Old Projects and New

Although Sensory Stories is now finished, many of its guiding principles–such as bringing together the university and the community, and finding innovative ways to present research–are being taken forward by exciting new projects. The York Festival of Ideas has a packed programme of events running between 14-30 June, and as part of this the postgraduate project Off the Page will be hosting a Dickens recording booth on 23 June in the Ron Cooke hub. To find out more, check out their blog.

Joining Our Story

We’re keen for the project to continue by offering a new generation of postgraduates the chance to become involved in Sensory Opportunities. If you are interested in learning about how to communicate with audiences using the senses–taste, touch, smell, sound, sight–object-interaction and performance techniques, please join us in the Treehouse on Week 9 Thursday 11am, 8 December.

Alongside the opportunity to indulge in a personal sensory story with delicious cakes and freshly-brewed coffee, the team will give a short presentation about what the different Sensory Opportunities involved, and be there to chat with students about how they can develop their own activities with our existing community and heritage partners. We’re hoping to help form a new committee to take sensory public engagement forward. All are welcome, and just for once we promise there won’t be any gruel!

‘Public Engagement in the Arts and Humanities’ conference

An astounding range of public engagement projects were showcased last month at the landmark event, ‘Public Engagement in the Arts and Humanities: an AHRC conference’. Claire finds out more.

Held at Avonmouth House, London, the first day of the event brought together those that have spent the past year working on different AHRC-funded Collaborative Research Training (CRT) Schemes. There were representatives from projects in the specialist category (broader two-year projects, organised by academics) and other student-led ventures like Sensory Stories.  One of the most exciting parts was meeting the co-ordinators of different student projects, and having the opportunity to share our successes and challenges. The schemes were remarkable in their diversity. Write Around the Toon supported students in short creative writing residencies at sixteen cultural institutions within the Newcastle-Gateshead area, whereas PEACE combined a training workshop with the chance to trial engagement activities at the Green Man Festival.  New Media and Academia offered vital training in how to create podcasts, videos and a YouTube channel, culminating in participants filming two minute videos about their research. PEGS (Public Engagement in Gender and Sexuality Studies) ran an event ‘demystifying’ public engagement. Each project was unique, yet at the same time I was struck by the similarities between our approaches. Many of us had collaborated with creative practitioners, sought out heritage and community partners, and drawn upon Web 2.0 resources to reach wider audiences. In a discussion session we compared our experiences, pinpointing the crucial role of mentoring, the need to share best practice, and the difficulties of building in sustainability.

The second day was a larger event, which explored the strategic and practical challenges of public engagement for academics, researchers and professionals working in the arts and humanities. Professor Sarah Churchwell gave a rousing keynote, in which she stressed the need for academics to become ‘advocates’ or ‘ambassadors’ for research, starting conversations that bridge the gap between the ‘ivory tower’ and the ‘real world’. Professor Churchwell used the analogy of research being a foreign language that needs to be translated back into English: this makes the work accessible without compromising its rigour. Dr Sarah Spooner and Michael Loveday used their experience of working on the HistOracle project to lead into a discussion of the challenges and opportunities of community engagement, while Sophie Duncan spoke about how the Beacons had worked to create a culture the recognises and supports public engagement. The findings of the AHRC’s 2011 public engagement survey offered a broader picture of outreach activities across the humanities: the most popular engagement method remained the public lecture, but over 50 per cent of respondents recorded working with schools and museums. The conference also included an announcement of the AHRC’s call on Skills Development and Research for Community Heritage.

It was wonderful to be able to present the Sensory Stories project to new audiences on both days. Their questions and feedback confirmed my sense of the immense value of all our hard work over the past year, while the cutting-edge projects that I learnt about suggest a bright future for public engagement.