DHeritage Student Successes at History Department Annual Conference

DHeritage Student Successes at History Department Annual Conference

The DHeritage Programme at the University of Hertfordshire is now in its third year, with three cohorts of part-time students working in heritage roles professionally and working, too, on new research into heritage-related issues for their professional doctorates. Campus-based DHeritage students meets for four or five bespoke heritage workshops during each academic year, and in addition they are encourage to attend three residential programmes: the Spring and Summer Schools hosted by the Doctoral College's Researcher Development Programme, and the annual History Department conference held each year in February at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park. This year, DHeritage was very well represented at the conference and what follows gives a flavour of the proceedings.

Dorney Court at dusk, February 2017.

We began with a pre-conference tour of Dorney Court, kindly organised by third-year DHeritage student Helen Casey. Dorney Court is one of England's finest Tudor manor houses and remains in private ownership. Our tour guide explained the layers of history and material culture contained within this extraordinary family home and the problems of upkeep. The tour offered a special glimpse into an often hidden world and a life very different to that of most of us.

The academic sessions began with Prof John Styles' talk ‘Fashion to a Timetable: The Origins of the Modern Fashion System’. Prof Styles opened by noting that writing on fashion has proliferated as a result of Berg’s (now Bloomsbury's) publishing activity, and that much of this writing has focussed on identity. He traced this intellectual tendency back to the influence of Stephen Greenblatt’s book Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (1980). Identity is not the only lens through which to view fashion, however. Another way to think about the history of dress and textiles is as indicative of fashionable change based on innovation and trade in textiles. Fashionable change in western dress of the early modern period is perceived as being in contrast to a sense of staticity in the rest of the world. The amount of choice allowed even to poorer women is indicated by, for example, the c. 1000 printed cottons in the Foundling Hospital collection for the years 1758-9 alone. There were annual changes in woven silks in Lyon, c. 1700 and annualised fashion made timing crucial for sales success. In 1681, the directors of the East India Company were aware that European women would prefer to buy and wear inferior silks than last year’s silk, while making a single silk could take more than four months.

The annualised fashion cycle arose in the 17th century for three reasons:

  1. Mercantilism - Colbert promoted French manufacturing in three ways, including the removal of tax barriers, and capturing foreign markets with monopolies with the intention that Lyon would supplement Italy as the major fashion centre.

  2. Court Dress - Louis XIV's ceremonial approach to dress involved a court dress code, rituals such as the levee and the couchee, and an insistence that members of the court bought French goods. Staff who kept the King's wardrobe were interested in fashionable change because they sold the king's old clothes for personal profit.

  3. Magazines and the fashion press - It was expensive to print images, although they were the best medium for the dissemination of fashion.

Next, Dr Ceri Houlbrook presented her fascinating project 'Concealed Revealed: Material Objects Hidden in Walls':

A hidden shoe up a chimney breast. A mummified cat in the roof space. A child’s cap in a wall cavity. A horse skull under the floorboards. These are just some of the secret objects people have discovered when renovating their homes – undoubtedly quite surprising finds considering the odd (indeed, sometimes quite disturbing) nature of the objects, coupled with their unusual locations.

Read more about Ceri's research in her project blog:https://theconcealedrevealed.wordpress.com

Saturday morning began with two presentations, Emma Battell Lowman & Adam J Barker's 'Writing History in the Settler Colonial Present' and Paul Lynch, ‘Behind the Curtain: A Glimpse of Life in East Berlin.' Paul's talk ranged from details of the complex security of the Berlin Wall, to amazing archive of photographs taken by the Stasi so that after searching people's homes, they could put the things back in the same places and erase any evidence of their searches. Photographs in this archive include a Western coffee maker, which was at once grounds for suspicion and a source of refreshment, a US serviceman’s coat, posters of the pop star Madonna, and an unmade bed. Lynch also discussed the Oscar-winning 2006 film The Lives of Others, writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's story of Stasi officer Gerd Wiesler. 

The presentations continued with Simon Langsdale's 'St Albans is dying in a blaze': Bribery, Corruption, Theft and Embezzlement in a Hertfordshire Market Town 1835 - c.1853' and Bridget Long's, 'London Asylum for Girls (Asylum for Orphans and other Deserted Girls of the Poor) and their needlework training in the second half of the eighteenth century.' Long began with the observation that the weaver could weave thread faster than the spinner could spin. Spinning was therefore the biggest occupation for women in early modern England, occupying 1.5 million women. Impoverished girls taken in by the Foundling Hospital were taught to spin, while their male counterparts were sent off to the Navy. Economic historians have had difficulty quantifying the amount that spinners spun, and we don’t know how well they were paid. Trimmer, writing on the 'oeconomy of charity' had a school of industry in which industry meant spinning.

The Spinstress, 1782-6, by George Romney, of Emma Hart, later Lady Hamilton, Lady Nelson

Saturday afternoon saw two DHeritage sessions punctuated by Dr Friedrich (Rudi) Newman's talk '"Hoy, Hoy, Where are you coming to?" – The Great Thames Disasters', in which he shared research which forms a chapter of his new book and made the audience concerned about the safety of their own excursions on the water!  

Memorial card for the Princess Alice which sank near Woolwich, September 3rd, 1878

Four DHeritage students presented their doctoral research in the final panel of the day: first years Sarah Buckingham and Janine Marriott, second year student Charlotte Reynolds, and Helen Casey, who is in her third part-time year of study.  

DHeritage students (L-R) Charlotte Reynolds, Helen Casey, Janine Marriott and Sarah Buckingham

In her presentation, 'Public Engagement with and attitudes to sites of memorial, death and remembrance. A toolkit for Public Engagement' Janine Marriott explained how sites of burial, memorialisation and remembrance have long been associated with learning and public engagement, from the Victorian Garden Cemetery and its ‘improving influence’ through to modern day visits to battlefields for enthusiasts, or school trips to Auschwitz for study of world history. Although increasingly popular and acceptable heritage destinations, such sites are not always included when research is undertaken or studies are published in the heritage field. These sites are not traditional heritage venues like stately homes, museums, galleries or archives but often comprise elements of these and heritage models can be partially applied to them. Increasingly sites of remembrance such as cemeteries, battlefields, prisons, former concentration camps, or even places where an event like the September 11th attacks occurred, are becoming firmly established as part of the heritage landscape.

Janine's study of a range of memorialisation sites seeks to gather together the different ways that people learn and experience these sites and how they interact with what can be extremely challenging and provoking places. Such places are often labelled ‘Dark Tourism’ or ‘challenging history’ because death is a major theme and is regarded as taboo. Among specific heritage communities there is, therefore, a growing array of experience and learning, but no pooled body of knowledge. Janine will explore a number of case studies, and produce resources and research that can be used to advise and support such venues when engaging the public.

Sarah Buckingham asked 'How might the major crisis for heritage in Syria prompt a reconsideration of both our principles and practical approaches for major interventions to rehabilitate heritage sites in response to war, natural disaster or following extensive abandonment or dereliction?' The question is posed with particular reference to the involvement of traditional trades and crafts in rehabilitation works, and how that might affect concepts of authenticity and integrity. The debate prompted by the destruction of major monuments and world heritage sites in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East by the “Islamic State” or as a by-product of conflict has the potential to prompt a significant reconsideration of contemporary approaches to heritage and its conservation, raising questions as it does particularly about the concept of 'authenticity', and how that influences its treatment. Questions of whether to reconstruct destroyed or partially destroyed sites rest heavily on the issue of authenticity – that is, it is implied, the importance of largely or wholly original fabric in something like its original disposition. Where sites have been blow up and cleared by bulldozer, the argument goes, authenticity can lie only in the fragmented remains. Many historic buildings and places, including key archaeological sites in Syria, have often been the subject of considerable interventions both historically and in the more recent past and the apparent authenticity may be in part illusory – this is not always factored into this argument.

Helen Casey's research explored 'Digital decisions – lessons from the recent past about using the technology of the future'. Around 2000, Helen told us, heritage writers made predictions, positive and negative, about the digital future. Some argued that heritage would be democratised through access to all. Others despaired that we are creating a digital black hole into which all of our data will disappear. Gordon Reid's article 'The Digitisation of Heritage Material' (2000) is apposite here. Writers compare the advent of the internet with that of the printing press. Helen reviewed the ideas of Peter Haddad, director of the technical service branch of the national library of Australia (2001), Ross Parry's 'Recoding the Museum: Digital Heritage and the Technologies of Change' (2007) and Dr Ruth Taylor of the National Trust, writing in Alison Hems and Marion R. Blockley's edited collection Heritage Interpretation (2006). Helen has a raft of questions about digitisation: Have people cooperated or worked in their own silos? What has ended up online – democratisation or black hole? What about interpretation, what information surrounds the digital objects? Are virtual visitors the same as real ones when museums still need footfall. Factors determining digitisation include cost, time, expertise, fear of obsolescence, etc. She plans a series of semi-structured interviews with heritage professionals and her method will blend grounded theory with narrative analysis, and policy analysis.

This panel closed with a presentation by Professor Rebecca Houze, TVAD Research Group Visiting Researcher for 2016-17. Prof Houze shared her research into the US National Parks Service. This project examines the European origins of the US National Park Service Rustic buildings within a broader context of industrialization and travel, looking specifically at the transatlantic relationship between Europe and North America that developed in the nineteenth century. It takes as its model and point of departure art critic Rosalind Krauss’s influential 1979 essay, 'Sculpture in the Expanded Field,' which seeks to understand Earthworks, such as the large-scale environmental projects by Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, and others during that period, as a new form of sculpture. Likewise we may think of the lodges, camps, train depots, trails, roads, gateway entrances, and other structures in the United States National Park Service Rustic Style, built between the period of the turn-of-the century lodges and the modernizing upgrades of the Mission 66 program after World War II, collectively as an 'open air museum.' The key characteristics of the open air museum are its self-conscious situation and dramatic presentation in the landscape in the form of architecture and staging of transportation routes; its deliberate juxtaposition of primitive with civilized, above all, through the evoking of a lost or disappearing indigenous past, signified by native flora, fauna, and peoples; and in the US context, its didactic, mythologized narrative of American national identity by constructing and dramatizing the landscape as antiquity and place of origin.

Prof Rebecca Houze discussing the visual presentation of the US National Parks

The project identifies common structural features of the open-air museum, particularly in its manifestation as National Park in the United States. It begins with a meditation on lodges and camps as places to stay within the parks, and their broader relationship to other dwelling types, including the log cabin, rural farmhouse, and tent. The best-known rustic lodges were developed after the prominence of grand resort hotels in the last part of the nineteenth century, many of which were modelled on aristocratic Victorian prototypes. The early twentieth-century examples, by contrast, incorporated native building materials, and forms appropriate to the cultural and climatic traditions of the regions that they represented. The lodges of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Mt. Rainier, and the Grand Canyon explore a new American architecture with roots in the Shingle and Stick Styles, as well as the British Arts and Crafts tradition. These modes are related both to a nostalgia for the log cabin, associated with the self-sufficiency of the pioneer against hostile nature, as well as with the moral and intellectual achievements in American political life, as in the case of President Abraham Lincoln’s own humble beginnings in his childhood log cabin. While connected to the log cabin on the American side of the Atlantic, the lodges also draw upon romantic European perceptions of the wooden farmhouse, and in particular the Scandinavian and Alpine chalet, which had been popularized as a charming, fanciful form of building in both Europe and North America for much of the nineteenth century. This association, easily seen in the many treatises on landscape architecture and domestic dwellings published during that period by Andrew Jackson Downing and Henry Hubbard, is complicated by the fact of European immigrant carpenters who were employed to construct and furnish the new lodges in the park, suggesting possibly closer connections between the European and American structures. Much less is known about the workers themselves than the architects who designed and concession companies who financed these buildings.

The day ended with a screening of Tim Slade's powerful film The Destruction of Memory (2016), introduced by Sarah Buckingham, who also chaired a group discussion afterwards. The film includes interviews with the Director-General of UNESCO, the Prosecutor of the ICC, and international experts across various disciplines. The following group discussion centred on what is worth saving, hierarchies of value, and authenticity and inauthenticity in reconstruction processes.

Robert Bevan in The Destruction of Heritage, dir. Tim Slade

On Sunday morning some members of the group attended services at the Royal Chapel in the grounds of nearby Royal Lodge while others participated in a practical workshop on writing and publishing academic articles followed by a postgraduate student talk on completing and submitting your thesis. In the final session we played the 'impact game' which encouraged us to think about new ways to engage different audiences with our research. 

DHeritage staff and students closed the weekend with a short walk around the Cow Pond, and looked ahead to next year. The History Department conference this year saw a wealth of information shared about material culture, not only in the papers presented by DHeritage students and by Prof Rebecca Houze for TVAD, but also by the members of the History Dept. who are not directly involved with the DHeritage Programme. The material turn is apparently in full effect at the University of Hertfordshire!

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