About IPUP: Our mission statement

The Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP) is a research centre established to study the meaning of the past in the present. IPUP’s research explores how the past is used by individuals and communities to create identity: this involves studying the ways in which the past is understood and contextualized in order to interpret the present and to mediate traumatic or contested pasts.

IPUP has been established by the Department of History and also runs the MA in Public History as a taught masters’ programme within that Department.

IPUP's research and teaching foregrounds three approaches. Firstly, to analyze how institutions (such as history, heritage and media organizations) present the past to mass audiences. Secondly, to research how these institutional presentations of the past are consumed and understood by diverse audiences. Thirdly, to explore and understand how these products interplay with the multi-layered processes of identity formation in the present.

Bootham Bar

IPUP’s research agenda thus covers any area in which the past and the public meet; this includes (but is not limited to) studying the relationship between history and policy, the ways in which the past is communicated in the media, the manner in which it is packaged and presented in archives, historical and heritage sites, and the ways in which the public themselves consume and perceive narratives about the past as a community-led grass-roots experience.

Alongside this, IPUP also studies active participatory engagement with the past on the part of the public (using audience research methodologies), in order to generate data that will illuminate the ways in which the public interacts with different events and genres, including anniversaries and commemorations, uncomfortable pasts and re-enactments.

IPUP’s ongoing research involves actively working in partnership with media and heritage practitioners, to refine their history-based offerings to current audiences and also to pilot interpretation aimed at those not yet engaged, and thus increase and diversify audiences to include sections of society which, for economic or cultural reasons, are not traditionally engaged with the past’s narratives.

The Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past is located in the Department of History at the Humanities Research Centre and works in an interdisciplinary context with academics from the departments of Archaeology, History of Art, English and Related Literature, Politics, the Centre for Applied Human Rights, Computer Science, Electronics, Sociology and Theatre Film and Television.

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