In this post, project organiser Abigail Tazzyman reflects on why Moving Beyond Boundaries was first conceived.
The Moving Beyond Boundaries: Gender, Knowledge, History project came about in part because of a fundamental belief that what we are taught throughout all levels of education has a lasting impact on our lives and world views. A belief that how we see groups depicted and represented in the past informs and influences how we see and value their role today.
I wholeheartedly supported the recent and successful campaign to have at least one woman represented on British bank notes and I have been genuinely concerned by the proposed changes to the school history curriculum. Why? Because I believe that who and what is taught on the school curriculum matters as does who we acknowledge and celebrate nationally. The study of women’s history at all levels of education is often patchy. Women usually feature as token gestures in the form of the odd well-known figure, set aside from mainstream or ‘real history’. This deprives students from learning about the experience, success and struggles of women from the past and of their contribution to society, of fifty percent of the population. It tells them that women aren’t valued in our society and implies that they didn’t really contribute in any worthwhile way. By exposing pupils to a wide range of women’s history, not just the usual elite suspects, we aim to open up their understanding of the past lives of women, to value their contribution to society and most of all to enable this group of secondary school students to engage critically with their own curriculum and gain a greater insight on issues of gender representation and inequality.
In recent years there has been a growing emphasis on and demand for researchers to demonstrate the impact of their work. For those of us in the social sciences and arts and humanities a key factor of this is public engagement, getting our research into the public consciousness and making it accessible to those beyond the academy. Public engagement is, I would argue, rewarding and beneficial for the researcher as much as those they engage with. It is a way to make more people aware of issues which you as a researcher care a great deal about. It often offers researchers a fresh perspective, and enables people to access knowledge that they may never otherwise encounter. Moving Beyond Boundaries was conceived as way to make tangible impact, not only by sharing our research on gender and women’s history to a new audience, but through measuring, recording and evaluating the students’ responses. The project aims to use these responses to frame our own research and rethink the way women’s history is represented on the curriculum.