Innovations in Teaching Eighteenth-Century History

Online Workshop hosted by the University of Northampton, 25 June 2020

William Hogarth, ‘The Assembly at Wanstead House’ (c. 1728-32): Wikimedia Commons

This online workshop brought together speakers and delegates to explore innovative approaches to teaching eighteenth-century History. Papers, which were pre-circulated, covered a range of different topics, including sensory history, material culture, using archival museum collections, and student engagement (see full list of papers below).

During the workshop there were some key areas for discussion:


A number of the papers highlighted innovative approaches to assessment. This included radio programmes, creating web pages, analysis of items of material culture, and the assessment of student engagement. Discussions included how we support staff in introducing and developing innovative assessments, especially if they are early career colleagues and/or on short term contracts. We also considered methodologies in supporting students in completing ‘non-standard’ assessments too.

Engaging students with multi-disciplinary sources

There was a great deal of discussion about different approaches in supporting students in engaging with a range of primary sources, including musical, literary and physical sources. These included innovative approaches to teaching, including utilising a sensory approach, engaging with field visits, active learning, and encouraging students to work together to share their own knowledge and expertise. Delegates also discussed how to encourage students to engage with more diverse sources and how to signpost students to these materials. The benefits of collaborating with external organisations, such as museums and archives, was also highlighted, and the challenges that this can bring for both the module leaders and the collaborative partners were also discussed.

Managing ‘discomfort’

A number of the papers highlighted different ways of encouraging students to move beyond their comfort zone, whether it was through methods of teaching, the curriculum or assessment. Discussions included how to get students to engage proactively in sessions, the importance of experiential learning and supporting students when facing challenging topics or sources. Delegates also highlighted approaches to engaging with more diverse histories, including approaches to decolonising the curriculum. Different ways of encouraging students to study the eighteenth century was discussed too, as it is a period that many students have not encountered before they attend University.

Learning and teaching online

Throughout the day the challenges of moving teaching from the classroom to online was a key topic of conversation. The wide variety of digital sources were highlighted and the ways in which some innovative assessment methods are especially suited to remote delivery was discussed. The challenges of material and sensory based learning in an online forum was considered and different ways that these approaches, and field visits, could be recreated even when students are learning remotely were shared amongst the delegates.

It was a really successful workshop which was attended by scholars from across the world, including India, the USA, Germany and the UK. We hope to have a follow-up workshop in 2021 which will discuss these ideas further, especially in supporting PhD students and ECRs. It is also hoped that the good practice shared at this conference can be more widely shared through publication in the future too. The convenors are grateful to the East Midlands Centre for History Learning and Teaching for their support of this event.

For further questions about the conference, please contact the convenors, Matthew McCormack (Northampton), Ruth Larsen (Derby) and Alice Marples (Oxford).

Matthew McCormack:

Alice Marples:

Ruth Larsen:


Dominik Huenniger (University of Hamburg), ‘The pedagogy of things: teaching the eighteenth century with university collections’

Lenia Kouneni (University of St Andrews), ‘Teaching eighteenth-century classical reception through university museum collections’

Alice Marples (University of Oxford), ‘Approaching the history of science and medicine through museum collections’

Arthur Burns (KCL) and Oliver Walton (Royal Collections Trust), ‘At the court of King George: letting untrained students loose in the eighteenth-century archive’

Elizabeth Potter (University of York), ‘Re-considering approaches to indigenous America(ns)’

Ruth Larsen (University of Derby), ‘Let’s talk about sex: gender, bodies and erotica in the classroom’

Peter D’Sena (University of Hertfordshire), ‘Ethnomusicology, crime and gender in the long eighteenth-century: some strategies for teaching, learning and assessment’

William Tullett (Anglia Ruskin University), ‘Teaching the sensory eighteenth century: taste, smell, and sound in the classroom’

3:30-4pm: Concluding discussion.

Further information:

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