By Sue Horth, IHR Practitioner in Residence, 2022
In April 2022 I was given the enormous privilege of joining the Institute of Historical Research as its first practitioner in residence, and for the last four months I’ve experienced joy and renewal as part of the larger humanities family at SAS.
I’ve always loved history, it’s my professional foundation, and I’ve been pursuing historical storytelling throughout my career as a producer, director and writer in TV and film. But this wonderful creative residency, with its freedom to explore the infinite resources of the IHR – textual, visual and human – has been inspiring, liberating and transformative. I’ve been welcomed with such warmth and respect into the IHR community and I’ve had the kind of academically grounded, wide-ranging and discursive conversations I rarely experience in my day-to-day work, as well as the chance to share my own professional insights into portraying the past on screen, through informal interactions, contributions to lectures and research symposia, and curating a series of bespoke events including a creative workshop and a film club. I’m discovering new interests for my own creative research, and engaging with a wide range of academics across the broader SAS and University of London community, as well as welcoming new voices from outside the academic community into the IHR.
From a personal, creative perspective, the chance to sit within a citadel of primary source material and explore, at my own pace and choosing, the lived experiences of any person, from any place in history, has felt truly inspirational, almost transcendent in its potential for future creative storytelling. After nearly three years of atomised film-making through the pandemic, my residency gave me the chance to re-socialise, to interact in person, outside the business of TV and film, and simply explore resources and ideas which are boundlessly exciting.
To my surprise, the experience has also helped pull into focus some new insights about my own creative voice, and point of view. I’ve realised that my training as a historian, and the appetite that’s always given me for the handling of source material, real people, and their lived experiences, is the foundation of my unique skillset in the field of scripted storytelling; it offers a lens through which I see the world differently from some of my creative peers, and a capacity to handle material which others might find too diffuse, disruptive or perplexing. Complexity and context are the beating heart of history; I’ve realised it’s always been my intention to embed them into the dramas I produce, as well. This residency has clarified my own perception of myself as a storyteller.
I hope I’m showing that collaborations between historians and the creative industries can be profoundly enriching for both sides; demystifying the processes and priorities of my profession for the academic community, while enshrining historical rigour and expertise into the curiosity and imagination of the creative practitioner.