Performing the Past: exploring the heritage of working-class communities in Yorkshire

Vicky Crewe –  Project Lead (Sheffield)
Jonathan Pitches (Leeds)
 Kate Giles (York)

This network will capitalize on the potential offered across WRUC to develop innovative multi-disciplinary methods for investigating and disseminating working-class histories (c.1800-1930), through collaboration with regional heritage organisations. Once regarded as being accessible only as the subjects of ‘official’ documents, working-class communities have recently begun to be analysed in new ways, as the material remains they produced and used − including autobiographies, diaries, poetry, photographs, paintings, material culture – have emerged as rich sources of information. Alongside this exciting body of research, pioneering – if hitherto uncoordinated – work to deliver this heritage has recently commenced, as witnessed by collaborations with the National Coal Mining Museum (UoL), York Archaeological Trust (UoY), and Point Blank Theatre Company (UoS). The network seeks to coordinate these research strands, bringing together academics and doctoral students from archaeology, history and literature, with those from film studies, theatre, performance, and museum studies in order to generate new models for telling stories about the past, drawing on the potential of practice-based methodologies. The network will benefit from the input of professionals in Yorkshire’s cultural heritage industries, to initiate collaborations across the region and explore funding opportunities.

Themes for exploration include:
The power of performance for articulating lived experiences of communities whose voices were often overpowered or suppressed by ‘official’ commentators; Narrative traditions of working-class communities, including oral history, poetry, autobiography, and theatre; Use of space and concepts of ‘place’ as cross-disciplinary strands of investigation; The potential of objects as media for storytelling (as personal belongings, mnemonic devices, heirlooms, symbols of identity, museum exhibits, and performance props). Long-term documentation of performance-based dissemination, especially digitally.
Papers from researchers, heritage professionals and performance specialists will be delivered at three one-day workshops, intended to showcase recent work, debate methodological and theoretical issues and explore funding potential. Workshops at the National Coal Mining Museum (W Yorks) and ‘Experience Barnsley’ (S Yorks) will facilitate collaboration with regional organisations most likely to employ and benefit from new methods of interpretation. The third workshop will explore the potential of the state-of-the-art digital facilities of York’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television to develop the longer-term activities of the network.