Teaching & Learning


Exploring contested histories using collaboration and citizens' assemblies

02 July 2024, 2:00 pm–3:30 pm

London and Thames river in the 1990s

This online interactive workshop will explore the value of citizens’ assembly approaches in discussing significance – of heritage assets, in the first instance, but potentially also of other objects, places, people, and ideas. This framework could be used to present 'difficult knowledge' in a variety of teaching settings.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







UCL Eugenics Legacy Education Project (ELEP)

Tuesday 2 July 2024, 14:00-15:30 (online)

This interactive online workshop will invite you to engage with some of the techniques employed in iterative Citizens' Assembly workshops. The facilitators will then share some preliminary outcomes of their work and invite participants to consider how these techniques might translate to other fields and contexts (e.g., teaching in HE). 

Citizens' assemblies to explore the past

Typically, a citizens’ assembly is a group of people brought together – often for several days at a time – to discuss an issue, seek information, and form a consensus. This process can be costly in terms of time and money, and organisers may struggle to include a diverse group of participants whose contributions represent the variety of attitudes and views present in the wider population. 

In this project, the facilitators held several discussions across multiple sites, using the outcomes and outputs of each session to inform the next. Although participants were asked to think broadly about how (and whether) they value the past, some discussions also focused specifically on a particular contentious site: the Carlyles’ House, a National Trust property that was first established in 1895 as a literary museum / shrine to the historian Thomas Carlyle.  

Thomas Carlyle: a contentious legacy

Carlyle’s work – variously and sometimes simultaneously racist, authoritarian, radical, progressive – moulded by the society he lived in, and his influence is distilled in the world around us today. The exceptional letters written by Jane, married to Thomas for 40 years, vividly shape our understanding of 19th century Britain.  

Like the Colston Statue, the British Museum, and other contested sites and artefacts, the presence of Carlyles’ House urges us to examine whether and how we find meaning in the past – and to explore exciting new ways of discussing these challenging ideas and making decisions about how to respond to prevailing attitudes.  

Event background

The event is organised by UCL’s Eugenics Legacy Education Project (ELEP), a programme of education activity to help address UCL's harmful historical links to eugenics. 
ELEP is theoretically anchored within the field of difficult knowledge studies. Britzman (1998) developed the concept of ‘difficult knowledge’ to investigate the ways that experiences of education and learning can be problematic, uncomfortable, and even harmful when encountering complex curriculum areas. ELEP supports educational projects that encourage engagement with core issues in social justice-oriented approaches to education, such as difficult knowledge.

About the Speakers

Dr Caitlin Kight

Lecturer in Education Studies at University of Exeter

Caitlin is a researcher based at the University of Exeter since 2010.

More about Dr Caitlin Kight

Eleanor Harding

Cultural Heritage Curator at National Trust

Eleanor is a curator based at the National Trust since 2018.

More about Eleanor Harding