HA Conference 2017 - Report

Paula Kitching, published 18th May 2017

"Very enjoyable - wish we had a week!"

The Historical Association Annual Conference is always an exciting time – an opportunity to listen to expert speakers, share ideas, discuss different approaches, learn something new, meet with  old friends, make new ones and generally embrace history geekdom. This year in Manchester was no exception.

Over 350 people descended on central Manchester over the two days. The HA team arrived on Thursday afternoon in glorious sunshine.  “The tales of the rainy North West are untrue” thought the Southern members of the team; “Hmmm” muttered those from anywhere north of Watford, “we’ll see.”

Indeed the next day the rain did arrive, but it was too late to dampen the excitement of annual conference. Exhibitors unpacked their stands and put out their freebies – I mean, ‘valuable resources’ – for the conference participants. The workshop leaders and lecturers put on the PowerPoint presentations and everyone set about soaking up history rather than rain. Even the outside visits to the statues of Manchester and the Jewish Museum were unaffected by the sporadic downpours.

There were some excellent talks on teaching approaches at Primary and Secondary level: take a look at our Twitter feed for some particular highlight. There were also excellent lecturers on specific areas of history, spanning subjects across the globe from the medieval to more recent events of the twentieth century. There was the chance to break any diets at lunch and tea breaks, and there was the ongoing opportunity to break the budget at the Roving Bookshop.

The round table debate on constitutional history resulted in discussions on knowledge, the role of historians, and whether it was appropriate to put a politician in a sack and throw them in the Thames if they made a profit from their position in public office (a historic suggestion by the Levellers)! Whether you were a teacher, a heritage educator, or just someone who loves history, there were endless elements across the conference for you to enjoy.

However, the highlight by far was the keynote address. Michael Wood – author, lecturer, broadcaster and champion of history – spoke on the Anglo-Saxons and the making of England. The room was packed as he began, and for the next hour no-one moved as he wove his way through medieval documents and the images of Alfred the Great in Ladybird books. Wood is an authority on Anglo-Saxon history and told its tales with an enthusiasm that was infectious. He might be known to many as a TV historian but he is also a historian’s historian – revelling in his geekiness (his words not mine) at exploring thousand-year-old documents and evidence. When he finished speaking the book signing lasted for almost an hour – not just because of the number of people who thrust a book at him, but because he shared a historical anecdote or experience with each and every one of them.

It was with a satisfied smile that the conference finished and its people emptied into the Manchester streets, almost surprised that the city was still there after living in a history bubble. A great conference seems to be the general feedback; can it be followed up?

That is the challenge of the next twelve months, to follow up on Manchester. It might be hard – after all, we will be in Stratford-upon-Avon, and as we know there is no historical inspiration there! So keep an eye on our website for details.

Take a look at some of the photos from this year's conference on our Facebook page

P.S. How many of you spotted the Manchester-associated song hashtags in some of our tweets? Not even historians can take themselves seriously all of the time!