On the 4th April, the Centre for West Midlands History held its first ‘Research Student Showcase’ at the Birmingham and Midland Institute in the city centre. This was an opportunity for former students on our MA in West Midlands History to share their dissertation research with local residents, Centre members, and current students. Nine graduates took to the floor to present their work, as well as fielding questions from an audience of more than fifty people keen to learn about the region’s history. While the topics were diverse, there were themes that recurred throughout the afternoon…
First, the power of local history to illuminate the experiences of communities who are often missing from the historical record. Both George Mainwaring’s fascinating work on gypsy communities in Worcestershire and Steve Knibbs research on female patients at Powick asylum gave voice to people whose lives and experiences are often missing or marginalised in traditional, mainstream histories.
Second, the enduring connections between family and local history. Several speakers, including David B. Lewis, Julia Farruggia, Ginny Hartley, and Peter Mason, told the story of a single Midlands family – but, in doing so, they also illuminated issues of local and national interest, from the development of the fire service to the politics of industry and production.
Third, the presentations used local history to address the challenges of the present. Justine Pick’s presentation on sewage management, in particular, drew clear parallels between the management of the ‘great stink’ on the river Tame in the 19thc and modern-day practices, while Joan Turner asked important questions about the historical origins of the gender pay gap through a study of Birmingham’s pen factories.
A big thank you to all our speakers, audience members, and chairs for making this such an enjoyable and stimulating afternoon. If you’re feeling inspired and would like to learn more about our unique Midlands history MA programme visit: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/postgraduate/courses/taught/history/west-midlands-history.aspx