Classically Inclined

February 28, 2016

On impact

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:26 pm
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This post has been brewing for a while – since I took part in the Family Archive Project’s two outreach events last year, in fact. Given the emphasis that’s currently placed on impact, and how important it is in terms of the REF (or so we assume), these two events highlighted the variety of possible kinds of impact and what we actually think we’re doing when we’re doing it.

Before I say anything else, I should sing the praises of Fiona Blair, our research and administration assistant, without whom neither of these events, nor any of the focus groups we also ran as part of the Project, would have happened. She spent fantastic amounts of time putting together all the materials and props needed for the sessions, and was the brains behind quite a bit of what actually happened at the events. She also prodded me into thinking about the issues behind this post. So thank you, Fiona.

The first outreach event had always been built into the Family Archive Project – it was a workshop at the National Archives, with various academics and professional curators, sharing the findings of the project up to that point and getting conversation going around the issue of family archiving. The event showcased some fantastic projects, like the Seacroft Story and My Route, and there was some really interesting discussion around the general questions we raised. The attendees were, as I say, PLU – People Like Us, that is, with qualifications at a certain level, with an academic or professional interest in these issues, or with a personal archive that they were dealing with in a semi-professional capacity. That’s the sort of event that I usually think of when I think ‘impact’ – how to get professionals in a room to tell them things that might make a difference to how they do their jobs, so that they can then tell us how our research has changed how they’re doing things, so we can tick the impact box. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s the model of impact I feel that I default to, for better or worse.

The second outreach event was a bit more of a ‘right place, right time’ affair – we were lucky enough to be asked to put on an event as part of the University of Leeds’ participation in the Being Human festival. For this event, we set up a participation station in the Merrion Centre, a lower end shopping centre in Leeds city centre – we were located right outside the Brighthouse store. We set up three tables – one with lots of leaflets and further information, including a lecture and a small workshop we were also putting on as part of the Being Human programme; a ‘touch table’ with photo frames, books, and other objects reflecting the family archive and what might go into it; and an activity table for children where they could make a memory book, as well as sheets with colouring and an activity booklet themed around the family including a word search and other activities. We had a trunk in the middle of the tables where members of the public could submit items they had in their family archive, tangible or intangible, and it got filled up with postcards as the day progressed. (It was a freezing cold and rainy day in Leeds, and we were very grateful for the wind-shield effect we got from the prematurely erected Santa’s grotto in front of us.)

The participation station reached a very different kind of audience. Although we had a couple of banners up explaining about the project and how we were connected to the university, not many people seemed to realise that we were academics or that this was about research; we had a number of people asking if we were social workers, for instance, or whether we were offering family counselling. We had some good chats with various passers-by, and were able to highlight the resources that Leeds City Library have for researching family history. We had lots of interested children making memory books, and plenty of parents took away our colouring sheets and word searches for a rainy day.

So, where was the impact of that? What were we going to measure to report back to the assessors of how ‘effective’ the event had been? How could we count how much change we had made?

Well, I suspect that the thing I have learned as a result of helping to run these two very different events is that those are sort of the wrong questions. They’re questions focused on a particular model of outreach – the one that expects change to happen measurably at the level of professionals and policy organisations, or talks given in urban centres to a particular audience of people, where attendees will be happy to fill out questionnaires afterwards. The participation station had perhaps a couple of hundred people stroll by us or cast an eye over the banners, which may have made them think about something they weren’t otherwise thinking about – but they weren’t going to fill out a survey form and tell us that. The impact is much more difficult to track, although not necessarily smaller.

Yet the sorts of event like the participation station are crucially important, because they get the work being done at universities out into communities who may not see the relevance of it, or even realise it’s meant to be relevant for them. They get the very fact of university and research out there, although you have to find ways of telling that story that fit the context you’re telling it in. It takes the research out beyond the ‘usual suspects’ for talks and workshops and things where you book tickets in advance. The very nature of an exhibition designed to catch the interest of people having a normal Saturday is fundamentally different to the more traditional formats of ‘outreach’ event, and correspondingly more difficult to measure in terms of impact.

It may be that the greatest traceable impact that event has is giving a parent ten peaceful minutes on a rainy afternoon after they have dug out the colouring sheets that they took home from our stall. But in and of itself, that’s a worthy difference to make. So next time I start thinking about impact, I’m going to try and be a bit more aware of this distinction – surely if part of the point of sharing your research is to get it out to the people who have funded it, that includes all sections of our society.

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December 23, 2015

2015: A review

Christmas and the turn of the year are coming over the horizon, so it’s as good a moment as any to have a look back over the last year. The blog has been a bit quiet since the arrival of infans, as my priorities have been geared towards getting on with my teaching and research rather than this enjoyable but not particularly critical activity. Which is a shame, as there have been several things I’ve wanted to blog about and may still get around to, but it’s not as much fun as introducing infans to stacking cups. However, the good thing about the silence on here (and the comparative silence on Twitter) is that there’s been a lot getting done elsewhere!

Teaching: this term I’ve been coordinating our first year skills course, repeat teaching Intermediate Latin and teaching Roman Life Stories from scratch. I’ve also had third year dissertations and some MA teaching, along with a spot of Catullus too. I’m really enjoying Roman Life Stories – it’s a version of the Roman Life Course module I taught at Birmingham, into two hours of seminar/lecture rather than just a lecture, and limited to third years rather than second and third years together. It’s lovely having the extra time and being able to have some proper discussion going about the sources, and the students seem to be finding it very interesting too. It’s slightly strange that I’m back to using very detailed lecture notes, written when I was a bit less confident, but it’s all getting there! I’m also enjoying seeing how students engage with secondary literature – I’ve got them leading discussion about a designated article each week in groups of three and four, and that seems to be going quite well.

Intermediate Latin is going pretty much as it did last academic year, with a couple of tweaks to the insignia system. The course has got to the stage where the students have settled down and are a bit more confident in their own abilities, which means they start having more fun with the language and that makes it more fun for me too. It’s always a pleasure to watch students levelling up, and this year is no exception.

Research: the big project this year has been getting on with the book manuscript… and I’m delighted to report that last week, I finally submitted a complete manuscript to the press and have just received the approval of their external reader. There’s still plenty to do – the reader requested a few minor changes, the manuscript needs to be gone over to meet the press style guide, there’s metadata to provide and indexing to sort… but with any luck, it’s all now into the technical bits and bobs, and the academic hard graft is done. Fingers very much crossed for this to go smoothly in the new year.

The other major project on the go has been the AHRC Family Archive project. It’s nearing its final stages – we’ve done all the outreach activities we built into the grant, and are now working on co-writing the two articles we had planned as a result of it. We had a meeting earlier this month to discuss how to structure those articles and what they should say, and it was delightfully productive and positive. I’ve been having a blast working with the project team, and I’m hoping we can find directions to go with this in the future.

I’ve also finally got the pedagogy article that’s been hanging around for a couple of years out the door, which is no small feat but a very nice one to have out of the way, and there’s been continuing admin work around getting the piece on women classicists at Newnham into print. Conference activity has been non-existent this year for pretty obvious reasons, but I’ll be gearing up with two papers in summer 2016 that relate to the Monster Project (which I really do have to write about properly before too long). I’m quite looking forward to getting stuck into new projects now that these ones are coming to their natural ends.

Personal: the most obvious amazing thing is the arrival of infans, followed closely by surviving my first term as a parent, followed even more closely by managing to submit a book manuscript (or as near as you can get) whilst parenting. At the end of last year, I wrote that this would be life-changing for me and my husband. Of course, it has been, but in some strange ways things have kept on pottering on just as normal – I still research, I still teach. I also now keep an eye out for new nursery rhymes and memorise any vaguely catchy folksong I come across, and have discovered Views I never knew I had about childrearing and high chair design. Other things have diminished to compensate for that, but they’ve not been things I’ve missed terribly much – and indeed, their current absence is more a fallowness than a complete loss. It does mean I’ve been saying no to things a little more, but that’s not actually a bad thing.

It feels slightly strange to put this under personal, but I’ve been delighted that my vague inclination that we should actually have a British equivalent of the Women’s Classical Caucus has finally started getting somewhere – the Women’s Classical Committee UK is now up and running (or has a proper webpage, which is just as good). We’re organising our launch event for April 2016, and it’s going to be fabulous.

The big question for 2016 is what’s happening with my job prospects. As you may remember, my contract with Royal Holloway lasts for three years, which ends on 31st August 2016. There are jobs coming up, but having a baby and a fixed abode means I don’t have the amazing geographical flexibility that lets me apply for everything. That’s OK – it’s a compromise I decided I was willing to take. Despite this being a three year post, it also comes with a three year probation period; maternity leave meant I had my mid-probation meeting with our dean this semester rather than in the summer. I’m very pleased that I will now be judged to have passed probation when the book is in press… it’s all so close! So if I get that done by Easter, that will be a double whammy. Let’s see how it goes…

April 8, 2015

Posted Elsewhere – A very modern family archive

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:15 am
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I should have flagged this up when the post went up, but better late than never… I have another post up on the Family Archive project blog, this time exploring the link between my own experience of family archives and the sentimental things that turn up in ancient deposits.

I don’t think this answers the question I posed in my previous post for the project about why sentimental (and thus ‘inexplicable’) material gets kept, but it’s certainly a place to start.

March 7, 2015

Posted Elsewhere – Family archives and the Romans

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 6:52 pm
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In case any of you are interested, I have a post up on the Family Archive project blog thinking about the idea of family archives and how it relates to the Romans. Do pop over and take a look!

I’m still puzzled about what family archive practices look like in Rome itself, rather than Greco-Roman Egypt – I’m particularly interested in the so-called ‘sentimental’ material, kept for no readily apparent reason, and how that gets transmitted down through the generations. But that’s another story for another blog post…

January 26, 2015

The Family Archive Project: Advisory Board meeting

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 1:18 pm
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Last week was an exciting one for the Family Archive Project, as we had our first advisory board meeting. It’s the first time the project team have all been in the same physical space since the original AHRC sandpit, and for me it was the first time meeting our advisory board members, who are more senior academics with experience of doing This Sort Of Thing plus a representative from the National Archives, one of our project partners. The meeting served as an opportunity to update the advisory board on the progress that has been made so far, get some advice from them about things we felt could benefit from their input, and also ask them whether they had any thoughts or suggestions for how we should be approaching the project. It was really energising to be sitting in a room of people who were keen about the project – I’ve been getting more and more enthused since I spent a day in the British Library t’other week and realised that there’s something genuinely interesting here that doesn’t seem to have been picked up on (for perfectly good reasons) on the classical side, and the advisory board meeting reinforced that mood.

Two major things came out of it for me. The first was that the unique strength of this project is the chronological scope that the research team bring to the issue, and the possibilities that this opens up for interrogating contemporary practice and building new frameworks for understanding how people approach family archives, both consciously and unconsciously. I think we’d all appreciated that this was something special about the project as we put it together, but hearing other people articulate it certainly brought it home to me. The second was the potential that this work has for making a difference not only to other academics but to people in society more broadly, and how important it is to make sure that we’re keeping track of the needs of the communities and groups we’re working with. At the moment, we’re only operating on a comparatively small scale, but it’s something that simply hadn’t occurred to me before.

A side issue, but no less important, that we spent a bit of time discussing was how we are actually going to write the two articles we hope will come out of this work, beginning with one based on our historical case studies. We found working on the grant proposal through shared documents on Google Drive worked rather well, and I’d assumed we’d try that approach again; one thing the advisory board suggested was that one person took responsibility for calling time on the collaborative drafting process and then gave the article a coherent authorial voice before asking for feedback from everyone on the neatened result. Collaborative writing is not something that my field of the humanities tends to play with very often, although some people find it very productive; certainly it’s not something I’ve ever done. Given that there are four of us on the project team, I think we all appreciated some advice from people who have had more experience producing collaborative writing about what works and what doesn’t!

The next big milestone, other than getting a research assistant appointed for the project and setting up our focus groups, is getting together the meat of the case study article and working out what shape that would best take. Obviously because of oncoming maternity leave, I want to get on with that sooner rather than later – so I can see plenty more reading and note-taking ahead of me in the next few months. I’m looking forward to it.

January 9, 2015

Research: The Family Archive Project

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 3:22 pm
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I mentioned back in June that I was working on some grant applications coming out of an AHRC Early Career sandpit event around Easter, and then in my round-up post of 2014 I promised to blog about the project which was successful in that funding bid. So here is that post!

The project in question is formally titled “The Family Archive Project: Exploring Family Identities, Memories and Stories Through Curated Personal Possessions.” It came together after one of the round table discussions at the AHRC sandpit, where four of us discovered we all worked with ideas of family and memory in our research, and all shared some broadly similar research interests that might intersect in interesting ways in an interdisciplinary project. Some shared questions that came up during that very early phase of brainstorming were about how one defines a family archive; who gets to be in charge of a family archive; and how family archives cope with traumatic or difficult events. For instance, we all know stories of families who write a disreputable aunt or uncle out of the history, and novelists make plenty of hay out of the habit at the start of the twentieth centuries of babies being bought up thinking their grandmother was their mother and their mother was their sister. Roman families have different problems to cope with (like ordering your son or daughter killed, for instance), but there are still traumatic events that need to be handled and processed.

The project now has several goals for the next year. It wants to think about what a family archive looks like and how it changes over time – what an Edwardian would have made of the idea would have been very different to what we make of it, particularly in the age of digital photography and practically endless storage, not to mention the move away from paper documents. It wants to think about the function of these archives, and how families engage or disengage with their contents. That question of who owns the archive and curates it is still important, and we also want to explore how ownership is passed down the generations; does an archive have to stay together, or can it be spread across family members, or even embodied in oral repetition at family gatherings? We also want to think about how family archives balance the very personal stories they have to tell with the public events going on at the same time; for instance, an individual family archive (in whatever form) and official government archives will tell two very different stories about the First World War.

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