I. Early Stages: Thinking about Photography and Education
My Afterlife of Heritage Project, ‘Photographing the Family. Workshops for Schools & Colleges’, is closely connected to my PhD research topic, which involves looking at photographic representations of family life in the mid-Victorian period. One of the most challenging and interesting aspects of being part of this public engagement project, I think, has been to explore the boundaries and defining features that distinguish one from the other.
The initial aim behind setting up these school workshop activities was to provide a space for exploring photographic images. More specifically, to ‘read’ ordinary family photographs and to explore associations between how families presented themselves in the Victorian period and how we represent our private, domestic life today. In planning the activities I also wanted to create opportunities for thinking about broader questions, including how photography contributed to the publication of privacy from the start. The Victorians were, after all, at least as troubled by these issues as we are today.
From my point of view, the choice of Glamorgan Archives as a potential cultural partner followed naturally from my research into Victorian photographic collections in Wales. Coincidentally, I met one of the archivists at a ‘Careers in cultural heritage’ event at Cardiff University in November and the collaboration developed in stages after that. Although the archive frequently engages with schools, they were keen to expand their collaboration with secondary schools and, in particular, to engage with the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification. As a result, the initial planning focused to a large degree on researching the WBQ, communicating with the Welsh education board (WJEC) and mapping out connections between my research, the Glamorgan collection and the curriculum. During Jan/early Feb., I had a number of meetings with Rhian Phillips, who is responsible for public engagement at Glamorgan archives, but also Ross Thomas from WJEC. The Afterlife workshop proved very useful at this point, not least because it had alerted me to the fact that each partner brings distinct skills and knowledge, but also a slightly different set of priorities.
At the same time, I was developing resources for the workshop, gradually incorporating material that surfaced in the collections, whilst accommodating the key principles of the WBQ. I think it has been a huge advantage to work with a small institution simply because it makes communication and face-to-face meetings much more straightforward. I was really pleased, for instance, that Rhian and I could attend the second workshop together.
The support from WJEC has been extremely valuable. One of the difficulties associated with working with schools/colleges is that you are trying to ‘sell’ extra-curricular activities that often involve cost, effort and somewhat vague benefits (having previously taught in a sixth form college I am familiar with the scenario!). However, the WBQ is not only much more open to learning outside the classroom, but the board actively promotes learning opportunities provided by outside agencies via its online library and communication. Nevertheless, trips take money out of the school budgets so being able to offer support for teacher cover is crucial, especially for schools in deprived areas.
The first workshop is booked for late May, so we shall see…