Mar 09 2021

Dr Matthew Smith, School of Humanities, has recently completed the Citizens Project and has secured an AHRC grant to take forward a new, related project. We recently caught up with Matthew to ask how the Citizens Project was received and to find out more about his upcoming new, related project.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the School of Humanities?

I am a professional practice focussed Senior Lecturer in Public Humanities and Director of External Engagement for the School of Humanities. In my SL role I get to devise and deliver projects that seek to engage the public, reflecting on diverse histories and heritage and the relevance of the humanities to modern lives. I also get to work with and support colleagues across the School on similar projects. It is an exciting field of work that builds on my prior curatorial practice and experience of developing externally funded educational and public engagement projects. In my Director of External Engagement role, I am seeking to broaden and deepen the School’s work with a range of external partners, scoping opportunities for more collaborative research, teaching and public engagement activities.

 2. You recently completed the Citizen’s project. What was this project, for those who may have missed it?

The Citizens project was a four-year public and schools engagement project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It was designed to stand as one of the pillars of the College’s Magna Carta Legacy programme, alongside the Magna Carta Doctoral School and annual Magna Carta public lecture series. The project included the development of a suite of digital educational resources for schools exploring the history of rights and representation, from Magna Carta to the Suffragettes and beyond; the creation of two FutureLearn courses designed for A-level students, teachers and adult learners; developing digital resources with 12 museums across the South East; providing school workshops and teacher CPD sessions; Shared Learning Projects with volunteers from the University of the Third Age; three Festivals of History; and the creation of paid student internships and volunteering opportunities.

3. What has it been like to work on the Citizen’s project?

Directing the Citizens project was a fantastic experience. In addition to working with a brilliant team of PhD students (including Claire Kennan, Steven Franklin, Katie Carpenter and Angela Platt) and many hardworking student interns and volunteers, it was a tremendously rewarding experience to produce resources that have been so well received and, based on the positive feedback from teachers, are making a difference in classrooms across the country. None of us expected, for example, the project’s YouTube channel, where we host all our video resources, to attract over 11,000 subscribers and accrue over 1.8 million views. While these figures are modest in YouTube terms, for a cold-start educational channel we are very pleased with the result. It was also wonderful to work with so many great teams at our partner organisations, including the UK Parliament, People’s History Museum, History of Parliament Trust, the Royal Collection Trust and the National Archives.

4. What’s next for this work, now the Heritage Fund supported phase has come to an end?

I’m pleased to say we plan to embed as much as we can from this project and aim to build on the momentum created. We now have an excellent platform and network of teachers primed to receive more content from our School and so we plan to make more use of these in the future. While the pace of production will inevitably have to slow down, we will be continuing, for example, to release a new educational video each week and are exploring ways to generate more income to make this activity sustainable. We also continue to work closely with our partners, developing new collaborative bids and continuing to co-produce resources.

5. What is your favourite thing about working at Royal Holloway?

I am fortunate in my role that I get to work with so many brilliant colleagues across the School of Humanities and beyond. The sense of community and constant flow of exciting ideas and opportunities are what makes working at Royal Holloway so rewarding. I am also excited by the increasing opportunities to work across Schools and particularly enjoy the fortnightly meetings the Directors of External Engagement have to share ideas and best practice.

If you would like to know more about the Citizens project and its outcomes you can read its evaluation report, follow the project on Twitter, or visit its YouTube Channel, History Hub.