Teaching History in Higher Education 2015 – new initiatives from the RHS

20 April 2015

Arthur Burns writes:

Over the past few years, the Royal Historical Society has increasingly sought to highlight its commitment to supporting not just historical research, but the teaching of its discipline at all levels. The recent spate of activity relating to the School Curriculum from Primary to A-level has seen the RHS playing a significant role in discussions about History in the Schools, working in close alliance with colleagues at the Historical Association.   At the same time, however, we have also been supporting History teaching in the universities, for example through our involvement in the recent revision of the QAA Subject Benchmarking Document, and our work supporting early career historians both in collaboration with historylab+ and on this website.

In the past our support for history teaching in HE involved us in close collaboration with the Higher Education Academy (first with its History subject centre and then its History discipline lead), which produced valuable support materials and from 2001 to 2013 hosted a very successful annual conference on approaches to History teaching in HE, as well as more focused events for those teaching at this level for the first time.  In 2014, however, the HEA took a strategic decision to move away from subject specific support.

One consequence of this change of policy was the potential end to the annual conferences, which had been hosted at the Institute of Historical Research in 2012 and 2013. These were very successful international events, attracting some 80 delegates from four continents.  Held on the eve of the start of the academic year, those attending valued a timely opportunity to refresh their ideas about their teaching practice, and network both between sessions and at the conference meal. Topics covered included employability and work-based learning; teaching controversial subjects; Holocaust education; fieldwork; developing historical consciousness; taking students through thresholds in history; the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History and the idea of signature pedagogies; cultural diversity; gender history; analyses of texts and artefacts; public history education; interdisciplinarity; the relationship between schools and university history; regional studies of practice; history teacher-education; assessment; using historical fiction; empathy; and teaching world history.

The RHS had always taken a keen interest in these events, not least through providing keynote speakers, and also found them a valuable opportunity to work together in new ways with other key stakeholders in history, not just the HEA, but also the Historical Association and History UK. Following consultation with these other interested parties, we are therefore delighted that we have been able to agree to establish a conference modelled on the HEA events starting in 2015, with the Society acting as lead sponsor in collaboration with the IHR, History UK and the Historical Association. Responsibility for organising the conference rests with Peter D’Sena, a member of our Education Policy Committee and senior research fellow at the IHR, who in his former capacity as History Discipline Lead at the HEA was responsible for organising the conferences held at the IHR in 2012 and 2013. We hope that together we can sustain this very important forum for supporting good and innovative practice in historical pedagogy, something that is rapidly becoming more important both to individual academics and institutions given an increased focus on teaching quality and support in universities and a very rapidly changing pedagogic environment.


Mike Maddison

The conference, entitled Teaching History in Higher Education (THHE) 2015, will be held at the Institute of Historical Research on Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th September 2015. One of the keynote speakers is already confirmed as Dr Mike Maddison, who recently retired from his role as National Lead for History at Ofsted and HMI, and is now a freelance educational consultant as well as a long-standing member of our Education Policy Committee; not only is Mike an excellent speaker, but he is one of the best-informed and thoughtful commentators on the rapidly changing world of the teaching of History in British schools. Around the keynotes there will be opportunities for both experienced and early career academics to present and share views and concerns about teaching and learning. A call for papers, workshops and round table discussion sessions is currently open until 17 May 2015. Further details on this and the conference more generally can be accessed here and on the IHR website.

The RHS is also supporting an associated New to Teaching event, to be held at the IHR on Monday, 7th September, aimed specifically at early career historians getting to grips with teaching in HE for the first time, timed so as to allow those attending also to attend the main conference. Further details about this event will be released early next week.

We are excited about this new opportunity for the RHS to contribute to maintaining the very high standards that characterise the teaching of our subject in the universities, and we hope that some of the fruits of these events will later appear on this website.

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