Contemporary approaches to history engagement
“Knowledge of history frees us to be contemporary,” said the American historian Lynn Townsend White, Jr. It’s a view that finds resonance in the work of Professor James Daybell, who has tapped into modern modes of delivery to bring to life ‘new’ histories that have captured the imagination of countless people around the world.
Working with historian Dr Sam Willis (himself a Visiting Research Fellow at the University) and backed by Dan Snow’s History Hit Network, Professor Daybell has created Histories of the Unexpected, a phenomenally successful podcast that has been downloaded in more than 150 countries. Each episode involves Professor Daybell and Dr Willis exploring the significance of everyday objects, like how the history of the beard is connected to the Crimean War; how the history of paperclips is all about the Stasi; or how the history of bubbles (and also cats) is all about the French Revolution.
With a series of pandemic lockdown specials also released to aid home-schooling parents, the publication of several books, and a hugely popular national tour of live shows, Histories of the Unexpected has firmly established a public platform to engage with topics of the past.
Decolonising cultural heritage and transforming narratives of remembering
Focusing on the relationship between colonial settler communities and indigenous populations in North America, Dr Kathryn Gray’s research bridges two distinct fields: New England Studies and Red Atlantic Studies. These methodological approaches tend to operate in separate spheres and Gray is one of a very small number of scholars working to connect them. New England studies focuses on the settler communities of the colonial period and speaks to the extensive religious and literary heritage of the inhabitants of the Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony that followed. The Red Atlantic is the accepted term given to a relatively recent methodological development that traces and evaluates the ways scholars and practitioners are uncovering the representations of Native Americans, First Nations or Indigenous people in the Atlantic world.
Dr Gray’s work has fundamentally shaped the decolonisation of cultural narratives that inform national programming, exhibitions, and individual projects connected to the year-long (2019–20) commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage (1620) in the UK. From the intellectual framing of the programme of events and exhibitions to the grassroots of training individual Mayflower volunteers, Gray’s research has had an impact on the strategic vision and operational delivery for the
Mayflower 400 programme, national exhibitions and curatorial interventions within the programme, inclusive learning and engagement opportunities, and collaborative research and creativity with visual arts and music projects.
Empowering and safeguarding young people in the digital realm
The proliferation of digital technologies has had a profound impact upon young people. But in the scramble to safeguard this demographic, questions have been asked over whether policy-makers and children’s workforce professionals are inadvertently eroding their rights.
Thanks to the work of Andy Phippen, Professor of Social Responsibility in IT, that discourse has fundamentally changed. For Andy has used his research, gathered through direct observation and interaction with more than 35,000 children, parents and sector professionals, to establish an evidence base through which to both understand how children and young people use digital technologies, but also to critique safeguarding policy and legislation in the area with a view to improving it.
His work has shown that there has been a tendency to develop policy in a reactive manner without due regard to the capabilities of technology or the rights of young people. This has resulted in children experiencing safeguarding as ‘soft criminalisation’, making them less likely to seek help and support. Andy’s approach has been one that prioritises empowerment through education and the establishment of positive support mechanisms. His research has also underpinned the establishment of legislation and support in case of ‘revenge porn’.
Visualising energy to harness sustainable behaviour change
Being able to visualise the use of energy in our homes and buildings is seen as an important behavioural element in helping society to reduce its carbon emissions. But finding methods of doing that – of making thermography relevant to consumers – has been a challenge.
That’s where a team in the School of Art, Design and Architecture has had world-leading impact, going so far as to actually influence energy-related behaviours and inspiring people to insulate their homes in Europe and North America. Building on more than 30 years’ experience and expertise in thermography and building performance, the team has used new technologies such as interactive games, virtual reality and tailored imagery to create genuine engagement with consumers.
Projects such as eViz and EnerGAware have been unique in their scientific approach to measuring energy efficiency behaviour and have provided the evidence base and methods to support public investment in the UK and Canada. They also brought together social housing providers, energy providers, tech companies and creative industries to work collaboratively on the issue. Among the impacts outlined in this REF case study include how the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy now delivers energy efficiency advice to households during the rollout of smart meters, based upon the findings of eViz.