This post has kindly been written for us by Dr Sian Barber, author of Using Film as a Source (MUP, 2015), the first in the IHR Research Guides Series.
What is the value of studying film? How can feature films tell us anything about the time in which they are made? Why do films look different in different periods? How do films address social issues? And how can film be used as a historical source?
These questions are central to anyone engaged in the study of film. However, film can be used in variety of different ways as part of research; not everyone uses film in the same way. The skills acquired in the fields of history, politics, English literature, sociology, cultural and media studies can all help to use film as ‘historical evidence,’ but the study of film is a discipline in its own right. Film cannot be treated simply as a historical source, but rather needs to be understood as a distinctive medium, possessed of complex visual and textual codes.
This work is intended to provide a starting point for those seeking to use film as part of research. It offers advice on research methods, film-specific theory and methodology and film-based analysis. It draws on the disparate yet frequently complementary disciplines of film and history to offer advice for students and researchers. It is deliberately intended to speak to the preoccupations of those engaged in the study of film, either at undergraduate or Masters levels, as well as those who want to use film as part of research in cognate disciplines such as social and cultural history, politics, modern languages and sociology.
This guide includes sections on working with different kinds of moving images, how to explore visual sources, how to undertake film-related research archival and how to use film theory. It addresses the complexities of studying moving image and the conventional problems associated with using films as sources, as well as broader issues related to film historiography and method. It also includes a number of detailed case studies of individual films. Everything included is intended to be an example of good research practice, whether it is conducting an interview, visiting an archive, undertaking textual analysis or defining a research question.
We’re gearing up for this year’s Oral History Spring School: a unique chance to spend three days getting stuck into some in-depth discussions about oral history.
We’re especially excited this year to have Professor Paul Thompson starting off with discussion of oral history worldwide, while other tutors and topics include Professor Joanna Bornat on analysis and reuse of oral history archives, and Professor Jenny Harding on emotion and intersubjectivity. For more information you can see the full programme which is now available here.
The three day course covers the theory and practice of oral history at an advanced level, and is aimed at students with some prior experience in recording and knowledge of oral history (excellent introduction courses are provided at the British library).
This is the fourth year the course has run, and we always learn something new and enjoy discussing everyone’s unique projects and experiences. Previous student comments include the following:
‘There was an enormous amount of fascinating discussion. I was particularly pleased to get a basic grounding in the theoretical developments and turns in oral history’.
‘There is a general lack of training related to using oral history in an academic context. This course was a very welcome development’.
The course has always recruited well so if you’re keen then we recommend booking up promptly to ensure a place. Hope to see you there!
This post has kindly been written for us by the course tutor, Dr Lynne Walker
Historical researchers are often drawn to material and visual culture but can feel out of their comfort zone when confronted with archives which include images and ‘things’ rather than written and printed texts alone. This course was designed to overcome these difficulties and provide tools for the location, selection and interpretation of visual sources. Central to the course is the consideration of visual sources as evidence in historical practice, featuring diverse media from cartoons to political portraits, in still and moving images, in print and online. It suggests ways in which understanding visual sources can enhance the study of modern history by posing new questions and suggesting new answers to thorny research issues with material unavailable elsewhere. Staff and students consider together issues such as the importance of not using images merely as illustrations of previously concluded arguments, and the necessity of placing images in context and in relation to documentary sources and other images. This critical, comparative approach to visual sources offers insights and in Burke’s phrase, ‘helps historians think creatively about the past’. Representation is presented as a key concept for understanding visual sources and moves the discussion from the image itself to its reception and the position of the viewer in the making of meaning, its analysis and interpretation.
The course is built around lectures, seminar discussion and visits to archives, museums and libraries. Students have the opportunity to talk in detail to archivists, librarians and curators about their own research needs and find out more about how particular libraries, museums and other archives may be useful to them. These visits also help familiarise students with institutions where research material is deposited and we have found over the years that this has a positive, demystifying effect, which builds confidence and promotes productivity.
An Introduction to Visual Sources for Historians takes the form of full-day sessions held over the course of five weeks (the first three sessions are on Tuesdays; the final two on Mondays). The sessions will normally start with a lecture, followed by a seminar discussion. After lunch each week, the group will visit a gallery or institution of relevance to the week’s topic. Individual attention is a hall mark of the course.
As memories of Christmas fade and you are left wondering how to fill the dark nights, there could not be a better time to distract yourself from the winter and to sharpen up your historical skills with the IHR’s exciting programme of research training!
Starting very soon is An Introduction to Oral History, the IHR’s long-running and very popular guide to undertaking historical research by interview. Taught in ten weekly sessions by Dr Anna Davin from the History Workshop, this is a comprehensive outline of how to set about oral history research for those just starting out: it covers both the nuts and bolts of recording methods and more complex questions of ethics, questionnaire composition and how to get the most from respondents. We only have a few places left, so do please hurry with your application.
For historians who want to use non-textual material but don’t know where to begin, our revised and re-vamped Visual Sources for Historians course is the answer. Each week for five weeks we shall explore a different theme: Local/Global; Visualising Britain and the Sea; Material Culture and the Spatial Turn; Historical Subjects; and History and the Media. The full-day sessions will consist of lectures, discussions and visits to museums, galleries and archives such as the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Museums, Greenwich and the National Portrait Gallery. Students will learn the questions to ask and the ways to interrogate visual culture in art, cartoons, film and architecture to bring them to bear upon historical analysis.
For those, on the other hand, who want to use the internet as a historical research tool, the one-day Internet for Historical Research workshop will provide you with all the knowledge and skills you require. Covering all aspects of deploying the net as a research tool, and including abundant advice on search strategies, this course will show how to find and use the abundance of primary and secondary source material now available online, as well as teaching how to use the net as a way to promote and archive your own work.
Lastly, starting in March as the weather warms up and hopeful thoughts of spring start to blossom, what could be more appropriate than the IHR’s course Historic Gardens: Research in Action? This is the perfect introduction to how to use archival research in restoring, conserving and managing historic gardens. Taught in eight weekly sessions, the course will be based on a mixture of classroom study and site visits, introducing students to the rich resources for the study of garden history in and around London and serving as an excellent taster for the IHR’s MA in Garden and Landscape History.
As the year draws to a close, we at the IHR are looking forward to January’s research training programme, starting almost as soon as term begins with Public Speaking for Historians. Run by Dr Eliza Filby from KCL and Charlotte Endcott, a professional actor, this extremely interactive one-day workshop will blend acting techniques with academic practice and show how to communicate confidently, concisely and effectively in lectures, conference presentations, job interviews and all the many other contexts in which we need to put our views across. When this course ran for the first time last year, participant feedback was the ecstatically enthusiastic we have ever received!
Starting soon afterwards is An Introduction to Oral History, the IHR’s long-running and very popular guide to undertaking historical research by interview. Taught in ten weekly sessions by Dr Anna Davin from the History Workshop, this is a comprehensive outline of how to set about oral history research for those just starting out: it covers both the nuts and bolts of recording methods and more complex questions of ethics, questionnaire composition and how to get the most from respondents.
We still have one or two places left on the next running of our flagship archival course, Methods & Sources for Historical Research, which will be happening from 26-30 January. This intensive course consists of a day of lectures on how to find and use primary source material in archives, museums and other repositories, followed by four days of visits, where students will learn about a wide range of archives and the opportunity to talk in detail to archivists and curators about their own research.
Dr Simon Trafford, head of research training at the IHR, in his natural environment
Training in research skills for young and aspiring researchers has been central to the IHR’s remit since its foundation in 1921. In recent years, the training programme has expanded and diversified, reflecting both a great broadening in the scope of historical enquiry and also the increasing prevalence of highly specialised approaches that require of their practitioners detailed technical knowledge or computing skills. In the 2014-15 programme, which has just been announced, we have courses covering every aspect of current historical practice, ranging from the very traditional skills of archival use and analysis of written sources through to the currently burgeoning area of historical GIS.
Taught by University of London historians and other expert practitioners from national institutions, the programme has been designed to help students to acquire all the techniques necessary to their research quickly and inexpensively. The Institute’s training will also be of interest to those already established in an academic career but wishing to acquire or renew skills in particular types of specialist analysis. New courses will be announced throughout the year, but please see here for a complete listing of the current programme.
As ever, there’s a packed and diverse programme of training events coming up at the IHR, and I thought I’d draw your attention to some of the highlights.
On 8 May the 2014 Spring School in Oral History, held in association with the Oral History Society, will be taking place at the IHR. As in previous years, there will be a wide-ranging programme covering the theory and practice of oral history in depth, and you can find more details and information on registering here.
If gardens are your thing, then you might be interested in Historic Gardens: Research in Action, which provides an introduction to how archival research findings on historic gardens can contribute to garden restoration, conservation and management. Taught on Tuesday mornings (11.00-13.00), this courseadopts a case-study approach to the exploration of these relationships through a combination of lectures, seminar-based discussions and site visits. See here for full details.
Another long-running and popular course is Explanatory Paradigms: An Introduction to Historical Theory, which starts on 14 May and aims to provide a critical introduction to some of the most influential frameworks of explanation in historical work today. Taught on Wednesday evenings (5.30-7.00) by Professor John Tosh, Dr John Seed and Professor Sally Alexander, Explanatory Paradigms will explore one explanatory approach each week in depth through a combination of a lecture and seminar discussion based on the students’ own reading. Register here.
Finally, our big event of the summer will be the Summer School in Local History 2014: Local History and Heritage, back for a third time after its extremely successful first two years. This year we shall take a theme of Local History and Heritage. The school will introduce you to the most up-to-date methods, sources and successful approaches to the subject through an exciting programme of lectures and workshops.. An illustrious team of experts from the National Archives, the London Metropolitan Archives, English Heritage, the History of Parliament, the Survey of London and the VCH, as well as from universities throughout the UK will explore the historical, archaeological, art historical and architectural evidence for British localities. The school is open to all those keen to expand or update their skills in local history research. Again, more details can be found here.
History Spot has been a much-used and well-liked tool in the two-and-a-half years of its existence and has provided access to training materials and hundreds of podcasts and seminars to thousands of researchers throughout the UK and the world. Now, though, it has outgrown the systems on which it was originally built and we are making some changes which will, we hope, make it easier to find and access the materials which up till now have been available on History Spot.
Everything which was formerly accessible via History Spot has been retained and will continue to be available to researchers, but different types of resource are now to be found in different ways:
1) IHR Podcasts have been merged into the main IHR website at history.ac.uk and can be located and downloaded for free and without registration via the Events menu (under Podcasts: or follow this link: http://www.history.ac.uk/podcasts).
2) Online Research Training Courses can be reached via the Research Training pages on the IHR website (http://www.history.ac.uk/research-training/online). To access chargeable courses an account is still necessary. All the old History Spot accounts have been retained and will function with the new system, but on the first occasion that they are used it will be necessary to reset the password by following the procedure for a forgotten password (to change your password straight away, use this link: http://training.historyspot.org.uk/login/forgot_password.php). All the free and non-chargeable online courses, however, can now be accessed without an account or password by using the Login as a Guest button.
We hope that this will not cause too much disruption and that with the new arrangements even more historians and researchers will be able to use the tools that we provide and that History Spot has helped to popularise.
The IHR is delighted to announce the launch of this new course, which provides an introduction to how archival research findings on historic gardens can contribute to garden restoration, conservation and management. Taught on Tuesday mornings (11.00-13.00), Historic Gardens: Research in Action adopts a case-study approach to the exploration of these relationships through a combination of lectures, seminar-based discussions and site visits.
Researching the history of a garden or landscape is an absorbing and exciting activity that draws together documentation, maps, paintings, horticulture and other information to tell the story of the garden’s development and the people involved in its creation. The results will be a well-referenced report that describes chronological design overlays and planting and may identify the garden as of significant historic interest. This short course takes researching a garden’s history a stage further by a consideration of how these findings can contribute to a garden’s restoration, conservation and management. It also provides a practical understanding of the range of methodologies currently employed in the identification, protection and care of historic parks and gardens in the UK.
Examination of these issues is made through case studies chosen as examples of gardens restored to different historic periods and under different types of ownership and management. Visits will be made to the seventeenth-century formal gardens at Ham House (National Trust), the eighteenth-century landscape garden at Painshill Park (Painshill Park Trust), and the early twentieth-century garden of plantsman E. A. Bowles at Myddelton House (Lee Valley Regional Park Authority). Sources of evidence for restoration and plans for garden management will be studied in both classroom sessions and with expert guides during site visits.
Each year the IHR runs a wide-ranging and extensive programme of training in skills for historical researchers from universities throughout the UK. Using a range of teaching approaches (workshops, seminars, lectures, hands-on practicals and visits), important and specialised skills are explained and explored by expert practitioners. Courses are short (from one day to one term), cover the whole range of necessary skills – from archival use and languages to databases and the internet – and are priced to be within the means of students.