BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
The Practice of the Past: Public History, Heritage and Museums

Unit code HIST32032
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


HIST32032 is restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes, and Euro Studies (please check your programme structure for further details).


  • To introduce students to key concepts in the fields of public history, heritage and museology.
  • To equip students to think critically about the ways in which the past is presented, managed and controlled in different settings and sectors.
  • To encourage students to consider the difference between the academic study of the past and the applied methods and practices of dealing with past.
  • To think critically about the way in which the skills of the historian are applied in multiple settings.
  • To encourage students to think about their next steps in either further study or employment in a history/heritage related area.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will:


Wk 1 – Introduction – history or heritage and what’s the difference?

This introductory week will introduce the structure, learning methods and assessment of the course. It will then feature a lecture which introduces the different perspectives from which the past can be considered and the three themes of the course (how is the past presented and managed and where power lies).

Wk 2 – Audiences and consumption of the past

This week discusses the different groups who receive and consume the past and the ways in which the past is presented in different settings. It thinks about the different audiences for the past, what they want and how they are approached and thought about. (This week may meet at the John Rylands Library for a mini-field trip to focus the discussion on audiences for the past in Manchester city centre and using specific case studies)

Wk 3 – Identity and representation

This week introduces the concept of representation of, and in, the past. It discusses the claims that are made over the past by different groups and how the presentation of the past is contested. Who has the authority to represent the past? Who might be excluded? What are some of the reasons for wanting to control the past? (This week may meet at the Race Relation Resource Centre for a mini-field trip to think about race relations and marginalised groups)

Wk 4 – Faking it and authenticity

This week will consider debates about authenticity ranging from the concern over whether something is what is purports to be or claims to present, through to dynamic and contingent value and meaning of the past. (This week may meet at the People’s History Museum for a mini-field trip to consider, through object-based learning, if the material past is always as it first seems, or whether different skills might need to be employed).

Wk 5 – Field Trip (TBC)

The field trip will take students to a site where the ideas of the previous weeks (representation, audiences and authenticity) will be explored and where we will begin discussions for case study and essay topics.

Wk 6 – Reading week

Wk 7 – Material culture – museums and collections

This week, students will be introduced to some of the key concepts of material culture and the physical presence of the past. It will discuss the presence of material culture in organised settings such as museums, galleries and heritage attractions and discuss how the physicality of the past is presented and managed.

Wk 8 – Materiality

This week continues the discussion of material heritage but broaden to include the diverse ways in which the past leaves a material presence and how that is managed and dealt with outside organised museum, collections and sites. It considers the ways in which material heritage is presented and managed in non-heritage focussed settings and the challenges.

Wk 9 – Space and place

This week, students will be introduced to key concepts from building conservation, heritage planning and preservation of natural heritage. It will discuss how and what we save in the historic built environment and discussions between conservation and progress. For this week, students will engage in a short walking tour, to engage with the campus as a ‘living lab’ where these questions are live issues.

Wk 10 – The economy of the past

This week will consider the ways in which the past is used for promotion and profit. How has the past been commercialised and what are the risks?

Wk 11 – Performance, memory and the intangible past

This week will consider discussions about the intangible past through the themes of performance, an

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be taught via a blended mix of lectures, seminars, workshops and supervision. There will be 3-hours of specific contact time per week, which will consist of a 2-hour seminar followed by a 1-hour lecture as well as course unit office hours equivalent to one hour per week.

Seminar reading lists and sourcebooks will be made available on Blackboard, as will links to digitised material and other online source/databases. Lecture slides will be uploaded onto Blackboard.

All Coursework will be submitted and returned via Turnitin.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand how the past is presented and managed in different settings outside an academic context.
  • Understand the key concepts from public history, heritage studies and museology for the way in which the past in presented and managed.
  • Understand how the theory of managing the past is applied in a practical setting.
  • Be able to critically evaluate how the past is presented and managed in non-academic settings.
  • Understand the careers in which history and heritage skills are used.

Intellectual skills

  • Critically evaluate and engage with key concepts from public history, heritage studies and museology.
  • Analyse the ways in which the past has been approached in a variety of practice settings.
  • Understand the link and challenges of the past in theory and practice.

Practical skills

  • Ability to apply theory to practice.
  • Researching and evaluating an example of the past used outside an academic setting.
  • Learning to distinguish between academic and non-academic forms of history-writing, their principles, politics, and conventions, and developing the ability to write for non-academic audiences in engaging and informative ways.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Be able to articulate the importance of the past and their skills as historians in multiple settings.
  • Understand the way in which the skills they are developing can be transferred to different sectors.
  • Improved written and oral communication skills.
  • Improved group work.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%
Portfolio 50%

Recommended reading

Beck, Peter (2012) Presenting History: Past and Present, Palgrave Macmillan, London

Harrison, R. (2012) Heritage: Critical Approaches. Routledge

Ashton, Paul and Kean, Hilda (2012) Public history and heritage today: People and their pasts. Palgrave Macmillan

De Groot, Jerome (2016) Consuming History: Historians and heritage in contemporary popular culture. Routledge

Kean, Hilda and Ashton, Paul (Eds) (2013) The Public History Reader. Routledge

Waterton, Emma and Watson, Steve (Eds) (2015) The Palgrave Handbook of contemporary heritage research. Palgrave

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
James Hopkins Unit coordinator

Additional notes




Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

Weekly reflective log

Formative and summative

Max 150 words each week


Case study report (students use concepts and debates discussed in the course to evaluate how the past has been presented or managed in a context discussed in the course).


1,500 words


Individual essay


2,500 words



Return to course details