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.
It probably says more about my life than theirs, but I seem to be haunted by old punks propping up the bar telling me stories about the Clash, or showing off their badge collection on ebay. There’s certainly a lot of punk ghosts around – icons– Sid, Nancy, Rotten before he became farmer Lydon , and reunion bands are everywhere. But what are the ghosts for? And why are they following me round all the time?
Contemporary historian Lucy Robinson has spent the last five year’s listening to, writing about and thinking about charity singles. From Oxfam’s association with the Beatles in the 60s, to ‘Do they Know its Christmas?’ in all of its various incarnations, the charity single has turned fans into communities, and allowed over indulgent celebrities to show their caring side. Now finally her work has come to life in a brand new charity single. She has been volunteering her expertise as Minister for Nagging in the newly launched People’s Republic of Brighton and Hove.
The course is in its second year and from the start, my co-tutor Chris Warne and myself, imagined it as an experiment in democratic teaching and learning. We use the growth of academic work around subcultures and youth culture since 1976 to explore bigger questions around what it means to be a contemporary historian today. This means that we look at local histories, archival practices, life history like memoirs, sound, image and moving images, and oral history alongside popular culture. Although there has been a determined growth in academic work on subcultures in history, sociology, criminology, English studies and beyond, PPB puts these alongside other forms of history work outside of the formal universities. We take the memories that people inherit, share and turn into stories as seriously as the academic theories around the politics of popular culture.
When we began the Brighton hub of Wellcome’s sexology and Song-writing project we imagined that the young women involved would undertake some sort of original research and then write songs about it. It quickly became clear that the young women participants and the youth work and music practitioners had some different priorities. The practitioners wanted to concentrate on building a secure and supportive environment in which to build a collective group identity, and the young women wanted to sing songs that they already knew and liked. The young sexology song-writers didn’t want to write songs. They wanted to cover and recover them. Once we recognised that the priorities of the practitioners and of the young women needed to be our priorities too, we moved towards their goals. We weren’t training them to be researchers. They were training us in their modes of re-enactment: an active and creative intervention in a cultural circuit that brought together the legitimacy of publicly celebrated singer-songwriters, with their own experiences and voices.
Good News! Chris Warne and I have been awarded one of 6 Technology Enhanced Learning Innovation Scheme awards at the University of Sussex. Our project is called DIY DIGITAL: Doing Punk Online. The award is attached to our shared third year special subject course Post-Punk Britain. The course is in its second year of delivery, and from the very first planning discussions that Chris and I had about setting up the course we wanted to explore free and open ways of taking the discussion out of the class room and really encouraging a DIY learning model.
I’ve been involved in the Brighton Hub of ‘Sexology and Songwriting’, a collaborative project that brings together academic researchers with songwriters and young people. The workshops are attached to to Wellcome Collection’s sexology exhibition and inspired by the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL III). We got some additional funding from the Amy Winehouse Foundation. The aim of the project is for the young people involved to become active researchers and song-writers, disseminating their research in the form of their own songs, performed locally and potentially included in recorded form at the Sexology exhibition in February 2015. The workshops are based at the Brighton Youth Centre and in the performances will be developed collaboration with Brighton Dome.
On Friday 8th November 2013 I introduced and chaired the ESRC Festival of Social Science sponsored event ‘What is Happiness?’ organised by Mass Observation at the Quadrant Pub, Brighton. On a rainy, dark, Friday evening four different academics sat in the pub to talk about how their work illuminated the idea of Happiness. The project’s resident blogger has responded to the overall session, and the discussion, but I thought I’d share part of the introductory talk I gave. After introducing the Observing the 80s project generally I talked about what I might have gathered about happiness from Observing the 80s, and why it has made me so happy to be involved.