The London Arts and Humanities Partnership, which is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), encompasses the School of Advanced Study (SAS), King’s College London (King’s), and University College London (UCL). Dr Claire Thomson, who is currently acting as head of training and cohort development, explains the workings of the doctoral training partnership, known as LAHP for short, while highlighting some of the events the 2014 and 2015 cohorts of students have benefited from.
LAHP offers up to 80 cross-institutional postgraduate studentships per year for PhD research in the arts and humanities; the first cohort of students embarked on their PhDs in 2014. Students are enrolled at one of the three partners, but supervision may be drawn from across the partnership and from our cultural partners in London.
Aside from coordinating the annual studentship competition, LAHP offers a wide range of training opportunities and activities, some in partnership with major London cultural and business partners. Crucially, training and development is not exclusively reserved for LAHP-funded students. We open up as much training as possible to other arts and humanities PhD students across the three partner institutions, plus our associate member Queen Mary University of London.
Inevitably, development opportunities for LAHP students reflect the distinctive strengths of the consortium. Languages loom large. Intensive courses in French and German for researchers, offered in collaboration with l’Institut français and the Goethe Institut, have been very popular, while other students have been able to access specialist training ranging from palaeography to Arabic. Our institutions are known for their commitment to – and expertise in – public engagement; workshops on this theme have equipped students to design tailor-made projects that bring their work into conversation with different audiences. Participants learn not just to mediate their findings to the public but also, in the process, to allow these interactions to influence their research, and transform them as teachers and scholars.
A key aim within LAHP is to avoid duplication of the excellent training which is already available at students’ home institutions. One solution has been to invite proposals from academic staff for interdisciplinary training programmes based on cross-institutional synergies. Several events have brought together professionals, practitioners and scholars around a theme such as translation, music or ‘the creative thesis’. Together with the Economic and Social Research Council Doctoral Training Centres at King’s and UCL, a series of events ran in 2015 exploring the interface between the social sciences and arts and humanities, such as international relations and history, and bioethics.
A recurring theme in training has been exploration of the affinities between practice and theory. For example, the event series Against Delivery interrogated practice-based methodologies and the status of the research artefact as a form of knowledge, while hands-on training in desktop-publishing packages and the publishing cycle familiarised students with the transformations their research will undergo during the publication process.
Another distinctive aspect of the development opportunities available to students via LAHP is collaboration with cultural partners in London. These include larger organisations such as the Tate and the V&A as well as smaller museums and small and medium size enterprises (SMEs). The King’s Cultural Institute is leading on a new programme this year which brokers projects and internships with cultural partners, supporting students and organisations through the process of identifying, planning and managing projects that put doctoral students’ expertise to work ‘in the wild’.
A particular thrill for me has been witnessing how dynamic and engaged the students are as a cohort. In summer 2015, a group of students took the initiative to establish a LAHP journal, Still Point, featuring students’ writing and art, and contributions from other artists and authors. Interestingly, Still Point was ‘born analogue’ in that the editorial team insisted that it should be launched in hard copy, on beautifully designed, textured paper — but Issue #1 can also be read online.
This year’s studentship competition closed at the end of January. By September, a third cohort of PhD students will be embarking on their research at SAS, UCL and KCL, bringing the total number of LAHP AHRC-funded PhDs over the 200 mark. At that point, our first cohort of students (the class of 2014) will be starting the third year of their studies, and so generic skills training will expand to address their needs as their doctoral theses take shape and they begin to contemplate life after the PhD.
Dr Claire Thomson is acting deputy director and head of cohort training and development at LAHP. She is a senior lecturer in the Department of Scandinavian Studies at University College London, and specialises in Danish cinema. She is currently writing a book about how state-sponsored informational short films were commissioned, produced and distributed in Denmark between 1930s and 1960s. Her book, Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen, reconsiders the first film of the Dogme 95 movement in the twin contexts of the digital and affective turns.