n our first and second sessions we discussed what successful collaboration in historical research might involve. This session moves on to look at further examples of collaboration in practice, to see what we can learn from these projects. Significantly, the session also helps us to consider another key question for the Historians across Boundaries series – what impact can collaborative history projects have on individuals and diverse communities?
As part of the panel discussion Tanya Evans will talk about her collaborative work with family historians in Australia, Britain and Canada. Nick Barratt will speak about his projects in the UK. Mary Stewart will present on her oral history work at the British Library and Tim Compeau will discuss his collaborative work with family historians in Canada. This panel is organised in partnership with the International Federation of Public History as part of its Summer Series of Events.
Nick Barratt: Director of Learner and Discovery Services, the Open University, UK
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‘The Transformative Power of Family History and Personal Heritage’
Featuring case studies from the UK, this paper will explore the way in which family history, genealogy and personal heritage has the power to transform the lives of individuals and communities, when applied alongside other groups and disciplines. Far from being ‘self-indulgent navel gazing’, as one reviewed described the first series of the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are when it first screened in 2004, applied research into one’s background can provide a range of benefits – the inspiration for a new career, background information about one’s health, and a source of wellbeing, value and worth as we age. Of course, the research naturally moves into social, local, national and international history and brings in a range of techniques – archive and library research, oral history, even DNA sampling – so family historians are adept and skilled researchers of great interest and value to the academic community, not only in providing case studies and raw material but also in skills transfer and partners to co-design meaningful projects as part of the public history agenda.
Tanya Evans, Director of the Centre for Applied History, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
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‘Family history, community and collaborative history projects in international comparison’
Despite public history’s strong commitment to democratizing history and broadening history’s audiences, this work requires further analysis and development. Many public historians have successful track records of undertaking community and collaborative history projects with family historians, NGOs, businesses, museums, galleries and charities. It is vital that knowledge of this public history labour contributes to future scholarship. Public historians tend to shy away from critical analysis of community and collaborative projects because community work is more often celebrated rather than critiqued (Evans, 2019). This is partly due to lack of time but also because paid consultants do not want to rain on organisations’ ‘celebratory’ parades. Moreover, reflecting on the process of consultancy is never part of the project brief. This means that this vital form of scholarly and community labour goes unrecognised and unvalued as academic ‘work’. Tanya will talk about her experience of collaborating with family historians on various projects over the past 10 years in Britain and Australia. We need to turn this into scholarship so that it can be valued appropriately by the academy, organisations and ordinary people. This paper will discuss how knowledge of the process and outcomes of these community projects might contribute to international public history scholarship.
Tim Compeau Assistant Professor of History at Huron University College, University of Western Ontario, Canada
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‘Mapping the Loyalist Migrations: Descendant Communities and Public Historians in Collaboration’
Tim Compeau will share his experience developing Loyalist Migrations (loyalistmigrations.ca), a multi-year project that brings together students, historians, family researchers, and genealogists to plot and visualize the journeys of thousands of people who left the United States in the wake of the American Revolution. The project uses the extensive directory of loyalist migrants researched and maintained by members of the United Empire LoyalistAssociation of Canada (UELAC) (UELAC), a genealogical and descendant society dedicated to preserving Canada's loyalist history. The directory is an incredible resource of over 9000 families and is testament to the abilities of family historians and genealogists, and yet has gone unnoticed by professional historians. Compeau reflects on ways university-based researchers can develop fruitful and trusting partnerships with community groups to produce projects like LoyalistMigrations. This collaboration has the potential to make a lasting contribution to the public and academic understanding of the transnational legacy of the American Revolution.
Mary Stewart British Library: Curator of Oral History, British Library, UK
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Distant cousins, but somewhat estranged? Family interviews recorded by oral historians and by family researchers.
Oral historians ask detailed questions about the family lives of their interviewees, and in line with oral history best practice almost all of these interviews will be formally archived to be made publicly available now or in the future. Yet I’ve noticed reluctance from some fellow oral historians to interview their own family members. Almost all family historians seek information from family members to assist and inform their research, and often these encounters take the form of an interview. How many family historians are recording these interviews in audio or video, how are they used in research and where are they stored?
To inform this paper I intend to conduct a short series of qualitative interviews with a number of oral historians and family historians who have each recorded their own family oral histories. At the same time I will also be embarking on recording life story interviews with several of my own family members. I am interested in respondents’ perceptions of how their involvement in and knowledge of the interviewee’s life story affected the interview experience. Are there differences in how these two groups prepare for and experience the interviewing process and then reflect upon and use the material recorded? Did difficult stories surface in the recordings, or were some of these aspects hidden or purposefully avoided? How did the oral historians feel when conducting family interviews: they are almost ‘double’ insiders – possessing intimate knowledge both of the oral history process and also the stories discussed?
My perception is that there has been very little discussion about recorded family interviews between oral historians and family history researchers. In the spirit of #HistoriansCollaborate I hope to use these case studies to explore what oral historians can learn from family researchers about how to interrogate the lives of past generations through our interviews. What skills and practices can oral historians share with the family history community about how to record and preserve this recorded testimony? How can we promote further discussion between the two?
IHR Partnership Seminar Series: Historians across Boundaries: collaborative historical research