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Research into past inspires better futures for local communities, believes new head of department

Edge Hill University has a new Head of Department of English, History and Creative Writing.

Paul Ward is a professor of modern British and public history whose own research is inspired by the communities in which he has lived and worked.

He describes the University as being an ‘Anchor Institution’, it is an organisation based in the community, bringing a positive cultural, economic and social impact to their local community, but also being able to react to its needs.

Paul shares this ethos with his approach to managing the department, with teaching and research being integrated with staff carrying out research, but also all teaching and involving students in that work, and being able to link that research to the communities where they are based.

He describes his own studies as the ‘Coproduction of historical knowledge’. His research is concerned with national identities in the United Kingdom since the 1870s. In particular, Paul is known for his historical study of Britishness and his research explores the way communities think about their past, and he is keen to involve his students and his new location in this work.

He joined Edge Hill from the University of Huddersfield where his location and local communities inspired research into topics such as Sound System culture and Bhangra.

He anticipates his latest move will inspire further research based on community heritage in West Lancashire and Merseyside, including the link between identity and new towns such as Skelmersdale, and also Britishness and Black History.

“I research Britishness and community heritage. If people know about their past they can imagine better futures out of it, and I have worked with community groups to get them to think about what would make their lives better,” he said.

“My research responds to what the community and organisations are telling me,” said Paul. “Depending on what I learn, my research is pushed in different directions and I respond to what people feel passionate about.”

He added: “I’m looking to get our students involved in my research, and want to inspire creative responses to the past. Being able to think like this helps students with employability- enabling them to think about their future.”

Paul has been involved in a major ESRC-funded collaborative project called ‘Imagine: Connecting Communities Through Research’ under the Connected Communities programme. He has also recently researched representations of the Beefeaters at the Tower of London as icons of Englishness and/or Britishness.

Paul has written four books: Red Flag and Union Jack: Englishness, Patriotism and the British Left 1881-1924, published in 1998 (re-issued in paperback in 2011); Britishness since 1870 in 2004; Unionism in the United Kingdom in 2005; and Huw T. Edwards: British Labour and Welsh Socialism, published in 2011 (funded by a British Academy Major Research Grant).  This year he has a number of publications coming out, including Re-imagining Contested Communities Connecting Rotherham through Research Policy Press), a book that challenges contemporary images of ‘place’, through co-writing with people from Rotherham in South Yorkshire.

One of his plans in his new role is to examine Edge Hill’s history during WWII with students involved in the research to identify the past in a building they are based in and how it relates to them.

Find out more about studying English, History or Creative Writing here www.edgehill.ac.uk/englishhistorycreativewriting

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