‘Within the Walls’: Heritage Values and the Historic City – three new collaborative PhD posts

Today I have some exciting news to share that you might have heard about from other sources but that is very much worth mentioning here.

Funding has been secured for three new PhD studentships in partnership between the University of York and the City of York Council. They will look at the value of heritage, using the uniquely rich example that is York as starting point, case study and in depth resource.

The council’s press release can be read here: http://www.york.gov.uk/press/article/1293/new_research_posts_announced_by_council_and_university

There are three separate but related projects, two based in the UoY Archaeology department and one based in the History department, looking at the following areas:

  1. built heritage
  2. buried heritage
  3. archives

These three areas form the evidence base for our understanding of both local and big-picture history, but also contribute to diverse other aspects of peoples’ lives such as identity and community. It’s generally agreed that heritage has value which makes it worth discovering, exploring and preserving, but exactly how do you define and understand that value?

How do different people value the same built, buried or documentary heritage differently (such as local people vs those in other countries for example)? How essential is heritage really? What definable contributions does it actually make to society? These projects will make a detailed academic contribution to this debate, and help us to properly understand the value of heritage in society, and thus think bigger and make better decisions about what we do with it.

From the University website, here’s the overall theme of the projects:

Traditionally expert-led, the management and administrative frameworks evident across the heritage sector are increasingly hard to sustain, given a growing emphasis on localism, and on participatory and inclusive social practice. This project comprises three separate but linked PhD research topics which overlap in this key strategic policy area, and aim to create new methodologies for future and socially engaged heritage practice. York provides an ideal ‘heritage laboratory’ in which to test ideas and shape practice.

Sounds good? Full details (including how to apply if it sounds like your cup of tea) can be found online at http://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/AGU574/studentship-available/ and http://www.york.ac.uk/archaeology/news-and-events/news/external/news2013/phd-funding-within-the-walls The closing date is 19th July 2013.

Though I love archaeology, I obviously find particularly exciting the third project, which is focusing on the archives. It is a truly collaborative post with the holder supervised jointly by Dr Sarah Rees-Jones in the Department of History, and Richard Taylor, City Archivist for the City of York Council.

This is the aim/objective for the archive strand as currently laid out in the link above:

iii A critical engagement with the historic archives of the City of York. This project will be informed and shaped by national strategic priorities for archives which emphasize partnership, sustainability, and the critical development of access to archival resources (both analogue and digital). Questions concern the value of the archive to local communities and its role in supporting tourism, community cohesion, education and learning, adult health and well-being and the young peoples’ agenda

I find it really exciting that this autumn someone will be starting out on a path to explore the question of the value of York’s archives, and what that means for us locally, and others nationally. To have an academic-driven approach, combining evidence and theory, is a wonderful opportunity. It’s brilliant that the post holder will have the neutrality, time and resources to really get stuck into the problem, bringing across insights from other fields (like built heritage) who have been looking at this question for longer than we in archives have, and making a specific contribution to the connected but varied fields of academia, policy and archival practice.

I absolutely love the concept of York as a ‘heritage laboratory’, with its rich and well-connected seams of evidence, and corresponding wealth of established expertise in both the research institutions and local authority. To bring all that together, with not one but three PhD projects is pretty special and I can’t wait to see what they discover.