Heritage & Creativity

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I hit a bit of a Beckett wall this month and came to understand why he is often called The Last Modernist – a view I have hitherto opposed. After a while the profound pessimism of his world view becomes quite hard to get around and even to see beyond. As a writer my own preoccupations are almost as far from Beckett’s as it’s possible to be.

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Dr Hella Eckardt, Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading, has just been named Archaeologist of the Year by Current Archaeology magazine. Part of her research is focused on uncovering evidence of how diverse the Roman Empire was, which in turn informs modern-day discussions about immigration. Here, Dr Eckardt discusses the scientific techniques used in her research and how the findings can be best communicated in schools.

Dr Ella Eckardt was awarded Archaeologist of the Year by Current Archaeology

There has been recent discussion about the importance of bringing the past to life for school children. One way to do this is to examine how archaeology might provide a different perspective on some major current debates, for example around migration.

A few years ago, I worked with my colleagues Gundula Müldner and Mary Lewis on around 150 burials from Roman Britain, trying to learn more about their geographical origin and cultural identities.

As an artefact specialist, I am quite used to identifying apparently exotic or unusual objects, but it was really fascinating to test whether the people buried with them were immigrants or not.

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On 6th February 2018, the UK celebrated 100 years since some women and all men were given the vote.  In the preceding months, Dr Jacqui Turner, Lecturer in Modern History and an expert on Nancy Astor, advised on a range of projects to mark the centenary in creative and unusual ways, both in Parliament and locally in Reading. Celebrations took place around the country, and in Reading, audiences experienced a public dance and debate, created  and performed by Reside Dance, that brought the story of #Vote100 to life. Here, Dr Turner tells us how her involvement in this collaborative project was one of the most challenging and inspirational experiences of her research career.

 

 

 

 
Images courtesy of Brenda Sandilands

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by Professor Peter Stoneley, Head of Department, English Literature, University of Reading

A poem about a man who murdered his wife isn’t an obvious choice for Valentine’s Day, but Oscar Wilde made it clear that his The Ballad of Reading Gaol was, in fact, about love:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word.

Written after his two years of imprisonment with hard labour from 1895 to 1897, and first published on February 13th 1898, Wilde’s poem focused on an execution by hanging that was carried out in Reading Prison during his own incarceration. Charles Thomas Wooldridge was a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards who, out of jealousy, stabbed his wife to death. Wooldridge thought his death sentence was right, and he did not seek clemency. He was hanged on 7 July 1896, and buried in an unmarked grave within the Prison walls.

Oscar Wilde’s ‘love poem’ was also a plea for prison reform

In the present climate, where attitudes and behaviour towards women are rightfully being challenged, presenting Wooldridge as a hero, or suggesting his actions were a “crime of passion”, seems abhorrent.  Wilde, though, draws Wooldridge with sympathy.  The trooper seems haunted by his crime, as he looks “with such a wistful eye/Upon that little tent of blue/Which prisoners call the sky”.

Further, Wilde chooses to explore the thought that all people fail their love in one way or another: “each man kills the thing he loves”.  The paradox of the poem is that Wooldridge becomes the hero of love because he, out of the intensity of his devotion, commits the greatest crime.

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By Dr Paddy Bullard, Co-director of the Centre for Collections-Based Research at Reading

The University of Reading’s Collections are an outstanding resource, from the Beckett Collection through to the Museum of English Rural Life. Research using Collections is taking place right across the Institution, and has been for a number of years.

Examples include investigations into the Hugh Sinclair Archive by Food and Nutritional Sciences, Architecture’s use of the DWG Collection and use of the WH Smith Archive by the Henley Business School. However, given the breadth and quality of this resource we could be making much greater use of the Collections for grant-winning research.

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The visual, performing and literary arts play an important and evolving role in shaping experiences and appreciations of landscapes as well as providing critical and cultural understanding of them.

In recent years, the significance of the arts in landscape and environmental research has been increasingly emphasised, with arts and humanities components now a common, if not required, element in research proposals, such as activities delivered through the Valuing Nature research programme. Similarly, many and diverse landscape management projects with arts-based elements are funded by public money.

Event details >

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Of all I’ve read in my life, and all that’s yet to come, what’s going to count? How much of it has changed me? How much has even marked me? How much has done both but I don’t know it yet? Readers get to make these discoveries in the privacy of their own heads. Writers must make them in public and then wear them in their back catalogues for as long as they have a readership who cares.

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By Dr Alison Black, Research Professor, Centre for Information Design Research.

As January gives way to February, many UK tax payers sigh with relief as they submit their tax returns, often uncertain that they have provided the information HMRC require or have filled out their forms correctly. Filling out forms is just one of many everyday interactions with information, as is using signs to reach a destination, or following written instructions or diagrams. 

Good information design ensures that people find such things easy to use.

At the University of Reading, the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication has pioneered research and teaching in information design – a discipline that brings together graphic design, psychology, and linguistics to work together with specialists, for example in health, meteorology and law, who need to communicate information to non-specialist decision makers and the public.

Design research and practiceThis evening Reading’s Centre for Information Design Research (CIDR) is joining parliamentarians and researchers and practitioners in information design to celebrate its recent, edited book Information Design Research and Practice (Routledge 2017). In an event hosted by University of Reading’s Chancellor, the Rt Hon. the Lord Waldegrave of North Hill, and organised with the All Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group, guests will discuss how information design can be used to support people when contexts are complex and decisions are important for their safety, well-being and opportunity.

CIDR’s research projects touch just these kinds of areas, from current AHRC-funded research on public communication about anti-microbial resistance, and projects with Reading’s meteorologists, funded by NERC and DfID, on the best way to communicate weather forecasts, to work with the National Offender Management Service on tools to reduce violence by improving communication between prisoners and officers.

The UK leads the way in many aspects of public information provision, including its award-winning gov.uk website, but there is still a long way to go in communicating effectively in many aspects of people’s lives.

 

Reading was fifth in the UK for funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

Researchers at the University of Reading won a record amount of research funding from the UK Research Councils in 2016/17, a new analysis has shown.

Funding for Reading-led research projects from the six main research councils increased to £14.5 million in 2016/17, up by more than 40% from 2015/16.

The success was highlighted by an analysis of Research Council success rates by Times Higher Education (THE).

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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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