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Impact Case Studies

The History Department is committed to research that has social, economic, and cultural benefits and that engages with a broad range of audiences. Staff collaborate with national and regional partners, including libraries, museums and schools, to increase public understanding and improve education. Our research informs governmental and heritage bodies and authorities, nationally and internationally, in policymaking and promoting well-being. 

Ordered Universe 

Focusing on the scientific works of the English polymath Robert Grosseteste (c. 1170- 1253), the project engages both medieval specialists and modern scientists to understand the nature, practice, and sources of medieval science. The impacts of the research of Professor Giles Gasper include: 

  • The artistic and commercial direction of a major UK creative arts company, The Projection Studio, including prizewinning outputs.
  • The establishment of a path-breaking Access to University scheme (OxNet) in the NorthEast, involving ten regional schools, and recognised by a 2019 National Social Mobility Award.
  • Career-building for artists such as Alexandra Carr and artists at the National Glass Centre, UK, who have worked on the project.
  • A public education programme in the UK, Europe, Canada and the US.

Funded by AHRC Standard Grant (2015-19),  AHRC Network Grant (2012-14)

The impact of elections in sub-Saharan Africa 

The work of Professor Justin Willis on the impact of elections in sub-Saharan Africa and the effectiveness of international interventions to enhance electoral integrity has informed policy in a range of areas, including:

  • The UK governments’ electoral support work and contingency planning around Kenya’s 2017 elections. This research has consistently emphasised the importance of local political contests as key to understanding national dynamics, and encouraged policymakers to understand the role of popular ideas of virtue and morality in driving behaviour that violates international electoral norms.
  • The decisions of the wider Donor Group on Elections in Kenya, which brings together multiple bilateral and international actors.
  • Policy discussions around elections in Ghana and Uganda. This work was central to a submission to the ESRC Celebrating Impact awards, and received the 2019 award for Outstanding International Impact, as well as the 2019 President’s Medal from the Market Research Society.

Supported by ESRC Research Grant (2013-17)

South Sudan: Historical and cultural resources for governance and peacebuilding

Exploring the historical and contemporary role of chiefs (known as ‘traditional’ or ‘customary’ authorities) in governance and justice in South Sudan, the research of

Dr Cherry Leonardi contests understandings of chiefs as either static, primordial forms of indigenous authority or the despotic creations of colonial governments. Pursued collaboratively with Dr Zoe Cormack through an AHRC-funded International Research Network on South Sudanese museum collections in Europe, impacts include:

  • Influencing the design and documentary outputs of an EU-funded project on access to justice in South Sudan, and a Swissfunded project on customary authorities in the country.
  • A research network on South Sudanese museum artefacts, which has contributed to increasing awareness of South Sudanese cultural heritage among European museum curators and a range of heritage, arts and culture professionals and community representatives in the UK and South Sudan.
  • Research on land governance and boundary disputes, which has informed UK government and other international policymaking on governance, justice, land and boundary issues in South Sudan and neighbouring countries.

Supported by AHRC Research Network Grant (2017-18), AHRC/ESRC PaCCS Grant (2016-18), Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2010)

Petitioning and campaigning for change in the past and the present

The British abolitionist movement transformed the character of popular petitioning to parliament in the period between 1787 and 1833. The research of Professor Richard Huzzey has led to reassessments of the social and economic basis of abolitionism. It also informs a broader re-evaluation of the economic significance of theological or emotional arguments used to encourage petitioning against the slave trade or slavery. Examining the broader phenomenon of parliamentary petitioning, Professor Richard Huzzey and Dr Henry Miller have demonstrated the breadth and variety of political engagement before many men or any women enjoyed the right to vote. This research on popular petitioning in the United Kingdom, 1780-1918, has:

  • changed the thinking, practice, and communications strategy of staff working for UK legislatures and administering citizens’ e-petitions to parliamentarians today;
  • fashioned the design of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) offered to public audiences by Parliament’s outreach staff, which reached 588 learners;
  • inspired and structured the digitisation of historical records of parliamentary petitioning by a commercial publisher for sale to university libraries;
  • informed the strategies and ideas of campaign organisations by sharing analysis of the timescales, effects, and practices of campaigning in the past; and
  • demonstrated change in the audiences of local community talks for greater willingness to participate in petitioning as a form of civic participation today, by understanding its impact – and limitations – in historical campaigns.

Supported by Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant (2016-19), AHRC Research Network Grant (2018-19)

Citizens and Rebels: Ideas of Citizenship and Practices of Resistance

How did people conceive of citizenship in late medieval England? The research of Professor Christian Liddy, which explores this question and establishes the importance—and destabilising effects—of an urban and distinctly vernacular concept of citizenship, has informed a series of events marking historical anniversaries of the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest and has: 

  • Improved and challenged public understanding of citizenship and of the place of protest within ideas and practices of citizenship.
  • Enhanced school education, specifically teaching practice in schools in North-East England teaching ‘Power and the People: c1170 to the present day’, a new thematic unit on the AQA GCSE History course.
  • Enriched cultural tourism and the regional economy in North-East England, generated by visitors attending an award-winning exhibition at Palace Green Library (Durham) and an exhibition at Durham Cathedral.

Funded by British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship (2014-15), British Academy Small Research Grant (2009-11)