09 April 2020
Our free online course, Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious researcher, starts on 20 April. The course has been developed in partnership with the University of Nottingham, and is available from FutureLearn.
The course aims to introduce sources used by researchers, with an emphasis on material that can be discovered and accessed online, and the methods that researchers use to analyse and understand these sources. We are also interested in how an understanding of the past both informs and is influenced by contemporary issues - such as globalisation or climate change.
Over three weeks, we look at language and history, images and artefacts, and newer types of research resource. Learners can find out about British Library collections and projects, such as:
- The UK Web Archive
- Maps and our Georeferencer tool
- Recorded sound, including Oral Histories
- archives from around the world, in the Endangered Archives Programme
The course is designed for anyone who has an interest in the past. Our learners include students considering a research project, people who have followed a personal research interest for years, and those getting started on family or local history projects.
As a taster of the course, you can see Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies, talking about an 18th century map of Canada and the Arctic at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learning-from-the-past/0/steps/58711
26 February 2020
Extrème défense! World War One postcard, from the British Library's collection
Our free online course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life will be running for 5 weeks from Monday 2nd March. You can find out more and join this course at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/propaganda .
The course is for anyone interested in news, current affairs, politics and history. Over five weeks, we examine how "big political" ideas get expressed and repeated in different cultures and societies around the world, and what that means for our everyday experience. We explore ideas around freedom, justice, community, place and commerce. On the face of it, these themes appear universal - few people disagree that freedom is a good thing. However, definitions of freedom vary, and there are competing views about who and what should be prioritised when freedom is considered.
In our course, we are interested in how this is experienced in people's lives today. Our learners come from around the world, from a wide variety of backgrounds and political beliefs. Current news stories often point to a sharp polarisation of opinion, in particular in online communication and social media. As course leaders, we believe that online education can counter this, by providing a space in which people can respectfully explore and describe differences of opinions and belief - as well as understanding shared values. This is something that we have experienced, and learnt from, in earlier versions of this course.
Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life draws on the collections and expertise of the British Library, and combines this with current research from the University of Nottingham's Centre for the Study of Political Ideologies. In the course, you will see examples from our map collections and Chinese collections, as well as examples from modern British publications. Our course leaders are the co-directors of the Centre: Maiken Umbach, Professor of Modern History, and Mathew Humphrey, Professor of Political Theory. Maiken and Mathew are joined by Ian Cooke, Head of Contemporary British Publications at the British Library.
We are excited to start meeting our new learners on Monday 2nd March. You can join at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/propaganda
03 September 2018
Our free online course starts today. Learning from the Past is for anyone interested in studying the past, what historians do, and why and how research on the past matters for understanding the world today. The course runs for 3 weeks, and is the second course produced by the University of Nottingham in partnership with the British Library.
Over three weeks, this course will introduce the ways in which historians conduct research, and the materials that are used to understand the past. Throughout the course, examples from across the Library’s varied collections are examined by curators and researchers. The course will also do two other important things. First, it will show the challenges that historians face in understanding and decoding the records of the past: books, archives, photographs, maps, recorded sound and digital records. Second, it will discuss how a study of the past helps us contextualise the issues of today. For example, we cannot fully understand the radical shift in our impact on the environment without knowing how societies in the past used natural resources.
The origins for this course come from our earlier work on the course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life – which sought to explain how contemporary political research provides insight into the values and philosophies that lie at the heart of international debates, co-operation and conflict. We also sought to show how education, and in this case online learning platforms, can be used as a space where people with different ideas and opinions can communicate with each other, understand those differences and also see where there are points of agreement.
The response from learners to this course was incredible. Over the weeks, we saw conversations emerge between participants from around the world on “big political issues” but also in the more personal sphere: the gardens in their towns, food that reminded them of home, and the books and photographs that they always carry with them. We also saw that learners were enthusiastic to follow the debates that drew on current research, and followed links to academic texts where we made them available.
So, we wanted to produce a course that supported this desire for access to the ‘cutting edge’ of historical research, but also took the time to describe the practicalities of research. How do you decide what questions you are going to ask in your research? How can you find the materials that will help you to answer those questions? And how will you avoid the pitfalls of taking the records of the past at face value? Learning from the Past brings together researchers from the University of Nottingham and University of Birmingham, as well as curators from the British Library. Over the 3 weeks of the course, we will look at the materials and methods that researchers employ.
The first day of a new course is always exciting. I've been following our first steps for learners to introduce themselves and their research interests. There's lots of interest in family history and local history, but also other topics such as history of science or a general interest in how researchers work and analyse evidence. A lot of learners want to know more about how to use libraries and archives, and are interested in the practical elements of the course.
A big topic for our first week is on the significance of language, and language change, in communicating ideas and values. I'm currently enjoying the discussion thread on 'what three words would you use to introduce yourself to a visitor from Mars'?
If you’re interested in how historians work, thinking about starting your own research project, want inspiration for your existing work, or want to know why history matters today, join in the discussion at Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious Researcher. No need to worry if you're reading this after 3rd September - you can join any time before the course ends on 23rd September.