Our History in Public
Here at Bristol, we are committed and passionate about practicing and engaging with history outside the university in a diverse and exciting range of ways.
Our department has major strengths in public history research, developing innovative new approaches in creative history, co-produced research with community groups and partners, and digital humanities. Our research also has broad societal impact through policy and consultation and public engagement.
Public history research
Research in this area explores how and why people engage with the past, through memory, public history and heritage. Our research considers the ways in which the past is and has been used, historically and in the present day, within processes of identity construction, meaning-making and the negotiation of a range of contemporary social, political and cultural issues. We are particularly interested in how societies remember difficult pasts and dissonant heritage, including histories of transatlantic slavery and its memorialisation, and the Holocaust.
A number of us are interested in exploring new ways of communicating history through creative writing, film, performance and the visual arts. We were delighted to host the Creative Histories conference in summer 2017, and a historical creative writing group meets regularly.
Policy and consultation
Bristol researchers have worked closely with a range of heritage organisations including English Heritage, the National Trust, Bristol City Museums and Archives and the SS Great Britain. One recent collaboration led to the Empire Through the Lens exhibition.
Our Historians play a key role in the Faculty’s Digital Cultures and Methods cluster. Digital humanities research in the Department includes projects using corpus linguistics and GIS mapping. The Historical Photographs of China project has created a virtual photographic archive of modern China, uploading over 10,000 photographs since 2006.
Co-produced research and oral history
We also seek to include members of the public as active participants and partners in the research process, and to tap into expertise beyond academia. Members of the Department have been involved in a range of RCUK-funded co-produced research projects, including Know Your Bristol On the Move, Productive Margins and Tangible Memories. The university’s Brigstow Institute brings together researchers from different disciplines and members of the public. Members of the Department have been involved in numerous Brigstow funded projects, from visualising activist networks between Africa and South-East Asia to exploring the experience of the cyclist in historical perspective. Many of us use oral history methodologies, and we are active in the Faculty’s oral history research cluster.
Impact and engagement
Our staff and students work in partnership with organisations such as Bristol Zoo and the BBC, as well as local schools and community organisations. We are passionate about communicating our work in public and accessible ways. This includes through events (from film screenings to stand up performances), public talks and exhibitions, as well as on Twitter and our blog, and through writing books for the general public (Professor Robert Bickers’ book Out of China (Penguin, 2017) was shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize; Evan Jones’ and Margaret Condon’s Cabot and Bristol's Age of Discovery brought the fruits of the Cabot Project to the general reader). Bristol historians are write popular and influential blogs. Finally, the Department has also recently hosted two AHRC follow-on grants for impact and engagement, involving a major exhibition at the Wende Museum, Los Angeles, and an LGBT+ digital mapping project closer to home here in Bristol.
We also have a strong interest in interdisciplinary engaged teaching. Members of the Department have been central to the development of the University’s Innovation programmes (including a degree in History with Innovation) and the Foundation in Arts and Humanities, a route into university for people without formal educational qualifications. We also run an annual evening course, Ways Into History, which is designed as a pathway to further study for local and mature students.
Our commitment to public history research also forms an important part of the undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in History. Our MA course Making History Public was the first of its kind in the UK. All second-year History students take our ‘History in Public’ core course, and can pursue this interest further through optional units such as Horrible Histories and All That. Our students also work and volunteer in Bristol’s many museums and cultural organisations.
In 2020-21 we introduced an option for students to write a Practice-Based Dissertation. Students taking this route produce their own public history projects and outputs and critically reflect on their practice as public historians in an accompanying report. Projects have included a documentary and website about the history of sturgeon extinction in the Volga River in Russia; an exhibition about the changing public representation of Catherine of Aragon; an educational website about Phyllis Wheatley and many more. You can read more about our first cohort of students here.
Witchcraft in the modern world
Ronald Hutton talks about his research on witchcraft through the ages