Problematizing Sources: Wednesday 2nd December 2015
Our first workshop of the 2015/16 academic year was attended by postgraduate students from Northumbria, Newcastle, and Durham universities. HistoryLab North East would like to thank everyone who attended, our presenters and chairs, Laura Hutchinson from the Northumbria University Graduate School for running a great training session, and the Graduate School for funding the event. Thank you to the organisers Sarah Collins, Annie Foster, Lara Green, and Shane Smith for arranging the event. Follow HistoryLab North East on Twitter (@historylabne) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/HistoryLabNorthEast) to find out more about future events or email firstname.lastname@example.org to join our mailing list.
Tom Lowman (Durham University) started the first session with a discussion of the challenges of researching Uganda under Idi Amin’s regime. Tom reminded us that historians should not prioritise evidence according to its form (written or spoken) or language and discussed how these different sources can be brought together. Hearing about Tom’s visit to Uganda and the Karuma falls gave the audience an interesting insight into the particular challenges faced in studying the history of an area that is being transformed into a tourist destination.
Up next was Tony McKenna (Northumbria University) who talked us through the particular difficulties of managing research involving large amounts of material in which documents are often very similar. It was particularly interesting to learn about Tony’s approach to using the dense textual sources in the Communist Party of Great Britain archives in combination with cultural journals and magazines to study the cultural policy and production in party circles. After Tony’s talk we had some interesting discussion comparing the experience of working with French and British communist party archives and looking at how the language from our sources affects our writing and whether or not it is possible to be completely objective.
At the end of the first session we heard from Genny Silvanus (Northumbria University) who is researching archives and digital archiving. Genny also used to work at Durham County Record Office so was able to give us a fascinating insight into how local archives work. It was interesting to hear about the role of volunteers, and the valuable local knowledge they bring, in cataloguing archives. Genny also talked about the problems faced by local archives in terms of funding and in the questions discussed with the audience the relationship between archives and interest in family history (Top Tip: contact your local library or county record office to find out if they subscribe to any commercial databases you might need for your research). Genny also told us about a recent conference held at Northumbria University (https://threats2openness.wordpress.com/about/) and talked us through current concerns among archivists and researchers about changes in the law and the challenges of storing digital records.
After lunch we heard from Annie Foster (Northumbria University) who used some examples from local collections to demonstrate her research using postcards as historical documents. The postcards depicted mining disasters from the early twentieth century and Annie argued that they represented multiple interests, from the Victorians trends in collecting ephemera to efforts to raise money for communities affected by the disasters.
Next we heard from Sarah Collins (Northumbria University) who demonstrated to us the process by which she creates databases and maps using a geographic information system (GIS). Sarah talked us through the problems she faces in using early-eighteenth century maps and addresses but then showed us some powerful visual representations of the social and economic history of Newcastle that she has created through her research.
To finish the second session we heard two presentations from Megan Hunt and Stef Allum (both Northumbria University) on their research on film. Megan and Stef come from different disciplinary backgrounds but drew together different elements of their research. Megan talked about how the release of the film Selma has presented new narratives of religion in the American South in Hollywood films and how this compares to the representation of religion in other films. Stef spoke about how contemporary Spanish horror has allowed Spanish society to engage with the history of the Franco regime which was not discussed under the ‘pact of silence’. It was interesting to hear about films which have prompted discussion of history in wider forums.
The day finished with a training session led by Laura Hutchinson from the Graduate School who talked us through the art of giving great research presentations. Laura gave us some great advice and some ideas to think about at home to help us to present our research better. She said we should always have a presentation plan and be thinking about the next opportunities to present our research – a good reminder to plan ahead for that big conference or for the next HistoryLab North East workshop!