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The arts in health: the icing on the cake?

In this latest Guest Blog, Daisy Fancourt, DaisyFancourtNew Generation Thinker 2017 and Senior Research Associate in the Department of Behavioural Science and Health at UCL  talks about the effect of arts on health. Interestingly, Daisy also appeared on BBC Breakfast on 19th July talking about the All-Party report “Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing” on the benefits of arts prescribing and arts in health.

Creative Health

 

On 17 March, I took part in my first interview as a 2017-2018 BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage, Gateshead. Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, a previous New Generation Thinker herself, was my interviewer. She asked about my work: how I got interested in the field and what I’m working on. But then Eleanor asked a question I wasn’t expecting. “What’s the limit here. The arts can support our health in some ways, but surely they can’t, for example, fix a broken leg?”

art

This is a good question, not because the arts can fix broken legs, but because it is a question that comes from wanting to understand the scope of what research is showing: wanting to know how excited we should get about the new research papers coming out each month, but also where this excitement should stop because the arts do have a limit. They do not represent complete solutions to all health problems.

This question has stuck with me since. Although there is now a plethora of evidence showing the effects of the arts on a range of mental and physical health conditions [https://global.oup.com/academic/product/arts-in-health-9780198792079?lang=en&cc=in], it could be possible to see the use of the arts in health as the icing on the cake: a wonderful way of enhancing health within societies once the fundamentals of healthcare are in place, but unnecessary, perhaps even flippant, in the context of major health challenges. However, if we look around the world, we actually see the opposite. Sometimes, in the face of the toughest health challenges, there are still important roles for the arts. A pertinent example of this is the Ebola virus epidemic from 2013-2016.

During the outbreak in West Africa, some of the major challenges were the abundant rumours and misunderstandings about the disease. There were instances of people who were affected hiding from medical staff, Ebola survivors being outcast from their societies and even healthcare workers being murdered. [http://democracyinafrica.org/improving-public-health-messaging-on-ebola] To combat this misinformation and support public health messaging, one of the strands of action was to mobilise the arts.weowntv

Spread Knowledge to Stop Ebola’ programme was developed by WeOwnTV; a San Francisco-based non-profit organisation. It involved Sierra Leoneans themselves being trained in film making and creating short films in their own words to raise public understanding about Ebola. The films built on local oral traditions and storytelling and combatted misinformation. www.sierraleone.weowntv.org

Stop Ebola Now: Through Creative Storytelling’ was a programme with UNICEF Liberia that involved the development of a 5-episode radio serial drama that addressed the reality of the Ebola epidemic. The programmes were sensitive to local cultural values and perceptions of Liberian audiences. The programmes contained songs and jingles alongside drama to help fight myths, including those surrounding survivors to help them reintegrate into communities. www.mediaimpact.org/ebola/guide.html 

liberia

 

And Songs such as Ebola in Town by Rapper Shadow were released that warned about how Ebola could be caught. With the most crucial messages looped over an electro-dance beat, the rap song became popular in Liberia along with a ‘no-touching’ dance. Details of songs regarding Ebola can be found here

Of course the Arts can directly fix a broken leg. But they are also not confined to only being the ‘icing on the cake’. During emergency situations such as epidemics, the arts do have a role to play: they have the power to turn critical health messages into something accessible, emotive and sensitive to cultural traditions. They have the power to make people listen.

For more information on the use of the arts in Ebola response, visit http://arts.ufl.edu/academics/center-for-arts-in-medicine/resources/artist-repository/

To find out more about the use of the arts in health, my new book Arts in Health: Designing and Researching Interventions is now available to order: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/arts-in-health-9780198792079?lang=en&cc=in

Follow #ArtsinHealth

If you are interested in international collaboration, did you know AHRC allows international collaborators on most of its schemes?  Please see our Website for details of such opportunities.

New Generation Thinkers 2018 is now open for applications.  For more information please visit the website

NGTi


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Emoji, Texting and Social Media: How Do They Impact Language?

In this latest Guest Blog, Alex Loktionov, AHRC International Placement Scheme Fellow at the Library of Congress, talks Emoji’s Texting and Social Media.  Join him in his discussions with Dame Wendy Hall, during her time as Kluge Chair in Technology and Society , and  Jessica Lingel, Kluge Fellow, Assistant Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania .

This Blog Post originally appeared on the Library of Congress Blog on 15th June 2017, and our thanks is given for their kind permission to re-produce.

I’m here with Dame Wendy Hall, Kluge Chair in Technology and Society, Regius Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton and early pioneer in web protocols; with Alexandre Loktionov, AHRC Fellow at the Kluge Center and an expert on hieroglyphic and cuneiform legal texts; and with Jessica Lingel, Kluge Fellow, assistant professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on social media.

We ventured into talking about emoji and social media during a hallway conversation and thought it would be fun to pursue this further via blog.

The text of our Google Docs conversation was edited for length and clarity.

DT: There is much to explore, but it began with emoji, so let’s start there: elevated art form or corruption of language?

AL: For me, they’re essentially hieroglyphs and so a perfectly legitimate extension of language. They’re signs which, without having a phonetic value of their own, can ‘color’ the meaning of the preceding word or phrase. In Egyptology, these are called ‘determinatives’ — as they determine how written words should be understood. The concept has been around for 5,000 years, and it’s remarkably versatile because of its efficiency. You can cut down your character count if you supplement words with pictures — and that’s useful both to Twitter users today and to Ancient Egyptians laboriously carving signs into a rock stela.

DT: How does everyone feel about using emoji to write literature? The Library of Congress acquired an emoji version of none other than “Moby Dick” just a few years ago.

AL: I think you can definitely write literature with emoji — the question is, who will be able to read it? Do we have enough standardization in sign deployment? I think a full emoji dictionary/sign list would be necessary, unless, of course, we want to create a literature with multiple strands of interpretation (in a literal sense — where people see the same signs but interpret them in different ways).

JFL: I think part of it is about a fascination with how technology may be reshaping cultural production. I’m thinking of games around Twitter and literature, for example; the Guardian ran a challenge asking authors to write a story in 140 characters or less. (There’s a long and wonderful history of literature produced through challenges/games like these; I’m thinking of Shelley and Hemingway.) At the root, I think, is an anxiety around what it means to make art and how technology is making art better or worse.

DT: I’m optimistic because I see technological innovations opening up the range of what is possible artistically — Gutenberg, and so forth. On the other hand, certain technological turns have been very specific in their application. Think of Morse code: incredibly useful in certain contexts, but unlikely that we will ever write a novel in Morse.

AL: I think that gets to the heart of it — we have to think of the purpose of the means of communication, and in the case of emoji, we as a culture need to decide what they are: do we want them to be a bona fide script with full capability, or are they just a tool reserved for very specific purposes (alongside conventional means of writing)?

JFL: I don’t know about Morse Code novels, but Morse code poetry is definitely a thing.

AL: It’s also worth thinking about canonicity — can emoji become canonical, in a way in which originally purely utilitarian hieroglyphs could after several millennia? Are we in this for the long run?

DT: Right, will there ever be an emoji dictionary? Perhaps there is already?

WH: There is a crowd-sourced emoji dictionary. It’s not very helpful at the moment, but then, neither was Wikipedia initially.

AL: Yes, exactly — I know there’s a grammar (of sorts), but not sure about a dictionary. And the trouble is, you can write a dictionary or a grammar, but it then has to gain acceptance on a wide level to actually be of any use.

WH: Absolutely, this is all about evolution. If anyone took the trouble to formalize emoji at the moment, the emoji world would have completely changed by the time any formalization was agreed on. I’m not aware of a grammar for emoji. Shows you how little I use them really.

JFL: Well, in a very literal sense there is definitely an emoji dictionary, in that for emoji to function across different devices, they need to exist in unicode, which includes definitions of what each character/image/symbol means. But these definitions have little to say about the different cultural appropriations of symbols. Part of what Wendy and Alexandre are talking about here is the way that the flexibility of emoji has allowed for their popularity.

AL: Very true — maybe computers can standardize them in a way we humans struggle to at the moment. Computers communicating among themselves one day, maybe? With all the talk of artificial intelligence.

DT: It would be constantly updated and crowdsourced, so this would be a very different, rapidly evolving way of canonizing.

AL: Absolutely, and especially because levels of preservation are probably going to be very low. We probably don’t have as many printed emoji as we have hieroglyphs, alphabetic words or whatever else. They get used, and then so often just disappear into the ether. And (traditional) dictionaries rely on being able to collate attestations. So does canon, at least in conventional form.

DT: I’m curious about use. To play into stereotypes, my sense is that men use emoji less than women. This is coming from someone who can barely use a semicolon at the end of a sentence to indicate mirth;

DT: That is about my range of emoji use. What do you think, have men embraced this form of communication, or is it still uncharted territory?

AL: I definitely haven’t. I feel like I can maybe comment on it in an academic sort of way, but personally I’m very attached to our tried-and-tested alphabetic way of doing things.

JFL: Meh. I think this is very culturally dependent. My sense is that emoji use is somewhat bimodally distributed in terms of age. My undergrad students love emoji, but so does my mom. There is definitely a cultural preoccupation with whether or not men can or should use emoji. And then, of course, there’s a longstanding set of generalizations about women being better at communication than men, or perhaps more precisely, the idea that communication is a feminine skill, as opposed to hyper-rational thinking, which is typically (in the West) coded as a feature of masculinity. (Insert skeptical comments regarding women’s preoccupation with feeding families as somehow frivolous and men’s preoccupation with sports as manly, etc.)

DT: Perhaps there is an irony here, in that emoji originated, if I’m not mistaken, out of a corporate context, with a preoccupation with marketing and brand identity. And now, social media companies are seeking to measure emoji use to quantify emotional states and produce commercially useful data.

AL: That’s essentially the notion of the “determinative,” which is a central pillar of Ancient Egyptian. A single sign determines an emotional state, but the difference is that the sign accompanies a word for that state which is spelt out. Here it’s more complex and harder to quantify, I would imagine —  there are fifty types of happy emoji or whatever, with fluid meaning, how exactly do you quantify the intensity or “type” of happiness being felt? We’re back to the challenge of operating without a dictionary or standardization — effectively just power of the crowd. I think they are also very useful to non-native speakers (I’m thinking of members of my family in Russia, who try to express themselves in English, fail, and then convert to emoji-speak to get their message across).

DT: I’ll venture emoji are still looked upon with some suspicion, as in they are best used in frivolous types of conversation. Are they simply a parallel form of language, useful in some social contexts, or with new technological developments, are we moving toward greater standardization and perhaps a more formalized use?

JFL: Arguably, this goes back to the discussion of gender. Are emoji considered frivolous because they’re used to convey emotion, and thus feminized? There are also parallels to Twitter here, where early Twitter users were characterized as pointless and frivolous, even though these records of everyday life are deeply constitutive of who we are as a society.

DT: A great point. And now Twitter drives public opinion, policy and elections.

WH: Dan — here is the reference I sent yesterday that talks about the different ways men and women do and don’t use emoji.

JFL: Also, here’s an academic study (from 2000) about men vs. women using emoticons.

AL: We could end up with parallel scripts, perhaps. That’s historically very common — in my field, Ancient Egypt, there was a period, for example, when there were three scripts in operation simultaneously — one for carving on stone, and mainly to do with death; one for high-order literature, some royal administration and other important tasks done in life (written with a brush on papyrus); and a shorthand for routine tasks, like counting cattle or whatever.

AL: And again here, it’s noteworthy that these multiple scripts are a reflection of the different material forms of writing — on a stone surface with a chisel, or with a brush or reed pen on papyrus. The material on which you write is so important — in that sense I firmly believe that it’s natural for something like a smartphone to give rise to a new script.

AL: I love the emoji grammar. The sign list is basically essential to early Egyptological textbooks developed back in the Thirties, like this one, for instance (obviously it was digitized more recently).

WH: Don’t forget how the Chinese language has developed over the years and how they are using cartoons/pictures now to escape censorship. This is developing (I believe) into quite a sophisticated language that defeats the machines (at the moment).

JFL: Absolutely. Danah Boyd and Alice Marwick have written about how teens use cultural references to hide messages from people (read: parents) who are in their social networks but can’t follow cultural references. For what it’s worth, I’ve written a paper with Aram Sinnreich about different modes of hidden communication used by people who are incarcerated and how that could inspire forms of protest among media activists.

WH: There is ongoing discussion about when machines will actually be able to “understand” the words/pictures/concepts they are manipulating. When will machines be able to understand emoji? Will the evolution of emoji make cognitive AI easier or harder to achieve?

DT: Wendy can you say a bit more about cognitive AI? What do you mean by this?

WH: It has been defined as the fourth wave of AI (the first being Turing and Minsky in the 50s and 60s — can computers think; the second being the rule-based expert systems of the 70s and 80s; the third being the machine learning/deep learning systems that we can build today because there is so much more computing power than there was when AI was first conceived). We will have cognitive AI when machines actually understand the information/concepts they are dealing with. At the moment they appear intelligent (e.g . Siri) but without actually “knowing” what they are talking about. This is years away —  it will take another radical evolution in computers to achieve.

DT: It sounds like we are all optimistic about the creative potential of emoji — and perhaps alternative forms of communication in general. What I am hearing from Alex is that we have historical precedents in ancient language. Wendy and Jessa, you are pointing out their subversive nature — how activists and others are using new forms of language to circumvent traditional authorities.

AL: From a historical perspective, we’re certainly very rich in precedent — and in that sense I always feel a little surprised when people talk about modes of communication like emoji, or text-speak for that matter, as being somehow “new.” No — the technology driving them may be new, but the phenomenon of parallel scripts or using pictures to convey emotion (pictograms/determinatives) has been around for millennia. Society is currently adjusting to a new writing medium — the phone/tablet, or indeed even just the computer. In historical terms, even the computer is incredibly new. When paper first appeared in China, or papyrus in Egypt, there was a floruit of new written expression (it being a much more versatile medium than the stone surface which preceded it). Now we’ve got another medium which is more versatile than paper and, importantly, which has the capacity for instant deletion. In that sense, of course, emoji (or indeed anything typed on a computer) can afford to be more frivolous as its creator can send it back into the ether with one hit of the backspace. You can’t do that with an inscription.

DT: Well said, Alex. Jessa, Wendy, concluding thoughts?

JFL: 💁😃😂😆😐😕😦😪💀👀👌

WH: 👏

DT: Thanks everyone. It’s been super;

The Arts and Humanities Research Council International Placement Scheme  that Alex Loktionov applied for is likely to be open for applications between Mid Nov – Mid Jan 2018.  Check our website and twitter feeds for more information. And if you follow @ahrcpress and #ahrcips on twitter, you can then tweet back, adding an emoji…

We asked Alex about the application process:

‘I’d strongly advise people to apply to this scheme – and especially if initially you think you’re not the ‘right fit’. The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library and as such I’m sure it has something to offer almost any humanities scholar.

As an Egyptologist, I was a little bit unsure whether this opportunity would be right for me, as this place is not usually connected to ancient history. However, this has turned out to be a great benefit – I’ve discovered things in the collection which nobody in my discipline has looked at before, allowing me to situate my own research on Egyptian law within a broader framework of African and Middle Eastern justice.

The setting is extremely interdisciplinary – discussing, collaborating and networking with leading scholars in fields like computing and social media has proved really uplifting. I’d never thought that my subject could actually be this ‘relevant’ to the modern world before!’ Alex Loktionov

 


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Immigrants and Propaganda: The 1517 Evil May Day Riots

May Day Riots

May Day Riots. Picture Source St Paul’s Cathedral

In this latest Blog, Dr Joanne Paul, Lecturer in Early Modern history at the Centre for Early and Medieval Studies at the University of Sussex and a New Generation Thinker from 2017, talks Rioting and 1517, with brief thoughts on such events as they relate to the present day.

After Easter, a certain preacher, at the instigation of a citizen of London, preached as usual in the fields, where the whole city was in the habit of assembling with the magistrates. He abused the strangers in the town, and their manner and customs, alleging that they not only deprived the English of their industry, and of the profits arising therefrom, but dishonoured their dwellings by taking their wives and daughters. With this exasperating language and much more besides, he so irritated the populace, that they threatened to cut the strangers to pieces and sack their houses on the 1st of May” – Venetian ambassador, 5 May 1517

1517 start of riot cheapside xenophobic speech Evil May Day Ill protest against foreigners living Lo

May Day Riots. Picture Source St Paul’s Cathedral

In the late hours of 30 April 1517, a mob of about 2000 Londoners took to the streets to abuse and even kill the European apprentices they perceived as taking their jobs. City officials, including the humanist Thomas More,

Thomas More - Source Pixabay

Thomas More – Source: Pixabay

rode out to try to calm them, to no avail. The rioters ransacked areas inhabited by foreign apprentices and traders, until the Lords marched in with men-at-arms and quelled the riots in the early hours of 1 May. Contemporary reports suggest as many as 25,000 troops were inside and surrounding central London. Rioters arrested were gibbeted about the town, and many were hung, drawn and quartered.

Execution of Thomas Armstrong

Execution of Thomas Armstrong, 1684. Source: Wikipedia. Published before 1923 and public domain in the US

It is what happened after that is most interesting, as the Crown turned a desperate attack on foreigners into a strengthening of state power. According to the papal nuncio, another 400 rioters were condemned to the same traitor’s death, but the queen, Catherine of Aragon, ‘with tears in her eyes and on her bended knees, obtained their pardon’ before the king and Lords, an act ‘performed with great ceremony’. But this was not the end of such performance. On 22 May, a large crowd of Londoners (the nuncio says 15,000) gathered in Westminster Hall, which was hung with ‘tapestry of cloth of gold’ and ‘canopy of brocade’. Cardinal Wolsey and the king delivered long speeches ‘reproving [the people] for their rebellion’. The prisoners were then ‘paraded’ in, ‘with ropes about their necks, as if to be executed’ and they immediately ‘threw themselves on their knees, shouting “Mercy!”‘. Wolsey and the other nobles joined in, begging the king on their knees to forgive the prisoners (knowing full well he already had). The king, apparently moved, ‘after addressing the people again, pardoned the rioters and had them released, so much to the popular satisfaction, that everyone wept for joy.’ The riot against foreigners had been recast as a rebellion against the state, and the result was a reaffirmation of loyalty to the Crown.

Henry VIII and his Eight Wives 1491-1547

Henry VIII and his Six Wives 1491-1547. Source: Pixabay

 

The cause of the riots had been a combination of economic downturn (as well as the arrival of the sweating sickness) and the sort of rhetoric from mid-level public figures mentioned in the excerpt above. The result was a strengthening of central state control through effective performance and propaganda. The lessons that can be gathered from analysing this event are crucial ones, which shed light on the ways in which immigration, propaganda and the power of the state are linked today, as well as prompting reflection on effective means of resistance.

St Paul's Cathedral from the Copperplate map of London, 1550s circa 1553.

Detail showing St Paul’s Cathedral from the “Copperplate” map of London, 1550s.

                                                     Sourced via Wikipedia. c 1553

Ann Saunders and John Schofield (eds), Tudor London: a map and a view (2001)

Additional Material:

‘This is the strangers’ case/ And this your mountainish inhumanity’ Thomas More addresses the rioters in a monologue by William Shakespeare performed by Sir Ian McKellen (with introduction, monologue begins at 2:28).

Blog Post Originally posted on https://www.thehistoryvault.co.uk/immigrants-and-propaganda-the-1517-evil-may-day-riots/

 

 


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AHRC International funding calls pre-announcements

The AHRC have several international funding calls pre-announced. These let you see the scope and content of the call in advance of formal launch to help researchers build collaborations. As these are preliminary announcements, deadlines and details are provisional, the full call documentation will contain all the eligibility rules and application process.

HERA

HERA call “Public Spaces: Cultures and Integration”

The fourth HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) call is now launched for Humanities-led proposals addressing ‘Public Spaces: Cultures and Integration’, the theme text and a partner search tool is available on the HERA website.With co-funding from the European Commission, the total call budget will be approximately €20 million. Proposals can be up to €1 Million and must include four eligible researchers from four different countries involved in the call. 24 European Countries are involved including France for the first time.

The full call is expected to launch on 24th August 2017, with a deadline on 24th October 2017. The AHRC are planning a webinar in early September.

 

Equip Logo

EqUIP India/Europe pilot call on ‘sustainability, equity, wellbeing and cultural connections’

This call is the first from the EqUIP Platform involving partners from Europe and India, both the ESRC and AHRC are involved. The theme text and a partner search tool is available via the EqUIP website . The total budget for this call is approximately €5.5 Million. Each proposal will require the building of consortia of at least three research groups, one of which must be based in India and at least two must be based in different participating European Countries. Eight countries are involved, with Switzerland joining since this was announced. For the UK component, the research must be interdisciplinary across social science and humanities (this is encouraged across the whole call) and must be compliant with Oversees Development Assistance (ODA) 

The full call is expected week commencing 4th September 2017, and will close at the end of November 2017.

CH logoJPI Cultural Heritage call on ‘Heritage in Changing Environments’

The Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) in Cultural Heritage and Global Change has announced a call on ‘Heritage in Changing Environments’. The total value of the call is approximately €4.5 Million and involves 11 European countries. Each project proposal must comprise of at least three research teams, each based in an eligible institution in a different country participating in the Heritage in Changing Environments Call.

The call is expected to launch on 4th September with a deadline of 30th November 2017. Further information is available on the JPI Cultural Heritage Website

 


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A Sestina for the Huntington

In this latest Guest Blog, Thomas Tyrrell talks about his experience of the AHRC International Placement Scheme, and ultimately, his “Sestina for the Huntington”.

On my first day at the Huntington Library, Los Angeles, I was allocated a shelf for my books beneath a bust of Lord Byron. Madly jet-lagged but wide-eyed and vibrating on American coffee, I was here on the AHRC international placement scheme, which gives British PhD students the chance to travel abroad and access collections they couldn’t reach on their own budgets.

A bust of George Gordon, Lord Byron, from the Ahrmanson Reading Room in the Munger Research Centre - Photo Credit Thomas Tyrrell

A bust of George Gordon, Lord Byron, from the Ahrmanson Reading Room in the Munger Research Centre – Photo Credit Thomas Tyrrell

After a previous fellowship at the Chawton House Library, Hampshire, I had thanked my hosts with a country house poem. Suitably inspired by Byron, I set myself the challenge of writing a poem for the Huntington. To make things difficult for myself, I chose a sestina, an unusually difficult poetic form where the same six words are repeated in new orders in every verse. That meant that these six words had to be important—they had to embody my experience. These are the six I chose.

Library. Understandably, this was where I spent most of my time. Henry Huntington, one of the richest millionaires of the Gatsby age, had inherited a railroad fortune and built a property fortune on top of it. Much of this cash had been splashed in buying up wholesale the libraries of impecunious English aristocrats, or of other book collectors. I largely spent my time on early atlases and eighteenth-century poetry, but treasures of the library included Gutenberg bibles, first editions of William Blake and a beautifully illuminated Chaucer manuscript.

The Rothenberg Reading Room in the Huntington Library. Photo Credit - Thomas Tyrrell

The Rothenberg Reading Room in the Huntington Library. Photo Credit – Thomas Tyrrell

Garden. The greatest attraction for the Huntington’s ordinary visitors, however, were the acres of botanical gardens, which showcased a vast variety of flora and landscaping techniques, from the stillness of the Chinese and Japanese gardens to the baroque labyrinth of the cacti garden. It was more than possible to go for a quick stroll after lunch and lose yourself for the rest of the afternoon.

A bridge in the Japanese garden at the Huntingdon Library. Photo Credit - Thomas Tyrrell

A bridge in the Japanese garden at the Huntington Library. Photo Credit – Thomas Tyrrell

Art. Among the various galleries of American and European art in the Huntington grounds, one could find a William Morris stained glass window, a painting by Edward Hopper that used to hang (in reproduction) above the fireplace at my parents house and even a bust of John Milton, the key author of my thesis. When I was stuck, I used to go and gaze into his eyes for insight. He had a remarkably sympathetic expression.

Mountains. Waking up in a brand new place, the peak of Mount Wilson to the north made a great impression on me. They were a constant presence through the trip, towering above the parking lots of the Huntington, a reminder of the greater wilderness in tension with the immense urban sprawl of Los Angeles.

Window. American air-conditioning took some getting used to, but I was grateful for it when the temperature hit thirty degrees in February. As I looked out over the sun-baked gardens from the cool, climate-controlled archive spaces, it felt like looking into another world, and I tried to build that sense of slightly uncanny transition into the poem.

Move. I needed a verb to effect a transition between these elements, and stop the poem from falling into an elegant stasis. Something as simple as possible—I considered ‘walk’, ‘pass’, and ‘go’, but I found ‘move’ to be the most adaptable to my purpose.

The Munger Research Centre, where I conducted my research. Photo Credit - Thomas Tyrrell

The Munger Research Centre, where I conducted my research. Photo Credit – Thomas Tyrrell

Then I sat down and wrote.

Huntington Library Sestina by Thomas Tyrrell

The city sprawls out shoreward from the mountains,
Grids grafted to the plain by strength of art:
The craftsman’s skill that makes and frames the window,
With the persistence that sustains the garden
In times of drought; the eloquence to move
A people with the vision of a library.

It’s cool and still and silent in the library,
Where books inform me of the distant mountains:
How hawks and lizards and coyote move
Over a wilderness no human art
Can tame into a farmstead or a garden.
Beneath my eye the page becomes a window.

The world is beckoning beyond the window.
So from the studious pleasures of the library
I go to seek out nature in the garden.
Sheltered in the wind-shadow of the mountains,
The shoots sprout strongly, methodised by art
Which guides their courses as they grow and move.

When down the garden’s winding paths I move
I see far-distant lands as through a window,
The world’s arboreal and floral art
Arranged to form a vast botanic library.
Raked gravel and old stones encompass mountains
And oceans in the stillness of the garden.

The noon-day sun beats down upon the garden
And sweat rolls down my forehead as I move.
Against the cloudless blue horizon, mountains
Stand stark as cut-outs. Wishing for a window
On cooler air, too restless for the library
I go to walk the galleries of art.

The mind and hand combine in making art,
More than in writing books or tending garden.
There’s nothing that could tell me in the library
Quite how a pigment-loaded brush can move
Over an empty canvas, now a window
On men and women, palaces and mountains.

Here is great art with power to awe and move,
A library with all the world its window,
A garden in the shelter of the mountains.

(c) Thomas Tyrell

Thomas Tyrrell gazing at a bust in the Huntingdon Art Gallery - Photo Credit Thomas' Mum

Thomas Tyrrell gazing at a bust in the Huntington Art Gallery – Photo Credit, Kathryn Tyrrell


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The Belfast Self-Portrait

LeadImage03

© Selfportrait.org.uk 16 Hemyock Road Selly Oak Birmingham B29 4DG UK brian@brianhomer.com +44 121 603 1934 +44 7958 339745

In this latest Guest Blog, Dr Kieran Connell, from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s University Belfast, talks makeshift studios in ethnic-diverse Belfast, and impromtu family portraits.  Kieran is also Project Lead for the Belfast Self-Portrait Project.  Although different from the normal type of Blog Posts that appear here, it demonstrates the international and cosmopolitan nature of AHRC Projects.

In autumn 1979 three photographers – Derek Bishton, Brian Homer and John Reardon – set up a makeshift photography studio on a street in Handsworth, an ethnically-diverse district of Birmingham.  The studio consisted of a 35mm camera, a plain-white backdrop and a sign inviting passers-by to come in and take their own photo.  How and when each image was taken was left up to the participants, who controlled the camera via a button that was attached to a cable release.  By taking themselves out of the equation, the photographers hoped to create a set of images that celebrated the area’s rich cultural and ethnic diversity.

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© Selfportrait.org.uk 16 Hemyock Road Selly Oak Birmingham B29 4DG UK brian@brianhomer.com +44 121 603 1934 +44 7958 339745

Thanks to a grant from the AHRC’s Cultural Engagement Fund, this project has been re-staged in Belfast.  On the face of it, this certainly offers a very different setting.  Birmingham is a city with a long history of immigration, and Handsworth – an inner area to the north of the city – has been a home to immigrants from around the world since the late-1940s.  By the 1979, approaching half of the Handsworth population were of Caribbean or South Asian descent.  The area had also become a focus for negative stereotypes surrounding street crime, poverty and urban disorder, and at various points the neo-Nazi National Front seemed to be on the verge of making a serious electoral breakthrough in the region.

Belfast does not have a comparable history.  It was home to small population of migrants from the Indian subcontinent from the 1930s onwards, but even by 1991 this only numbered fewer than 2,000 people.  The city’s longstanding Chinese and Italian communities were also comparatively small.  In recent years, though, this has begun to change.  Belfast – like Northern Ireland as a whole – is becoming an increasingly diverse place.  In 2011 there was an estimated 32,000 people who belonged to minority ethnic groups across the province – a population that had more than doubled since 2001.  The second most-spoken language is now Polish, and South Belfast in particular has become a cosmopolitan mix of international students, community centres and take-away joints offering culinary specialities from around the globe.

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© Selfportrait.org.uk 16 Hemyock Road Selly Oak Birmingham B29 4DG UK brian@brianhomer.com +44 121 603 1934 +44 7958 339745

Like Birmingham in the 1970s, this growing diversity has often been accompanied with negative headlines and racist stereotypes.  There have been a number of high-profile race-hate crimes in Belfast, for example and, like the rest of the United Kingdom in the wake of the EU referendum, the subject of immigration remains a politically-fraught issue.  Moreover, less than two decades after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, in the minds of many in Belfast is a city primarily associated with religious sectarianism and a heightened sense of community division.

Working with Brian Homer, one of the photographers behind the original project, and his colleague Timm Sonnenschein, the aim of the Belfast Self-Portrait Project is to provide an alternative perspective.  We set up our own makeshift studios in two spaces used by a cross-section of the Belfast community: a shopping mall in Belfast city centre, and a museum in the south of the city.  We used the same plain white backdrop as in the original set up, which has the effect of focussing our attention to the people who inhabit each frame (as opposed to anything that may be going on in the background).  Likewise, each participant decided how they would take their photograph through the use of a similar cable release, and also got a free copy of their print to take away.  Unlike in the original project, though, when it took weeks to develop each image in a darkroom, these prints were available digitally in a matter of minutes.
In all, over 200 people participated in the project, which took place just a few months after of the EU Referendum over a weekend in autumn 2016.  Participants included people on their way to work, shoppers, tourists, couples, teenagers, pensioners and families.  As they had done in Handsworth in 1979, many people used it as an opportunity for an impromptu family portrait.  The images provide a snapshot of diverse Belfast, of the people from different age-groups, nationalities and ethnicities – with different sexualities, political affiliations, styles and religious backgrounds – who each inhabit the city and make it what it is today.

Now, a selection of these photographs is now going on display in an exhibition at the Ulster Museum.  Subsequently, they will form part of the Ulster Museum’s permanent collections, where they will become a kind of visual archive of a city’s diverse residents.  Like the Handsworth Self-Portrait Project more than three decades ago, we hope, they will act as a valuable resource to future generations of historians whose task it will be to unpick the history of a city in transition.

The Belfast Self-Portrait exhibition is free and open to the public in the Belfast Room of the Ulster Museum from Friday 7 July until Sunday 3 September 2017. The project has been generously supported by the AHRC, Queen’s University Belfast, the Ulster Museum and CastleCourt shopping centre.

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© Selfportrait.org.uk 16 Hemyock Road Selly Oak Birmingham B29 4DG UK brian@brianhomer.com +44 121 603 1934 +44 7958 339745


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Call for Expressions of Interest to attend Workshop on Cultural Heritage

                                                                   Connaught Place, Delhi at Sunset

Researchers are invited to apply (via an Expression of Interest) to participate in a workshop on ‘Cultural Heritage and Rapid Urbanisation in India’.

Organised in partnership with the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), the event will bring together academic experts from both countries to address an issue of growing importance as India seeks to preserve and position its rich cultural history within the context of an emerging urban landscape. It will build on a joint AHRC-ICHR workshop and small networking call held in 2015 by providing the opportunity for researchers to address challenges related to the place of cultural heritage in an increasingly urban environment in greater depth.

More details on eligibility, call document and application process can be found on the Website. Applications to attend are via a Smart-Survey Questionnaire.

Closing Date is 4pm (BST) 26/04/17.

The Workshop will take place in Delhi on 24th-25th May 2017.

For more information or in the event of any queries, please contact Catherine Bond/Gemma Evans:  newtonfund@ahrc.ac.uk or telephone 01793 416000.

                                                                                          Delhi By Night