Monthly Archives: October 2013

Afterlife of Heritage Research – Showcase Event

Afterlife of Heritage Research Showcase Event
Tuesday 29th October
Kanaris Theatre, Manchester Museum

The ‘Afterlife of Heritage Research’ Skills Training Project (2012-13; funded by the AHRC) aimed to support research students and early career researchers (ECRs) in developing skills, capacity and profiles for professional careers in the heritage sector. The project’s tailored training provision (including training guides, collaborative projects with cultural institutions, work placements and industrial mentoring) have assisted students and ECRs in identifying, understanding and ‘translating’ the benefits of their heritage research in ‘real-life’ public, professional and business contexts.

In this Showcase event, participating research students, ECRs and partner cultural organisations will reflect on the aims, process, challenges and outcomes of the collaborative public engagement activities and research placements.

This event would be of interest to research students, ECRs, University research developers and staff in arts and culture organisations.


9.30am: Registration and Coffee/Tea
10.00: Introduction
10.20: Katherine Crouch (University of Manchester)Displaying the Dead at the Manchester Museum
10.40: Sarah Younan (Cardiff Metropolitan University)Towards a Digital Dream Space
11.00: Discussion
11.30: Break
12.00: Naomi Billingsley (University of Manchester), Burning Bright – presenting William Blake in the exhibition and on the World Wide Web
12.20: Alex McDonagh (University of Salford), Ancient Worlds Online. Identifying the role of digital heritage applications in the Ancient Worlds exhibition at Manchester Museum
12.40: Discussion
13.10: Lunch
14.00: Sophie Everest, Andy Hardman and Benjamin Knowles (Belle Vue Productions and University of Manchester)Producing Research: starting a research-led production company in the arts and heritage sector
14.20: Juliet Carroll (Liverpool John Moores University), A celebration of the Della Robbia Pottery of Birkenhead
14.40: Discussion
15.10: Break
15.30: Wendy Ligon Smith and Sophie Preston (University of Manchester), Film: An Evening of Fashion, Music, Art and Marcel Proust
16.00: Closing: The Afterlife of the Afterlife of Heritage Research

Poster: Louise Rebecca Senior (University of Aberdeen), Forest Encounters: The value of starting where the people are

Abstracts and Biographies

Please book a free place. If you are a research student in the UK and require funding for travel to attend the event, please contact

Forest Reflections – Louise Senior

This weekend, amidst the crowning of the Marymas Queen, the Highland dancing and the tunes of the Thurso pipe band, we officially launched our ‘Hidden Forest’ trail. The Caithness winds were gusting at up to 50mph, forcing the Marymas Fair into the local village hall, which lent a different kind of atmosphere to events. Nevertheless, alongside the chair of the Dunnet Forestry Trust, we set up our stall in the corner of the hall and, in-between the fancy dress competitions and the bake-off awards, we were able to show off our glossy new leaflet and talk to numerous people about the stories of social history hidden in Dunnet Forest – and even collect a few new ones. For me, this was the culmination of months of collaboration with the Dunnet Forestry Trust on a social history trail through the forest which began when I attended the Afterlife of Heritage training workshops.

So what have I achieved over the past few months since entering into this process? Firstly, the project itself has received some really positive feedback from local people. The very idea of a forest having a ‘social history’ has intrigued many folk and everyone I have spoken with has enjoyed learning about the stories that I have collected, and have often responded by giving me a story of their own. Aside from this enthusiasm for forest stories, people have often become interested in the wider context of my research. The stories provide a good starting point for discussing the more theoretical angles of my PhD and this has allowed me to develop a number of new contacts, thus improving the overall quality and depth of my research.

The idea of engaging the public with a fairly philosophical research topic had seemed daunting to me when I applied to take part in the Afterlife of Heritage training, but the most valuable lesson I have learned during this process, and which has been a running theme throughout, is the importance of starting where people are at.  My initial ideas for this project had included talks or displays at local museums or heritage centres, but by making the forest itself the host of the project we have hopefully ensured that we are reaching a captive audience. With more time and money, it would be beneficial to branch out of the forest and deliver some kind of outreach sessions to attract a wider audience, but I think we have made the most of our current capability by focusing on the forest and its users.

Similarly, our ideas for launching the trail leaflet had included targeted events, but I believe that by piggy-backing on an existing event with close links to the forest, we were able to reach a far wider audience. The very broad appeal of the Marymas Fair allowed us to speak to all sorts of people who would have been unlikely to attend a specific ‘forest talk’ type event.

Reflecting back, there are a few things that I would do differently next time. On a very practical level, I underestimated the amount of time that I would need to devote to the project and was overambitious about my design ideas. I think that consultation with my designer earlier on in the process could have helped me to plan the project more accurately from the outset. The uncertainty that these factors created led me to lose confidence midway through my project (see blog #2, ‘Finding the Path’), which probably affected my approach to launching the trail leaflet. Luckily, my cultural partner maintained confidence in the project and supported me with the launch, demonstrating the utility of an effective working partnership.

I’m glad to say that, although the bulk of my Afterlife of Heritage project is now complete, I don’t think it will ever really be finished in the true sense of the word. The history of the forest keeps on unfolding and new stories of life in Dunnet Forest will continue to emerge. I hope to hear many more of them and the forest blog that we are working on will offer a place to record these stories, providing a resource for the community to draw upon and to contribute to. In this sense, the process initiated by attending the Afterlife of Heritage training is an ongoing one which doesn’t end with my role in our joint project, but which continues its journey in the hands of the community here.

Burning Bright, Part 3: glowing on a computer screen near you

The final part of my R2P project is now live on the web: an online version of the exhibition ‘Burning Bright: William Blake and the Art of the Book’, which took place at the John Rylands Library, Manchester, earlier this year (see my first and second posts for details of the other aspects of my project).

Translating a physical exhibition into an online format was an interesting exercise, which highlighted for me important differences about how we (or I at least) engage with material physically and digitally:

– In a physical exhibition, there are spatial limits on the items displayed; with books, this is compounded because it is only possible to show one opening (this was partially overcome by the inclusion of a digital reader showing digital surrogates of the two star books in the exhibition), and the grouping of items is partly dictated by the size of the display cases.

– In the virtual exhibition, it became possible to make more images available (thanks to the Afterlife funds, it was possible to commission new digitalisation) and to group material with greater freedom. However, there was a restriction on the format for displaying images so that only a ‘slice’ of each is shown on the exhibition webpages (although the full images can be accessed from the webpages), which is more effective in some cases than others.

– In both cases, the ‘visitor’ is distanced from the act of physically engaging with the book as an object, be it locked in a glass case or only being present ‘virtually.’

– We read in different ways in an exhibition setting and on a computer screen. Neither is the same as when we sit down to read a book: we tend to ‘scan’ in both cases, wanting to absorb the information quickly. What the online exhibition has allowed is more length, and therefore detail, about the items, but it’s a completely different sort of writing to the chapter of my thesis I was working on at the same time.

My PhD examines the figure of Christ in Blake’s visual works and I have been able to include a small amount about some of the images I am exploring in my PhD in the online exhibition. Researching and writing the online exhibition also led me to look at material from a different perspective and helped me to discover and spot various things which will feed into my thesis.

The online exhibition also showcases work produced in various activities which took place alongside the physical exhibition (including a workshop for schools which I devised), so that it acts as a legacy to the exhibition as a ‘package.’ The inclusion of the creative fruits of the exhibition resonates with the theme of the exhibition itself, which explores Blake’s influence on subsequent generations of artists, writers and designers.

The online exhibition will continue to ‘burn’ and I look forward to seeing what it might kindle.

Naomi Billingsley, PhD Candidate in Religions and Theology, University of Manchester.