Of course, as scholars, we do have other lives/commitments outside of this project.  Recently, in my Department here at the University of Birmingham, we’ve had a number of staff move on to other posts.  This has created some exciting opportunities for new recruitment and building from a really good core team of people.  In the meantime, however, it has meant that we’ve got some administrative headaches to deal with.  I’ve been asked to take on the role of joint research group leader for human geography, responsible for shaping the recruitment strategy for new colleagues as well as drafting relevant sections of our submission to the Research Evaluation Framework (REF) which determines funding for UK universities in the coming years.

The upshot of this is that on a personal level, I’ve been incredibly busy over the last few months.  And this is why it’s always good to get out doing research-related things to remind yourself about the fun bit of this job.

On Wednesday I had a meeting at the Darkroom in the Old Print Works with Dan Burwood and Andrew Jackson who are, among other things, fine art photographers.  I’ve worked with Dan before on projects and have long been a fan both of his work and his approach to photography.  Both he Andrew have a commitment to community and participatory modes of photography and are in the latter stages of an Arts Council bid to do a feasibility study, looking at working with different communities to co-construct a set of photography activities.  This will include a major training element for the community photographers they work with, but also an interest in creating an interface for contextual search and display which has lots in common with the kinds of things we’re trying to achieve with the multitouch outputs from the cultural intermediation project.

Another connection with our project, of course, is that it keys directly into some of the work Natasha and Ian have been doing on the history of community photography in Birmingham and Manchester, particularly in the 1970s/80s.  Listening to Dan and Andrew talking about what they want to achieve with their Arts Council bid (co-construction, arts-based empowerment, innovative digital outputs) struck a great many chords with me and so unsurprisingly I’m enthusiastically supporting their bid.

A second nice research thing I’ve found time for this week was in responding to an invitation to talk about cultural intermediation at the Cultural Value Project workshop hosted yesterday by Geoff Crossick at Birkbeck.  Lots of really interesting papers responding to issues around how culture could/should be valued and how a series of AHRC projects are responding to this.  A whole series of great papers, sadly no time to list them all.  I was particularly struck by the work of Helen Chaterjee, a bioscientist involved in museums work.  She’s been doing fascinating work looking at the psychosocial impacts of object handling with ill people.  What’s been so exciting was to look at the rigorous use of control groups across a series of indicators – i.e. does it make a difference to people’s responses if they’re shown photographs of the objects, versus handling the objects themselves? (It does).  Over coffee she was also telling me about the kinds of control studies they’ve also done for whether it’s relating to heritage particularly that can give these positive psychological effects or whether you could get the same effects just with general social contact.  It seems as though something specific is happening with heritage objects, which is in itself a fantastically important finding.

I was also by Helen Nicholson’s work around gift theory and applied drama – the way that ‘engaged’ theatrical activities still have a loud authorial voice and intentionality, even if these are obfuscated behind a language of empowerment and participation.  Kate McLuskie said some really interesting things about how works that become canonical – Shakespeare in this case – can lend authority in interpretation that goes far beyond the original text.  Because you’re ‘doing’ Shakespeare your work gains a legitimacy it perhaps does not deserve.  Fascinating stuff and a grand couple of days out, but today, back to the grind…