The Making of a New Histor Y of Wales; Professor Huw Bowen Explains Why the History Research Wales Historians Were Excited to Be Involved in Our Series, Where Welsh Myths Are Re-Examined

Article excerpt

IN his passionate, powerful, and personal article Dai Smith has made a compelling case for history as the 'most scared civic knowledge we can possess'.

But at the same time Professor Smith also sounds a loud alarm bell by warning of some serious dangers that confront academic historians in Wales.

He writes of historians retreating into a world of scholarship in which they talk only to one another; and he despairs of a socioeducational climate in which history is packaged in a bland, non-challenging way and then served up as 'info-tainment' for public audiences.

In other words, historians and the history they write are becoming marginalised or considered irrelevant in modern Wales.

Many will take issue with some, or perhaps even all, of this diagnosis of the ills that are held to afflict the nation's history and its academic practitioners.

But Dai Smith is surely right to be deeply concerned about 'the lifeblood of historical enquiry' being frozen in this generation, especially at a time when universities are coming under significantly increased financial pressure.

It is thus vital, as never before, that academic historians tell people about what they do and why it is important.

It was indeed partly to give a collective voice to historians in Wales that History Research Wales (HRW) was established as a collaborative research partnership in early 2009. HRW brings together scholars and research students from departments or schools in all of the universities in Wales, and it includes all historians, not just those interested in Welsh history.

It thus possesses a formidable range of expertise within one of the largest groupings of historians in the UK, and we hope to create a Welsh Institute of Historical Research. This will be no easy task, but I believe it to be an essential one if history is to survive and thrive as a subject of serious study in Wales.

The primary objective of HRW is to sustain and develop the historical research that is conducted across Wales. It seeks to do this through different forms of collaborative activity that will enable the building of a national research infrastructure that can better support historians in their work.

Such activities include joint projects, conferences, workshops, training events. But this is not an inward-looking partnership arrangement because HRW also interacts with a range of non-academic partners to enable the more effective sharing of historical knowledge and expertise.

These links build upon many long-standing fruitful relationships university departments have had with key cultural institutions such as Cadw, the National Library of Wales, National Museum Wales, and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and they offer great scope for ambitious projects and initiatives to be conducted at a pan-Wales level.

Collaborating strategically on a routine basis with institutional partners beyond the university campus enables historians to disseminate their research findings to audiences beyond the readership of learned journals, and this lies at the core of what HRW is trying to achieve.

But in fact what is now often referred to rather crudely as 'public engagement' is nothing new for historians in Wales who have a distinguished tradition of playing an active role in civic society. …