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Report on the ‘History and the Public’ Postgraduate Forum

Swansea University Postgraduate History Forum: National Waterfront Museum, 8 April 2011

‘History and the Public’, a one-day postgraduate workshop organised by Simon John and Tom Underwood, convenors of the Swansea University Postgraduate History Forum, was held at the National Waterfront Museum on 8 April 2011. This event was funded by a Collaborative Research Training Scheme award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The purpose of the initiative was to gather current postgraduates’ thoughts concerning ways in which professional historical research can be communicated to non-specialist audiences. Forty eight delegates attended, among which were eight invited speakers. The day consisted of four panels, consisting of two twenty-minute talks delivered by expert speakers. Students from universities across Wales attended, as did a number of scholars from institutions further afield.

Professor Chris Williams, Director of Swansea University’s Research Institute for Arts and Humanities (RIAH), delivered the welcoming address before the first panel, ‘History and Heritage’ got underway. In this panel, Steph Mastoris spoke of his experiences directing the National Waterfront Museum, before Professor Huw Bowen discussed 'History, Heritage, and Urban Regeneration: the Global and Local Worlds of Welsh Copper', a major project being carried out under his direction at Swansea University. In the second panel, Dr Jerome de Groot of the University of Manchester discussed uses of history in popular culture, before Dr John Law shared his insights on the revival in 2009 of the Swansea branch of the Historical Association. The third panel got underway with Dr David Turner of the House of Commons’ Health Select Committee  discussing the ways in which historical research can shape government policy. Dr Andrew Foster, the Chair of the Historical Association’s Committee for Public History, then put his extensive knowledge to use as he addressed the threats and possibilities regarding the prospect of history for all. Finally, in a highly engaging panel, Dr Dave Musgrove, editor of the BBC History magazine, and Dr Steffan Morgan of the Green Bay Media television production company, discussed their experiences in using history in commercial formats.

A number of key points were raised several times throughout the day. Perhaps the most significant of these was the assertion that professional historians must be open to a multitude of ways of proliferating the fruits of their research. It was generally agreed that academic history and popular history should work alongside each other in harmony rather than in conflict. Finally, the organisers noted that it was their hope that the event would inspire sequels, to be arranged at other institutions throughout Wales in the coming years. It was the belief of all delegates that the crucial issues raised at this event merited further discussion in the near future.


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