Within the Walls: Heritage Values and the Historic City

A Collaborative PhD project in the Historic City of York, UK

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Being Human about Heritage and History

What seems like ages ago, Dr Sarah Rees Jones (Dept. of History, IPUP, and Victoria Hoyle’s supervisor) approached the team with the idea of putting in an application to the Being Human Festival, the first national celebration of the Humanities, taking place in November. After a creative meet up and exchange of emails, we succeeded in our efforts and—much to our delight—were awarded funding for our two-day workshop (more details to follow).

On Wednesday 14th May I went to the Being Human reception to meet others involved in projects taking place at universities up and down the UK this autumn. Needless to say I was curious about other projects and simply wasn’t sure what to expect. What even is a ‘Being Human Festival’ in the large scheme of things? Some may even ask “what’s the point”?

The Being Human Festival is led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, held at the School of Advanced Studies, and is simply about asking “What does it mean to be human?” specifically with regards to the social sciences and ‘humanities’—that is music, art, history, literature, psychology, sociology, geography, philosophy, languages and so on. But more than this, it is about exploring what it means to be human now—in 2014—within this social environment of digital demands and technologically collapsed time. Living within an electronic ‘Brave New World’, the Being Human Festival aims to demonstrate to the public how the Humanities can help “question, interpret and explain the human predicament”; a vital task to achieve within this digital era.

Ok, so now I have the programme of the Being Human festival, I gather that there are an array of projects exploring humour, gender, voice, vision, sound, humans and the landscape or urbanscapes, advertising, politics, youth, music, rebellion, theatre and many others. All appear to involve working with a variety of people (schools, local residents, young people, old people, artists, specialists and institutions). Most are evoking creative activities such as film, art, poetry, music, the Internet—there are even projects exploring research through 3D laser-scanning! So you can really get a feel of festivity on the whole.

The title of our project is “Within the Walls: Heritage, Public History and the Historic City”. Just to give you a bit of a hint, Dr Sarah Rees Jones says this:

“we are looking forward to engaging the public through new activities both online and offline that address the value of York’s past for communities in the present and the future. There will be an exhibition of recent research conducted locally to stimulate the imagination but we are really interested in public contributions and ideas. At the end of the week we plan to link up with similar projects at the University of Western Australia to consider the values associated with heritage and history among migrant and mobile populations both locally and internationally”.

We’re looking forward to being collaboratively creative with others and essentially, we aim to be human about history and heritage. 

Check out @BeingHumanFest on twitter! Image


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“Within, or perhaps, Without the Walls?” by Katrina Foxton.

Access to your culture is a human right—it is, in fact, written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If you read our ‘About’ page, you’ll see that access to heritage and culture is one of the main issues we are studying. The heritage sector is pushing to be more democratic, to account for the values of many at both a local and a global level. But can heritage management—such as that surrounding archival, built or buried remains—be open to all? Or indeed, should it should remain in the hands of qualified experts (with a ‘wall’ built around it)? This project is entering an already expressive debate (see York Stories website, the York: Living With History project and the Archaeology Dept’s own student run Heritage York Project).

So, should York’s heritage decisions be made Within or Without the Walls? I’ve typed up the following basic arguments, to highlight some key points on both sides of the debate (although I recognise that this is an ongoing and complex story).


The Council of Europe considers everyone to have the right to participate in the management of their heritage–see The Faro Convention, Article 4 in particular (2005). The benefits for involving everyone include empowerment; sustained interest in the historic environments; and a more representative historic environment which fulfils the needs of a culturally diverse community. Not to mention, it simply feels good to have your voice heard. Most potently is the call to recognise that everyone is a heritage expert in their own right, as they will be ‘experts’ in living where they do (Schofield 2014).

There are many accusations too that experts stifle heritage dialogue through their bureaucratic and, essentially, non-representative choices. In addition, heritage can become a stake over which political parties lay claim and it often plays a significant part in the presentation of places for the purposes of tourism, which can lead to the detrimental ‘Disney-fication’ of towns and cities (Hewison 1984, Lowenthal 1985). So how can experts ever be useful?

WITHIN THE WALLS—Managed by experts?:

Experts can be referred to as people who have training and now work in the heritage sector, in a variety of roles such as; archaeologists, archivists, conservationists, outreach and education officers, museum and interpretation officers, tour guides, and historians (this list is not exhaustive!) They have in-depth technical knowledge without which the day-to-day protection and interpretation of heritage would be difficult. Moreover, community participation in projects aren’t always straight forward, and not everyone can, or even wants to be included in the work of heritage (Roskams and Neal 2013). And, let’s think for example; can a group of people make an easy, quick decision about a crumbling building or archive collection when everybody has a different opinion and different values? Some theorists argue that the role of ‘humble’ experts with  ‘sensitive ears’ are very useful in such situations, with the courage to make decisions and take action based on what they know (Burstrom 2014, Wolferston 2014). There is also positivity in the role of experts who can build bridges between local communities and local, national or even international government.


The question isn’t really about whether one group of people (qualified or not) should manage their heritage in entirety. If we go back to the Faro Convention, there is reference to bringing public authorities, heritage communities and other non-governmental organisation together, essentially to share the management of heritage (see Section 3, Article 11). So that basically means we can’t simply prioritise the values of one group over others—heritage management has to be a balanced and ‘well-informed’ process (CoE 2005).

The tricky thing is how to achieve this…and that’s what we’re interested in.


Burström, M (2013) “More Than a Sensitive Ear: What to Expect of a Professional Expert”. In  Schofield, J (ed.) 101-112.

Council of Europe (2005) The Faro Convention. Available at                 http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/cultureheritage/heritage/Identities/default_en.asp. Page Consulted 23/04/14.

Hewison (1984) The Heritage Industry: Britain in the Climate of Decline. London: Methuen.

Lowenthal, D. (1985) The Past is a foreign Country. Cambridge, Cambridge UP.

Roskams, S., and Neal, C. (2013) “Authority and Community: Reflections on Archaeological Practice at Heslington East, York”. In The Historic Environment, 4. 2, 139-55.

Schofield, J (ed) (2013) Who Needs Experts?: Counter-Mapping Cultural Heritage. Farnham: Ashgate.

Wolferston, S (2013) “Ethnography of a ‘Humble Expert’: Experiencing Faro”. In Schofield, J (ed). 43-      53.



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What is a ‘CDA’?

The Within the Walls project team are supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through CDAs or Collaborative Doctoral Awards.   CDAs bring Universities and non-academic organisations together to work on research that will have impact and long-term benefits on both sides.   Our project is a partnership between the University of York and City of York Council (CYC).

This is quite a new model for postgraduate research, both for Universities and for PhD students, and I keep being asked how it works in reality. In this post I’m going to give a little background to the scheme and also talk a bit about my experience so far.

In practical terms having a CDA means that Ed, Katrina and I each have a non-academic supervisor in addition to our academic one: for me on the archives strand this is Richard Taylor, the City Archivist, and for Ed and Katrina it is John Oxley, the City Archaeologist. As part of our research we’ll also undertake work based placements and projects with CYC, benefit from lots of in-house practical knowledge and be plugged in to a wider network of people who work in heritage in York.  In return CYC gives a small additional bursary to each of us on top of our grant to support our work-based research.

The AHRC launched the CDA funding scheme in 2005 (you can get an overview of the varied projects funded so far on their website), with the primary aim of encouraging Universities to collaborate and develop partnerships outside of academia.

The studentships also encourage and establish links that can have long-term benefits for both collaborating partners, providing access to resources and materials, knowledge and expertise that may not otherwise have been available and also provide social, cultural and economic benefits to wider society.

The University of York received its first awards in 2006 for projects in partnership with Harewood House and Castle Howard on country houses. Since then the Departments of History, Archaeology, Music, History of Art and Archaeology have had CDAs every year, in partnership with a long list of organisations, some local and some national.

English Heritage, the Yorkshire Film Archive, The Natural History Museum, The National Railway Museum, York Archaeological Trust, the Yorkshire Museum, the National Maritime Museum, Tate Britain, Glasgow Museums, Harrogate Borough Council, The British Museum and the National Gallery.

The topics have been diverse too, from ‘The Mesolithic and the Planning Process’ to ‘Shifting Perspectives on German Renaissance Art’ to ‘Picturing the railway passenger as customer in Britain: the Great Western Railway, 1903-1939’.


The CDA approach really works well for me.  I had always intended to return to University to do a PhD but over the years had also become really invested in my chosen career as an archivist.  Since 2010 I have worked for CYC as an archivist (and still do, two days a week) and  I was keen that any research I did should have potential impact for my profession and relate directly to the reality of archives work.  The CDA model gives me the best of both worlds: it allows me to undertake a vigorous academic study while at the same time relating it constantly back to the real-world organisation that I work for.

For example, I want to collaborate with community groups in York to identify what they value about archives, and understand how recognised heritage organisations can work with these groups to engage more people with their archival heritage.   The contact I have with CYC – as a researcher and a member of staff – means that I have access to work happening in real-time and can ‘get up close’, actually participating in things.  I will be delivering some elements of the Archives’ Heritage Lottery funded Gateway to History programme as my work-based project, the experience of which in turn will form a core element of my research. The task of building essential relationships with partners and accessing networks in the city has already been done for me, at the project development and bidding stage.

I don’t think CDAs would work for all researchers or for all research projects.  I suppose you could argue that collaboration complicates the research process because, depending upon on how active they are in the partnership, the non-academic organisation acts as another draw on precious time and already stretched mental resources.  While CDA students are free to follow their research wherever it takes them, none of the parties are disinterested and you have to serve two ‘masters’ coming from quite different perspectives.   In my case both my academic and non-academic supervisors have quite a clear sense of what they hope to achieve as a result of the research project, and are well aligned, but that won’t always be the case.  And the priorities and approaches of all organisations shift and change over time, which can impact on a 5 year part time PhD like mine.  Plus I imagine that work based projects can be a distraction if they’re not integrated fully into the research from the start.

All of that is outweighed for me though by the benefits, especially the potential CDAs offer for embedding research in new contexts and for demystifying and justifying academic work.  It’s a way of doing research ‘in the world’, right from the beginning.

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Watch this Space!!!


Welcome to the Within the Walls blog pages, a space where the WTW team can post their thoughts and ideas (as individuals and as a team) as they progress through their research on the heritage of York. This site is a ‘window-frame’ into the research side of the project but there is also room for guest bloggers, photo-essays, fictional fancies, reflexive accounts and related filmed events. The team hopes the experience of blogging will help them to tease out and apply a critical eye to some of the issues they come across, in a creative and engaged manner. Comments and interactions from the rest of the digital community are most welcome.

General Aims:

The WTW team will be engaging critically with their role amidst wider academic discussion; for example, subsequent blogs will reflect on the meaning of project’s title, on personal research experiences and methodological issues that surface during project work. The team will also be keeping pace with practicalities of heritage management, and will be working closely with, or indeed as, locally based heritage practitioners. The project is purposely situated between the academic theory and heritage practice, and throughout their studies the team hope to reveal interesting perspectives and potential tensions in order to contribute to current discussions in the heritage management field.

They are currently at the early stages of research so please ‘watch this space’ for further blogs and familiarise yourself with the menu bars above for more details about the Within the Walls Project.