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UCL academic spotlight: Professor Rodney Harrison on UCL’s new partnership with the National Trust

Rodney Harrison, Professor of Heritage Studies, shares his experience of working with the National Trust and highlights opportunities coming up as a result of the new UCL partnership.

Professor Rodney Harrison
Professor Rodney Harrison

  • Professor of Heritage Studies in the UCL Institute of Archaeology
  • Teaches on the MA Museum Studies and MA Cultural Heritage Studies
  • Academic co-lead on new BA Heritage at UCL East
  • Co-Director of the UCL Centre for Critical Heritage Studies, a joint initiative with the University of Gothenburg
  • AHRC Heritage Priority Area Leadership Fellow
  • Founding editor and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology
  • Previously worked at the Open University, Australian National University, the University of Western Australia and the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service

Long-standing links with the National Trust

UCL’s relationship with the National Trust isn’t a new one, but we’re moving into an important new phase of collaboration with them, which is very exciting. 

As a heritage researcher, I’ve worked with the Trust many times in the last decade. Most recently we’ve collaborated on a project called Heritage Futures, one of the largest critical comparative studies of heritage and heritage-like practices to have ever been undertaken. We’ve spent four years pooling research from an interdisciplinary, international team of 16 researchers and more than 25 partners to explore the role of heritage in building future worlds.

The Trust has also played a key role in the development of our new BA Heritage, which will be launching at UCL East from September 2023. They’ve given us unique insight into the evolving needs of the sector, to ensure UCL’s heritage teaching continues to lead the way globally. 

The new partnership

Building on this foundation, we’re now taking things a step further by signing a long-term strategic partnership agreement. It’s big news for both organisations, and ties in with the launch of the Trust’s first research strategy since they became an independent research organisation in 2019. 

UCL has been selected to work specifically on the ‘Looking after what we’ve got’ strand of the Trust’s strategy. This means we’ll be ramping up our joint research, and working on many other joint projects, relating to heritage science, sustainable conservation and heritage significance. 

We expect to see lots of interesting work coming out of this that will have benefits for UCL, the Trust and heritage sector as a whole. World-leading experts from the university and Trust will be working together on everything from new conservation measures to new visitor management strategies. We’ll also be looking at how to mitigate the impacts of climate change on heritage sites, an area of significant expertise at UCL.  

There’s plenty of National Trust work going on with other parts of the university as well, and that will continue. But this partnership provides a new focus for our two organisations to take joint heritage and conservation work a critical step further. 

The UCL Innovation & Enterprise Business and innovation partnerships team has been instrumental in helping us to put the new agreement together. They’ve supported us with all the practical things to do with drawing up contracts and negotiations. They’re also helping us map out what the partnership will look like over the next few years, with secondments, knowledge exchange initiatives and policy placements all being planned. In particular, it’s been very helpful for me to leave the negotiations aspect to Jo Townshend and her team, so I can focus on my research and teaching.   

A call for projects

In terms of immediate opportunities, the UCL Centre for Critical Heritage Studies is launching a call for joint National Trust-UCL research projects through its Small Grants Scheme (see below for details). 

If you’re a researcher working in or around heritage or conservation, this is an exciting opportunity for you to partner with the Trust. If your proposal is accepted, you’ll receive funding to partner with a National Trust practitioner, explore new ways for your research to be applied on the ground, and/or influence policy. 

There can be an assumption that practitioners aren’t interested in the more conceptual side of heritage thinking. My experience has been that the National Trust in particular, and heritage practitioners generally, are excited by the opportunity to work alongside academics as co-researchers to develop new ways of thinking and working. 

So I hope lots of colleagues will want to get involved, whatever their involvement in heritage and conservation work. We have wide-ranging, multi-disciplinary expertise at UCL in this area, and the Trust is a fantastic collaborator. 

As a heritage researcher, I’m thrilled myself to be able to have greater access to such wonderful sites and properties. Places we can think in, with and through some of the challenges heritage is facing today, and map out what the future of UK heritage is going to look like. 

Listen to Rodney talk about the latest climate change and heritage issues, including work undertaken with the National Trust as partners, as part of the BBC’s Green Thinking series. 

Your chance to work with the National Trust

If you’re interested in conducting research with the National Trust, the UCL Centre for Critical Heritage Studies has opened a call for joint research projects through its Small Grants Scheme.

The Centre is particularly keen to receive proposals that:

  • contribute to research and debate on critical heritage studies
  • involve collaboration or cross-disciplinary approaches
  • aim to achieve research impact 
  • prepare the ground for new, extended research.

The deadline for submission of proposals is 17 December 2021.

Find out more about the scheme and how to apply.

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