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/.

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.

New Directions in Black Humanities Conference, 18 April 2023 – Centre for Black Humanities

By Dr Saima Nasar, Senior Lecturer in the History of Africa and its Diasporas, School of Humanities

With the advent of a new academic year fast approaching, we caught up with some of our Faculty Research Centres and Groups to see what they got up to last term. Here, Dr Saima Nasar tells us about the Centre for Black Humanities’s highly successful April conference.

The aim of this conference was to bring together researchers to reflect on ‘New Directions in the Black Humanities. It sought to showcase the exciting research that is being carried out by a dynamic, interdisciplinary group of early career researchers. In doing so, one of the key ambitions of the conference was to support community building. 

This was an in-person conference, hosted at the University of Bristol by the Centre for Black Humanities. Thanks to generous funding from The Social History Society’s BME Small Grants Scheme and the University of Bristol’s Faculty of Arts Fund, we were able to offer travel bursaries for our conference delegates who joined us from Royal Holloway, the University of Oxford, the University of West London, the University of Bristol, QMUL, the University of Birmingham, SOAS, and the University of Leicester.  

Dr Amber Lascelles opens the conference with reflections on Black Humanities

We began the conference with an introductory talk by Dr Amber Lascelles (RHUL), who reflected on how it might be possible to create a critical mass of Black Humanities scholars in Britain. Lascelles posed the questions: how do we work with and expand the often US-centric scholarship in Black Studies? And how do we network and build, both as practice and method? In so doing, Lascelles stressed the need for community building and mentorship.  

Our first panel on ‘Literatures’ started with University of Bristol MA Black Humanities student, Kennedy Marie Crowder. Crowder’s paper (‘Fabulation, Physics and Racial Horror: The Non-local Unreality of Black Literature’) probed what ‘reality’ to a Black person is. She explored how speculative fiction by Black authors represents racialised geographies. Her paper was followed by Andrea Bullard (doctoral researcher, University of Bristol) who presented on romance representation in media and Black historical fiction. The panel concluded with Tony Jackson’s (MA Black Humanities, University of Bristol) paper on ‘The Thin Line Between Love and Obsession’. 

MA Black Humanities student, Kennedy Marie Crowder, delivers her paper

PhD Creative Writing candidate, Andrea Bullard, presents her paper

Our second panel was on the theme ‘Black Lives and Activism’. Sascha-DaCosta Hinds (doctoral researcher, University of Oxford) chaired the session. Wasuk Godwin Sule-Pearce (doctoral researcher, University of West London) started the panel with a comparative study of ‘quadruple consciousness’. Sule-Pearce examined the transatlantic experiences of Black LGBTQ+ students in Higher Education institutes in the UK, US and South Africa. Caine Tayo-Lewin Turner (doctoral researcher, University of Oxford) followed with an illuminating paper on Black anarchism and theanarcho turn’ of Black British protest and thought. He argued that the Black rebellions of the 1980s was the logical conclusion of over a decade of dissident norms established by Black radicals. Dr Melsia Tomlin-Kräftner (Lecturer in Qualitative Research, University of Bristol) then presented her research on migrations of British colonial Caribbean people.  

The first afternoon session focused on ‘African Studies’. We had four brilliant papers by Celine Henry (doctoral researcher, University of Birmingham), Henry Brefo (doctoral researcher, University of Birmingham), Danny Thompson (doctoral researcher, University of Chichester) and Helina Shebeshe (doctoral researcher, SOAS). The papers covered histories of Asantehene Prempeh I, educational scholarships and development bureaucracy in Ghana, and Ethiopian migrants in the United Kingdom and their understanding and experiences of belonging. The panel was chaired by Dr Saima Nasar (Senior Lecturer in the History of Africa and its Diasporas, University of Bristol).  

Celine Henry-Agyemang, University of Birmingham, delivers her paper

Our final panel on ‘Fashioning Selves’ was chaired by Ross Goodman-Brown (doctoral researcher, University of Bristol). The panellists included: Natasha Henry (doctoral researcher, University of Leicester), Claudia Jones (MA Black Humanities student, University of Bristol) and Olivia Wyatt (doctoral researcher, QMUL). Each paper examined race and racialisation. Wyatt, for instance, interrogated the ambivalent attitudes towards Black mixed-heritage children between the 1920s and the early 1950s.  

Olivia Wyatt, Queen Mary University of London, presents her paper

We were hugely honoured to then be joined by our keynote speaker: author, feminist and academic researcher, Lola Olufemi. Olufemi’s paper ‘Only the Promise of Liberation’ examined the purpose, utility and function of the imagination in the work of anti-racist and feminist grassroots political mobilisations in the UK 

Feedback from the day was overwhelmingly positive: 

‘New Directions brought together some of the most talented emerging scholars working in Black Humanities in Britain. I thought the quality of the research on offer and the generosity of the questions and discussion made for a very warm and supportive environment. For some it was their first time giving a paper in person, and many shared with me that the collegiality in the room made this a much less daunting experience. The event made me excited and hopeful for the future of Black Humanities.’ Dr Amber Lascelles (RHUL).  

The conference was a fantastic opportunity to bring together different voices — from around the world — working within the field of Black humanities. Not only did it provide us with refreshingly alternative concepts and methodologies, the conference also functioned as a safe space for upcoming researchers from ethnically-marginalised backgrounds navigating workplaces that are overwhelmingly White. The love, care and support that emerged within these sessions fill me with hope and excitement for the future of Black humanities in Britain.Olivia Wyatt (QMUL).

Olivia Wyatt, Wasuk Godwin Sule-Pearce, Caine Tayo-Lewin Turner, and Sascha DaCosta-Hinds in discussion

New Directions provided an encouraging and welcoming space, bringing together a diverse set of researchers united by the concern for the future of black studies. The range of focus and disciplinary methods (without the pretence of uniform expertise) made participation both rewarding and generative. Distinct ideological undercurrents did not serve to divide but rather inform a dialogue on the political dimensions of black humanities as a discourse; I gained clarity on my position as well as the field in general. I look forward to the Centre’s future events and conferences.Caine Tayo Lewin-Turner (University of Oxford).  

I thoroughly enjoyed New Directionsin Black Humanities at Bristol. As an Africanist it is often difficult to see how my work falls into conversations on black humanities, however the breadth of research made me feel at ease while at the programme. I heard many amazing discussions as well as questions and contributions which I will be exploring in my methodology for my own research. The key thing I am taking away from the programme is the rich network of researchers that I met and hope to keep in touch with throughout my research career. I hope this programme is organised again next year. Celine Henry (University of Birmingham)  

Many thanks to everyone who participated in and supported the conference!  

The Centre for Black Humanities is an international interdisciplinary hub for Black Humanities research in the heart of Bristol. To find out more about the Centre’s activities, research and to join the mailing list, please contact cbh-publicity@bristol.ac.uk. You can also stay up to date through the Centre’s Twitter account.

How a PGR Internship Prepared Me for Publishing a Co-Authored Article

By Alice Kinghorn, PhD History candidate, School of Humanities

As PhD History candidate Alice Kinghorn’s co-authored article with Professor Hilary Carey appears in the latest edition of the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, we caught up with Alice to find out how her experience as a postgraduate research (PGR) intern prepared her for publishing in an academic journal.

I undertook a PGR internship under the supervision of Professor Hilary Carey in June/July 2022. We worked together over the course of five weeks to co-author an article on the slave-owning missionary, James Curtin. Curtin is a figure that incorporated both of our scholarly interests, as a Catholic convert who travelled to Antigua as a Protestant missionary in the early nineteenth century. 

After creating an initial plan together, we each set off on our own research tasks. I visited LambethPalace Archives, where I had the opportunity to carry out investigative research that has been restricted during the period of the pandemic. Following our individual research, we shared notes and drew up a plan. Using a shared document and with regular meetings, we took to writing up the article.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the biggest challenges during my internship has been to keep a narrow enough focus when researching and writing collaboratively. Our individual research disclosed many interesting accounts, and our initial draft ending up being over twice the journal’s word limit. Consequently, the editing process was challenging. Nonetheless, after lengthy edits, I believe I have improved my ability to write clearly and concisely for an academic audience. Together we co-wrote and co-edited the article, and submitted for publication to the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, which the article on James Curtin features in. 

The opportunity to write a jointly authored article with Professor Carey has supported me immensely as a postgraduate researcher. I have gained valuable experience in the academic publication process, including selecting an appropriate journal and writing a concise piece that whilst related to my thesis, is separate to my main research. I feel more confident going into the publication process in the future following this internship, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to explore this with the support of my supervisor.This internship engendered success through its published research output, which is my first published article in an academic journal.

 

Alice Kinghorn is a PhD History candidate with research interests in Anglican missionary societies and transatlantic slavery. Alice’s co-authored article, ‘The History of James Curtin: Catholic Priest, Protestant Missionary, and Pariah of British Proslavery, 1765-1845’, can be read in the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, vol. 24, no.2, Summer 2023.

Introducing the ‘Remaking Britain’ project in South Asian Heritage Month

By Professor Sumita Mukherjee, Dr Florian Stadtler, Dr Aleena Din, Dr Rehana Ahmed and Dr Maya Parmar

We’re excited to launch the new project Remaking Britain: South Asian Connections and Networks, 1830s to the present. Remaking Britain is an AHRC-funded research project led by the University of Bristol (Sumita Mukherjee, PI and Florian Stadtler, Co-I) and Queen Mary University of London (Rehana Ahmed, Co-I) in partnership with the British Library. Aleena Din (Bristol) and Maya Parmar (QMUL) are researchers on the project. 

Remaking Britain will reveal the significance of South Asian people and communities as agents of change to Britain’s cultural, economic, political and social life from the period of empire in the 1830s to the present. Through the exploration of archival records and the capturing of oral histories, the project will produce a free, interactive and widely accessible digital resource with accompanying learning materials and oral history interviews, designed for researchers of all types from academics to community and family historians, to interested members of the public.  

We are working closely with the Bristol Research IT team, led by Tessa Alexander, with Mike Jones, as well as user experience consultant Stu Church and web designer Tom Waterhouse. This resource, with roughly 750 entries, will be launched in the summer of 2025. 

To mark South Asian Heritage Month, which takes place between 18th July-17th August, we have spotlighted five individuals, events and organisations which will feature in our digital resource.  

Atiya Fyzee (1877-1967), author, social reformer and arts patron

Image of Atiya Fyzee wearing a head-covering light-colored veil with a pearl ornament, and an embroidered/jeweled bodice.
Atiya Fyzee. Source: Basanta Koomar Roy, “Picturesque India”, The Mentor vol. 9 (May 1, 1921).

As a youth, Atiya was involved in women’s organisations and made contributions to reformist journals for Muslim women, including Tahzib un-niswan (Lahore) and Khatun (Aligarh). She was sent to London by her parents for an education and undertook a teaching qualification at Maria Grey Training College. While in London, Atiya wrote a travel diary which documented her networks and connections in Britain. This was later published as Zamanai-tahsil (A Time of Education) in 1921.  

During her short time in Britain, she became part of influential social networks, travelled across Europe and made significant cultural contributions through her groundbreaking observations of life as a Muslim woman in early 20th century Britain.  

 

Amrit Kaur (1889-1964), activist and politician

Image of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, from a 1936 issue of ''The Indian Listener''. Amrit has her head covered with a shawl and is sat down looking towards the camera.
Amrit Kaur. Source: “Rajkumari Amrit Kaur”, The Indian Listener (November 7, 1936): 1096.

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was a leading member of the Indian suffrage movement in the 1920s and 1930s, visiting London numerous times to campaign for Indian women’s rights, and went on to become Independent India’s first female cabinet minister.

Amrit Kaur was the first Indian to study at Sherborne School for Girls in Dorset. She joined the school in 1902, following the coronation of Edward VII, and left in 1906 as Head Girl and Captain of Games. Amrit Kaur also served as one of Mahatma Gandhi’s private secretaries for 16 years and was an active member of the non-cooperation movement. In 1950, her suffrage campaigning saw success as the new constitution of India enfranchised all adult men and women over the age of 21. 

 

 

Chuni Lal Katial (1898-1978), doctor and politician 

Chuni Lal Katial graduated with a degree in medicine from Lahore University, and then continued his studies in Liverpool in public health and tropical medicine in 1927. After moving to London, he initially worked as a doctor in Canning Town, and later set up a surgery in Finsbury, attending mainly to working class communities. He was elected as a councillor for the Labour Party in 1934, and in 1938 he became the first South Asian mayor in the UK. He was a driving force as Chairman of the Public Health Committee in the setting up of the pioneering Finsbury Health Centre, which offered a range of health facilities all in one location, including a tuberculosis clinic, dentist and women’s clinic. During the Second World War, Katial was a civil defence medical officer. 

Katial was also heavily involved with the campaigning pressure group the India League. During the Second Round Table Conference in 1931, he became Gandhi’s chaperone in London, and a famous meeting between Gandhi and Charlie Chaplin took place at his house.  

Embed from Getty Images

M K Gandhi meeting actor, Charlie Chaplin, in London’s East End. Also in the picture from left to right are: Dr Katial and the poet, Sarojini Naidu, 22nd September 1931 (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images) 

 

Indian Writing (1940-45) 

South Asian writers played a significant part in London’s literary and political life in the early twentieth century. One node of a substantial network which connected South Asian, British and other anti-colonial writers, intellectuals and activists was the magazine Indian Writing (1940-45), edited by Iqbal Singh, Ahmed Ali, Krishnarao Shelvankar and Alagu Subramaniam. Run from Sasadhar Sinha’s Bibliophile Bookshop, located just a stone’s throw from the British Museum at 16 Little Russell Street, the magazine published short fiction, non-fiction and book reviews. On the cusp of Indian independence, it brought together fierce political critique and literary talent at the heart of the imperial metropolis. 

Image of an advertisement for Indian Writing magazine. The advertisement reads: 'Indian Writing: A New Quarterly. The spring number contains stories, articles, and reviews by Mulk Raj Anand, Iqbal Singh, K. S. Shelvankar, Raja Rao, Ahmed Ali, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, A. Subramaniam, Cedric Dover, and others.'
Advertisement for Indian Writing, published in the magazine, Life and Letters and the London Mercury and Bookman [Shelfmark: P.P.5939.bgf.; Courtesy of the British Library]
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Asians and the NHS

The NHS as we know it today has been built – and continues to be sustained – by migrant contributions. South Asians have played a major role in this. But we can place South Asians in the medical profession in Britain, long before the NHS was formed. Bari Chohan, who shared his family history for the Millenium Memory Bank (MMB), described how his family arrived in England in the 1870s, having practiced homeopathy and opthalmics on the subcontinent. They then opened medical clinics all over England. Bari’s great uncle Dr Chirag Din Chohan, who was a hakim (practitioner of alternative medicine) and an eye specialist, opened his first practice in Harrogate in the early 1920s. He later moved to his wife Florence’s hometown of Middlesbrough in 1925 where, in 1933, he opened a practice on Kensington Road. In 1937, Dr Chohan opened a second practice on nearby Linthorpe Road.  

Embed from Getty Images

An Indian doctor examines a patient, UK, October 1955. Original publication: Picture Post – 8572 – Indians in London unpub. (Photo by Thurston Hopkins/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)] 

The team chose to spotlight these lives and organisations as they showcase the wide range of interests of the project including gender, literary and cultural life, political activism and campaigning, religion, as well as workers’ experiences  

Contact us

We’d love to hear from anyone with project queries, expressions of interest in oral history participation, or any information relating to the rich history of South Asians in Britain from the 1830s to the present. 

To contact the project team, please email remaking-britain-project@bristol.ac.uk.

You can find more information on how to contact us on our website, including our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Mariners: Religion, Race and Empire in British Ports, 1801-1914 – One year on

The fabulous Bristol Harbour Festival is on again! This means it is over a year since Professor Hilary Carey, Professor of Imperial and Religious History, and Dr Sumita Mukherjee, Associate Professor in Modern History, received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a project examining missions to British and Asian seafarers in the ports of Bristol, Liverpool, Hull and London. 

What progress has been made? 

The most important change is that we are now a team.  

We are delighted to introduce Dr Lucy Wray who comes to us from Belfast where she has been working on the Madill Archive project, a collection of over 5,000 photographs documenting the history of Irish boats. Lucy is working on the stream of the project which focuses on lascars, a term often used for non-European seafarers employed on British ships. Lascars were predominately from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. 

We also welcome Dr Manikarnika Dutta, who is an historian of colonialism, medicine and public health. Her DPhil thesis at Oxford studied the health and welfare of European seamen in Indian port cities such as Calcutta and Bombay. In this project, she will be working on British mariners and the imprint the network of sailorshomes, missions, orphanages and welfare services had on port cities. 

Our research administrator is Jess Kirkby, who has lived in Bristol for the last ten years and has worked for a number of charities in the culture and environment sectors, including the RWA Gallery and the Forest of Avon Trust. 

In the sections below we outline some of our work in the past few months. 

Port histories 

We are only getting started, but already we are finding that archival records relating to the merchant marine are voluminous and very widely scattered. Partly because they were situated in liminal settings, literally by the shore and within easy access to commercial ports, many of the buildings that used to cater for the peripatetic merchant marine are no more.  

We are currently building a project website where we hope to map out some of the historical traces that missions and seafarers left on port cities, including Bristol.  

During the Bristol blitz of 1940, the Seamen’s Mission Church on Prince’s Street was partly destroyed and remains an eyesore in the heart of the city.

Former Seamen’s Church and Institute, Prince Street Bristol 1920s. Source: Hartley Collection at M Shed.

Former Seamen’s Church and Institute, Prince Street Bristol in 2023. Source: George Thomas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In May 2023, BristolLive reported that there were plans to restore the building, with one proposal advocating the creation of a Museum and Memorial to the Victims of Enslavement. If so, it will have fared better than the magnificent Liverpool Seaman’s Mission, of which all that remains are the gates – now part of the portside shopping centre.  

Gates to Liverpool Seaman’s Mission, opened in 1850 and demolished in 1974. Source: Jessica Moody, 10 July 2023

Race and empire histories 

Lucy Wray has been scouring the print records of missionary societies looking for visual sources for the project. The illustration below encapsulates the project’s key themes around race, religion and empire. The scene from 31 May 1856 shows Prince Albert surrounded by guests of different ethnicities in a room strewn with flags from the empire and a biblical banner reading ‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers’. The monarch was welcomed by waving crowds at London’s West India dock as he laid the foundation stone for The Strangers’ Home for Asiatics, Africans and South Sea Islanders. 

 

Prince Albert lays the foundation stone of the Strangers’ Home, 31 May 1856, Illustrated London News, 14 June 1856. Source: Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Lucy is exploring how religious institutions like the Strangers Home for Asiatics interacted with lascars. In the nineteenth century, the British Merchant Marine was transformed by the employment of lascars. On the outbreak of war in 1914, 30% of merchant crews were born abroad, and lascars comprised 1 in 6 of these men.   

In addition to difficult working conditions, restrictions, lower pay, and prejudice, lascars struggled to find accommodation in British ports. For most of the nineteenth century, voluntary religious societies and missions were the mainstays of welfare, accommodation and support services for this extensive, vulnerable, multi-ethnic and multi-religious labour force. By exploring visual sources, alongside print sources, Lucy hopes to offer insights into the gendered and racialised ways in which missions and lascars interacted across the century. 

British mariners, missions and welfare 

Manikarnika Dutta has been working in the Hull History Centre which holds the records of the Anglican Mission to Seafarers, who are our project partners. 

She has found extensive annual reports of the Port of Hull Society for the Religious Instruction of Seamen and the Hull Sailor’s Home. These reports describe the religious and moral advice to British seamen through ministries and the promotion of healthy living practices through institutional accommodation between voyages.  

Manikarnika has been particularly struck by the institutions created for the families of seafarers, and the extent to which the women of maritime ports supported charitable and religious outreach to sailors. One example was the Hull Seamen’s and General Orphan Asylum, ‘established for the maintenance, clothing and education of the Fatherless children of seamen and others’ 

A very interesting part of the archives are the Hull Mariners’ Church Orphan Society records that describe the welfare for the children of seamen, especially local fishermen, who died in shipwrecks or from other causes in service. Manikarnika will be studying this further to understand the history of orphanages as charitable institutional care and compare different trajectories of Victorian debates on child welfare. She hopes to address broader themes such as poverty, homelessness, criminality along with compassion, love and charity and Christian morals to write an emotional, social and religious history of care homes for seamen. 

 

Hull Seamen’s and General Orphan Asylum, 1860. Hull History Centre, The Records of the Hull Seamans and General Orphanage, ALBUM 1863-1900, C DSHO 2/56. Credit: Hull City Archives, Hull History Centre

 

 

In May 1871, the children of the Orphan Asylum sang a special hymn with these words: 

Thou Who are the Orphans’ Father 

Deign to hear the Orphans’ prayer 

While they round Thy footstool gather, 

Humbly trusting in Thy care. 

Here no father’s arm defends them, 

Here no father’s love can bless, 

Strangers’ aid alone befriends them, 

Father! Help the fatherless! 

Source: Hull History Centre, The Records of the Hull Seamans and General Orphanage, ALBUM 1863-1900, C DSHO 2/56. Credit: Hull City Archives, Hull History Centre. 

What comes next? 

We are eagerly looking forward to further discoveries in Liverpool, Hull and Bristol. We are excited to find how different these cities were and how diverse and adventurous the lives of the sailors who visited them were.  

We are especially keen to find out how British and Asian mariners worked together and why the merchant marine became so racially, religiously and socially divided. If any readers have any of their own stories or images to share about this fascinating history, please get in touch with the project team! 

Contact us 

You can follow the development of the Mariners project through our Bristol blog. Or do send us an email:

Hilary Carey hilary.carey@bristol.ac.uk

Sumita Mukherjee sumita.mukherjee@bristol.ac.uk

Lucy Wray lucy.wray@bristol.ac.uk

Manikarnika Dutta manikarnika.dutta@bristol.ac.uk

Jess Kirkby jess.kirkby@bristol.ac.uk

Performing Shakespeare at Sea – The Hamlet Voyage

By Dr Laurence Publicover, Senior Lecturer in English, School of Humanities

Dr Laurence Publicover discusses his contribution to a new play, The Hamlet Voyage, performed at the Bristol Harbour Festival in 2022. The project received an AHRC Impact Acceleration Account Award and underlines the positive social influence arts and humanities research can effect.

The Hamlet Voyage performed aboard The Matthew in Bristol. Image Credit: Edward Felton

In January 2021, I held a video conference call with a Bristol-based American theatre director named Ben Prusiner. For some years, it turned out, both of us had been intrigued by the enigmatic evidence surrounding a specific performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: one supposed to have taken place aboard an East India Company (EIC) ship off the coast of Sierra Leone in 1607.

Shipboard theatricals

If this performance did take place—and its reality continues to be the subject of debate—then it is not only the first recorded performance of Shakespeare outside Europe; it is the first recorded performance, anywhere, of Hamlet. (Shakespeare’s tragedy was written and first performed around 1600, and versions of it were published in 1603 and then 1604-5, but there are no surviving records of specific performances before 1607.) To make things even more intriguing, the voyage on which this performance may or may not have taken place involved the first English ship to reach mainland India—a region that the EIC, at this point a fledging enterprise, would later rule.

All this interests me not only because I work on Shakespeare, but also because, in recent years, I have become interested in what people read, write, and perform on board ships; in fact, before Ben and I made contact, I had alluded to the episode off the coast of Sierra Leone in the introduction to a volume of essays on this topic.

The Hamlet Voyage

Ben didn’t simply want to talk to a fellow Shakespeare enthusiast; he wanted my help in developing a play about the possible performance of Hamlet. With staggering energy and imagination, he then realised this vision over the following eighteen months, commissioning a script from the British-Nigerian playwright Rex Obano (who had written previously on Africa and early modern England, and who had also, before becoming a playwright, been an actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company) and involving a team of academics and creative practitioners with expertise relating to the story. With the help of Jiamiao Chen, who worked as a research assistant, my role in the project was to locate and help interpret primary and secondary literature concerning the third voyage of the East India Company—and in addition, to help Rex and Ben think about shipboard theatricals and about the texts of Hamlet with which the English sailors might have been working.

We trialled the first draft of Rex’s script at the University of Bristol’s Department of Theatre over the summer of 2021, working with student volunteers, and then ran a second series of workshops that autumn at the Trinity Centre in Easton, where Ben invited members of Bristol’s West African and South Asian communities to watch rehearsals and ask questions. With support from several funding bodies, including Arts Council England, the University of Bristol’s Participatory Research Fund and its Impact Acceleration Fund, and the Fenton Arts Trust, The Hamlet Voyage—as the play was titled—went into rehearsal in London in the early summer of 2022. I travelled to London to speak to the cast about the historical background of the play and about why (and how) people might have performed Shakespeare during a long voyage; in addition, I helped the actors playing English sailors to rehearse the scenes from Shakespeare that Rex had incorporated into his play.

The Bristol Harbour Festival

The Hamlet Voyage premiered at the 2022 Bristol Harbour Festival on board the Matthew, the replica of the ship on which John Cabot sailed from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1497; it then transferred to London for a run at the Bridewell Theatre. On the morning of the first performance, Rex and I spoke about the play on BBC Radio Bristol, and the interviewer asked the question that I’ve been asked countless times since: Did this performance of Hamlet really happen? I direct anyone wishing for a response to that question to the piece I wrote for the project’s website.

The Hamlet Voyage performed at the Bristol Harbour Festival, 2022. Image Credit: Edward Felton

The Hamlet Voyage performed aboard The Matthew in Bristol. Image Credit: Edward Felton

Education Outreach

That website was also the basis for an education programme that reached around 200 students across four Bristol schools in 2022. Across four sessions, students were asked to think about the possible performance of Hamlet in a number of different ways: for example, through West African forms of storytelling and through English modes of record-keeping (specifically, diary-writing).

Future Projects

Working on this project has influenced my work in a number of ways. I now have a better sense of what is involved in turning research into a creative output, and I’ve been inspired to keep reading and thinking about the early voyages of the EIC: I’m now writing an essay on those journeys for a volume of essays to be produced by Migration Mobilities Bristol, a Strategic Research Institute at the University of Bristol. I’m also working with Rosie Hunt from Bristol’s School of Education to develop a series of Shakespeare-related materials linked to the project and aimed at A-Level and GCSE students.

The Hamlet Voyage performed at the Bridewell Theatre, London. Image Credit: Dan Fearon

The Hamlet Voyage performed at the Bridewell Theatre, London. Image Credit: Dan Fearon

Even if it never happened—and I keep changing my mind over whether it did or didn’t—this performance of Hamlet off the coast of Sierra Leone is a wonderful story to think with, posing questions concerning the social dynamics of shipboard spaces; the place of Shakespeare in histories of globalization and imperialism; and the role of theatre in diplomatic and cultural exchange. Among all the video calls I held during the pandemic, the one with Ben in January 2021 was by some distance the most consequential.

Dr Laurence Publicover is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English with research interests in Shakespeare and other English Renaissance dramatists and in the relationship between humans and oceans. To find out more about Laurence’s research and The Hamlet Voyage, please email l.publicover@bristol.ac.uk

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

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

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

The Centre for Environmental Humanities: Who we are and what we do

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

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 

Sea shanties

With the Bristol Harbour Festival 2022 not long behind us, we caught up with Dr Nick Nourse, Honorary Research Associate in the Department of History, to learn more about sea shanties – their relevance, their history, and their intricacies. A trained violin maker, Nick went on to study for a musicology MA and PhD at the University of Bristol. His PhD thesis ‘The Transformation of the Music of the British Poor, 1789-1864’ focused on his research interest in the low ‘Other’ in society, in particular their musical tastes and their roles as listener, consumer and performer of popular entertainment. As part of this research, Nick studied the musical history of sea songs, and he shares some of that knowledge with us now:

In January 2021, the Bristol band The Longest Johns were signed by Decca Records after their version of a nineteenth-century sea song, ‘Soon May the Wellerman Come’, went viral on TikTok. During the restrictive measures of various Covid lockdowns, The Longest Johns also became one part of an online craze under the heading of shanty-singing. With the return this summer of the Bristol Harbour Festival and a Bristol Sea Shanty festival arranged for September, now would be an ideal point to explore the history of this unique sea song.

In brief, the sea shanty was a work song sung on board merchant sailing ships. Its purpose was to synchronise the crewmen’s effort when engaged in heavy and monotonous physical tasks, such as hauling on a rope or tramping around the capstan to raise the anchor.

Stan Hugill, the acknowledged expert on the subject, divides shanties into two primary groups: hauling, and heaving songs. Broadly speaking, he places regular-paced and continuous heaving work at the capstan or bilge pumps as being to poorly disguised marching songs in 4/4; the hauling songs were for stop-start strenuous work often to a 6/8 metre and less musical. The hauling shanties in particular follow the call-and-response form, in shanty-dialect called ‘order-and-response’.

Take, for example, the shanty ‘Blow the Man Down’. This is a Halyard Shanty, a song sung while raising or lowering the sails (in full sailor parlance, this is halyard hauling: halyard = haul + yard). The work could be extremely heavy, and a halyard shanty therefore was sung with the crewmen taking a rest during the leader’s call and only pulling on stressed words of the chorus. Sung in 3/8 time, the shanty often starts:

Solo: ‘As I was a-walkin’, down Paradise Street’
Crew: ‘To me Way, hay, Blow the man down’
Solo: ‘A sassy young clipper, I chanced for to meet’
Crew: ‘Oh, Give me some time, to Blow the man down’

Given how long it took to raise a large sail, for instance, sea shanties could be 20 or 30 verses in length, and it did not matter what order they were sung in. The main aim was rhythm, but also distraction, to take the mind off the boredom of the physical task. To that end, songs could be re-written on the spur of the moment, so Paradise Street could become a well-known street in the ship’s last port of call. And like folk songs, the words often held more than one meaning: the ‘sassy young clipper’ is not a reference to a ship, but to a woman.

One particular function the shanty could achieve was to voice complaint about the captain or another crewman: singing out their grievance was often the only way for a sailor to voice his anger without being disciplined.

The sailor’s sea song is subject to much superstition. The shanty, for example, was only ever sung on board ship, never on shore, always to work, and never off-duty or for entertainment. Likewise, anchor-hauling songs were split into outward- and homeward-bound songs, and they should never be sung on the wrong leg of the voyage.

The origins of the sea shanty are unclear, but its heyday was in the early- and mid-nineteenth century and followed the end of hostilities between the French and the English. Peace saw the resumption of world sea trade and travel, trade which was encouraged by the gold rushes of North America and Australia. The term itself comes in multiple spellings: shantey, chanty, or chantey — all pronounced as if with a ‘sh’ — plus various grammatically dubious plurals. The Oxford English Dictionary date ‘shanty’ to 1869, but Nordhoff’s The Merchant Vessel, first published in 1855, writes of ‘The foreman is the chantey-man, who sings the song, the gang only joining in the chorus, which comes in at the end of every line’.

Musically, Hugill suggests the sea shanty as having its origins in the folk songs of England, Ireland, Scandinavia, Germany, and colonised North America – including Canada and Newfoundland – and in the slave plantations of the southern states of America.

To return to The Longest Johns and ‘Soon May the Wellerman Come’, this is not a working song, but a fore-bitter. In contrast to the shanty, the fore-bitter was sung off-duty and for entertainment, but still as a distraction. It gets its name from the fore-bits, large wooden rigging posts in the foc’sle (forecastle), and the place where sailors would gather in good weather to relax and kill time. The subject and sentiment of either form of song was tremendously wide, from love — both true and sentimental — to loss, often of home, from complaint to celebration, and from wealth to glory.

The sea shanty today holds its place alongside traditional, or folk, song as a recovered and preserved work song. As steam replaced sail in the second half of the nineteenth century, the need for collective physical duties on board ship declined, and with it, the sea shanty.

Dr Nick Nourse, Honorary Research Associate, Department of History