Heritage & Creativity

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It was pretty cold when I visited the archive in December and, in rebellion at the pummellings of pre-Christmas cheer, I ordered up some drafts of Beckett’s final prose work ‘Stirrings Still.’  I was intrigued by the description in Jim Knowlson’s biography of the physical frailty evident in Beckett’s handwriting as he worked on it in the last years of his life.

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Multi-award-winning author Eimear McBride is the inaugural Creative Fellow at the University of Reading’s Samuel Beckett Research Centre. This role allows her exclusive access to the University’s Beckett Archive and leading Beckett academics, and will see her produce a brand new piece of work inspired by the work of the Irish playwright. Here, in part one of her monthly journal, she talks about the daunting, and fascinating, task of following in Beckett’s footsteps.

Eimear will get to explore the University’s Beckett Archive

I have the good fortune to be in receipt of the inaugural Creative Fellowship at the University of Reading’s Beckett Research Centre.

From now until the summer I’ll be haunting their reading room and ordering as much material by, and about, Beckett from their archive as I can possibly read – having already cast an eye over the fascinating ‘German Diaries’ and seen Beckett’s handwriting up close, it’s fair to say, the reading itself may prove something of a challenge.

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Steven Matthews is professor of English Literature, University of Reading. His latest book of poetry, On Magnetism, was launched this week. It features poems about loss and remembrance, about the relation of the Renaissance and the Classical worlds to our own, and about locales within lives. 

The following poem is reproduced by kind permission of the publisher. It is followed by a reflection on the poem, and its place within the book, by Steven Matthews.

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Professor Rick Poynor reflects on a new exhibition of National Theatre posters and what they tell us about changing approaches to graphic design from mid-century to the modern day.

The exhibition of National Theatre posters I have curated for the theatre’s Wolfson Gallery spans more than five decades. Since the theatre’s founding in 1963, the posters’ design has been the responsibility of just five people, allowing for an exceptional degree of continuity. This makes the theatre’s output a particularly revealing case study. The posters are not only a record of how an institution central to British cultural life visualised the role of design, but they also provide an insight into changing approaches to graphic design over the decades.

National Theatre poster, Dance of Death, Old Vic Ken Briggs

The Dance of Death, Old Vic, 1967. Design: Ken Briggs. Photograph: Zoë Dominic (copyright National Theatre)

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By Dr Teresa Murjas, Department of Film, Theatre and Television, University of Reading

Image from the Huntley and Palmer archive held at the Museum of English Rural Life

Over the last couple of months, I have been working with Reading Museum and The MERL to support and advise colleagues from The National Archives during the development of their Edible Archives theme. This is part of the national Explore your Archive campaign, which is aimed at raising awareness of, and increasing public engagement with, archives and collections. (see last month’s blog post)

This exciting collaboration arose from my ongoing creative work with the University of Reading’s Huntley & Palmers archive, which is entitled ‘The First World War in Biscuits’. A 100-year-old ration biscuit, put on display at Reading Museum as a result of the project, was modified by young Private George Mansfield during the war to hold his photograph.

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By Professor Roger Matthews and Dr Wendy Matthews

Bestansur site in Iraq

The transition of humankind from mobile hunters to settled farmers after the Ice Age is a period in history still shrouded in mystery. Very little evidence exists to shed light on what life was like in the world’s first villages in the Middle East 12,000 to 9,000 years ago.

But our archaeological research, carried out in collaboration with local communities in Iraq and Iran, is uncovering clues that will help us understand how ancient civilisations developed. We will be presenting our findings at a public lecture on Wednesday 22 November, as part of the national Being Human Festival.

Earlier this year, we conducted excavations and interdisciplinary research at the Neolithic site of Bestansur, in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is in the eastern Fertile Crescent – one of the areas of the Middle East where farming originated. Our aim is to learn more about how humans first started farming in this region, taking steps towards a more domesticated lifestyle.

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A series of Brazilian films, showing at the Tate Modern, London from 9-12 November, explores the role of cinema in the Brazilian Tropicália cultural movement, and will bring together a range of key filmmakers and scholars in the field.

Image credit: Arthur Omar, Triste Trópico (Sad Tropics, 1974), film still. Courtesy the artist

The films, curated by Dr Stefan Solomon from the Department of Film, Theatre and Television, University of Reading, will be shown over four days at the Tate Modern’s Starr Cinema as part of Tate Film’s ‘Counter-Histories’ series.

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A multi-media installation created by Dr Teresa Murjas, Associate Professor in the Department of Film, Theatre & Television has inspired the work of The National Archives, Kew and its national Explore Your Archive campaign (18-28 November 2017).

The film, sound and object-based installation – The First World War in Biscuits – is an interpretation of one of the archives held at Reading Museum and the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL). In August 2017 Teresa welcomed colleagues from The National Archives (TNA), together with The Great British Bake-off finalist, Miranda Gore-Brown, to Reading. She gave them a tour of Reading Museum and the MERL, where she had selected archival materials and artefacts from the Huntley & Palmers collection for them to view.

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By David Brauner, Professor of Contemporary Literature, University of Reading

Lincoln in the Bardo is a worthy winner of the Man Booker Prize and is further confirmation of the supremacy of American authors in the field of contemporary fiction, following Paul Beatty’s win last year for The Sellout.

With a few notable exceptions, British novelists seem tame and timid in comparison to their American counterparts. It was great to see Kazuo Ishiguro win the Nobel Prize but he would probably be the first to agree with Garrison Keillor that it’s a scandal that so many of the great contemporary Americans – Philip Roth pre-eminent among them – have been consistently overlooked for the honour. Every year, for the best part of two decades, Roth has been heavily tipped for the prize – alongside fellow Americans Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and Joyce Carol Oates – but when, last year, they finally decided to give it to an American writer (an American Jewish writer, at that), it was Robert Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan) who got the nod.

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By Dr Gemma Watson, Post-Doctoral Research Assistant in the Department of Archaeology

Back in May 2017, Roberta Gilchrist, Professor of Archaeology and Research Dean at the University of Reading, presented the prestigious Rhind Lectures, the oldest and biggest archaeology lecture series in the world, hosted by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Professor Gilchrist presented on the theme of ‘Sacred Heritage: Archaeology, Identity and Medieval Beliefs’, exploring over six lectures the value of sacred medieval heritage today and in the past. The lectures outline a new research agenda for the archaeological study of later medieval monasticism with a strong emphasis on the archaeology of medieval Scotland and tying in with the Scottish Government’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017. The lectures are now available to watch online.

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