Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. Everything has been figured out, except how to live. One always dies too soon or too late. And yet, life is there, finished. The line is drawn, and it must all be added up. You are nothing other than your life. There is only one day left, always starting over. It is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk. We do not know what we want and yet we are responsible for what we are, that is the fact. When you live alone you no longer know what it is to tell a story: the plausible disappears at the same time as the friends. You let events flow by too.Suddenly you see people appear who speak and then go away; you plunge into stories of which you can't make head or tail. You'd make a terrible witness. It is true that people who live in society have learned how to see themselves in mirrors as they appear to their friends. Luckily, I only have a few...

Dr Shaw is a lecturer in Further Education at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk. She also offers philosophy courses at the School of Continuing Education, Lifelong learning, at the University of Liverpool. In 2015, she has completed her Doctorate in philosophy with a focus on existentialism, the equilibrium doctrine and narrative. She has worked as a teacher of English and Comparative literature and Philosophy at The American University in Cairo, Egypt where she also obtained her BA (Hons). Dr Shaw has an MA in Philosophy and Literature from the University of East Anglia where she also taught on a number of humanities subjects. Whilst working in North Wales in Further education, she gained a PGCE aimed at teaching in FE and HE sectors. Dr Shaw moved to Liverpool in 2010 where she now resides.

Interests: Existentialism, Narrative, Comparative Literature, Feminist Thought, Public Speaking, Arab Existentialism, Philosophy of Education, Art, Music, Film and Theatre, Greek Mythology, Existential counsellor and psychotherapist.


Sunday, 16 January 2011

A day to rememeber: the wonders of Sensory Stories

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand..."
  -Confucius, Chinese philosopher & reformer (551 BC - 479 BC)
I have had the pleasure of attending Sensory Stories Training day at York University.(1) The one day workshop took place on the 15th January 2011 at the Humanities Research Centre in Berrick Saul Building, and was funded by Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
The workshop commenced by a talk on Shandy Hall (2) where Laurence Sterne wrote Tristram Shandy- one of the most iconic novels in English language today. The talk by Partick Wildgust, Curator of Shandy Hall Museum (3), was thought provoking in a time where education seems to be going through a 'silent crisis'. Students are victims of a materialistic time where making money is the ultimate goal rather than producing and communicating work that will benefit humanity as a whole. Wildgust, whilst promoting the works of Laurence Sterne, has gained vast experience in public engagement and interpreting Sterne's works and objects to a wider audience. He believes that "some objects give us the future and give us the past- visibly". Objects speak to us as a result of our imagination. They liberate us, intrigue us and open vast possibilities. But is the creation of our imagination what matters or can objects have significant context of their own?

Some believe that museums negates the objects' possibilities as usually there is an interpretation of the object, a note with the background of the object next to it- this could be viewed as limiting to some extent. But whether one prefers to experience with or without knowing its background, there is no doubt that objects and imagination make the perfect chemistry. The following session "making objects speak" by Matt Jenkins, who is a PhD Archeology students at York University, gave us another step further to get into grips with our experiences of objects and their link with sensory stories. Jenkins encouraged us, PhD researchers, to think about objects that we believe will be useful in our own research. The question in my mind was "How can I tell an ordinary person- with no academic background or knowledge of Existentialism- about J.P Sartre,Nausea and my research as a whole?" A fundamental question that I believe I will carry on exploring throughout the coming years of my work and study. The exercises give by Jenkins- to choose an object in groups to talk about it- was an excellent way to discuss objects significance in relation to research and stories that would be appealing to the general public. In my group, we choose an old music box and a collection of postcards. The tune from the music box automatically brought back good memories to Patrick Wildgust from Shandy Hall. He was reminded of his childhood and to our surprise, recalled the exact tune. The group mentioned how the public could become nostalgic hearing the tune and experiencing such an object that seem to carry a lot of stories from the past. For me, the tunes had a negative association- as I recently watched a horror film where children were enchanted by a tune from an ice cream van! The box, however, was nicely decorated showing a scene similar to that of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's dream with fairies and angles.This shows that there is no limits on one's imagination when it comes to choosing objects to communicate a certain message, image or have a specific effect on the audience, as mentioned during the training day "there is no one story, but vast possibilities and there are all in the hands of the researcher".
Stephe Harrop

Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill
Having had the chance to hear others opinions and share our experiences, I believe we, as a group of researchers, were ready to see examples of public engagement through sensory stories. Stephe Harrop (4), scholar and story teller, started her talk in a fun and relaxed approach where she told a couple of stories from Greek Mythology that captured the audience imagination and reminded us all of our childhood. Harrop successfully bridged the gap through story telling between the academic world and public engagement. Her technique was an excellent example of conveying one's own research into a more accessible appealing way to the general public. And to reinforce Harrop's talk, we were given an hour session in groups to attempt to tell a brief tale to each other and present it in our groups. The response was impressive and Harrop gave feedback to everyone regardless of the time constraints. The message I believe from this talk was that researchers should tailor their stories- or research- to suit the audience, since talking to primary school children will require extra fun elements, mystery and engagement in contrary to talking to mature academics familiar with the subject. Thom Richardson, from the Royal Armouries, (5) told us about the importance of allowing the public to get a hands on experience of objects. This not only help the public understand the object and information given, but also have ownership of their experience and attempt to explore more. This may sound daunting for those working on rare objects in the field of Archeology perhaps where handling objects may cause damage. Richardson suggested replicas as a solution as it is another way of allowing public engagement. Next example of communicating research to the public was Iona McCleery from the University of Leeds (6). McCleery's research brought biomedical science, bio-archeology and medical history together. Her project "Your are what you Ate"(7) is in partnership with the Wellcome Trust which enabled her to reach a wider audience and get the financial support needed for such a project and the help/ expertise of many other professionals in the field. McCleery stressed that collaboration is important for research students because you gain so much working with people who may see things differently, which is something that the next speaker, Helen Weinstein, historian and media producer, encouraged us, researchers, to do (8). Weinstein told us about how research and 'Knowledge Transfer' projects are the way forward in research as they bring both academics and the general public together. The Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP) internship programme (9) for instance gives graduate students the experience of translating the academic skills in to TV, radio, museum and heritage site products and exhibitions. And on the topic of copy right and intellectual property raised by one researchers among the audience, she said that getting our voice heard as researchers is vital but it is important not to give everything away. Being assertive and knowing how to suggest individual involvement in media projects means that ownership over the work is not lost and at the same time one shares such ownership with the public. Hence, Knowledge transfer is a two way process. And last but not least, we had the opportunity to watch a performance by Holly Clarkson and Kate Prosser, Contemporary dance students, who performed a number of pieces based on one of the researcher's work on Post-War. One piece in particular struck me to be an embodiment of my work, and I could not stop myself from expressing how I was touched to see a glimpse of my work brought to life bye Clarkson and Prosser. I was truly touched. The fact the I did not realise that the performance is associated with Post-War helped my imagination to associate such movements and feelings expressed in Clarkson and Prosser's duet to my work on self consciousness, harmony and conflict between the one and the Other. It was truly beautiful to watch. The whole day has bridged the gap between visuals in any form, objects/performances and research and I think that on behalf of many, it has been such a successful one.

And only when I thought I have hit a wall with my research and the world seemed to have come to an end, I see the light again, and it is all thanks to events like Sensory stories, where we are reminded of why we pursued the topic, why we fell in love with the idea, and why we should carry on.

(1) http://sensorystories.wordpress.com/about/
Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC):  http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/Pages/default.aspx
(2) http://www.shandean.org/shandyhall.html
(3) http://www.laurencesternetrust.org.uk/
(4) http://www.stepheharrop.co.uk/?page_id=94
(5) http://www.royalarmouries.org/home
(6) http://www.leeds.ac.uk/history/staff/iona_mccleery.htm
(7) http://wellcometrust.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/guest-post-you-are-what-you-ate/
(8) http://www.york.ac.uk/ipup/weinstein.html
(9) http://www.york.ac.uk/ipup/

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