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Black Country Studies Research Network Launch

November 21, 2019 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm


The Black Country stands at a pivotal moment in its history. The increasing momentum of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the creation of devolved government through the West Midlands Combined Authority and potentially divisive social, economic and political issues arising, all play a role in this. Amidst this constantly shifting landscape, both physical and rhetorical, now is the time for scholars to come together and draw attention to this vibrant, exciting, complex and often misunderstood region.

As the Black Country faces the future, researchers from diverse disciplines and backgrounds are beginning to reassess and raise questions about what the Black Country is, what it means and how being from the Black Country shapes lives, experiences, opportunities and identities. The place of research and learning within local communities is of increasing importance to its future. The Black Country Studies Research Network is a new platform to facilitate these exchanges and to celebrate the Black Country’s past, present and future. It is a core strand of the Black Country Studies Centre, a new initiative being driven by a partnership between the University of Wolverhampton and the Black Country Living Museum.

The network welcomes established scholars from all disciplines and those working outside an academic setting, such as museum and archive professionals, artistic and creative practitioners and independent researchers with an interest in all aspects related to Black Country Studies. We encourage the involvement of MA and PhD students, alongside early-career researchers.

Over the next twelve months, four events will be held:

November 2019: What is Black Country Studies?

February 2020: Black Country Landscapes

May 2020: Radical Black Country

August 2020: Black Country Sources

Event One: What is Black Country Studies?

At this event, four researchers working within the realms of Black Country Studies will deliver their 10 minute responses to the question ‘What is Black Country Studies?’ Wherever possible, they will link this to their own research and/or practice. After the presentations, a discussion forum will be held followed by opportunities to network with others undertaking research. The event is open to all who believe their work to be part of Black Country Studies.

Canapes and refreshments will be served following the presentations. Please notify the organisers of any accessibility or dietary requirements. Please book online: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/black-country-studies-research-network-launch-tickets-73102524619



Simon Briercliffe: The history and heritage of the Black Country is crucial to the Black Country’s understanding of itself in the present day. Everything from flags, to housing developments, to infrastructure, invokes a sometimes nostalgic view of work, custom, and community in the past. These are often contested – just as there are as many versions of the Black Country’s border as there are people arguing about it, all of these things mean different things to different people. The Black Country is, in the words of the geographer Doreen Massey, “a conjunction of many histories and many spaces.” Black Country Studies thus needs to be grounded in the competing histories of place that construct its present day space; to challenge pervasive notions of an idealized past; and to situate the region within larger networks of economy, society and politics.

Simon is a researcher at the Black Country Living Museum, and a PhD student at the University of Birmingham. His most recent research for the Museum has informed BCLM’s Forging Ahead project, which will recreate a Black Country town of the 1940s-1960s. His book on the history of the Black Country in this period is due to be published in 2020. Simon’s doctoral research is on the nineteenth-century Black Country, particularly immigration into the region.

Paul Barnsley: A communal unresolved trauma, created by the rapid collapse of industrial society at the end of the 1970’s, continues to haunt the Black Country.

Despite politicians urging communities to ‘move on’ through limited place bound regeneration schemes, the consequences of the sudden, violent loss of relatively well paid and secure industrial work remain profound. In the Black Country, the experience has created a ‘half-life’ of deindustrialization where experiences of work, sense of self, local landscapes and community identities and expectations are thrown into flux.

This short presentation explores some of the meanings of deindustrialization and ask how the past continues to influence the present and the future. What was the lived experience of this form of industrial change? How are working-class lives, decades after the loss of industrial work, still shaped by its legacy? What are the consequences for those living and working in the post-industrial region today? How could a ‘just transition’ enable the people of the Black Country to confront and possibly ‘move on’ from the spectre of lost futures?

Paul is a part time PhD candidate at Wolverhampton University. He also works as a union organiser. His thesis looks at perceptions of work in two Black Country towns – Bilston and Brierley Hill – and specifically work on the site of the former Bilston and Round Oak Steelworks. He is writing an oral history of the people who worked in the steelworks and those who, forty years later, work on the same site in the call centres, shopping malls and distribution centres.


Kerry Hadley-Pryce: The Black Country is, as others have pointed out, unique. Considered to be ‘unmappable’ or ‘borderless’ as a place, and ‘existing in the minds of those who live there’ or ‘existing wherever the dialect(s) are spoken’ it seems to lend itself to a variety of different fascinating research possibilities. The Black Country has the capability to have a presence despite, and indeed because of, the various arguments about what or where it is. In this spirit, Black Country Studies ought not be set in stone or necessarily conclusive, but to be ongoing, vibrant forward-thinking building blocks for continuing exploration.

Kerry’s research examines how the active role of the Black Country might be interpreted as a particular state of mind in its literature, or what will be referred to as ‘topoaesthesia’ (what Pultz Moslund calls ‘the representation of place in literature to a direct sense of place or sensation of place.’) She will consider how, specifically, ‘the Black Country’ plays this role; as both an imagined space and an imaginative rendering of an actual place – what Edward Soja might refer to as a ‘real and imagined’ place.

Kerry was born in the Black Country. After many different jobs she became a secondary school teacher. She wrote her first novel, The Black Country (published by Salt Publishing in 2015) whilst studying for her MA in Creative Writing Manchester Writing School, for which she gained a Distinction and was awarded the Michael Schmidt Prize for Outstanding Achievement 2013–14. Gamble, her second novel, published by Salt Publishing in 2018 was shortlisted for The Encore Second Novel Award in 2019. She was appointed the first woman editor of The Blackcountryman magazine in October 2019. She is currently a Full-time PhD student at MMU, researching Psychogeography and Black Country Writing.


Dr Stuart Connor: What does the future hold for the Black Country? It may not be possible to know the future, but it is possible to explore futures in clear, rigorous and creative ways in order to anticipate potential risks and opportunities. This presentation asks how research could and should work with individuals, groups and institutions to bring future orientated approaches to life on real projects. Some of the megatrends that could shape the Black Country will be outlined, followed by discussion of some examples of work that has been used to stimulate thinking, extend conversations and inform actions as to how the futures of the Black Country could and should be shaped.

Stuart is a Reader in Learning Futures, in the Education Observatory at the University of Wolverhampton. With an interest in Futures Studies and a background in policy analysis, in work published to date, a recurrent theme is to not only understand the impact that policies have on people’s lives, but to also explore how people can and should have an impact on policies and future practices.

The Black Country Studies Centre is a partnership between:


November 21, 2019
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
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Black Country Studies Centre
01902 322561


Council Room MA221 University of Wolverhampton
Wulfruna Street
Wolverhampton, West Midlands WV1 1LY United Kingdom
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01902 322561