By Helen R Cobby, on 6 December 2013
Throughout this term, Kevin Guyan, PhD candidate at the UCL history department, has been working with the Art Museum to create events that compliment the current ‘Black Bloomsbury’ exhibition. His own research has allowed him to take themes from the exhibition in thoughtful and unusual directions for these workshops at the Museum. His events have included interactive investigations around 1940s music and dance, and exploring ideological boundaries within the Bloomsbury area through a walking tour.
Kevin’s own research explores how domestic spaces impacted upon the production and reproduction of masculinities in the post war period (c.1945 – 1966). Although this work focuses on a different time period to ‘Black Bloomsbury’, (1945-1966 rather than 1918-1948), he has drawn upon common themes running through both eras, including space and identity, and methodologies of how historians perceive and ‘see’ into the past. For a more detailed analysis of his research and its links to the ‘Black Bloomsbury’ exhibition, please see his article ‘Engaging with Black Bloomsbury’, published on the Student Engagers website here.
Curious to hear more about his work and the way he thinks up – and thinks about – the nature of his events with the Art Museum, I asked him a few questions.
What have been the highlights and challenges of the events you have done so far?
One of the key challenges I faced is how best to discuss histories that are not located in the distant past. Whether I was discussing London in the 1940s or the interwar period, I never wished to seem as if I was there to ‘tell’ people about history or present an objective account. This was particularly the case when discussing events in the postwar period, where many people have their own personal experiences of these decades.
The former Paramount Dance Hall on Tottenham Court Road was a particular highlight on the walking tour. This venue holds such a rich social history for relations between races, cultures and nationalities and was located on UCL’s doorstep (across from Warren Street tube station).
What particularly stood out for you during the walking tour around Bloomsbury?
What stood out for me about the Black Bloomsbury walking tour was the presentation of a new or alternative history of the area. Many of the people attending the events or visiting the exhibition commonly associated the area with Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Set, it was great to be able to offer an additional story of the area.
Have these events led you down unexpected paths in your own research? What have you learnt from them?
These events have reminded me of the value of escaping the library and archive and speaking with people about my research. People’s memories are a rich source of historical information and events of this kind have presented me with new leads to explore, allowed me to meet people involved in similar research and invitations to speak at other events.
Do you have plans for another event soon, and if so, what are your ideas so far?
I do not currently have any plans for any similar events in 2014.
Helen Cobby is a volunteer at UCL Art Museum and is studying an MA in The History of Art at UCL.