Earlier we introduced the people responsible for helping to organise the conference – now it’s time to introduce those without whom it simply wouldn’t exist! We’ve unfortunately suffered a few setbacks in terms of numbers, but the group we do have is perfectly formed. Here are the first four of our innovating historians…
Hi! My name is Will Wyeth. I’m a second-year PhD student at Stirling University here in Scotland, and I’m studying Scotland’s early stone castles. In the past year I have spent a long time looking at different archaeological excavation reports, which detail the different relationships between natural and man-made features in the ground. In the process of reading these reports I came to realise that I was spending a great deal of time reading detailed written descriptions of archaeology where a fairly simple illustration or image would have sufficed.
When I saw the ad for the Unconference, I thought it might be worth suggesting an idea for a medium to present research in which image, rather than text, was the focus. I looked around for academic journal articles which relied on videos or animation, and found none in the humanities. I then thought that a video journal, similar to a conventional written journal, would be a good topic for my Unconference suggestion. I have developed some ideas to realise this video journal, but I amvery much looking forward to the ideas and suggestions of my fellow Unconference attendees.
I am interested in hearing and seeing more about the other papers, which (I was relieved to learn) address some of the same challenges I have seen in the world of a PhD student and as a researcher in the arts and humanities. Viva the Unconference!
My name is Bridget and I have just finished my PhD – an experience which has shaped me over the last five years and dominated my everyday. I have just arrived at a beautiful farmhouse called Hayston House in the Fife countryside on a windy grey afternoon with ten other history scholars. We are all sitting round a dining table It is silent apart from the sound of keypads clicking as we begin to write about ourselves. So what am I doing here? What has drawn me to this part of the world and to an event called an unconference? The term suggests something about why it intrigued me. Just with those two letters ‘un’ there is a sense of something that goes against and does not conform. That was one of the reasons for coming. Another was the fact that we are not following the pattern of an academic conference with presentations and panels and other things beginning with ‘p’. We are in a rural location away from the bustle of institutions and more traditional conference gatherings. We are in a place where we can reflect and discuss things that might not otherwise be addressed.
I’m doing a degree in Heritage studies at Northumbria University, looking at how the past is represented and used in public history and heritage projects in the Newcastle area. I am interested in public participation as a way of engaging with a wider group of people beyond academia. I feel that academic historians often set themselves apart from non-historians, who are not trained in the same rigorous way, and are not neutral and scientific. I am interested not only in the contribution historians can make to public understandings of the past, but also in the insights members of the public can lend in terms of knowledge about the past. I think there can be debates about what the past means to us and our society, and about how it can help us face present political, social and environmental challenges. I want these debates to be dialogues between academics and non-academics to foster multiple perspectives. I hope that we can discuss how we see our roles as historians in society at this unconference, that we will think about the steps forward, about how we can communicate with each other, and about how we can communicate with people outside of academia, to make our research and ideas about what can be done matter beyond the academy.
Four years ago I embarked upon my doctoral thesis on the transmission of Zen Buddhism from Japan to the USA in the twentieth century. What particularly fascinated and concerned me about Japanese Buddhism was its uncritical support for the Japanese government’s repressive, totalitarian regime during the Pacific War.
Taking a critical view of the past encourages one to question the present. Whilst researching and writing my doctorate I have been led inevitably to question whether the way in which academia functions today is necessarily the best way to advance human knowledge and wisdom. Furthermore, the roles and responsibilities of academics and universities have to be considered in relation to current political, social and environmental issues. As historians, whose role is to bring the past into the future, what relation does our research, and our conduct as academics, have to the major crises of our age such as climate change? I am looking forward to spending a few days with other students who are not only alert to the pitfalls of academic life but creative and bold enough to propose alternatives to current conventions and practices.