Children's literature and young people's engagement with heritage and the historic built environment

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: School of English Literature,Language an


Those who manage heritage sites face the continuing challenge of how best to engage children and young people with the buildings and landscapes they have been charged to present and protect. It is a vital task. The future of these sites can be safeguarded only by interesting the young in their heritage.
One strategy for achieving this end has been to use literature and storytelling to engage children with the past and with specific heritage sites. Indeed, it is a strategy as old as children's literature itself. Thomas Boreman's 'Gigantick Histories' (1740-43), often called the first children's books, were designed to stimulate their readers' imagination with accounts of 'Curiosities in the Guildhall', 'What treasures in the Tow'r [of London] are laid' and the architectural splendours of St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey. Ever since, authors and illustrators have sought to produce books that cement the bonds between children and their historical environments: Kipling's 'Puck' stories (1906-10) for example, through to Jacqueline Wilson's 'Hetty Feather' (2010, inspired by her fellowship at the Foundling Museum). Children's fiction has sometimes even directly addressed preservation issues, as in Penelope Lively's 'The Whispering Knights' (1971), a fantasy set around the neolithic Rollright Stones and dealing in part with the incursion of a motorway.
This - how literature has hitherto been used to engage children with heritage sites - is what the first phase of this project will investigate. The chief source, besides the books themselves, will be the archives of the project partners: English Heritage, Historic Royal Palaces, and Seven Stories: the Centre for the Children's Book. The latter in particular holds a wealth of printed and manuscript material from authors, illustrators, publishers, teachers, and children, which will illuminate how the producers of these books hoped they would be used. The archives of English Heritage and Historic Royal Palaces, as well as Seven Stories, will reveal much about how literature actually has been used in heritage education, and with what results. Contributors from other academic disciplines will contextualise these findings, by presenting both theoretical and applied research on young people's interactions with heritage, and on heritage education.
The second phase of the project is concerned with how these research findings can be used to inform current and future policy and practice. The project partners already use literature in their educational programmes. But this kind of activity now stands at a crossroads. Digital technologies allow young people to access writing in many new ways. They are as likely to read on smartphones, iPads or computers as in books, and might read while at the sites as well as at home and in school. Above all, new technologies allow reading experiences to be much more interactive: with specific reading experiences triggered by GPS technology for example, or with stories leading via embedded links to different kinds of information and activities. The project's workshops have been conceived to consider exactly how creative literature can now optimally be used in heritage education.
To achieve this, the project will bring together a group of partners, some from the heritage sector and others from a range of disparate academic disciplines. Academics participants in the workshops will come from children's literature studies, heritage studies, development studies, and creative writing. The project will also have the input of Newcastle University's Culture Lab, a centre for the creative arts and interactive technology, as well as from consultants from the private sector who specialise in digital media. The exchange of knowledge between these academic and commercial partners, and with Seven Stories, English Heritage and Historic Royal Palaces, is the principal purpose of the project. Further collaborations will, it is to be hoped, spring from these newly forged links.

Planned Impact

This exploratory project has been designed to generate sustainable collaborations between university-based researchers (in literature, creative writing, development studies and heritage studies) and practitioners in the heritage sector. Formal project partners comprise:
1. Historic Royal Palaces
2. English Heritage
3. Seven Stories: the National Centre for the Children's Book.
These non-HEI partners all have a pressing need to engage children and young people in their work and objectives. They all recognise that using children's literature and story-telling can play a valuable part in this process of education and engagement. Indeed, they all have a strong record of using literature to interest young people in their heritage and in specific sites, and a commitment to developing these kind of educational programmes further. They also face the challenge of migrating these programmes onto new digital platforms, a challenge that they have all already successfully begun to address.
This project has been designed to research what strategies have in the past been used to employ literature and story to engage children with their heritage environments, both local and national. Although this research will be (in the best sense of the word) academic, and will have substantial scholarly value in itself, it is being undertaken with a view to its practical applications. The project will show what has and has not been attempted, what has and has not worked, how children tend to interact with their environment and with heritage, how teachers and heritage professionals can most successfully use children's literature in their work, and what kinds of project, and kinds of literature, are likely to be most effective. It is the intention that this research will feed back into the partners' developing policies and practices.
The main venues for this process of knowledge exchange will be a pair of two-day workshops, one in Newcastle and one in London, preceded by a planning meeting. At the end of the project, its findings, new protocols developed on the basis of that research, and ideas for future collaborations with be captured in a final report. One further output will be a pilot of the kind of product that the research shows to be most effective and feasible: a piece of creative writing, made available on a digital platform and designed to be interactive, based on one of the project partners' heritage sites.
As a first stage, the project's aims, scope and methods will be presented on a suite of webpages on the website of Newcastle University's School of English Literature, Langauge and Linguistics (where the PI is based). Links from project partners' websites will connect to these pages. As the project progresses these webpages will be updated with interim reports of findings and proceedings, designed for a general audience (for instance with textual and visual material unearthed in the archives that demonstrates past attempts to write about specific heritage sites). At the end of the project, the Final Report will be made available via this website. Its existance will be advertised to relevant academic and non-academic constituencies.


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Description The research led to a substantially enhanced understanding of how digital technology can best be used to engage children and young people with various kinds of heritage. We surveyed best practice among the collaborating heritage organisations (and others) and sought insights from these organisations about what they valued and needed in terms of digital provision for young people. We investigated the ways in which new digital strategies could effectively be based on analogue technologies (specifically, children's books and games), and in collaboration with computer scientists and English Heritage, we developed an app for iPhones that deployed these strategies. The deployment of this app was analysed, and its use at an English Heritage property is ongoing.
Exploitation Route The app that we developed is still be deployed at Belsay Hall (English Heritage).
We envisage that this exploratory research will lead to further funding applications to support more in-depth and wide-ranging research and development.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The app created from this project was deployed at English Heritage's Belsay Castle. Findings from this deployment have fed into discussions about provision for children at Belsay and other heritage sites in the region.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description Collaboration with English Heritage at Belsay 
Organisation English Heritage
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Research team collaborated with English Heritage to produce an app deployed at Belsay Hall. This was designed with all project team members.
Collaborator Contribution EH were part of the iterative design process, and provided the location and infrastructure for the deployment.
Impact Wild Man app
Start Year 2013
Title Wild Man 
Description An App for iPhone 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Deployed at Belsay Hall, Northumberland, an English Heritage property. 
Description Workshops with heritage professionals and others 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Two workshops to bring together heritage professionals, digital developers from industry, researchers.

Workshop 1 (April 2103) was at Kensington Palace, London.
Debbie Beeks (Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books)
David Bradley (Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies, Newcastle University)
Mathew Grenby (School of English, Newcastle University)
Neal Hoskins (WingedChariot)
Hannah Izod (Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books)
Hilary Jones (English Heritage)
Sarah Kilby (Historic Royal Palaces)
Ina Preugel (Historic Royal Palaces)
Pippa Smith (English Heritage)
David Souden (Historic Royal Palaces)
Helen Stark (Project Research Associate, School of English, Newcastle University)
Peter Stone (International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, Newcastle University)
Nick Taylor (Cultural Exchanges project, Newcastle University)
Gavin Wood (Cultural Exchanges project, Newcastle University)

Workshop 2 (Sept. 2013) was at Newcastle University.Attendees:
Madeleine Balaam (Culture Lab, Newcastle University)
Katy Banner (Georgian Theatre Richmond)
Debbie Beeks (Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books)
David Bradley (Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies, Newcastle University)
Emily Bryce (National Trust)
Andrew Burnet (Historic Scotland)
Keith Emerick (English Heritage)
David Frohlich (Digital World Research Centre, University of Surrey)
Areti Galani (International Centre for Cultural & Heritage Studies, Newcastle University)
Sally Gall (Historic Scotland)
Kate Giles (Centre for Digital Heritage, University of York)
Matthew Grenby (School of English, Newcastle University)
Melanie Hills (National Trust)
Neal Hoskins (WingedChariot)
Tony Jackson (Emeritus Professor of Educational Theatre at the University of Manchester)
Hilary Jones (English Heritage)
Dave Kirk (Culture Lab, Newcastle University)
Chris Knight (Chief Executive, Appeartome)
David Leat (School of Education, Newcastle University)
Helen Limon (Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts, Newcastle University)
Kris McKie (Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books)
Ina Preugel (Historic Royal Palaces)
Sarah Rees Jones (Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past, University of York)
Susan Skedd (Independent researcher; formerly English Heritage)
Laura Mazzoli Smith (School of Education, Newcastle University)
David Souden (Historic Royal Palaces)
Helen Stark (Project Research Associate, School of English, Newcastle University)
Chris Whitehead (International Centre for Cultural & Heritage Studies, Newcastle University)
Gavin Wood (Cultural Exchanges project, Newcastle University)
Pete Wright (Culture Lab, Newcastle University)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2015