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.

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 

The Issue of Ageing

The Life and Age of Man

‘What Is Old Age’? Conference, Warwick University

On the 23 February 2013 I went to a multi-discipline conference organised by Emily Andrews at Warwick University, looking at the question of ‘What is Old Age?’ The conference saw speakers from a variety of background, including literary studies, anthropology and history, discussing their work and contributing their research towards an attempt to answer the central question of ‘what is old age?’

In addition to this being a very topical area of discussion, my interest in the subject comes from my PhD research into civil service and occupational pensions in the nineteenth century and found the variety of approaches and subject matters inspiring. Just two examples of these varied sessions were the anthropological research into the ageing workforce in the Trinidad garment industry and the challenges of writing fiction focused on a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Rebecca Prentice’s work in Trinidad was fascinating, a contemporary examination of the older workers’ relationships with their body, these women accepted that their eyesight would be damaged by their work but also saw this damage as having a wider influence is gaining support from family or the state. With the increasing neo-liberal leaning of the state it was also interesting that the workers were reconsidering their relationship with the state and deciding they should rely on their own resources to support themselves.

The written word is central to how our social science and humanities subjects communicate so it was refreshing to listen to a paper focused on the art of writing. Though it was focused on writing fiction the amount of consideration and planning was a reminder of the importance of how we communicate our meaning and that there are different ways to do this. This was exemplified in Naomi Kruger’s paper by looking at how you write in first person with the voice of someone with developing Alzheimer’s disease. This paper and other sessions such as Hannah Zeilig, who highlighted the range of techniques available for storytelling, has really made me consider taking a creative writing course to see if it would bring any benefits to writing for my PhD or in my museum day job.

In addition to methodology and theory some of these sessions pointed me towards sources I wouldn’t have looked at before, Helen Small’s opening key note discussed the importance of Susan Sontag’s The Double Standard of Aging written in 1972 to the social sciences, and Dr Zeilig emphasised the work of Samuel Beckett’s plays in portraying perceptions of age, important for not portraying age as the other. Benoît Majerus focused on the Leroque report published in 1962, though it was never implemented it has inserted old age into the political dialogue in France, but also set the pessimistic tone continued today.

In almost all sessions, regardless of discipline, the importance of the use of language was clear and this was underlined by Andrea Charise when looking at recent perceptions of the old age and the use of wet language. Journalist reports and even public health documents have been using phrases such as the ‘Grey Tsunami’ or the ‘rising tide’ when discussing the global issue of greater numbers of people living longer. Continually using this apocalyptic language it is inevitable that a pessimistic perception of this situation develops, exemplified in popular culture through work such as Never Let Me Go, which Charise used as an example of the negative sublime.

I found the historical sessions were very good at providing some context to challenge this contemporary pessimistic view that was being demonstrated by speakers in policy and culture. Pat Thane’s excellent key note clearly demonstrated that there was never a golden age to be old, and that many of the fears and worries we have today were felt by generations before us. People have been living to into their 60s, 80s and even 100s since ancient times and though the average life expectancy was 40 in the 18th century this would have been affected by the high child mortality rates. Lyn Botelho’s paper looking at aging in the 17th century had demonstrated that the idea of a ‘good’ old age had become to mean financial independence at this time, and Prof Thane showed through folk tales and patterns of migrationary work that the relationship between parents and their adult children could be a complicated on. Folk tales warned of manipulative and ungrateful children mistreating ageing parents and during times of limited communication networks, if someone left to find work they could easily never be seen or heard from again.

It was also important to see older people as givers, not just receivers within our society. Prof Thane pointed to the economic benefits provided through the intergenerational relationships of lending money and providing free child care. Emily Andrew’s paper looked at how nineteenth psychiatrists and psychologists saw old age, and the general perception is that of ‘second childhood’ seeing old age as degenerative, however people such as James Critchton-Browne argued that intellectual prime was only reached in years 55 to 65 and proved this himself by continuing to write into his 90s, dying at the age of 97.

Finally society’s conflicting relationship with age was also demonstrated in Susanne Stoddart’s paper looking at the representation of the new pensioners under the 1911 pensions Act. The papers often depicted sympathetic images of poor widows or disabled old men in queues to receive their first pensions. They also reported the crowds that gathered to show their support. However, as Soddart demonstrated these celebratory images cannot be taken as face value, many newspaper had political sympathises and wanted to help champion this new policy and persuade the general public this was worth supporting. Furthermore the suspicions of the poor still remained as some comments were passed regarding pensioners visiting public houses. So, it is not surprising that though the shame and stigma of the poor law was seen to have gone, some pensioners chose to collect their pension not from their local post office, but from a larger more anonymous central office.

The conflicting relationship with how we view older people and what relationship we expect them to have with society and society with them continues today. A report published on 14th March 2013 does thankfully acknowledge the large benefits of older people to society, but also warns that the country is unprepared for the increased numbers of people living longer. Through asking ‘What is Old Age?’ on 23 February I think we started a discussion that policy-makers could probably find a lot of value, and if I could share anything with them would be the removal of the sense of other and projection of a problem area. Communication and discussion is key and yes, financial aspects are central to this, but policy is more than just sums.



Ready for Ageing? – Select Committee report on Public Service and Demographic Change:

NewStatesman article ‘The Grey Tsunami’:

‘An Age Old Age Debate’, blog by Emily Andrews:

The History and Policy website have a few articles and policy engagement articles on pensions & social care:

Peopling the Past – NMM Conference

National Maritime Museum, image from

A few weeks ago I went to a conference at the National Maritime Museum called ‘Peopling the Past‘. The conference hosted papers from a variety of speakers including academics, postgraduate students and museum professionals and the aim of the two days was to look at the variety of techniques in which museums use people in generating, displaying and communicating the stories held by their collections. The conference saw over twenty speakers discussing their different areas of interest, and I won’t try to convey all the topics that were covered. I will just provide a short overview of some the main themes and papers that I particularly enjoyed.

Transcribe Bentham Project at UCL

Putting people into museum exhibitions and displays can happen in a variety of ways, in the first session on the first day issues of crowd sourcing and co-curation, as well as oral history were discussed as ways people can contribute to content in museums. This could all come under the banner of Public History an increasingly popular theme in academic and museum circles, and The Participatory Museum was mentioned as a good place to start when looking at the possible roles the public could take in museums, roles that include creators, collectors, critics, and spectators. Museums seem  to be increasing their work in these areas, demonstrated by the Imperial War Museum, which will be launching a project, in time for the centenary of the First World War, that looks at combining their information on War Memorials along with their wider collection and encouraging the public to access and contribute to this information. This comes off the back of some very successful crowd sourcing initiatives including the Transcribe Bentham Project, (of which I went to a talk earlier this year) and Zooniverse. Know of any others out there? (Update: The Porthcurno Telegraph Museum has launched a Virtual Volunteers programme, looking at ways remote volunteers can contribute and help the museum, see here for more info:

Ellie Miles brought up some very interesting points looking at the Museum of London’s modern galleries, which has pockets of public participation, though they may not be immediately obvious. I discovered that the under-floor display which includes the much publicised desiccated cat, was co-curated with members of the public, and I began to wonder how integral this was to the display – was it enough to do the outreach programme and involve members of the public but then not provide any on gallery interpretation of this? Miles also highlighted the Brixton Riots Community Project, a project that was created due to the lack of museum objects related to the riots and consequently worked with young Brixton locals to collect the oral histories from those that were there. This sounds like a great idea and highlights one of the possible ways oral histories can assist museums in issues and topics that physical objects may be hard to come by. However, due to the project running out of money, the recordings are not on display – a great opportunity missed it seems. (Though it is worth noting that the oral histories and more information on the project are online, so arguably find a great audience than simply being on gallery. See for more info.)

Half-Timer by Patti Mayor, 1906. Portrait of Annie Hill, from the Industrial Revolutionaries exhibition at Harris Museum and Art Gallery

Another theme was the untold stories of people in history, which I thought was covered extremely well by the conference by predominantly looking at children’s histories. Laura Briggs talked about the recent exhibition at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston that looked the Industrial Revolution through the biographies of individuals, including one of the child workers which potrayed as an interesting contrast to the intimating figure of the famous entrepreneur, Richard Arkwright. Dr Simon Sleight’s paper followed on well from this as it specifically looked at the subject of child labour as represented in museums and asked why so many of these exhibitions took the moral high ground without addressing contemporary issues of child labour from child actors to sweatshops. Finally Kim Tao from the Australian National Maritime Museum demonstrated the political and emotional power of displaying and discussing untold stories through their exhibitions relating to child refugees and migration. Their exhibition ‘On Their Own: Britain’s Child Migrants’ has worked with and helped some of those child migrants who came to Australia from Britain, and preceded the national apologies from British and Australian governments for their role in the scheme. The exhibition demonstrated the capability museums have in being able to have a very personal impact along with presenting the larger international implications of an issue. I very much recommend the ‘On Their Own’ website to learn more on the topic:

On a lighter note there were other very interesting points raised focusing a lot more on the role of objects and material culture. I was enthralled by  Prof. Adriana Craciu’s paper that looked at the ‘Franklin Relics’ and the changing ways they were interpreted and displayed from the first expeditions to find Captain Sir John Franklin’s ship and crew, lost in the Arctic. I felt this paper had links to my own study of the Atlantic Submarine Telegraph’s material culture, and was particularly interested in how Victorian society portrayed these as relics, at a time when traditional Catholic relics would not be shown in Protestant Britain. Also the idea that the mystery of the expedition grew with the absence of textual explanation of events was interesting, suggesting the objects gain more significance without written context.

Traditionally Motor Museums have very static displays. From Somerset Tourist Guide website

Along the theme of presenting objects, Jenifer Clark presented on the very interesting difficulties faced by transport or motor museums. Traditionally motor museums have tended to act as a temples of worship to the aesthetics of the motor vehicle, often visited by enthusiasts, often not those looking for a social history, and consequently displays can be very static with a very whiggish interpretation. Clark argued that the silent voices for these museums were those killed or injured in car accidents, and asked the question of how can victims be acknowledged or represented in display.

Following the varied and often emotional topics of the two days I left feeling pretty tired, but excited about the amazing work being done by museums around the world in presenting and including people in history, whether they be historical or contemporary. Furthermore I felt confident of the worthwhile contribution academics are making to how we view museums, their exhibitions and the wider social context. I’ve only discussed a few of the papers discussed, but here is a link to a list of all the papers given to give you an idea of the sheer range of speakers and topics (opens PDF):

Finally leaves me to thank the National Maritime Museum for a really great and thought-provoking two days.

My first history conference: Celebrating Asa Briggs

Lord Asa Briggs

This week I went to my first ever history conference. It was hosted by the Institute of Historical Research and was held to celebrate the 90th birthday of the renowned historian, Lord Asa Briggs.

I first came across Briggs work when writing my essay on the Chartists, and consequently considered him an authority in the Chartists and the Nineteenth century. What I learnt from the conference was that you can’t pigeon-hole Briggs, he is a man of considerable energy (buzz word of the day) and a prolific writer. Just based on the number of projects he worked on over the course of his academic life, many simultaneously, I can’t imagine he had a single day off in about 40 years! Though I did gather he was partial to a bit of travel, and apparently you were more likely to bump into Asa at Heathrow Airport than anywhere else.

With such tales, it would be easy to assume a little exaggeration from the speakers in terms of Briggs accomplishments and abilities. However in the presence of Briggs it was easy to imagine this was possible, as though impaired physically (though still able to get around on just a stick) he was still obviously enthusiastic and full of energy.

As this was a celebration of Asa Briggs it was not surprising that most of the audience consisted of former colleagues and students, giving Briggs the appearance of having a constant entourage! I think this led to the event being a lot more inclusive than I imagined a history conference to be, as after papers were read audience members were invited to share their thoughts and memories. This also gave breaks and lunchtime a great buzz as you heard people sharing stories, and catching up, perhaps not your average conference networking.

Victorian Things by Asa Briggs in

The day itself was split into three sections: Victorian Studies, Communications and Universities, and each section had three or four papers. The speakers offered insight into Brigg’s contribution to these areas, which was quite substantial. His work still sits a core texts for Victorian or Chartist studies as well as for the history of media or broadcasting, an area in history he effectively invented when writing the 5 volumes of a history of the BBC. For universities I discovered the pioneering work of Briggs helped revolutionise how history was taught at the University of Leeds, where he gained the nickname ‘Asia Briggs’ for promoting non-European history, establishing Sussex University and later the Open University, as well as encouraging interdisciplinary history demonstrated by his History of the Book seminars at Oxford University.

This being my first history conference I don’t have much to compare it to, but I imagine aside from the reading of papers and presence of many prominent and respected historians, this wasn’t your normal history conference. There was a celebratory atmosphere exemplified by the presenting of a birthday card from the Imperial War Museum at the beginning of day and the bringing out of cake (okay not an official birthday cake but brownies and flapjacks) at the tea break, admittedly I didn’t stay for the reception but I wouldn’t be surprised if they sang ‘Happy Birthday’.

Below is the list of papers and speakers of the day, and I know the IHR was recording the day so I expect the podcast to be available soon. Below that is a link to a list of the key works of Briggs, including his most recent work about his time at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

The more I find out about Briggs the more fascinated I become. The question of why there is no ‘Briggs’ school of history came up and it was answered by the fact that Briggs didn’t dictate how history should be studied, instead he encouraged difference and the use of a variety of methods looking at a variety of topics. As I said before you can’t pigeon-hole the man or his ideas. Almost predictably one of the questions at the end of day was if Briggs had chosen his own biographer, obviously having written many biographies himself. It turned he hadn’t, but surprisingly all his papers are held by Boston University, chosen because of their ability to catalogue papers. So it’s uncertain who will write Lord Asa Briggs biography, but it is clear that with such achievements and range of interests it will be a fascinating read. His drive and pioneering efforts in his own study as well as how history should be taught really is inspirational, and I can only hope to be half as good a historian as Lord Asa Briggs.

10:15 Registration and Coffee
10:45 Introduction Professor Sir David Cannadine (Princeton University)
11:00 Victorian Studies (Chair: Rohan McWilliam, Anglia Ruskin)
A little bit of a Victorian? Asa Briggs and Victorian Studies Martin Hewitt (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Victorian capitalists and middle-class formation: reflections on Asa Briggs’s Birmingham Francesca Carnevali (University of Birmingham)
Asa Briggs and the remaking of Australian historiography, 1955-1985 Frank Bongiorno (King’s College London)
12.30 Lunch
1.30 Communications (Chair: Robert Seatter, BBC)
From the Daily Mail to the BBC: communications in Britain, c.1896-1922
James Thompson (University of Bristol)
Broadcasting carries on: reflections on the BBC in WW2 Sian Nicholas (Aberystwyth University)
Asa Briggs and the writing of the history of the BBC Jean Seaton (University of Westminster)
3.00 Tea
3.15 Universities (Chair: Miles Taylor, IHR)
Back to Yorkshire: Asa Briggs at Leeds, 1955-61    Malcolm Chase (University of Leeds)
The idea of a new University: Sussex in the 1960s Matthew Cragoe (University of Sussex)
Asa Briggs and the opening up of the Open University Daniel Weinbren (The Open University)
Oxford, the Worcester seminars and the History of the Book James Raven (University of Essex)
5.00 Afterword

Lord Asa Briggs in Wikipedia:,_Baron_Briggs

List of Asa Briggs publications on

Link to the other events being held to celebrate the IHR’s 90th birthday: