Starting Out in Social History

‘Starting Out in Social History: Teaching and Community’

 University of Edinburgh, 1 March 2013

 HistoryLabPlus’ ‘Starting Out in Social History:  Teaching and Community’ early career event, jointly sponsored by the School of History, Classics & Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh & Social History Society, took place at the University of Edinburgh on 1 March 2013.  The well attended event brought together both early career historians and postgraduates in the first of a number of forums providing advice, training and networking opportunities.

The three panels covered a range of issues centred upon teaching practice and community, be it with interactions with other academic partners or the wider public. Following a welcome from Wendy Ugolini, the first panel focused on ‘Research led teaching:  Strategies for Delivery’.  Amy Lloyd’s (University of Edinburgh) opening paper on designing effective assignments provided a fascinating case study of how she utilised her own research on the Canadian boom city of Regina to develop an undergraduate assignment which allowed students to develop quantitative skills, carry out census analysis and report on findings.  It was also interesting to hear of the elements the students enjoyed and disliked.  Ronnie Scott (University of Strathclyde/Independent) followed by providing useful insights into facilitating learning in later life, showcasing the benefits of utilising his own research on civic space and culture in engaging mature students, as well as drawing upon the knowledge of contemporaries of historical events in and beyond the classroom.

The second panel ‘How to Inherit and Adapt a Module’ addressed practical solutions in adapting inherited schemes, a very useful practical topic given the predominance of temporary, fixed-term or part-time posts early career researchers undertake.  Darren Reid’s (University of Edinburgh) discussion of how students were utilised as ‘Junior Research Assistants‘ in a Native American Histories Research Project stressed the value of engaging learners as active participants making a very real, rewarding contribution to research in this area.  Moreover, the benefits such an approach offered to students too looking to enhance their own careers was extremely positive.  Cath Feely (University of Sheffield) then reflected upon the experience of inheriting ‘someone else’s course’, taking ownership of a module and the challenges, needs and benefits of adapting teaching strategies in response. The practical advice offered in terms of not shying away from adding one’s own perceptions on a course, as well as the new skills and knowledge that can be developed from stepping into relatively unfamiliar terrain.

The event concluded with a panel on ‘Building Communities in Social History’, with Lucie Matthews-Jones (University of Liverpool) and Hilary Kalmbach (University of Sussex) again providing practical advice on conference networking, integration into a new department, the importance of developing an online presence and maintaining an active involvement in cognitive associations, groups and societies.  The use of blogs as a means of academic output and the potential changes in the ways in which digitally disseminated work might contribute to future research framework assessments was also touched upon.

The event’s advertisement stated that the event would provide early-career historians in social history the opportunity to develop knowledge of teaching and better integrate themselves into academic societies and disciplinary communities.  Across all papers the key themes were addressed by providing practical advice, crucially from early career historians who have relevant, recent experience of the challenges facing those setting out on a career in academia. Moreover, the papers highlighted new approaches applied across a range of topics, although there was a strong emphasis on the modern period and participation from those outside of the period would be beneficial in providing examples for those focusing on early history.

Beyond the papers, the event itself provided an opportunity for delegates to extend their networks and links with academic societies.  Already new links have been developed as a result of discussions and meeting with new researchers at the event, with future plans for  some participants to share experience of community history by informing heritage projects and contributing to future conferences.

In summary, the half-day event was a useful forum for both sharing ideas of best practice and the case study approaches and practical examples were invaluable.  Moreover, the emphasis on using familiar platforms such as Academia.edu, WordPress and Twitter to expand an ECR’S academic networks and profile highlighted the relative ease this can be done.

Tosh Warwick (University of Huddersfield)

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