You are here: IPUP Staff » Helen Weinstein
Visiting Research Professor, Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past, Founding Director of IPUP
Visiting Research Professor, IPUP,
University of York
I am a historian of contemporary culture, researching how narratives of the past function in our society and how identities are constructed in the present using the past. I am currently working with the cultural sector to analyze how the past is packaged and presented by multimedia productions and heritage institutions, policy makers and funders. This involves researching into how the past is understood and used, connecting practice and theory, participation and public engagement.
My present positions are Visiting Fellow, Clare Hall, Cambridge; Visiting Research Professor for the Public Understanding of the Past, University of York; Consultant for BBC Strategy, and Member of the BBC Editorial Advisory Board. Recent position: Founding Director of the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP), University of York.
My career has been centred on the past in both academic and public milieux, and throughout I have maintained an interest in the ways in which the public not only consume and engage with the past but also actively participate as enthusiasts and researchers. Accordingly, my research interests broadly cover interpretation and narrative, and the ways in which the past is packaged for the public. My forthcoming book is an analysis of public engagement, policy and participation, entitled The Public Past: History, Meaning, and Society, to be published by Routledge shortly.
I am interested in how individuals, communities, and institutions
participate with the past, particularly with pasts that are traumatic
and contested involving multi-directional memories; see, for example,
the ‘1807 Commemorated’ research (which commenced in 2007), an
AHRC-funded Knowledge Transfer project which I devised for IPUP with
seven partner museums; and the follow-on 'Eurotast' project, (which
began in 2012), with a 4.3 million Euro FP7 award and a range of
partners. It employs 14 young researchers who are using a combination of
historical and archaeological research and cutting-edge genomics to
address pressing questions relating to the transatlantic slave trade,
particularly dealing with the captives' origins in Africa
At the University of York (IPUP), I facilitate conversations and research projects between academia and a wide variety of practitioners, and act to bring academic knowledge into different environments beyond the ivory tower. I have assisted academic and heritage colleagues develop appropriate funding bids and have a track record of successful facilitation and winning of grants from Collaborative Doctoral Awards all the way up to EU Framework Grants. I am a Consultant for managing the "pathways to impact" for a range of funded academic projects with a remit to design and deliver their public engagement strategies. For example, see England’s Immigrants
In the heritage sector, I am involved in several projects to develop participatory and community engagement practices and to support interpretation and provide innovative and realistic wider public engagement. For an example of partnership work with the York Museums Trust and the City Archaeologist, see the York Jewish History Trail leaflet, app and podcasts.
I offer consultancies helping organizations to develop their practice and theory of participation with a focus on social justice, diversity, and public engagement; looking at the interaction of audiences with museums, galleries, heritage sites, and the media; helping organizations to innovate and develop their potential in terms of wider public engagement, particularly relating to community relationships and volunteering, and identifying and designing projects in partnership with researchers in academia.
Nationally, I have been discussing participation and community engagement theory and practices with various national funding and policy bodies such as the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. I was Co-Chair of the London Mayor’s Heritage Diversity Task Force for Diversifying Audiences in 2008-10.
An important feature of IPUP’s involvement in the legacy work of the Heritage Diversity Task Force has been the founding of the Diversity in Heritage Group (DHG), developing the academic partnerships for this practitioner network, and scoping the most effective ways to support the cultural sector through research and conferences, such as the recent IPUP/DHG event sponsored by the British Museum and the Arts Council England, called ‘Cultural Equalities Now’.
I am on the Research Advisory Board for the National Museums for Science and Industry, including The Science Museum in London, The National Railway Museum in York, The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, and The National Media Museum in Bradford. I also work with a broad range of local museums and heritage sites including York Museums Trust and The Laurence Sterne Trust at Shandy Hall. I have recently won AHRC Research Network funding for a collaborative project with colleagues at The Science Museum and beyond, to increase and improve public engagement with the History of Science.
My research on multimedia involves understanding audiences and their participation; and I have a long track record of successfully translating academic work for broadcast, developing content for programming on TV, Radio and the Web. Accordingly, I have recently been appointed to the Strategy Advisory and the Editorial Advisory Board for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), to assist with communicating academic research into media products, and sourcing new talent and stories. I have produced over eighty documentaries and history programmes for both radio and television, and I am the founder of the media production company Historyworks.
- Research Fellow, Clare College, Cambridge University
- Visiting Professor for the Public Understanding of the Past, University of York
- Founding Director of The Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP), University of York
- Cambridge University History Faculty, Founder and Co-Convener of ‘Public and Popular History’ Research Seminar
- Magdalene College, Cambridge, Senior Research Scholar
- Magdalene College, Cambridge, Junior Research Scholar
My forthcoming Public History monograph analyzes the variety of ways by which the public understand, use and consume the past, entitled ‘The Public Past: History, Meaning and Society’, co-written with my colleague Adam Gutteridge, to be published by Routledge in February 2013. The book’s argument is that active public participation in the past, rather than mere passive consumption of narratives about the past, offers a potentially identity-forming and enriching way for individuals and communities to make a place in their world, an argument the book traces back to Ruskin, but which it argues is more within reach than ever before due to the technological transformations of the digital age. It sets out an innovative agenda for defining public history, bringing together new evidence as to how the media and the heritage industry present and package the past, alongside new understandings of public conceptions of history, and analytical explorations of the role played by public policy. The research for this book is unique in that it also encompasses public history’s participatory aspect and combines research into public engagement and collaborative community co-curation, with contemporary and fast-changing frameworks for participation offered by digital media. The monograph will break new ground because it moves the intellectual methodology beyond traditional interpretations of the publics’s pasts, that are solely concerned with representations of the past, and seeks to understand the roles played by policy, interactivity, lived histories, and user-generated content.
As an academic historian, my focus has been on the seventeenth century, and my research, generously funded by Magdalene College, Cambridge, included:
- John Cannon Memoirs (BBC History ‘Diary of an Autodidact’); Edition and Monograph forthcoming (see my BBC R4 series, ‘Diary of a Taxman’)
- Spinning with the Brain. 17th Century Women Writers (BBC Education, 1996)
- Samuel Pepys Collection: Ballads (2
Vols) (Boydell & Brewer 1992 & 1994)
- Cleaning, Fixing, Mending, Renovating York Minster: Minster Voices
- Invasion of Sicily 1948: Memory Like Shells
- Lynmouth Flood of 1953: The Day They Made It Rain
- Windrush & 1958 Notting Hill Riots: The Domino Party
- Cold War Codebreakers: Venona
- River Stour Then and Now: Downstream
- Singing Traditions on Isle of Mull: The Sound Of Mull
I sit on a number of national advisory committees and funding panels, and also act as chair for several national bodies. Past and present roles include:
- Arts and Humanities Research Council panels: AHRC/NOW Humanities Assessment Panel; AHRC Beyond Text Steering Panel; AHRC Beyond Text Commissioning Panel; AHRC Impact Follow-On Funding; AHRC Knowledge Transfer Fellowship & Knowledge Catalyst panels; AHRC Peer Reviewer; AHRC Advisory Board for ‘Televising History’
- National Heritage Committees: National Museum of Science and Industry Research Advisory Board (The Science Museum, London; The National Railway Museum, York; The National Media Museum, Bradford; The Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester); Black History Foundation Committee.
- National Chairs: Co-Chair of London Mayor’s Heritage Diversity Task Force for Diversifying Audiences; V & A ESRC Network: Chair of ‘The Past and Present of Intoxicants and Intoxication’; Chair for The London Mayor’s Cultural Leadership Programme.
It has been an important part of my role at IPUP to help academics identify how their research may make a difference outside academia, and in particular, to facilitate partnerships and coach researchers in best practice for collaborative and equitable relationships. I have successfully brokered many partnerships for academics to work with the media, galleries, archives, libraries, museums, and heritage sites. Further, I have helped identify the appropriate funding vehicles to support research projects, and supported the process of submitting numerous successful grant applications.
In addition, I run sessions and one-on-one coaching for academics in how to communicate clearly their research to the public. I train and advise academics in how best to translate their narratives into content for radio and TV, podcasts, apps, and web products.
Within a University context I have also contributed by participating in a broad range of appointment committees, and most significantly, I have been the Chair of the Ethics Committee for the Humanities and Social Sciences. In this role I have guided fifteen departments to introduce processes which brought responsibility for ethical oversight into their individual departments. I have also coached numerous academics in best practice for ethical consent, and in the processes necessary for data coding and storage in order to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998. To navigate the ethical consent issues involved with working with human subjects, go to the Committee website
At IPUP I founded an intern programme designed to offer MA and PhD students an opportunity to translate their research and writing skills into accessible public output. It has been possible to create close to fifty intern places per annum, and IPUP interns have executed excellent placements researching objects and exhibition materials, scripting audio podcasts and radio programmes and working on film and television content. I train and mentor many of the interns myself, and offer workshops in formats and communication, audiences and accessibility, interpretation and label-writing, storytelling and scripting, recording and editing. See IPUP's intern projects.
Several IPUP interns have won employment in media production companies and in heritage institutions as a direct result of their placements. See IPUP's intern blogs.TV & Radio Broadcasting
I have presented and produced over 80 Documentaries for radio and television. Many of my radio documentaries have been commissioned for the series Document which I have produced from the first series in 1997 onwards
My highlight has been winning the Sony Gold Award for Best News Programme of the Year for ‘Document: The Day They Made It Rain’ about cold war cloud seeding experiments. It took me over two years to track down the cloud seeding pilots and their logbooks, and it was worth it to wrong-foot the MOD! It is the first time a history programme has ever won the top news programme award, and in the words of Jon Snow, my programme won “for making the news rather than reporting it.”
For the documentary, Memory Like Shells, I wrote a BBC website article where I explain the role of Producer, and I discuss this oral history project and my collaboration with the composer, Karen Wimhurst and the veteran, Norman Winchester. I describe the making of the documentary and composition based on a lengthy oral history project and reflect on memory making and the relationship with sound as a stimulant to memory.
I have designed the content for numerous TV documentaries and series. TV is a relentlessly structured genre and there is not often space for the lyrical and subtle analysis possible in radio documentaries, but my favourite programme that I have produced is an epic for Channel 4 on the pamphlet wars of the English Civil War called ‘Blood On Our Hands’.
With the team at my company, Historyworks, I make made-to-measure short documentaries commissioned for exhibition spaces in galleries and museums, libraries and archives, archaeology and heritage sites.
Here are two of my favourite examples:
A documentary film was commissioned by the York Art Gallery to show the public how the artists, Matthew Collings and Emma Biggs, construct their paintings and sculptural mosaics, using thousands of fragments of medieval pottery shards. Further, in order to give audiences interpretive insights, the artists explain their design of colour, shape and form, and their motivations to relate the art work to the stained glass called "The Five Sisters" in York Minster.
Historyworks was commissioned to make a short documentary film for a heritage website introducing the public to Shandy Hall by giving audiences an intriguing glimpse of the quirky riches contained in the home of Laurence Sterne. The brief from the curator was that our film be careful not to reveal to the public too much of the sensory experience from this gem, but rather tempt audiences to visit the tucked-away place in person.
Historyworks has a long track record of making innovative sound installations relating to oral history projects. These have been performed in a variety of appealing acoustic spaces ranging from riverside mills to stately home halls, church vestries and cathedral chancels, community halls and homeless shelter stairwells.Policy Advisor
Museum and Heritage Advisor
My work focuses on collaborating with the cultural sector to support organizations to develop their relationships not only with academia but also with their publics, particularly relating to community engagement and volunteering. I am involved in conversations with policy makers to help understand audience development and community participation, and realize the potential of wider public engagement in the cultural sectors.
- Presentations at English Heritage, The Heritage Lottery Fund, The Museums Libraries & Archives Council, The Arts & Humanities Research Council
- Co-Chair for London Mayor’s Heritage Diversity Task Force on Diversifying Audiences to Museums, Libraries, Archives, Galleries, Heritage Sites, Parks and Gardens; Chair for the London Mayor’s Cultural Leadership Programme.
I have been appointed to the Strategy Advisory and the Editorial Advisory Board for the BBC, to assist with communicating academic research in to media products, and sourcing new talent and stories.
Previous content includes:
- Today Programme
- BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour
- BBC Radio 4 Archive Hour
- BBC Radio 4 In Our Time
- BBC Radio 4 Document
- BBC Radio 4 Timewatch
- BBC Balderdash & Piffle
- BBC History of America in 24 Hours, History Channel
- Mentor on the Clore Cultural Leadership programme
- Mentor on range of museum curator CPD programmes
- Research Advisory Board Member for National Museum of Science and Industry Research Advisory Board (The Science Museum, London; The National Railway Museum, York; The Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester; The National Media Museum, Bradford)
- The Museum of London
- Tate Britain
- The National Portrait Gallery
- Victoria & Albert Museum
- The Horniman Museum
- The British Museum
- The Imperial War Museum
- The Natural History Museum
- The Science Museum
- The National Maritime Museum
- London Museum of Transport
- Hackney Museum
- The London Metropolitan Archives
- The National Archives
- English Heritage
- The National Trust