some quick thoughts on the REF2014 overview report for History

Here are some quick thoughts about the overview report on REF2014 for History (link to pdf):

1. we've not seen the fabled death of the monograph yet:

One third of submissions for History were monographs - we are still a book discipline.
Also, despite the rise of digital history/humanities, as it says above, the number of submitted websites and databases has decreased (to a meagre total of 32 outputs). Does this reflect a shift to putting the websites and databases in the impact case studies? Or the lack of entries stem from a fearful worry about an innate conservatism of the REF panels about what constituted historical research? As the next quotation shows, this fear was not borne out in reality:

2. most scholars produce a range of * graded work, and the lower *'d work often acted as a 'springboard' for higher *'d work:

This serves as an important warning for internal or 'mock' REF processes done in the lead up to the real submission which sought to 'weed out' any outputs likely to get 1 or 2*s, with the consequence that such work (and by insinuation, such authors) were therefore regarded as 'weaker'. Good history requires initial testing of ideas, building and expanding on initial case studies, etc. It's part of the process to publish something at 'national' significance before we can move on to anything 'internationally recognised'. This leads to my next point:

3. High-level ranked (and therefore funded) research is comparative international history:

 Although it makes a small acknowledgement of the significance of local and regional studies (important for me as Director of The Centre for Regional & Local History Research at UH), the report clearly identifies the type of history that is in their view worth 4* - comparative history, or studies with strongly defined comparative elements, which are either international or global, or link directly to other national historiographies.

So does that mean we have to be increasingly strategic in the way we write our 'outputs'? My research by its very nature is local & regional, based on a digging-deep approach to understanding the context of popular politics in nineteenth-century England, particularly in the North. Certainly a comparative approach, at least in terms of historiographies, would benefit my approach.

But I still feel wary of shoehorning in comparisons for the sake of them, as I do, and always have done, defended the position of local & regional history as valid in and of itself, rather than as simply forming 'case studies' for more generalist national and international histories or identification of trends. I think there is still a tendency to regard regional history as parochial or not relevant (note many of the most prestigious historical prizes recently seem to have prioritised global or imperial history), and it is the duty of local & regional historians to prove this misconception wrong.

4. We produce much great research despite rather than because of the conditions we work in:

The situation is getting worse for early career researchers, at the very point when they should be helped with decent contracts and working conditions to be publishing at their best. History at UH does better than most, but one suspects that most institutions don't have 'regular study-leave with transparent procedures'.


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