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Global and Local approaches to Public History

In this video Dr Su Lin Lewis and Dr Jessica Moody offer practical tips and advice their teaching and research on decolonising history.
so generally i come to this as a historian of southeast asia um but i didn’t start off that way a lot of my undergraduate degree was on in european history some a little bit of african and middle east history no asia at all and i came to asia really in my graduate studies and and in kind of living and working uh in southeast asia um so i’m coming to this in a very different way in which a lot of my students are and i think it’s important to recognize um one’s positionality and you know where one where where you are um how you’re coming to this topic how others are coming to this what kind of you know knowing how much they’ve learned how much imperial history they’ve had i always ask them my students about you know whether they learned about empire in their gcses or a levels and often i get about ten percent that um really took a took a course on empire and it’s it’s really you know quite low i think and it shouldn’t be that low so i think that um you know we do have to recognize their position our position and where you know where we’re coming from and how we um in terms of how we teach um i think that uh you know i think it’s important um that that there are also you know i i also come to this as a historian of decolonization especially more recently in in in the past few years and i think it’s important to um remind others i know that the the the moment the movement to kind of decolonize the curriculum is an absolutely crucial one in terms of critiquing your centrism to critiquing whiteness and uh and bringing to light issues of race as just mentioned um but i also think it’s important to remind people about the long and complex history of decolonization all around the world that this is this is really something that is lived and real and experienced in very different ways and uh and that’s the thing that i try to bring to my students my teaching i think for public history this is actually quite an interesting question because in a way the the sort of one of the central questions for um certainly the the research around public history but also a lot of the practice is that question of whose public history and in a way that has been central to um to the subject of public history um not not always but certainly in the last sort of 30 40 years and so in a way it’s always been part of the praxis to think about whose histories are told who’s are omitted from whose perspective history is is talked about and represented and i think what we’re seeing is a much more complex way of asking those questions that isn’t just about the grand narratives that do or do not make it into the public sphere but it’s actually about things like well who gets to be part of the process in the first place so we’re seeing much more of a turn to processes of co-production and co-creation where we are making histories together and with different groups of people and i think what we’re what we will see much more of is uh deconstruction of those processes as well and sort of critical reflection on what we’re doing and who gets to be uh sort of part of that process as well so i think for me it’s it’s about that process of deconstruction of always asking who is a part of this and who is not a part of this whose perspective is included and how um but i think just just taking a point from sue lynn’s approach as well public history is also something that i i think should be and and perhaps hasn’t been enough uh talked about in a as a part of a global conversation because there is a there is a global network of of public historians of practice of public history um and i think the tendency in universities in the uk has been to think about public history as local history and there’s a reason for that it often comes out of the local history centers that have now closed down and become public history or heritage centers and but it’s it’s important i think to to think about this in a much more global way and take on those different perspectives and i hope that that’s something we can try to build into our degree program a lot more yeah i think just to add to that i know this is a question about teaching but you know this kind of plays into research as well in terms of how we conduct our research especially for me you know go you know what i tended to do what most historians would tend to do in in terms of how we do our field work and studying asia or or going going out you know when we’re based in kind of especially when we’re based in kind of western northern global north universities is kind of going out to the region doing our field work doing a lot of oral histories collecting materials bringing them back and kind of you know writing our grand histories from from there and i think one thing that i’m i’m quite interested in doing which i’ll be doing my next project is is um it kind of plays off another project i had where we had researchers working in an archive together um and uh for a week and you know rather than having a lone historian doing their work really having a group of people and with the my next project i’m actually bringing public historians scholar activists from southeast asia to archives in europe um where we can all kind of work together to share our material and and making them really kind of actors in the process you know in a way that they can write their own histories that they they are empowered to write these histories with access to archives in the global north i think that’s a really good point in that it’s slightly artificial to separate teaching and research in this conversation as well because because we’re working in universities and a lot of our teaching is uh research led and also i think that um part of the way we can develop this further is maybe incorporating more of those processes and methodologies that we’re using in our research and developing in in decolonized ways into the teaching practices as well and kind of rather than sort of waiting for there to be um as sometimes happens doing the research publishing the research and then teaching the research that we that we have more of the teaching at the very beginning of that process and are open and honest with students about you know the problems the challenges that we have at the very beginnings of trying to work in a different and more decolonial way

In this video, Dr Su Lin Lewis and Dr Jessica Moody discuss the importance of global perspectives to the teaching and research of history and what it means to consider history as truly inclusive and public. The transcript of all the videos in this step can be found at the bottom of this page.

To watch more video clips from this discussion, click here.

Jessica Moody is a lecturer in public history at the university of Bristol. Her work considers how we remember and engage with the past historically and in the present with a focus on the public memory of difficult histories including transatlantic enslavement. She has previously worked at the universities of Portsmouth and York, and for National Museums Liverpool. Her monograph, The Persistence of Memory: Remembering Slavery in Liverpool, ‘slaving capital of the world’ maps the public memory of slavery in Liverpool, the largest slave trading port city in Europe, from the end of the 18th century up to the present day and is available open access at

Su Lin Lewis is Senior Lecturer in Modern Global History at the University of Bristol.  Her book, Cities in Motion: Urban Life and Cosmopolitanism, was published in 2016 and won the Urban History Association Prize for Best Book (non-North America) for 2015-2016. She has run an AHRC Research Network on Afro-Asian Networks in the Early Cold War Era.  She will soon be embarking on a new project as an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellow on “Socialist Internationalism and Activist Lineages in the Afro-Asian World”. 

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Decolonising Education: From Theory to Practice

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