I work in the Department of History and American Studies in the School of Humanities. Since childhood I have been interested in the past and in ways that the past ‘speaks’ to us through history, imagination and myth. I started my first degree at the University of Sussex in English Literature and but after a year my love of history won out and I changed subject; nevertheless, I think I’ve always approached History from the perspective of an student of English, as a complex text or narrative with characters and plots and poetry. I’ve spent many years trying to understand how and why History is written in the way it is, by different people and at different times, the ‘uses’ and significance of History within our cultures. ‘Why and how does it matter so much to us?’ these are my recurring questions. My PhD (undertaken at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham) was an early expression of these approaches and tried to make sense of the roots and underlying politics of ‘People’s History’, in particular the History Workshop Movement, an influential movement within British historiography. I have always wanted to be involved in communities and in our collective sense of history and to work with and learn from the many people who are experts in the past but aren’t professional historians. After my MA I spent four years teaching social history in Adult Education and for the WEA in London and Kent. Nowadays, I still work with a wide range of community groups, archaeologists, teachers, curators and others to deliver research and heritage projects. My research and teaching, draws on this experience and lies in the areas of heritage, historiography, public history and regeneration; antiquarianism, local history, historical fiction, art, film journalism and travel writing.
Research and knowledge exchange
Since 2005 I have been director of the Folkestone People’s History Centre, a group that brings academics, archaeologists and other heritage, arts and educational professionals together with the much wider constituencies of those who have an interest in the past.
Between 2010 and 2013 I worked with the University, Centre and Canterbury Archaeological Trust on an award winning Heritage Lottery funded project ‘A Town Unearthed: Folkestone before 1500’ (ATU), a community archaeology project based in Folkestone which focused on a largely hidden, but very important, Iron Age and Roman site on the town’s East Cliff. We wanted to re-discover this and other early sites and in so doing extend the perimeters of the town’s history and identity. We also wanted to secure the place of history and heritage within the evolving identity of the town as it developed through an arts re-generation. Lately I have been working with others on new projects that share this interest in heritage, identity and narrative: ‘Finding Eanswythe’ will re-visit tangible remains associated with an Anglo-Saxon princess and patron Saint of Folkestone, it’s a community led project that will combine historical detection with some innovative research to understand more about the Anglo-Saxon world and its significance for us. ‘Restoration’ is a regional partnership project that will focus on key objects and sites in Kent. The project will address some of the questions around our access to and understanding of such heritage-how and why are decisions made about our heritage; what do people understand as heritage and why is it important to them?
Other work in development includes: a research project that will look at the lives of some Kentish antiquarians and the framework of ideas and beliefs that inspired them. A project based on Charity Book shops and their contribution to contemporary culture.
Teaching and subject expertise
My teaching has covered a wide range of subjects from Ancient Roman to Twentieth Century History and culture and much in between. I am currently working on a course that will look at heritage and issues in public history. Recent PhD and other research supervision includes work on social planning and TB in seaside health resorts in the Nineteenth Century and the impact of the New Poor Law. I am interested in supporting research and supervising in fields associated with the cultural and political construction of the historical and public understanding of the past such as historiography, antiquarianism, history and film, journalism or literature
I am on the editorial board of the Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage. I co-ordinate the Folkestone Research group which meets monthly and runs seminars and talks. I am happy to give public talks and do so quite often for local societies and groups; subjects that have included Victorian interpretations of Rome; Antiquarianism and heritage tourism.
Publications and research outputs
Publications include ‘A Town Unearthed’, Local History Magazine Issue 115: (September/October 2007) and F.R Leavis, E.P.Thompson and The New Left: Some Shared Critical Responses’, Socialist History Journal, 30, (2008). ‘Objects of Loving Attention: antiquarianism in Folkestone’ Archaeologia Cantiana 2013; ‘ A Morsel too hard for Time to Chew: Antiquarianism and Historical Tourism in Folkestone 1530-1956’ in Folkestone to 1500’ (2013) I. Coulson (ed).
I am currently writing about the life and work of S.E Winbolt, classicist, antiquarian and writer.