So, by now you’ll have got to know the unconference un-committee, and four of our attendees. Last, but by absolutely no means least, here are three more historians who are busy this week taking the past into the future!
I’ve come back to academic history having spent some time as a secondary school teacher, and I’m now studying the social basis of interconfessional relations in England from c. 1688-1750. Alongside my everyday research I’m really interested in how academic historians can use a variety of media to present their work in ways that engage with a wider public. Although I think historical research can have some very important social uses, my priority in thinking about public engagement is how researchers can communicate their raw passion for a particular subject. Once a wider public is engaged with a research topic, they can work with academics to show how historical research can be socially, politically, and even economically useful. Lots of people are thinking and working on public engagement within academic institutions, and I’ve been involved with public art and blog projects that present research in interesting and accessible ways. What I would really love, however, is for public engagement to be at the centre of normal academic life – not just an add-on or a chore, but a joy and a responsibility.
We are incredibly lucky as historians to have a discipline which has a huge popular following and great exposure in the media. I also (although perhaps I am a little biased) think that, given the right presentation and approach, history is inherently interesting to most people. I was sometimes taken by surprise by the reluctant curiosity of some of the less historically-inclined members of my classes when I was teaching, who given the right topic could not help but want to find out more. If we can tap into this natural curiosity to make our own research interesting and relevant to a wider audience, then we can really make it matter!
Eduardo Jones Corredera
Hello, I am Ed and my research concerns narratives of rise and decline in eighteenth century political thought. Surprised by the lack of interaction between scholars across national borders, but also by the pressures of modern scholarship on academics, I set out to conceive of an online platform that could both push academics to broaden the Hispanists’ circle of interaction, but also to alleviate the sensitive time restrictions that are imposed on young academics, who must combine teaching and writing.
On a more general level, my paper aims to address the fear that the study of history is being outpaced by technology, as concerns over short-term, sensationalist approaches are said to dominate by some. Having read the other proposals, it is clear that several dimensions of the study of history can change in different directions, but all require a closer interaction with the public at large and must adapt to the technological and social changes brought about by globalisation.
The broad historical scope covered by the sum of all participants should make this particularly enlightening. Covering many different approaches, from modern history to the study of early modern emotions, I truly believe by assessing how the digital world is affecting each different field in its own ways, we will arrive at common themes and perhaps, ultimately, comprehensive conclusions.
The main themes that seem to stand out when thinking about how history can adapt to modernity, post-modernity and whatever might follow are of course broader social ones, as issues of privacy, speed and the meaning of the past – material or otherwise – are all sources of contention throughout the world, and manifest themselves in everything from physical conflicts to dinner conversations.
As alternative ways of looking at these issues and potential responses arise throughout the conference, I hope that we can set the basis for further study.
I submitted an idea to the unconference for two main reasons. Firstly because it resonated with things I and two fellow PhDers had been talking about – why were we doing our PhDs? where were our politics in respect of our scholarship? of what use is our academics to the wider world? – and also because I have wanted to participate in a conference but am unable to do public speaking, so I was attracted to the alternative format as it seemed inclusive to those of us who struggle with that. The first of the two reasons is more interesting and important, so I’ll speak further on that.
I met two other PhD students through the Raphael Samuel Young Historians’ network who were also struggling with the relationship between their politics and their academics. So we set about organising a conference called ‘what is radical history?’ which we put on last March at Birkbeck. Whilst the conference was a resounding success, it obviously didn’t solve or answer our questions fully, so we carried on thinking and talking about what we see as a necessity in linking our present political commitments to our scholarship as historians.
So the Taking the Past Into the Future unconference offered me an opportunity to develop and flesh out the ideas I/we have in terms of the relationship of present political concerns to our/my historical scholarship. I also felt that the ideas I/we have been developing would benefit from the perspective of people not immediately in my social network and not necessarily on the same page. My two fellow radical history conference organisers are both contemporary historians, so what do medievalists and early modern historians think about our ideas? Do they find them useful? Relevant? What perspectives can they offer us/me? I hope then that these few days in beautiful, but sadly not sunny (!!!) Fife will enrich our idea and offer critiques and avenues for growth in friendly and useful ways.
Also, I wanted to come back to Scotland again for a decent cup of non-limescale tea.