Justification and Impact

Why are you doing this project, and why are you doing it in the way that you have chosen?  What is its significance, why is it important? What impact might it have/did it have on a wider public?

“The Museum in the Street”

The built environment is just ‘heritage’, in the sense that it is an artefact, awaiting challenge and interpretation and context.  This project – the walk and the notes – does that; creating histories from heritage.

Watt’s act of writing the guide was to create a public history in her time; revisiting and investigating her guide today performs the same function.  The built environment is a text; the guide is a text. The act of reading and following her guide becomes an act of history, performative, open and accessible to all; a true public history.

The past is everywhere.  It accumulates minute by minute and leaves traces all around us; in the case of this Project, in the very layout and fabric of the streets, their names and directions, widenings and narrowings; and in buildings.  Even the most closed, private, introspective buildings are public; all have a public face.

So the texts – the individual artefacts and their loci – the individual aspects of the built environment and their place – within which we (as did Watts) wander at will can be selected and contextualised.

The central thesis, and purpose of the portfolio project, is to explore a meaning of history, and meanings of public history in particular.

Watt’s guide is a product of the enlightenment at the start of enormous social change with the coming of the industrial revolution and the rise of romanticism as a way of seeing the world.

When we say ‘Public History’, do we mean ‘Public History’ …or do we mean Heritage? Culture? Memory? Nostalgia? Do we mean history for the public? History carried out in public? History carried out by the public? The public as passive consumers, or the public as active participants in the creation of history? Public history has to be more than history carried out in public:

‘Public History is the use of historians, and the application of the historical method (my italics) outside of academia’. [1]

So how might History and the Historical Method be characterised?

  • Flexible not final
  • New facts
  • New methodologies
  • New interpretations
  • Different questions

By defining Public History as more than history carried out in public, the purpose of the Project – the guide and route and digressions and challenges (eg ‘questions to consider’) ‘force’ engagement with ‘proper’ history, beyond just dates and places – they encourage a story to be crafted by the participant, the performative creation a new, individual history.


  • To generate curiosity and provide a ‘lucky dip’ of resources and links to encourage the reader to look more widely and explore the enormous volume of history and histories available on the web, strongly oriented towards ‘accessible academia’ where possible;
  • To demonstrate the aspects of history that are, wholly subjectively, of interest to me, with the specific intent that a discursive, eclectic range of linked topics encourages any reader to start their own journey through aspects of the past.  The purpose of highlighting Watt’s digressions is to demonstrate to the user that there is interest and mental involvement to be found everywhere; this is not a resource to answer user’s questions; but hopefully a resource to bring home to the user that they can, and should, ask their own questions of the past and start their own search, by looking around and thinking about what interests them;
  • To challenge ways of thinking about history by demonstrating, through Watts, a fundamentally different way of considering the present and the past; a society, a culture and a specific individual mindset dominated by (although not exclusively) enlightenment thinking;
  • To stimulate a consideration about how we think about the past, rather than just describing the past.  Where Watts thought about the present and the past through an enlightenment lens – emotions such as relief at progress, pride in achievement – romanticism risks being suffused with nostalgia for a (non-existent?) prelapsarian past, homesickness not for a lost place but for a lost time;

[1] Kelly, R ‘Public History: Its Origins, Nature, and Prospects’ The Public Historian Vol 1:1 (1978)