What's all this about 'research-led' teaching?

Josie McLellan, Senior Lecturer, and Isabel Marler, recent undergraduate student, go head-to-head about research-led teaching on the BA History course.

Josie: Research-led teaching is where an academic’s research informs what goes on in the lecture hall or seminar room. In the Department of History, undergraduate students get the chance to engage with primary sources and follow up subjects of their choosing very early on.  Research is at the very core of what we do; it’s the centrepiece of our syllabus. 

Isabel: I loved studying history at Bristol. My favourite unit was Josie’s Sex and the Body in 20th-Century Germany. The History Department opened my mind to fresh, new thinking from the outset and  I remember having some amazing discussions with the tutors. Lots of the units are so new that there may not even be published works available. So instead, you are dealing with original source material, such as articles, photographs or graphics.

Josie: Translating the latest research interests into new undergraduate units is really exciting and means that the discipline is constantly evolving. Staff in the department have very diverse research interests, often including rather unexpected topics. I’m currently looking at alternative lifestyles in the Eastern Bloc, particularly gay and lesbian activism, from the 1960s to the 1990s. Professor Ronald Hutton’s work on witchcraft and Professor Tim Cole’s research on Holocaust landscapes are further examples.

Isabel: I think it was the second year when I found you could tailor your research to your own interests. Getting used to using research sources, such as film, art, magazines and adverts, helped me combine visual analysis with more traditional methods.

Josie: When I was working on my book, Love in the Time of Communism, I gave drafts of some sections to the students for comment. This led to some fascinating exchanges and helped me to clarify the argument. I’m not alone in circulating drafts of my work in progress either; lots of my colleagues do it. This gives our students the chance to review and analyse original research, formulate their responses to it and even be inspired by it. I think that our department provides a creative environment for history which, in turn, results in outstanding student work. Isabelle’s undergraduate dissertation, for example, was a highly original piece of research.

Isabel: That’s nice to hear! I think this was down to engaging with original source material and fresh new literature. My dissertation was certainly stimulated by tutorials with Josie. I was interested in a particular silent German film and was able to use the visual analysis techniques developed during Josie’s modules to see how the film’s content fitted with ideas of bodies and how they related to the urban landscape of the time. I have always been interested in Weimar (inter-war) Germany, but was really inspired by Josie’s teaching. As a result, I applied for a scholarship after my Bachelors degree,  and I’m now doing an MA in Gender Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Being led by research is really what you would expect from Bristol’s Department of History. Having access to the experts in these areas is incredible; the staff at Bristol are very engaged and expose you to truly original thought.  When you experience your own ‘break-through’ moments too, it’s an amazing feeling and inspires you to delve even deeper into the subject.


About Josie and Isabel

Josie McLellan
Isabel Marler

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Josie McLellan's experience of doing a stand-up comedy routine to communicate her research is featured in the University public-engagement story, Get a 'natural high' with Bright Club.

Lots of the units are so new that there may not even be published works available. So instead, you are dealing with original source material, such as articles, photographs or graphics.

Isabel Marler
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