Breaking Histories @ Shuffle: A Round Up

Caroline Nielson talking at Breaking Histories

Caroline Nielson talking at Breaking Histories

Well, what an event! The week long Shuffle festival is now over and with it the two Breaking Histories events. These events saw eight historians talk about a particular aspect of their research that they felt should be more widely known and discussed – you can see the call for participation here.

Historians spend a lot of time talking to each other, the holiday seasons, particularly summer and Easter, are chock-a-block with conferences, symposium and workshops. These are fantastic and important for us to share, challenge and discuss ideas. However, opportunities to talk directly to the public are few and far between and I was hoping that Breaking Histories would give historians, particularly new historians such as PhD students and early careers, a chance to talk about history in an unusual setting.

The Homestead Pavilion for the first Breaking Histories event

The Homestead Pavilion for the first Breaking Histories event

And Shuffle certainly provided an unusual setting! Located in the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, which is also 31 acres of woodland, these historians were part of festival celebrating film, art, food and nature. The theme of this year’s festival was Migration, Movement and Place and gave us plenty of scope to explore the modern relevance of our work.

The first event was on Saturday 25 July in the Homestead Pavilion. We had a great mix of talks with Anna Robinson talking about neighbour complaints in the early 20th century, Caroline Nielson on asylums and mental health patients during the First World War, Bob Taylor on concepts of knowledge in Ancient Rome through the lens of the work of Pliny the Elder, and concluded with Rosa Kurowska Kyffin from Beyond Past on a schools oral history project looking at Velvet Fist, a socialist, feminist choir.

We were all delighted with how engaged and interested the audience was and questions varied from questions about family history to relating the control of knowledge in current debates around intellectual property!

Rosa Kurowska Kyffin from Beyond Past, another speaker, Bob Taylor can be seen in the audience.

Rosa Kurowska Kyffin from Beyond Past, other speakers, Bob Taylor and Anna Robinson can be seen in the audience.

The second event was on Saturday 1 August in the Ecotherapy Grounded Den. There was a fair bit of confusion on our location as we’d been moved from the billed Migration Pavilion and I think some of the Shuffle team thought we were in the Homestead Pavilion again. Unfortunately I think the confusion led to a smaller audience, but it didn’t dampen the discussion and we had a great mix of talks. We had Judith Garfield from Eastside Community Heritage talking about the fantastic collection of 2600 oral histories from the East London community, Richard White discussing the project ‘Honouring Ester’ as part of Forced Walks which transposed a Nazi death march into the English countryside, Stephen Woodhams looked at the work of Raymond Williams and the use of different written forms to tell history and finally Sam Patterson discussed the work of the Stepney Tenants Defence League and notably their role in ensure tube stations were opened as air raid shelters during the Second World War.


I think one of the surprising outcomes from this series of talks was how well they connected with each other. From hidden stories of migration and movements, quickly forgotten or ignored, to looking at different ways to communicate and discuss history either through artist-led performative act of walking or the use of creative writing. I think the discussions could have continued for a long time, but we had to move out of the way for a talk on genes!

Sam Patterson taking questions

Sam Patterson taking questions

Communities came out as a strong theme across both weekends, communities as a subject of research within asylums or council estates, to a source base for oral histories having migrated from a particular place, to a particular place or emerging through political movement or choir, to communities created through the creative practice of history in the act of walking or collaborative work.

Overall, I think we had an audience of 45 people over the course of the two events, which I think is fantastic! I hope the talks have encouraged people to think about history differently and possibly inspired some future collaborations. I certainly learnt a lot, (did you know the borough of Redbridge has the largest Jewish community in Europe?). I hope we can repeat the experience at next year’s Shuffle festival and would be interested in hearing ideas of other ways of using the Breaking Histories model for other events!

Finally, a huge thank you to all the speakers and everyone who attended an event. I couldn’t have done it without you!

Some useful links:

Shuffle Festival

Raphael Samuel History Centre call for participation for Radical Histories Public History Festival

Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

Beyond Past – oral history project on Velvet Fist

Eastside Community History

Forced Walks

History Today review of Samantha Patterson’s book on the history of Stepney

Here are some more photos from the two events:

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The Value of Collaborative Doctoral Award Studentships – some thoughts

It’s not often that you get a chance to reflect and think about where the value in a particular funding stream lies. As a student with a Collaborative Doctoral Awards (CDA) from the AHRC, I was delighted to hear a conference had been organised to do just that. What made this conference more interesting was that it had been organised by students like me, and not the AHRC, the universities or institutions who have been part of shaping the scheme.

The day was split into three, origins, innovations and legacy. The first session had Ian Lyne from the AHRC, academics Margot Finn from UCL and Trustee of the V&A, and Alastair Owens from Queen Mary University, and a CDA student, Jade French. The second session focused on the variety of projects CDAs can produce with presentations from past and present students. The final part of the day looked a legacies and had a mix of academics and heritage professionals that included Alexandra Goddard, now at the British Library Goddard focused on her work at the Geffrye Museum, Bill Sherman from the V&A and the University of York, Kevin Moore, director of the National Football Museum, Farah Karim-Cooper from Shakespeare’s Globe and Eithne Nightingale a current CDA student.

More details of the programme and points for discussion can be found on the CDA Value website.

I think the organisers did very well at trying to balance out a mix of presentations and discussion and from the first session it was clear many people in the audience had questions and experiences they wanted to share.

I was interested to learn that the model for the CDA had been borrowed from the sciences and were originally designed ten years ago to meet the perceived gaps in knowledge observed by cultural and heritage institutions. In the ten years CDAs had been running it had become clear that there is no specific model for a CDA. They could be part of a heritage institution or other cultural institution, designed by the either a university, the cultural institution or by the student. Jade French was a perfect example of the project originating from the student and so able to design a process and area of study. This is very different from my experience of applying to a university to study a fairly vague topic and being given free reign in an archive.

As part of the origins discussion I thought one of the most important points raised was by Margot Finn (who raised many other important issues), that ultimately a student has to complete a PhD, and as part of this the University has a responsibility to train and prepare the student to create and write their own academic projects. At one point the audience was asked if they planned to pursue an academic or heritage career post-PhD, and the split was about 50:50. Consequently it was evident that important questions need to be asked about how well the CDA can train students for either. Though because they are all so different, I think it is important for the students to communicate their ambitions to the university and cultural institution and look for ways to develop their training.

An advantage of the CDA that was outlined was the access for students to these institutions, and from my own experience I would argue the CDA experience is partly what you make of it. Use these contacts and don’t be afraid to ask for help or training. Having said this a reoccurring theme or question that was asked was about the nature of collaboration, and even power, where did it originate and how did the student fit into this? Some CDA projects have an outline of work at the cultural/heritage institution and ideally that needs to fit with the student’s ambitions (hopefully discovered at the interview) and also be allowed for within the scope of the PhD. The funding currently lasts for three years and it can be very difficult to train in another discipline and conduct research in that time let alone write up a PhD. So yes, it is what you make of it, but this has to be negotiated within the parameters of the demands of a regular PhD workload and the needs of the institutions you work with.

From my own experience, to ensure I maintained some practical museum experience I started my PhD part time and worked at a museum alongside my research. This was useful as it gave me time to explore my research area and find my research questions and topic for my PhD, but it did give me more distractions and it felt the PhD was dragging at times. To help develop my relationship with the heritage institution my CDA was with, the British Postal Museum and Archive, I decided to undertake the Associateship of the Museum Association. This involved a work-based-project and I completed this with the BPMA. I am yet to have my professional review, so I’ll have to let you know if that was ‘successful’, though I can say it did develop my knowledge and skills in a particular area of the BPMA’s work that I wouldn’t have encountered without the AMA.

I am still working on my PhD and so I was very interested in the final session on legacies. From this discussion it was evident that collaboration and skills of working across institutions will be valuable in the future job market. I was also happy to hear that both Sherman and Moore had experience of working both at museums and academia, and that these are two careers can collide. Unlike many of the audience I haven’t decided, or don’t want to choose, between academia and heritage, and I hope there is scope for work across the two. I see the development of public history as part of this and I think it is an area CDA students should be increasingly aware. One of the main advantages of a CDA is supposed to be the opportunity for students to have an outlet to the public, to gain experience in public engagement and sharing their research with the outside world. I think that this can sometimes take some time to be realised, especially as PhDs can be slippery beings, designing an exhibition on your topic might only appear possible after you’ve submitted. However, I think CDA have a unique position standing between universities and cultural institutions to understand the challenges and opportunities of using research to engage the public.

All in all it a useful and interesting day. As JD Hill identified in his final reflection, there are still areas to be explored further. The AHRC have announced that funding for future CDAs will be for longer than three years, meeting one criticism that has followed the programme for the past decade. However, other issues around funding remain. When a studentship is granted the amount is based on the location of the university not the partnered institution. So a student could be partnered with a London based museum or archive, and so need to be based there to do research, but because their university is outside of London their funding will be without the substantial London weighting. It is also important to think about how this stream of funding can be exclusive, prominently granted to large cultural institutions with a heavy focus on heritage, where as smaller institutions could benefit as could other humanities subjects such as philosophy, law or media studies. There is also the struggle with pulling all of this new knowledge together, do we need an online platform to share resources, challenges, methodologies and discoveries?

Hill concluded with the idea that CDAs had changed the nature of knowledge coming out of universities. I’m not sure if this is true, but from my day in a room full of academics, culture professionals and students I did feel that we were at the forefront of an important shift in producing research, and that we need to ensure students feel empowered to do more with this and meet their ambitions.

100 Minories Pop-Up Museum

100 Minories Pop-Up Museum Tour

100 Minories Pop-Up Museum Tour

There are a lot of pop-ups in London, so many in fact there is a dedicated London Pop-ups website to find the most recent creations. They cover restaurants, shops and clubs, there are also art exhibitions, the most recent lists is an exhibition of ‘Breaking Bad’ character portraits that popped-up in February. However, though museums are often the location for these pop-ups, it’s not often that you see a pop-up museum.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to go and visit one. The 100 Minories pop-up museum showcases the discoveries of an archaeological dig that took place before construction at 100 Minories, a patch of land just north of the Tower of London. The location of the dig is enough to spark my interest, but I also love the idea of a pop-up museum, and it is something that is very well suited to archaeological digs. These digs are normally temporary, they occur within a finite space within a finite amount of time and then must pack up and leave. The temporary nature of the research suits a temporary exhibition, and allows the exhibit to be close to where the action took place, something so valuable when you’re trying to imagine how the space was once used and the people that walked those streets.

100 Minories Pop Up Museum display

100 Minories Pop Up Museum display

The museum of display panels and temporary cases are kept within one of my favourite sections of the old London Wall, a space just off Cooper’s Row in a hotel car park. This isn’t directly next to the site, but the explanation boards and particularly the tour are very good for helping you get a sense of your position in relation to the site. The history presented is a wonderful example of change and adaptation in London. The oldest parts of the site date back to the London ditch, the defensive moat situated outside of the Roman and Medieval London Wall. The ditch was filled in and by the seventeenth and eighteenth century we have houses and warehouses on the site. There are hints of different land uses, with a reminder of the close accommodation between animals and people. From the Georgian period and into nineteenth century saw huge upheaval for the site as it was flattened and redeveloped, a fate that appears to be continually repeating itself following Second World War bomb damage and obviously the current construction work.

I don’t want to give too many details of the history as there is a lot for you to discover for yourself, if you have the chance, but I will mention a couple of areas I found particularly interesting. The site is an area that was on the boundaries of the Tower authority and City of London authorities, and there is a possibility the project has turned up evidence of the medieval boundary seen through methods of maintaining the London ditch. I find the subject of the Tower Liberties fascinating and not only is physical evidence of a possible medieval boundary line of interest but also the implications for administration and maintenance of the site. I wonder how much input the Tower had on the continual redevelopments of the area. As part of this, I was intrigued by something that simply featured as a sentence on a panel. The site was first flattened for redevelopment in the Georgian period and it was noted that they have yet to find evidence of a local reaction to this. What happened to the residence? Were there protests? With some much similar activity going on all over London at the moment in the name of regeneration and improved housing, it is a notable reminder how London’s landscape has been continually changing for hundreds of years, and how the voices of the displacement and removed are often lost in these stories.

There is so much scope in this project and it’s great to see so much being done with it. If you have a chance to explore the project’s 100 Minories website you can see there are plans for a work of creative writing, a digital iterative map and importantly the archaeological findings will be shared on an online Archaeological Recording Kit (ARK).

Today is the last day of the pop-up museum and I strongly urge you to pop along if you can. The museum is up from 12pm until 5pm and there are tours at 12:30pm and 3:30pm.

Breaking Histories @ Shuffle Festival Line Up

Breaking HistoriesI’m really excited to announce the line up for Breaking Histories at this year’s Shuffle Festival.

As you’ll see we have a great mix of periods and topics for an event that will be a fantastic showcase of some of the exciting research and projects.

Breaking Histories joins a vibrant and varied festival and for more information and to book tickets please see the Shuffle Festival website:Shuffle Festival 2015 Programme Breaking Histories will be free and you can just turn up, but you should be able to book free tickets soon as well.

Saturday 25 July 2015
History in its Place
Looking at the theme of place these talks will explore the history of human interaction through a London estate at the turn of the century to ancient Roman farms, through the prism of disability and across generations in a socialist feminist choir.
Breaking Histories 25 July 2015

Love Thy Neighbour: inter-neighbour relations and the syntax of complaint in early 20th century London

Anna Robinson (University of East London)

Asylums and their Communities: Mental Health Patients and their Families during the First World War

Caroline Nielsen (IHR, University of London)

Contested Knowledge in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History.
Bob Taylor (Birkbeck, University of London)
Velvet Fist: Uncovering the History of the London Socialist Feminist Choir
Rosa Kurowska Kyffin (Beyond Past)


Saturday 1 August 2015
History Going Places
History is always moving and these talks will explore how, whether it is presented by experimental history trails or focused on the history of migration through the lens of community projects or works of fiction and biography.
Breaking Histories 1 August 2015

Moving Stories Judith Garfield MBE & Claire Days (Eastside Community Heritage)
Forced Walks: Honouring Esther….an instant case study Richard White (Bath Spa University/Forced Walks)
“but I am Price from Glynmawr” Stephen Woodhams
Stepney: Profile of a London Borough

Samantha Patterson

Shuffle Festival takes place in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. The nearest tube is Mile End and the entrance is on Southern Grove. We hope to see you there!


For more details on the papers please see below.

Saturday 25 July 2015
History in its Place
Looking at the theme of place these talks will explore the history of human interaction through a London estate at the turn of the century to ancient Roman farms, through the prism of disability and across generations in a socialist feminist choir.

  • Love Thy Neighbour: inter-neighbour relations and the syntax of complaint in early 20th century London
    Anna Robinson (University of East London)

Anna has been researching the history of her flat – a one bedroom former tenement designed by Octavia Hill in 1903. Through this research she stumbled upon some letters of complaint in an archive. Through these letters Anna will reveal the main concerns and antagonisms between neighbours in the early 20th century.

  • Asylums and their Communities: Mental Health Patients and their Families during the First World War
    Caroline Nielsen (IHR, University of London)

In 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War, over 100,000 men, women and children lived in psychiatric asylums. Caroline’s research explores how the First World War fundamentally affected the lives of these vulnerable people and their families.

  • Contested Knowledge in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History.
    Bob Taylor (Birkbeck, University of London)

Bob’s research is focused on a 1st century Roman scientific work called The Natural History. His interests include Roman knowledge and its construction by those who have left no written evidence. He asks how knowledge was generated and contested in a Roman farm, or before a battle in Macedonia, or in a herb-garden.

  • Velvet Fist: Uncovering the History of the London Socialist Feminist Choir
    Rosa Kurowska Kyffin (Beyond Past)

In 2014, Beyond Past, a social enterprise for youth oral history projects, facilitated interviews with the London based socialist feminist choir, Velvet Fist, by a group of year 10 Tower Hamlets pupils. Rosa will explore the history of the choir and reflect upon the potential of young people as community researchers and oral history interviewers.

Saturday 1 August 2015
History Going Places
History is always moving and these talks will explore how, whether it is presented by experimental history trails or focused on the history of migration through the lens of community projects or works of fiction and biography.

  • Moving Stories
    Judith Garfield MBE & Claire Days (Eastside Community Heritage)

Eastside Community Heritage has accumulated a fascinating collection of oral histories. As part of Shuffle they want to share some of the Jewish, Hungarian and Ugandan stories of migration they have collected. ECH will highlight the importance of oral history in gaining new insights into history and education.

  • Forced Walks: Honouring Esther….an instant case study
    Richard White (Bath Spa University/Forced Walks)

Richard will be discussing a project that used an artist-led performative and socially engaged public walk to transpose a Nazi death march on to the English countryside. This project sought to connect history with place to reveal obscured stories and generate contemporary responses. Richard will discuss the project, how they used social media and subsequent responses.

  • “but I am Price from Glynmawr”
    Stephen Woodhams

South Wales almost uniquely in Europe witnessed net in-migration in the decades around 1900. While the subject of continuous study, in South Wales that history is lived too through biography, the novel and poetry. The talk explores this interweaving of written forms through Raymond Williams’ acclaimed novel Border Country.

  • Stepney: Profile of a London Borough
    Samantha Patterson

Samantha’s focus is on a specifically defined area, Stepney, rather than the vague area of the ‘East End’ which is open to interpretation. Stepney, an iconic London borough situated in the heart of the East End, has many well-known associations and images, but would you knowingly associate them with Stepney?

Breaking Histories @ Shuffle Festival 2015 CFP

Breaking Histories @ Shuffle Festival 2015

Call for Papers

24 July – 1 August 2015

Would you like to share your research with the public and be part of a unique community arts festival?

This is an invitation for papers as part of a new history event during the 2015 Shuffle Festival in East London. Panels would include three 10-15 minute papers and time for general discussion. Panels aim to demonstrate the wide variety of research amongst history PhD students and early career researchers happening now.

The themes for this year’s Shuffle Festival are Migration, Movement and Place. Though a connection to these themes would be useful, what is more important is that the papers reveal a range of historical debates and discussions. Let’s show that historical research is breaking boundaries, breaking conventions and should be breaking news!

The Shuffle Festival is a week-long annual event in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. It involves film, science education, storytelling, performance art, architectural installations, walks, food, comedy and music. This year we’re adding history to the list!

Breaking Histories is organised with support from the Raphael Samuel History Centre (RSHC). The RSHC is a research and educational centre devoted to encouraging the widest possible participation in historical research and debate.


How to be part of the festival

Please send 100-200 words on your research and why you think it’s important (essentially what you’d like to talk about). It would be great if you could link your research to the festival themes, but it is not essential.

Please send this by Tuesday 26th May to

Please include your availability for the festival. We don’t have a set date but we will have an hour slot on a weekday evening or weekend daytime between Friday 24 July and Saturday 1 August 2015.


Raphael Samuel History Centre

RSHC New Historians Network

Shuffle Festival

RSHC logo 

Drawing from the Foreshore

Sophie Charalambous, 'On the Foreshore'

Sophie Charalambous, ‘On the Foreshore’

The Thames foreshore is a mysterious place. It’s full of history but also dangerous. A potential treasure trove of historical artefacts, but unpredictable, where the sands can give way and the tide can change quickly.

As a historian interested in London I’ve always had an appreciation for the importance of the Thames, but my interest in the foreshore was only really aroused whilst working for the Royal Armouries at the Tower of London. The Tower is one of the most iconic images of the Thames foreshore and through a project looking at archaeological finds I discovered the fascinating history of armouries and gun manufacture that took place just in-front of the Tower, on the foreshore. In this project I worked with four amazing volunteers to repackage and catalogue this collection of artefacts that had not been touched since the 1980s. I became fascinated and blogged about it for the Royal Armouries here, and as part of the Day of Archaeology here.

One thing I love about history is that when you find something that intrigues you, it’s likely that you’ll find a whole group of people equally, if not more, curious that you. I subsequently came across the Thames Discovery Programme, who run FROG, and, of course, the Mudlarks.

More recently, I’ve discovered an artist with an obvious fascination with the foreshore. Her name is Sophie Charalambous and she currently has an exhibition called ‘From the Foreshore’ on at  Jessica Carlisle until 8 March.

Sophie Charalambous, 'Pageant'

Sophie Charalambous, ‘Pageant’

Jessica Carlisle, who is curating and hosting the show, has described Sophie’s work as a ‘poetic interpretation’ of the foreshore, and I agree that the images appear to capture that magical quality of the foreshore. They are almost wistful, portraying a single moment somewhere between the past and present day.

If you’re keen to know more, Sophie Charalambous will be giving an artist’s talk on Saturday 7 March at 3pm. The gallery is on Kinnerton Street, just off Knightsbridge, and the exhibition runs until 8 March.

Radical history today: come and meet the Raphael Samuel History Centre


I’m going to be at this on Monday, so please do come along if you’re interested in the RSHC New Historians’ Network!

Originally posted on RSHC New Historians' Network:

The Raphael Samuel History Centre is a four-way partnership between Queen Mary, Birkbeck, the University of East London, and Bishopsgate Institute. In the spirit of its founder – the socialist historian Raphael Samuel (1934-1996) – the Centre is dedicated to fostering radical history in and beyond the academy. Its members work in many areas, from London history and ‘heritage’ studies to histories of sexuality, memory studies, psychoanalytical history, history and public policy, and the history of feminism. We have many postgraduates among our members.

Come and meet us! We are holding an open forum on Feb 9th at 5.30 pm in the Arts 2 Building, 4th floor Senior Common Room (Queen Mary UL, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS).

Barbara Taylor (QMUL director of the RSHC) will speak briefly about the Centre’s work, followed by short presentations from two or three of our pgr members, then general discussion. Wine and…

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