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Collaboration works

When, in 2009, Chris Burgess started his PhD on political posters from the 1906 general election to the present day I suspect he did not imagine that he’d appear on Radio Four’s flagship news programme Today. And I bet he didn’t think his work would be covered in the Times Higher Education Supplement, the parish magazine of the academic community.

I know I didn’t, and I am his principal supervisor. I have yet to get those particular gigs, so you can imagine how jealous I am.

Chris is in the final year of a PhD mainly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of their Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme, which is designed to bring new academic researchers into a closer relationship with those who might benefit from their work but who, in the normal course of events, rarely do.

As a result, Chris has done work for the People’s History Museum – which has an unrivalled collection of political posters – identifying and cataloguing items for the benefit of future users. He also gained great access to the collection itself.

As part of his collaboration, Chris has just curated an exhibition of political posters at the Museum. It was opened last week by Times columnist and former MP Matthew Parris who later wrote in his paper that Chris had put together a ‘most amazing exhibition’. Those visiting the exhibition can now benefit from Chris’ expertise and gain a better understanding of the role posters have played in political campaigning and decode some the imagery they have employed over the years to win the people’s votes.

The Today programme and the BBC History Magazine have both done neat slide shows of some of the posters to whet your appetitite.

And here is the Today piece, which focuses on how posters have tackled the family. Having yet to receive my phone call from Mr Humphrys, I still resent Chris for that one! However, as his work is an ideal example of how universities can interact with the world outside, and to promote a better understanding of a subject that might normally remain confined to the pages of a PhD thesis, I can’t really begrudge him that.

Steven Fielding

Published inBritish PoliticsPosters

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