Most people tend to think of academics and postgraduate students as always buried in books in some dusty archive or whiling away behind a computer screen. I think you would be surprised at all of the different research activities we actually get up to. Not to say we don’t do those things; as a historical geographer, books, archives and museums are the reality of my day to day. But now more than ever it’s important to reach out and engage audiences with our research in new ways. Sometimes, this can mean actually getting in front of a camera and discussing your interests with a broadcast audience!
In the past I’d assumed you needed to be a lecturer before your opinion was sought out for on-camera interviews, but actually there seems to be a growing interest in history and historical research. I know I personally tune in to all sorts of shows along the lines of ‘Secret Killers of the Victorian Home’ to hear historians give me all the gruesome details. I’d never thought as a PhD student I’d have the opportunity to be on camera, so when I was asked to be interviewed by Professor Joanna Bourke for her one-hour special ‘Drills, Dentures and Dentistry: An Oral History’, I didn’t know where to begin!
In the show I’m actually discussing research I carried out in my previous position as Assistant Curator of the Hunterian Museum on dental surgery in the First World War. While my time period of interest has remained roughly the same, I’m now studying in the School of Geography at Queen Mary University of London to examine the influence of the empire and the development of British medicine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Fortunately my supervisors have been very supportive of my continuing with any talks or appearances I’m offered on the subject of my previous work. It’s important to remember that your PhD is just one project in your broader career!
With no media experience at all, QMUL was absolutely fantastic at giving me some pointers on what to do on the day. Everything from how to dress to pattern of speaking can be very important. What I don’t think anyone prepared me for was how very hard filming can be. Hours upon hours under the hot lights becomes exhausting – especially when you don’t have a script and so you need to try and come up with an answer on the spot with the camera rolling! It doesn’t really matter how well you know your topic that can be tricky. Also, in order to get the interview from a variety of shots, you need to repeat yourself many times. I’m sure I gave wildly different answers in each take, so that’s definitely something to work on for the future. I was incredibly impressed by Joanna Bourke’s calm and professionalism doing this exhausting work.
Overall it was an interesting experience and I hope I’ll have another opportunity to give TV history a go as my PhD research progresses!
If you’d like to read more about my research, click through to my profile page on the School of Geography website.
Watch now on BBC iPlayer (Kristin at 44.30) or read more about BBC 4’s Drills, Dentures and Dentustry: An Oral History. It aired on BBC 4 on March 30th at 9pm, 2015.