The Gott Collection and the palimpsest landscape of Yorkshire: a co-production case study
I am working on an AHRC-funded collaborative doctoral award in which I explore the ways academics can work together with non-academic partners to co-produce new historical knowledge. This approach will engage various community partners so that they have a voice in the research that affects them. My partner is the Hepworth Wakefield, and I am working on the Gott Collection, which is made up of ten large, beautifully bound scrapbooks containing over 1200 images of places around Yorkshire. They were gathered by a local businessman William Gott (1797 – 1863), the son of a Leeds wool merchant and factory owner, who had a taste for fine art. He had the images bound together in the form we know today and they were inherited by his son John (1830 – 1906) who became the Bishop of Truro in 1891. The collection later found its way into the hands of a famous and eccentric collector of furnishings, curios and historical paraphernalia Frank Green. Frank occasionally had the books displayed for the public at his home, Treasurer’s House in York, before he gifted the house to the National Trust and the Gott Collection to the city of Wakefield in the early 1930s.
One of the most interesting aspects to the Gott Collection is the number of medieval buildings represented within it. I argue that William was constructing the landscape around him, as represented in the Gott Collection, as a medieval utopia which never existed in contrast to the changing visual identity of the places around him such as Leeds which were becoming distinctly industrial towns or cities. The Gotts and the Greens were members of the industrial upper classes and so were more than aware of the effects on the newly rich and expanding Northern towns – grand municipal buildings, large factories and new family estates – yet this collection mirrors the Gothic Revival within architecture and places the emphasis on the (pseudo) medieval, ignoring the contemporary completely. For people whose fortunes were made in industry, where did this obsession come from?
The Gott Collection will be a jumping-off point to explore, alongside community groups, questions of space and power, of history and future, and of the role of museums within the community. The Hepworth opened its doors in 2011 as the largest purpose-built exhibition space outside London and has been a part of the regeneration of Wakefield as a city (more information about Wakefield and regeneration is available here). Being a representative of both modern day Wakefield and the history of the local area through its holdings and physical location it connects the layers of the past and present both in the landscape and in the local conception. This link is something that I will be exploring in partnership with the Hepworth and the community.
Initially I came to Huddersfield to complete my BA in English Literature and History in 2010 where I was particularly interested in medieval gender history and social-problem fiction in the nineteenth century. I went on to do my MA by Research about Edward III and his relationship with his extensive family entitled Edward III: Exemplar King and Doting Parent in which I argue that Edward successfully managed his children as a political resource, particularly his sons, as well as building a personal relationship with them which enabled him to craft his masculinity as a perfect man and king. These relationships with his many offspring also helped him to create stability in England in contrast to the disarray of his father’s deposition.
My motivation to be a historian has always been to explore the humanity of the past: the personal stories of those who came before us and whose lives would otherwise be lost to us. This motivation is what drew me to co-production; academics, and historians in particular, have often ignored the people whose lives we research, but we must bring their research out of the establishment and consider those outside our door. Using and valuing the voices of those whose lives are affected by our research can only enrich our discipline and make History more accessible.