Toe-dipping in the mainstream

These days, academics are encouraged to appeal to big audiences. We are told that we must have ‘impact’ (teaching 2.2 million university students doesn’t seem to count, oddly enough – but let’s leave that for another time). Just over a fortnight ago I had my first proper taste of this when I got involved in a collective letter published in History Today, whose readership and twitter followers represent a much bigger audience than I am likely to reach through my academic writing and teaching. Continue reading

Engaging with History

I’ve been thinking about history ‘engagement’ recently. Partly this is because of our Cambridge PhDcasts – our fourth episode, featuring Alice Blackhurst talking about luxury in a digital age, is out today – and our reflections on producing the first season. What worked, what didn’t, what should we try next time? It’s also because last week Katy Barrett and I had lunch and a fascinating talk with Helen Weinstein, who works for the BBC and www.historyworks.tv. Unfortunately I couldn’t go to the event Helen organised yesterday on ‘The Future of the Past at the BBC’ but it provoked some very interesting conversation on twitter – there is a storify here.

Really, I am still thinking, and I only have one point to make here. Well, two connected points. The first is that I think we need to see engagement, and its perplexing corollary ‘impact’, not as an adjunct to ‘traditional’ academic activity but as a single scale which ranges from the kind of mass media produced by the BBC to the kind of personal-contact teaching performed in schools, colleges, and universities. The second is that it seems to me that at the moment this scale is mainly being measured quantitatively, and we need to rescue the qualitative side.

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