Situated in London, a stone's throw from the British Museum, the Institute of Historical Research provides a range of services for historians, based at the University of London. The theme of the three day school was advertised as Local History, and I hoped it could point me in a few new directions.
Although not all of the papers and lectures were directly relevant, I nonetheless heard a great deal to ponder on. When the subject matter is several centuries away from your own research, you can at least sit back and observe technique and delivery. After all, this is a skill I will have to master during the course of my studies; the practical side of being a PhD student, if you will.
Over the past few years, I've had the opportunity to attend a number of conferences and to hear a number of papers delivered. The speakers I've heard have ranged from working academics to writers to individual researchers and archivists, but it seems that current occupation is no clue to the ability of the speaker to be engaging and to show what fascinates them about their chosen topic. So often, speakers are hampered in their ability to put this across to an audience - the technology goes wrong, the acoustics in the room are tricky, or that histrionic hand action gets in the way.
So I'm grateful that my undergraduate course put a strong emphasis on learning and practising the skills involved in presentation, and feel I've had the chance to hone them a good deal. Sitting listening to the delivery of papers, it's clear why we had all that rehearsal time.
I hope, when its my turn, that I can achieve a standard of delivery which at least does justice to my subject and sources. Whether that can be realised after years of research, is a question I will have to wait to answer...
As for the IHR Summer School, the range of speakers was stimulating and several really helped. I've discovered a while range of resources, potential routes of research and new archives to visit. Meal breaks and discussions with other history types led to all sorts of revelations and contacts. And being so close to the British Museum was a great treat.
I hope to become more involved with the IHR, despite the expense involved with a stay in London. Those who live closer to the capital have a distinct advantage, although I did enjoy the number of mentions to Bath in some of the lectures. Perhaps the advantage is mine, after all...?