Radical Impact?

British academic historians are now painfully familiar with the imperative to research our own impact. Our funding is to be dependent, in part, on the measurable impact of our researches in the domain outside the academy. For radical history this raises an interesting potential. Radical histories have traditionally been undermined by the idea that they are too personal, too individual, too fraught with impact; the very way that feminist and queer histories have woven the personal and political into the historical has been seen as somewhat suspect.

Might the drive to narrate impact give us another story? Teaching and practicing minority histories is life-changing: alongside the many women whose lives have been visibly transforming alongside their discovery of women’s history, I remember a young male student telling me that, after a term of early modern gender history, he had started doing the washing up in his shared house. The complication of identity politics as a basis for history has made the impact of minority histories no less profound. The audit trail of impact for, for example, Black History Month and LGBT History Month should be easier to trace than many other histories. Whether institutional politics prioritise those histories in the narratives of impact that will be produced over the coming years is another matter.


  1. my feeling about “impact” is that, as teachers, we never, ever, ever know what sort of “impact” we have had or when we had/will have it. I’ve had students write to me years after I taught them, to say “oh, I was just thinking about something we talked about in your course… I guess it’s always true of our interactions with others that we have only the shadowiest notions of what they take away from them but in the case of teaching this seems to be especially acute.

  2. I am appalled by your readiness to endorse ‘impact’ 
    Do you also believe in funding the study of the ‘Big Society’? 
    King’s College is developing an unenviable reputation for collaboration, backstabbing, and a supine resistance to cuts, whether imposed by King’s or Browne and Willetts. Please explain why your stance is ‘Radical’ ? 

  3. This is a feeble argument from someone with an academic post. You could just as easily have argued that biographies of monarchs or of elite groups like the medieval peerage could be criticised as too individual or too personal although exactly what is meant by the phrase “too fraught with impact” is not clear. It is a pretty poor case to make when the impact of a term of early modern gender history is no more than causing a male student to start doing the washing up in the house he shares with others. The importance of “black history” or of LGBT history month or  of women’s history may lie in the contribution they make to understanding the lives of human beings in the past. I am still to be convinced but it will need better arguments than this gamma level piece to make Laura Gowing’s case.

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