Spotlight on Undergraduate Research: The Student Research Portfolio and the Georgian Ghosts Project

This guest post ties in with our traditional mid-September focus on teaching resources and pedagogy. Here, two Warwick Faculty of Arts undergraduates introduce us to an innovative interdisciplinary group research project that may provide inspiration for tutors elsewhere.

Jessica Barton and Dan Smith

This year at the University of Warwick, the Faculty of Arts introduced the Student Research Portfolio (SRP), which encouraged second- and third-year students to explore a topic, to develop their research and teamwork skills, and to produce an output. By allowing students across disciplines to work together, the SRP challenged its participants to step beyond the limits of their undergraduate degree and its typical forms of assessment. As the scheme was completed entirely online, students were also able to strengthen their digital skillset. We were part of one of the SRP groups, and worked on an outcome entitled The Georgian Ghosts Project. It was inspired by a ghost story from eighteenth-century Cork, Ireland, which has survived in a manuscript housed at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library, Manchester [1].

Most likely written by the prominent Methodist Hester Ann Rogers (1756-94), the manuscript records the dramatic conversion experience of a candle-maker called Cadwallader Acteson. He is haunted by the ghost of his deceased mistress, assaulted by a ‘hellish monster’ with long claws, and finally reassured by a heavenly voice promising redemption. Along the way he navigates knotty relationships with various women, most notably the ghostly mistress, a scheming maidservant who convinces him to attempt the murder of his wife, and the long-suffering wife herself. The story provides a thought-provoking perspective on eighteenth-century religion, gender roles, and the potentially perilous results of household tensions.

Portrait of Hester Ann Rogers. Wikimedia Commons
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more many-headed monster resources for teaching

Mark Hailwood

Is that the sound of term hurtling towards us once more? I’m afraid so, UK readers. As tutors scramble to get their courses ready – against the backdrop of an ongoing pandemic, let’s not forget – we thought it might be helpful to highlight the many teaching resources we have available in the many-headed monster archive.

Back in 2017 Laura Sangha put together a comprehensive list of all the resources we had on the blog at that stage, and you can see that here.

Below is an addendum to that list, highlighting a few materials we have added since.

Good luck this term, I’m sure we will all need it…

New Resources

Language Learning for Historians of Early Modern England
This guest post from John Gallagher is packed with suggestions for students – and staff – looking to develop their language skills alongside their studies.

Teaching Microhistory: small things, big questions and a global pandemic
Brodie Waddell reflects on teaching an MA module on microhistory. Includes advice on online teaching, and a free-to-download module handbook.

Decolonising and Black British History: a teaching resource
If you are looking to decolonise your early modern teaching this year, Laura Sangha’s seminar plan for a session on ‘Black Lives in Early Modern England’ is shared here.

#SchOnline: Scholarly Communities Online
Whilst this series of posts was focused on non-teaching types of online working, it does contain lots of good advice and ideas about things like online meetings that will still be applicable to many of us this academic year.

If you have any resources you would like to share, please do add links to the comments section below.

Decolonising and Black British History: a teaching resource

Laura Sangha

If you are thinking about decolonising your history module this year, this seminar plan [pdf] might be of use to you. It’s based around ‘Black Lives in Early Modern England’, but with minor tweaking of the reading and primary sources it could be adapted for most modules, whether pre-modern or modern.

John Blanke (detail from 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll).

The seminar aims to introduce students to some key concepts whilst also encouraging them to think about methodology and historiography. It combines synchronous and asynchronous activities, and is equivalent to four hours of synchronous seminar time (it’s designed for my Special Subject which in non-pandemic years is taught by means of 2 x 2 hour seminars a week).

In this post, I want to share some of my recent experiences which provide some context to where the seminar emerged from.

Continue reading

Serendipities of Online Community

In this guest post in our #SchOnline series (scholarly conversations online) Mark Liebenrood (@markliebenrood) reminds us that serendipity is not the preserve of archival research: it can be one of the great strengths of online scholarly communities.

Mark Liebenrood

A few months ago I hit a small obstacle in my research. Reading through borough council documents for information about a museum closure I came across an acronym, apparently for a trade union, that was unfamiliar. My usual approaches to online searching got me no further, and this was made more complicated by the acronym itself being a common word (ACTS). The trade union’s identity was a minor detail, but I still wanted to know it if possible. So I did something I don’t think I’ve done before, which was to put out a request on Twitter with the #twitterstorians hashtag. My tweet got just one retweet, but to my surprise in less than an hour I had several helpful replies, one of which had the answer. Although I’ve seen others ask questions on Twitter many times, this made me realise how potentially useful that huge online community can be. Continue reading

How are we going to teach in Autumn 2020? A survey of UK historians

Brodie Waddell

It has been clear for several months now that start of the new academic year is going to be very different to any we’ve been through before. The Covid-19 pandemic means that there will be huge changes in all areas of academic life, but perhaps the most visible change will be in teaching, where ‘remote’ teaching online will much more common. Where face-to-face teaching is happening, it will have to be ‘socially distant’, in smaller groups and possibly with masks or other protective equipment.

However, one thing that is far from clear is the planned balance between these two modes. Unlike many North American universities, virtually no UK university has publicly announced that they will be ‘online only’ in Autumn. Instead, almost all of them have made vague announcements about ‘blended’, ‘hybrid’ or ‘mixed’ modes, which will include both online and face-to-face teaching in varying proportions.

In order to get a firmer sense of where we stand, I’ve done a quick informal survey of scholars based in 26 different UK history departments, asking them what proportion of teaching they are planning to conduct face-to-face. This included Oxford and Cambridge, five London universities, a bunch of provincial pre-1992 universities, and a smaller number of post-1992 institutions. I have not named any of the individuals or institutions because none of these plans have been publicly announced, and anonymity allowed them to give more candid answers.

Unsurprisingly, there were a wide range of answers, many of which cannot be easily quantified. Nevertheless, one common response stands out… Continue reading

‘You’re on mute!’ How can we make online meetings better?

Laura Sangha

I’ll keep this brief, I know you probably have a [Teams, Zoom, Skype, other] meeting to be at. Probably more than one. Is it about deferrals? Transition to online teaching? A viva? Personal tutoring? Decolonising group? Accreditation? Supervision? Wellbeing? Exam board? Deep dive lightning talk extraordinary forum workshop reading group paper sand pit?

Before this year I had attended online meetings for work on only a couple of occasions, but now it’s a rare day that doesn’t contain a couple of online meetings. Everyone I talk to in these meetings tells me they are spending too much time in online meetings. I am beginning to feel like each minute I spend staring at a pixelated reproduction of the shape of my colleagues is equal to a minute I will spend lying awake in bed, unable to switch off my fevered screened-out brain and escape into unaware oblivion (or at the very least a bizarre lockdown dream).

Evidently online meetings are inescapable, and they are likely to be for quite some time yet. But before resigning ourselves to our fate, a bit of reflection might be useful. Continue reading

Cultivating a (Virtual) Conference Community

In this guest post in our #SchOnline series (scholarly conversations online) Marianne C.E. Gillion (@mcegillion) reflects on her experiences as the co-organizer of a large virtual conference.

Marianne C.E. Gillion

Among a certain segment of early music historians, there is a standard formula of farewell: “I’ll see you at MedRen, if not before”. This is a reference to the annual Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, which for the past 48 years has been independently organised by volunteer host institutions across Europe and the United Kingdom. For many, MedRen is a highlight of the conference calendar. A frequent comment is that meeting together with anywhere between 175 and 375 early musicologists makes delegates—whether they work in universities, have careers in other fields, are members of the growing academic precariat, or are students—feel slightly less alone.

The importance of this community was one of the driving forces behind the decision to move the 2020 edition online when the physical meeting was cancelled. We on the Organising Committee (James Cook, Adam Whittaker, Thomas Schmidt, Andrew Bull, and myself) had spent eighteen months planning to welcome our delegates to the University of Edinburgh from 1–4 July. In only 3 ½ months, we attempted to create a virtual environment that would facilitate the unique combination of scholarship, music, networking, and sociability integral to MedRen. Thanks to the support of our presenters and delegates it succeeded beyond our expectations: with 470 participants, it was the largest conference to date, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

As in other fields, and highlighted in this series of blogposts, MedRen 2020 provoked debate concerning the benefits and drawbacks of the online format. Continue reading

#SchOnline: Scholarly Communities Online

In the spring of 2020, as much of the world was plunged into ‘lockdown’ by the advance of a global pandemic, regular forms of face-to-face interaction were swiftly replaced by online alternatives. We all found ourselves coming up with new ways to recreate our scholarly activities online, as the classroom morphed into the online seminar; the conference trip was replaced by a day tucked away in a corner of the bedroom staring at Zoom; the common-room catch-up was transferred to the Departmental WhatsApp group.

As the UK lockdown eased at the end of June, we invited our readers to contribute to this ongoing mini-series reflecting on the best way to build communities online.

Contents

> Laura Sangha & Mark Hailwood, ‘The Virtual Parish: Scholarly Communities Online’

Laura and Mark introduce the series and reflect on eight years of running this blog as an online scholarly community. What do we gain from taking our conversations online? What do we lose? What needs to be improved?

> Will Pooley, ‘Online Conferences: Four Reflections’

Will examines his experience of co-organising an online Zoom conference during a global pandemic. He discusses how things were adapted, what online spaces had to offer, and accessibility.

> Clare Griffin, ‘Time Zones Still Exist’

Many of us are facing the prospect of teaching across time zones in the autumn of 2020. Here Clare Griffin reminds us of the access implications of time zones for online events, and suggests that the move online could provide an opportunity to improve the experience of delegates across the globe.

> Jennifer Farrell, ‘The Digital Delegate: attending on online international conference’

What is it like to attend a huge international conference from the comfort of your own home? Jennifer considers reduced costs, technology, trolls and community.

> Brodie Waddell, ‘Teaching Microhistory: small things, big questions and a global pandemic’

How can we teach students the value in studying small things to answer big questions, online, during a pandemic? Brodie explains what it was like to teach an online MA module on theory and methodology, and gives away the handbook for free!

> Elizabeth Watts, ‘Evading the Hounds: Online Scholarly Collaboration and Crowd Sourced Harrassment’

Taking our scholarly communities online has opened up a world of conversation. Yet in grounding our collaboration in spaces which are subject to rampant organised harassment and surveillance, the well-known threats that marginalised scholars at in-person events face from individuals are exchanged for the instantaneous threat of abuse at menacing, escalating scale. In this post Elizabeth shares her own experience as a victim of online of such online abuse.

> Marianne C.E. Gillion, ‘Cultivating a (Virtual) Conference Community

Marianne discusses what it was like to rise to the challenge of hosting a major conference online. The 2020 Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference created a virtual environment that facilitated the unique combination of scholarship, music, networking, and the sociability integral to the annual event. 

> Laura Sangha, “‘You’re on mute!’: How can we make online meetings better?”

Online meetings have become a common feature of our working lives this year, but many people are frustrated at the amount of time they take up. How do they compare with a face-to-face version – beyond the potential technical pitfalls, might they be an improvement? And what can we do to make them more accesible, inclusive and effective?

> Brodie Waddell, ‘How are we going to teach in Autumn 2020? A Survey of UK Historians.

It’s August, but in many UK institutions there is still much uncertainty about what form teaching will take when term starts next month. Here Brodie offers some thoughts based on a quick informal survey of scholars based in 26 different UK history departments, asking them what proportion of teaching they are planning to conduct face-to-face in the autumn.

> Mark Liebenrood, ‘Serendipities of Online Community’

In this post Mark Liebenrood reminds us that serendipity is not the preserve of archival research: it can be one of the great strengths of online scholarly communities too.

Teaching Microhistory: small things, big questions and a global pandemic

Brodie Waddell

Over ten weeks in April, May and June this year, as a pandemic raged across the world and most of us found ourselves confined mostly to our homes, I taught one of my favourite modules. It’s called ‘To See the World in a Grain of Sand: Reading and Writing Microhistories’, and it’s open to most of the MA students in my department at Birkbeck.

microhistories-promo-slide

There’s no obvious reason why about twenty postgrads would sign up to do an optional module focused on theories and methodologies, especially as most of them were living in locked-down London, one of the hardest hit cities in the world. But they did, and I’m glad they did. Continue reading

The digital delegate: attending an international online conference

We are delighted to welcome our next guest blogger for our #SchOnline series (scholarly conversations online). Here Jennifer Farrell (@dr_j_farrell) reflects on her experience as a delegate of an online conference.

Jennifer Farrell

Last week saw the return of the International Medieval Congress (IMC) at the University of Leeds. This annual conference attracts thousands of medievalists from all over the world, eager to network with one another, to road-test their research, and to enjoy hearing about the work being done by others in their field. I have attended the IMC numerous times in the past, both as a delegate and as a speaker, but the major difference this year was that I did so from the comfort of my own living room!

Bingo Card

Sadly moving a conference online will still not stop you spending too much time at the book stalls.

The Covid pandemic has impacted researchers in various ways, but one of the major changes we are seeing is the willingness and indeed tenacity of conference organisers to find ways of facilitating networking and the sharing of research via online platforms. The sheer scale of the IMC means that its move to a virtual conference was nothing short of heroic.  This year the virtual IMC supported the delivery of c.530 research papers, attended by c.3,200 delegates from across 60 countries. The organisers, moderators, panellists, and facilitators deserve to be commended for this.

Speaking purely from the perspective of a delegate, with no need to worry about my paper being interrupted by poor internet connection, bad sound, disruption from trolls, or just the generally odd sensation of talking about your research to a computer screen, my own experiences of the vIMC were very positive. Of course, a virtual environment is by no means the same as experiencing the conference in person, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Like many of the changes that have occurred to our working conditions on account of Covid, there are good and bad sides. Continue reading