5th – 12th January 2015 – Lydia Pyne

Kicking off the 2015 for us is Lydia Pyne, who’ll be chatting about history, science, anthropology and archaeology from parts of the world that this account hasn’t touched on yet.

Hi, my name is Lydia Pyne (@LydiaPyne) and I’m most excited to be curating @WetheHumanities this week. I am a writer and historian in Austin, TX.
My writing interests focus on the history of paleoanthropology, archaeology, museums, collections, and material culture. My fieldwork, archival research, and writing projects have ranged from South Africa, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and Iran, as well as the American Southwest.

I am currently working on two humanities-based book projects. The first, Famous Fossils, Hidden Histories, traces one hundred years of fossil hominin discoveries – sketching the stories of the fossils as they move from scientific circles to iconic cultural objects. My second book project, Bookshelf, is part of the Object Lesson series from Bloomsbury Press.

I am a contributing editor for The Appendix and I review history, anthropology, and other literary nonfiction through NewPages and The New York Journal of Books. My history of science, archaeology, and paleo blog features posts about some of the texts I work with.

I am excited to talk and tweet about history of science, material culture, and writing – I am looking forward to awesome discussions this upcoming week!

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Matthew Smith – A Year In Retrospect

Matthew Smith, AKA @Smiffy, curated for us earlier in the year and has very generously written us a post reflecting on his experiences, both as a curator and as a follower. If you fancy writing a blog post for us (on anything humanities-related) in the New Year drop us a line at wethehumanities@gmail.com; our answer is probably yes!

I always intended to write a follow-up post to my curation of We the Humanities, said curation being over four months ago, at the time of writing. I am glad that I have deferred (or procrastinated) to this point, because I have watched other curators come and go, and feel I can now be more objective about the whole thing.

The original purpose of a follow-up was to provide encouragement/guidance (the arrogance!) to potential curators, but I can now sum that up in two points: 1) Watch what has gone before, and 2) DO IT!

My curation was experimental in several ways – trying to figure what would and wouldn’t work in a rotation/curation context. What I learnt from this, and which I originally intended to share, is trivial, and pales into insignificance with what I have really gained from the We The Humanities Experience.

It’s all about the people. Both as a curator, and as a follower engaging with other curators, I have had some wonderful conversations and, above all, have had the privilege of meeting some truly amazing people. The whole of my engagement with WtH, in whatever role, has been a singularly positive experience.

One thing I particularly enjoyed as a curator, and have seen happen since, is crossover conversations with the @realscientists account – as if I needed further evidence that the Sciences and Humanities are all part of the same thing!

As one working in STEM, I questioned initially whether it would be appropriate for me to curate WtH – where was my legitimacy? Having interacted with so many lovely people, via the WtH channel, I no longer question this; I now realise that there is more of a Humanities component to what I am than I had ever expected, and I now know that component will grow, as I discover new areas of interest through what I discover through WtH conversations.

2014 is nearly at a close and, for me, in many ways, has been a very unpleasant year. WtH, and the people I have met through it, have been a light in my darkness. My thanks, as always, to Jess and Kris for making such a valuable resource happen in the first place.

I wish everyone the best for 2015, and a glorious second year of We the Humanities.

15-21 December, Emilie Oléron Evans

This week’s curator comes to us from across Europe, representing France, the UK and Germany at least! Emilie is particularly interested in the interdisciplinary nature of the humanties, and I look forward to her take on this very relevant debate.

Hello, my name is Emilie Oléron Evans (@bringyourownsun) and I am an academic Inbetweener. I am currently working my way in-between countries, statuses, jobs and disciplines. I very recently completed a joint PhD, achieved at Queen Mary University, London, and at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III. I am a French native, originally a student of German, gravitating more and more towards the topic of art historiography.

My thesis tackles the cultural transfers in the life and career of the art historian Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) and shows how his work played a major part in the progression of the history of art and architecture to the status of an academic discipline in the United Kingdom from the 1930s and 40s onwards. I did not go as far as to say that Pevsner introduced the concept of Zeitgeist in British culture for lack of evidence, but he did use it a lot ‘before it was mainstream’. I have always been interested in where cultural representations come from, and in my future (ahem) research I want to focus on verifying the intuition that the richest and most prominent components of cultural discourse originate from a dialogue with other cultures. The anglo-german dialogue is a fascinating field of study, in line with the current development of interdisciplinarity in academia.

The future and the challenges of the interdisciplinary approach are questions that I would very much like to discuss as curator of @wethehumanities. How much dialogue between the disciplines is possible as long as these disciplines dictate the structure of university departments and degrees? I am really looking forward to contributions from specialists in comparative and translation studies regarding the direction in which they wish to see their ‘interdisciplinary discipline’ evolve.

I would be happy to share my (very) fresh experience of taking two vivas, one in the UK and one in France. Feel free to ask any practical questions you might have. I would like to present the concept of joint degrees and to show that it is an idea with a lot of potential. International mobility is another subject I intend to talk about in this context: how best to navigate between academic traditions? I hope this discussion will attract some comments from the French contingent of Twitter academics (the ‘Nous les Humanités’ branch of our big, beautiful family).

Curator Reflections: Ben Fast

Ben, who curated for us at the end of November, has very kindly written us a blog post reflecting on his week.  One of the things I enjoy about the account is how different weeks can be and the new ideas curators bring to their time at the helm –  Ben put lots of thought into his curation and introduced prize draws (a WtH first!) and survey results.  A big thank you to him and all the contributors who are making this first year so stimulating and varied.

I’m two days removed from my week as curator of We the Humanities (Nov. 24-30) and sitting at my computer I keep having urges to check my Twitter updates!  It was an intense week and I think I developed an addiction…

Being the curator of We the Humanities was a lot of fun first and foremost.  The opportunity to spend a week talking about whatever you want to talk about in front of about 2,000 people doesn’t come around too often.  Talking for a week in front of that many people and doing it without getting boring or irrelevant is also a challenge, one I really wanted to succeed at as I was the first Canadian curator and, I felt, perhaps one of the lesser educated or experienced curators.  I’m not researching a PhD, I have no recognition to my name because of what I’ve done…would people even care about what I had to say?

I launched myself headfirst into this project well in advance of my week.  I was originally supposed to curate in October but had to re-schedule due to a field school in the UK at the same time.  Because I was talking less about what I was researching or doing in my job and more about my interests in museums and, I felt, promoting Canadian museums to the world, I set about learning more about my chosen topic.  I created a very informal 25 question survey for Canadian museum workers and put it out across my social media channels and the BC Museums Association list-serve.  I had 11 responses in one week, and the results were great to have on hand for my final curation day.  In this sense I felt I had some original material to show off, and something new for my own industry connections.

I decided to create a schedule for my week at We the Humanities.  I did this both to keep me on track in my research, but also to focus the discussion I hoped to lead.  I am interested in many aspects of museum work, so having a set schedule of topics would help guide people to the account and allow for a deeper level of sharing of ideas.  In hindsight, I would say this was a good idea as it did keep me on track, but I’m not sure it benefited or even impacted other users that much.  I also found myself more likely to stray off topic later in the week as I learned the ropes of curating such a broad Twitter community.

As someone from the West Coast of Canada, I knew I would run into some downtime as many followers came from the UK/Europe or Australia.  Time differences would be my enemy – they are when others curate and I miss all the discussion – and I didn’t want to go unnoticed!  I used Hootsuite to schedule some tweets, mainly links to museum-related articles or to my schedule post, so those in other time zones would have a consistent reminder of what was going on.  This turned out to be a great success as I would wake up to dozens of notifications and an instant discussion thread for my day.  I would recommend future curators explore this activity as it helps make the account a 24/7 operation, but be warned that it does take some time to schedule tweets each day.  I most likely went a bit overboard with this…

A final new addition to We the Humanities was a series of draw prizes.  I had sent emails out to many larger Canadian museums with the hopes of them donating a small prize that they could mail internationally to the winners.  The Museum of Vancouver, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, and The Rooms responded to my request and each provided a prize.  Thank you to all three museums for supporting me as curator and supporting the overall promotion of the humanities.  It was a personal highlight to be able to promote these organizations and share their stories.  I held a 24-hour draw window with short prompt and winners were chosen on Days 3-5.  There were fewer responses than I would have hoped for (17 in total over the three draws) but I still think it was a fun element of my week.

All in all, my week as curator of We the Humanities was a great opportunity to explore museums, make networks with likeminded people, and foster discussion about the humanities in general.  I likely spent too much time on the account – my homework will suffer this week because of it – but it is something I am happy to put on my resumé.  I would recommend other people interested in the humanities to broaden their horizons and give it a try, the community is highly supportive and there are more people interested in what you do than you would imagine!

8 – 15 December, Kim Biddulph

This week, we have Kim Biddulph, director of Schools Prehistory. She will be talking about prehistory in relation to contemporary research, schools and teaching whilst bringing in other voices from the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Charles Darwin Trust. It’s sure to be a fascinating and inspiring week! I’m (Emma) really looking forward to it! 

Hi, my name is Kim Biddulph and I’m curating @WeTheHumanities this week in my capacity as director of Schools Prehistory (@schprehistory though I also tweet at @kimbiddulph). I set this business up to support schools and museums to get to grips with changes in the primary school history curriculum in England, particularly studying prehistory. The prehistory of Britain and north-west Europe was my main focus of study at under- and post-graduate level, and since university I have been pursuing a career in museum education, so the new curriculum was like a special gift just for me.

I have found, with surprise, that the term prehistory itself is not widely understood so I will spend Monday defining that term and exploring the history of research into the pre-literate communities of Europe and the British Isles through archaeology, studying the objects that people left behind. I like to tease my historian friends by saying history is just a subsidiary part of archaeology, as written texts are objects too. They usually object! I’d like to discuss what you think about the relationship between the two approaches to studying the human past.

On Tuesday I’ll move on to exploring how academics, museums and commercial organisations interact with teachers and students to support them to develop new topics. The change to the primary history curriculum in England was contentious and many teachers felt like this change was thrust upon them without much preparation. Is it ethical that my company seeks to make money to help teachers with this topic? I’ll talk about my struggle to sell services commercially when I’m used to working for government organisations or national museums and providing advice to teachers for free, and how I have come to terms with it.

On Wednesday I’ll start showcasing some of the work my team and I have done for various organisations and schools, for instance writing for the Teaching History in 100 Objects website from the British Museum, and where we’d like to develop. I’d like to hear about other great initiatives that aim to popularise your particular subject in the humanities and maybe we can bounce ideas off each other on how best to go about it.

By Thursday I’d like to move on to sharing the topics and themes that interest me in prehistory and what it is that schools would like to know about. I’ll be meeting with old colleagues from the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to talk about developing a couple of new workshops for them, so I’ll tweet some of our ideas. I also have a particular interest in the lives of children in prehistory and people’s appearance – but is there enough academic research out there for me to develop some resources for teachers to use? Who directs the course of academic research? Which topics go in and out of fashion? Can a change in school curricula open up new avenues for research?

On Friday I am meeting up with some old colleagues at the Charles Darwin Trust, who I first got involved with when I developed an education programme at Darwin’s home, Down House in Kent, for English Heritage. I’ll use the opportunity to talk about the links between the humanities and science, especially in the area of evolutionary biology and human evolution, but also in literary scientific writing, which I think Darwin was a master of.

At the weekend I am away visiting family so may not be quite so busy on the account. Who else is freelance or maybe doing loads of unpaid work in their free time? How do you manage your work/life balance? How do you manage to be a working parent? I’d like to hear from any men who find children impact your work or career, only because it seems such a rare thing but I am willing to be proved wrong! I’ll also take the time to promote the work of other people working in my field and the long tradition of women working in archaeology through the Trowelblazers project, which I am a contributor to.