‘Re-Imagining Challenging History’ 29-30 June 2016
This conference, jointly hosted by Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales and Cardiff University, explored how cultural practitioners are working in innovative and responsive ways with difficult and sensitive heritages/themes. This is a time of unprecedented change, pressure and evolution for museums and their continued investment of resources in this area is not assured. The conference directly addressed those contexts, and suggested imaginative responses to them, helping delegates to explore why and how challenging histories maintain their relevance.
The conference programme included keynotes from:
David Anderson, Director General Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, on ‘Avoiding Challenging History’
Samantha Heywood, Director, Museum of World War II, Boston on ‘The challenges of challenging history in the ‘real’ world’
Stephen Bourne, Scholar and Writer, on ‘Black Poppies’
David Gunn, Artist/Producer, on ‘Museums of Lies and Secrets’
It also included a performance from electro-folk storytellers ‘Harp and A Monkey’, a performance of ‘Graveyard Voices’, a number of off-site sessions and tours, two drinks receptions, and a three-course meal at Cardiff Prison. There were a range of high quality papers, panels and workshops, and pportunities to network and exchange in a ‘campfire session’ and a ‘failure cafe’.
The conference was invited to be a part of the Wales Festival of Innovation.
Questions we explored included…
* Is it appropriate to re-imagine the role of museums and museum professionals as activists or as civil society mediators?
* How does our understanding of ‘impact’ in museums (and Universities also) frame what kind of work with challenging history is deemed viable?
* Do museums’ current methodologies need re-imagining?
* How are online-only museums free to imagine their work with challenging histories differently?
* Is there a role for gaming, play and mischief-making in work with difficult and sensitive subject matters?
* What is the role of academic research in re-imagining well-known challenging topics?
* How does all of this link into wider discussions about museums’ survival in 2016 and beyond?
The conference was sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council World War One Engagement Centre: Voices of War and Peace http://www.voicesofwarandpeace.org/. Debates about Challenging History are currently being framed against the backdrop of this very high profile and ongoing commemoration. A strand of the conference was therefore dedicated to papers that focused on the lessons that can be learned from dealing with this topic, including the ways in which it informs, challenges or intersects with other histories.
Conference sub-themes included:
*Re-imagining … commemoration: WW1 and beyond
*Re-imagining … space for challenging history
*Re-imagining … participation | experience | engagement
*Re-imagining … authenticity
*Re-imagining … digital
*Re-imagining … the political dimensions of museums’ work
*Re-imagining … relationships | audiences | visitors
*Re-imagining … empathy
*Re-imagining … silence
*Re-imagining … value
*Re-imagining … social justice
More on Challenging History…
Since 2009, the Challenging History group has been working with heritage professionals, practitioners and academics to explore and interrogate issues raised in work with difficult, contested and sensitive heritages in a range of museum contexts, within and beyond the UK. The project acknowledges that all history is – to a greater or lesser degree – challenging, and encourages practitioners to consider how heritage interpretation can better acknowledge this complexity at its core. In 2014 we edited Challenging History in the Museum: International Perspectives, a book that originated in papers at the last conference, held at City University, London and the Tower of London in 2012.
Challenging History is at once a community of like-minded individuals, a forum for discussion, a programme of ongoing professional development for practitioners and teachers and an advocate for change in the way our audiences engage with our shared history. It originated with the Challenging History series of seminars in 2009, held at Historic Royal Palaces – Tower of London. The programme was conceived to explore the role, aims and outcomes of heritage and museum learning programmes in relation to difficult and controversial subjects.
A challenging history is any history that is contested, or difficult and upsetting to know about.
Challenging History believes the museum and heritage sector has an important role to play covering these histories in their spaces and programmes, and must do this work to stay relevant. It also believes at a personal and societal level it is important to acknowledge and learn about these histories that contribute to our understanding of the world and how we want to live in it.
We see this conference as an opportunity to set an agenda for the work of the network in the coming years and we invite you to join the discussion.