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Public History

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Public History

  • Option 1 year full time or 2 years part time
  • Year of entry 2021
  • Campus Egham

The course

Royal Holloway’s MA in Public History is the longest-running and most well-established programme of its kind in the United Kingdom. The module attracts applicants from across the world and Royal Holloway is one of the leading centres for public history in Europe. The wider Department of History, which forms part of Royal Holloway’s School of Humanities, is also one of the most innovative, diverse and widely recognised departments in the country. Our faculty members regularly appear on television, radio and in the popular print media. Other staff are engaged in community-based projects and research that make important contributions to policy development and national debates.

This module offers a unique qualification for those wishing to pursue a career in public history, working in the heritage sector, in broadcasting or in film, in museum or in journalism. Through a variety of highly engaging modules, students are trained in the professional skills of historical interpretation and communication and provided with opportunities to meet leading practitioners in the field, popular historians, museum curators, public archivists, publishers and TV and radio producers. The MA thus provides an engaging combination of practical and theoretical learning for historians who are keen to communicate with a wide public audience and offers students a unique gateway to the heritage sector and to the world of popular media,

We offer a wide range of postgraduate scholarships to help with funding your studies. We especially encourage eligible applicants to apply for one of the following:

Brian Harris scholarship – full tuition fee reduction plus £14,800 research, living and travel costs for UK students with, or expected to achieve, a First Class degree.

Dinah and Jessica Nichols scholarship – £12,000 scholarship for Home/EU or international students with, or expected to achieve, a First Class degree or equivalent.

Core Modules

  • This module introduces students to ideas about, and approaches to, public history in Britain and the wider world, with the seminars providing a weekly forum for students to learn about and discuss the rich variety of ways in which historians engage public interest in the past. Students are encouraged to explore the history of public history and heritage and to understand that the representation of ‘the past’ has often been, and continues to be, contested and exploited for political, commercial and community ends.

    Over the module of two terms, students acquire a repertoire of skills and approaches (combined with the development of advanced skills in the researching and writing of history) to enable them to act as effective and engaging public historians. These include knowledge about ethical and legal matters, strategic planning and development, as well as awareness of a range of issues that arise when working with local communities, conducting audience/visitor surveys and evaluations, exhibition planning and development, collection conservation, and education techniques for working in informal public spaces. The successful communication of ideas about the past, as well as what to avoid when communicating, are key, overarching themes of the module.

  • Radio broadcasting has a long and distinguished tradition of public history programming and innovation. This module seeks to equip students with a practical skillset and to offer you industry insights that will enable you to produce radio programmes that are informative and accurate, but also entertaining and engaging. Over the course of an intensively-taught series of seminars, you will learn how to devise, research, record, structure, edit and present radio programmes to professional broadcasting standard. Importantly, the very transferable skills you’ll acquire on this module can be used to create a wide range of other aural and audio projects.

    In order to explore fully the range of possibilities available students are taught the necessary basics of sound recording, from types and use of microphones to various different kinds of recording equipment and editing suites. You’ll also learn the technological side of interviewing techniques, before progressing on to the techniques of finding and interviewing interesting and relevant contributors to obtain the right kind of material to use in a radio programme. As part of this module you will work in pairs to produce a five-minute audio guide on some aspect of the history of the College. The major piece of assessment, which is completed after the end of the module, will be to create a half-hour radio documentary. No previous knowledge or expertise of recording or editing is required and students often really enjoy this highly practical component of the MA in Public History course.

  • This module aims to introduce students to the theory and practice of oral history in the wider context of public history. Throughout the module we will examine the challenges and opportunities of employing oral history in a range of public history settings, including museums, the web, film & television, and community histories. Beginning with an exploration of the development of oral history as a rigorous academic field with strong grassroots and community-led foundations, we will go on to discover the ways in which oral history and public history have developed together as potentially radical ways in which to ‘do’ history. The module aims to provide students with the skills necessary to conduct and record an audio oral history interview to current broadcast and archive standards. Each student will undertake an oral history interview as part of a class project, with the completed interviews being deposited in the RHUL Archive.

  • In this module you will develop an understanding of the range, scope and access to physical and digital archives, museums and resources. You will learn how to evaluate and interpret documents, recordings and artefacts; how to construct a convincing historical narrative; and how to effectively communicate your findings in print, oral and digital formats. You will interpret a variety of evidence including manuscript and printed texts, oral testimony, film and photography, and material objects, as well as look at some key interpretative methods such as oral and digital history. You will learn from members of staff who are experts in their fields and from visiting speakers who are specialists and practitioners, examining a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to historical interpretation and its communication to academic and public audiences.

  • This module looks at history from the point of view of its practitioners. It approaches historians as academic researchers but also as social actors and cultural brokers both in dialogue with the past, but also part of the societies they inhabit. The module centres around a set of key questions that drive historical research as well as historiographical debate today. How do historians think and write about the past? Do they have a role to play in our globalized and very much present-minded world? And how has "history" become part of contemporary debates on identity politics, post-truth and the digital divide? To answer these questions, the module critically interrogates history’s ambivalent position between art and social science and asks how historical concepts and historical research practices intersect with methods of communicating the past to an academic and wider audience.

  • In lieu a conventional academic thesis, all students are required to design and create a project through which they communicate with the public about the past in a meaningful and engaging fashion. The project can take the form of an exhibition, a teaching resource, a website, a podcast, a documentary, a play, or indeed any substantial output through which the author conveys ideas about the past to a wider public. This can focus on any historical period or theme, and, over the years, students have truly excelled when engaging with the final project and produced some extraordinarily creative and professional pieces of work.

Optional Modules

All modules are core

In addition to working towards producing their final project in the second half of the year, full-time MA students are required to take a two-term core module (Pathways to the Past), a radio, podcast and social media communications module, an innovative oral history module and two more conventionally historiographical one-term modules.

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