Centre

Centre for Public History

Part of Department of History

Essex students making their mark on the Berlin Wall, 1989

Since its inception in 1972, the department has been committed to reaching out beyond academic conventions. We created the Centre for Public History to act as a forum for research and teaching concerned with the place of history in public life and as a hub for our impact and outreach activities.

As historians committed to public engagement, we explore the rich and diverse ways history is represented and debated 'in public', from the museums, archives and heritage sector to the arts, education, government, business and tourism – in the UK and globally. We aim to offer creative answers to the question of how we can communicate history through different media, from film to digital mapping, to dramatic re-interpretation of historical events.

We are ambitious for our Centre for Public History. Building on the success of the impact case-studies we submitted for REF2014, we are actively broadening and deepening the possibilities for co-producing history with a range of partners and audiences, including schools museums, businesses, and local community groups.

We also continue the work pioneered by the Centre for Local and Regional History, building relationships with communities and organisations in Colchester, Essex and East Anglia through lectures, student placements and public engagement projects; our showcase event is the annual Dudley White Local History Lecture (founded by bequest in 1993).

We enjoy close links with the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford and, through our Community Fellows, with the Victoria County History of Essex, Colchester Archaeological Trust, and Colchester Recalled oral history project. Special Collections in our University Library include the Essex Society for Archaeology and History library, and oral history interviews deposited in the Hervey Benham Sound Archive. 

 

Julie Miller
Rare book gives new insight into Elizabeth Fry's connections to Essex

A rare first edition book, written and signed by renowned Victorian prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, has been uncovered by a history student while she was on placement at the Essex Record Office.

Read Julie Miller's story

Undergraduate and postgraduate education

We embed our commitment to public history in our curriculum. We offer our undergraduate students the option of producing a public history output (alongside a research report) instead of a dissertation-style capstone research project in their final year of study. Recent public history projects have included a podcast on America’s relationship with Cuba; a digital map tracing the journeys of the East Anglian witch-finders in 1645-7; a ballad written about the life of an Essex farm labourer executed for arson in 1830, and a piece of creative writing exploring 18th-century paternal responses to bereavement.

We build relationships with communities and organisations in Colchester, Essex and East Anglia through student placements and public engagement projects. Our MA students can apply for co-funded placements at the Essex Record Office or with a local organisation or community group for their dissertation projects. Read Julie Miller's story to learn about her MA placement at the Essex Record Office. 

 

Explore history degrees

Working with schools: The Dora Love Prize

Each year, schools from Essex and Suffolk come together for the Dora Love Prize, which is presented during the University of Essex's annual Holocaust Memorial Week. Dora Love was a Holocaust survivor, who spent much of her life raising awareness that the attitudes to which made the Holocaust possible, are still prevalent in today's society. The prize goes to the project which expresses best that which was most important to Dora Love: speaking up against hatred wherever it occurs, never forgetting the ultimate consequence of seemingly small acts of discrimination and developing a sense of personal responsibility.

 

Learn more about the Dora Love prize

Events

The Department of History holds regular events throughout the year. These include speaker series and seminars, which we contribute to. In addition to public history events that take place in our departmental seminar series, we have an annual In Conversation event, in which we talk to a major public history figure about the importance of history to 21st-century life. Our showcase event related to local and regional histories is the annual Dudley White Local History Lecture (founded by bequest in 1993).

 

Explore events in the Department of History
Olivia Smith giving a reading at the Thiepval Memorial
The stories behind the graves

History student Olivia remembers the fallen. She gave Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron a tour of the Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme, where she’s been working as a CWGC intern helping keep the memory of those who died in the First World War alive.

Read more

Research projects

I-CEM

Funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) project was a three-year programme which produced a standardised, integrated dataset of most of the censuses of Great Britain for the period 1851 to 1911. The dataset is available at the UK Data Archive.

 

Learn more about the project

A Peril of the Sea: Using drama to explore black history

After years of research into the Zong massacre of 1781, Dr Jeremy Krikler brought his insights into one of the most infamous atrocities of the Atlantic slave-trade to a wider public by writing a play about them. The play, A Peril of the Sea, was shown at both the Lakeside Theatre and the Bloomsbury Studio and has also been published by Methuen. Dr Krikler is working with school teachers locally and nationally to develop ways in which to use the play to improve the teaching of the history of slavery in British schools.

Body Games: A documentary about the Angolan roots of capoeira

The documentary Body Games - Capoeira and Ancestry is one of the major outcomes of The Angolan Roots of Capoeira: Transatlantic Links of a Globalised Performing Art, a research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council from 2010-2013. In the project, which included extensive fieldwork in Angola, Professor Matthias Röhrig Assunção traced the roots of the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira to the combat games, dances and musical instruments of Southern Angola.

The film is co-directed by Richard Pakleppa, Professor Matthias Röhrig Assunção and Brazilian capoeira master Cobra Mansa, and follows Cobra Mansa on travels through Angola and Brazil in search of the historical roots of his art. The film had its world premiere at the Zanzibar International Film Festival in Tanzania, in June 2014. It has since won several prizes and been seen by thousands of people across the world, communicating a new understanding of capoeira’s history to large global audiences. For more information about the film, and information about how to watch it, visit the website.

Essex County Hospital Remembered

The Essex County Hospital Remembered project aimed to help preserve the history of this popular Colchester hospital by documenting it's story in the NHS era of 1948 to the present day.

 

Learn more about the project

Sloane Letters

The Sloane Letters project is a project to catalogue in depth, and eventually transcribe, the contents of Sir Hans Sloane’s correspondence.

 

Learn more about the project