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Project: Spaces and Stories of (Higher) Education: A Historical Investigation

Background/ Rationale

The landscape of Higher Education in the UK and elsewhere is being rapidly and radically reconfigured amidst the changing contexts of mass education, market forces, technological advances and pedagogical innovation. The re/design and re/construction of old and new spaces is a key part of every university’s strategic planning and there has been an exponential growth in the development of new environments for teaching and learning. These developments have begun to be accompanied by a critical literature which examines the relationships between spatiality and pedagogy. However this literature tends to focus on an evaluation of new spaces and recent pedagogic trends, and neglects a historical dimension. As the recent work of Catherine Burke (2008) illustrates, current trends and initiatives have their roots in previous decades and debates, and historical enquiry is an important component of contemporary critical analysis. The proposed research aims to address this by examining the historical relationships between pedagogy, curriculum and space in Higher Education institutions using archival and oral history methodologies.



Research Methodology and Methods

Two key methods will be used: firstly, archival research will be carried out to identify both textual and visual documentation relating to classroom design. An online database of collected materials will be established. During this stage of the research key historical figures involved in either pedagogical or architectural developments will be identified, and where possible life-history interviews will be sought either with these people (if they are alive) or with others close to them.

The research is being carried out by undergraduate researchers working together in a collaborative team with other members of the Reinvention Centre. See the TEAM PAGE for further information.

The undergraduate students are trained and provided with support and supervision as the project progresses. The student researchers will form part of a larger team of students and academic staff working on an existing research project entitled Reinventing Spaces. This project examines the relationships between curriculum, pedagogy and space by means of sociological ethnographic research within university and secondary school sites.







The Research aims

The research has three key aims:

  • To find, generate and document data relating to the design and development of university classrooms within the UK. The exact time-frame for the research will be established by the researchers at the outset of the project.
  • To analyse the data in order to identify the pedagogic discourses that may have shaped key architectural and design decisions.
  • To map out trends in the design and development of pedagogic spaces, including commonalities and disjunctures over time.



Research will begin in the Modern Records Centre at Warwick University on catalogues containing textual and visual documentation from the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of The Universities of the United Kingdom (CVCP) and from Warwick University’s own archives. Researchers will then identify, with support, further relevant archives nationally. Equipment such as voice recorders will be provided by the Reinvention Centre for Undergraduate Research.  


Communication of Findings

The findings from the project will be communicated in the following ways:

  • Interim report to be presented at the History HE Teaching & Learning Annual Conference (April 09)
  • Paper presented at the Student Learning and Teaching Network Conference (November 2009)
  • Paper presented at the History of Education Annual Conference 'Putting Education in its Place’ (December 2009)
  • Paper presented at the History HEA Teaching & Learning Annual Conference (April 2010)
  • Contribution to research exhibition at Knowledge Spaces: the 5th Space Symposium (March 2010)
  • Public exhibition entitled The Idea of a University, at the University of Warwick (24-26 June 2010, The Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick)

The student researchers will also be encouraged to write up their findings for publication in a relevant journal (possibly ELISS or Reinvention: a Journal of Undergraduate Research) and/or co-author a piece for publication in History of Education journal. The findings will also contribute to outputs related to the wider Reinventing Spaces project and all student researchers will be involved and credited as appropriate.



Indicative Project Time-Frame (12 months)


Months 1 and 2:

Recruit researchers

Revisit and refine research aims and draw up detailed project plan.

Undertake background reading and training


Months 3 and 4

Begin archival research in MRC

Identify other sources for archival material


Months 5 and 6

Archival research and identification of possible interviewees


Months 7

Background reading and training in oral history interviews


Months 8 and 9

Contact possible interviewees and arrange interview dates

Carry out interviews


Months 10 and 11

Transcription and analysis.


Month 12

Exhibition and communication of findings









A Collaboration between the HEA History Subject Centre and The Reinvention Centre for Undergraduate Research involving students and staff from History and Sociology at the University of Warwick.

DON'T MISS Spaces and Stories research exhibition: The Idea of a Univeristy 24 June - 26 JuNE 2010, The MEAD GALLERY, University of Warwick