Doing Public History in Lockdown and Beyond

Monday 7th September 2020, 9.15am-1pm, online

Registration essential. To register email Katy at

Organised by Heather Shore (MCPHH), Craig Griffiths (MCPHH and RSHC), Julia Laite (RSHC), Nadia Valman (RSHC) and Rob Waters (RSHC)


9.15 – 9.25am   Introduction

Heather Shore, Director MCPHH and Julia Laite, Co-Director RSHC

9.25 – 10.10  Public History, Historians and the Community – the Impact of Lockdown

Karen Shannon (Manchester Histories): Lockdown has meant shifting a lot of what we do in terms of public engagement into the digital realm. On 5/6 September, Manchester Histories will have delivered its first ever DigiFest 2020, marking and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act and Disabled People’s Rights, with a live online broadcast of films, art, discussions, music, performance and more. This talk will outline some of the findings, challenges and lessons learnt of this move into digital public programming of a histories festival alongside communities and partners.

Melanie Tebbutt (MCPHH): Covid-19 upended our Manchester-based community engagement project, Returning Home, which had been exploring the histories of ‘delicate’ children, who were sent away in 1948 to stay with Swiss foster families for three months to improve their health. This talk complements Karen Shannon’s, by discussing how the project’s dynamic changed when it was forced online. It considers how the slow working of lockdown nuanced how participants were willing to talk about their childhood experiences, and reflects on the value of personal stories in connecting the generations at a time of social isolation.

10.10 – 10.25    Virtual coffee break

10.25 – 11.10    Public History and Public Archives during the Lockdown

Guy Beckett (History Acts, RSHC, and Birkbeck, University of London)

 Robert Jones and Richard Wiltshire (Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives): Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives is creating a lasting collective memory of the community’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. This session outlines the project aims, online submission and volunteer aspects of the project, image highlights from the new archive and obstacles and pitfalls encountered along the way.

 11.10 – 11.15    Comfort break

11.15 – 11.45    Public Archaeology and Heritage Practice

Ben Edwards and Seren Griffiths (MCPHH): Public archaeology is a form of public heritage discourse that has the broad scope of practice and scholarship where archaeology meets the world; negotiated, contested, ethical, and diverse, but work that makes explicit reference to the context of practice. In the context of lockdown, digital technologies provided key means to undertake some form of public archaeology practice. This session will explore the Bryn Celli Ddu Minecraft Experience, which was built in the context of lockdown, but which also reflects key values in public heritage practice; public archaeology as responsive practice, built on relationships, and at the same time creative and fun.

11.45 – 12.00    Virtual coffee break

12.00 – 12.45    Public History at the Margins: Black History and Queer History in Lockdown

Rob Waters (RSHC and Queen Mary, University of London): Just as the resurgence of Black Lives Matter has pushed black history further up the public agenda, the lockdown and the anticipated recession make the possibilities of working in this underfunded, marginalised field still harder. The institutions for black public history are within and part of the communities most affected by Covid-19. These are the challenges that a post-Covid black public history agenda must confront.

Justin Bengry (RSHC and Goldsmiths, University of London): Queer History has long been invigorated by community voices and public history collaborations. Covid-19 has paused many of those projects, but it also reminds us that even before the current pandemic LGBTQ+ people faced other crises of health as well as physical and legal safety. Then as now, public and community history offers new ways to build community and resilience in the face of these adversities.


12.45 – 1.00  Final discussion

This is a joint event organised by the Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage (MCPHH, at Manchester Metropolitan University) and the Raphael Samuel History Centre (RSHC at Birkbeck and Queen Mary, University of London)

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