Tuesday, 8 December 2015

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 historylab.northeast@gmail.com 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!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Problematizing Sources Workshop Programme

HistoryLab North East Workshop 'Problematizing Sources' Programme

Follow the workshop @HistoryLabNE #hlnesources

Monday, 19 October 2015

CFP: Problematizing Sources Wednesday 2nd December 2015 Northumbria University

HistoryLab North East is pleased to announce the first workshop of the academic year. Postgraduates from across the region are invited to submit short abstracts (100-200 words) for consideration. Please also include your preferred presentation length (10 or 20 minutes).

Deadline: Monday 26th October 5pm.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in contact with the organising team at historylab.northeast@gmail.com

Thursday, 8 October 2015


HistoryLab North East is back with events for the new semester!

Join us at the pub on Thursday 15th October to find out more about what we do and opportunities for getting involved. We'll be meeting at the Town Wall, near Central Station, in Newcastle from 6pm.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Report on History Lab North East ‘History outside the Academy’, Sutherland Building, Northumbria University, 21 November 2014

Thanks to all those who attended and supported History Lab North East’s ‘History outside the Academy’ workshop. The day was built around a widely acknowledged problem facing researchers. On the one hand historians (and academics more broadly) are increasingly required and expected to disseminate their research to a non-academic audience. However, they also face a range of challenges, problems and pitfalls in doing this. Academics are expected to meet a wide range of criteria within academia – centred around results driven research outputs as well as teaching responsibilities – leaving little time for additional non-academic work. If time can be found, it is unclear how to balance the types of broad narratives that are so often a part of public history with the intellectual rigour and analysis expected in academic research. There are also questions about how academic research can actually be disseminated to a non-specialist audience? Without clear methods or directives in place even if researchers have the time and desire to reach new audiences, doing so is often dependent on their own initiatives. The workshop contended with these issues in a variety of ways.

The first paper of the day was given by Ellen Crabtree who gave an enlightening account of Madeleine Rebérioux’s activities during the Vietnam War. In particular, Ellen focused on the challenges that Rebérioux faced as an academic when she stepped into an especially visceral contemporary political debate and attempted to take action within that context. A notable member of the Communist Party, Rebérioux formed a key part of a transnational network that included American academics such as Noam Chomsky and which aimed to supply books to Hanoi University. Such a scheme was plagued by both practical issues and ideological fissures about the literature that should be provided. Despite its problems, ultimately the scheme represented a new form of academic militancy through which those in ‘Western’ institutions demonstrated solidarity with their peers in Vietnam.

The second paper of the day, presented by David Hope, gave an account of his own work and experience of stepping outside of the academy. David highlighted how Adam Smith’s seminal eighteenth century work The Wealth of Nations has been claimed by contemporary free-market advocates and right-wing thinkers in a way that minimises the text’s historical context. As a historian David seeks to critique this analysis of Smith but runs the risk of becoming a political agent himself. How to place contemporary politics in a proper historical context whilst avoiding becoming embroiled in partisan political debate is a difficult question and one with which Rebérioux must have also contended.

In the third paper of the session, David Thom brought out many of the broad themes of the day. An interesting comparison was drawn between history and poetry, and specifically the comments of Jeremy Paxman about the necessity for poets to connect with the public and not operate in closed artistic circles. As David is himself embarking on a new research project that looks at military service tribunals during the First World War, the centenary commemorations present opportunities for public engagement activities. However, as a PhD student with an expectation of rapid academic development in a strict three year timescale there appears to be an inherent tension between public engagement and academic research. With these seemingly conflicting expectations and the limited time available to meet them David runs the risk of creating two entirely different research projects – one ‘academic’ one ‘public’.

Following these papers the group was joined by John Wynne-Griffiths and Jo Moody from the National Trust who spoke about how the National Trust as an organisation engages with the public. From this discussion two main themes emerged. First, the techniques used by the Trust to ‘reach’ the public highlights just how much work needs to be undertaken to effectively engage with a broad audience. The Trust has to balance its own responsibilities as regards conservation with the provision of a visitor-centred experience that attracts high visitor numbers and ensures an enjoyable experience for people of all ages and backgrounds. Second, the opportunity for postgraduate researchers to work with and for organisations like the National Trust was explored, especially how postgraduates’ specialist knowledge and abilities were valued by the organisation. Postgraduate students were offered advice on how to approach charitable organisations like the National Trust and broader issues surrounding postgraduate employability were also discussed. 

History Lab North East 2014 – Postgraduate researchers learn about the inner workings of the National Trust.

The day concluded with the History Lab North East AGM. The following topics were discussed and will be addressed by the committee before the next event: 1) new representatives need to be chosen by the different member institutions to replace outgoing members; 2) a host institution and workshop theme need to be decided for the next event (a take on ‘publishing’ was raised as a possible theme); and 3) different ways to fund and raise the profile of future events were discussed. 

Once again the organisers (Stan Neal and David Hope) would like to thank all of the speakers and attendees, Northumbria University Graduate School, and the National Trust for their contributions to the workshop. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Call for Papers - History outside the Academy

Northumbria University, 21 November 2014

We are pleased to invite speakers for the next event of the History Lab North East. This time round, the theme for the half-day workshop will be ‘History outside the Academy’. As part of a fantastic networking opportunity for postgraduate students based in the North East, we are looking for speakers to present short papers (15-20 mins) that will form the basis of an afternoon workshop, which explores how to effectively disseminate historical research outside of academia.

The workshop is intended to create an informal and non-threatening atmosphere in which postgraduate researchers can share ideas, develop their skills, and create links with researchers from different institutions and backgrounds. Postgraduates from all areas of historical research are invited to participate. The afternoon’s proceedings are set to include:

  • Postgraduate papers that consider how cutting edge historical research can be applied to   non-academic contexts.
  • A group discussion on how the challenges of disseminating historical research to a wider audience can be overcome.
  • A training session for researchers on outreach and employability issues.
  • Networking and socialising opportunities with postgraduates from around the North East.

Each presentation should ideally provide a brief overview of the on-going research project and demonstrate how the project can be relevant and important in a non-academic context. Different approaches may highlight the possible social, political, cultural, or economic relevance of historical research to contemporary narratives. Above all, the workshop aims to generate debate, discussion, and introspective analysis of how we, as postgraduates, can escape from our scholarly spires and show how our research is of interest to a wider array of audiences.

Could interested speakers please send a 100-200 word abstract via email to historylab.northeast@gmail.com with ‘History outside the Academy’ as the subject by 21 October 2014.

Follow the History Lab on social media for further updates:
Twitter: @HistoryLabNE / https://twitter.com/HistoryLabNE