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Navigating Issues of Engagement

A one day colloquium for students and early career researchers interested in learning more about public engagement. The event offered advice, guidance and a range of speakers.

Bernard of Clairvaux
  • School/Institute/Department: School of English and Drama, School of History
  • Subjects: Public Engagement, Medieval and Renaissance/Early Modern studies
  • Audience: Students and early career researchers

‘Research into the Medieval and Early Modern: Navigating Issues of Engagement’ was a colloquium generously funded by the School of English and Drama and the School of History. It took place at Queen Mary, in the Arts II building on Saturday 18th October and around 40 participants attended. It was organized by three medievalist PhD students from Queen Mary: Lydia Zeldenrust, Ella Kilgallon and Hetta Howes. It welcomed students and early career researchers from any discipline, but particularly medievalists.

Although ‘impact’ and ‘public engagement’ are now buzzwords in academia, very little subject-specific training is offered to medievalists. The event attempted to fill this notable gap by inviting speakers from the worlds of academia and the media, asking them to share their experiences and offer practical advice. Whilst many students would like to find ways to communicate their research more widely, they are often unsure how to go about it. As well as attempting to answer some of their practical questions – how can they access various types of media; how do they know which opportunities to seize and which to think more carefully about? – this colloquium also addressed wider questions, like the dangers of ‘dumbing down’ research and the role public engagement can and should play in medieval and renaissance studies.

The colloquium was organized into three panels during which speakers informally presented their public engagement projects and then answered questions from the participants, facilitating dialogue and debate. The first panel, devoted to working with museums, offered papers from Adrian Armstrong, centenary professor of French at QM and Kate Lowe, professor of Renaissance History and Culture at QM, who have both been involved in curating exhibitions related to their own research interests. Practical tips were offered, alongside an exploration of the advantages and disadvantages of putting on an exhibition. 

The second panel welcomed Will Tosh, postdoctoral researcher at the Globe, Tamara Atkin, Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Drama and Literature and Michael Caines, PhD student at KCL and Editor for Literature at the Times Literary Supplement - all academics who regularly deal with wider audiences and therefore have experience of communicating their research interests effectively. 

The final panel was reserved for those who have collaborated with academics on public engagement projects. Clare Whistler, Leverhulme Artist in Residence at QM (2013-14), spoke of her residency at the university and demonstrated some of the art inspired by it. Lauren Mulholland shared some of her experiences working at Polity, a small publishing house in Cambridge and talked participants through the ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s’ of approaching such publishers. Mukti Jain Campion concluded the day by sharing extracts from a radio programme she worked on with Professor Miri Rubin. She encouraged participants to approach producers with proposals for programmes and offered advice to help these proposals achieve success.

Students not only gained practical advice from the talks given, they also got the chance to meet potential contacts during the wine reception at the end of the day. The twitter feed for the event, and its hashtag (#medievalissues) live on. They are being used as a forum to share articles written by medievalists, promote events for the public run by medievalists – from open lectures and workshops to plays and performances – and other conferences where public engagement in these specific fields is being discussed.

To see more about the event and the developments since, follow their Twitter account @medievalissues.

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