Industrial heritage education at risk?

Industrial heritage at London Canal Museum
Industrial heritage at London Canal Museum

In this post I outline some of my ideas for better education in industrial history, archaeology and heritage. There are currently no dedicated Masters-level programmes in industrial heritage/history/archaeology and I wanted to find out why (with no agenda either way as to whether or not they ought to exist as specialist programmes). In the first half I discuss English Heritage’s major study on Industrial Heritage at Risk as it has important implications for education. In the second I share my findings after a brief and informal survey of industrial heritage courses taught at postgraduate level, and discuss how the two could come together to improve levels of the knowledge and understanding of heritage practitioners, scholars and public.

My conclusions are given at the end and are at present ideas and thoughts based on my observations and experience. I hope to develop some of these based on more rigorous research. If you would like to contribute ideas of your own please leave a comment.

Industrial Heritage at Risk

Industrial Heritage at Risk was a major project undertaken by English Heritage in 2011 to quantify and assess the condition of England’s industrial heritage, particularly in the light of the considerable development seen at brownfield sites over the last two decades.

Overwhelmingly the public think that it is as important to preserve our industrial heritage as other types of heritage such as castles and country houses (80%).
(From survey of 2000 respondents conducted by English Heritage as part of the Industrial Heritage at Risk project)

Some of the findings that stood out for me are:

  • 4% of listed buildings and 4% of scheduled monuments are industrial.
  • The average estimated conservation deficit (cost of repair in excess of the end value) of industrial buildings at risk is twice that of non-industrial buildings at risk.
  • Approximately 40% of industrial buildings at risk are capable of beneficial use, compared to 44% of non-industrial buildings at risk.
  • Only 40% of listed industrial buildings at risk could be put to sustainable and economic new uses. The remainder are reliant on voluntary effort, public funding and philanthropy to survive.
  • Lead, tin, copper and coal mines are the industrial sites most at risk on Register.
  • 52% would like more opportunity to give their opinion about which industrial sites they think should be protected, while 44% are interested in getting involved with helping to protect the industrial heritage in their local area.
  • Younger people are less interested in industrial heritage than those aged 55 and over.

The criteria for assessing risk is outlined in the Heritage at Risk Methodology Statement (opens PDF) that is applied to all types of heritage, not just industrial.

English Heritage has pledged to undertake a number of measures to help ensure the future viability of industrial heritage sites and areas. These mainly concern offering advice, encouraging local groups to take on industrial sites and providing handbooks and guides. English Heritage obviously does not have the resources to be more hands-on with its assistance and it is right that organisations and groups in the localities in which industrial sites are based should take some responsibility for them if they are the same people who are worried about their future survival.

English or British industrial heritage?

English Heritage is only mandated to oversee historic sites within the political unit of England and as such the Industrial Heritage at Risk report does not make connections with sites elsewhere. This is a point of frustration because so much of English industrial heritage is intimately linked with that of Wales and Scotland, notably in coal and metals, and textiles. Comparable research data does not exist (at least publicly) for EH’s sister bodies in Wales (Cadw and RCAHMW–but see Cadw Buildings at Risk document), Scotland (Historic Scotland–but see Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland) and Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Environment Agency).

Industrial heritage without borders

The history of industrialisation in Britain is a story without borders. Businesses, entrepreneurs and scientists paid scant notice to national or regional identity within the UK when making profits and pioneering new technologies. The rapid success of British businesses engaged in mass industry relied on fast networks that first globalised these isles and then rapidly globalised much of the planet by its domination of maritime trade and nascent empire building. This is much more evident in the thousands of business archives held in public, private and corporate collections than perhaps in the vestiges of industrial heritage sites.

My current project to reconstruct historic supply chain information of the copper industry from business archive collections and museum collections aims to better integrate the information we have from documentation with that of archaeological and built remains. It is a material-driven approach that intends to provide a context for the quantifiable inputs and outputs that is the traditional fayre of economic and industrial historians. Teaching industrial history using this approach may well attract a wider range of students and learners who are increasingly interested in the cultural impact of economic change both locally and globally.

Industry and regional identity

However industries were undeniably regionally specific because of their locations near raw materials, as hubs in national and international transport infrastructures, and the development of specialist factory workforces that percolated down the generations, often defining entire places, whether hard rock mining in Cornwall or cotton manufacture in Lancashire. Copperopolis (Swansea), Tinopolis (Llanelli), Jutopolis (Dundee), Cottonopolis (Manchester)… are epithets that are testament to the huge impact of regionally-specific industry on perceptions of place. The capacity for industry to bestow regional distinctiveness on a locality has strongly influenced the way in which many sites and areas have been interpreted, much more so than the global story and connectedness of which it was once part.

What about education?

The Industrial Heritage at Risk project has identified the need for better educational resources and to this end has provided a set of teacher’s kits to help teach school children  about industrial sites in their area. The topic range is broad and I am particularly glad that the creators of these packs urge teachers to address issues of why we preserve industrial heritage sites and their value to society. We don’t know how much having debate like this will affect the views of children when they become adults but I am pleased that attempts are being made to de-adultify industrial heritage. Of all the fields of history and heritage, the interest in industry has been the preserve of (mainly male) enthusiasts, economic historians and historians of science and technology. And the average age profile of these groups is currently much higher than other sectors such as art and social history. But I digress.

Having set some of the scene of industrial heritage in the UK today I want to continue by exploring how industrial history and heritage is taught. While the English Heritage Teacher’s Kits go a long way to providing high quality resources for schools I am naturally led to question the level of knowledge and understanding of teachers, trainers and lecturers themselves, and where you might go as a prospective learner to ‘up-skill’ in the area of industrial heritage. There are four main areas I would like to investigate:

  • Key Stage 5 (A-level / Baccalaureate etc)
  • Tertiary / Higher Education (Diplomas, First Degrees, Vocational)
  • Postgraduate Taught courses
  • Adult Learning / Continuing Professional Development / Lifelong Learning courses

Postgraduate education in industrial heritage/history/archaeology

It is at postgraduate level (Masters level) that many students have the opportunity to pursue the advanced study of a subject and it is at this level that my exploration of the current state of industrial heritage education begins. This follows an email enquiry to a number of mailing lists, followed up by correspondence, about where people have taken industrial heritage courses and what forms they have taken.

I was keen to find out why there are currently no dedicated taught Masters courses in industrial heritage/history/archaeology in UK universities. My underlying motive is to find out how collaborative resources created through research, particularly those from heritage-led knowledge exchange initiatives (e.g. Welsh Copper Project) could be developed into modules, courses and entire programmes whether taught through distance learning, traditional lecture and class sessions, work-based training and blended learning (combining any of these).

My enquiry received over 35 responses via email and a few via Twitter. Responses came from those teaching industrial heritage/history/archaeology, or who had taught it in the past, and from those who had taken courses. A small number of responses came from the USA and I have included these for comparative purposes, although my main interest is in what is happening here in the UK.

Where courses are/have been taught and taken

I am including responses from those who have taken courses in the past that are now defunct (marked ceased). This list is response-driven and is not an exhaustive search for industrial heritage modules within other programmes.

  • MA Historical Archaeology, Sheffield, 1997, taught by David Crossley. Included industrial heritage, ceased
  • MA Heritage Management, Ironbridge Institute (University of Birmingham), 1989-current (distance learning option since 2004)
  • MA Historic Environment Conservation, Ironbridge Institute, 2005-current
  • MS and PhD, Industrial Heritage and Archaeology, Michigan Tech University, Prof. Patrick Martin
  • MA Archaeology, University of Nevada, Reno, led by Dr Don Hardesty, American mining archaeology
  • Department of the History of Science and Technology, John Hopkins University
  • MA Industrial Archaeology, Ironbridge Institute, 1985-6, taught by Barrie Trinder and late Michael Stratton, ceased 2007/8 (est. 1981), relaunched by Roger White 2001, last modules taught 2005/7, ceased
  • MA Industrial Heritage, Ironbridge Institute, 1994-1999, ceased
  • MA Archaeology of Buildings, University of York, one module Industrial Buildings
  • MA Historical Archaeology, University of York taught by John Schofield, John Finch, Kate Giles
  • MA Historical Archaeology, University of Leicester (distance learning option)
  • Postgrad Diploma Industrial Archaeology, Wroclaw Polytechnic, Poland, 2001
  • MLitt Lead Mining industry in North Pennines, Newcastle University
  • Undergraduate course in Industrial Archaeology, Newcastle University, 1990s/early 2000s taught by Stafford Linsey, ceased after retirement
  • MSc Mining and Industrial Heritage Management, Camborne School of Mines (University of Exeter), taught by Tony Brooks, head of Mining, ceased after retirement
  • MSc Heritage Science and Professional Archaeology, Queen’s University Belfast
  • Ordinary Degree Industrial Archaeology module for English, History, Geography, Geology and other subjects, College of Higher Education, Liverpool, validated by Lancaster University, 1980s
  • Industrial Archaeology topics taught at Bristol University


Why did people choose to take a course or programme in industrial heritage/history/archaeology?

  • Course near to where student lived
  • Had already done first degree at same institution
  • Ability to do degree part time while working in cognate profession (commercial archaeology)
  • To aid career prospects or prior to undertaking PhD
  • Inherent / personal interest in subject
  • To formalise existing research undertaken privately

Positive points

What people like about learning and teaching industrial heritage.

  • Inclusion of work placement
  • Practical surveying techniques
  • Learnt applied skills for use in architecture
  • Course based on an industrial site
  • Using industrial site visits and projects to teach broader issues of sustainability, conservation practice
  • Skills-based learning including desk-based and field work, photography, surveying, documentary study
  • Wealth of material on British industry 1650-1939 materials and practices
  • Interpretation of sites and monuments including conservation of buildings and artefacts

Negative points

What people did not like about learning and teaching industrial heritage.

  • Topics dated
  • No introduction of new ideas
  • Disinterested lecturers. End of course malaise
  • Dwindling student numbers making it financially unviable
  • Too much emphasis on museums
  • Can be conservative
  • Courses are expensive to run
  • Career opportunities limited in UK
  • Cost cuts and need to take on more students lowering standards
  • Recruitment low because career prospects poor/cannot see benefits
  • Industrial sites need to engage with community’s history as much as technology
  • Local politics

Other issues arising

  • Vocational courses like Heritage Management recruit better, into 20s and 30s FTE. Teach industrial heritage as part of that
  • Disciplinary differences in the US: industrial history thought in History of Science and Tech programmes or Science, Technology and Society (STS) programmes
  • Heritage is considered ‘public history’ in US
  • History of science has emphasis on written record rather than material culture—industrial archaeology offers this pathway (but not a major field in US)
  • Many courses heavily relient on subject specialism of tutor/lecturer, when they retire or leave course does not continue
  • There remains a disparity between what is required by archaeological profession and what is taught in universities
  • Growth of historical and contemporary archaeology as a field of study on a par with prehistory

Conclusions: Is industrial heritage education at risk?

The main conclusions reached by this survey of opinion are:

  • After the heyday of dedicated industrial heritage/archaeology programmes in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly those offered by the Ironbridge Institute and the University of Leicester, the subject is now taught mainly through historical archaeology and heritage management modules and programmes
  • The offering of industrial heritage/history/archaeology courses is more heavily dependent on research expertise present in a department or institution whereby replacement is not necessary sought once a person leaves or retires, than other subject areas
  • Changes in professional needs and aspirations of prospective students have changed the nature of postgraduate taught programmes towards teaching broader-based skills in archaeology, heritage and historic environment
  • There is a divide between those who learn industrial heritage through history of science and technology programmes (documentary based study) and archaeology programmes (site and landscape based study)
  • There is a skills gap. What is taught to students is not necessarily what is needed by heritage practitioners, especially field archaeologists (see Archaeology degrees stuck in the (far distant) past by Matthew Reisz, 6 Oct 2011, Times Higher Education, including response by Prof. Marilyn Palmer)

My conclusions (in no particular order)

  • Industrial heritage/history/archaeology is still a minority subject in spite of a clear public interest in the subject indicated by English Heritage’s Industrial Heritage at Risk research and a general increase in participation in humanities programmes
  • There is a lack of research interest in industrial heritage/history/archaeology within universities as a direct result of its absence in many postgraduate curricula
  • The growth in knowledge exchange/knowledge transfer/community participation projects is generating unprecedented amounts of high-quality publicly-circulating research that can be repurposed to provide teaching and learning materials beyond the life of the project
  • The increasing number of high-profile industrial heritage sites provide ready opportunity for academic collaboration not just for public engagement but for course development
  • There is a lack of intellectual engagement with the subject area contributing to a near absence of theory and ideology applied
  • The decline in interest in industrial heritage as a subject of study or research seems to parallel the decline in economic history
  • Course development for a new industrial heritage needs to embrace documentary and archaeological aspects, particularly business archives and site-specific or desk-based field study
  • The subject has the potential to fulfil several employability needs for students including research, analytical and scientific techniques
  • There is huge potential for studying industrial heritage/history/archaeology as part of global history as several industrial case-studies are international by their very nature (e.g. global copper industry)
  • There is huge potential for studying industrial heritage/history/archaeology with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects.


  1. Fascinated to read all this. One point of detail. The Ironbridge MA was initially a Postgrad Diploma Industrial Archaeology. And I took this course in 1983/84 during which year it transitioned to an MA. The MLitt in Lead Mining at Newcastle is something that has totally passed me by despite being active with the North Pennines Heritage Trust. All in all you have put a great effort into all this. Whether things can change…………

  2. Thanks for all the work you have done. As you know from my piece in the EH Conservation Bulletin No 67 about new blood in industrial archaeology, and from my interview with Matthew Reisz in the THES in November 2011 you referred to, I remain concerned about the increasing dichotomy betwen what is taught in universities, especially in archaeology departments, and the needs of the archaeology profession in the 21st century. I agree with all the points you have made in your list of conclusions and wish there was more global cooperation in matters such as technology transfer and the impact of international trade on both industrial artefacts and structures. This would be a good topic for TICCIH to pursue rather than concentrating on the industrial heritage of individual countries. I think that industrial archaeology does now have more of a theoretical base but has been slow to make use of such a structure, as I argued in ‘Constructing a Framework of Inference’ in Casella and Symonds (ed) ‘Industrial Archaeology :Future Directions (2005). In the UK, it is indeed a pity that the English Heritage Industrial Heritage at Risk Initiative could not have been linked to similar strategies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, given the interlinking of their economies in the past. We tried to overcome this in our recent CBA Practical Handbook on Industrial Archaeology ( Palmer, Nevell and Sissons 2012) but even here the focus had to be British, given the funding stream for the book. Global comparisons are certainly needed.

  3. I followed some of the adult education courses taught by Edwin Course at Southampton University in the mid 70s, and I remember a lot of similar courses existing at other places (as in Portsmouth by Ray Riley, etc). They were very valuable in training volunteers and ofter were at the grassroots of industrial archaeology.
    What about these ? Are there any of these courses remaining ?

    1. Dear Adriaan

      As you know, I taught these myself at the Department of Adult Education at the University of Leicester for over thirty years. Sadly, most universities in the UK decided that they could do without such departments, being pressurised by the need to spend a lot of time obtaining research grants and keeping up their publication record for the RAE, now REF. Most Adult Education staff at Leicester either left or were transferred into main Departments, although some teaching does still go on at Vaughan College, including courses in archaeology. Notable exceptions are the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge where Lifelong Learning does continue. As you say, these courses in industrial archaeology were the bedrock of early training in industrial archaeology – Edwin Course and Ray Riley, Stafford Linsley at the University of Newcastle, myself at Leicester and others, including the Ironbridge Institute with Barrie Trinder: this now concentrates on heritage management at the postgraduate level. The WEA ( Workers Educational Association) still runs some courses and I myself carry on through the University of the Third Age (U3A) which is flourishing in many towns in the UK. I chair one of the two U3As in Loughborough, Charnwood U3A, which has nearly 1000 members, and run an Archaeology group – includng industrial archaeology – with 60 people in the group. The AIA has also just run 11 training days for volunteers who comment on listed building applications for local authorities in the recognition of the features of industrial buildings: I was the Group Convenor. So we continue to keep industrial archaeology alive at the grass roots level but I am afraid that the universities have, in most cases, dropped out.

  4. Dear Dr. Goskar,
    Being part of the unwashed citizenry of the U.S. who lack a degree in any field, I worked in the trenches of field archaeology for over ten years and learned a great deal, often times much more than even the most vetted and degree awarded professionals often did. I also attempt to keep up with the knowledge flow of many subjects on line and through reading, so I am not completely in the dark about many topics that are not usually in my purview here in Iowa, a largely agricultural state in the middle of America.
    My location may give away part of the reason that I write, the food industry has largely been ignored as part of the industrial base. Iron, coal, copper, textiles and the like get sufficient coverage as heavy industry should, as do the small forges and foundries, mills of lumber, grains and paper. Where are the papers on the more soft industries like butter, cheese, canning, and the like? I seldom come across them and often feel a very interesting segment of industrialized history is being lost as a result. The food industry is a galloping horse of developments, where little is sustained for very long before it changes and radically so. To take the dairy industry as an example, in Iowa it got it’s true start with butter in the mid 1870’s as a true industry with consolidation of raw materials being utilized in small creameries. By the end of the century the creamery system had developed rapidly with the advent of the Babcock test for butter fat, and the hand cream separator as two of its outstanding hall marks. The many lesser known developments included the dairy barn, the silo for containing ensilage, the various attempts at assessing quality of cream, the advent of the various breeds of cows specifically for milk, discussions for feed rations and even the simple process of culling cows that was not so simple at the time to insure enough milk fat to satisfy the butter maker. Sociologically speaking the business of taking away a large portion of the women’s role in agriculture resulted since women largely were responsible for the home manufacture of both cheese and butter. Women contributed fully half of the farm income through these processes during subsistence farming, there share of farming was “stolen” from them during this early phase of industrialization. The fortunes of dairy farming often rose and fell with the calamity of the war, but by the late 1960’s the creamery was nearly gone from the landscape and the small dairy farm is extinct in all but the poorest, and often steep, rocky and rough terrain of North East Iowa. Dairying, with the exception of the mega herds in the Northwest portion of the state that supply milk for ice cream manufacture, has little impact compared to its early years, where 97 counties in Iowa boasted at least one creamery out of a possible 99.
    Some of this story is being told by the State University of Iowa at Ames through coursework on Agriculture History, but no doctoral work exists to my knowledge. I thought I would share this as another part of the mix that is often over looked even by those in the field of industrial heritage. Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts. Sincerely, Steve Hanken

Comments are closed.