Our research shapes lives and changes communities - from exciting programmes of public exhibitions and events, to new knowledge that influences healthcare, education, or policy. Here are just four of the ways English Studies academics have made an impact.
Interdisciplinary medical humanities research undertaken at Durham University as part of the Wellcome-funded Life of Breath project has changed approaches to breath and breathlessness, transforming understandings, offering new possibilities for management and therapy, and reducing stigma. Literary and cultural research has uncovered the history of ideas about breath and breathlessness. It has extended biomedical perspectives and challenged perceptions by illuminating the role of cultural contexts and individual emotions in experiences of breathlessness, and by revealing the paucity of language for breathlessness. Researchers have brought together and worked with communities including individuals with lived experience, support groups, carers, therapists, clinicians and creative artists to elucidate the nature of breath and breathlessness, understand their cultural constructions, open out ways of articulating experience, and implement new approaches to management of breathlessness.
The exhibition Catch Your Breath and the related engagement programme have changed individual perceptions, extended understanding, and influenced creative and curatorial practice. The broad range of beneficiaries, including respiratory patients, clinicians and health practitioners, support groups and carers, creative artists, curators and the wider public, demonstrates the vital roles of language, culture and context in the understanding, treatment and representation of those experiencing breathlessness.
Sidebar image: Durham exhibition photo tour. Image credit: John Donoghue.
Through pioneering, interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaborations, literary and medical humanities researchers at Durham University have challenged the dominant perception of voice-hearing as a symptom of pathology, reframing it as a meaningful part of human experience. Without questioning the very real distress that is sometimes associated with auditory hallucination, it has challenged the idea that voice-hearing is only ever a symptom of mental illness, highlighting different types of voice-hearing, their changing interpretation across time and cultural context, and their relationship to other aspects of creative and 'inner' experience. Research engaging different literary periods, genres and theoretical traditions has deepened awareness of the variety of voice-hearing experiences and their relationship to creativity, memory, inner speech and cognition. These insights have in turn demonstrated the value of literature and literary thinking to understanding human experience more broadly, providing a meaningful model for connections between humanities research and clinical practice. This work has changed public perceptions of voice-hearing while also generating new understandings of literary and creative processes.
Sidebar image: Hearing Voices image gallery. Image credit: Andrew Cattermole Photography.
Three interconnected projects with Durham University and collaborators have developed new audiences for the rich expedition-related archives and art collections of the UK. Together they have used the concept and talking point of 'heroism' to shift the ways that archives and collections are accessed, displayed, and understood. Research regarding the expeditionary history and its literary records led to events and exhibitions that changed public perception of and engagement with British exploration, with impact in the areas of (1) curation, (2) conversation, (3) careers, and (4) communities. The projects created new artistic and curatorial practices and paradigms with a lasting effect on National Galleries Scotland, Royal Geographical Society and Mountain Heritage Trust; they provided new ways for young people to tackle difficult conversations regarding body image and identity, particularly in Personal and Social Education (PSE) contexts; they influenced the practice and career trajectory of two commissioned artists, and they facilitated local community involvement in the interpretation of archive acquisitions. Beneficiaries, therefore, included: museums, galleries, and archives; practising artists; and public audiences of all ages, but in particular the 16 to 18 age group. This work attracted commercial sponsorship from the outdoor brand Montane in addition to funding from Arts Council England (ACE) and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The Durham led project, Records of Early English Drama North-East (REED-NE) has raised public awareness of and encouraged active involvement in, North-East England’s cultural heritage. Engaging and developing a large team of community volunteers and creative practitioners, the project has staged multiple significant dramatic events showcasing regional traditions thought lost, while sharing skills, refining historical knowledge, and inspiring diverse audiences. The principal impacts have been: Revival of a lost dramatic heritage and reinvigoration of live regional traditions. Participation of local community volunteers and creative artists (including musicians, dancers and puppet-makers), resulting in skill sharing and development, and demonstrable wellbeing benefits. Inclusion of varied audiences from across the North East, in part facilitated by theatrical interventions using striking puppetry, leading to increased interest and participation in local cultural heritage, especially it's intangible musical and performance elements.
Sidebar image: The Durham Dragon entertains at our Theatrum Mundi Festival. Image credit: Michael Baker.