The Centre for Medieval Studies: Examining the Past into the Future

The Centre for Medieval Studies is a leading centre for research and training in all aspects of medieval studies, providing an ideal research environment for staff and graduate students in an area that is inherently interdisciplinary. With more than 30 Centre staff members from across the Faculty of Arts and beyond, we have an exceptionally broad range of specialists learning from the different methodologies of our individual disciplines. 

Internally, the Centre nourishes excellence in research, promoting interdisciplinary research and training in medieval studies, facilitating grant capture, and providing a network for mutual support and exchange of knowledge and expertise. Lecturer, Dr Steve Bull, comments: 

‘As an ECR still finding my place in the wider academic community, the advice, support, and connections that I have gained through the CMS have been invaluable. There is a genuine feeling of collegiality amongst the centre’s members.’

We are raising the profile of Bristol’s medieval research community nationally and internationally. We have an extensive network of partners, including local heritage organisations, facilitating impact, and offering student placements (e.g., Bristol Cathedral and Berkeley Castle), and national and international research partners. Professor David Wallace (University of Pennsylvania), a frequent visitor to the Centre, comments:  

‘Bristol’s Centre for Medieval Studies has great medievalists across the range to sift the secrets of Bristol (a great medieval city), of Europe, and of the global Middle Ages.  A truly exceptional centre for student education and international scholarly collaboration.’

We lead several externally-funded projects. A recent project we initiated is the Marie-Curie Doctoral Training Network ‘Re-mediating the Early Book: Pasts and Futures’ (REBPAF); it will support 13 PhD researchers at the universities of Bristol, Galway, Antwerp, Alicante, Vienna and Zürich, enhancing our already strong postgraduate cohort and international reach. PhD applications for the REBPAF project close on 10 January.

We offer exceptional support to our postgraduates, integrating them into our research community with regular social events and research seminars, some tailored to meet their needs, including seminars on ‘what every medievalist needs to know about…’ (useful for us all, but especially early career researchers) and an annual ‘student choice’ seminar with a speaker nominated by the students. We also host on our Blackboard site a constantly upgraded ‘training hub’ with online resources and run a range of reading groups, notably for medieval languages, such as Old French and medieval Latin. Our successful MA in Medieval Studies, with its unique placement unit, attracts students from different disciplines and diverse backgrounds with a high conversion rate to postgraduate research, here and elsewhere. 

A highlight is the annual postgraduate conference, the longest-running of its kind; this brings to Bristol, and now also online, an international group of postgraduates. PhD student Maria Rupprecht, from Germany, who chaired last year’s organising committee, notes: 

‘It is the perfect environment for postgraduates to present their research in progress and connect with medievalist peers and leading scholars from Bristol and beyond in a most benevolent, constructive, and supportive framework. The conference is an absolute highlight in the CMS. It is conceptualised, organised, and managed by Bristol’s postgrads and with this approach allows for discovering and developing organisational and managerial skills as well as teamwork in a committed and friendly environment.’

In the year ahead, in addition to our regular programme, we look forward to strengthening local ties through the research of our BA Global Professor, working with Bristol Central Library on their early books, including a planned public workshop. Visiting professors enrich our research environment: we are currently hosting a specialist in Old French from Stockholm, and we look forward to welcoming a Newton International Fellow next year. Our research into the past always looks to the future. 

Professor Ad Putter and Professor Kathleen Kennedy, Co-Directors, and Professor Marianne Ailes, former Co-Director, Centre for Medieval Studies

Centre for Environmental Humanities – Who we are and what we do

By Dr Adrian Howkins and Dr Paul Merchant

The stories we tell about the environment and the images we make of it end up shaping the environment itself, for better and for worse. This is one of the key principles of the environmental humanities, an interdisciplinary field that brings together historians, literary critics, philosophers, scholars of visual culture, cultural geographers, and more.  

As the COP27 climate change summit gets underway in Egypt this week, it is striking to note how little coverage the summit has had in the media, especially when compared with the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year. It seems that expectations of meaningful progress are low, despite stark warnings from the UN that drastic action is needed. The environmental humanities can help us understand how we have arrived at this point, and reflect on how culture can play a role in building a more hopeful future.  

The Centre for Environmental Humanities at the University of Bristol, established in 2017, has rapidly built a reputation as one of the leading centres in the field. Our community spans all of the disciplines in the Faculty of Arts, and our members include postgraduate researchers, professors, and all career stages in between.  

We support our academic members in developing their research ideas, by providing seed funding, and supporting applications for external grants – recent funded research from Centre members includes Andy Flack’s ‘Dark Pasts’ project and Paul Merchant’s ‘Reimagining the Pacific’ project, both funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). We are particularly proud of our vibrant postgraduate community, whose members organise reading groups, workshops and the Literary and Visual Landscapes seminar series (you can watch a recording of their most recent seminar).  

The River Avon at low tide, with the Clifton Suspension Bridge above. It is dark and the lights from nearby buildings are reflected in the water
The River Avon at low tide. Credit: Kristoffer Trolle, CC-BY 2.0

It’s really great being part of the Centre for Environmental Humanities here at Bristol. Being involved in a community of researchers from many different disciplines—from History, English, Geography, and many others—is incredibly stimulating. It’s a genuinely creative melting pot centred around a brilliant programme of events, seminars, reading groups, and field trips.” 

Milo Newman, PhD student in the School of Geographical Sciences 

In the 2022-23 academic year, we are exploring the future of the environmental humanities – where does the field need to go next? Where are the gaps in current research? How can our interdisciplinary community of scholars and students at Bristol shape new developments? With these questions in mind, we will be holding a special workshop in February 2023, with internal and external participants.  

Over the next few years, we are also looking to expand our network of international partners. This year, we established a formal partnership with the Greenhouse Center for Environmental Humanities at the University of Stavanger in Norway and the Environmental Humanities Center at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Partnerships provide opportunities for visiting fellowships, networking, and collaborative grant applications to our members. We are also developing a series of co-hosted online seminars on environmental humanities in Latin America with the Center for Environmental Studies at Rice University (USA). Professor Gisela Heffes from Rice will be visiting as a Bristol Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professor in May and June 2023.  

Collaboration both within the University and with community partners, including Bristol’s Black & Green Ambassadors and the Bristol Green Capital Partnership, is fundamental to our work, and the Centre is at the forefront of interdisciplinary innovation. One recent initiative, ‘Keywords in Environmental Research and Engagement’, worked with a range of community organisations across the city and academics from different disciplines to explore how to generate a common understanding of key terms like ‘resilience’ and ‘transitions’. 

We’ve also been promoting a place-based approach to collaborative scholarship, where we use field trips to provide a focal point for interdisciplinary conversations. Recent field trips have included visits to the Island of Lundy (see our co-authored article), Exmoor, and the Brecon Beacons.  We’re planning to continue these field trips this coming academic year with visits to the See Monster in Weston-super-Mare and to the Somerset Levels.   

We are very excited to be developing a new MA in Environmental Humanities, which is due to start in September 2023. You can find out more and apply on our website. 

Dr Adrian Howkins and Dr Paul Merchant, Co-Directors, Centre for Environmental Humanities 

Introducing the Centre for Creative Technologies

By Dr Paul Clarke and Dr Ed King, Co-Directors of the Centre for Creative Technologies 

We are excited to be launching the new Centre for Creative Technologies this autumn and to have been supported by the Faculty of Arts. The Centre will provide a focus for colleagues from a wide range of disciplines working with and on creative technologies, using creative technologies as a method in their practice-as-research and working historically, critically, or theoretically on media. Our understanding of creative technologies is inclusive of both analogue and digital technologies, and of media from print and film to gaming and Virtual Reality. Bristol Common Press is part of the Centre, and we are closely associated with the new Bristol Digital Game Lab which is advertising upcoming events on its new site. 

Over our first foundational year we’ll be defining the Centre’s identity and scope through a series of events and doing so in dialogue with Centre members and our partners, both within and beyond the University, locally and internationally. We hope that bringing Faculty researchers together through the Centre will lead to inspiring conversations and collaborative exchanges, building our critical mass in this priority area for both the University of Bristol and the city region. 

In the foreground is a smart phone in landscape orientation on a selfie stick. Someone's left hand is holding onto the selfie stick. The phone screen displays a blue and white digital image of the scene in front of the phone's camera viewfinder, which is blurred in the background.
Billennium, by Uninvited Guests and Duncan Speakman. Photo by Paul Blakemore.

As evidenced by the success of the MyWorld Strength in Places bid, the University of Bristol and the South West region have a reputation as international trailblazers in screen-based media and creative technology research and development. Our Centre’s Management Committee includes Ki Cater, Professor in Computer Science and co-investigator on MyWorld, alongside Susan Halford, Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the new Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Centre for Sociodigital Futures, and Dylan Law from the Research and Enterprise Division (RED), who’s responsible for managing and developing creative and cultural opportunities. The intention is for the Centre to be a vehicle for more cross-Faculty STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) research projects and to promote interdisciplinary collaboration on creative technologies innovation. 

The Centre also aims to enable and encourage further engagement with creative industries and communities on impact or knowledge exchange, including exploring social and civic applications of creative technologies with partners like Knowle West Media Centre. Our recent publications, activities and interdisciplinary projects range from Dr Ed King’s book Twins and Recursion in Digital, Literary and Visual Cultures and the AI and Literature symposium, which the Centre co-hosted, to Professor Esther Eidinow’s Virtual Reality Oracle, Connecting Through Culture as we Age: Digital Innovation for Healthy Aging and Dr Paul Clarke’s augmented reality engagement activity for planning consultation, Future Places Toolkit. 

The Centre will be based at the Pervasive Media Studio, which is a partnership between Watershed, UWE Bristol (UWE) and the University of Bristol, where UWE’s Digital Cultures Research Centre (DCRC) is also based. Jo Lansdowne (Executive Producer, Pervasive Media Studio) said: “We look forward to hosting the Centre in the Studio, to members contributing to the community of residents, and increasing the presence of the University of Bristol here. We’re planning a range of activities together, including a welcome event on Thursday 1 December, speculative co-design workshops around ‘Alternative Technologies’, and a series of public Friday lunchtime talks that will take critical perspectives on creative technologies. These will be co-curated with the Studio and the DCRC and it will be great to get Bristol and UWE researchers together with the creative technology professionals resident in the studio for discussions, to share skills and ideas, and to imagine exciting new collaborative projects.” 

A screenshot from the Virtual Reality Oracle, showing a figure in ancient Greek robes with arms outstretched, palms up, and looking up to the sky. The figure is standing in front of a large tree with bright green leaves.
Virtual Reality Oracle Project, Esther Eidinow , Kirsten Cater, et al, with Friday Sunday Studios, funded by AHRC, University of Bristol.

A priority for the Centre will be to support Early Career Researchers (ECRs) and postgraduates (PGRs), to attract new PhDs in this area, and to build the Faculty’s community of practice and research in creative technologies. One of the ways in which we’ll be doing this is through a new ECR and PGR-led reading group run by Dr Francesco Bentivegna and Katy Dadacz. As they say: “This will be open to those beyond the University, including Pervasive Media Studio residents and Control Shift Network. The group will focus on readings that explore creative relations between humans and machines, with invited presentations, discussions of interactive experiences and media, plus sharings of research and practice in progress. As far as professional development for researchers at all stages of their careers, there are plans to work with the Library and Jean Golding Institute on training, potentially with funding from a bid recently submitted to the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Embedding Digital Skills in Humanities and Arts Research scheme, and also for immersive media training in partnership with MyWorld. The MA Immersive Arts, which is part of MyWorld’s skills provision, is also associated with the Centre. 

The Centre for Creative Technologies will have a soft launch this semester, building towards a larger-scale and higher profile event at the end of this academic year, developed through exchanges with related centres internationally (and potentially in collaboration with the Virtual Reality Oracle project, Bristol Digital Game Lab and Bristol Common Press). The aim is for this to be both a symposium and showcase, to share Bristol’s thought- and practice-leading research in this growth area for both the University and local creative and immersive industries.  

We’re currently growing our membership, so do get in touch, whether your interests relate and you’d like to get involved in contributing to Centre activities, or if you’d like to join our mailing list to hear about upcoming events and opportunities. 

Dr Paul Clarke and Dr Ed King (Centre Co-Directors) 

Supporting digital literacies in Brazil through videogame design

From digital inclusion to digital literacies

Associate Professor Ed King tells us about his latest project to develop a science-fiction videogame to raise awareness of the dangers of social media disinformation in Brazil. To do this, he’s been working with local Brazilian organisations. It is an example of how arts research can address societal challenges. The project has recently received an AHRC Impact Acceleration Account award.

With help from the AHRC Impact Acceleration Account, I am currently collaborating with artists and non-profit organisations in Brazil to develop a videogame which will improve digital literacies. Our videogame will raise awareness about the dangers of disinformation by providing them with an accessible, engaging, free and enjoyable educational resource which will encourage young people to think critically about these issues through the medium of digital play.

In the early 2000s, during the first administration of the left-wing Worker’s Party President Lula da Silva, the Brazilian government invested heavily in ‘digital inclusion’ initiatives as a way of reducing social inequalities in the country. The ‘Pontos de Cultura’ project, for example, which funded media centres based in community spaces across the country, including in favelas and socially deprived neighbourhoods, became a model for approaches to free software among policy makers in Europe and North America.

‘Future calls’ by Rafael Coutinho, Cachalote Produções

However, now that there are extremely high levels of smartphone ownership and social media usage in Brazil, it has become clear that access to digital networks is not a guarantee of social inclusion but can entail exposure to manipulation and data surveillance. As a result, the focus among governmental and non-profit organisations working in this area has shifted from increasing digital inclusion to supporting digital literacies across the social spectrum.

Why is this research important?

Through my research, it has become evident that a digital literacy skill in need of particularly urgent support is the identification of disinformation online. This emerged as an important issue during the last presidential elections in Brazil in 2018 and was cited by many reports as a key factor in the rise to power of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro (who is seeking re-election in October 2022). It was also an important factor in the consolidation of cultures of denial during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, government and non-governmental organisations (such as Global Network Initiative and Direitos na Rede) have been attempting to tackle the issue at the levels of policy and law, including through the regulation of content.

Over the last few years, I have been working with a network of organisations that have been working with communities across Brazil to develop digital literacies as a way of expanding social inclusion.

  • In 2020-21, with support from an ESRC-IAA grant, I collaborated with the Ubatuba-based Instituto Neos to produce the ID21 report, which provides a survey of the major challenges facing these organisations.
  • With funding from a Bristol Digital Futures Seed Corn grant and the Participatory Research Fund, we used this report as the basis for developing an online repository of educational resources to be used in constructing new community digital inclusion initiatives and policies.
‘Future calls’ by Rafael Coutinho, Cachalote Produções

What does the research project involve?

Our project aims to support those organisations looking to tackle disinformation at the level of its reception, particularly among marginalised communities. ‘Futuro Chama’ is a videogame that uses a science fiction plot to encourage young people to think critically about the spread of disinformation through social media. It was developed in collaboration with a group of digital artists led by Rafael Coutinho and members of non-profit organisations based across Brazil that contributed to the ID21 report. These include: Instituto Neos (Ubatuba); Instituto Procomum (Santos); Coletivo Digital (São Paulo); Casa de Cultura Tainã (Campinas); and Associação Thydewá (Olivença).

We developed a prototype of the game with ESRC-IAA funding and have recently received AHRC-IAA ‘Proof of Concept’ funding to complete the game’s development and carry out beta testing. We will also start looking for potential users of the game beyond Brazil. This will involve translating the game into English and approaching organisations that support creative technological approaches to the challenges of democratisation.

Who will the game’s initial users be?

The first users will be the same organisations that contributed to the ID21 report and collaborated in the development of the game. They will use ‘Futuro Chama’ during the digital literacy workshops they run to support the development of digital literacies among marginalised communities. However, we will also distribute the game more widely through the same social media networks that the game critically engages. The aim here will be to raise public awareness of the dangers of misinformation, particularly in a context of social upheaval such as the current political crisis in Brazil.

Modernisms: Decolonising art’s history

The Autumn Art Lectures are back in person!

This year marks the 117th anniversary of the Autumn Art Lecture Series. Conceived as a platform for Art and Art History in what was then University College Bristol, the series has remained a highlight in Bristol’s cultural calendar. Over the course of its lifetime, the series has explored themes ranging from the monstruous to the celestial, and hosted such luminaries as Kenneth Clarke, EH Gombrich, Toshio Watanabe, Laura Mulvey and David Olusoga. More recently, a commitment to making space for artists to discuss their own practice has added Paul Gough, Richard Long and 2022 Turner Prize shortlisted-artist Ingrid Pollard to the series’ list of prestigious alumni.

Last year we celebrated the return of the series after a pandemic-related hiatus – the second of only two interruptions in the series’ history, following a short break after the outbreak of the Second World War – with an online event. This year, we are delighted to welcome visitors back on campus to consider the possibilities and implications opened up by recasting ‘Modernisms’. What happens when we challenge the concept of Modernism as a monolithic entity? Is there just one Modern or many? What does it mean to think of Modernism on the global stage? Is there such a thing as an ‘alternative’ Modernism or is Modernism itself already inherently hybrid?

Our theme this year coincides with Bristol’s Festival of Ideas 2022, titled Modernism 1922, which looks to the legacies of that remarkable year – from the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses and T S Elliot’s The Waste Land to the famous Bauhaus exhibition in Calcutta (now Kolkata). A tribute to Kevin Jackson’s book, Constellation of Genius: 1922: Modernism and All That Jazz, the Festival explores 1922 via film screenings, discussions and new commissions.

In keeping with its spirit – but broadening its ambit – the Autumn Art Lectures will topple the notion of a Euro-American Modernism, which leaves the non-Western world out in the cold. The series will challenge the concept of Modernism as a monolithic entity – it will stress and stretch its polyvalent nature, debating its relationship to nation, diaspora, inclusivity, and race. As many institutions – from galleries and museums to universities – attempt to engage meaningfully with global visual culture, this investigation is vital and timely. Our inter-disciplinary speakers include academics, curators, artists and pedagogues who have grappled with the idea of the Modern, paying particular attention to Blackness, Asian-ness and decolonisation; to anti-colonial struggles and lasting institutional prejudices; to dismantling the hierarchies of Englishness in favour of a more inclusive ‘Britishness’; to revealing the Islamic and Afro-Asian traditions nestled at the core of the so-called ‘Western’ canon. With speakers from (or addressing) the African diaspora, the Islamic world, South Asia, Latin America, the UK and the US, the series aims to expose the polyphonies and diversities that sit at the heart of Modernism.

This event series is open to all, and we look forward to welcoming you to the University of Bristol for these engaging talks.

Events in the series:

The Centre for Black Humanities: Who we are and future directions

The Centre for Black Humanities is an international hub for Black Humanities research in the heart of Bristol. The Centre aims to foster the broad range of research currently being done at the University of Bristol around the artistic and intellectual work of people of African descent. Some of our current interdisciplinary projects include Dr Josie Gill’s research on ‘Black Health and the Humanities’, Dr Elizabeth Robles’ work on Black British Art, and Dr Justin William’s project on UK Hip-Hop. Other research projects include those relating to ethics and social justice, literary activism, and slavery and its legacies.

The Centre is committed to reaching audiences outside the traditional university through a diverse programme of film screenings, reading groups, performances, and research collaborations with local communities. Such activities enable our research to generate impact in other areas including the cultural industries and higher education policy.

Our main priorities as a Centre are: collaboration, interdisciplinarity, engagement, exchange, and internationalism. The Centre works with academics, artists and practitioners – nationally and internationally –  to produce world-leading research in Black Humanities. We work across disciplines in the Arts and Humanities but also beyond, with researchers in the Sciences and Social Sciences. Centre members also facilitate a wide range of public engagement activities based on our research in local, national and international settings, working with museums, charities and other organisations to deliver high-quality, non-academic outputs.

Additionally, we have active research partnerships with local writers, artists and grassroots organisations in Bristol. These help create high-profile opportunities for mutual exchange and collaboration on issues of local and national importance. We also have academic and creative partners in Uganda, Ghana, Senegal, Angola, Portugal, Brazil, and the US, amongst others. A list of our international board members can be found on our website.

The Centre has had a series of visiting scholars join us. In 2021, we were delighted to host Professor Nicola Aljoe. Professor Aljoe’s research is on Black Atlantic and Caribbean literature with a specialisation on the slave narrative and early novels. She described her time in Bristol:

‘Despite the ongoing COVID pandemic, my sojourn at the Centre for Black Humanities in Bristol during the fall term of 2021 was an incredibly productive and intellectually engaging experience. I conducted research in the Bristol archives on two related projects. The first was the creation of a digital map of the various locations associated with Black people in 18th – century London through the lens of Ignatius Sancho. The second project was my book manuscript on representations of women of colour from the Caribbean in fictional European texts between 1790 and 1830. Such data productively challenges notions of absence of Black people in the archives of Britain at this time, and provides more details about the complexities of their lives.’

The Centre offers exciting opportunities for our early career and postgraduate community, through cutting-edge research and dialogue with arts and community activists. This year, Adriel Miles, Alice Kinghorn and Francis Asante are coordinating a programme of events. Francis explained:

‘The Centre plans to organise a number of postgraduate research (PGR) seminars and reading groups. Two seminars are planned for the first teaching block on topics related to the exploration of racial communities in online spaces, and the relationship between race, music, and cultural politics. These events are designed to encourage a sense of community in the Centre, and to provide a space for learning and socialising. Preparations for the seminars are still ongoing, and further information about them will be shared soon.’

Dr Saima Nasar and Professor Madhu Krishnan

(Centre Co-Directors)

Talking about grief: how can we lift the taboo?

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on 10 October 2022.

On World Mental Health Day, 10 October, we connected with Dr Lesel Dawson, Associate Professor in Literature and Culture at the University of Bristol, and Arts and Culture Lead for The Good Grief Festival, to hear about her research into grief and creativity.

Throughout history, humans have created art to honour the life of someone who has died—from ancient Greek and Roman gravestones to Victorian hair locks, from Renaissance elegies to modern memorial tattoos. While forms of mourning change over time and from culture to culture, our need to express grief and have our pain recognised and witnessed persists.

However, over the last century, we have lost many of the communal and creative ways that we come together to grieve, and with them perhaps, the confidence to support bereaved people we know. Worried about saying the wrong thing, we can slip into tired clichés or avoid the subject altogether, so that people who are grieving often feel lonely, stigmatised, and isolated.

Good Grief

We set out to help change this with Good Grief: A Virtual Festival of Love and Loss, led by founder Lucy Selman (co-lead of the University of Bristol Palliative and End of Life Care Research Group) and initially funded by a grant from the Wellcome Trust. The festival brings together grief therapists, academics, palliative care doctors, comedians, artists, and musicians to have open and honest conversations about grief, death and loss, aspiring to provide a platform for bereaved people to share experiences and facilitate a shift in how we approach and understand death and grief. Integrating the arts into the festival has both helped engage audiences and highlighted the individual and varied nature of grief. Our new project, Good Grief Connects aims to further this work by collaborating with partners (Compassionate Cymru, The Ubele Initiative and Compassion in Dying) to deliver and evaluate three pilot projects that will help support diverse communities talk about death and grief and access the support they need.

My work as the Good Grief Festival’s Arts and Culture Lead has impacted my research, which explores the role of creativity and the imagination in grief. Drawing on the work of Robert Neimeyer, I explore the way bereavement shatters our ‘assumptive world’, the beliefs and assumptions that frame how we conceptualise ourselves and our futures. As part of a process called ‘adaptive grieving’, creativity can help enable us to confront the painful reality of our loved one’s death and begin to integrate the changes that follow our bereavement. When we create art, we both share our experiences with others and act as our own witness in a self-dialogue which can be illuminating and therapeutic. In this context, our imagination is both a source of suffering and a means to process what has happened.

Grief and art

Drawing from an Art Therapy Session showing red hearts and yellow and gold stars
Artwork from an Art Therapy Session with Victoria Tolchard

Creative expression can be particularly valuable for children, who sometimes struggle to express their feelings verbally and often learn and communicate through play. Children grieve as deeply as adults and need to be allowed to express their feelings and told the truth in age-appropriate language so they can be part of their family’s narrative of what has happened. Toys, paint, clay and sand can provide non-verbal forms of communication, and allow children a safe, structured space to explore difficult feelings and tell their story.

These ideas are explored in two Brigstow-funded short films which I co-produced: Children, Grief and Creativity, created with psychotherapist Julia Samuel MBE (Founder Patron of Child Bereavement UK and bestselling author) and animator Gary Andrews (creator of ‘Doodle-a-Day’ and Finding Joy), and Children, Grief and Art Therapy made with Art Therapist Victoria Tolchard and Gary Andrews.

Grief education

While the Good Grief Festival has supported more open conversations about bereavement, we need more foundational, systemic changes if we are to transform a culture that still treats grief and death as taboo. One long-overdue change is to make grief education a statutory component of the curriculum in all four countries of the UK. As charities and organisations (such as Child Bereavement UK, Childhood Bereavement Network and Winston’s Wish) and psychotherapists, psychologists, child specialists and academics have demonstrated, grief education can help destigmatise grief and death, enabling children and young people to understand bereavement and better support friends and peers who are grieving. Schools are uniquely placed to prepare children for difficult life experiences, and the charity sector has developed a wealth of lesson plans, resources and expertise which make mandatory grief education both timely and actionable.

To support this change (and the work that has already been done), Rachel Hare, Lucy Selman and I are working with Tracey Boseley (National Development Lead for the Education Sector for Child Bereavement UK) and Alison Penny (Director of Childhood Bereavement Network and Co-ordinator for National Bereavement Alliance) on a review that brings together research on the benefits of grief education, explores the most effective ways to integrate the topics into schools, and considers issues with teacher training and other obstacles. Statutory grief education would be an effective and efficient way to help school pupils talk about death, preparing them to manage their own grief and support others, and fostering the development of a more compassionate society.

More information:

Introducing the Faculty Research Centres

By Hilary Carey, Faculty Research Director

We are delighted to launch five Faculty Research Centres (FRC) for a new cycle of five years of funding at the University of Bristol. They are:

  • Black Humanities
  • Creative Technologies
  • Environmental Humanities
  • Health, Humanities and Science
  • Medieval Studies

We like to think of the FRCs as the crown jewels in the Faculty’s glittering treasure chest of activist, interdisciplinary research. The five Centres showcase arts and humanities research at the cutting edge of new knowledge, asking key questions about themes and issues critical to the city of Bristol, the people of the West of England, and the world.

Each Centre has developed a diverse programme of activity including public lectures and debates, workshops and seminars, conferences and collaborations that engage colleagues and the public beyond the University.

Here is a sneak preview of some of the many Centre activities and opportunities that we can look forward to this academic year:

  1. The Centre for Black Humanities has a postgraduate research (PGR) group planning a series of seminars, reading groups and away days.
  2. The Centre for Creative Technologies will co-design sandbox events (isolated testing environments) with civic partners – the Pervasive Media Studio and Knowle West Media Centre – to explore social applications of arts and technologies.
  3. As part of the Centre for Creative Technologies, Bristol Common Press will host a global summer school on Technologies of the Book, which will run for three weeks in summer 2023.
  4. The Centre for Environmental Humanities has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the environmental humanities ‘Greenhouse’ at the University of Stavanger, demonstrating the positive potential for partnership working.
  5. The Centre for Environmental Humanities plans to host a ‘Future of the Environmental Humanities’ workshop that will bring together researchers to think about the question of what comes next for the field of environmental humanities.
  6. The Centre for Medieval Studies (CMS) has a regular seminar series including one session on ‘What every medievalist should know…’.
  7. The Medieval Studies Global Professor, Kathleen Kennedy, has developed links with the Bristol Central Library, and is planning an ambitious exhibition of medieval manuscripts in Bristol libraries and archives.
  8. The Centre for Health, Humanities and Science plans a symposium on ‘Hoarding’, convened by Andrew Blades.
  9. The Centre for Health, Humanities and Science is planning its first collaborative book, Key Concepts in Medical Humanities (Bloomsbury Academic), to be published in 2023.
  10. Each Centre will have its own site on the Bristol Blogs platform through which they can showcase their research and activities.

There is a lot more to look forward to, so find out more about our five fantastic Faculty Research Centres.

The entrance lobby and hallway in the Faculty of Arts, with pillars, brick wall and red furniture
The Faculty of Arts. Photo by Nick Smith.

Found an untranslatable word? I bet you haven’t…

On International Translation Day, Dr Christophe Fricker, Programme Director of our master’s degree in Translation here at Bristol, reflects on the nuances of language and how the art of translation relies on understanding your audience.

Headshot of Dr Christophe Fricker. Christophe is wearing a blue-and-white-checked shirt, a v-neck jumper and glasses, and is smiling at the camera.It’s International Translation Day, and I’m a translator. When I tell people, they pause and then they look at me triumphantly, saying that, surely, this particular foreign word they know could not possibly be translated into English. In a way, they’re right, but in practical terms, they’re not. Here’s why.

Take Energiewende, the German term for the political process facilitating the transition towards a zero-carbon economy. And now look back at the previous sentence. What you see is a German term and an English translation. There are three things to say about that translation, all of which are characteristic of what we do as translators – and what you do in your everyday life:

First, the translation serves a particular purpose and a particular audience – you! This is true of literally every translation ever produced. No translation is produced in the void. It is commissioned by someone, carried out by someone, and addressed and perceived by someone with specific interests and skills. The translation reflects and addresses them. This is not a weakness. In fact, it’s the unique strength of translation that it can – and will inevitably – be calibrated to meet a particular need. Yes, that means there will be a need for a new translation at some point, but that is true for the original utterance as well. There are no final words, in any language.

Secondly, my translation of Energiewende is different in length compared to the original. It would be quite unrealistic to expect otherwise. Different languages form their words and their sentences in different ways. A text you translate from English into German will end up being 10% longer in terms of characters but 10% shorter in terms of its word count. I am saying this because translators translate texts, not words. I have worked in this profession for a decade and a half and I have never been asked to translate a word. My clients come to me because they want an advertising slogan or a travel essay or a children’s book translated. When they are looking for a word in another language, they will turn to a dictionary rather than a translator.

What all of this tells us, thirdly and inevitably, is that no two statements map neatly onto each other, between any two languages. The beautiful thing is this, though: the same is also true for any two statements in the same language, and even the same statement in the same language uttered by different people or in different situations. When you say the words ‘I love you’ to your partner, they mean something different from when you say them to your son. When, in response, your partner asks: ‘Where have you been?’, the potential for misunderstanding may be so big that you wish a translator were at hand. Translation is not something that only happens between different languages; wherever we understand each other, we deliver a successful translation.

I get a sense, here, that you are intrigued but perhaps not entirely convinced. Let me give you a little homework – I am a teacher, after all. Imagine you live in an apartment block with people who speak lots of different languages, but the fire safety information sheet is only available in French. You are asked to translate it into English. What would be your first priority? That everybody who walks past appreciates the original French via your translation, or that they know where to go when their pants are on fire? I doubt they have time to worry about untranslatable French words at that point.

Debates about untranslatable words are fireside chat (for which there is definitely a place!). In the meantime, translators like so many of my wonderful colleagues make sure people are safe around the world, and today is the day we celebrate them!

Credit: iStock SDenisov

The MA Translation programme at Bristol combines language-specific practice with training in translation theory and translation technologies. To find out more about this online programme, go to the MA Translation web page or come and see us at one of our Postgraduate visits and open days.

Graduate research opportunities in the Faculty of Arts

The University of Bristol is home to a vibrant and thriving community of more than 3,000 postgraduate researchers from all over the world, with around 400 in the Faculty of Arts. Whether working towards a PhD or studying for a master’s degree – taught or by research – students in the Faculty of Arts can benefit from world-class academic and professional training and cross-disciplinary collaborations. 

Let’s take a look at just a few of the many opportunities available to our postgraduate students within the Faculty. 

Research and collaboration opportunities 

The Faculty of Arts hosts several Faculty Research Centres which act as hubs for innovative, cross-disciplinary research. Our postgraduate research students are encouraged to join a Centre, enabling them to build strong networks and engage in collaborative research with colleagues from across the University and beyond. With each Research Centre working in partnership with international institutions, Bristol’s Faculty of Arts has a truly global reach and presents unique networking opportunities.  

One recent example stems from the Centre for Medieval Studies. Academics from the Centre were awarded a €2.4 million EU Horizon grant to train a new generation of medievalists from across Europe in the history of the early book. Most of the funding will go towards financing postgraduate research studentships, including two at Bristol. Co-Directors of the Centre Professor Ad Putter and Professor Marianne Ailes said: “Importantly, we will train a cohort of young researchers who will, from the beginning of their research careers, see international collaboration as integral to how they work.” 

Research placements 

Industrial placements will form the cornerstone of the research studentships mentioned above, enabling the Faculty’s strong research partnerships with a variety of organisations and institutions to enhance the student learning experience. Professor Putter and Professor Ailes said: “The placements give students the transferable skills to succeed outside academia and, for those who remain in university research, will provide skills in public engagement and impact which will stand them in good stead.” 

A further example can be seen on one of our popular MA courses. Past and current placement partners on our MA Medieval Studies course include the Churches Conservation Trust, Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Bristol Archives, and Bristol University’s own Arts and Social Sciences Library Special Collections. The latest addition to the impressive list of over a dozen placement partners is Magdalen College Library and Archives, Oxford 

These research placements have proven invaluable to both students and partners from the cultural heritage sector, as Director of the MA Medieval Studies programme and its Placement unit, Dr Ben Pohl, explains: “Our students regularly highlight the transformative effect that these placements have had on their future career plans, and just how well prepared they felt for a career in the cultural heritage sector as a result of this bespoke experience. Our partners, in turn, have been full of praise about the students they have hosted and the innovative ways in which their work has helped them connect with audiences both within academia and amongst the general public.”  

Indeed, several of our students have found employment in the cultural heritage sector upon graduation, some even at the very institutions at which they undertook their placements during their degree. 

13th-century deed from Kingswood Abbey, Gloucestershire showing ornate script.
13th-century deed from Kingswood Abbey, Gloucestershire. Credit: University of Bristol Special Collections

Postgraduate Research Summer Internships 

Postgraduate Research (PGR) students within the Faculty of Arts are eligible to undertake a PGR Summer Internship, a scheme designed to enable supervisors and postgraduate research students to work together on a project to achieve common goals. The six-week internships provide an opportunity for focused research on collaborative projects, which this year ranged from authoring a historical research article on Anglican slave missions to developing a website for a British Academy Knowledge Frontiers Project that explores energy access and resilience among forest peoples of Brazilian Amazonia. PGR interns receive mentoring and guidance throughout their internship. This year’s cohort attended a welcome session led by the Faculty’s Research Impact and Knowledge Exchange Manager, Dr Hannah Pearce, which encouraged interns to use the experience to develop their skills, consider their strengths and identify opportunities for reflection.  

Alice Kinghorn, a third-year PhD History student, undertook a PGR internship in summer 2021, and found it to be a rewarding experience: “My internship involved recording interviews with staff and students about current research in the Faculty for our YouTube playlist. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as not only did it allow me to practice valuable communication skills, I also learnt how to edit videos and use graphic-creation software. I undertook a second internship in summer 2022, where I had the opportunity to apply these skills to create a ‘Day in the Life of a PhD Student’ video. The internship scheme has been a fantastic addition to my studies.” 

Keep checking back for more Arts-related content, including our upcoming blog series all about the PGR Summer Internships.  

Find out more about postgraduate study within the Faculty of Arts 

Learn about PhD Scholarships in the Faculty of Arts  

Discover research in the Faculty of Arts