Research-led Masterclasses

How the Faculty of Arts research-led Masterclasses project is bringing together researchers and students to explore areas of mutual interest.

The Faculty of Arts research-led Masterclasses project was conceived as a way to further develop the mutual benefits of research and teaching by bringing together researchers and students from around the Faculty to explore areas of mutual interest.

We seek to exploit and celebrate the diversity of research in Arts by bringing together researchers with different disciplinary perspectives on a shared object of study. Thus a session on 'the book' might engage with the subject from two mutually enriching perspectives, that of the specialist in the history of the book trade and that of the expert on literature, and appeal to students from any Arts discipline. By doing this, we aim to:

  • showcase the research activities of existing interdisciplinary research groupings within the Faculty
  • bring together colleagues who had not previously collaborated to begin to explore possibilities for future collaborative work
  • promote opportunities for postgraduate study in those areas
    raise awareness among students of the diversity of research in Arts subjects
  • raise awareness of the benefits of different disciplinary approaches to an object of study
  • train research students in research-led curriculum development and small-group teaching, which ultimately would make them more employable.

The Masterclasses are run as a Faculty initiative, leaving the academics to focus on the content of the session, and follow a simple structure: two academics and a PhD student, from different disciplines across the Faculty, lead a session run over one afternoon. Students are recruited via emails and up to 15 places are allocated on 'first come, first served' basis, with priority going to undergraduate finalists. We have covered a wide variety of topics, including  Political Dissent - Ancient & Modern (Arabic, Classics); Language & Identity (English, Italian/German); Modernity, Tradition, Authenticity (History, English); Good & Evil (TRS, Philosophy); Depictions of the Afterlife (Classics, Italian); Shifting Borders in a Changing Europe (German); Toleration and Persecution (History and IDEA CETL).

Staff and students alike are benefiting from the workshops. Researchers who had previously not collaborated have now done so, and through speaking and organising workshops have been able to look at different methods adopted in their respective disciplines. Liz Pender, who has been involved with two Masterclasses, Political Dissent and Depictions of the Afterlife commented: "By collaborating with individual colleagues from different areas of the Faculty of Arts, I can learn about their research and together we can explore insights offered by the various juxtapositions of our subjects and chosen themes. Over time I expect that specific research groups will emerge from these classes. And those research groups will be in a strong position to compete for large-scale collaborative grants."

Similarly, student feedback highlighted the value they placed on gaining an insight into the wealth and range of knowledge across the  Faculty. By enabling students to look beyond the boundaries of their discipline, we have enhanced their student experience.

We anticipate building on notable successes like the student who, having attended a Masterclass as an Undergraduate in 2008-09, returned to lead one as an MA student in 2009-10.
Interestingly, the fact that these were not credit-bearing sessions was welcomed by both these final-year students and researchers. Those involved enjoyed the Masterclasses above all for their intellectual interest, for the opportunity to 'try something new', free from the constraints of the curriculum and assessment.

Due to this overwhelmingly positive reception, the Faculty remains committed to running these sessions beyond the initial two-year project period, developing the principle in a variety of ways. Current plans include a 'themed series' in 2014, to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of the First World War, and we are going to pilot a new scheme of PhD-led seminars. Like the Masterclasses, these seminars will cover 'big' themes to draw in students from across the Faculty. We are also hoping to use the Master Class principle to enhance the impact of our research on the wider community, by exploring the possibility of public Masterclasses in conjunction with local arts organisations such as the Hyde Park Picture House, National Media Museum and Leeds Art Gallery. So, like all good research and teaching ventures, the Masterclasses have both been useful in their own right and had beneficial spin-offs.

What students said

  • [The Masterclasses were a] "Good chance to have viewpoints of those on other courses."
  • "It made me think I shouldn't just consider things from the point of view of my own discipline."
  • "I really enjoyed being able to talk to the postgraduates about what they had done and how they had gone about it. It taught me a lot about postgraduate study."

Article by Tess Hornsby Smith and Paul Rowe, Faculty of Arts.

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