Friday, 26 February 2016

New Research by Students of DHeritage, the Professional Doctorate in Heritage

Now in its second year, the University of Hertfordshire's innovative Professional Doctorate in Heritage, DHeritage, is the only programme of its kind in the world. So, it makes sense that the research our students produce is also innovative and promises to make a significant contribution to knowledge and practice in the heritage sector, broadly defined. Here is a snapshot of our students' work in progress.

Helen Casey is tracing the impact of the move of heritage online, as here with the Europeana project,

Helen Casey is a filmmaker and Director at Magic BeansMedia. She is a second year DHeritage student working on online heritage.

Digital Decisions: The rise of information technology since the turn of the millennium and its effect on heritage professionals and the sectors in which they work
At the turn of the millennium, when the internet was new, it seemed that, for heritage professionals, a shiny new dawn awaited. Technology would allow records to be digitised, artefacts to be experienced through virtual reality, and expertise to be shared worldwide at the touch of a button. Technology would democratise our heritage, allowing more people to access, experience and learn from it. At the same time, there were warnings that the use of gaudy information screens in exhibitions would distract from the object, immersive technology allowing sensory perception would cheapen and simplify the visitor experience, and expensive technology used to digitise and share heritage would become obsolete within ten or even five years, wasting valuable resources and creating a ‘digital black hole’ where digitised artefacts would go to die. So, how many of these predictions came to pass? And what can we learn from the experience of heritage professionals since the turn of the millennium that could help them plan ahead in a world of rapid and unpredictable technological change?

The communication of authority and authenticity in scenarios such as this one interests DHeritage student Barbara Wood

Barbara Wood is a curator at The National Trust. Her doctoral research examines authenticity, authority and heritage. She is currently in her first year of study for the DHeritage.

Authenticity, integrity and sharing information or manipulation of experience, restricting access and managing information?  Who has the authority to communicate knowledge and the power to control experience in the heritage sector?

This research addresses issues which are relevant across the heritage industry and the historic environment. It will explore who takes ownership of material and information and consider how this has changed over time, reflecting the requirements of funders, the expectations of visitors and the interests of individuals.

The work will consider whether it is possible to engage directly with heritage or whether experiences are always managed and manipulated to reflect the interests of individuals or current sectoral objectives. It will debate on what grounds authority to manage experience is allocated and will ultimately consider whether that authority is appropriately allocated and the effect of this delegation on visitors and users of heritage.

Using a series of case studies, this work will undertake new primary research, in order to reflect directly upon professional experience and to make use of museological and heritage theory. A series of questions will be framed around issues of authenticity, the use and manipulation of heritage and the purpose and integrity of the dialogue between those who use historic resources and those who care for them. Recognising that practice within the heritage and museum sector may always be compromised, it will seek to move the debate further to consider why or if there will always be an accommodation to be made, whether users of such resources can ever find an authentic experience and whether this matters.

Should old bathrooms be conserved in some historic buildings? Charlotte Reynolds' research considers the options

Charlotte Reynolds works as a Heritage at Risk Project Officer at Historic England and is a first-year DHeritage student. Her research examines the significance of historic bathrooms in today’s homes.

In Need of Modernisation? The place of historic toilets and bathrooms in our homes

A cold and unwelcoming outside toilet, and unfixed bath, are within living memory for a declining number of older people. The addition of an indoor toilet and plumbed-in bath, whether an earlier installation in 1840 or a later one in 1980, were a significant investment and noteworthy change to a building, and the lives lived in it.

Despite being of fairly recent social and architectural history for our homes, this change is all too easily overlooked. A decreasing number of privies and outside WCs survive, and often little significance is given to remaining early bathrooms. They are not usually seen as desirable ‘period features’. Once common-place fixtures are becoming rare, within a culture that has created a ‘need’ for multiple fashionable bathrooms.

This project considers what has driven the modernisation of facilities in the past and present, and the impact this has had on our buildings. I am interested in where old toilets and bathrooms survive, and how these are perceived today, particularly within a planning and listed building context. The research addresses my professional concerns over the lack of guidance currently available on the heritage significance of such features, and whether, or how, to conserve or record them. 

DHeritage students at Cumberland Lodge for the University of Hertfordshire's annual Department of History conference

Further information about the DHeritage is available on the University website and from the Programme Director, Dr Grace Lees-Maffei.

Friday, 19 February 2016

We have never been naked: insulation as a performing surface

On 30 January 2016, Eva Sopeoglou [1], Matina Kousidi [2] and Joanna Pierce [3] organised a multi-disciplinary collaborative workshop titled “We Have Never Been Naked: Insulation as a Performing Surface”. The workshop was part of Unfrozen – First Swiss Design Network Research Winter Summit symposium, held at Grandhotel Giessbach Brienz, Switzerland between 28-31 January 2016.

This Textile and Architectural multi-disciplinary international collaboration came together to explore the boundaries between space and insulation materials relating to both buildings and bodies. Set in the beautiful but cold environment of the Swiss Alps with snow capped peaks in the background, the workshop explored the subject of insulation properties through environmental installation, material exploration, collage, situation and action, as well as a range of senses; to formulate, experience and respond to sub-zero temperatures. 

Each presenter shared their expertise on the topic. Eva Sopeoglou’s research on human thermal comfort juxtaposed the physical need to protect the body from cold with the perplexing delight in experiencing a variety of temperatures, reminding that feeling cold and warm is a state of mind.

Matina Kousidi delved into the rich history of links between architecture and fashion and their overlapping interest to cover, house and protect the body, concluding that 'environments may be fit for human beings by any number of means'. 

Joanna Pierce introduced the processes that textile designers employ in order to manipulate and transform textile surfaces – folding, wrapping, knotting – and explained the many ways that textiles can perform in fulfilling ritualistic, technical and ecological purposes.

Participants were asked to address the research question of the role of insulation for the body and the built environment. They were prompted to respond with a piece of ‘performance architecture’, for example, a piece of clothing or a site-specific architectural enclosure – to be worn by one or many. The performances included a piece of spoken word, text narration, discussion, acting, staging. 

The proposals considered insulation alongside the collective or the sublime experience of cold environments. For example, body warmth can become social, a shared means to spend time outdoors, even among strangers. A ‘duvet wall’ can facilitate conversation between people at a bus stop. A site-specific outfit which includes built-in insulation, furniture, a garment and goggle accessories can allow one to delight in a multi-sensory panorama of a wintery landscape. 

The workshop prompted everyone to continue their pursuit to design fit environments for human activities. At the same time, this winter symposium was excellent excuse to delight in the cold.

This workshop was partly funded by a University of Hertfordshire - Santander Small Grant for Multi-disciplinary Research.

[1] Eva Sopeoglou is Lecturer of Architecture and Interior Architecture and Design at the University of Hertfordshire.
[2] Dr. Matina Kousidi is a Research Fellow in Architecture and Urban Studies at the Politecnico di Milano.
[3] Joanna Pierce is Senior Lecturer, Print Pathway Leader and Researcher at the Textile Futures Research Centre, Central St Martins, University of the Arts London.