Before commencing my History degree at the University of Bristol, I had many preconceptions about what it would be like. Somewhat skeptically, I imagined a department full of ancient professors whose interests matched the age of the dusty books they read.
Yet on coming to Bristol this soon changed. Not only was this due to the excellent standard of teaching I received from the History Department but also as a result of my participation as a Public Engagement Intern in the Women, Work and Value project. The research network, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, brings together academics, members of the public, interest groups and policy makers to discuss the relevance of past experiences of work for the challenges facing today’s society.
My role was simple, a Public Engagement Intern aiming to communicate academic ideas to a wider audience. Admittedly the words ‘public’ and ‘engagement’ were not the first thing that came to mind when thinking of a historical research project. How wrong I was. Instantly on meeting Josie McLellan, the project’s coordinator, I was blown away with her enthusiasm for communicating the projects findings to the general, less academically focused, public. As well, the subject itself resonated profusely in a public context. Mainly why women’s work, past and present, mattered.
I was eager to get started as soon as possible and hit the ground running by increasing the network’s social media presence by creating a Women, Work and Value Facebook and Twitter page. Both of these were a great success including 333 followers on Twitter and 122 likes on Facebook. For a project that was initially only followed by a select group of academics, this was certainly an improvement.
Additionally the project held a public event at the Bristol Watershed entitled ‘Women and the Politics of Work’, to mark Women’s History Month. Speakers included Sally Groves, who played a key role in the Trico Equal Pay Strike in 1976, and Miriam Glucksmann, a sociologist who wrote Women On The Line after a year working in a motor parts factory. The event was chaired by Dr. Helen Mott, the co-ordinator of the Bristol Fawcett Society. The evening was sold out, again reiterating the project’s ability to resonate to a wider audience and the enthusiasm of such an audience to be part of the discussion.
A significant part of the project was also its academic workshops. I was lucky enough to attend two of these in Bristol and Florence. The subject matter was fascinating. Discussions were varied, touching on debates about why women’s breast milk should be included in GDP, the reality TV personality Bethenny Frankel, the impact of the First World War on female independence and whether it is ever possible for a woman to ‘have it all’. The relevance of all these discussions were striking and I felt compelled to communicate it more widely.
This resulted in the launching of a Women, Work and Value blog. Since its creation in March 2014 there have been many contributions from numerous academics. Most recently there has been a series on the Women’s World Cup, again highlighting the ability of academic thought to be presented in an accessible manner with content that is as relevant as current affairs are today.
The success of each of these channels tells us many things. Primarily, the importance and relevance of academic thought and the necessity for it to be communicated more widely. Whilst I am not continuing a career in academia beyond undergraduate level, I am confident that my interest will continue due to academia’s increasing relevance and accessibility. No longer is it the property of the educated minority but is a medium that is available to many more. If my role has achieved anything, I would hope that it has made a small contribution to this transition.
Graihagh Goode, Public Engagement Intern