Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Peer Review, Autonomy and the Pursuit of Excellence

Recently I've had a couple of conversations about the peer review process with students and also with fellow artists who don't write for peer-reviewed journals.
It's got me thinking about why I think peer review is a good thing, and why the process of peer review does improve writing.

I know that my own writing has always been improved in response to comments from others. When I was doing my PhD, comments were from supervisors, and then examiners. Supervisors helped me to see that I hadn't captured an argument, or where I'd been lazy in my thinking. The examiner showed me, much to my continuing frustration, that most of my fellow artists maintain a relatively orthodox Marxist set of assumptions, that if I fail to address I do so at my peril. This is a lesson I continue to forget.

Since my PhD, nearly every publication I have written has been reviewed in a blind process, where I don't know who the reviewer is, though sometimes I try to guess.

The trick is not necessarily to take on all comments that a reviewer might make, but to try to understand which of the many comments is actually relevant, what points are helpful in clarifying an argument, and which comments can be dismissed. This process is not dissimilar to being an art student.

When I supervise students, they sometimes tell me about other lecturers and the helpful/unhelpful things they say. I try to explain to them that being an art student is about learning both to trust one's own instincts and also to trust in the process of critique. It's a difficult process.  As an art student, we have to learn to tread a path between our own vision, and the views of others. We have to learn to see when others are being helpful, when others are trying to tell us we're going wrong or that we're not saying what we think we're saying.  But the art student also has to find and listen to their own instincts. It's a difficult thing to learn.

That's what peer-review does. It helps a writer to see what we're not saying and also what we're saying by accident. It's not insulting, or compromising, but I see it as a form of collective action in the pursuit of excellence.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Applications now open for DHeritage, the Professional Doctorate in Heritage!

Applications are now invited for prospective students to join DHeritage, the world's only Professional Doctorate in Heritage. DHeritage offers an opportunity to reflect on and explore in-depth an issue arising from your professional work in a way that creates an original contribution to the global heritage community.

This broad-based, flexible qualification was developed in association with experts from across the heritage sector and is aimed at professionals who work in, or desire to work in, the heritage field broadly defined, whether in the public or private sectors. It interests those who are employed in tourism, planning, museums, archives, community history, archaeology, social and cultural sustainability and any area of work which engages heritage. DHeritage appeals to practitioners who want to reflect on and contribute to the latest thinking in what is a dynamic and ever-changing sector crucial to many economies and to local and national identities.

DHeritage is part of the School of Humanities and draws on expertise from across the University
Students follow the programme as part of a cohort, supported by a series of regular bespoke training workshops, generic research training and supervision shaped to their particular needs from across the disciplines of History, Education, Digital Humanities, Creative Writing, Creative Arts, Law, Business, and Tourism, and beyond. The programme integrates scholarship on a range of interdisciplinary themes, including professional ethics, sustainability, cultural memory and heritage policy. Students select their topic and training according to individual needs and interests, and current developments in the field. On admission, successful candidates are allocated a Principal and one or two Co-Supervisors based on the research area they have set out in their research proposal and at interview.

DHeritage is offered part-time only, as typically our students work full- or part-time in the heritage sector. The degree usually takes 6 years to complete, but it is possible to complete it in 4-6 years depending on successfully passing the phased assessments. The programme is available through a campus registration or as a distance-learning route - in either case campus-based workshops are supported with online equivalent workshops using Canvas Studynet, our web-based managed learning environment. Fees for part-time home and EU students were £2,300 per annum in 2018/19 (different rates apply for overseas distance-learning students).

Senior Visiting Fellow Judy Faraday with Dean of Humanities Prof Anne Murphy and DHeritage student Helen Casey

You can find about more about DHeritage on our website https://www.herts.ac.uk/courses/doctorate-in-heritage or via the University's world class Heritage Hub (or by clicking the DHeritage tag on this blog).

Apply by sending a completed application form (available here), research proposal and supporting documents (qualifications, certificates etc.) via our Doctoral College doctoralcollegeadmissions@herts.ac.uk by 10th May 2019. A guide sheet to help you prepare a research proposal is available from Prof Dr Grace Lees-Maffei, Professor of Design History and Programme Director for DHeritage. If you have any questions about the programme or want to discuss it further, please contact Prof Lees-Maffei or the Doctoral College. We look forward to hearing from you!

The De Havilland Aircraft Company is an important part of the University's Heritage

Zoë Hendon 'Working at the Intersection of Archives and Practice’

Next week TVAD is hosting a TVAD Talk research seminar by external speaker Zoë Hendon, Head of Collections and Associate Professor, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA), Middlesex University. Her TVAD Talk, entitled ‘Working at the Intersection of Archives and Practice’ will showcase her doctoral research in the context of her professional work at MoDA. Zoë’s talk will examine her approach to both:
the museum's collections from a design-historical perspective, and on the ways in which these collections inspire creative practice in the present. 
In this talk she will refer to various projects she has worked on in recent years, and reflect on where these different strands of thought are currently taking her. Zoë’s PhD ‘Looking Back and Looking Forward, the The Silver Studio Collection as heritage asset and educational resource, 1968-2018’ is registered with Middlesex University and is due for completion by end of 2019. The Silver Studio Collection
was a commercial design practice, which between 1880 and 1963 completed more than 20,000 schemes for items such as furnishing fabrics, wallpapers, tablecovers, rugs and carpets. The Studio answered the needs of its customers, who were retailers and manufacturers at all levels of the market. Many of its clients were mass producers and Silver Studio designs therefore found their way into numerous British homes.
Zoë’s recent publications arising from this project include:
  • ‘The Silver Studio art reference collection’ Decorative Arts Society Journal 36 (2012): 65–81;
  • The Silver Studio and the Art of Japan, Middlesex University: Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (2014);
  • ‘Behind the Scenes at the Silver Studio : Rex Silver and the Hidden Mechanisms of Interwar Textile Design’ Architecture and Culture 6, 1 (2018): 61–80;
  • and, with Dr Linda Sandino ‘Inspiration Examined:Towards a methodology’ Art, Design and Communication in Higher Education 17, 2 (2018): 135–50.


    The talk will be filmed by Mikayla Laird and will be published on the University of Hertfordshire’s YouTube channel in due course. Further TVAD Talks are listed on the TVAD Talks webpage and on the TVAD blog.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A Scientific Advisor for the Hand Project

I am delighted to say that Professor Christina Jerosch-Herold, Professor of Rehabilitation Research at the University of East Anglia, has kindly agreed to join the Advisory Board for my British Academy research project, The Hand Book: A Design History of and through the Hand. Christina joins the three other members I am fortunate enough to have assembled for the project: Professor Regina L. Blaszczyk, University of Leeds, UK; Professor Finn Arne Jørgensen, University of Stavanger, Norway; and Professor John Styles, University of Hertfordshire, UK. For The Hand Project, Christina has very kindly agreed to read my writing, to check that it is scientifically correct, and to bring the benefits of her extensive expertise of a career working with persons with hand conditions or injuries.



I attended Christina’s inaugural professorial lecture at UEA on 30th October 2018, a really well-pitched event which began by acknowledging the seminal work of Sir Charles Bell, The Hand: Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as Evincing Design (London: William Picketing, 1837) and the groundbreaking contributions of C B Wynn-Parry and Guy Pulvertaft and the context provided by the British Society for Surgery of the Hand (BSSH) and British Association of Hand Therapists (BAHT).

The sense of touch is essential for emotional development. The hand is seen as an extension of the brain: Descartes called the hand the ‘outer mind’ while Maria Montessori declared that ‘The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence’. Her promotion of hands-on learning has influenced education globally.

The connection between the hand and the brain is perhaps most vividly shown in the image of the sensory homunculus which shows the relative size of the parts of the body according to a neurological gauge of the proportions of the brain used for their respective motor or sensory functions. Where a hand is missing, the relevant part of the brain shrinks. Blind people who rely on touch in place of sight have more developed parts of their brains related to touch than neurotypical people. Percussionist Evelyn Glennie is deaf so she relies on vibratory touch to ‘feel’ sound. US author and activist Helen Keller was deaf-blind and used touch to read braille. They exemplify how touch can compensate for the loss of other senses, however Professor Erik Moberg (1905-93), a leading hand surgeon, described a hand without sensation as blind.
From ‘Touch and Pain’ edited by R. Biswas-Diener, E. Diener. In Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign IL: DEF Publishers, 2013.
Professor Jerosch-Herold explained the development of her research career. She began as an occupational therapist specialising in the treatment of hand injuries. Clinical work on peripheral nerve injuries resulted in a particular interest in hand sensibility and hand function. Prof Jerosch-Herold undertook a MSc Rehabilitation Studies at Southampton University and then moved to UEA in 1992 to deliver the new BSc in Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy. Her doctorate (2002) examined the clinical assessment of peripheral nerve injuries in the hand. She is a member of the British Association of Hand Therapists, which gave her the Natalie Barr Award in 2010, the British Association of Occupational Therapists and the Society for Rehabilitation Research. Jerosch-Herold is Editor-in-Chief of Hand Therapy (1998-) and Editorial Board member for the Journal of Hand Surgery (European) (2017-20). She has led a 5-year National Institute for Health Research Senior Research Fellowship (2013-17) investigating the clinical management of hand sensory disorders including carpal tunnel syndrome.
Nerve Injuries in the Hand
Hand sensibility and hand function are governed by receptors (ref. Johansson and Vallbo, ‘Tactile Sensibility in the human hand’, J Physiol January 1979 286: 283-300). Tactile acuity declines with age; we need no assistance with this, we simply adjust to it. The question of sex differences in tactile acuity has been answered by Peters who has demonstrated that diminutive digits enjoy increased tactile acuity as sensors are more closely spaced on smaller fingertips (Ref: RM Peters, E Hackeman and D Goldreich (2009) ‘Diminutive Digits Discern Delicate Details: Fingertip Size and the Sex Difference in Tactile Spatial AcuityJournal of Neuroscience 29 (50) 15756-15761).
On the day of the inaugural lecture, the BBC reported that surgeons could no longer be assumed to have the dexterity needed to undertake the sewing required in surgery, Prof Jerosch-Herold explained how when a nerve injury occurs in the hand, surgeons suture the outer connective tube so that the regrowing nerve fibres can reconnect with their end-organs. This healing process is not perfect, however. Nerve regeneration is slow and can result in sensory loss and muscle paralysis. Discriminative sensibility often never returns to normal. Christina has worked with her collaborators on the challenge of how to assess the recovery of tactile acuity and the evaluation of objective tests vs patient-reported outcomes (PROMs) as integral to value-based health care. See also Prof Jerosch-Herold’s collaboration with Mark Ashwood and Lee Shepstone, ‘Learning to Live with a Hand Nerve Disorder: A Constructed Grounded Theory’, Journal of Hand Surgery (2017).
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Traumatic nerve injuries are declining due to better health and safety, making it harder to study at a scientifically significant scale, so Jerosch-Herold has more recently focussed on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). As many as 1 in 10 people experience CTS at some point in their lifetime and the c. 55,000 surgically-treated cases cost the National Health Service around £42 million each year. Professor Jerosch-Herold has studied the effect of sensory relearning to restore lost sensibility after carpal tunnel surgery. Sensory relearning is a treatment taught to patients designed to reprogram the brain through cognitive relearning techniques. This process removes the crutch of vision, to emphasise touch without sight. It requires patients to switch between looking and not looking. Although it is very repetitive and can get boring, the result is a mindfulness towards touch and improved ‘tactile gnosis’, that is the ability to recognise shape and form with your hands. Prof Jerosch-Herold’s more recent work on the PALMS project has examined predictive factors for responses to treatment in CTS. 
Wrapping Up
Professor Jerosch-Herold ended her inaugural lecture on October 30th with a timely warning about the dangers to the hand of activities such as bonfires and fireworks. Hand accidents peak at bank holidays and others events as people get to grips with chain saws, fireworks and pumpkin carving. Grievous injuries may benefit from treatment such as that offered to Zion Harvey, a boy who underwent a successful double hand transplant in the US in 2015. Prof Jerosch-Herold gave the final word to occupational therapist Mary Reilly, who stated in her 1961 Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lecture that:
Man, through the use of his hands, as they are energised by his mind and will, can influence the state of his own health.
This week, Christina and I met at UEA to discuss the potential linkage of her work with my project. I am interested in the way that mass production does not always successfully cater for physical differences in consumers and whether this might have some connection to Christina’s work with PROMS where sufferers of hand nerve disorders report their particular experience of the condition, albeit within a questionnaire framework. I look forward to working with Christina and the rest of the Advisory Board as The Hand Book project develops.


Prof Grace Lees-Maffei
Professor of Design History

Friday, 30 November 2018

TEG Tactile Access to Collections Workshop

In September 2018 I was awarded a small grant from the British Academy to support my research for The Hand Book for the next two years. As part of my project, I am blogging about my research here on the TVAD blog and on my own website www.graceleesmaffei.org 


Yesterday, I attended the Touring Exhibition Group (TEG) workshop Tactile Access to Collections: Maximising and Managing Public Object Handling Opportunities at The House of Illustration in London’s Kings Cross. This amazing building, at 2 Granary Square, was designed by Lewis Cubitt in 1850 as part of the Kings Cross Goods Yard. In 2014 it opened as the House of Illustration when the area was redeveloped.


TEG was set up when the Circulation Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum was closed down in order to represent smaller museums and advocate for the circulation of exhibits from larger and national museums to smaller regional venues (for an account see the Wikipedia page about the group, which was clearly written by someone with considerable insider knowledge of the organisation and its history).

The Tactile Access to Collections workshop was developed for curatorial and learning staff who want to implement ‘opportunities and an infrastructure for the public to handle objects from their collections’. Twenty participants gathered for today’s session. We began with a group exercise based on a selection of objects provided by the workshop convenor, Charlotte Dew, in which we were asked to make note of what we could tell about objects simply by looking at them. This exercise revealed that observation is the best way to determine the colour of an object, and a good way to determine its shape and any symbolism, but looking proved to be inadequate as a way of determining texture, materials and manufacturing technique. A pair of bowls in our selection of objects could have been moulded or 3D printed. A small battleship could have been plastic, ceramic or metal. A necklace could, at first glance, have been jet or French jet (glass) but closer observation revealed mould marks meaning it was plastic. This state of looking but not touching was frustrating. 

Next we were asked to handle the objects wearing gloves. This exercise made clear to me that handling and touching are not the same thing. I was able to handle the objects - pick up the bowl, turn it over, determine that it was not 3D printed, and was in fact moulded, but I couldn’t feel the texture. Wearing gloves, I was able to confirm that the battleship was metal, and a light metal like lead. But I still wanted to feel it without the gloves on. Similarly, I wanted to test the beaded necklace with my teeth to really confirm the material. This simple exercise revealed that one of the benefits derived from handling objects is that we simply have more information when we can use our hands, about weight and structure, and more still when we can use our sense of touch, about texture. 


The workshop continued with an overview of approaches to object handling employed at a wide range of museums. Mediated object handling occurs at the Museum of London, Manchester Museum and the British Museum, which makes its collection of 500 handling objects accessible to visitors in trolleys in the galleries. Unmediated approaches are employed at the Horniman Museum (which has a handling collection of 3700 objects and counting) and Powell Cotton Museum which allows unmediated access to its museum objects on the basis that they are duplicated in the collections and the flow of visitors is manageable. We also discussed the cases of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA) at Middlesex University and the Central St Martins archive, neither of which have exhibition spaces and both of which allow visitors to access the collections via a reading-room type of environment. Some of the museums we discussed allowed handling of their accessioned collections, whereas others had developed separate un-accessioned handling collections to reflect or otherwise contextualise their main collections. 

We then moved to consider the risks involved in object handling, both to the objects and the people involved. Objects may go missing, become damaged, or suffer wear and tear. People engaged in handling may be at risk from certain materials such as lead and asbestos, or from actions such as pinching and cutting. We used a traffic light system questionnaire for determining the suitability of objects for handling, the risks to the objects of handling them, and the risks they present for participants. Green+ objects can leave the museum site, and objects graded green can be handled in unmediated situations. Amber objects can be handled under supervision. Red objects can only be demonstrated to visitors by museum staff. We took into account variables such as rarity, significance and cost in making our assessments of suitability for handling, as well as the benefits of restricted use of various types in offsetting risks.


Handling policies and procedures can be developed to assist in managing the risks of allowing tactile access to collections. They provide clarity across an organisation and can be used as a training tool with staff and volunteers. Policies can cover selection criteria for handling collections, storage, access and use, risk assessment procedure, processes for auditing handling collections and care and repair, procedures for reporting loss and damage, disposal of objects for various reasons (wear and tear, changed relevance), object documentation, and strategies for interpretation.

Planning meaningful engagement opportunities involving object handling can be facilitated using a session development matrix, learning theory and examples of good practice from other organisations. We planned a handling session using some medieval floor tiles held at Guildford Museums service, which communicated the importance of local trade in tiles between monasteries in the thirteenth century and encompassed handling clay as well as tiles. We referred to Learning for All and Generic Learning Outcomes to make sure that our session offered something for everyone. Detailed planning is clearly an asset in managing risk in relation to tactile access to collections.


Workshop facilitator Charlotte Dew asked us to bring an object from our collections to the workshop for discussion. I am not a curator and so my collection is a personal one. I decided to bring a ring holder shaped like a hand which was originally bought for one of my children, and then passed to the other child, before ending up with me as part of my hand project material. Although this object resembles a hand and forearm, it is unlike any hand I have ever seen on a living person. It most resembles the stylised, attenuated hand and arm of a mannequin, which is fitting given that its role is to display, as well as store, rings (and perhaps other jewellery too). This object is not special, it is made of plastic and is therefore intrinsically inexpensive, and it was purchased in a charity shop as a frippery. It is a product of a mass consumer society in which objects are so ubiquitous and legion that some of them are devalued and disregarded. But, in resembling a hand, and arm, this object seems to strive for personality, or human status, even as it sadly fails to attain it. Finally, within a museological setting, this object raises conservation issues due to its material - one which is either perfect or only fit for the scrap heap, according to designer Ezio Manzini, and yet will last for hundreds of years as the half-life of plastic is infamously long with threatening implication for our planet.
The workshop ended with role play in which participants modelled mediated handling sessions for a ‘good’ visitor, who respected the objects and asked questions, and a visitor who treated the objects clumsily. I realised through watching this role play that handling sessions are really opportunities for talk. The workshop had established that the majority of handling sessions involve some staff mediation of the objects for visitors and therefore involve conversations. Handling objects are prompts for dialogue in all but entirely unmediated access situations. The quiet reverie that I have been using in my hands-on archival research, and in some of my museum visits, is quite different to the closely planned curatorial and learning experiences delivered by museum staff with specific learning outcomes and ways of achieving these.
Prof Grace Lees-Maffei
Professor of Design History

Reposted from https://www.graceleesmaffei.org/home/2018/11/28/teg-tactile-access-to-collections-workshop

Thursday, 29 November 2018

REF and the death of creativity?

I recently went to a conference about 'impact' and the REF - the Research Excellence Framework for those who remain uninitiated - which is a UK-wide government initiative to provide a mechanism for funding research excellence. A product of the REF process therefore is the assessment of excellence.

The idea of excellence could not be more contentious. This is particularly true in a class-riven society in which class-based assumptions regarding value are too often made and where universities have differential status and access to resources is clustered amongst an illustrious few. The class critique of excellence, when it is defined in Arnoldian terms, is obvious.
(Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy written 1869 where he argues for culture as the best which has been thought and to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere, that all men [sic] live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light.)

The best is made and said by women in addition to men, and by all groups people irrespective of class or ethnic background or geographical location. The best does not belong to the province of the white male bourgeoisie. But not everyone is the best. By definition only a small percentage can be best, but the average - both the median and the mean - can go up if resources, time and energy are focused on fostering cultures of excellence.

It is hardly revolutionary thinking to state that women and working class and non-white people produce excellent research once we have the resources do so. But if we are going to support excellence, we do need to know what it is. Excellence needs to be defined and supported if it to exist. For this reason I am a fan of the REF. In its avowed efforts at parity and the fact that key individuals have mandatory training in unconscious bias, it may in fact be a mechanism not only for excellence but for supporting those academics and artists who are most often overlooked for support and promotion by dint of institutional sexism and racism. I am a fan - a critical fan - of the REF because it provides one mechanism towards creating a reasonably level playing field. That is, if the REF is understood in the spirit of attaining excellence - and not as yet another instance of gaming where the usual privileged suspects win and win again, this time taking it all.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

School of Creative Arts Research Seminars 2018/19

Now that the academic year is up and running, we are delighted to announce the Research Seminars which are happening across the academic year 2018/19 in the School of Creative Arts. Each of our four research groups, TVAD (Theorising Visual Art and Design), CAP (Contemporary Arts Practice), MRG, the Media Research Group, and DRG, the Design Research Group has contributed to a full and  rich line-up of talks and other events. The seminars are open to all, but please RSVP to Nick Thomas at the email address on the flyer, below, if you intend to join us.


Thursday, 5 July 2018

Questions arising from 'Art as Research'

On 25th June, Alana Jelinek led a workshop on the theme of art practice as research, supported with an award from Skill Up! The University of Hertfordshire’s Researcher-Led Researcher Development scheme, hosted by the University’s Researcher Development Working Group. Here are a few questions that arose from the day…


What is the difference between impact and dissemination? Catherine Tackley noted that applications for AHRC funding often make the mistake of conflating impact with dissemination or public engagement. Researchers sometimes force artificial opportunities for dissemination or engagement under the false assumption that this will improve their impact. She recommends focusing on who will benefit from the proposed research, and how they will benefit directly from the research, rather than how the research findings might be disseminated.

Tackley suggested that it was useful to think about the negative impact of a failure to fund the project. What would be lost if the research could not take place? Who would lose out if the funding was not awarded?


How dangerous is “scope creep”? Alessio Malizia warned of the dangers of mission creep, and discussed some of ways in which research scope can be narrowed. He observed that researchers, particularly at doctoral level, often start with a research question that is too large for one person to answer (or that becomes too large after the research has started). What should we do, he asks, when a research problem exceeds our individual capacities?

While “scope creep” can be problematic, for all the many reasons that Malizia identified (too broad a field of practice, too much source material to handle, etc.), is it always problematic? Scope creep can sometimes be useful, even essential, as the direction of research does need to be informed by constant reflection and re-evaluation of the research questions. In particular, Malizia touched on problems that were too big for an individual researcher, but perhaps this may sometimes be resolved not by narrowing the scope, but rather, expanding the research team. There are different ways of finding a balance between rigor and ambition, and ambitions may not need to be compromised if we find ways of extending our capacity.


Must the value of art be authenticated by academic institutions? At the end of the day Stelarc joined us to present an overview of his part works and discuss some of the themes that have underpinned his practice. He suggested that “research is the way that institutions try to authenticate practice”, but that this is problematic. Art practice and research are “two different ways of elevating the world”, and perhaps they do not always need to be combined.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Between ‘Revere’ and ‘Remove’

Students on the DHeritage programme at University of Hertfordshire met for one of the regular programme of workshops on 14th May 2018. Convened by Professor Sarah Lloyd, the programme for the day focussed on the concepts of ‘Remembering and Forgetting’.  It brought together students and staff at UH involved in the DHeritage with several external speakers addressing issues of ‘memory’ within their research. The day covered issues of migration (Dr Eureka Henrich), slavery (Dr Jessica Moody) and the heritage of tomorrow (Dr Esther Breithoff) in addition to contributions from students dealing with these questions in professional practice.

By chance, the workshop coincided with one of a series of evening debates organised by Intelligence² and Historic England and held in Westminster Revere or Remove? The Battle Over Statues Heritage and History’. This discussion, led by historians and journalists, addressed the subject of memory, and how such a contested concept is dealt with publicly, particularly in the multicultural and multi voiced 21st century context.

Managed by Jonathan Freedland, Guardian columnist and author, the Panel comprised Peter Frankopan, Research Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford; writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch; author Tiffany Jenkins, Honorary Fellow at the University of Edinburgh; and David Olusoga, Historian and Broadcaster.  Each presented a position statement generated initially in response to the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign (https://rmfoxford.wordpress.com), which has recently campaigned to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College in Oxford, and the decision to remove a statue of confederate general Robert E Lee from a park in Charlottesville, USA.  In many ways the responses and positions described were personal and reflected the experiences of the speakers.  Olusoga spoke with passion about the statue of merchant and slaver Edward Colston in Bristol, contrasting his own confidence in dealing with such memorials with that of others without his depth of historical knowledge.  He deconstructed the purpose of such statues and demonstrated both their erroneous portrayal of history and the changing nature of their meaning in contemporary society.  He urged the removing of Colston to a different site where his legacy could be debated in a context based on learning, not on the reverence that is hard to avoid when a viewer is physically required to ‘look up’ to a statue.  Jenkins took the position that relocation of statues simply relocated the issues. She noted the poor aesthetic quality of many such memorials and invoked the concepts of current relevance and the passing of time as determinants of the appropriate actions and responses to memorials.  As the contested statues are primarily in public places, her position was to leave responsibility with the public.  Where memorials are wanted they will be cared for, where no longer relevant they will be neglected and decline.  This approach reflects an emerging debate within the museum and heritage world regarding the potential for ‘managed decline’ of objects and places which are difficult to maintain for a range of reasons.  The need to forget as well as to remember was referenced although in a situation where the issues which some statues symbolise clearly continue to remain unaddressed, it seemed premature to move directly from ‘revere’ to ‘remove’ without further consideration.


All of the panellists at some point found themselves at risk of entanglement with the intricacies of this debate.  Hirsch urged the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes but also described the importance of monuments as part of the relationship of the present with the past.  Frankopan offered the view that the ‘winds of history’ mean that all statues will eventually fall, and that indeed, it is their ultimate function.  All felt that there should be some critique of each circumstance and a greater understanding of the history that each monument represents.  While an obvious response to the situation under discussion, this led inevitably to a discussion of the limitations of history teaching and public knowledge and to the fact that many statues are symbolic reductions of complex situations.  Their original meanings may have been lost and may be of limited relevance for the majority of those who view them today.  While some statues have little meaning at any one time, some have disproportionality significant meaning, becoming symbols of contemporary concerns. Olusoga pointed out that the Bristol statue of Colston was erected two hundred years after his death.  In this situation is the statue more realistically considered as something of the 19th rather than the 17th or 18th century?  Jenkins in particular cautioned about the dangers of being ‘enslaved to the past’.  If Bristol was provided with a statue of Colston in the 1890’s as part of a battle for power within the city’s merchant class, then it seemed entirely possible by the end of the debate that by removing it, Bristol could be signifying a sense of itself for the future, not seeking to remove an unpleasant figure and an unpalatable sense of its past.

Edward Colston, Bristol ©Barbara Wood

Reflecting on the workshop and the evening debate it seems as if the issues of both were less concerned with the meaning of statues and memorials at the time of erection and more about their function in establishing new identities for places and for society for the future.  A contributor from the audience, part of a campaign group aiming to remove the Colston statue spoke about the fundraising to establish a memorial to the 32000 people who died because of Colston’s’ activities and a museum of slavery in Bristol.  Meaning changes and develops even within living memory. Centuries after they were established, many of the remains under discussion seem inconsequential in themselves. It was their currency in the present that was important. It is surely our opportunity and responsibility to erect statues and memorials to what is important today, if - as Frankopan pointed out - anybody is interested enough to do that. 

Barbara Wood
Doctoral Candidate (DHeritage Programme)
@CuratorSW 

References
DeSilvey, C. (2017) Curated Decay Heritage Beyond Saving. University of Minnesota Press.

Jenkins, T. (2016) Keeping their marbles How the treasures of the past ended up in museums and why they should stay there. Oxford University Press. 

Monday, 16 April 2018

Research in the School of Creative Arts

The TVAD Research Group is just one of several research groups in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Hertfordshire. Staff move freely between groups examining Contemporary Arts Practice, Design Research, Media Research and the Digital Hack Lab as well as TVAD. Read more about the groups on our website here: https://www.herts.ac.uk/apply/schools-of-study/creative-arts/creative-arts-research

Some of our researchers were interviewed last year about their work and its significance for a film made by Freddie Gerrard-Abbott with Jak Kimsey and Antoine Proust. This film introduces the research of Dr Dan Goodbrey, Dr Pat Simpson, Dr Silvio Carta, Kim Akass, Prof Marty St James, Dr Steven Adams, Prof Simeon Nelson and Prof Grace Lees-Maffei. Hear them talking about their research in this film:

Research in the School of Creative Arts: An Overview from School of Creative Arts on Vimeo.

Find out more about TVAD's researchers, including Dan Goodbrey, Pat Simpson, Silvio Carta, Steven Adams and Grace Lees-Maffei on the TVAD researcher profile pages here: Link