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 sarah.street@bristol.ac.uk.

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 (ulrika.maude@bristol.ac.uk). 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 artf-cct@bristol.ac.uk.


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 paul.merchant@bristol.ac.uk and adrian.howkins@bristol.ac.uk. 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 stephen.mawdsley@bristol.ac.uk and sam.hitchmough@bristol.ac.uk.


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 grp-ems-internal@groups.bristol.ac.uk.


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 (mark.hailwood@bristol.ac.uk) and Pam Lock (pam.lock@bristol.ac.uk). 


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 c.g.orawe@bristol.ac.uk and m.gaggiotti@bristol.ac.uk


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: https://bristoldigitalgamelab.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/how-to-get-involved/.

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 fiona.feane@bristol.ac.uk. To find out more about Bristol Common Press, please visit https://bristolcommonpress.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/.

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 https://representingevolution.xyz, or contact Samir directly at samir.okasha@bristol.ac.uk.

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 (cw1658@bristol.ac.uk). 

Reel Change: Using Historical Film to Inform Gender Activism in Ghana

By Professor Kate Skinner, Professor of African History, School of Humanities

Professor Kate Skinner tells us about a collaborative project which uses historical film to challenge misrepresentation of gender activism in Ghana. Given the under-representation of Ghanaian women in national and local politics, this research is an important intervention. Kate and her collaborators recently received an AHRC Impact Acceleration Account award, which they are using to demonstrate the positive influence of humanities research on democratic participation.

The Background

Under the 1992 constitution, Ghana has become a ‘consolidated democracy’ (meaning that there have been multiple peaceful handovers of power resulting from free and fair elections). Civil society organisations have flourished, and since 2004 a broad-based non-partisan Women’s Manifesto Coalition has set out the steps that governments should have been taking towards gender-equitable development. Yet women’s democratic participation is still severely constrained.

Fewer than 20% of Ghana’s parliamentarians are women. In local government, fewer than 10% of district assembly members are women. Three key pieces of legislation that were promised by successive governments in their periodic reports to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) have been stalled. How can historical research help us to explain and close the gap between the vibrancy of non-governmental organisations of women in Ghana, and the persistent under-representation of women in elected national and local government?

The research

Between 2018 and 2022, Prof Kate Skinner and Prof Akosua Adomako Ampofo co-led a British Academy-funded project titled An Archive of Activism: gender and public history in postcolonial Ghana, to which they recruited a postdoctoral researcher, Dr Jovia Salifu. The archival and oral history research that they carried out showed how negative and delegitimising misrepresentations of gender activism have constrained women’s participation in public life in particular ways. Gender activism has been repeatedly depicted as a recent ‘foreign import’ to Ghana, meaning that when women organise collectively to raise difficult issues, they can be dismissed as ‘westernised’, elitist, or out-of-touch with the supposed mass of ‘typical’ Ghanaian women.

When Women Speak (2022). Directed by Aseye Tamakloe. Produced by Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Kate Skinner. Funded by the British Academy’s Sustainable Development Programme.

In order to challenge the myth that gender activism is a recent ‘foreign import’, the project generated a documentary film, When Women Speak, which revealed the long and rich history of women’s mobilisations in Ghana. Directed by Aseye Tamakloe, and shot entirely in Ghana by a Ghanaian crew, this film was screened at multiple international film festivals. It is now available free-to-view at https://whenwomenspeakfilm.com/.

Impact of the film

Initial screenings of the film in Ghana suggested many ways in which it could be utilised, both in university and senior-secondary school settings, and by people working outside of the formal education sector. Through a collaboration with Dr Rose Mensah-Kutin – Executive Director of Abantu-for-Development, one of Ghana’s leading women’s organisations – the project team were able to further explore potential uses of the film among three particular groups:

  • District assemblywomen – who contest elections at the local government level and play key roles in local development.
  • Journalists – who play a key role in enhancing public understanding of gender issues.
  • Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection (MoGCSP) – which has a broad policy oversight, presents draft bills for cabinet approval, and runs a range of sensitisation programmes.

District assemblywomen and aspiring candidates gathered at the August 2023 workshop

In August 2023, funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Impact Acceleration Account enabled workshops to be held with representatives of these three groups. With the help of expert facilitators, we identified pertinent themes which could be excerpted from the film, and ways of integrating these excepts with discussion questions and additional materials, in short and flexible training packages. We also identified the specific settings in which these training packages might be used, and potential obstacles – for example, the relatively high cost of mobile data packages relative to average incomes, and constraints on organisations’ internal resources for continuing professional development and public sensitisation programmes.

Professor Kate Skinner (centre) talks with Dr Sika Jacobs-Quarshie (right) and Dr Rose Mensah-Kutin (left)

Evaluations

In their evaluations of the workshop, district assemblywomen and aspiring candidates highlighted the well-documented issues of verbal abuse and unpleasant gossip that risk deterring women in election campaigns and undermining them once they are elected. Participants commented that seeing the struggles and achievements of earlier generations of Ghanaian women in the film was important for the motivation and confidence of candidates and serving assemblywomen:

  • ‘It will be an everyday reminder to them [women candidates] that the road is rough but determination will take them there.’
  • ‘It will build their capacity to know how far they can go if they want to become leaders.’
  • ‘…it gives you courageousness to move ahead and not feel intimidated.’

Reflecting on the workshop, a journalist participant observed that training packages based on the film would be ‘a valuable addition to existing training programmes for media professionals. They can help raise awareness about gender stereotypes, promote inclusivity, and encourage more accurate and diverse representation in media.’

 

Next steps

The Public Affairs officer of the Ghana Journalists’ Association concluded: ‘The story about women’s rights in Ghana must continue to be told. Generations down the line ought to understand where it all started, how it’s going and the way forward.’

The training packages are now in development. Watch this space!

Professor Kate Skinner is Professor of African History and Research Director for the School of Humanities. To find out more about Kate’s research, the When Women Speak film, and the training packages in development, please email kate.skinner@bristol.ac.uk.

Art and the City: Bristol at 650 – Autumn Art Lectures 2023

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

The Autumn Art Lectures are here again and this year we are on the move!

2023 marks the 118th 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 to mark the centenary of modernism’s annus mirabilis, the series sought to challenge the concept of modernism as a monolithic entity. By paying particular attention to Blackness, Asian-ness, difference, and decolonisation, the series toppled the notion of a Euro-American Modernism which leaves the non-Western world out in the cold. Talks by Professor Simon Shaw-Miller, Professor Kenneth David Jackson, Jane Alison and Hammad Nasar from the 2022 series are available to listen back to on the University of Bristol’s SoundCloud.

Our theme this year coincides with Bristol 650, the year-long celebration that marks the anniversary of the 1373 royal charter, and will focus on some of the historical, cultural and conceptual spaces of Bristol. AAL2023 will be an opportunity not just to talk about Bristol and its (in)visible histories, but also to step into the city itself. Events will be hosted in venues that span Bristol – from the Cathedral at its heart on College Green, to Spike Island in the midst of the river that defines the city’s cosmopolitan past and present. Our speakers include curators, artists, and academics, who together will take us on a journey through both familiar and unfamiliar aspects of the city’s history, including its place in the wider world.

The 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:

Women, Walking and Performance

By Dr Eleanor Rycroft, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Theatre, School of Arts

Dr Eleanor Rycroft tells us about her project which explored attitudes to women walking, from the Renaissance period to the present day. The workshops piloted during the project aimed to collect women’s contemporary experiences of walking, especially by night. The project recently received an AHRC Impact Acceleration Account award and is yet another example of how arts and humanities research can address societal challenges.  

‘Women, Walking and Performance’ was an Impact Acceleration project which explores gender and pedestrianism using theatre methodologies. The project was based on my historical research into walking and performance, particularly my insight that a fundamental shift occurs during the early modern period (c.1500-1700), at which point discourses of walking begin to exclude certain groups and individuals from the activity. The importance of this argument concerns the ongoing reverberation of these exclusions, especially how inequalities of class, race and gender of walking in the past continue to inform the unequal distribution of the health and social benefits of walking today. Given that walking is a free and effective form of both transport and exercise – theoretically accessible to all able-bodied individuals – it is important to discover the historical roots of attitudes which mean that not all individuals feel free to walk.

 

This seems most particularly to be the case with women: the growing social and sexual control of women during the Renaissance continues to impact women walkers today. The tragic deaths of Sarah Everard, Zara Aleena, Sabina Nessa and Ashling Murphy are just the most recent in a long line of women who have been murdered whilst going onfoot. 

Alongside Co-Investigator, Dr. Jess McCormack, we hope to explore these gender inequalities through a verbatim play as an element of a larger research bid. This play will tell the walking stories of women, to be staged or read in educational settings and beyond. The IAA funding enabled us to pilot a workshop format for collecting these stories. Facilitated by Breathing Fire theatre company, we used playback theatre techniques to test the practical and ethical scope for collating the experiences of walking women. Playback theatre encourages people to share their life stories which are then ‘played back’ to them via theatrical means. These workshops provided a safe space for the women to speak back against the prohibitions placed upon their movement through the world. By using playback theatre we honoured and affirmed women’s experiences of walking, as well as identified and investigated the barriers which preclude women from walking feely today. 


“The IAA funding has provided an invaluable means to collect women’s stories together, with the aim of helping to spread this message”


The first workshop was produced as part of International Women’s Day in March 2023. Many of the stories which emerged concerned walking at night, and what was most telling from the IWD workshop was the common set of experiences that solo women walkers shared. Women spoke of insisting their daughters get taxis, forking out for taxis themselves, walking with keys between their fingers, adjusting their routes around men on the street, re-tracing known journeys, searching for exits and escape routes, as well as a number of other modifications they made to their behaviour simply to get from A to B.  

Women spoke of feeling ‘on edge’ when walking at night, and spoke of feeling angry about the sexual attacks that women (primarily) suffer. They spoke of changing their gait: “I have a night walk” said one. Many women do, and given that victims have been shown to be selected on the basis of how they walk, this is not a frivolous idea (Book et al 2013, Gunns et al 2002). The reality of (primarily) mens’ attacks on women excludes half the population from a whole realm of sensory and physical experience. As one participant lyrically put it, “As a girl on a moonlit night with fireflies, I loved walking with my mother and sister and seeing Jupiter.” As a woman she felt unable to enjoy such freedom. Another said, “I like the idea of walking in the dark in theory. If there were no men on the planet.” Another added, I feel that we are owed much more safety at night.” 

Our research suggests that one way to tackle this societal issue is through education. One participant spoke about how angry she got with men walking behind her at night, saying that they “should KNOW not to do that.” But do boys and men know not to do that? And how can that message and knowledge be effectively communicated if not? The IAA funding has provided an invaluable means to collect women’s stories together, with the aim of helping to spread this message. My co-researchers and I believe that a verbatim play weaving together women’s common experiences across time will show the extent to which they have had to alter their behaviours because of the threat that some men pose to walking womenand will encourage both knowledge transmission and discussion about how boys and men can help other genders in their quest to feel safe when they walk.  

Dr Eleanor Rycroft is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Theatre and is involved in the Early Modern Studies Research Group, which consists of scholars from the Arts, Humanities and Modern Languages, active in the Renaissance and early modern periods. To find out more about Eleanor’s research, please email e.rycroft@bristol.ac.uk 

Publishing Success for Creative Writing PhD Student Ash Bond – Peregrine Quinn

By Ash Bond, PhD Creative Writing student, School of Humanities

As the first proofs of her debut novel arrive in bookshops, PhD Creative Writing student Ash Bond introduces us to the wonderful world of Peregrine Quinn and explains how her time at Bristol has influenced her writing.

My debut novel Peregrine Quinn and the Cosmic Realm is the first in a fantasy series, aimed at – primarily – an audience of nine to twelve-year-olds, what those in the publishing sphere refer to as ‘Middle Grade’. Middle Grade is where you will find The Chronicles of Narnia, Artemis Fowl, and Percy Jackson. It is also where you used to find Harry Potter, but now of course he gets his very own section (with matching rucksacks and light-up pens).

 

The idea that a magical world is just a wardrobe or a train platform away is commonplace on these shelves. In Middle Grade books if you say the right spells, tap the right rock, or mess with the wrong fairy, you could end up – quite literally – anywhere. In Peregrine Quinn, the entrance to the Cosmic Realm lies behind a bookshelf in a library (I am a writer with a vivid imagination, but I am also an academic and, as the adage goes, write what you know). It is in one of these libraries where the first book begins, with Peregrine and her godfather Daedalus breaking into Portal Number Nine in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

One of my greatest joys in writing fantasy books for children is in framing these opportunities for the reader to look at this world, a world that can often appear so devoid of wonder, with renewed curiosity. Is that person on the Tube looking at a map of the London Underground, or the Under-Underground? Check next time, you just never know.


“The weaving of myth and imagination, of research and creativity, is a skill that the Creative Writing PhD at Bristol offers much practice in”


As I transition into the second year of my PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Bristol, I am also moving onto write the second in the Peregrine series. In this second book, the library door is opened wider, and the reader is invited further into the Cosmic Realm. As the world expands, I find myself drawing more and more upon the mythology that forms the basis of much of Peregrine’s universe, a universe that is at once both familiar, and deeply strange. Hekate for example, the classical goddess of witchcraft, in Peregrine’s world runs HekTek Laboratories and specialises in poisons. Daedalus, the architect who designed Minos’s famous labyrinth, in this novel has designed the portal system that connects the Terran Realm (Earth) with that of the Cosmic Realm (Olympus).

The weaving of myth and imagination, of research and creativity, is a skill that the Creative Writing PhD at Bristol offers much practice in. The Creative Writing PhD itself is made up of two strands: one creative and one critical, and is designed so that both strands complement and elevate each other. Like all PhD students, I am lucky enough to have two supervisors; one in Creative Writing, Dr Joanna Nadin, and one in Myth, Dr Vanda Zajko. Both of my supervisors are incredibly generous with their support and rigorous in their feedback, offering me the opportunity to grow as both a writer and as an academic.

The second book is only half written, and with at least one more book to write in this series I am beyond grateful for the consistent opportunities for inspiration – mythological and otherwise – that are offered by the dynamic, interdisciplinary academic environment provided by the university. And while I am very much at the beginning of both my PhD and my publication journey, I look forward to working with Bristol University as Peregrine’s adventure continues.

Ash Bond is a PhD Creative Writing student who recently secured a three-book deal with Piccadilly Press to bring her Peregrine Quinn series to life. The first book, Peregrine Quinn and the Cosmic Realm, will be published in April 2024 by Piccadilly Press which you can pre-order now. To find out more about Ash’s research, please email xn22400@bristol.ac.uk.

Place and Space in the Early Modern World Workshop, 10 May 2023 – Early Modern Studies Research Group

By Dr Sebastiaan Verweij, Senior Lecturer in Late Medieval and Early Modern Literature, and Amy Smith, PhD History candidate

To continue our Faculty Research Centre and Group catch-ups, Dr Sebastiaan Verweij and PhD History candidate Amy Smith tell us about the highly innovative and interdisciplinary May workshop put on by the Early Modern Studies research group.

On 10 May, the Early Modern Studies (EMS) research group ran a workshop: ‘Place and Space in the Early Modern World’. Place and Space studies, including attention to landscape and environment, cuts through the research activities of EMS members in many different disciplines (including English, History, History of Art, Modern Languages, Theatre, Philosophy, Archaeology), and the workshop was organised as a way to share research methods, materials, and findings. Among our c. 40 delegates were also five colleagues from the Universities of Exeter and Cardiff, in part because EMS is keen to develop research collaboration with members of GW4, a research alliance group made up of the universities of Bristol, Bath, Cardiff and Exeter. We were also joined by PhD students in the Faculty currently on the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWWDTP) scholarships (with thanks for some additional funding from SWWDTP!).

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

Most of the workshop took the form of five-minute flashpapers, delivered by 17 colleagues in short panels. For any academic researcher to stop talking at the five-minute mark is no easy feat. However, all speakers deliver punchy, thought-provoking, and cutting-edge papers on diverse topics that felt nonetheless connected and in immediate conversation with others on the day. Topics included sea board spaces, Arthurian landscapes, castle gardens as women’s spaces, portable places and soil in cemeteries, British cathedral precincts, recreating the perambulation of Bristol’s city boundaries, flood lands, Italian urban space, dramatic space in the early modern theatre, the spaces of city comedy, urban space in Manilla, the philosophical precepts of space in time from Aristotle to Newton, the space of tragedy, and what urban planners refer to as ‘Space Left Over After Planning’. The day was concluded with an interdisciplinary and wide-ranging keynote address by Professor Nicola Whyte, a social and landscape historian at Exeter, on ‘Sacred landscapes and the subterranean imagination’, which took in Renaissance Italian painting, contemporary art, the seventeenth-century travel journals of Celia Fiennes, and heritage studies, as a way to understand premodern and contemporary response and approach to the landscapes that lie beneath our feet.

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The workshop left us feeling like there was a great deal more to discuss, and so EMS has resolved to work out a way in which conversations can continue: perhaps in the form of future meetings, and through exploration of funding opportunities such as those offered by GW4, in order to organise more ambitious events (conferences, symposia, or collaborations beyond the university) 

The PGR perspective by Amy Smith, PhD History candidate

PGR students (postgraduate research students) often chat about how ‘at home’ we feel in the School of Humanities. Whether weve been kicking around Bristol for years or only just joined, we all feel welcome at higher level academic events across the department. The Place and Space workshop on May 10th was no different. With so many stimulating topics, we joined in lively Q&A sessions and indulged in the sacred landscapes explored in Nicola Whyte’s keynote. 

It was especially inspiring to see recently graduated doctoral students speaking alongside academics with a long publishing record. With several of us in the latter stages of our doctorates, it was a comforting glimpse into a potential future. Next time, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a number of PGR faces on the panels as we start to develop our scholarly profiles within the University and beyond. 

The workshop was made possible by Faculty of Arts research group core funding, some additional funds from the Faculty, and a travel subvention for SWWDTP students.  

The Early Modern Studies Research Group aspires to generate a sense of community for scholars from across the faculty (and beyond) who work on some aspect of the period from c.1400 to c.1800. To find out more about the Group’s activities, research and to join the mailing list, please contact s.verweij@bristol.ac.uk or richard.stone@bristol.ac.uk.