Historians are taking up greater opportunities to publicise their work beyond universities. But, they are often positioned as ‘experts’ who should be read and listened to with little dialogue. Our argument is that a closer engagement between history and public life can be mutually transformative. It helps public institutions develop more sophisticated and truthful understandings of the context they work in, providing a better understanding of how change happens for example. It also assists historians to ask research questions with public relevance. These benefits only come from face-to-face, often one-to-one conversations and collaborations, between historians and individuals working in think-tanks, museums, NGOs, government departments and other public institutions. The Historians in Residence scheme aims to develop these relationships by placing particular historians within particular institutions. Placements will be organised in a bi-directional process. Participating institutions will indicate particular projects or areas of work they’d like a historian to work in, and historians will nominate the policy areas they’d like to work in.
We want Historians in Residence to evolve organically. So the shape of our placements will change based on what works. Moreover, we are sure that different residencies will take contrasting forms based on the needs of historians and the institutions involved.
With this being said, we have outlined some of the forms which we think our placements could take:
- Developmental advice: Historians could be very useful right at the beginning of a particular project (a piece of policy work or an exhibition for example). Often the terms of reference we use to think about debates can seem fixed. Historians can help unravel how we frame certain arguments and, drawing on research into the past, outline alternative ways in which issues can be thought about. As the study of change over time, history brings a sense of the possibility of doing things in different ways.
- In-house research: Historians could be valuable working on a single issue throughout the policy making process. In this case, the work of historians could be used to form a substantial part of a specific piece of research, drawing on past historical examples as guides to future policy for example. Or they might help write an institutional history.
- Consultancy: Historians could offer broad advice working on a range of topics within particular institutions. For instance, they could join advisory groups within policy making institutions to offer long-term advice on a brought range of issues.
- Historical Seminars: Historians could frame a specific issue historically. For example, historians could present research on a particular topic of interest which policy makers are interested in, leaving it open to a policy audience to draw connections to contemporary circumstances. Contact between the historian and institutions could include one-to-one meetings; historians’ participation in planning meetings; seminars, with historian presenting or commenting; writing, briefing papers and sections of reports.
Below we have outlined a general structure for our placements:
- Each placement should last between 3 and 12 months, with a minimum of one hour’s contact every fortnight for the duration of the placement.
- Each historian will have a primary contact at the institution
- Each historian and public institution will have a primary contact on the Historians in Residence team who will take responsibility for their relationship with the institution.
- At the beginning of the placement, the historian and public institution will jointly submit a plan to the Historians in Residence team outlining activities to be included in the placement, and its possible outcomes.
- At the end of the placement, both participants will submit a short report (c.300 word) report outlining what happened.
- The project is run pro bono, alongside existing workloads. It is important to ensure ways of working which are mutually beneficial. However, each placement might be used to develop funding applications.
- The historians involved will be from every level of the historical profession, from advanced PhD students (with a minimum 18 months into research) to senior professors.
If you are a historian or working or an institution and interested in a placement for the next academic year, please contact the administrator of the scheme, Tom Kelsey on firstname.lastname@example.org.