Sensory Stories at the Yorkshire Museum

The latest Sensory Opportunity takes place this Sunday, 26 June at the Yorkshire Museum in a fun-filled day for all the family.

Activities will run from 11am on the day and are inspired by the museum’s collections. They include the opportunity to design your own family crest, to learn more about medieval manuscripts, find out about dragon stone carving and investigate mystery objects.

Admission is free with a York Card or Student ID, and all are welcome.


Sensory Stories Café

Sensory Stories will be showcasing highlights from our hugely successful community projects on Tuesday 21 June and all are welcome to come along and enjoy the celebration.

Art and the craft of research at the Sensory Stories Café

Storytelling, dance, music and painting will be among the many activities bringing humanities research to life at the Sensory Stories Café, which will take place in the Tulip Tree Garden at the Berrick Saul Building, University of York, between 3.30-5.30pm. The Café will be a lively and fun event featuring a variety of innovative activities from our Sensory Opportunities, held in collaboration with city partners including York Museums Trust, York City Art Gallery, Hartrigg Oaks, Shandy Hall and St Oswald’s Primary School.

Refreshments will be available and participants of all ages are welcome. Admission is by free ticket available here, or you are welcome to drop in at the event during the day.

The Café is one of the special community events in York’s first Festival of Ideas which is running from 23rd June to 10th July this year. Find out more at the Festival website, here.

Showtime for Sensory Stories

Sensory Stories’ headline event took place on 15 January, bringing together industry experts, innovative workshops and fascinating case studies to train over 60 doctoral students from across the north of England in the skills of public engagement. Months in the planning, the organisation and inspiration behind ‘Making Sense of Public Engagement’ has proved a learning experience for the Sensory Stories team every bit as much as the day was itself.

Storytelling workshop

The training day, held at the University of York’s Humanities Research Centre, included workshops on ‘Making Objects Speak to Research’, ‘How to Tell Tales’ and ‘Communicating with the Media’. Participants divided into three groups for the first two workshops and were guided through practical exercises by Sensory Stories team members. The whole group came together for an introductory talk by Patrick Wildgust, curator of Shandy Hall Museum, the Storytelling spotlight by Stephe Harrop and a media workshop and Q&A led by IPUP‘s Helen Weinstein.

Dancers Holly Clarkson and Kate Prosser

Case studies of public engagement in practice were showcased by Thom Richardson of the Royal Armouries and Iona McCleery of Leeds University and the Wellcome Trust ‘You are what you ate‘ project. A dance performance by Holly Clarkson and Kate Prosser interpreting research ignited the afternoon and led into the roundtable discussion. The afternoon also saw the launch of our ‘Sensory Opportunities’, links established with local organisations to put the ideas of the day into practice.

Here are a few of our reflections on the day.


Choosing objects at the workshop

The workshops took up much of our planning attention. The storytelling workshop was reworked to a design by Stephe, while the objects workshop was designed entirely by the team. This was another case of the committee having to learn by doing and we were very concerned to ensure that we were offering the PhD students something worthwhile.

Making sense of objects

It was very pleasing, therefore, that the attendees responded to the workshops so enthusiastically. They seemed to appreciate the value of how we were encouraging them to use objects and they threw themselves eagerly into the storytelling. This was also reflected in the feedback, which saw the two workshops score highest for the day. This is probably the proudest aspect of the day for me – that we had achieved what we set out to and emphasised doing rather than just the talking. Matt

Bringing objects to life

The workshops enabled us all to think outside of the box – a sometimes terrifying but, more often, liberating experience. I was amazed at how responsive all the workshop participants were, and it was great to see others enthused and be enthused about our own research too. Jasmine

Having worked on the Sensory Stories project for four months now, I don’t think I’d realised just how far outside the ‘academic’ comfort zone we had gone in our quest to redefine ‘research skills’! I know that some people found the performance elements of the storytelling workshop a little daunting, but I was so impressed by how quickly the participants adapted to the challenges we set them and how brilliantly creative they were under pressure! Kate


Objects workshop

I thought the way that Patrick really brought objects to life, revealing how evocative they can be and the stories that can be found in the most mundane of objects was so interesting. It really gave energy to the start of the day. The media workshop was a great introduction to the different types of media available to academics and the ways in which research can be turned into something of public interest, for example by drawing out wider themes and linking them to political, social or cultural events happening at any one time or by looking at important anniversaries and how research can tie in with that. Laura

Speakers Thom Richardson and Stephe Harrop

The expert speakers really helped to anchor the event and proved to be a revelation on the day, being both inspiring and really showing us the practical side of their approaches. Matt

The talks by Patrick and Stephe were my highlights of the day. They were exciting, stimulating and engaging. Mark

Case Studies

Workshop participants

It was really insightful to hear from Iona McCleery, who has addressed many similar public engagement issues through her work on the ‘You are what you ate’ project. Her encounters with the public have challenged assumptions, reshaped approaches and produced a variety of fun and interesting interpretations and responses. It was nice to see that these projects are often ‘works in progress’, difficult to measure and predict. I think we will face such challenges when our Sensory Opportunities begin. Jasmine

Iona’s case study was fascinating because it showed how a public engagement project develops and how even more experienced academics can also struggle. I liked the attention she drew to knowing your audience and picking your locations accordingly. Laura

Roundtable discussion

The roundtable was a real highlight for me, I think it was the most buoyant closing session I’ve ever attended! The excitement and enthusiasm as we discussed the possibilities that sensory engagement could open up for our own research was palpable, and helped to remind those of us on the committee that the training day was really just the first step. I can’t wait to hear about all the imaginative projects and new collaborations that the day will have inspired. Kate

The experience of the day

Linking objects and research

This was an amazing day and I feel so proud to have been part of it. Sensory Stories has really helped to develop my confidence and approach challenges unfazed. This was all down to the commitment of the team because I always felt that someone had my back. At times I questioned what I was doing—particularly when I found myself feverishly drawing out seating plans in the early hours! Yet moments such as seeing Holly and Kate bringing research to life through dance, in ways I could never have envisaged, made it all worth it. It has been brilliant to meet such creative people from very different disciplinary backgrounds, but all passionately committed to sharing their work with a wider audience—whether it’s research, contemporary dance or a unique heritage site such as Shandy Hall. Claire

Signing up for Sensory Opportunities

The behind the scenes organisation for the event was rigorous and Claire’s masterplan was inspired. It ensured the day ran very smoothly. Overall it was a great day and I feel proud to be part of a team that work really hard with everyone contributing. Mark

The day demonstrated to me that public engagement can be fun and exciting; and that as researchers we all have a lot to offer to communities outside of academia, as well as within our own fields of expertise. Jasmine

Cause for celebration

The start of 2011 marks the beginning of Sensory Stories really coming to fruition: first with the training day and then our Sensory Opportunities will go live. So much has already been achieved, though, from hearing of our successful AHRC bid in September to team training and global interest in the project. Carolyn reviews our successful first term.

For most of the Sensory Stories team, there is a feeling that the project has somewhat dominated our lives over the past months. Right from receiving the AHRC award we have hit the ground running, with just a few months to organise the training day, establish our opportunities contacts, undergo training in project management and new technology, and develop our external communications, including this blog. Not to mention getting to know each other and learning to work together! We have had weekly meetings, set up committees for different areas of work, established responsibilities for looking after external contacts, produced publicity material and finally, at the end of term, held a well-deserved social event – a meal to celebrate our achievements so far.

Celebration time: the Sensory Stories team's Christmas meal

Here are just five of our reasons to celebrate:

  • Launch of blog and website, the blog receiving over 4,000 hits in its first few months
  • The project goes university-wide and then national, being tweeted on the AHRC newsfeed, posted on AlphaGalileo and featured in the local press
  • Initial events held including gruel tasting, The Proposition and participation at the University of York’s Storytelling: Imagination and the Past conference
  • Contacts made across a range of academic conferences nationally and local community groups, plus the formation of our mentoring group
  • Training Day organised

Looking to future developments and encouraging creative thinking is a key feature of Sensory Stories and new ideas are already in the pipeline for 2011, including the concept of a ‘Humanities Café’ discussion forum in the city, as well as continuing to develop personal skills and nurture contacts. It has been an exhausting and rewarding first term, but also exciting, both in the way that we have all worked together and for what the future promises. Here’s to more of the same throughout 2011!

Cutting edge collaboration

Sensory Stories has taken teamwork to a technical level, embracing innovative ways of working together by signing up to a new University of York webtool for collaboration.

Collaborative Tools Specialist, Tom Smith, ran a training workshop to kick start the group’s engagement with the site, which will allow members to share information quickly and easily. As well as providing space to store photos and reports, the site will be used as a discussion board and includes a shared calendar to enable work schedules and deadlines to be coordinated. The team are enthusiastic about the potential. ‘Collaborate is really going to help us all to keep moving in the same direction,’ said Matt. ‘I think that it will really come into its own when we are working apart: as a way to liaise with our White Rose representatives, in co-ordinating sub-committees and in fleshing out a timeframe on which (using a wiki) we are all literally on the same page,’ added Claire.

Capturing imagination

An object comes to life in the imagination, and sparking this interaction is one aspect of what Sensory Stories is all about. Capturing this as an image took Carolyn and her seven-year-old nephew Ryan to the Yorkshire Museum.

Face to face with history: Ryan and Constantine

Children are much more attuned to using all their senses in approaching objects than adults: they instinctively peep into things, want to touch, smell, even taste items, and are ever alert to the sounds that can be made. This natural interest made taking these photos for Sensory Stories so enjoyable, led entirely by Ryan’s reaction to the exhibits.

I think I'll keep mine: comparing Roman and modern footwear

Comparing Roman sandals with his Geox was no contest: ‘They must have been for a very small child, they wouldn’t fit me. And I’d definitely rather have my trainers, they are much more comfortable’.

Visiting a museum with a child is as much a lesson for the researcher as it is a learning experience for the child. They intuitively ask questions, often so simple as to escape an adult observer yet profoundly important, or notice things that would never occur to us. Ryan’s favourite part of the museum was building a forum out of blocks, during which he noticed that the model of the original did not have a slope for pushchairs or wheelchairs: his version had ramp access. It reminds us that we don’t have to think like a child to inspire them, but we do have to listen.

Join 16 other followers