The Renaissance of public engagement
According to the REF, impact measures the benefit that University research has on society. Conversely, the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement stresses the importance of public engagement as a creative practice between university researcher and external partner. This roundtable explores the different definitions of, and approaches to, public engagement and impact across different sectors; it will consider how, for example, the National Trust’s focus upon enhancing the visitor experience through emotional engagement helps and challenges the often ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to knowledge transfer encouraged by REF impact criteria. As researchers in all sectors are increasingly asked to provide demonstrative evidence of the societal influence and benefit of their research, there seems little consensus as to how to measure this benefit. The links between research and public engagement can be complex, non-linear and multi-faceted, raising questions as to whether it is possible (or desirable) to evaluate and quantify all forms of public humanities activity. For scholars of early modern literature, these questions about how to quantify public engagement become more pressing as we interrogate how to make accessible a language and culture that might seem alien or obscure. The ubiquity of Shakespeare seems to offer a ready-packaged commodity for public engagement activity, yet Shakespeare’s very centrality to the canon can present challenges to deeper engagement with early modern literary culture. We will discuss how meaningful conversations between external partners and university researcher enables the past to be constructed as public history and how we evaluate the cultural value of literary historical research. Bringing together researchers in the heritage industries and university researchers, we will discuss applied humanities and recent collaborative public engagement activities that have focused upon expanding public knowledge of Renaissance literature.
Jerome de Groot is Professor of Renaissance Literature at the University of Manchester. He is PI on the AHRC-funded project Double Helix History, which considers how DNA sequencing for 'leisure' purposes - making a family tree - might change the way that people think about themselves and the past. He has written several books about the historical novel, popular history, and contemporary television and film. He is Chair of the Board of Trustees for Manchester Literature Festival and a Trustee of New Writing North.
Islam Issa is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Birmingham City University. A multi-award-winning author, curator and broadcaster, in 2017, he was made an AHRC BBC New Generation Thinker. A literary critic and historian, his work has focused primarily on the modern-day reception of Renaissance and Early Modern English literature in global contexts, particularly Shakespeare and Milton, and the cultural history of the Middle East. In three languages, he has made over 100 tv and radio appearances across over 50 stations worldwide and is an in-house broadcaster for the BBC.
Ben Wilcock is Academic Partnership Manager for the National Trust North Region and completed his PhD in History from the University of Manchester in 2016. He is passionate about public engagement with academic research, and his role is to develop relationships between National Trust properties and academic researchers. He evaluates how National Trust properties in the North already work with academic research and identifies new ways for the properties to engage with academic researchers to underpin the stories they tell. He has also worked with Stockport Museums at Bramall Hall and with Manchester Histories.
Julie Sanders is Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University. She has special responsibilities for academic strategy, the University's work and commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, and Environmental Sustainability, as well as the Engagement and Place sub-strategy including its focus on social justice. She is an English Literature and Drama specialist with an international reputation in early modern literature and in adaptation studies and a trustee of Northern Stage.
Rachel Willie is Reader in early modern literary studies at Liverpool John Moores University. Her main area of expertise is seventeenth-century literary history and culture. She is PI on the AHRC-funded research network, Soundscapes in the Early Modern World where she is working with the National Trust and the Wellcome Collection on public engagement and knowledge exchange activities. In 2017, she was shortlisted as an AHRC BBC New Generation Thinker.