By Neil Harrison
Photographs c/o Ade Hunter
This week, the second ever Humanities in Public festival drew to a close at Manchester Metropolitan University with a fittingly special celebration of Professor Melanie Tebbutt’s inaugural lecture.
As academics and members of the public came together to join in the celebrations, festival co-ordinator Helen Malarky reflected upon what has been a hugely successful series of events. She said,
“Tonight’s lecture is the last in a huge line up of events that has formed the second year of our Humanities in Public festival. It has been an absolute pleasure to welcome around 3000 visitors to 41 individual events, on subjects ranging across animal rights, the Gothic, Youth Studies, disability, linguistics and local history.
“During the course of the year we have not only run a multitude of public talks, tours and debates, we’ve even put on a successful comedy night, a mini film festival and made a documentary that has toured nationally and internationally. I’m extremely proud to say, HiP is going from strength to strength!
“Next year we’ll be continuing our remit to apply humanities and social science research to challenging and contrasting received opinions on contemporary issues. Our themes for next year are War, Sex and World.”
Head of Research and HLSS Associate Dean at MMU, Professor Berthold Schoene, then invited the gathered to take their seats for Professor Tebbutt’s much anticipated lecture, saying,
“I’m immensely proud to introduce to you Professor Melanie Tebbutt, who is a leading figure on the contemporary, British Social History scene. I know people tend to overuse terms like this, especially on occasions like this, but Melanie is without doubt or any exaggeration a true pioneer, who has explored and helped to frame a new kind of people’s history.
“But Melanie isn’t only an exceptional scholar. She is, of course, renowned for her meticulous attention to detail and how she makes use of that detail to find new perspectives on the lives of previous generations of, mostly, ordinary people. Melanie is also an outstanding public educator. Public engagement comes naturally to her.
“Notably, Melanie’s career has not always been within the ‘ivory tower’ of university. She has also taught and developed outreach and guidance provision in the adult community and in Further Education. These experiences have quite clearly shaped her views of the importance of breaking down barriers to learning, opening access and opportunities across communities and age groups, and researching radical histories, which test and challenge accepted wisdom.
“Among her colleagues, Melanie is known for her prodigious energy and sheer, inexhaustible enthusiasm. [She] doesn’t quite fit the image of the traditional historian, who hides away in dusty, underground archives – although she does that as well at times and likes it too! Melanie’s work is a living testament to the fact that history is for everyone. She is a first class scholar and a people’s history activist who is an inspiration to work with.”
Professor Tebbutt – who has written widely on British social and cultural history in works which include the history of pawnbroking and working-class credit, women’s social networks, gossip and leisure in working-class communities, regional identities and the history of modern youth – then delivered an intriguing and, as ever, insightful lecture which explored the largely neglected history of BBC youth broadcasting before the Second World War when youth issues and a more politicised youth sensibility became increasingly important under the shadow of war and fascism.
Speaking of her pride at delivering this inaugural lecture, Professor Tebbutt said,
“It’s an absolute delight to have so many people here this evening, including some individuals I never expected to be here, who have made a very long journey and I’m deeply grateful.
“It’s a privilege to have been appointed to a chair in such a vibrant and creative faculty – one in which I do find myself very much at ease, because it is outward-looking, and has a strong sense of engaging the public and communicating the value of humanities research. It’s lovely to be in this kind of environment.”
Professor Tebbutt provided the perfect, and perfectly successful, end to what has been a fantastic Humanities in Public festival. To take a look back at HiP 2014/15 events and for news on next year’s festival please visit hssr.mmu.ac.uk/hip/