Valuing Interdisciplinary Collaborative Research

Valuing interdisciplinary collaborative research, [edited Keri Facer and Kate Pahl, Policy Press, Bristol & Chicago, 2017] – paperback retailing at £24.99

Until 2014, I was involved in a project examining the issue of socialising heritage and legacy, part of a wider series of projects under the A.H.R.C. Connected Communities label looking at collaborative methods of working. Our particular strand concerned ‘heritage’ and, from the start, set out to be collaborative – including the design of the research. The outcomes of this strand are summarised and analysed in Chapter Four of this book: ‘Socialising heritage/ socialising legacy’.

My involvement was as an individual freelance family and community historian, participating in the York’s Alternative History group. There were more than 20 of us in this project, from a variety of backgrounds in a well-designed balance of university academics, heritage professionals (including local planners) and members of community organisations. The boundaries of the group were fluid enough to include new people as the project developed, as well as (memorably) the critique of another 20 or so volunteers at a mid-way event in Manchester. It was a wonderful experience, very inspiring, though not without its conflicts, and I met some great people whom I much admire. From my perspective, one of the best outcomes has been the way in which things changed in York with the involvement of Richard and Lianne Brigham and how that has continued and grown (see

At the point I moved away, the project was being written up and at this stage I began to develop the only slight negative feeling. The unease I felt has redoubled on the publication of this book. In some ways, it was to be expected that the final writing up of the project would fall principally to the academics, so I initially dismissed my reservations since I trusted the academics involved, and drafts were always referred around the group as a whole. However, now that I have the collective publication in my hands, the unease has returned.

From the very start of the editors’ introduction the emphasis is on a two-handed division: academics on the one hand, everybody else on the other hand, in the context of ‘the boundaries between universities and publics’. On scanning through the contents as a whole, this pattern seems to be the norm. It seems to be all about justifying the funding of academia by bringing in the participation of the community. The latter is never clearly defined, though it is stated that communities are ‘seeking evidence and validation for their practice’.

I would demur from that statement as the emphasis in this volume is largely different – the academics are coming to us for their validation and our evidence. While I am perfectly happy with the way our own strand developed and the kinds of outcome it produced (notably the DIY Heritage Manifesto contributed by Danny Callaghan, a freelance grassroots heritage consultant in the Potteries), I am initially disappointed by the way in which the editors have characterised the issues we explored as some sort of problem for universities. The real problem is how grassroots initiatives can be validated in their own right and escape the bureaucracy involved in funding bids – which are heavily biased in favour of academics and professionals in the heritage and legacy milieu as they are more adept at filling in the forms.

I hope that my initial unease will be dispelled as I work through the various other project write-ups in this book, though a quick glance indicates I may have to wade through a lot of jargon and bullshit to extract what is really useful. Nevertheless – set aside the academic bias, these are all worthwhile projects in their own right. It will be worth the effort to persevere with the book – though I suspect a lot of community activists, if they hear of it through their networks and can get past the rather forbidding title, may find it hard going.


Underground Histories – welcome General Ludd!

I am delighted to welcome to the radical history blogosphere a fine upstanding comrade in the shape of Alan Brooke. Those of you who keep a close watch for interesting historical material with an edge on the UK mass media may have recently picked up his quietly spoken, but authoritative, words on Radio 4 (Looking for the Luddites) and on Nick Crane’s TV programme in his Town series featuring Huddersfield. I had the pleasure of meeting him in York in January this year, when he was one of the speakers at York Alternative History’s commemoration of the execution of 17 Luddites at York Castle 200 years ago. Check out his website at
It is good to find the Luddites embracing modern technology and using it in the same way that the original Luddites used ‘Great Enoch’ in 1812.

Commemorating the Luddites

Reading the eulogy to the Luddites

Reading the eulogy to the Luddites

If I haven’t done much blogging here for a long while, the reason is I have been really busy getting out there and ‘doing history’. On 19 January 2013, with York’s Alternative History, I was helping to commemorate the execution in York of 17 Luddites 200 years before. The weather was no great help to us but, despite that, 90 people joined us in York’s historic and drafty Guildhall to hear talks by Katrina Navickas, Malcolm Chase and Alan Brooke. Around 40 of us then processed to the site of the executions to carry out a memorial ceremony, which I had the honour to lead. In the evening, I dusted off my long ignored past on the folk music scene, to run an evening of radical words, poems, music and song to mark the occasion and YAH’s first birthday. Great fun – thanks to some brilliant acts. Check it all out on the York Alternative History site.