Postgraduates from across the North West of England and beyond gathered at the University of Manchester on 1st November for ‘Beyond History’, the latest event organised by History Lab North West. This interdisciplinary workshop was intended as a platform for researchers to explore, in a friendly and supportive environment, the benefits and challenges of working across and between different disciplines. The event attracted twenty postgraduates from fields such as Screen Studies, English, Sociology and Middle Eastern Studies as well as History.
To open the workshop, a roundtable of Manchester historians served up conceptual food for thought for the day ahead and sparked some lively discussion. Sarah Wood interrogated ways in which historians become ‘disciplined’ in the first place, and Paula Chorlton narrated her own experiences as a historian engaging with the wider humanities to argue for the importance of reflexivity in interdisciplinary research. Ed Owens offered an illustrated discussion of how mixed methods inform his work on media and monarchy. The first panel brought together two researchers in language-based area studies whose work broaches the politics of history. Ellen Crabtree from the University of Newcastle reflected upon her approach to researching the politically-engaged French historian Madeleine Rebérioux, and the methodological issues raised by working on this topic as a historian in a French department. Roman Vater presented the fascinating case of warring historiographies surrounding the “Young Hebrews” and the implications of historical ideologies for imaginings of Israel past, present and future.
After a hearty lunch courtesy of artsmethods@manchester, we reconvened for a panel exploring interdisciplinarity ‘in practice’. Jenni Hyde turned what could have been the difficult post-lunch slot into a vital, convincing and very tuneful argument for the centrality of musical understanding to historical research on Tudor ballads. In a subtle and beautifully-argued paper, Rosy Rickett made oral history, material culture and literature converge to powerful effect as she discussed how they informed her theoretical approach to work on Spanish exiles. Ben Knowles explained his approach to filmmaking as a method of historical research, demonstrating his work on a Second World War re-enactment group with filmed re-creations of everyday life (and ensuring in the process that those present would never take their washing machines for granted again).
Our final panel examined the potential for ‘impact’ of interdisciplinary work. Rich Thomas of Manchester Metropolitan University gave a lively presentation of his foray into the digital humanities in the form of his ongoing edition of Mandeville, a previously-unpublished work of historical literature by well-connected gothic novelist William Godwin. Jessica Field of Manchester’s Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute grappled with the ‘inter’- as opposed to the ‘cross’-, ‘trans’- and ‘multi’-disciplinary, as well as with how, despite the ubiquitousness of interdisciplinary work, it is often ill catered-for within institutional structures. Her reflexive paper neatly reviewed many of the issues raised at the start of the day and sent us into the Ducie Arms with much to talk about.
History Lab North West thanks all participants in the workshop for their contributions, and for the convivial atmosphere which characterised the day. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Royal Historical Society and of artsmethods@manchester. As ever, we encourage postgraduates interested in joining the HLNW committee to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or to make contact on Twitter @HistLabNW. Details of our next event, a one-day workshop to be held at the University of Liverpool, will be available soon.