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MA History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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

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
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


In recent decades, public interest in history has grown exponentially, as is evidenced by the multiplication of history programmes in the media, from Schama’s The History of Britain and Who do you think you are?, to the success of historical fiction such as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. 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), and institutions ranging from government, private companies and the non-profit sector have become ever more interested in how history can help them understand themselves and their activities. Finally, History and memory continue to be the object of central political controversies, invoked to define national identities, citizenship or to legitimise policies and claims.

In this context, what role do (and should) historians play in contemporary society? How can historians engage with non-academic audiences and bring their expertise to a wider public and to bear on these debates?

This course will explore these questions and introduce students to the practical skills and methods necessary to engage with them. The course focuses on three key areas in public history: Sites, Publics and Practices.  Students will study and apply the theories, methods and practical skills associated with each of these themes, with a view to understanding how historical research can be brought into the public sphere.



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

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding :
- Understand the multiple modes of interaction between History and its publics.
- 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.

Practical skills:
- Identify, plan and design public history projects.
- 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:
- 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 form to non-specialist audience and in differing formats.
- Organise own learning through self-management and work to deadlines.
- Using ICT for research and presentation purposes.
- Demonstrate the ability to work in a group and show leadership.
- Identify, analyse and apply a wide range of data to formulate and solve problems.
- Ability to bring analytical and research skills to bear on the formulation and design of proposals.

Teaching and learning methods

This module is supported by the University of Manchester's online learning system, Blackboard. This will be used to provide relevant course materials and any additional online resources. Students' blog and projects will be submitted online via Turnitin on Blackboard.

Links to other web resources available through Blackboard.

Assessment methods

Assessment 1 - 1 x 1200-word case study exercise (20%)

Assessment 2 - 1 x 2800-word essay (80%)

Recommended reading

BBC ‘In our Time’:

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 128

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Eloise Moss Unit coordinator

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