Connecting research and teaching

One of the academic stereotypes often bandied around is that we only have eyes for our own research – teaching is an irritating and burdensome responsibility.  While there may be some out there with that attitude, my experience so far is that many academics enjoy many aspects of teaching.  They find motivation and reward, even delight, in the various interactions they have with students and the intellectual development that they witness.  Prioritising teaching over research can be a function of the great pressure on time during term, but can also arise from a deep-seated sense of the value of teaching, the privileged position you have as a tutor.

We should read sceptically the claims about the almost osmotic transfer of excellent research into excellent teaching.  All too often, such claims have political audiences in mind; they are conditioned by designs for territorial defence – both in ideological and in financial terms – on the part of the ‘elite’ universities and their representatives and advocates.  That’s not, however, to say that there’s no relationship between what we do in the archives (or the lab) and what we do in the classroom.

Revisiting my notes on the nineteenth-century Jewish periodical I studied for my Master’s research over a decade ago has been a bit of a revelation.  I have found delight in rediscovering the material and thinking about what I could do with it now (a couple of articles on Jewish citizenship and Romantically-influenced concepts of the role of religion in the state are taking shape).  Developing a proposal with a colleague  for a project on the architecture and public history of parliament buildings has been energising and exciting.

If that delight in, that energy for doing history ‘shows up’ when you teach, irresistably bubbling up to the surface, surely that’s a valuable connection for students?  So, as we teach, we’re also modelling being historians of different kinds, and encouraging our students to join in the ongoing conversation about the past, its interpretations and meanings.  I hope that my own sense of engagement with being a historian ‘shows up’ and that I can help my students find similar excitement in aspects of their studies.  Whatever course each student’s life ends up taking, knowing what intellectual excitement feels like, being able to look for it and recognise it when you find it, is surely an asset.

Being a researcher doesn’t automatically make you a better teacher.  There are teachers who communicate delight and enthusiasm for their subject without being actively engaged in research.  Where academics are doing both, we should offer more nuanced understandings of the connections and flows between research and teaching – in both directions.

IHR Public History Seminar: Business archives, 19th December

This week we’re talking business under the title ‘Selective History – The absence of business archives in the retelling of the past’.  Seminar convenor Judy Faraday, Partnership Archivist for the John Lewis Partnership will be in conversation with Professor Peter Scott, Director of the Centre for International Business History at Henley Business School, University of Reading, will be the main speaker.

The seminar will be held on Wednesday 19th December in the Montague Room (G26) of the Senate House, University of London, at 17:30 and followed by seasonal drinks and nibbles.  All are warmly welcome.

Thousands of dissertations, journal articles and research papers are created each year.  Some of these become seminal works used by future generations of researchers to continue their quest for the truth.  But how much truth is there if certain groups of relevant sources are not fully utilised?

This seminar will question the way business archive sources are viewed by academics and how researchers can skew the balance of research by avoiding the use of records which may be less obvious, more difficult to view or which are not located in a digital or easy to access location.

Given the perceived limitations on the use of business archives, have the academic world chosen the easy option avoiding the need to address issues around access or responsibility to the creating body, preferring the warmth of their office desks to the chilly strongrooms which may contain those nuggets of information which could add another dimension to their research?

The view from both sides of the searchroom will be discussed by Professor Peter Scott of the Henley Business School and Judy Faraday, Archivist for the John Lewis Partnership with comment designed to stimulate debate and encourage the development of a greater rapport between the academic researcher and the gatekeepers of the historical record.