South Yorkshire Through Time: students as partners in community engagement

Alison Twells

Parallel session 1, Short Paper 1.7

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Detailed Outline
For the past decade, I have taught a range of public history modules at SHU which combine a taught element (lectures and seminars on public history/community heritage and schools’ history) with a project which is ‘of use’ to an external group. This has usually taken the form of a piece of research for a heritage site or oral history interviews for a community history group. Initially, the module was inspired by my desire to make connections between academic history, community history and heritage in the region; and specifically, with community history groups which were part of wider ‘regeneration’ initiatives. More recently, public history has become central to the ’employability’ strategy of the History group at SHU, and has undergone development at level 5, in the shape of a module which does all of the above but also includes a careers management component (involving external speakers from public history fields, and taught sessions of presentations, CV writing, personal statements, career action planning etc.) Even more recently, I have developed the South Yorkshire Through Time community history website in collaboration with public historians in the region as a way of showcasing student work and enabling their involvement as partners in both curriculum development and community engagement.

This paper explores student responses to public history modules, gathered via an extensive end-of-module questionnaire and focus group sessions. My interests are varied: the scope offered by such work for developing ’employability’ skills; the capacity of the external project and public engagement for creating students who are critical thinkers and independent learners; the potential significance of movement across the boundaries between academic and public contexts in terms of developing a clearer conception of the practices and identities of both disciplinary fields; and the values that students attach to their work for the module, in terms of their emphasis on pleasure, passion, pride, belonging and developing their own voice on public historical issues.