Researching student histories
Researching student histories: Methodological and theoretical aspects
Workshop series to mark NUS100
Organising committee: Professor Georgina Brewis, Dr Jodi Burkett, Dr Sarah Crook, Mike Day and Emily Sharp
Student life has changed radically over the last hundred years, and research is increasingly highlighting how changes in the student community, organising and experience has anticipated broader social and cultural changes. This is an apposite time to take stock of these shifts: 2022 marked the 100th anniversary of the creation by students’ unions of the National Union of Students (NUS) in England and Wales. To celebrate, a series of events were organised to highlight the history and work of students. Over the past few years research into the history of students’ unions/NUS, and student movements more broadly, has grown substantially. This scholarship has drawn attention to how students have negotiated issues around citizenship, service, politics, youth, sexuality, health, welfare and the very purpose of the university. This research has stimulated interest in and questions around sources, theories and methodologies: how can historians grasp and understand student life in the past, and what particular challenges and opportunities do student-produced materials present? Read more about the centenary celebrations for NUS here. You can watch all the recordings here.
Workshop 1: The Archive was held online on Wednesday 26 January 2022.
This workshop focused on the student archive, including presentations by those who work with the NUS archive, as well as research papers exploring key theoretical and methodological issues related to using these archival holdings.
00:00:00 – 00:11:50 – Mike Day (Official archivist of the NUS and author of NUS 90: A History of the National Union of Students), ‘The History and Future of the NUSUK Archives’
00:11:50 – 00:26:01 – Dr Charlotte Berry (Archives Manager Modern Records Centre), ‘The NUS Archival Holdings at the Modern Records Centre’
00:26:01 – 00:48:42 – Dr Kathryn Woods (Dean of Students Goldsmiths’ College, University of London), ‘Solving the Problem of Student Voice’s Absence from the History of Higher Education’
00:48:42 – 01:03:09 – Carlus Hudson (PhD candidate University of Portsmouth), ‘Critical Archive Studies in the National Union of Students archives: A Methodology for the Study of ‘Race’ in Social Movements and Union Organisations’
Workshop 2: The student press, media and film was held in hybrid format on 27 April 2022 at the University of Portsmouth and Online
This workshop focused on student media, including student newspapers, radio and film, and explores some of the theoretical and methodological implications of the moves to digitise student newspapers, competing narratives within the student media and ethical implications of the use of the student media in historical research.
00:00:00 – 00:16:40 – Dr Antonin Dubois (EHESS Paris (Main)), ‘Student Press in France and Germany in the 19th and Early 20th Century: History, Uses, Problems’
00:16:40 – 00:32:49 – Dr James Waghorne (University of Melbourne), ‘Digitisation of Student Press: Opportunities and Ethical Challenges in Writing Histories of University Life’
00:32:49 – 00:56:00 Dr Jodi Burkett (University of Portsmouth), ‘Close and Distant Reading of Student Newspapers: What student newspapers can (and can’t) tell us about the student experience’
00:56:00 – 01:10:30 – Rebecca Orr (European University Institute, Florence), ‘The University Archive and Decolonisation’
01:10:30 – 01:26:24 – Jack O’Connor (University of Sussex), ‘Competing Narratives and Alternative Aesthetics for a New University: Student Press at Sussex and Essex, 1960-1979’
01:26:24 – 01:42:44 – Kris Nolan (University of Portsmouth), ‘Student Radio and the Student Voice’
Workshop 3: Student stories: Finding using and making oral histories and recorded voices was held in hybrid format at Swansea University and Online on 11 July 2022
This workshop explored methodological approaches to researching student and university history through oral histories. Hosted by Swansea University and supported by GENCAS – the Swansea University Centre for Research into Gender, Culture and Society – the day saw multiple discussions around oral histories and the student experience unfold.
00:00:00 – 00:14:38 – Emily Sharp discussed her use of oral history in her work and considered the collective memory of student activists
00:14:29 – 00:30:50 – Dr Sam Blaxland explored the use of student voice in work on histories of Swansea and UCL
00:30:51 – 00:48:19 – Dr Jay Rees gave a paper on efforts to ‘capture the everyday’ and to move away from ‘traditional’ histories of institutions
00:48:20 – 01:07:38 – Dr Bertie Dockerill used student debate records to assess shifting political cultures and traces of the student voice in interwar Britain.
Later, attendees and contributors enjoyed a walking tour of the university, drawing attention to the ways that the built environment of the institution has shaped, and been shaped by, students’ experiences.
Workshop 4 – The ‘stuff’ of student life: material culture and ephemera was held in person and online at UCL on 14 September 2023.
The fourth workshop in the NUS 100 series ‘Researching Student Histories’ explored methodological approaches to researching student and university history through objects and the space and place of the campus. This workshop was held at UCL where it was sponsored by the research and engagement project ‘Generation UCL: 200 years of student life in London.’ The event featured an object based learning session in which attendees engaged with artefacts from UCL Special Collections and UCL Art Museum that included gowns, the IOE library bell, student blazers and ties and silverware, alongside more modern NUS ephemera such as posters, badges, t-shirts and pens. Hugh Jones brought along hundreds of picture postcards of UK universities and colleges that form his privately-held ‘Higher Education Postcard Collection’. A campus walking tour included contributions from Georgina Brewis and Sam Blaxland as well as a visit to Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon. As part of this tour undergraduate student Molly Edwards presented their summer research on LGBT+ histories at UCL.