So, the first full day of the unconference has now been and gone. Most of the day was spent in intensive discussion, though we did reserve some time after dinner for a visit to Janetta’s in St Andrews and a rather wet wander by the seaside.
Today’s summary of our different sessions is courtesy of Sarah and Bridget. Paper sessions saw the discussion of ideas raised in pre-circulated position papers, whilst open sessions made space for the discussion of wider issues. If you want to read a bit about our participants and the ideas they are putting forward, please see our introductory posts here, here, and here. If you want to read more about the ideas mentioned below, keep your eyes peeled for our forthcoming unconference proceedings!
Innovative Publishing – Paper Session One
Will asked how we could foster more interest in the research we produce, and whether a change in format could help achieve this. Some fields lend themselves easily towards visual or audio formats, while other ideas are best expressed through the written word. Multiple ways of presenting information can help us to disseminate research to a larger audience. Dawn suggested that when it comes to the actual publication of these ideas, it can be difficult, especially for early career scholars, to efficiently take an article from completion to publication in the most appropriate journal. A system of paper- and journal-matching would be an excellent way to help both ends of the publishing spectrum find what they need. It was concluded that as individuals we ought to support pure open access journals – which can lack status and visibility compared to traditional journals – by consciously endeavouring to cite from and submit articles to them.
Activist History, Inclusive History – Paper Session Two
Leonie and Tank addressed questions surrounding the barriers between academic and community history, as well as ideas regarding politicised, activist history, and how we can make scholarship most relevant and valuable to people outside academia. This session instigated a great discussion on the perceptions of objectivity and subjectivity within history and other disciplines. Academic history can be seen as a closed and elite community, due in part to a public narrative that emphasises the special expertise of its practitioners. However, popular history and the study of history are things that should complement each other, not be at odds, and people should be free to approach history on their own terms.
Interactive and Experiential History – Paper Session Three
Carys and Daniel followed up on session two by discussing ways that museums and historians can interact with the public in meaningful and insightful ways. There are many ways in which we as historians can bring our love of history to the forefront of our work. In the PhD process (and after!), it would be good for both the researcher and the public to have opportunities to connect and share. This also brought forward the idea of the ideal historian, a “passably-informed enthusiast”, happy to share their excitement about their work with other researchers and the public, a facilitator of the past rather than a custodian. Museums bring another element of interaction between history and the public, and interactive, experiential museums that were geared towards reaching a wider audience while maintaining the importance of their holdings would allow for more people to connect with history on a broad scale.
Future Archives, Virtual Legacies – Open Session One
How do we save history for the future in the digital age? From big data record-trawling to digital wasteland, we tackled the possibilities of what it might be like to be a historian in the future. What would we, the people of 2015, leave behind? What would be intentionally saved? What would be accidentally collected? Facebook (and their vast banks of information) was of particular interest, especially with regard to access and use. And what if none of our digital communications survived? Further, we discussed how we might then reconcile the virtual and actual lives of people, given that the internet gives us the opportunity to present ourselves in a way that suits us. And finally, do we as historians need to participate in the interpretation of the present digital data age in order to effectively study history?
Impactful Presence – Open Session Two
We tried to define the current and ideal impacts of history and historians. Impact is often calculated in terms of demonstrable changes in behaviour, but is this something that can be realistically measured? Impact in science, for example, and impact in history can be seen as cures for an acute illness vs. a chronic illness. Scientific research can quickly solve problems that are immediately apparent, but history gets at the longstanding societal problems we often don’t even know are there. Secondly, impact on a personal level is important. Not everyone will change the minds of thousands, but you may very well be the one to positively change the lives of your students in a way that allows them to go on and take on the big changes themselves. Too little emphasis is placed on the importance of being a good public intellectual – impact is a presence, not a product