News and Views

History UK statement on cuts to Arts and Humanities in Higher Education

History UK is deeply concerned about the growing number of arts and humanities disciplines, centres, and institutes facing closure and cuts. The latest involve the closure of the Institutes of Commonwealth Studies and Latin American Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and significant reductions in staff across the Schools of Arts and Humanities at the University of Roehampton. We have received reports of planned cuts elsewhere.

Earlier this year, we put out a statement in defence of history following the announcement of the closure of History programmes at the University of Sunderland. We will not reiterate those points here, though they remain relevant, because the growing threat to Arts and Humanities is bigger than any one discipline or institution.

Instead, we emphasise our support for colleagues at the School of Advanced Study, Roehampton, and elsewhere whose positions are under threat. To face redundancy during a global pandemic and economic recession is particularly traumatic. When such large-scale redundancies are being made to restructure and realign disciplines at short notice, it should raise serious questions about the long-term strategic decision-making of university senior management rather than individual units within institutions.

We also want to stress the need for unity between institutions and disciplines in the face of cuts. In many universities, closures and cuts are being targeted disproportionately at arts and humanities subjects, yet will have effects far beyond those disciplines.

Beyond the immediate human impact, the widespread undermining of the arts and humanities threatens the international standing of UK higher education, and comes at a time when their value to society is coming into ever sharper focus. Important and unfinished work, such as that of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies around decolonizing the university and on Black British History, is imperiled. Across the sector, it risks curtailing the opportunities students from all backgrounds have to study the arts and humanities and have their lives transformed.

Although currently localised, the likely impending scale of such cuts requires a coordinated response. We consider this to be a strategic matter that requires the input of not just one subject organisation within the arts and humanities, but from all of us.

History UK recognises that it has limited powers when it comes to decision-making within institutions. But we will lobby actively for the future of our disciplines, and work with other bodies, such as the Arts and Humanities Alliance, where we can. We are keen to explore new ways of offering support to staff and students affected by cuts and redundancies, and we welcome the ideas and support of all members of the history community.

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.

History UK statement on RHS LGBT+ Histories and Historians report

History UK welcomes the publication of the new RHS report on LGBT+ Histories and Historians, and fully endorses its recommendations.

This is the fourth report on equality and inequality in UK History, and it highlights instances of discrimination that are just as shocking. A significant number of LGBT+ historians do not feel safe or comfortable in academic spaces. Others have experienced clear and persistent harassment, including threats to safety. These are not only issues of mental health and wellbeing, but also have significant implications for individual career progression, and prevent the development of diverse and inclusive working environments that benefit history as a discipline.

Just as efforts to decolonise the academy cannot be limited to the diversification of reading lists on modules, so we need to embed diverse identities into curriculum and practice. Efforts towards equality and inclusion must include promoting LGBT+ historians and LGBT+ histories as integral to efforts. This effort requires commitment from History staff at all levels, and particularly from programme leads and line managers. The report emphasises that we need to work together to provide institutional support, and is particularly effective in showing the positive steps that non-LGBT+ historians should undertake to demonstrate allyship. History departments, and institutions as a whole, need to have conversations about this – but more than this, we need to take action.

This action needs to take place at the institutional and at the individual levels. Inclusive policies need to be embedded at institutional levels. Access to gender-inclusive spaces and provisions for gender recognition are essential, and dependent on senior leaders showing clear commitment to LGBT+ equality and inclusion. Some of the structural barriers may be out of the control of individual historians, but the report highlights ways that we can all work to make our communities more inclusive (for example, around use of correct pronouns). Ensuring that all individuals are not only able to recognise discriminatory behaviour, but that they are aware of institutional reporting systems, makes it much more likely that individuals will feel able to tackle such behaviour when it occurs, and use those reporting systems.

The recommendations are essential reading. The RHS has also compiled a series of useful online resources that historians can use in their own teaching, and to foster good practice within their institutions. This practical support in tackling discrimination and in bolstering pedagogical diversity and inclusivity will be one of the most helpful elements of the RHS’ work in this area.

It is clear that history is important for understanding the historically-rooted structures and belief systems that shape the ongoing exclusion of LGBT+ people from many spaces in society today. The rich bodies of LGBT+ and queer historical scholarship produced in previous decades should be fully integrated into teaching and research programmes at all levels. This is not only a matter of tackling discrimination, but of enriching historical knowledge. It will ensure that current and future LGBT+ students recognise themselves and their own experiences in the histories they are taught, and feel fully supported and encouraged to flourish within the university environment – with incalculable long-term benefits to the profession and the discipline.

History UK

28 September 2020

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.

History UK statement of support for historians working in higher education

History UK stands in solidarity with all historians working in higher education and calls for recognition of the important work undertaken in History departments across the sector. More so now than ever. The implications of recent government decisions on this year’s A-Level examinations results are divisive and yet to be fully understood. The coming months are likely to be uncertain and stressful for many of us as we strive to support new students as they transition to university-level study, and help all students manage a new learning experience.

We support the Royal Historical Society’s message to students to explore the full range of History programmes, and their recognition that there are first-rate degree programmes and highly satisfied students across the sector. We recognise, however, that the implications of recent government decisions, particularly the lifting of the cap on university places in England, is a cause of considerable anxiety for many historians and History departments.

Historians across different types of institution have long raised concerns about unmanageable and unsustainable workloads. Many now fear that additional student numbers at some universities, combined with cuts to precariously employed staff and the additional demands of online and physically distanced teaching, will lead to significantly increased workloads. The burden of this additional labour may fall disproportionately on junior, female, and BAME colleagues. Those who have already lost their jobs may not necessarily be re-employed. There are historians in departments across the sector who are committed to their students, who will welcome new starters and go above and beyond to ensure they have the best experience possible. But this is potentially accompanied by a substantial cost for individual physical and mental health.

History UK is most concerned by fears among historians for their jobs and the sustainability of post-1992 universities in particular. These fears are compounded by broader attempts to dismiss the value of History in the national media and among certain think tanks. Yet, as we wrote earlier this year following the decision of the University of Sunderland to close programmes in History, the study of history has never been more important for the health of our civic culture and sense of national self-understanding. Historians across all kinds of institution not only inspire students, broaden horizons, and shape highly employable graduates, but also produce world-leading research, much of which is rooted in engagement with local communities.

It is essential that historians challenge these narratives and call for History—indeed all Humanities subjects—to be protected in any government bailout or support package. We may not all be affected equally, but the diversity and inclusivity of the discipline as a whole will suffer if we do not stand together.

History UK co-convenors (Yolana Pringle, Lucie Matthews-Jones, Jamie Wood)

19 August 2020