By Alice Purkiss, Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associate, University of Oxford and National Trust
Stowe Gardens © Dr Oliver Cox
At the beginning of February the University embarked upon a new collaboration with the National Trust in a bid to enhance visitor experience at the charity’s historic properties and outdoor spaces through research.
Funded by the AHRC and the National Trust, the Trusted Source project is the culmination of a series of successful collaborations running over the past five years between the University and the Trust, coordinated by Oxford’s Heritage Engagement Fellow, Dr Oliver Cox. Having studied at the History of Art Department for my MSt, I was delighted to return to the University to develop this exciting new partnership, and to work with colleagues old and new at both institutions.
Trusted Source has been commissioned as a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), an Innovate UK scheme devised to encourage businesses to innovate and grow. It does this by linking them with a university and a graduate to work on a specific project. Usually awarded to the science and industry sectors, this is one of the few heritage-based KTPs funded in the initiative’s 40 year history, and the first awarded to both the Humanities Division at Oxford and the National Trust.
What is Trusted Source?
The aim of the partnership is to create Trusted Source; a new online resource featured on the National Trust’s website containing concise, engaging and accessible articles about history, culture and the national environment that draw out connections between collections, places, properties and people. Crowdsourced from university researchers and National Trust specialists, this resource aims to enhance visitor experience of National Trust properties and places. Furthermore, in doing this we hope to encourage more meaningful public engagement with, and enhanced understanding of, Britain’s wider cultural heritage and natural environment.
As a key advocate for the project, the Trust’s Director General, Dame Helen Ghosh, states:
We want to tell the stories of the collections and properties in our care in an engaging, accurate and inspiring way. Using the latest academic research, Trusted Source will help us enhance the experience we give our members and visitors, uncover new information and deepen our understanding of the heritage in our care. As well as enriching our interpretation at properties, the resources created during this important collaborative partnership will be freely available online for everyone to explore.
Benefits & Opportunities at Oxford
It’s important to stress that the National Trust and its visitors are not the only intended beneficiaries of Trusted Source; the opportunities the project offers to researchers here at Oxford are significant too, and a particular consideration of mine. In addition to providing research and networking opportunities with a leading cultural institution, Trusted Source offers its contributors meaningful work experience and visibility within a highly competitive sector that is increasingly hard to come by.
The articles are authored, and contributors are given an ‘Author Profile’ page on the National Trust’s website featuring a short biography and a list of the articles they have written. With the Trust’s website receiving over 11 million page hits every year from over 2 million unique visitors, becoming a contributor can significantly boost online research profiles, offer valuable Public Engagement with Research (PER) experience, and enable researchers to experiment with communicating their work to a new and diverse audience. Academics from across the University from Masters level upwards are invited to contribute, be it with one Trusted Source article, or 20!
To begin the article commissioning process, the first call-out for researchers was devised to support the current Landscape Programme at Stowe Gardens in Buckinghamshire, an initiative comprising of fifty four tasks taking place over five years to return the gardens to their former glory. Highlights include the return of missing statues, monuments and paths, and the opening of parts of the gardens not currently open to the public. In support of this, Trusted Source involvement sought to assist in unravelling the puzzling circumstances surrounding Stowe’s Gothic Cross, a Coade Stone monument placed in the landscape in the early 19th century and later destroyed, it is believed, by a falling tree.
Left: The base of Stowe’s Gothic Cross, 1991. Right: Fragment of the Gothic Cross. Photographs © National Trust.
In March, University researchers and National Trust staff attended a workshop at St John’s College at which Trusted Source was introduced and opportunities for academic research on the Gothic Cross detailed. A variety of articles were written as a result of this workshop, including texts on lost medieval villages, Whig landscapes, Gothic Revival, Coade stone and the meaning of patriotism, to name a few. Each article uses Stowe as one of a number of examples of the feature or question being explored, therefore these short articles connect up the National Trust’s portfolio of properties, places and collections in new and surprising ways. See the articles with the corresponding ‘Author Profiles’ on the Trust’s website here: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ktp
Over the coming months the Trusted Source project team will continue to foster strong bonds between these two leading organisations and commission engaging and accessible articles which support a whole host of Trust properties, places, and projects; from stately homes, working farms and natural landscapes, to Trust-wide programming themes. Articles will be commissioned through a variety of means, including events and workshops based upon specific National Trust projects and themes, through general article writing workshops hosted at the History of Art Department, and by embedding Trusted Source into Humanities doctoral training.
The project’s legacy beyond the two years of the KTP is highly significant, and a central consideration for both institutions. By formalising a clear methodology for sharing knowledge between these two leading organisations, we hope to establish a blueprint for collaboration that can be adopted by other academic institutions and heritage organisations internationally, thereby encouraging further stories about places to be told and enriched through research.
Interested in becoming a Trusted Source contributor?
For more information on Trusted Source including details on how to contribute, please visit http://torch.ox.ac.uk/trusted-source or email email@example.com.
Alice completed her Masters in the History of Art and Visual Culture at the Department in 2012. Before this role Alice was a Curatorial Trainee at The Charleston Trust, an experience which she wrote about for the blog last year.