BANK Street Arts has appointed its first Academic in Residence, historian Karen Harvey, who is undertaking a detailed research into the history of the Georgian building complex and its previous occupants. The concept of artist in residence is common enough but this seems an unusual venture.
“I did Google ‘academic in residence’ and couldn’t find any others, except for scientific consultancy or knowledge transfer,” agrees Dr Harvey, who nonetheless has a clear vision of what it should entail. She plans not only to delve into the past but also meet the public and link up with the various artists who are based there.
“An academic in residence, particularly one at an arts centre, should not only share their expertise but should reflect on their own academic practice in the light of the practitioners around them,” she continues. “I do not know how a residency at Bank Street Arts will affect my own practice as an historian. I am certain that it will, though, and reflecting upon this change is one of my aims.
“I have just finished a book about men in 18th-century houses and I wanted to explore and disseminate the subject in new ways. I am not trained to do that so it will be an interesting experience.”
The residency is running alongside her normal duties as Senior Lecturer in Cultural History at the University of Sheffield but she sees the project as fitting the university’s desire to demonstrate to the public that it has some relevance to the general public.
“Sheffield was named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards and that was largely in recognition of the way it has tried to reconnect with its origins which had their core in the metalwork industry. This is in line with that.”
She herself pitched the idea to John Clark, founder and creative director of the complex of artists’ studios, workplaces, gallery space and a cafe on Bank Street.
“John has given me a room and said, ‘do what you like’. Bank Street will be learning about its history and at the same time it’s an opportunity for some of my students, but also I hope it will be opened out to the community. I know the centre is developing an education strategy and some the work may be taken into schools.”
Dr Harvey has brought two of her students along on work placements. Tom Bollard will concentrate on the 19th century while Emily Colley’s responsibility is the 20th century.
Findings so far have come through the study of documents such as deeds and street directories but they are keen to put flesh on the bones. They know that one of the first occupants was W Jackson, a surgeon, but the fact that he kept horses in the yard and was also founder of Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society suggests other interesting facets to his life. “The premises were bequeathed to a Chlorinda Jackson, “spinster,” but we don’t know her relationship to him – granddaughter, perhaps, or niece?” ponders Dr Harvey.
“The project is partly about family history but also the history of work. Did people both work and live here?, it’s unclear at the moment. People think of this part of the city as being about work but I am primarily interested in the home and hope to uncover domestic lives.”
One of the areas which should prove revealing in this regard are wills and probate records. “The probate inventories will have a list of contents which should tell us what kinds of things they kept here,” she says.
“We will be building up layers of information drawing on documents but I would love to get hold of photographs of the building. It may not be easy to find pictures from long ago but it is possible the solicitors who occupied it more recently took some photos when they moved in. Or even better, were there office parties here and did anyone take any pictures?”
There is now a History Room display at Bank Street Arts of the progress of the project so far and Dr Harvey will be in attendance at specific times to talk to anyone who has memories or information about the buildings. These will be today (Thursday, January 19), from 1pm to 2pm, Friday, January 27, 11.30am to 1pm, and Saturday, January 28, 1.30pm to 2.30pm, or she can be contacted via email to email@example.com
Karen Harvey’s The Little Republic, Men and the House in Eighteenth-Century Britain, will be published by Oxford University Press in April.