This year I had the opportunity to carry out a placement with Manchester Histories – a charity-based community outreach group focused on bringing the histories of the people of Manchester to life through various means, such as workshops, exhibits, and the bi-annual ‘Manchester Histories Festival’. As an MA History student with an interest in the social applications of my subject, this was an exciting opportunity for some hands-on experience of the heritage and community-focused sector whilst working with passionate people. Our supervisors, Karen and Sam, welcomed myself and two other MA students from the same course as me with an open, friendly attitude, and expressed their excitement for the upcoming projects we would be taking part in. A particular highlight of my experience was working on ‘Exploding Women’.

Karen, Sam and me at the ‘Exploding Women’ event

Manchester Histories has previously collaborated with the history-mad performance duo Lip Service to create ‘Exploding Women’ for last year’s festival – a 40-minute comedy show outlining the contributions of some truly awesome Mancunion women working in science during the past century. The performers, Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding, are natural comics, and have gained quite a following, therefore in March this year we brought them back for four more performances in exciting locations in Manchester.

In order to get our audience into a scientist’s frame of mind, we arranged with University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University to hold some performances within their university laboratories. This was an exciting opportunity for the general public to see the inner workings of the science world for their own eyes, and was a particularly important chance to inspire and excite children about careers science. In the UoM lab we were able to provide lab coats and goggles for every audience member, which elicited delight from adults and kids alike as they got to get physically involved in the performance. Of course, there were many strict lab conditions to be adhered to – which we as volunteers helped to inform and enforce – but that added even further to the realistic setting of the Manchester laboratory scientist. In addition to this, we also held two performances at the historic house of Elizabeth Gaskell, another famous woman from Manchester’s rich history.

We worked hard to make the show as accessible as possible to people of all ages and abilities, and hence were able to provide an age-friendly performance that was British Sign Language-interpreted and had optional audio description, as making the venues wheelchair-accessible. This celebration of the feats of women from Manchester should be available for anyone to enjoy, and we were particularly keen to encourage parents to bring their children to the performance – to inspire the next generation of scientists!

My contribution in this process included helping to plan the logistics of performing on location, stewarding for the members of the public who came to each performance, and subsequently collecting and compiling data from audience feedback forms given out at the end of each performance. Events such as these cannot go on without the work of volunteers with a passion to make history accessible and interesting to all, therefore I felt that my input into this performance was valued and made a difference.