School of Histories, Languages and Cultures

Impact and Public Engagement

impactHistorical research conducted at the University of Hull has had beneficial impacts on multifarious non-academic audiences - from local schoolchildren to multinational corporations, senior US military and civil servants, British parliamentarians, heritage organisations in Europe and Africa, and TV audiences worldwide. Qualitatively, the impact has ranged from relatively brief engagements at Living History events informed by Hull research to prolonged and intensive collaboration through research projects or professional advice. Quantitatively, it has extended from individual members of the public seeking information or advice, to the millions of users worldwide who have accessed validated, searchable historical evidence generated by projects such as HMAP, the Transatlantic Slavery Database, and the Scottish Emigration Database.

The school is keen to work with those who are interested in, and might benefit from its research.

Understanding Transatlantic Slavery

The launch of the multi-source database of 35,000 transatlantic slave voyages (http://www.slavevoyages.org/) and the publication of the Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (2010) transformed knowledge and understanding of the movements of enslaved Africans, and generated a wealth of documentary, visual and statistical material relating to this human trafficking business, c.1500-1867. These research findings are disseminated through media as diverse as searchable webpages, educational packs, artistic exhibitions, TV features, newspaper reports and theatre performances. The far-reaching impact of the research benefits schoolchildren, policy-makers, theatre-goers, arts communities and the general public across the globe. One major outcome was the Hull sponsored ‘Cargo’ project, which involved collaboration with acclaimed musician and songwriter Paul Field in producing and performing an original music and dance score relating to slavery past and present. Employing local young people, ‘Cargo’ has been performed professionally to over 70,000 people at more than 100 venues worldwide. The database and Atlas have also informed the creation and presentation of public memorials commemorating the slave trade, notably the permanent Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery in Nantes, which includes 1,710 commemorative transparent plaques of Nantes slaving expeditions (with names and dates taken from the database) located in walkways, as well as maps modelled on the transatlantic flows of slaves charted in the Atlas. Slave Voyages and the Atlas have been used by Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE) to inform educational engagement with 35 Hull and East Riding schools on the citizenship/history curriculum, and to the teaching and understanding of slavery in schools across Connecticut and South Africa. 

Informing Marine Policy and Interpreting the Marine Environment

Research into North Atlantic fisheries history undertaken under the auspices of the Maritime Historical Studies Centre (MHSC) has spawned, and been sustained by, a series of externally funded projects since 1996. The outputs of this research programme have influenced marine policy, heritage strategy, legal decisions and public educational provision concerning the relationship between human societies and marine animal populations over the long term. Such impacts have been delivered through searchable online stores of validated historical data, commissioned reports, websites (for academic, public and school audiences), presentations, day schools, exhibitions, guided tours, books and journal articles. The MHSC’s main role was to develop and manage a Data Store (www.hull.ac.uk/hmap), which contains 28 datasets assembled from a variety of historical sources by research teams working in over 25 countries across the globe. This research informed the development of policy tools relating to long-term fish stock measurement, ecosystem modelling, Marine Protection Area regulation, taxonomic recognition, international and EU specific legal instruments, and the ‘Fish Ruler’, a simple, highly effective measuring device designed to dissuade consumers from buying fish that is short of a ‘sustainable length’ because such purchases impair stock abundances now and in the future. Other outcomes include an advisory report to inform local government policy regarding the management of East Yorkshire’s heritage; expert testimony to assist the resolution of a legal dispute between the States of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey in 2010-11; involvement in various educational, media and artistic events.

Increasing Human Resilience against ‘Natural Disasters’

Historical research into natural disasters has underpinned emergency planning and management in the UK and overseas. Undertaken by colleagues in Hull and other HEIs, this research indicates conclusively that analyses of past catastrophic events can have a positive influence on knowledge and understanding of contemporary social vulnerability. In particular, the importance of cultural and traditional approaches to disasters, and responses to them, can make apparent a community’s vulnerability and resilience before a disaster, as well as after it. It can be predictive. This long-term approach reveals the inherent, or background, social vulnerability that has built up sequentially over time. Some communities ‘share’ a common cultural and historical exposure to higher background levels of risk than others, and this requires special consideration before any engagement with more specific factors of vulnerability. In raising awareness of the social and environmental relationships that precede disasters, the research has placed emergency planners and managers in a better position to predict where disasters are more likely to occur, where they will have a higher impact on the population when they do, and where higher levels of interventions might be required both before and after a disaster. These findings have contributed to the setting of industry standards, informed the development of modern technology, highlighted issues of social justice, prompted cultural comparisons of ‘best practice’, assisted in reducing communities’ vulnerability and linked reconstruction work to developmental issues in the UK, New Zealand and the Philippines. Non-academic beneficiaries of the research are communities and individuals in disaster-affected areas, and the governments and NGOs involved in managing disasters. This engagement continues through Hull’s participation in a major project 2012-17 intended to increase the resilience of communities exposed to earthquakes in continental interiors.

The Prussian Past and Contemporary German Identity

The impact derives from research undertaken from 2007 to 2012 by Thomas Biskup (Hull) in collaboration with colleagues in Germany and Oxford. Marking the 2012 tercentenary of King Frederick II ‘the Great’ of Prussia (1712-86), the research contributed directly to a series of major public events in Germany and the UK. Findings were disseminated widely through TV and Radio, newspaper reports, websites, and guidebooks. The impact assumed two main forms. First, by contributing to the creative economy (one of the University’s six cross-institutional research themes), these research-informed public events benefitted the economy of Brandenburg by stimulating tourism, and increasing the number of visitors and overnight stays to record highs. This included participating in the Friederisiko exhibition in the Neues Palais, Germany’s largest surviving eighteenth-century palace and part of Potsdam’s UNESCO world heritage site. The Palais, which was opened for this event in its entirety for the first time since 1939, was visited by 348,796 people (c. 50,000 more than had originally been calculated), making Friederisiko the single most popular historical exhibition in Germany in 2012. A key event in the exhibition’s overall success was the meticulous re-staging of Frederick’s ‘Carrousel’ tournament outside the palace over four evenings to a crowd of over 5,000 visitors. The media interest generated by these events, and by others held in the UK, contributed to the re-shaping of Frederick II’s public image as part of the on-going process of re-defining German national identity and the place of Germany in Europe. As a central figure in Germany national identity, the Prussian king has previously served various German regimes as the epitome (whether appreciated or condemned) of supposedly German virtues, such as military service, and unquestioned loyalty to the state. By finally separating the king’s historic significance from any “exemplary” function for the present, the research has put an end to long-lasting attempts at linking Frederick and German national identity. German and international media have thus concluded from the research underpinning the tercentenary events that despite burgeoning public interest in the monarchical heritage of the 21st-century Federal Republic, a ‘return to Prussia’ and ‘Prussian values’ is not an option.

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