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Unit information: Making History Public in 2015/16

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Unit name Making History Public
Unit code HISTM2016
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Coates
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit introduces students to the field of Public History through a multi-layered approach that integrates scholarly reflection with practical engagement (through the medium of external partnerships) to examine various influential areas in the pursuit and application of history beyond the confines of academia (and to introduce students to the increasingly important role of public engagement in the working lives of academic historians): popular history magazines, heritage sites, documentary film, and museums. Meetings alternate between in-house seminars - during which critical concepts and central debates in public history are studied with academic staff - and external sessions with various Bristol-based practitioners of public history: currently, BBC History Magazine, Arnos Vale Cemetery, Icon Films and ss Great Britain. With the editor of Britain's best-selling popular history magazine, students contemplate the challenges of presenting history for a broad readership. With the public engagement manager at Arnos Vale, students learn about the issues involved in interpreting a distinguished Victorian cemetery and managing a large, multiple value/multi-use site. With the creative director of Icon Films, students find out how a programme is conceived, from proposal writing and pitching to commissioning (one of the unit's assignments is the preparation of a proposal for a history documentary based on Icon's guidelines). And with the director of conservation and education at the ss Great Britain, students consider the challenges and opportunities involved in running one of Bristol's most popular visitor attractions, which is also attached to a major research facility, the Brunel Institute. The unit also includes an OPTIONAL Placement element (equivalent to at least 5 full days of work) that attaches students to a project/initiative/activity that one of the unit’s partners (or another local body/heritage site with which the student has taken the initiative in making arrangements) is pursuing and to which students can make a valuable contribution.

Intended Learning Outcomes

  1. To develop a critical understanding of debates about the pursuit, application, promotion and communication of historical knowledge beyond academia.
  2. To increase understanding of the value of different modes of representing the past through sessions with external partners and site visits
  3. To develop a range of writing skills, including the crafting of TV documentary proposals as well as conventional academic essays.
  4. To reflect on the interface between historical studies as an academic discipline and the broader contexts of popular culture and social trends.
  5. To develop an understanding of the increasingly important role of public engagement and applied history in the working lives of professional historians. On successful completion of this unit, students will have an understanding of key issues and debates in PH, and will have examined case studies of documentaries and exhibitions.
  6. Students will also have gained an understanding of the concerns that shape the selection and presentation of history in TV documentaries, museum exhibition, heritage site and magazine formats (audience, budgets, narrative and visual requirements, educational and political issues). They will understand how these pressures shape the portrayal of a specific historical topic/theme/event in the context of research and the preparation of a TV treatment.

Teaching Information

10 seminars; 4 led by external partners

Assessment Information

This unit is assessed by a 2,000 word TV proposal (marked on a pass/fail basis) and a 3,000 word academic essay (worth 100% of the unit mark)

Reading and References

  • A. Brinkley, 'Historians and their Publics,' Journal of American History, 81/3 (1994): 1027-30
  • J. De Groot, Consuming History (2008)
  • S.D. Benson et al, Presenting the Past: Essays on History and the Public (1986)
  • H. Hoock, ‘Professional Practices of Public History in Britain: Introduction’, The Public Historian 32/3 (August 2010): 7-24.
  • M. Dresser ‘Politics, Populism and Professionalism: Reflections on the Role of Academic Historian in the Production of Public History’, The Public Historian, 32/3 (Summer 2010): 39-63
  • H. Kean, ‘People, Historians and Public History: Demystifying the Process of History Making’, The Public Historian, 32/3 (Summer 2010): 25-38.
  • M. Stevens, ‘Public Policy and the Public Historian: The Changing Place of Historians in Public Life in France and UK’, The Public Historian, 32/3 (Summer 2010): 120-38.
  • M. Babel, ‘Sticky History: Connecting Historians with the Public’, The Public Historian, 32/3 (Summer 2010): 76-84.
  • E. Linenthal, `Committing History in Public,’ Journal of American History, 81/3 (1994): 986-91