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.
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.
Doctoral researcher Laura Cofield and I have just returned from a research trip to New York in order to scope the Riot Grrrl Archive in the Fales Library. There are hundreds of different zines in the archive across 18 individual collections that cover the years 1974-2003. The trip was funded by the Santander Mobility Fund and set up by Simone Robinson, Tracey Wallace and Paul Roberts from the Doctoral School at Sussex.
Laura’s in the first year of her doctoral research looking at the c20th and c21st history of pubic hair removal as a way into women’s experience of their bodies and the relationship between pornography and feminism. Laura and I were totally inspired by our visit. Everyone was incredibly helpful, going out of their way to help us, from Anthony on the desk at Gem hotel Soho who filled us in on a quick history of the queer politics of Wonder Woman, to Campbell the security guard at Fales who not only recommended where we should get lunch, he rang ahead and made sure we would get in, to Marvin Taylor the Fales Archivist who shared his prize acquisition of a set of homoerotic photographs from 1905 with us. But to top it all off Steve Haugh was our Angel of New York and toured us round Manhattan in his beautiful Jag.