A Vision of Research and Teaching Goals
Modern British history covers many periods and facets of the development of our country but the focus in much of my teaching and research has been located in the field of Labour History. During my first degree at Manchester I read educational history and investigated working class movements of the nineteenth century. Later I read widely about the Labour Party in England and implemented an MA which covered minority movements; anarchists in Spain, Jews in Russia and the Ku Klux Klan in America. My Masters dissertation was about the General Strike in England in 1926 and how local histories often portray a different picture to national histories.
My most recent PhD work has focused again on nineteenth century history and the Social Democratic Federation (SDF). Borrowing from K. Navickas and anthropologist James C. Scott, the intention was to provide a new interpretation of the party from a local history perspective and define ‘nuances’ in historical interpretation, what Scott defined as ‘everyday resistance’. Although the dissertation is about the SDF (the first truly Marxist party in Britain) and its inability to convert people to socialism, placed in a modern historical context the research incorporated a wide range of scope. This included aspects of learning that; contribute to understanding political parties, workers’ cultures, nineteenth century economies, colonial expansion and inevitably the state of politics prior to the First World War. Interestingly, as with much historical investigation, it was not the SDF that provided the core of new knowledge but a weavers’ culture that grasped at respectability and a changing social and structural environment that introduced workers to more and more commercial leisure and hence a further distraction the SDF had to compete with.
Teaching or lecturing is what I probably do best. After twenty years as a qualified teacher I have amassed considerable pedagogical experience, both as a Principal, a student and a parent. Undergraduates, like all students, want to be entertained, want to be seen and supported and want to know, clearly and concisely, what the task is at hand. Having been the Managing Director of a large educational company one of my responsibilities was to instruct teachers how to implement bilingual pedagogics, a task I completed by developing a unique teacher training programme. I addressed large audiences of parents in towns as the company grew and welcomed international teachers from around the world. I have met with County Councils and sat with my own twenty-four principals in conference to discuss strategies and iron out pedagogical and school difficulties. Another characteristic of mine is to lead by example. First in to class and last out of a class, is one direct but simple example of my ethos. Having said this, when I was Headmaster in Gävle several years ago, the best student learning we undertook was when I wrote a set of historical dramatic interactions. Two plays were enacted wherein we examined the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and Sweden’s role prior to the Second World War. In a similar vein, I have also ‘team-taught’ on numerous occasions wherein, like a court case, one teacher purports one argument and the other the opposite. All my teaching is based upon students attaining learning goals in an environment where I am responsible to engage a multiple of unique individuals, wherein respect of many varied viewpoints of young minds is a given.
My immediate future professional development is in two fields. First, it is hoped that ‘Labourhistorylancs. com’ will become a reliable and significant contributer to labour history debate and information exchange to historians of all different hues. The aim is to create a historical portal that can be a news, blog and tuition site in the future. Secondly, teaching enables me to inspire and recruit more enthusiastic historians. A local study would provide more insight into motives, goals and hindrances and reveal that a key component of history making is local individuals themselves. I have already begun work on an article which I hope will be published this autumn in the North West Labour History Society Bulletin. It is hoped that both my goals will help to contribute, in some small way, to the historical processes which explain the political changes of the early twentieth century.
Peter John Fyles