MA History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Public History: Historians & the Public Sphere

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST64491
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


In recent decades public interest in history has grown exponentially, evident in the popularity of history in the media including David Olusoga’s phenomenally successful House Through Time, favourites such as Who Do You Think You Are?, and historical fiction such as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series. Equally, historical sites, museums and exhibits are amongst the most visited attractions in Britain. The general public has also become increasingly engaged in producing history (e.g. through community history projects or family history). History and memory continue to be the object of central political controversies, invoked to define national identities, citizenship or to legitimise policies and claims. What role do (and should) historians play in contemporary society? How can historians engage with non-academic audiences, bringing their expertise to a wider public and to bear on these debates? This course explores these questions, introducing students to the practical skills and methods necessary to engage with them.



  • To introduce students to the techniques, skills and media through which historians can engage with non-academic audiences;
  • To gain skills in identifying and building relationships with non-academic partners (the general public, the heritage industry, policy and third sector);
  • To gain experience in critically evaluating public history projects;
  • To extend students’ skills set in communicating their research via a variety of media (newspaper, tv, radio, blogs, exhibitions);
  • To develop a reflexive engagement with historical practice by debating the role of History in the public sphere.


Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand the multiple modes of interaction between History and its publics;
  • Analyse who is assumed to be ‘included’ and ‘excluded’ from popular historical narratives and sites, especially in relation to marginalised groups;
  • Understand how non-academic audiences approach, consume and produce historical knowledge;
  • Understand current and past debates on the role of history and historians in society.

Intellectual skills

  • Synthesize and communicate complex historical knowledge and practice to non-expert audiences.
  • Have developed the ability to consider historical topics from the perspective of non-professional audiences, as well as diverse groups of audiences.

Practical skills

  • Identify, plan and design public history projects, with opportunities to write policy documents, exhibition proposals, and create films using zoom or phone technologies;
  • Communicate historical research and knowledge to a non-expert audience across a variety of media;
  • Manage a sustained program of regular weekly work;
  • Gain experience in problem solving, leadership and teamwork.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Develop empathy and concern for inclusivity in the way history is presented and communicated to wider audiences;
  • Have developed a reflexive stance on own work and engagement with the public sphere;
  • Communication and organisation skills;
  • Articulate and develop informed and reasoned argument in written and oral forms to non-specialist audiences and in differing formats;
  • Organise own learning through self-management and work to deadlines;
  • Using ICT (blackboard, zoom etc.) for research and presentation purposes;
  • Demonstrate the ability to work in a group and show leadership;
  • Identify, analyse and apply a wide range of different types of data to formulate and solve problems;
  • Ability to bring analytical and research skills to bear on the formulation and design of proposals and projects. 

Employability skills

Become familiar with careers related to history within the media, heritage, policy, and other related sectors, and develop familiarity with different kinds of project planning and outcomes expected in those sectors; Develop communication skills appropriate to engaging with diverse academic and non-academic audiences; Engage in teamwork, project planning, and problem solving via classroom activities and assessment task(s); Opportunity to analyse and experiment with different kinds of media used in the production and dissemination of public history; IT skills.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Oral feedback on classroom project activities


Written feedback on essays



Recommended reading

David Olusoga, Black and British: A Forgotten History (MacMillan, 2016); see also BBC series:

Black History Month website:

Paul Ashton and Hilda Kean (eds), People and their Pasts: Public History Today (2008)

Hilda Kean and Paul Martin (eds), The Public History Reader (2013)

Jerome de Groot, Consuming History, Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture (2009)

Disability History Month website:

LGBT+ History Month website:

John Tosh, Why History Matters (2008)

Manchester Histories Festival:

The Raphael Samuel History Centre:

History & Policy:

Hilary Mantel Reith Lectures:

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 128

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Eloise Moss Unit coordinator

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