be available soon). In September we will be collaborating with the IHR and the Royal Historical Society, to host the annual New to Teaching event, at the IHR, and aimed at recent graduates. Participants at this one-day event will develop their understanding of innovations in teaching and learning, curriculum design, assessment and feedback, quality assurance, teaching seminar groups, using digital technology in the undergraduate classroom and preparing for the academic job market.

History UK Steering Committee members will be participating in these events, and we very much look forward to a busy few months ahead, and to planning further events for the future. In particular, we are gearing up for our Autumn 2017 Plenary, which, this year, will focus on the theme of collaboration – in research, in funding, across disciplines and across the sector. Do please feel free to contact us if you want any information on any of these forthcoming events, or if there are other ways in which History UK might be involved in supporting historians in UK Higher Education.

Heather Shore (Leeds Beckett University)

History New to Teaching, September 2016, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London

On the 15th September around 40 postgraduates and early career researchers attended the New to Teaching event at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) at Senate House London; which was co-sponsored by the IHR, History UK and the Royal Historical Society. The purpose of the day was to allow those new to teaching history in higher education, the opportunity to gain advice on different pedagogies from established academics from institutions across the UK. It also provided an opportunity for the attendees to meet peers who were also new to teaching, and share experiences, hopes and fears about the path ahead. A number of attendees (including ourselves) were granted travel bursaries sponsored by History UK, making event attendance possible to those from outside of London.

For the first session of the day, Dr Marcus Collins, from Loughborough University spoke about curriculum design, quality assurance and the student experience. Marcus asked small groups to design their own curriculum for an undergraduate history degree, encouraging us to think about how we would strike a balance between what modules students may want, with those that are less desirable but nonetheless essential to their understanding of history.

Jamie Wood, from the University of Lincoln, then led a session on small group teaching which provided some great tips on classroom management and ideas for activities.  What was especially useful, was that we learned how to manage and teach small groups in a practical way.  Jamie demonstrated the key techniques through teaching us.  We were shown some activities to elicit discussion and encourage peer-to-peer teaching.  Overall, the session on small group teaching has enabled us to plan engaging activities and encourage participation.  We have found the tips very easily transferable to the real seminar environment and now feel much more confident in our roles as a seminar instructors.

In his session, Adam Crymble from the University of Hertfordshire, talked to us about the multiple ways that he uses digital history in his teaching. Adam explained one of these in detail; as part of his module Adam gets his students to work collectively to data mine from the Old Bailey online database and create Excel spreadsheets. The purpose of this is to get students familiar with using online resources, and to teach them how to use different software and gain skills that may be useful for their dissertation research and also in their future careers.

Marcus Collins delivered his second session of the day, this time on assessment and feedback. Marcus gave us an assessment that had been marked and asked us as groups to critique the marking. By doing this we could see the types of positive feedback that we could use ourselves, and also how feedback can be too negative and potentially demoralising for a student. The main point that we took away from this session was to try to give an overall positive feel to our feedback. To do this, we should focus on highlighting what students did well and need to continue doing, and highlight one element that was poor, but provide practical feedback on how this could be improved in the future.

Melodee Beals (from Loughborough University) gave a session on peer-to-peer teaching which provided us with great advice on classroom management and how to use digital tools to encourage students to interact with each other.  She highlighted the importance of the physical layout of the room, and the difference seating arrangements can make in delivering an effective seminar.  We now think about the layout of the class and take time to position the students in a manner to encourage talking and discussion in our own seminars.

For the final session of the day, Dr Catherine Armstrong (also from Loughborough University) ran a session on building an academic career. Catherine began by discussing ways in which PhD students can begin to develop their career, helping us to think about what we can do now to help increase our chances of getting an academic job in the future. Catherine also gave us some really useful advice about writing an academic CV, as well as some ‘golden rules’ for the interview process.

The New to Teaching event really helped us to develop our skills as seminar instructors and offered great advice on facilitating lessons and planning activities, much of which we have already successfully put into practice.  We left the event feeling motivated, confident, and looking forward to the academic year ahead.

Resources:

By Abigail Dorr, Rachel Yemm and Diane Ranyard

 

Abigail Dorr is in the third year of her PhD in the School of History and Heritage at the University of Lincoln, working with the Common Fund Accounts of Lincoln Cathedral in the fourteenth century.  Her research analyses on how the quantity and type of gifts, both given by and to the cathedral, were affected by the wider economic and social climate.  Abi is also the treasurer of the Women in Academia Postgraduate Research Group at the University of Lincoln and has co-founded a regional history network for postgraduates in the East Midlands.  She is an Associate Lecturer on a Level 1 survey module – The Medieval World and soon to begin teaching a Level 1 module at Bishop Grosseteste University on church history.

Abi’s Twitter: @Abi_Dorr

East Midlands History Network’s Twitter: @EM_HistoryNet

Rachel Yemm is a third year PhD student in the School of History and Heritage at the University of Lincoln. She is working on the impact of local media on public perceptions of immigration in the Midlands from 1960-1990. Rachel works with the Media Archive for Central England (MACE), situated within the University of Lincoln. She is also the President of Women in Academia, a Postgraduate Research Group at the University of Lincoln. Rachel is an Associate Lecturer on the Level 2 module New Directions in History.

Mace Archive Website: http://macearchive.org/

Women in Academia’s Website: http://wiapg.co.uk

Rachel’s Twitter: @rachelyemm

Diane Ranyard is a second year PhD student in the School of History and Heritage at the University of Lincoln. She is working on gendered representations of marital behavior within the Divorce Court of England and Wales, between 1909 and 1937. Diane is also the current Treasurer for History Lab at the Institute of Historical Research and has worked as a Student Ambassador on the HEA funded Making Digital History Project for three years. Diane is an Associate Lecturer on the Level 1 module Forging the Modern State, 1750-1979.

History Labs Website: http://www.history.ac.uk/historylab

Making Digital History Website: http://makingdigitalhistory.co.uk/

Diane’s Twitter: @dianeranyard

 

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