Writing Our History and Digging Our Past: Enhancing and Expanding Community History and Archaeology Through Academic Engagement

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: History


This programme aims to sustain longer-standing collaborations between UoN researchers with non-academic historians and archaeologists, build on recently-launched projects, and foster the emergence of new community groups researching their own heritage. The distinctive features of the qualities of the programme include the cross-fertilization between community archaeology and community history; the long run of expertise offered by academics involved from Roman times to the present; the combination of a regional focus with wider connections beyond the region; and the depth of experience working with community groups offered by senior and early career researchers in the team.
The programme will benefit from strong institutional support from the UoN including the Centre for Advanced Studies, the University Museum and the Community Partnerships team. It will also draw on the UoN's non-HEI partners including Nottingham City Museums and Galleries, Nottinghamshire Archives, Durban House (Broxtowe Borough Council), National Trust, Norfolk Museum Service, Derbyshire VCH Trust, Southwell Town Council, and York Archaeological Trust/Trent & Peak Archaeology.
The proposed programme will be delivered by a team of academics involved in a portfolio of flagship projects involving community-based research in local history and archaeology. These include:
1. Caistor Roman Town project, running since 2008 (Bowden): volunteer groups undertake large sections of the project's archaeological field work and finds processing.
2. Southwell archaeology project: established in 2011 (King, Bowden and others), co-designed with Southwell Community Archaeology Group; distinctive for its use of the town and environs as a laboratory for examining settlement in the context of the written record.
3. Southwell Workhouse (Badcock, Carter, Newman) collaboration between UoN and National Trust established 2011: current project includes work with volunteers in Southwell Workhouse Research Group collating data on Poor Law history from 19c newspapers.
4. Victoria County History Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire (Riden): local groups (three in Derbyshire, one in Notts) work with guidance and support of tutor on source material for their chosen parish and co-draft text suitable for publication on the VCH website.
5. Coalmining heritage (Amos): new project with Bilsthorpe heritage society and other ex-miners' groups seeks to document the 'end of an industry' and its impact on mining communities.
6. Raleigh and Player's projects (Gaunt, Harvey): ongoing projects involving former workforces of Nottingham manufacturers that have shut down or drastically cut production.
Building on these projects, the content of the activities taking place between February and November 2012 will entail:
i) Project team liaison with HLF representative and NCCPE
ii) Launch events targeting UoN academics, raising profile of existing projects and demonstrating benefits of community research partnerships
iii) Incentivizing additional activities through the Challenge Fund as a resource for UoN academics to pitch ideas for projects involving existing community groups that could extend existing research and co-design HLF grants: up to £500 per project
iv) Roadshow events on 'Writing Our History' and 'Digging Our Past' including workshop, training and taster sessions to enable volunteers to present work and acquire new skills, attract new recruits, and broker new links between academics and volunteers
v) Showcase and Project development day where Challenge Fund pilot projects presented and HLF bids mentored
vi) Follow-up workshops for HLF-funded and unfunded projects looking to future plans.
The benefits of the programme will be the enhancement of existing community-based research, the fostering of new community groups and the co-design of research bids for HLF funding. In the longer term, the programme will build new capacity for academic engagement with volunteer researchers.

Planned Impact

As a community-focused project, the proposed programme is inherently geared towards knowledge exchange and impact. Since it aims to enable community groups who are actively involved in research to have greater engagement with academics, its starting-point for planning and evaluating impact is very different from that of the more usual type of research project carried out by academics which seeks to build wider public impact into the project plan. Nevertheless, a number of specific ways can be identified in which the proposed programme will have wider benefits.

Firstly, the research process can be envisaged as having a direct and immediate impact on the non-academic researchers involved in terms of the research and professional skills they have the opportunity to acquire. Academic engagement with volunteer researchers should enable volunteers to:

a) ask broader research questions and develop themes with the potential to enhance more far-reaching analysis, for instance linking together case studies into a larger framework;
b) acquire hands-on archaeology techniques including intrusive and non-intrusive survey and sampling techniques, management and analysis of finds;
c) develop historical research skills: extracting data from newspapers; map research; using local record offices; accessing documents in The National Archives e.g. poor law records, judicial records, census returns (many now online);
d) learn innovative research techniques such as crowd sourcing (with input from Computer Sciences);
e) record data appropriately, present findings and create research resources: e.g. collecting/recording data 'collectively' to allow searches across the work of a group or several groups; using video and audio equipment to capture testimonies effectively; drafting texts and managing visual images; making the most of a website to communicate research results.

Secondly, more indirect benefits can be envisaged arising from the research process. Among those indirectly benefiting from the research would be other staff such as room stewards in museums or heritage sites who will gain from the knowledge disseminated by volunteer researchers. Another group of more indirect beneficiaries are respondents drawn into community research projects whose testimonies are solicited as part of oral history data gathered by the researcher group: respondents, often a generation older than those interviewing them, are generally glad to have their knowledge, opinions and memories taken seriously and captured as part of a research process.

Thirdly, the project offers an opportunity to have a positive impact on non-academic bodies such as museums, libraries and archives, and other heritage bodies such as the National Trust, through the development of new links to communities (and potentially new audiences and users), new knowledge and understanding of the holdings and sites cared for by these organisations and an increased capacity in mobilising community groups and academics to participate in future collaborative research projects.

Finally, longer-term benefits can arise from the research findings, their dissemination to different audiences, and their potential applicability to current social and economic challenges. Community archaeology and local history typically chart the origins, rise, evolution and decline of particular communities over time: such research can offer clues into what makes communities flourish and how communities adapt, or fail to adapt, to a changing environment. In particular, it is clear that there are contemporary lessons that may be drawn from projects looking at how 19th-century poverty and policies targeted at the poor affected public health and contributed to popular protest; at the role of the workplace and work culture in community life; or at how the demise of a major industry can lead to localized blight but under certain circumstances to forms of economic regeneration.


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Description Writing our History, Digging our Past was an AHRC-funded Connected Communities project (Research for Community Heritage strand) to assist community groups in the East Midlands and beyond delve into their local history and archaeology, by providing access to the expertise and resources of professional arts and humanities researchers. The project of which I was PI represented the first phase of the project; Dr Richard Gaunt was PI on the second phase. In Phase 1, I worked with a team of academics in the School of Humanities who developed existing research collaborations with local heritage partners and community groups. We encouraged these groups to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the partnership between AHRC and Heritage Lottery Fund 'All Our Stories' scheme and acted as advisers on their HLF applications. By earmarking £5000 of the original project grant for a 'Challenge Fund' to which groups could apply to enhance their activities and develop their plans, we enabled groups to enlarge their volunteer base and acquire new skills, particularly in relation to the use of digital technology to record and disseminate the groups' findings. In addition, we ran open days and workshops to enable new groups to come forward with proposals for 'All Our Stories' projects. By the end of Phase 1 of the project, we had createed a framework to work with successful projects holding HLF All Our Stories awards. Having forged contacts with fifteen East Midlands-based groups holding All Our Stories awards, we then went on to apply for Phase 2 of the funding.
Exploitation Route We gained a number of insights in the course of Phase 1 of the project which were taken up and developed in Phase 2 of the project (PI Dr Richard Gaunt) and in other follow-on projects 'Trade and Traffic on the River Trent and Associated Waterways, 1850-1970' (PI Gaunt) and 'The Social World of Nottingham's Historic Green Spaces (PI Prof J Beckett).
The first was the demand and interest on the part of voluntary heritage and history groups for practical training and assistance in digital technology: this accordingly became a very high priority in planning Phase 2 training activities.
The second was the importance of enabling voluntary groups to meet with each other so that different groups can pass on their knowledge, contacts and experience.
Thirdly, we found that projects greatly appreciated the 'service' we were able to provide, for instance the opportunity to present their work in the form of professionally-produced posters, created with the assistance of the Digital Humanities Centre.
Fourthly and finally, we learned that although volunteer heritage and history groups may differ in their approach and goals from academic researchers, moving towards co-design and co-production of research is possible if they build on established contacts and relationships.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/history/research/projects/connected-communities.aspx
Description It was in the nature of this Phase 1 project that we were not conducting research ourselves so much as fostering the research activities undertaken by volunteer history and archaeology groups and supporting their efforts to secure Heritage Lottery Funding awards. In that sense, it is not so much our research findings that have been used as our insights into the process involved in creating working relationships between academics and community groups involved in historical and archaeological projects and designing appropriate 'offers' in the form of events and training for such groups. What we learned about this informed the Phase 2 follow-on project involving funded All Our Stories project groups and the co-production projects that also followed on from Phase 1. From the start of the Phase 1 project we fed back our experiences to the Heritage Lottery Fund, to the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) and to the AHRC itself (by attending the Summit in July 2012 in Manchester). In addition, we contributed to the AHRC Research for Community Heritage Case-Study produced in 2013 (see report on Phase 2 of Writing Our History, Digging Our Past by Dr Richard Gaunt) and hope that in this way we will have contributed to ongoing reflections on the Connected Communities programme and funding policy.
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description AHRC 10th Anniversary Cultural Engagement Fund
Amount £19,120 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2016 
End 05/2016