Performing the Past is a collaborative network set up to develop innovative multi-disciplinary methods for investigating and disseminating the heritage of working-class and industrial communities in Yorkshire. Its historical remit is c.1800-1930, although the project team are actively researching and drawing inspiration from studies of earlier and later time periods too (e.g. Shakespearean theatre and social realism in late 20th- and 21st-century film).

South Range 1905

Image courtesy of Museums Sheffield

Once regarded as being accessible only as the subjects of ‘official’ documents, 19th- and early 20th-century working-class communities have recently begun to be analysed in new ways, as the materials they produced and used – including autobiographies, diaries, poetry, photographs, paintings and material culture – have emerged as rich sources of information.

The Yorkshire region has a rich working-class heritage and excellent facilities for this project, and pioneering research has already commenced in the White Rose Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York; researchers from the School of Performance and Cultural Industries at Leeds have collaborated with the National Coal Mining Museum, while researchers from the Departments of Archaeology at Sheffield and York have worked with Point Blank Theatre Company and York Archaeological Trust respectively.

South Range

Image courtesy of Museums Sheffield

Yet before now these projects have not been linked. This network co-ordinates these research strands, bringing together academics and doctoral students from Archaeology, Film Studies, History, Literature, Performance and Museum Studies in order to generate new models for telling stories about the past, drawing on the potential of practice-based methodologies. The network is not limited to academic collaborators, however; it benefits from the input of professionals in Yorkshire’s cultural and heritage industries, including theatre companies, museums, community heritage groups and archaeological units.

Themes for exploration include:

  • The power of performance for articulating lived experiences of communities whose voices were often overpowered or suppressed by ‘official’ commentators;
  • Narrative traditions of working-class communities, including oral history, poetry, autobiography, and theatre;
  • The use of space and concepts of ‘place’ as cross-disciplinary strands of investigation;
  • The potential of objects as media for storytelling (as personal belongings, mnemonic devices, heirlooms, symbols of identity, museum exhibits, and performance props);
  • Long-term documentation of performance-based dissemination, especially digitally (here we will draw upon the Digitalis project at the University of Leeds http://www.digitalis.leeds.ac.uk/).
  • The relationship between two complimentary themes; firstly, dissemination of research into the past through performance and, secondly, research into past performance practices.
South Range early 20th c.

Image courtesy of Museums Sheffield

These themes will be explored at three one-day workshops, through this website and through resources produced during the project.Performing the Past is funded by the White Rose Collaboration Fund, which provides funding for projects that support and encourage emerging collaborations across the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York.