Botanical Art, Women and Medical Education

By Dr Sarah MacAllister, Department of History of Art, School of Humanities

Dr Sarah MacAllister tells us about a collaborative project exploring the ways in which female botanical artists have contributed to medical knowledge. Utilising extensive relevant art collections at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), the project highlights the work of numerous female illustrators who have hitherto gone unrecognised. The project recently received an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership and runs until September 2027.

Medical students in the eighteenth and nineteenth century across Europe learnt physiology and anatomy, not only of human bodies, but also of plants. Lecturers displayed large, bold, colourful botanical diagrams from classroom walls to enhance teaching and captivate their audiences.

Plant teaching diagrams might also help public health education today. Botanical artworks represent another way of perceiving plants, which is nuanced and sensitive and with scientific naming and understanding at its heart. Visual narratives of plant lives present aspects of plant behaviour, thereby developing an understanding of plants as active beings rather than passive objects. There is something to protect and engage with here beyond the generic ‘green’.

This painting of Dionaea Muscipula (Venus fly trap) was used as a hanging wall chart by John Hutton Balfour, Regious Keeper and Botany professor at Edinburgh Medical school from 1841-1879. This teaching diagram is unattributed, and may have been painted by a male botanical artist. However, it owes a debt to Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), who pioneered artistic representation of the ecological relationships between insects and plants.

This project seeks to address the historic neglect of female botanical artists. What exactly was their role in teaching botany for medicine? The research team includes Dr Grace Brockington, Associate Professor in History of Art, and Professor Ulrika Maude, Director of the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science, as well as Emma Nicholson, Head of Creative Arts at Creative Scotland and Research Associate at RBGE, and Lorna Mitchell, Head of Library and Archives at RBGE.

Although botanical drawing was long established as a suitable pursuit for ladies, women were excluded from institutional scientific activity. They did not have publication rights and were not allowed to join the Royal Society until 1900. Medicine was patriarchal in the second half of the nineteenth century, with the idea of women attending medical school ridiculed by male doctors. As one eminent physician put it: ‘uteruses would atrophy, and their brains would burst’. The first women to matriculate at Edinburgh Medical School in the mid-nineteenth century, the ‘Edinburgh Seven’, faced abuse and hostility.

The contribution that female botanical artists’ have made to science and medicine has also been suppressed by their historical treatment. The systematic exclusion of women from the history of science was originally described by the suffragette Matilda Gage in her essay ‘Woman as Inventor’ (Gage 1883), one hundred years later this obliviating, patriarchal mechanism was dubbed the ‘Matilda effect’ by the historian Margaret Rossiter.

This hanging wall diagram of the Lewisia rediviva plant (bitterroot) also belongs in the John Hutton Balfour collection of teaching diagrams. It was copied from an original artwork by Walter Hood Fitch in Curtis Botanical Magazine. There is circumstantial evidence that Marion Spottiswoode Bayley Balfour, wife of John Hutton Balfour, may have drawn up the diagram.

Archives held at the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh will be the starting point for engaging with collections of botanical artworks used in teaching medicine. How were different types of scientific knowledge communicated and what does this indicate about historic values and views of plants? A key focus will be on how women were involved in the creation of visual narratives in teaching, whether directly or indirectly, and bringing their contribution to light. Thematic connections will be mapped between collections elsewhere in Scotland and the UK, the outcome of which will be detailed catalogue entries interpreting and contextualising the artworks meaning, historic usage and circulation.

Dr Sarah MacAllister is an early career researcher in the Department of History of Art with research interests in ecological literacy and visual narratives. To find out more about the Plants and Pedagogy project, please contact

Beyond Voice: A project about silence in depression and bipolar

By Dr Dan Degerman and Dr Jae Ryeong Sul, Department of Philosophy, School of Arts

Dr Dan Degerman and Dr Jae Ryeong Sul tell us about their project which seeks to highlight the underappreciated and vital role silence plays in the lives of people with mental illness. In doing so, the project will challenge the denigration of silence in mental health. The project recently received an AHRC Research Development and Engagement Fellowship and runs until June 2025.

When we talk about silence in mental illness, it is nearly always as something harmful that we need to ‘break’. Of course, some silences in and around mental illness should be broken. Think of the silence of someone afraid to talk about their distress because of mental health stigma. Or, think of the silence of someone who wants to share their distress but can’t find the words to make others understand.

However, silence is a diverse experience, as most of us will recognise from our own lives. Silence can be painful, imposed, and disempowering. But it can also be pleasant, chosen, and empowering. While it can feel like a barbed cage that keeps us from saying what we want, it can also feel like an oasis of freedom from other people’s demands.

Why should we think that silence in mental illness is any less diverse? Our AHRC-funded Beyond Voice project suggests there’s good reason not to.

Beyond Voice is a philosophical project that sheds light on the role of silence in the lives of people with depression and bipolar. Our research engages deeply with first-person accounts of people with lived experience of these illnesses from different backgrounds. That involves analysing autobiographical accounts and qualitative research, as well as working with a research advisory group consisting of both experts-by-experience and mental health professionals who provide invaluable guidance on our research.

Mapping the rainbow of silence

So far, our research has shown that many first-person accounts defy common assumptions about silence in depression and bipolar. For one, they suggest that silence can be part of what it means to be depressed. The writer Andrew Solomon, for instance, writes that depression ‘is like going deaf, hearing less and less until a terrible silence is all around you until you cannot make any sound of your own to penetrate the quiet’.

Silence can be painful, imposed, and disempowering. But it can also be pleasant, chosen, and empowering.

By contrast, in the manic episodes that form part of bipolar, the loss of silence can be a source of suffering and longing, as the writer Bassey Ipke suggests in her account of such an episode: ‘The thoughts have started to flood. They tumble and race so quickly that only focusing on [the cab driver] helps slow their circling. … [M]y mind is never quiet’.

These are just two examples of the rainbow of silence experiences – to borrow a metaphor from our advisory group – that people with depression and bipolar report. The first key objective of our 18-month project is to begin to map out that rainbow.

A better understanding of the variety of silences that occur in depression is not simply a matter of dotting some ‘i’s in an otherwise complete picture of depression and bipolar.

A clearer picture of the rainbow of silence will have important practical implications for people with those illnesses and those who want to help them, including friends and family, healthcare professionals, and policymakers. The second and third objectives of Beyond Voice are to draw out those implications.

The implications of silence for mental health

Some implications have already begun to emerge.

Since silence can be a part of what it is to be depressed or a desperate attempt to keep the worst consequences of mania at bay, we need to recognise the potential harm that the blinkered insistence on ‘breaking the silence’ around mental illness can have.

For example, other people’s well-intentioned appeals to share experiences or unsolicited advice can cause more harm than good to an individual whose depression is so severe that they cannot speak and do not even feel the urge to. In such cases, simply sitting with them in silence – honestly acknowledging the depth of their despair and quietly blunting their isolation – may instead be the crucial first step towards providing the appropriate support.

In other words, we must consider how we can help those who want to speak to do so without pathologising and pressurising those who cannot or have good reasons not to.

Our work will continue over the next year and we’d love to hear from you with your own thoughts on and experiences of silence.

Dr Dan Degerman is a Research Fellow in the Department of Philosophy and is interested in issues at the intersection of mental health, emotions, and politics. His first book Political Agency and the Medicalisation of Negative Emotion has just been published in paperback. Dr Jae Ryeong Sul is a Research Associate in the Department of Philosophy with research interests in phenomenology and philosophy of psychiatry. To find out more about the Beyond Voice project, please contact

Queer Screen Cultures in the 21st Century: Embedding Diversity, Inclusivity and Representation in Audio-Visual Media

By Dr Miguel García López, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies, School of Modern Languages

Dr Miguel García López tells us about a collaborative project which seeks to increase the visibility of LGBTQIA+ people in audio-visual media. With LGBTQIA+ characters in film and television productions consistently underrepresented, Miguel’s research is a timely intervention. The project recently received an AHRC Impact Acceleration Account Award and underlines the positive effect arts and humanities research can achieve. 

Existing research on the social impact of audio-visual work underscores the stagnant and low levels of diversity in audio-visual media and focuses on the representation of diversity as a driving factor of structural change. Through my work on queer film and television in the Hispanic world, I’m interested in exploring how the 21st century has brought about important changes in terms of LGBTQIA+ visibility and discourses around diversity and inclusivity in Spanish-speaking contexts. This is how I came in contact with ODA (Observatory for Diversity in Audiovisual Media), which is the primary organisation monitoring, analysing, and providing public data on diversity levels in audio-visual representation in Spain. The organisation produces an annual report on the representation of LGBTQIA+ and minoritized communities in film and television and provides training and consultation services to filmmakers, filmmaking companies (Netflix, Prime Video), policy makers in governmental institutions (the Spanish Institute of Cinematography and Audio-visual Arts, the Ministry of Culture) and individuals on how to produce inclusive audio-visual works and embed inclusivity and diversity into events, communications, and activities.

Alba Flores, Spanish actor and LGBTQIA+ activist, at the ODA 2023 Awards ceremony.

Our project ‘Queer Screen Cultures in the 21st Century’ seeks to increase the visibility, inclusion, and agency of LGBTQIA+ people and minoritized communities in audio-visual media. Funded by the AHRC Impact Accelerator Account Knowledge Exchange Placement scheme, the project involves a six-month collaboration between Dr Miguel García López and ODA, which will help the partner organisation reach wider audiences through training and knowledge exchange activities, bringing together academics working in the fields of queer and film studies and non-academic members from the audio-visual industry. These will involve training and consultation events in Spain and the UK, the translation of ODA’s annual report into English and the creation of a transnational network through an online newsletter, enabling both the partner and the researcher to engage with key stakeholders, establish transnational links between Spain and the UK and develop a sustainable long-term collaboration. Dr Simon Brownhill, Senior Lecturer in Education, has also recently joined the project as Research Ethics lead and will support with data collection, analysis and dissemination.

Asaari Bibang, Frank T and Lamine Thior at the ODA 2023 Awards ceremony. Their podcast, No hay negros en el Tíbet (There are no blacks in Tibet), seeks to increase Black representation in Spanish audio-visual media.

I will work closely with the partner organisation, collaborating in the creation of the organisation’s annual report, providing academic research expertise in training and consultation activities, and helping ODA to establish a transnational network for the promotion of diversity in audio-visual media. We will combine our research on queer audio-visual culture, consultation and advising services and activities monitoring the representation of diversity in film and television to attain structural social change in the audio-visual industry in Spain and the UK. Our collaboration will provide a bi-directional space of learning and knowledge exchange for subjects with lived experience of discrimination and inequality and for stakeholders in the audio-visual industry seeking further diversity and inclusion. This placement will help us build and maintain an environment and culture that enables effective and ambitious knowledge exchange and impact, including development of skills, capacity and capability within the University and address cultural barriers for arts/cultural sector collaborations with Higher Education Institutions.

Dr Miguel García López is Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies and researches on queer representation in Hispanic film and television. He collaborates with UK filmmakers and organisations like the British Film Institute. To find out more about Miguel’s research and the ODA partnership, please contact

*Images taken from ODA’s official website ( ODA’s logo and images from this year’s ODA Awards ceremony, celebrating diversity and inclusion in Spanish audio-visual media.

The feminine art of the hustle: how Britons became obsessed with working for themselves

By Dr Amy Edwards, Senior Lecturer in the Department of History, School of Humanities

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Dr Amy Edwards tells us about her project which will explore the history of women’s self-employment between 1970 and 2000. Through oral history interviews and archival research, the project will tell the story of the many thousands of women who worked for themselves in contemporary Britain. The project recently received an AHRC Research Development and Engagement Fellowship and runs until August 2025.

The way we work in contemporary Britain is changing. Working from home, hustle culture, flexi-work, the gig economy: these are all familiar phrases that capture something about the nature of when, how, and for who we earn money in the twenty-first century. At the heart of many of these developments is the idea that working for ourselves is a dream job.

My current project, ‘The Secret of My Success’: Women and Self-Employment in Britain (1970-2000), seeks to tell the history of Britain’s self-employed women to better understand our ways of working today. Working arrangements and business practices targeted at women throughout the post-war period pre-empted many of the ‘new norms’ we view as recent developments. In 1965, the Financial Times reported that British industry had begun ‘assiduously courting’ some ‘seven million married women’ as part of a drive to boost its labour force. ‘Women power’ it seemed, had become one answer to the problem of how to secure business growth. For one group of companies in particular, women’s economic agency, both as consumers and as sellers became the basis of their business model: direct sales. In the mid-twentieth century, American companies like Tupperware and Avon made their way across the Atlantic, bringing with them new distribution methods, which relied upon the social networks, bonds, and domestic spaces of women’s lives. In so doing, they promised economic independence and flexible working conditions suited specifically to women and other economically marginalised groups in the form of the self-employed sales representative.

Tupperware advertisement featuring a Joe Steinmetz photograph, c.1958, State Archives and Library of Florida, Tallahassee, FL 32399-0250.

Over the coming year, I’m going to be using the archives of companies like Avon, newspaper reports covering the direct sales industry, and oral history interviews to find out more about why women chose to take the leap and ‘set up shop’, and what life was like when they did. Oral history methods are an established part of contemporary historical practice and can be an excellent way of hearing the perspectives of people whose voices don’t always end up recorded in institutional records. By talking to women about their experiences of self-employment, I hope to understand how practices like working from home, subcontracting, and the dream of working for oneself became so central to our society. These women experienced both the liberating potential of new post-war business practices as well as trajectories that involved being pushed into low-skilled, part-time, precarious work.

As part of this project, I’m lucky enough to be working with Bristol Special Collections to store the oral history stories I’ll be collecting. I’m also going to be working with a local filmmaking company, Black Bark Films, to make a short documentary film about what it has meant to work for yourself as a woman over the past 70 years. Through workshops with local charities and policy makers, along with a film launch I am also hoping to help shape the ways we think about and support women’s entrepreneurship in Bristol today.

Avon Outlook, Campaign 5, Box 103, Campaign Mailings 1969 (Accession 2155), Hagley Museum & Library, Wilmington, DE 19807. Courtesy of the Hagley Museum and Library.

To learn more about the project you can hear me talking about it with the Hagley Museum and Archive where the Avon Company archives are held. This will be available from the 15th April.

Interested in being involved? 

If you are a woman who was self-employed at any time during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s (whether as a direct sales rep, a franchisee, a freelancer, or running your own business etc.) I’d love to hear from you. If you’d consider recording your memories as part of this research project, please get in touch with me at

Dr Amy Edwards is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History with research interests in the culture that surrounds business, finance, and capitalism in contemporary societies. To find out more about Amy’s research, her first book Are We Rich Yet, or ‘The Secret of my Success’ project, please contact

Voicing Silence: Amplifying the Voices of Non-Recent Child Sexual Abuse

By Dr William Tantam, Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, School of Arts

Dr William Tantam tells us about a collaborative project which sought to challenge the silencing of child sexual abuse. Taking an arts-led approach, William and his collaborators produced a ‘zine’ to engage mental health professionals, academics, and most importantly, survivors of child sexual abuse, placing their voices at the centre of clinical and policy discussions. The project received an AHRC Impact Acceleration Account award and William has since received a REPHRAIN grant to further his research.

‘Voicing Silence: amplifying the voices of victims and survivors of non-recent child sexual abuse’ sought to challenge the silencing of child sexual abuse through attention to the ways in which victims and survivors are, or have been, silenced. This silencing includes inappropriate or improper responses to disclosures of sexual abuse, poor follow up, disbelieving, and no further action taken to reporting. It also includes the pervasive cultures of silence that coalesce around child sexual abuse which make it more difficult for victims and survivors to report at the time of the abuse, and to delay disclosing the sexual abuse until later in life.

The Breaking Silences zine produced by William and his collaborators.

  • To navigate through the zine, click on the arrow icons in the bottom left and right of the zine.
  • To view the zine in full screen, click on the second icon in the top right of the zine.

The zine and workshop emerged from a network of academics, clinicians, therapists, and activists (some of whom are victims and survivors). At the heart of the group was a commitment to centring the needs and perspectives of victims and survivors, and ensuring that their voices feed into practice and policy. Network members have also disseminated the zine in their different academic, clinical, and activist communities in order to reach as wide an audience as possible, including in NHS trusts, clinical training groups, and academic environments. It is also being used as a learning material at the Tavistock Trauma Centre for professionals likely to receive disclosures of child sexual abuse.

“We wanted a zine that captured the challenges of child sexual abuse and silences, but which also captured the hope and possibilities enabled by survivor-centred approaches

The process of producing the zine enabled the group to clarify our meanings and understandings. In preparation, each of us submitted two sentences of what we would like to say in the zine. Armed with Pritt sticks and sheets of coloured card we spent two hours in groups cutting up the sentences, placing them in different orders, and considering how the meaning, tone, and voice changed as we spliced together different passages. Often these new combinations generated deeper meaning and turns of phrase, or produced new insights that we hadn’t quite articulated in our initial attempts. We were inspired by the wonderful ‘Mad Zines’ project and tried to draw on some of the energy and vitality produced in their outputs. 

A further strength – and really the heart of the final output – was the creative contributions of members of the group. Dr Khadj Rouf (zine co-editor and Consultant Clinical Psychologist with Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust) provided beautiful poetry, complemented by a cover artwork by Dr Sara Scott, and incredible illustrations provided by the multi-talented Jenissa Paharia. We wanted a zine that captured the challenges of child sexual abuse and silences, but which also captured the hope and possibilities enabled by survivor-centred approaches.

“At the heart of the group was a commitment to centring the needs and perspectives of victims and survivors, and ensuring that their voices feed into practice and policy”

Drawing on this initial project, and a further ESRC IAA grant exploring how to improve responses to disclosures of child sexual abuse, I have developed a further project into the particular challenges faced by survivors of online-facilitated child sexual abuse, funded by REPHRAIN. Working with Dr Susanna Alyce, Co-Investigator, this new project incorporates a survivor-produced ‘zine’ that will provide key learning into this area that remains under-explored, and from the people most impacted by these insights. We are delighted to be working with SARSAS, the Survivor’s Trust, and Survivors Voices in this new project which hopes to deploy survivor-centred insights for real-world change.

Dr William Tantam is Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology with research interests in trauma and gendered violence, and technology-facilitated sexual abuse. To find out more about William’s research, the Breaking Silences zine and his new REPHRAIN grant, please email

Cinema Unbound: The Creative Worlds of Powell and Pressburger

By Professor Sarah Street, Professor of Film and Foundation Chair of Drama, School of Arts

From October to December 2023, the British Film Institute (BFI) curated a special UK-wide season of screenings and events to celebrate the work of visionary British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. In a partnership spanning thirty-three years and twenty-four films, Powell and Pressburger transformed cinema with their bold storytelling and vivid cinematography, most notably in The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus. As an academic specialist on British cinema history, Professor Sarah Street participated in several of the events and here tells us about her contributions.

To mark the opening of the Cinema Unbound season, the BFI published The Cinema of Powell and Pressburger, a superbly illustrated book co-edited by Nathalie Morris and Claire Smith. This includes a chapter by Sarah Street on the filmmakers’ extraordinary use of Technicolor which draws on research arising from several major projects on colour films led by Sarah Street and funded by the AHRC and Leverhulme Trust. It was also informed by her in-depth study of Black Narcissus which features with a link to a chapter in the BFI/Bloomsbury’s Screen Studies online publication on Powell and Pressburger. The Cinema of Powell and Pressburger includes many sumptuous images showcasing an extraordinary range of original set and costume designs, photographs and objects, many of which are in the BFI’s own archives. The book was launched at the BFI Southbank in conjunction with the opening of a major exhibition on The Red Shoes. A special cake was made to mark the occasion.

As part of the Powell and Pressburger season the BFI held several discussions on fascinating dimensions of their work. Sarah Street contributed to ‘Centre Stage: The leading women of Powell and Pressburger’, appearing alongside Professor Lucy Bolton (Queen Mary, University of London), critic, writer and historian Pamela Hutchinson and writer Lillian Crawford. The second panel discussion was ‘Queering Powell and Pressburger’, with Dr Andrew Moor (Manchester Metropolitan University), Emma Smart, Director of Collections, Learning and Engagement at the BFI, and Zorian Clayton, Curator of Prints at the V&A and BFI Flare programmer. Each panelist chose extracts from a selection of Powell and Pressburger’s films which illustrated many key themes. These included queer perspectives on the films, offering fresh understandings of iconic performances by well-known actors such as Anton Walbrook and Ruth Byron, and British character actors such as Charles Hawtrey and Judith Furse.

Professor Sarah Street (third from left) participates in a panel discussion on the theme of ‘British Blonde’

Sarah Street is currently collaborating with Claire Smith, Senior Curator of Special Collections at the BFI and Professor Melanie Bell, University of Leeds on a three-year research project, ‘Film Costumes in Action’, funded by the AHRC. She also recently contributed to a panel discussion held at the V&A in connection with a series of lectures by art historian Professor Lynda Nead, Birkbeck, University of London, funded by the Paul Mellon Centre. These were on the theme of ‘British Blonde’, focusing on four celebrated, notorious blonde women: Diana Dors, Ruth Ellis, Barbara Windsor and Pauline Boty. Filmmakers Catherine Grant and John Wyver made four video essays in response to the lectures which were discussed in the last session of the series by Sarah Street and Professor Melanie Williams, University of East Anglia.

Professor Sarah Street is Professor of Film and Foundation Chair of Drama in the Department of Film and Television. A member of our Screen Research Group, Sarah has published widely on British cinema history and the importance of preserving colour film in the archives. To find out more about Sarah’s research, including her current AHRC investigation into ‘Film Costumes in Action’, please email

2023 Wrapped: Faculty Research Centre and Group Highlights and Looking Ahead

By George Thomas, Faculty of Arts Research Events and Communications Coordinator

As 2023 draws to a close, we caught up with some of our Faculty Research Centres and Groups to learn about their highlights from the academic and calendar year, as well as activities they are particularly looking forward to in 2024. To find out more about our Faculty Research Centres and Groups and how to get involved, please see contact details and website links provided at the end of each entry.

Centre for Health, Humanities and Science:

The Centre for Health, Humanities and Science (CHHS) and its c. 200 members have been busier than ever this term and are looking forward to a number of exciting events in the new year. This academic year was inaugurated with a workshop organized by Dr Dan Degerman, a Leverhulme early-career fellow in Philosophy, on ‘Silence and Psychopathology’; this was followed by a colloquium organized by Kathryn Body, PhD student in Philosophy, on Loneliness and Shame in Health and Medicine, with speakers from the US, Hong Kong, Ireland and the UK. An event in November, co-hosted with the Wellcome-funded Epistemic Injustice in Healthcare project, brought together psychotherapists, doctors, and academics in Medicine and English Literature to talk about Trauma. The final event of the year, held in December, was an online colloquium on Modernist Literature and the Health Humanities organized by Dr Doug Battersby, a Global Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow in the English Department.

The Sensing Spaces of Healthcare showcase takes place on 14 February 2024

Highlights for Spring 2024 include a showcasing of Dr Victoria Bates’s UKRI-funded Future Leaders Fellowship project on Sensing Spaces of Healthcare, taking place on 14 February, followed by an early-career event on ‘Narrating Public Health Taboos’, a practice-based workshop with the artist Hannah Mumby, scheduled for 20 February. A talk on epistemic injustice by Professor Havi Carel and Dr Dan Degerman will be taking place in March. The annual Art Exhibition organized by Dr John Lee, featuring art works by students from the Intercalated BA in Medical Humanities, will be held at People’s Republic of Stokes Croft in May. On 11-12 June, the CHHS will also host a grant-writing workshop and retreat at Hawkwood College in Stroud. Last but not least, the new year will see the publication of Key Concepts in Medical Humanities (Bloomsbury Academic), a collection of essays on topics such as ‘health, ‘illness’, ‘neurodiversity’, ‘disability’, and ‘death and dying’, as well as approaches including ‘narrative medicine’, ‘graphic medicine’, ‘medicine and the visual arts’ and ‘’the Black health humanities’. The book is authored by members and affiliates of the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science.

Contact: Professor Ulrika Maude ( You can also stay up to date through the Centre’s Twitter account.

Centre for Creative Technologies:

The Centre for Creative Technologies has had a successful year, forming a community that brings together creative practitioners, academics, and researchers. Our Alternative Technologies Workshop Series offered a great chance to reflect critically on developing technologies within the Metaverse, Blockchain, AI and Mega-engineering, and connect University of Bristol academics with Pervasive Media Studio residents.

Dr Paul Clarke presents on the Centre’s panel ‘Affective Relations’ at the Zip-Scene conference in Prague

From these connections, we saw some successful applications that blossomed into projects from our Creative Technologies Seedcorn Fund; VR games and storytelling, platform cultures, mixed reality experiences of futures in Colombia, and creative skills in animation and co-production in Amazonia. The Future Speculations Reading Group has grown, and we will be expanding the sessions with the Centre for Sociodigital Futures with a focus on community and creative technologies. The summer term ended with our keynote speaker, Dr Eduard Arriaga-Arango, sharing his research on Afrolatinx digital culture and data decolonisation. Our July event, Queer Methodologies in Creative Technologies, has developed into a two-day event in November consisting of artist workshops and an open forum; Queer Practices and Creative Technologies. The Centre curated a panel, ‘Affective Relations: Empathy, imagination and care in immersive experiences’, at the Zip-Scene conference in Prague, one of the leading international extended reality (VR/AR/MR) and interactive storytelling conferences, which was also an opportunity to network with related Centres, academics and artists in this field.

Dr Francesco Bentivegna presents on the Centre’s panel ‘Affective Relations’ at Prague’s Zip-Scene conference

The Concept Game Jam, run with Bristol Digital Game Lab and sponsored by MyWorld, opened up conversations around Algorithmic Bias related to co-director Professor Edward King’s UKRI Project ‘Contesting Algorithmic Racism Through Digital Cultures In Brazil’. We plan to organise events to share this project’s progress, and are currently building the project page on our website with regular blogs for members to follow. Our Friday Lunchtime talk series at the Watershed will continue, as well as further collaborations with the Pervasive Media Studio. Our membership and scope have grown, and this year we hope to solidify connections between academics and PM Studio residents and develop our connection with Knowle West Media Centre by focusing on community technologies. We plan to organise a workshop series run by PhD and ECR centre members at the Pervasive Media Studio in the run up to our final summer event on community and creative technologies, with a keynote speaker.

Follow our blog to find out more, and for any queries please contact

Centre for Environmental Humanities:

2023 has been a busy year for the Centre for Environmental Humanities. Our first major event was a workshop in February on ‘the Future of the Environmental Humanities’, which brought together around 30 people from across the Faculty and beyond, together with Melina Buns from our partners at the University of Stavanger’s Greenhouse Center, and Michelle Bastian from the University of Edinburgh. This was a valuable opportunity to reflect on our existing strengths and think about strategies for the centre to develop and grow.

Thanks to the vagaries of the academic calendar, 2023 also saw two annual lectures! In June we hosted Professor Gisela Heffes from Rice University, who spoke on the aesthetics of toxicity in contemporary Latin America, and in November we welcomed Professor Imre Szeman from the University of Toronto, who discussed the future of clean energy and gave us a literary analysis of the environmental writings of Bill Gates…


Alongside these major events, we’ve been continuing with our usual programme of seminars, and have also introduced a weekly tea/coffee catch up, which has proved a valuable and relaxed space for the sharing of ideas, reading recommendations and plans. We’ve been delighted to welcome our first cohort of students on the MA in Environmental Humanities, who are already proving a lively addition to the CEH community.

We’ve begun a collaboration with a curator, Georgia Hall, on working with artists in the environmental humanities, thanks to a grant from the Faculty’s AHRC Impact Acceleration Account. We look forward to continuing this collaboration in 2024. We are also hard at work, alongside other research centres in the Faculty, on a bid for one of the AHRC’s new ‘doctoral focal awards’ on the theme of ‘arts and humanities for a healthy planet, people and place’.

To find out more about the Centre for Environmental Humanities, please contact and You can also stay up to date through the Centre’s Twitter account.

American Studies Research Group:

The American Studies Research Group experienced an amazing 2023! Membership increased to include over forty staff and graduate students from across the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences and Law. Beyond our steering group, we have established three sub-committees to advance strategic goals, including partnerships, funding, and events. Our graduate training initiative, led by Dr Thomas M. Larkin and Dr Darius Wainwright, was well attended and provided important support for our PGR students. Our regular speaker series garnered positive feedback through presentations by such scholars as Ian Tyrrell, Dr Lorenzo Costaguta, Dr Erin Forbes, Dr Kate Guthrie, and Beth Wilson. We also helped to organize and host the British Association of Nineteenth-Century Americanists (BrANCA) 6th Biennial Symposium, which drew scholars from across the world to share their latest research. Our partnership with the American Museum (Bath) inspired additional consultations and collaboration, while the strengthening of our research environment contributed to new publications, including articles by Jim Hilton, Paula K. Read, Victoria Coules and Professor Michael J. Benton, and Dr Thomas M. Larkin.

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We are excited by our plans for 2024. We will be hosting Professor Vanessa N. Gamble (The George Washington University) as the Bristol Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professor. She will work closely with our group on funding and partnership development, as well as deliver four research presentations. We are pleased to continue hosting a range of external seminar speakers, including Nathan Cardon, Sharon Monteith, and Thomas Arnold-Foster. We are grateful for the financial support of the Faculty and the British Association for American Studies (BAAS).

To find out more about the American Studies Research Group, please contact and

Early Modern Studies:

The Early Modern Studies research group has had a very productive 2023. In May 2023, EMS organised the ‘Place and Space in the Early Modern World’ workshop (already reported on the Arts Matter Blog). In the summer we held our annual Summer Symposium featuring 4 panels of two speakers each, with papers ranging from early music to Anglo-Dutch identities; from stage corpses to Venus and Adonis; and from Philip Sidney’s translation of a devotional work to Shakespeare’s history plays and his will. The start of the new academic year (TB1) saw the occasion for a research celebration: many good news stories, research updates, and a celebration of two first monographs published by Dr Dana Lungu and Dr Gonzalo Velasco Berenguer. EMS will soon hold their annual ‘conversations’ event (Dec 2023); and for 2024 has further early modern events lined up.

Dr Sebastiaan Verweij opens the ‘Place and Space in the Early Modern World’ workshop

For anyone who would like to join EMS and stay abreast of news, please write to

Drinking Studies Research Group:

Since its inception, the Drinking Studies Faculty Research Group has been running a research seminar series with local, national, and international speakers to bring together local members and spark productive conversations. We have had flash talks from PhD students and local academics to get to know each other better as a group, and talks from experts in the wider field of Drinking Studies. Dr Deborah Toner (University of Leicester) joined us in June to talk about her experience of collaborative work and bringing history and policy together with international partners in South America. Dr Susan Flavin (TCD) joined us in September to talk about her interdisciplinary project on early modern brewing techniques including an exciting authentic brew which was tasted by the members of the project and examined by chemists and nutritionists to investigate much discussed questions around the ABV and nutritional qualities of these early brews. In the coming year, we are hosting the Drinking Studies Network conference at Bristol (March 2024) which will bring together local, national, and international researchers to discuss writing about alcohol.

Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909), ‘Hip, Hip, Hurrah!’, 1888, oil on canvas

To join the Drinking Studies Faculty Research Group or propose a seminar or other activity, contact Mark Hailwood ( and Pam Lock ( 

Screen Research Group:

The Screen Research group had a very successful 2023. We ran a series of workshops on video-essay making, which allowed participants to develop key technical and analytical skills related to video-essay production, and to gain insight into best practices when it comes to integrating video-essays as unit assessments. The sessions were delivered by leading experts in the field, including Prof. Catherine Grant. 2023 also saw the publication of Dr Miguel Gaggiotti’s Nonprofessional Screen Performance (Palgrave Macmillan) and Professor Catherine O’Rawe’s The Nonprofessional Actor: Italian Neorealist Cinema and Beyond (Bloomsbury), two monographs greatly shaped and informed by Screen Research events, sessions and partnerships. The short films Nothing Echoes Here (Hay, 2023) and Pouring Water on Troubled Oil (Massoumi, 2023), directed by group members, also had their festival premieres in 2023. We hope to continue this success into 2024.

Dr Miguel Gaggiotti’s new monograph
Professor Catherine O’Rawe’s new monograph













We will be running further events and training sessions on video-essay production, an area group members have shown a particular interest in, which has led to an ongoing series of monthly video-essay work-in-progress sessions where members share their work and receive peer feedback. The video-essay is now being adopted as a form of undergraduate assessment in the Faculty, so we are also working on best practice for assessing it, and have invited Dr. Estrella Sendra of KCL to talk to members about using the video-essay as a pedagogical tool. We will also be running a one-day practice-as-research symposium in collaboration with UWE (in June 2024) as well as a joint book launch for Catherine O’Rawe’s and Miguel Gaggiotti’s monographs in early 2024, among other activities!

To find out more about the Screen Research Group, please contact and

Bristol Digital Game Lab:

The Bristol Digital Game Lab showcased a vibrant array of events throughout 2023, providing a platform for scholars, students, and enthusiasts to delve into the multifaceted world of digital gaming.

The Lab initiated the academic year with a thought-provoking online roundtable on October 24, where experts and major UK game lab leads gathered to discuss the implications of the Video Games Research Framework (launched by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in May) on individual research, and how game labs, centres, and networks could support its aims. The event featured two esteemed keynote speakers: Prof. Peter Etchells, who was involved in drafting the Framework, and Dr Tom Brock, the Chair of British DiGRA.

‘Music and Sound in Games’, a collaborative event between the Game Lab and Digital Scholarship @Oxford

Following this, on October 31, the Lab collaborated with Digital Scholarship @Oxford and organised a hybrid panel and roundtable titled “Music and Sound in Games”. Expert speakers from both industry and academia dissected the impact of music on gaming narratives, characters, and emotional engagement. The digital roundtable facilitated by Dr Richard Cole further delved into critical conversations surrounding this fascinating aspect of game design.

November brought a Research Seminar in collaboration with the Department of Classics and Ancient History. Dr Dunstan Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Latin Literature at the University of Kent, presented on “History is not the Past”: Videogame Design and The Ancient Mediterranean. The seminar explored how video games portray ancient history, emphasising the diverse ways in which different genres and playstyles influence the conceptualisation of ancient worlds within digital games.

Towards the end of November, the Lab hosted an exciting inaugural event, the ‘Concept’ Game Jam, co-organised with the Centre for Creative Technologies and sponsored by MyWorld. The Game Jam challenged the 40 participants to explore how gaming mechanisms could shed light on the biases embedded in algorithms, especially in the realm of machine learning and AI. It stimulated creative thinking about the intersection of gaming and algorithmic bias and some teams came up with innovative working prototypes.

Bristol Digital Game Lab has expanded to over 150 members, gaining increasing international recognition

December will start with the Antiquity Games Night, a novel monthly online meetup organised by Dr Richard Cole and Alexander Vandewalle (University of Antwerp/Ghent University). Scholars, students, and designers will gather to play antiquity games, fostering an engaging space that blends academic discussions with gaming experiences.

Closing the year on a festive note, the Lab will bring back the “Festive Gaming” event on December 14. This event will invite participants to join in for an evening of social gaming, featuring the latest releases and playtests of upcoming games. The lineup included contributions from Catastrophic Overload, Meaning Machine, and Auroch Digital, providing a platform for networking, exploration, and celebration within the gaming community.

In summary, the Bristol Digital Game Lab’s 2023 events were a testament to the diversity and richness of the digital gaming landscape. From scholarly discussions on research frameworks and ancient history to hands-on game jams and festive gaming, the Lab succeeded in creating a dynamic space that catered to a broad spectrum of interests within the gaming community. The Lab has expanded to a network with more than 150 members, gaining increasing recognition internationally.

Looking ahead to 2024, we will be hosting an ECR/Postgraduate work-in-progress event in January, followed by a series of industry talks with a headline from Ndemic Creations, a roundtable on accessibility, as well as a conference on New Directions in Classics, Gaming, and Extended Reality. We look forward to seeing you there!

To find out more about the Bristol Digital Game Lab and sign up to our mailing list, please visit:

Woodblocks, Inky Fingers, and Lots and Lots of Tea: Bristol Common Press Summer Internship, June – July 2022

By Fiona Feane, PhD History of Art candidate, School of Humanities

With Bristol Common Press celebrating the return of the Albion, a 200-year-old printing press beautifully restored following a successful crowdfunding campaign, we caught up with PhD candidate Fiona Feane to learn about another interesting story from its history: her 2022 summer internship.

Although Bristol Common Press has been in existence since 2021, much of the printing materials were, as of June 2022, still to be sorted. Enter the interns! As my research focuses on woodcuts, I considered myself very lucky to get the opportunity for some practical experience, and so I was tasked with sorting and cataloguing woodblocks. Naively, I believed that the cataloguing part could be done in the first three or four weeks, with the final two or three weeks devoted to creating some aesthetically pleasing project, or background research. More on that later…

The first week was given over to learning the process of printing using the metal letterpress type, from compiling the text (an ability to read both backwards and upside down is a helpful skill here), to printing, and then distributing the type back in the right compartment of the right case, in a process known as ‘dissing’. By the end of the week I had a new-found admiration for printmakers; not only is printmaking a fiddly, time-consuming process, but they do not get to sit down.












The second week I was let loose on the woodblocks. At first I felt like a kid at Christmas, with plenty of boxes to open. But, as box after box was placed in front of me, the enormity of the task finally dawned. Still, plenty of gorgeous blocks to coo over, so I got going. I first did a rough manual print of all the blocks, a messy process during which I learnt that hand sanitiser gets ink off most things, including tables, but not hands. I used these prints to categorise the blocks, a very fluid and subjective process (read: make it up as I go along).


Once the categories and sub-categories were finalised, it was time to begin printing the catalogue. This is where I learnt how much of an effect tiny differences in block height could have, that some blocks were really hard to print cleanly due to the shallowness of the relief, and that a clean print from practice paper does not guarantee a clean print from the good and much more expensive paper. In short, printing is a long and frustrating process involving lots of trial and error (and paper), but so rewarding when it goes well!  My plan was to print all the blocks within their sub-categories, then manually typeset headings at the top of each page and dividers between each category. But, with literally hundreds of blocks, it was an impossible task to get done, or even half done, in six weeks. What it’s shown, as someone who researches illustrated documents, is how skilled a job it is to incorporate both, even within cheap print.

By the end of the internship, I had produced many sheets of images of which I am very proud, and which show the richness of the resource that’s available. There’s everything from images of circus performers to farm animals, from people at work and leisure to decorative patterns, and lots in between. So, although I haven’t finished my project, I will be back to continue it, just as soon as they let me.

Update: As of December 2023, I have returned to the BCP in order to complete my training as a Printer’s Devil, and have also run the first of hopefully many PGR Printing Workshops, alongside Shauna Roach. No further with the catalogue printing though!

Fiona Feane is a PhD History of Art candidate with research interests in the representation of women in seventeenth century popular print, in particular broadside ballad woodcuts. Her thesis also covers seventeenth century fashion and theatrical costume, and the relationship between image and text. To find out more about Fiona’s research, please contact To find out more about Bristol Common Press, please visit

Representing Evolution

By Professor Samir Okasha, Professor of Philosophy of Science, School of Arts

Professor Samir Okasha tells us about Representing Evolution, a £1.4m ERC Advanced Grant currently underway in the Department of Philosophy. Led by Samir, the five-year research project in the philosophy of science aims to deepen our understanding of how evolution is, has been, and should be represented.

A central part of scientific enquiry involves constructing representations of the world, or more accurately of those objects, events and processes in the world that the science in question is concerned with. Representations can take many forms, including diagrams, taxonomies, verbal descriptions, physical models, and abstract mathematical models. Thus a diagram of the solar system, a taxonomy of Alpine flora, a ball-and-stick model of a chemical substance, and a mathematical model of the spread of a disease are all examples of representations. Different though they are, each of these scientific constructs aims to represent some system in the world (the “target system”) and can be assessed for how well they achieve this aim.

The aim of Representing Evolution is to examine how biological evolution has been represented – diagrammatically, verbally and mathematically – in the scientific literature, past and present. A further aim is to examine representations of evolution in the context of pedagogy and science communication. “Biological evolution” is taken to include the process of descent with modification that Darwin described; the mechanisms that drive the evolutionary process such as natural selection; and the products to which the process has given rise, such as organic adaptation and diversity. Scientists have constructed representations of each of these elements in their quest to understand how evolution works. The project will offer a systematic study of these representations, the concepts from which they are built, and the associated inferences, from an overarching philosophical perspective.

The project has six work strands:

  1. The first strand examines diagrammatic representations of evolution, such as trees, landscapes and causal graphs.
  2. The second examines linguistic representations, particularly the use of metaphors and analogies to describe the evolutionary process.
  3. The third examines mathematical representations, as found in the abstract models that evolutionary theorists develop.
  4. The fourth strand examines “ways of thinking” about evolution, that is, fundamental cognitive styles that scientists and laypeople alike use to think and reason about evolutionary phenomena.
  5. The fifth strand considers the communication of evolutionary ideas, in particular how evolution is represented in science education and non-specialist fora.
  6. The sixth strand examines the project of generalizing evolution to the non-biological realm, a project whose feasibility depends in part on which representations of evolution are treated as canonical.

The importance of the project lies in its integrative ambition. The project will bring together philosophical ideas about the nature of representation and idealization, linguistic ideas about metaphor and analogy, psychological ideas about reasoning and cognitive biases, and educational ideas about science communication. By drawing on such a diverse range of ideas, the project will deepen our understanding of how evolution is, has been, and should be represented. The results will be of interest to both philosophers of science and scientific practitioners alike.

Professor Samir Okasha, Department of Philosophy, is Principal Investigator (PI) on the Representing Evolution project. To find out more about Representing Evolution, please visit the project’s website at, or contact Samir directly at

Is illness important to philosophy? A spotlight on project EPIC

By Professor Havi Carel and Assistant Professor Ian James Kidd (University of Nottingham)

To mark World Philosophy Day, Professor Havi Carel and Assistant Professor Ian James Kidd (University of Nottingham) provide an update on their Epistemic Injustice in Health Care (EPIC) project. Havi first introduced us to EPIC back in April and with the project now underway, it’s wonderful to see the progress that has been made.

Serious illness can seem extraordinary in the suffering and pain it inflicts, the losses it causes and its role as a premonition of death. It marks human life as vulnerable, limited, subject to contingency (such as a genetic mutation leading to cancer), and, of course, as finite. Project EPIC, a Wellcome Discovery Award, was launched in September, to study a particular aspect of this vulnerability. It focuses on a set of injustices – called ‘epistemic injustices’ – that can affect ill persons when they are not listened to, ignored, or their needs and wants overlooked. This is an injustice meted out to a person who is already ill and vulnerable, a vulnerability on top of the vulnerability all humans share as flesh and blood creatures whose bodies are susceptible to injury and disease.

Illness is a sign of our mortality and hence a human universal. None of us can avoid it indefinitely and it touches on every human life at some point. Everyone is, was, or will be, ill. Even if, miraculously, one does avoid serious illness, we will experience illness in the lives of those we love and care for. Illness is a fact of our humanity and of our membership in the animal kingdom.

Despite that, within philosophy, the profound significance and impact of illness has so far not received its due place. Language, mind and other aspects of human existence are philosophically well-studied. But illness is not. In most cases, illness is seen as a set of pragmatic and scientific questions – about the definition of disease or allocation of healthcare resources. These are the concerns of the sub-fields of philosophy of medicine and philosophy of science, as well as political philosophy and bioethics. But illness raises philosophical concerns that fall outside the scope of those sub-disciplines.

Consider the existential complexities of serious illness. A serious illness is one of the most profound and life-changing events in one’s life. It changes the ill person’s body and agency. Illness alters our ability to do things – from the mundane (carrying your shopping home) to the most significant (being around for your children). Such temporal changes also shape our sense of possibility, finitude, and our sense of the certainty of death.

“Humans seek knowledge, offer testimony, and work to understand their own and others’ experiences. When our epistemic efforts come to be unfairly obstructed, one suffers an epistemic injustice”

We believe that for all these reasons illness ought to be a central topic in philosophy. Moreover, illness cuts across some of its fundamental areas. Ethics, metaphysics, ontology, and social and political philosophy are all importantly informed by the ‘facts of life’ made salient by illness. What are these ‘facts of life’? That we are mortal, embodied, fragile, vulnerable, temporally finite, and existentially self-concerned. Our existence is conditioned by the changing state of our body.

One aspect of illness takes on particular importance: the vulnerability and dependence on others that arise from one’s body or mind being ‘diseased’. Vulnerability is morally relevant. It can be recognised, attended to, and invites care, compassion and protection. Dependence tells us something crucial about human life. We live and develop with others, who can support or obstruct our development. Our connections to others could be nurturing or oppressive. This whole nexus of dependence, connection, and vulnerability ought to guide our philosophising. Many feminist philosophers, for instance, explore these themes in relation to specific issues like justice, fairness, and social inclusion.

Within this nexus, and within the context of illness, one important area to study is that of the relationships within health care. These caring relationships involve multiple dimensions: scientific and biomedical, existential-personal, professional, and institutional-hierarchical. These relationships are often complex and played out during times of great distress and strain on ill persons and their families. They also take place within healthcare institutions, often characterised by their vastness, structural complexity, stubborn institutional constraints (time! Money!), and often changing institutional goals. It is important to note that individual ill persons can get lost within such structures and can find themselves unfairly treated by healthcare professionals or others (for example, social workers, insurance companies, and hospital clerical staff).

These social realities can give rise to what Miranda Fricker named ‘epistemic injustice’, an injustice relating to someone’s epistemic capacity. Humans seek knowledge, offer testimony, and work to understand their own and others’ experiences. When our epistemic efforts come to be unfairly obstructed, one suffers an epistemic injustice. Varieties of epistemic injustice are consistently reported by persons with somatic and psychiatric illnesses. Patients might, for instance, find their testimonies unfairly deflated due to racist biases and stereotypes. Questions about treatment options can be ignored or dismissed. If a patient reports severe pain, their testimony might fail to receive the uptake and response it merits. Fricker also describes kinds of ‘hermeneutical injustice’, unfair and harmful failures of understanding. One needs the right concepts, terms, and language to explain certain experiences. Fricker offers the example of the concept of ‘sexual harassment’. If the necessary concepts and language are either unavailable or ruled out as ‘unacceptable’, one suffers a hermeneutical injustice.

A main theme of contemporary work in the philosophy of illness is the epistemic injustices reported by persons with chronic illnesses. The new project – EPIC: Epistemic Injustice in Health Care will study these injustices. What are their forms, what causes them, how do they aggravate the sufferings of ill persons and what can be done to redress them? These aims combine many kinds of philosophy; there are moral issues of justice and fairness, social and political questions about the proper organisation of our shared world, and epistemological questions about credibility, testimony, understanding and the obstacles to our individual and collective epistemic life. There are topics in the philosophy of science and medicine, too, as well as phenomenological investigation into the experience of somatic and psychiatric illness.

“It is important to note that individual ill persons can get lost within such structures and can find themselves unfairly treated by healthcare professionals or others (for example, social workers, insurance companies, and hospital clerical staff)”

In addition, project EPIC will, for the first time, offer a systematic empirical study of epistemic injustice within a range of health care settings, from maternity care and vaccination programs to mental health and cancer. It will deploy diverse research methods from a variety of disciplines, including medical history, qualitative health research, legal studies, discourse analysis, and philosophy.

At the background of this project are also existential questions about what it means to live a human life, what it means to understand and connect meaningfully with other human beings. What starts as reflections on the kinds of epistemic injustice reported by ill persons within healthcare institutions and the social world can inform our thinking about the human condition itself—mortal creatures whose life is conditioned by contingency, vulnerability and dependence.

Professor Havi Carel, Department of Philosophy, is Principal Investigator (PI) on project EPIC. Assistant Professor Ian James Kidd, University of Nottingham, is a co-Investigator (co-I). To find out more about the work of project EPIC, please email the project manager Charlotte Withers (