Six short months into our three year Citizens project here at Royal Holloway, University of London, and much has been already been achieved. We have filmed most of the content for our Women’s Suffrage MOOC with the UK Parliament and our first batch of school resources, hosted our first of three Festivals of History, appointed four paid project interns, have over 30 U3A volunteers actively researching local stories for the website and have finished our first digital resource for one of our museum partners: an animated short film on the 1217 Battle of Sandwich for the Guildhall Museum in Sandwich, Kent.
Let’s start with the MOOC – a massively open online course. We’re still trying to pin down a title for this. We thought we were close with ‘To the Ballot and Beyond’ until Steven, one our Project Officers, pointed out it sounded too ‘Buzz Lightyear’. I’m still not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. The process of creating the MOOC has been tremendously rewarding – if sometimes exhausting, involving on one day a 5am start to get to Westminster Hall to start filming at 7am. Filming at Parliament has certainly been a highlight of the project so far, largely thanks to the all the help and support we received from Claire Bogue in the Education Service team and Mari Takayanagi, a senior archivist in the Parliamentary Archives. Not only did we get to film in some amazing locations but we also met the ‘Mother of the House’, the longest continuously serving female MP, Harriet Harmen; interviewed a host of other MPs; and got to see the working bill of what became the 1918 Representation of the People Act.
More recently, yesterday in fact, we visited The National Archives to film with Diverse Histories Specialist Vicky Iglikowski and later in the autumn we plan to film at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. Charting the struggle for women’s rights from the first mass petition calling for women’s suffrage in 1866 to the 2017 Women’s March, the MOOC, which will be free via FutureLearn in February 2018, will be an online course you’ll not want to miss.
Turning to our school resources, after testing some new approaches in the Spring with our Peterloo, ‘Magna Carta in a Minute’ and Feudalism videos, we are now settling into our house style. As a result we will be able to launch in September, as planned, a batch of new videos on Magna Carta, Simon de Montfort and the Peasants’ Revolt (or as you’ll soon be referring to it after watching Claire’s video on the subject – the Great Revolt). As you’ll see in these videos, instead of trying to cover the whole of one of these topics in a single video we’re breaking them up into key questions and exploring key events, figures and movements. We’ve also settled on an animation style for these shorter videos that we think you’ll agree is very effective. The plan is to upload these resources not just to our own YouTube channel and this website but to share them more widely via the Historical Association and the TES online resources website.
We’ve also made great progress with our Citizenship themed workshops, exploring the history of protest; parliamentary sovereignty; and human rights. Working with our partners at Cumberland Lodge and the National Justice Museum we aim to have workshops ready to deliver from late September onward and plan to deliver a series of four workshops to the entire Year 10 cohort at Magna Carta School in Staines in the Spring (that’s thirty-two sessions in four weeks!). We’ll be posting more about these workshops later in the year.
Another highlight of the project so far was our first Festival of History, held in the North Quad of our Grade 1 listed Founder’s Building on Sunday 4th June. With reenactment societies captivating audiences with medieval swordsmanship, pike drills from the time of the Civil War and redcoat musketry; a range of historical plays; talks; music and more, the Festival was a great success. You don’t need to take my word for it though – do take a look at the highlights video on our YouTube channel.
Thankfully we’re not doing all this work alone. The project is greatly aided by the help of our four excellent interns. Chloe Bowerbank is working with the Parliamentary Archives to identify documents we should feature in the project; Abbie Evans is working with the South East Museum Development team to promote our work with museums; Emily Pugh is leading on the creation of our pop-up exhibition for Guildford Museum; and Katie Carpenter has been reviewing material for the MOOC and school resources at the Women’s Library (based in the LSE Library).
In addition to our interns we are also supported by a growing number of project volunteers. While some of these are students here at Royal Holloway the majority are currently U3A researchers based across the South East and London. We published the first article based on a U3A volunteer’s research, Tony Twigger on the Charterville Allotments, just a couple of weeks ago and we have many more submissions being reviewed and edited currently. The range of topics our U3A researchers have been researching and are now writing about is staggering. Rather than list them here you can read the full and growing list on the U3A page of this website. Special thanks are due to Patsy Thornton and Jennifer Anning for their help in promoting the project and supporting our U3A volunteers.
Finally, we’ve made great headway with our first cohort of museum partners. We have finished a short animated film for the Guildhall Museum in Sandwich (which we are holding back until their premiere screening later in August) and are currently working on videos for Dorking Museum and the Cowper and Newton Museum in Olney. Discussions are also underway with a number of other museum partners.
Six months in and Citizens is proving to be an exciting venture into a new way of doing public history. We hope you’re enjoying following our progress, thank you for your support and please do get in touch if you’d like to get involved.
By Dr Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith is the Project Director of ‘Citizens: 800 years in the making’ and a Senior Fellow in Public History in the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London.