Know your Hillfields
“But I really don’t know why you’d be interested in my memories” said an elderly gentleman to me at Hillfields library the other week. I was there for the pilot of Know your Bristol – a series of events organised by the University about sharing and capturing the heritage of Bristol, as seen through the eyes of its inhabitants.
In public engagement, the perception used to be that researchers are the experts, keen to impart knowledge and understanding of their work. But in recent years this has evolved into a more nuanced argument: researchers may well be the experts in their field but members of the public have opinions, values, and lay and professional knowledge that can contribute to research. From the plumber who gives the biologist an insight into networks to the family photos that give a greater understanding of a period in history – these examples are all around us now. However, one of the challenges we face is to convince people, from funders and researchers to the public themselves, that these conversations can be of value. Projects such as Know your Bristol give us an opportunity to get out of the office (or the laboratory) and experience first-hand what we can learn from the public.
So to return to my elderly gentleman – what was the value of his knowledge? Well, it turns out that the ‘official’ record of how the Hillfields estate was constructed isn’t entirely correct. Apparently there’s a mistake about which houses were constructed first and he should know – he moved in to one of them! It’s not a massive change but now, at least, the historical records of Bristol are a tiny bit more accurate. All this from one conversation at a library; let’s see what we can uncover from the next events.