What’s a wa­ter­ways Fel­low to do, Jodie?

Canal Boat - - News -

DR JODIE MATTHEWS, lec­turer in English Lit­er­a­ture at Hud­der­s­field Univer­sity, was ap­pointed the first Hon­orary Research Fel­low at the Na­tional Wa­ter­ways Mu­seum in Fe­bru­ary. The ques­tion is, what ex­actly would such a post en­tail? So we sent CB Dep Ed Martin Ludgate to find out.

“Well, it’s the first time there’s ever been one, so it’s not set in stone yet,” is Dr Matthews’ ini­tial re­sponse, be­fore go­ing on to ex­plain her role as a link be­tween the dif­fer­ent types of his­tor­i­cal research by which dif­fer­ent groups of people are try­ing to un­der­stand and ex­plain the his­tory and sig­nif­i­cance of our wa­ter­ways. And there are a lot of them: fam­ily his­to­ri­ans re­search­ing the ge­neal­ogy of the canal people; the Rail­way & Canal His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety with its Jour­nal full of in-depth ar­ti­cles about car­ry­ing com­pa­nies and wa­ter­ways; en­thu­si­asts in the canal so­ci­eties; con­trib­u­tors to com­mu­nity lo­cal his­tory events and so on. “There’s an enor­mous body of work,” she says.

And then there are the aca­demic re­searchers such as Jodie her­self: cov­er­ing a range of dis­ci­plines in­clud­ing eco­nomic ex­perts; lit­er­ary schol­ars; and en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tists, as well as his­to­ri­ans. But you prob­a­bly won’t have come across many in re­la­tion to the canals – partly be­cause there isn’t a great deal of such work on wa­ter­ways; partly be­cause what there is, hasn’t been very ‘out­ward fac­ing’ as she puts it. Learned pa­pers are writ­ten, peer-re­viewed and pub­lished – but behind a ‘pay­wall’ that makes them hard-to-ac­cess for any­one outside academia.

And that’s a key part of her role: to be a point of con­tact be­tween th­ese dif­fer­ent people, so that they can ex­change knowl­edge and re­sources. People car­ry­ing out research on wa­ter­ways his­tory outside of the uni­ver­si­ties will be able to get in touch with her, and she can give them ideas about where to look, and what ap­proaches to take. And, at the same time, within academia she can pro­mote more research on wa­ter­ways. An early ex­am­ple of how she can help to con­nect dif­fer­ent branches of his­tor­i­cal study came in Jan­uary when her univer­sity hosted a meet­ing at which Liz McIvor, in­dus­trial his­tory ex­pert and pre­sen­ter of the re­cent TV se­ries Canals:TheMakingo­faNa­tion, spoke about the mak­ing of the se­ries to a num­ber of wa­ter­ways re­searchers. That wasn’t the only pur­pose of the meet­ing: it was also about un­der­stand­ing the way that aca­demic research is per­ceived, and ex­plain­ing “what do aca­demics do?” This prob­a­bly all sounds fairly dry, but some ac­tual ex­am­ples of canal his­tory help to il­lus­trate some of Jodie’s point about how she feels that research might progress – and who bet­ter to start with, in the 300th an­niver­sary year of his birth, than James Brind­ley, canal-build­ing ‘ge­nius’. And I’ve put that word in quotes, be­cause as Jodie points out, if you look back it’s a word that’s been used about him in dif­fer­ent ways. An en­gi­neer­ing ge­nius who could cre­ate the Bar­ton Aqueduct (and yes, people still ar­gue about how big his role in the pi­o­neer­ing Bridge­wa­ter

James Brind­ley: what sort of ‘ge­nius’ was he?

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