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About the Project

Suburban Birmingham: Spaces & Places, 1880-1960 was a partnership project led by the University of Birmingham, and produced by Birmingham Archives & Heritage, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, and University of Birmingham Special Collections. Funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, the project ran from 2009 to 2012.

Research Questions:

The research team explored the histories of Birmingham’s south-west suburban spaces and places, between 1880 and 1960. Among other questions, researchers asked:

  • What forms and functions did suburban spaces take, how did they change and why?
  • To what extent was the process of suburbanisation managed or unmanaged in different parts of the city during different periods?
  • How did representations of suburban spaces and places impact on their development and people’s perceptions of them?
  • How did the development of suburban spaces and places relate to shifting commodity and material cultures, and to varying degrees of social, economic, cultural, ethnic, religious, and political diversity?
  • How did the forms and functions of art relate to the development of suburban spaces and places?
  • How did suburbanisation impact on the lived experiences of Birmingham’s inhabitants in terms of the quality of their health, wealth, education, work lives, family lives, religious lives, cultural experiences, leisure, senses of themselves and of their community identities?
  • To what extent were the forms and functions of institutional spaces modified in relation to the pressures of suburbanisation?
  • How did suburbanisation impact on relations between Birmingham’s city centre, the suburbs, and rural hinterlands?

Research Context:

The project’s research is important for three reasons.

  • Firstly, it will help satisfy public demand for greater insight into, and knowledge and understanding of, the histories of Birmingham’s suburbs. Consultation conducted by Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BM&AG), while developing its new Birmingham History Galleries, indicated that the city’s inhabitants are more interested in learning about the predominantly suburban areas (in which the vast majority of them live and work) than in the city centre. The project’s outputs allow free access to hundreds of primary source texts and images, and new explanatory texts written by the research team. No significant, original research in this field could be conducted without using the extensive collections of this project’s partners.

  • Secondly, the project is important because it fills significant gaps in current scholarly knowledge and understanding of the history of Birmingham. The project is also the first to focus on the forms and functions, and experiences of living in, a variety of suburban public, semi-public, and private spaces in Birmingham. As such, the project offers valuable research resources to academics and students interested in suburban and urban histories.

  • Thirdly, the project is important because the research was conducted by ‘Fellows’ all of whom were archivists, curators, and librarians. Working closely with academics, the Fellows researched in sustained ways that would otherwise be impossible in their institutions. Staff in other museums, libraries and archives will be interested in assessing our working methods as models for improving, enhancing, or developing creativity, insights, knowledge or understanding through collaborative research.