Last Saturday (28 January 2017) I attended the Nineteenth Century Matters: Public Engagement Training Day at Chawton House Library. The event was expertly organised by Catherine Paula Han and it was sponsored by the British Association for Romantic Studies and the British Association for Victorian Studies.
Despite living fairly close by, I had never visited Chawton before. The village itself is the home of the Jane Austen House Museum, and Chawton House Library was once the home of Austen’s brother, Edward. Although I didn’t get the chance to look around all of the library, it was undoubtedly a beautiful setting for the event. Since my major research area is kitchens, I took a sneaky pic of the Old Kitchen.
The event itself was for postgraduates and early career researchers working on the nineteenth century, and who were interested in turning their research into public engagement projects. The day ran from 10:00 to 3:45, and included talks and workshop sessions. Every talk was fabulous- all the speakers were really lively and engaging and I think I took something from every talk. The talks were:
- Mark Llewellyn, Director of Research at the Arts and Humanities Council, who delivered a fascinating account of his time living at St Deiniol’s Library (now Gladstone’s library).
- Claire Wood, from the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, who spoke about ‘The Three P’s of Public Engagement’ (Purpose-People-Process). I was previously unaware that there was a National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, and I have since visited their website which is tremendously useful.
- Gillian Dow, Executive Director of Chawton House Library and the University of Southampton, who spoke on ‘Jane Austen’s Lost Preface: The Danger of Public Engagement’.Dow’s talk was excellent and pointed out some of the perils of public engagement projects, including misreporting by the press.
- Mary Guyatt, Curator of Jane Austen’s House Museum, who spoke about collaborations between museums and universities. Guyatt made the interesting point that one of the dangers of public engagement is assuming that ‘the public’ are other people like ‘us’ (academics). Definitely something to think about!
- Holly Furneaux, Research Ambassador for the National Army Museum and Professor in English Literature, Cardiff University, who spoke about her projects on military men in the crimean war, and Dickens studies. Furneaux pointed out that the REF Impact Case Studies can be read online. I had no idea. I’m sure they’ll be a useful resource in the future
Perhaps the most valuable session of the day was the workshop sessions. In small groups of 5, led by one of the event organisers/speakers, we were given the opportunity to share our ideas for public engagement. We then each gave feedback- questions, or suggestions- on each other’s proposed projects. I found the feedback incredibly useful, and it was great to hear about everyone’s project ideas. My own proposed idea for a public engagement project is to run workshops on the history of housework, which is a major topic of my thesis. Participants could handle domestic technologies and equipment from the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Having now had feedback on this idea, and learnt a lot throughout the day, I now feel much more confident in developing this project and implementing it in the future.
Overall, this was a terrific event that I am very grateful to have attended. As a PhD student, I am always keen to take part in events that offer the opportunity to gain skills that are often outside the formal PhD programme.