Becoming an Entrepreneurial Historian: A Creative Enlightenment


Last week I attended the first instalment of the ‘A Creative Enlightenment’ workshop. I was lucky enough to be offered a place on this programme and it’s been an incredibly inspiring experience (no, really – I don’t do hyperbole) and full of useful how-to advice.

What is ‘A Creative Enlightenment’ (ACE)?

ACE is an AHRC-funded programme to encourage entrepreneurial thinking among Arts & Humanities research students at Scottish universities. In short, it’s designed to promote consideration of ‘how to transform creativity into realistic career opportunities.’

When I initially applied to the programme I struggled to see myself as a ‘creative’ person and questioned whether I’d fit in, but within minutes of arriving I had to make a poster. It even had pictures. This clearly proves that historians can be creative:
The programme has come along at a perfect time for me. I’m in the 3rd year of my PhD and I’ve been thinking a lot in the past few months about post-PhD opportunities. Among the head-honchos of academia, the old ‘Plan B’ way of thinking is being replaced by an appreciation that research students need to be trained in their programmes for options outside of academia. I think it’s great that the AHRC has sponsored this programme; among those I spoke to at ACE it made a difference knowing that our heretical non-academic ideas were being encouraged and supported in this way.

For me, the strength of the ACE programme was the simple act of like-minded PhD students occupying the same space and having the time to think about ideas of creative self-employment together. We’d all given some thought to post-PhD business ideas but often not in too much detail. The opportunity to step out of PhD-ing and think seriously about our entrepreneurial ideas and the skills necessary to realise them was extremely valuable.

The programme included a discussion of the business start up nitty-gritty, led by Carol Sinclair of the Cultural Enterprise Office. This workshop-style presentation encouraged us to think about the starting up of a business: how to think about marketable ideas, draw up a budget, and – everyone’s favourite – deal with tax.
The skills gained in pursuit of a research degree are numerous, but when we were asked ‘how could you add value’ to a business there were some empty stares. Using the diagram above and discussing what it was we could do that few others could, it was clear that our skills could be monetised. This was perhaps the aspect that troubled us most: conceiving of our skill-sets as of value in the ‘real world’. This exercise once again convinced me that humanities students can create value outside of academia without retraining in another field, the issue is more often believing in ourselves and learning to speak the language of business.


After considering what might be marketable among our different interests – and fuelled by cake – creative business ideas sprouted. By the second day we were thinking about businesses we could realistically launch following our next workshop in July, and there was no shortage of ideas. (Hint: if you happen to be a wealthy venture capitalist, get a large group of arts & humanities grads together and say ‘go.’)

Aside from creative thought, self-belief, and business advice, an important take-away for me was the idea of the ‘portfolio career;’ combining a package of jobs to create a lifestyle that appeals to you. Piecing together different gigs that are interesting and actually pay seemed kinda, maybe too good to be true, but then we met some interesting people doing just that for some drinks (‘case studies’ can also be found online here). Lesson: it can be done.

The next ACE workshop is in July and I’m looking forward to it already!

Some Links:

A Creative Enlightenment

Cultural Enterprise Office

Entrepreneurial historian

Versatile PhD

PhD to Life

2 replies
  1. Mark says:

    Interesting and sounds like you had something useful. I wouldn’t say across the board that training to work in non-academic (or even non-historical) areas has trickled down everywhere though. Glad it helped however. :)


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.