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Silence, Memory and Empathy is an AHRC funded research network running 2012-2013. UK Project partners include Buckfast Abbey, Historic Royal Palaces, the Cultural Learning Alliance, Imperial War Museums, National Maritime Museum, Oriel High School, the Hitchin Museum, National Museums Northern Ireland, Royal Armouries Museum Leeds, The Highlanders Museum, Birmingham University and Cardiff University.
Silences are significant elements of the ways our pasts are represented. While it is often taken for granted that there are silences at museums and historic sites, the processes by which they operate have been less explicitly conceptualised. This network will make a distinction between ‘being silenced’ and ‘being silent’ in order to look at the ways in which histories perceived as challenging or ‘difficult’ are conveyed and taught by education officers in museums and at historic sites. As part of such teaching, museums and historic sites now frequently employ strategies of empathy to confront difficult pasts. The network will draw on the body of work about empathy and issues of accessibility in order to interrogate the ways in which empathy is being identified in the generic learning outcomes.

The network will bring together academics, early career researchers, doctoral students, curators, and educators to work in a genuinely interdisciplinary way. The diversity of expertise within the network will facilitate a focus on different cultural conceptions of silence and empathy and the way that such understandings are (or are not) part of dominant understandings of memory. The collaboration of academics and practitioners will promote an understanding of how silence, empathy and memory interact in museums and at historic sites. The findings will be of significance for museum and heritage site professionals, policy makers and educators across the sectors.

The network will run three workshops and one conference at the University of Birmingham, City University, the Historic Royal Palaces Tower of London, and Buckfast Abbey respectively. These meetings will be structured to promote dialogue, collaboration and progression of the fields.

The network will maintain a website and blog throughout its duration to strengthen the exchange of ideas, report back on the workshops, maintain the impetus beyond the life of the initial project, and attract interest more widely from the constituencies of the members. The steering group will also disseminate the results via a website, blog, training day for educators, conference papers, co-authored articles, and special issue of a journal.

For more information about the Challenging History network visit 

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