Over the last few months a new feminist project has been occupying a small group of feminist historians at the University of Sussex. #MorethanAssistants is inspired by the history of feminist interventions in Historical practice.
We are concerned with
The burden of responsibility on those few female figures who manage to earn a space in the public realm.
The disproportionate shaming of young women for unruly behaviour.
The power of playful, messy, feminism.
The importance of carrying our sisterhood with us, whether physically, virtually or emotionally
I’ve just got back from the most mind-blowing conference I’ve ever been to. Keep It Simple, Make It Fast, is a conference/music and literary festival/art show organised around DIY cultures, Spaces, Places. Events were held across various venues in Porto, bringing together academic presentations, some celebrity guests, live performances, exhibitions with daily book launches and a summer school. The event is convened by Paula Guerra and Andy Bennett with an incredible team of international volunteers. I went with my Subcultures Network army (Matt Worley, Petes Webb and Ward, David Wilkinson and stayed in a seminary with the Punk Scholars Network and Steve Ignorant from Crass).
I’ve been out of the country for a week at a great workshop in Berlin “How to Write and Conceptualize the History of Youth Cultures” organised by Felix Fuhg, Doctoral Student, with the Centre for Metropolitan studies. I was travelling with the histrrry girls and The Subcultures Network, so there were Harringtons. There are always Harringtons. We spent one day working and talking in the Archiv der Jugendkulturen. Its an incredible community archive and library that has brought together all the different traces of resistance in youth culture and subcultures. From magazines made by school pupils to the Love Parades’ backdrops and giant cut outs of Nena – the transational and hyper local are boxed up together and are being carefully catalogued by local participant experts in each scene.
Today was finalist results day for the students on my Post-Punk Britain Module. Together we’ve laughed, done cutting and pasting, swapped celebrity gossip, kicked over a few statues and analysed the history of subcultural theory and practice. They have made me laugh and they have me think in new ways.
Yesterday was the last seminar of this year’s Post-Punk Britain course that I teach with Chris Warne in the third year of our History degree. It is a funny sort of course; it is not really about Punk, and quite a lot of people might think it is not really about History either. It is about what we can do with punk. We do some history of subcultures stuff, but really it is about thinking of punk as a methodology, as an ethos and as a form of dissidence or resistance. In practice that means it’s an ongoing pedagogical experiment. Each of the three years we’ve run the course has been totally different. This is partly because the students collaboratively set the agenda and choose what directions they want to go. It is partly because we’ve been funded through Technology Enhanced Learning and Excellence in Teaching to run a set of student led projects; DIY Digital and DIT Digital. These projects are scavenger history. Students create open access educational resources inspired by the course using apps, social networks, and websites that were often designed with other purposes in mind. Like a DIY zine, it is a way of taking what we can find and making it our own.
Have you ever been on holiday with your students? Its got a lot of awkward potential.
This year Chris Warne and I were awarded an Innovation in Teaching Award to take a group of students to Margate and set up a digital pedagogy experiment. DIT Digital: Doing Subcultures Online involved tours and workshops with two of Margate’s significant heritage sites; The Turner Contemporary and Dreamland. Our Twitter hashtag is #DITDreamland
Last year we had run a less ambitious project DIY Digital: Doing Punk Online with students on our Post-Punk Britain module. Students had created open access educational resources around topics from the module. One of the key lessons from the project last year had been the importance of ‘being in the room’ to facilitate virtual interaction so a field trip offered a way of sharing a physical space together whilst doing digital work. Furthermore last year’s MA mentors had been absolutely central to the success of the project and we now had a group of masters students who had been part of the original project as undergraduates who could act as mentors.
On a Thursday night in August 2015 I sat at home remotely supervising 4 of my post-graduate supervisees who were sitting in a pub in Brighton. I tweeted a series of discussion points. They set the agenda.
I’ve chosen to play with thinglink for the images in this blog post because that seemed like an appropriate way to represent the connections between the different forms of thinking, experiences and places in the experiment, without losing sight of their different contexts.
The first two tasks of the first session were designed to set up a sense of community among the group and include them in the evaluation of the project. There were then two subsets to the experiment; the first was to map the ripples of their own research by finding ways to trace a series of layers of explanation about their projects. The second subset was to reflect on the experiment itself. The first section was about audiences and being familiar with our project. The second was about supervision and collaboration
The ice breaker – (whose claim to fame in the group would I be most impressed by?), was designed to allow them to take the piss out of me if needed, and also to demonstrate that although they didn’t necessarily know each other very well, they all knew me and had a lot in common.
I love a training session. I’m always signing up for new workshops. I know there is often a load of nonsense from academics who somehow think that they are instinctively good teachers and don’t need to engage in professional development, that isn’t explicitly developing their reputation as an international scholar. In fact I’ve heard early career and established academics say some pretty shoddy things about pedagogical training. Shoddy things that they wouldn’t accept being said about their own work, their own research or indeed their own teaching. Why wouldn’t we want to benefit from the high quality pedagogical research and training experience of experts? We certainly expect people to take our own research and experience seriously. In fact I have noted a direct correlation between historians who dismiss pedagogical training whilst simultaneously separating themselves from public history, heritage, amateur archivists, genealogists or school and FE based history curriculum as not being ‘real history’. So it is alright for historians to blag it as teachers but not for teachers to blag it as historians?
You can now access the open version of the online resource I produced for the history department at Sussex, Reflexivity and History . You should be able to log on as a guest.
This post is about teaching reflexivity, and indeed teaching reflexively. However, in the way that messy discussions in history spill into one another this is also in many ways a continuation of my response to the Modern British Studies conference at Birmingham. One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot are the implications of what happens when we put our personal into our political (or professional). I’ve warned about what I see as the dangers of over-investment, entitlement and exploitation in the last post. But I do need to have a word with myself. As a historian of identity I know that the self is a central part of my work, of all of our work. But I want to suggest that we should accord the role of the self, and the implications of that, the same careful thought as we do with the rest of our work. It is not enough to state our personal engagement, we need to think about what it means.