The Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage
The Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage, formally the Manchester Centre for Regional History (MCRH), established in 1998, is the leading centre in the North West for urban and regional history, with an impressive track record of public-facing and collaborative research projects. Its world-leading strengths in producing high-quality, impactful research were recognised in REF 2014, which rated the local community-based case studies submitted by the Centre as 3*/4*, with an overall impact ranking exceeding that of Oxford, Liverpool, Cambridge and Manchester. The film created as part of the Moving Memories case study won a national award, provided the basis for further successful grant applications by partner organisations and now also features as a case study on the website of the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement. MCPHH is exceptionally well-networked with manifold collaborative partnerships across the Greater Manchester city region, including a close partnership with ‘Manchester Histories’, a charity which delivers an annual high-profile celebration of Manchester’s Histories.
The Centre has a long-established record of attracting external funding from research councils and English Heritage. Since RE2014 it has established close collaborative links with the Universities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Hertfordshire in delivering the AHRC/HLF-funded project Voices of War and Peace: the Great War and its Legacy and Everyday Lives in War, led by Prof. Melanie Tebbutt and Dr Catherine Danks. Dr Ben Edwards has been co-investigator on a major AHRC-funded Connected Communities project in partnership with Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities. In 2015 Dr Craig Horner won an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award in partnership with the Museum of Science and Industry. Other high-profile engagement projects include Zion 100, Granadaland and Passions for Youth, all of which have secured support from external funders, including HLF and the AHRC. MCPHH has a reputation as a key provider of support and training for projects run by local and community history organisations across the region. In 2014-15 Profs Berthold Schoene and Melanie Tebbutt led an AHRC-funded collaborative skills training programme on community engagement and partnership-building (Creating Our Future Histories). The strong and productive relationships created through these projects are complemented by the publication of a dedicated journal, The Manchester Region History Review, and a large active network of volunteers: the Friends of the MCPHH.
In 2014 MCPHH was joined by the Community Archaeology group, adding an important new area of research strength as well as commercial and consultancy success, knowledge exchange expertise and a variety of CPD activities with external partners, such as the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Cadw (Welsh Heritage). Dr Edwards and Dr Faye Sayer partnered with English Heritage to develop resources for the teaching of prehistory in primary schools that have since been included in the National Curriculum. Dr Sayer’s ‘Bones Without Barriers’, an archaeological project at Oakington in Cambridgeshire, investigates the impact of displaying human remains to the public. The project forms part of the campaign to persuade the UK government to change its policy towards the reburial and display of archaeological bones. The project attracted extensive media attention, including BBC 3’s ‘Digging for Britain’, the History Channel’s ‘Grave Trade’ and BBC News. Dr Edwards was a studio interviewee on BBC Breakfast News following the discovery of Richard III’s grave in Leicester.
MCPHH offers a range of archaeological and cultural heritage management activities to the professional sector, including an aerial survey for topographic mapping and 3D building recording, laser scanning for artefact digitisation and architectural feature recording, cutting-edge digital recording and modelling, topographic and geophysical surveying. The Centre’s experts provide consultancy to museums, media organisations, local authorities and community groups, as well as national and international partners in evaluating heritage projects. Our strengths in community histories and oral history-based research bridge the gap between academic history and the public, encouraging people to join in a process of co-production whereby they are engaged producing history as well as consuming it.
Prof. Jon Stobart, a distinguished social and economic historian of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century England, who joined the Centre in 2015, has strengthened MCRH’s links to heritage organisations including the National Trust and English Heritage. Prof Stobart brings an exceptional track record of successful funding bids to the Centre which between January 2014 and October 2015 brought in £305,716 in funding via the AHRC, Horizon 2020, the Science Museum Group and the Granada Foundation. The rising profile of Dr Tilman Frasch’s research in Burmese history and heritage has led to consultancies at three German museums (Lindenmuseum Stuttgart, Museum Five Continents Munich, and Museum for Applied Art Frankfurt). Frasch is also advising UNESCO on the documentation for an application for Pagan in Burma to acquire World Heritage status as a global centre of Theravada Buddhism. This broadening of the MCRH’s portfolio has coincided with important recent developments within the region, most notably the Northern Powerhouse agenda. These developments have led to renewed interest in regions as economic, social and cultural units that hold real meaning for people as well as politicians and planners. In response, the Centre is about to be re-launched as the Manchester Centre for Public History and Metropolitan Heritage (MCPHMH), which will allow us to build on its strengths while showcasing more accurately its internationally recognized research around issues of history, heritage and place identity, ranging from the local, regional and national to the global.
The newly expanded MCPHH will concentrate its activities in five interrelated areas which together make it a beacon to Manchester Metropolitan University:
(1) strengthening the Centre’s commitment to research that engages with the local region and its multicultural and ‘super-diverse’ population;
(2) broadening its geographical horizon to incorporate local and regional histories in other parts of the world: e.g. France (Dr Jonathan Spangler, Stobart), Russia (Dr Catherine Danks), Scandinavia (Stobart and Tebbutt) and Belgium (Stobart);
(3) enhancing our reputation in community archaeology. High-profile excavations include work at Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey, which has already produced significant impact by reaching 2.5 million people through media coverage;
(4) developing further strengths in history and heritage, e.g. a Marie-Curie Fellowship (employing Dr Cristina Prytz and worth €185,000) which comprises partnership with English and Swedish country houses;
(5) continuing to build the Centre’s engagement in public history in a way that allows people to produce their own histories, e.g. Stobart’s History of Manchester in 100 Shops; AHRC ‘Voices of War and Peace’ collaborative/co-produced projects.
The MCPHH promises to develop into a strong international brand with an enviable reputation built up over the last 20 years or so. The Centre is a hub for the production of world-class monographs and public engagement projects, and its research strengths have already begun to create significant synergies with the work on heritage and place-based research conducted by researchers in Tourism and Place Management.