'Virtual seminars' and local history

The Interwar Rural History Research Group (IRHRG) has recently posted its first 'virtual seminar' and has plans for more. The Group's Chair, Jeremy Burchardt, says: 'They will work just like face-to-face seminars, with a paper, chair/moderator and participants, but the paper and discussion will be online'. He adds that IRHRG's experiment in online virtuality is partly driven by a desire to engage with interested historians and others who find it difficult to attend 'real world' seminars.

The first online seminar is a paper by Anne Meredith on '"The Joys of an Outdoor Life": Newcomers to the Countryside', in which she looks at women smallholders between the wars, mainly in Surrey, with a particular focus on those who were single, middle class and who had chosen farming as a way of life rather than being born into it. Anne unravels the complex range of economic, social and emotional influences that led these women into smallholding, arguing that 'marginality' is a key concept for understanding their social situation and relationship to mainstream agriculture. The paper then situates the experience of women smallholders in the context of interwar 'singleness', women's friendship patterns, and other contemporary 'back to the land' movements, especially the development of 'plotlands'. Anne concludes by suggesting that we need to think carefully about the balance between economic imperatives and the lure of the rural idyll. In the case of women smallholders, economic constraints and opportunities set parameters for their production decisions, but do not fully account for them.

Anne's paper by mid-February 2009 had attracted five participants, including Jeremy, but it can be argued that this is still early days, as there appears to be no time limit for contributions. It may be that creating an online 'forum' of the kind which is becoming increasingly popular on 'Web 2.0' websites might be a better approach. To take part in the IRHRG's seminar you need to contact Jeremy at for a user name and a password. It is an approach which local history groups may well like to consider as a means of reaching a wider audience.

13 February 2009

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