The second of three professional development sessions at the ASMCF-SSFH Postgraduate Study Day 2017 consisted of two papers reflecting on the theme of impact and engagement through research on French literature, history, and culture. We heard from Kate Astbury, Associate Professor and Reader at Warwick University, and Gill Allwood, Professor of Gender Politics at Nottingham Trent University. They both drew on their own extensive experience of dealing with audiences outside academia to address a theme that has become an increasingly significant part of the landscape of research in the Humanities.
The idea behind this session was to consider what impact and public engagement might look like in a French Studies context. As postgraduate students, we are frequently offered training through our institutions and/or funding bodies that seek to get us thinking creatively about impact, but because these discussions are usually tailored to the Research Excellence Framework it can seem daunting for those of us whose research does not deal with a UK context. Given the conference theme of ‘mobility/immobility’, it seemed prudent to include a session that gave advice and experience of taking French and francophone research out of the academy.
Kate Astbury’s session focused on public engagement, drawing on her own outreach projects with Portchester Castle and Waddesdon Manor. These kinds of public institutions with a focus on making research digestible to a wide audience, she advised, were excellent partners to bring in to the dissemination of our own projects. Schools, too, are a good place to start, since they similarly come with a ready-made audience. That said, Kate’s various projects make it clear that this kind of outreach involves imagination, and making our projects palatable means shifting the language we use to speak about Napoleonic theatre, to borrow one of Kate’s examples. Designing a Napoleon-themed Who Wants to be a Millionaire is all well and good, but she warned it is time-consuming and you have to want to do it.
Gill Allwood’s session shifted the focus to the policy arena, reflecting her work on gender policy and asylum seekers in France. Of course, as she reminded us, impact is clearer for some research projects than others, but she strongly encouraged us all to think about our potential impact from the beginning. As Gill told us, ‘it’s never too early to think about impact’. It may not be obvious where that impact lies, but she stressed that it is important for us to be able to articulate what this impact could be, not just because REF tells us to do so, but for our own sake: being able to pinpoint the benefits of our research and thinking seriously about impact can only enhance the work that we do.
James Illingworth, Queen’s University Belfast