Maureen James – Biography (Updated October 2014)

This biography has been written to try to bring the various and diverse strands of this website together. It seeks to explain how Maureen James became involved with the different subjects and communication styles.

 


Maureen James has been passionate about Social History for over 25 years. Originally involved in heritage interpretation when her children were small, she travelled around the country with a number of re-enactment groups including the Medieval Combat Society and SCUM (South Coast Unaffiliated Mercenaries) and Regia Anglorum (Grantanbrycg).In 1993 she went to study history and education at Cambridge University.

Radical schools

Her studies included researching and writing a dissertation on the radical school1, run by National Trust founder Octavia Hill's parents, at Wisbech in Cambridgeshire in the early 19th century. This opened her eyes to the teachings of enlightened educationalists including Pestalozzi, Steiner, Montessori and Swedenborg and led to her believe in the importance of child-centred learning.

Teaching and the Abolition of Slavery

Having graduated with a B.Ed degree, as a fully qualified teacher, she chose not to abandon the innovative educational ideas of the radical school movements, and looked to returning to the heritage sector. She completed the research and writing of a teacher's pack on Thomas Clarkson and the Abolition of Slavery, for Wisbech and Fenland Museum. For this she worked closely with Andrew Wrenn, the Cambridgeshire County History advisor.

In 2007, the year of the Commemoration of the passing of the Abolition of the British Slave Trade Act, Maureen was much in demand for giving talks and lectures on the subject. She also participated in a Key Stage 3 schools events in Suffolk organised by acclaimed history teacher (now Humanities Advisor for Suffolk) Dale Banham. More recently she has written a teacher's pack for the Beyond the Bicentennial Project.

Hands on History

Before and after graduation, Maureen also worked with the Cambridgeshire Archaeological Field Unit on many of their public and school events, including a number at Hinchingbrooke Country Park Iron Age Farm. She also wrote a teacher's pack on Ancient writing for the AFU and worked part-time for History off the Page running hands on history days in primary schools from 1999-2001.

Teaching

In 2002 she commenced work, part-time with the EOTAS service for Cambridgeshire County Council teaching Key Stage 3 & 4 students, often on a 1:1 basis. This enabled her to work closely with each student focusing on their interests in a way which is not too far removed from her educational ideals, but also often involved preparing for the more rigid GCSE examinations. This service has now come to an end but Maureen is now employed part-time by Neale Wade Community College as a casual tutor.

Historical Storytelling

Whilst teaching, Maureen also found the time to build up her storytelling career, as yet another way to spread her enthusiasm for history, at the weekends2. She has told stories in castles, museums, stately homes, village halls and even iron-age roundhouses. She built up a reputation for wearing period clothing appropriate to the venue, and telling varied historical stories for family audiences. She also occasionally told historical stories in schools. Since becoming immersed in researching for her Ph.D, she put this storytelling strand 'on hold', and now, being seven years older, and with more interest in other areas, she has decided to reduce the historical periods to just two - Victorian Folk Tales and Medieval Stories and concentrate wholly on historic sites, events and museums for venues.

Academic Research

In 2002 Maureen completed an MA in Museums and Galleries in Education with the Institute of Education, University of London. For her final report she looked closely at the role of narratives in Museums. She also contributed to Johnsson (2006) 'Telling Tales: A guide to developing effective storytelling programmes in museums' London Museums Hub. This research inspired her to investigate the folklore and stories of Lincolnshire, part-time for a Ph.D. with the University of Glamorgan, a preoccupation for which a number of pages on this site are devoted. After successfully completing her Ph.D. she is now looking to find a publisher for her thesis.

The Legends of the Lincolnshire Carrs

The Legends of the Carrs as published in Folklore in 1891, is the subject of Maureen's Ph.D. research. It was alleged that the Legends were made up by the collector, Marie Clothilde Balfour, and Maureen's thesis address this by demonstrating that the stories originate in North Lincolnshire, particularly around the village of Redbourne. A number of pages on this website are devoted to the Legends, their background, the dialect and folklore included within them, and the collector.

Talks and Lectures

As part of her research, Maureen has presented papers to disseminate her research to the Folklore Society at their conferences. She has also presented papers to the Ritual Year and Gender conference in Cork in 2008 and to the British Society of Dowsers Conference in 2013. Maureen also regularly gives historical talks and lectures to local history societies and other groups, on a number of her research areas.

Living History

A relatively new development in this diverse career, are the Living History presentations. This strand draws together her broad experience in the re-enactment world, her storytelling experience and her M.A. and B.Ed research into the benefits of this method of historical interpretation. Commencing with the Victorian Folklorist presentations debuted in summer 2012 at the Heckington Show, characters now being offered also include Regency Abolitionists and  Edwardian Suffragettes. Each of these activities are ideally suited to museums, heritage sites and historic events.

Feature Writing

Since 2003 Maureen has been writing a monthly column on folklore and historical subjects for Smallholder Magazine and is an occasional writer for other publications including Cambridgeshire County Life Magazine, Facts and Fiction and The Cauldron. She has also written a number of reviews for journals including Time and Mind and Folklore. A number of her articles can be found in the resources section of this site and on the writing and research - Smallholder page.

Society Membership

A former Director of The Society for Storytelling, Maureen is a member of Equity, The Folklore Society, Cambridge Antiquarian Society and The Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology. She has enhanced CRB clearance and public liability insurance.

 


  1. Copies of this dissertation James M (1997)  'The Influence of Robert Owen and Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and others on the work of Caroline Southwood Smith and James Hill at the Wisbech Infant School 1830-1840.' Cambridge: Maureen James, have been given to Cambridgeshire Library Service for Local History Reference use.
  2. This work also inspired Maureen to set up a storytelling group – Fables, Tales and Folklore - Fenland, formerly known as March Storytelling Group.