I’ve been writing my literature review this week. I cannot say that I find commenting on existing academic literature a very engaging exercise, although it can be quite fun being critical. Fortunately, all this looking inwards into the bubble of academia has been healthily counter-balanced by lots of stimulating discussions about looking out to the great British public.
Having spent a year out of academia mostly working with the public at Turner Contemporary (and various other places in and around my native Kent), it was quite an adjustment going back to spending my days in my own little academic bubble when I started my PhD in September. However, on the horizon was Burning Bright, an exhibition on Blake and the art of the book at the John Rylands Library (8th February – 23rd June) bringing with it opportunities to create Blake activities for both schools and the general public.
Mid-literature-reviewing this week, I went to meet the public programme team to discuss ideas for activities. There are already some great events coming up in the current programme, including printing workshops, which tie in wonderfully with the exhibition’s focus on Blake’s continuing inspiration. I’m hoping to do some themed tours at the start of the summer programme in June which will bring together material in the exhibition, other items in the collection and the building itself. I’ll not say more for the time being, but watch this space for updates.
No sooner had I sent the literature review off than I was back on my Brompton, braving the chaos of the Oxford Road to meet the education team. I’ve been developing ideas for a schools workshop since before Christmas, so we were meeting to discuss the shape of the workshop and marketing it to schools. In all, there will be three sessions for the Blake exhibition – my own and one each by two MA students in Museum Studies. We’ve all picked up on different aspects of Blake’s work and created workshops with different activities and outcomes, so hopefully there will be something to appeal to different school groups. My workshop is aimed at RE classes, focussing on Blake’s idea that “The Old and New Testaments are the Great Code of Art” to explore different ways of interpreting stories from the Bible creatively, culminating in students creating their own interpretation of a story from the Bible. I’m excited about how this ties in with my research interests and will introduce students to Blake’s Illustrations to the Book of Job, one of the stars of the show in the Burning Bright exhibition which was only recently discovered in the collection.
Sandwiched between these meetings was a stimulating training day as part of the Afterlife of Heritage Research project, an AHRC funded programme of training to facilitate collaboration between researchers and cultural institutions. It’s always fascinating to learn about what other researchers are working on, and the places where research interacts with wider audiences are particularly exciting. By the end of the day we had heard case studies about public engagement, failed to understand some torturous jargon then tried to explain our own research without leaving people quite so confused, and even thought up our own fictional public engagement events for the Museum of Camberwick Green. Now to think about using the insights from the day to refine my ideas for Burning Bright projects.