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Union Jack and Stars and Stripes investigate public history

The University of South Carolina (USC) has one of the leading postgraduate Public History programmes in America and a group of their students and lecturers are in the UK to explore best practice in public history.

They will be visiting undergraduate public history students at the University of Exeter on the Cornwall Campus as part of a new partnership to develop cross cultural and transnational links and a greater understanding of cultural heritage across two continents.

As part of the trip the students from both universities will visit a National Trust site, Godolphin House in Helston, a historic 17th century house with a medieval garden set within an ancient estate in Cornwall. In a daylong conference on campus they will discuss and compare the different ways organisations present history to the public and how the study of public history both in theory and practice compares between the two countries.

Professor Allison Marsh, supervisor of the USC students said: ‘We are excited to join with the University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus to explore best practices in public history. This programme brings together American and British students to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the next generation of museum professionals and historic site interpreters.”

She added:”For over 20 years, USC has been visiting Yorkshire as part of a course in comparative public history, and I am excited by the expansion to Cornwall. Partnering with the University of Exeter allows students to understand differing regional approaches to cultural heritage interpretation while forming a global perspective on the field’.

The University of Exeter is one of the few UK universities to focus on public history as a major part of its undergraduate History programme. Cultural and historic organisations throughout Cornwall regularly provide numerous opportunities for Exeter’s undergraduates to practically enhance their skills in public history and develop their understanding of the sector. The National Maritime Museum, Falmouth has facilitated several student placements, including one with student Bethany Partridge who in her first year shadowed various departments to get a better feel for the organisation. Bethany enjoyed working with the Education and Family Learning so much that she continued to volunteer throughout the summer and chose to work with them again the following year. Her topic was ‘Historical Piracy in Cornwall’, during which she researched and developed a new online exhibition. The experience was such a positive one that she is starting an eight week summer placement in July. The Record Office in Truro has also supported public history students on placement and worked on many long term projects with them resulting in exhibitions and school workshops, enabling the students to contribute to the cultural experience of the south west. Another student, Amy Shakespeare worked on a display about the adventures of Captain Jolly, a master mariner who sailed out of Fowey in the late 19th and20th centuries. 

The visit of graduate students and their lecturers from the University of South Carolina to the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus stems from an Outward Mobility Academic Fellowship that historian, Dr Catriona Pennell was awarded in May/June 2012. 

Dr Pennell said: “I sought to develop links between the History that we teach and research on this campus, and three key institutions in America’s southern states. I’m delighted to welcome our colleagues from one of the leading Public History programmes in the US to the Cornwall Campus. It’s a wonderful opportunity for our students to network and collaborate with postgraduates working towards careers in the museum and heritage sector, and to develop cross-cultural and transnational links between two sets of students with a shared enthusiasm for Public History.”

Date: 7 June 2013

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