All of my collaborative work in the last few years has involved engaging with artists, librarians, archivists, museum curators, heritage bodies, writers, storytellers, and heritage interpretation specialists – as well as with the various audiences and publics they serve. Here are some standalone instances of this kind of collaborative engagement and co-production.
Tales for Travellers
In 2016 Anna Groundwater and I worked with some wonderful artists and storytellers, the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust, and the Fife Psychogeographical Collective to bring stories of place and history to life in three different locations in the Kingdom Fife. We took stories of local history into schools, and brought school pupils out to discover the historic sites of their own towns.
We also put together a ‘companionable walk’ along a section of the Fife Pilgrim Way from Culross to Dunfermline, accompanying ourselves with song and story along the way. We wanted to recover the idea of walking for pleasure and sustenance not as a solitary pursuit, as the Romantics would have it, but as a collective creative act. We recorded our adventures here.
Exhibiting the Written Word
What are the difficulties involved in putting books and manuscripts on display? Are there challenges unique to the task of exhibiting such artefacts? What kinds of pressures and demands do librarians and curators face? How do policies and frameworks aimed at connecting archives, libraries and museums with communities shape our approach to staging such exhibitions?
With the support of the AHRC, a cross-professional team of librarians, curators and academics came together to discuss the issues, compare notes and share case studies. The discussion generated a report, which we hope will benefit anyone involved, or interested, in staging such exhibitions. You can download or read it here.
A Place for Words
What makes the relationship between literature and place so powerful? How can literature give new meaning to heritage interpretation? Where can literary journeys take us?
The meeting point of journey, place and literature has been fertile ground for centuries. But literature, and the idea of a journey, can be used now to create rich experiences for visitors to heritage sites. Working collaboratively with the heritage interpretation consultant James Carter, and provoked by our work on Ben Jonson’s public, performative walk from London to Edinburgh, Anna Groundwater, Julie Sanders and I organised a unique one day conference bringing together interpretation professionals, academics, curators and heritage managers to share experiences and insights in working with the relationship between literature and place, and to hear about innovative and successful projects.
Digital technologies present many exciting new avenues for humanities research and engagement. As well as enabling access to archival materials through digitization, they offer an emergent set of computational methodologies for the study of cultural artefacts, narratives and histories: from text mining large corpora in order to identify patterns and trends, and mapping networks of relations between objects, people and institutions, to creating dynamic visualizations that let us see objects and data in new ways. At the same time, they enable data and findings to be shared in innovative and engaging forms, breaking down the traditional distinction between academic research and public engagement.
This project, on which I collaborated with my incredibly talented colleagues Dr Lisa Otty and Dr Tara Thomson, consisted of a series of three workshops funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. We sought to provide a forum in which to discuss these methods, the opportunities and challenges they present to those working in different sectors, and how they might be used to increase access to, knowledge of and engagement with Scotland’s collections. The presentations and discussions, as well as information on speakers and projects, are archived here.