30/03 – 07/04 Rosemary Overell

This week @wethehumanities switches hemispheres and heads to New Zealand. Brilliantly (although, it must be said, entirely by coincidence) we’ll be continuing the political vein from Emma’s week, which saw an extended and incredibly week-received discussion of mental health provision in academia, with Rosemary taking up pedagogy and power. I’m also really looking forward to hearing what she has to say about foodies and reality TV (do they have Bake Off in NZ?).

I am an early career academic at the University of Otago – all the way at the bottom of the South Island in Aotearoa (New Zealand). I’m originally from The University of Melbourne, in Australia, where I wrote my PhD on ‘Affective Intensities in and Between Melbourne and Osaka’s Grindcore Metal Scenes’ (soon to be published by Palgrave books). My work, then, focuses on how affect (those bodily intensities we can’t express through the language of emotions) intersects with popular culture. Though my thesis focused on music I am interested in many aspects of pop culture – including reality television and ‘foodie’ cultures.

I come from a cultural studies background and I strongly believe that education should be politically radical and focused on empowering students and reaching out beyond the ‘ivory tower’ of the formal university institution. My position at Otago means I have the chance to teach within the uni, but also connect with the community through the Dunedin Free University – which is inspired by the pedagogy of Paolo Friere and Jacques Ranciere. Cultural studies was anchored in a socialist political position – I believe that popular culture is a site for hegemonic struggle and that’s why it is important to study.

This week I will be avidly tweeting about the everyday life of being an academic in Otago – about the affective labour of working in the university but also the intersection between activism and academia!

25/03 – 30/03 Emma Southon

This week we welcome Emma, aka @nuclearteeth (I’m dying to ask if there’s a story behind this name) as our @wethehumanities curator. She’s in a position that I think many of us will identify with, PhD or not. Unemployment and underemployment touch people throughout the humanities, both in and out of academia, and we’re looking forward to the conversations Emma’s hoping to start and the honesty and insight she sounds like she’ll be bringing to her week as well as hearing more about experiences in academia so far and her passion for Caligula and Roman history.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my week as @wethehumanities and what I shall do with it. This is partly because I overthink horribly, and partly because it feels like a big responsibility: for a week I’ll be the face of humanities! I can’t talk about all humanities though, I can only talk about my role within it and the things that I love and hate about it.

It seems important first off to say where I am coming from. I consider myself an academic and a historian though I’m currently only sort of one of those things. I completed my PhD in Ancient History last year and have been working at Coventry University teaching Academic Writing since then. I’m in post-PhD hell and trying to work out where I go from here. Part of my post-PhD hell has been properly dealing with the mental illnesses that I tried to ignore while I was studying, and trying to work out if there is a place for a woman with anxiety and depression in the academy.

The second thing then, is what I want to talk about, which is mainly what I care about. I hope to use this week to find out what other humanities people are doing post-PhD or are planning on doing. I want to talk about academia, and especially the place of self-care and mental health concerns among academics. I want to talk about my research, and the emperor Caligula. I want to talk about what non-historians think about the Romans. Mainly I want to talk about the humanities, which I love and want to talk about more than anything.

16/03 – 23/03 Kate Maxwell

Week 4 four sees @wethehumanities take a Scandinavian turn with a curation from Norway.  Kate Maxwell will be taking over the account on Sunday night and early risers will get to accompany on her mammoth fortnightly commute in the small hours of Monday morning.  From the sounds of her introductory post Norway’s life-work ethic puts much of the rest of the world to shame and we suspect that we won’t be alone in googling visa applications by the end of the week.

In its fourth week of rotation-curation, @WeTheHumanities leaves the shores of the United Kingdom for the first time. So let me invite you on a journey of discovery to Norway, where I am working on a postdoctoral project on multimodality in medieval manuscripts, particularly Old and Middle French literature and music.

As a UK-passport-holder living in Norway, my adopted country sometimes seems utopic. With high social equality, barely visible crime rates, low unemployment, generous research funding, hard-working undergraduates, and where free time is highly valued, I won’t be surprised to find you all knocking at my door next week. That is not to say that Norway is perfect. But its problems are of a different order of magnitude from those I encountered during my time in the UK.

It’s like a drug, the Norwegian (and Scandinavian) respect for free time. These days, my academic life – like that of my colleagues – revolves around my outside life, my family. I am unusual in that I live in the north of the country (in the Arctic circle no less) but work in the south. That’s an 1800-km commute (about the same as London-Madrid), and no, I don’t do it every day. I generally work from home one week, and in the office the next. My curation week actually falls on my first double ‘away week’, thus one in which, in honour of our vow to spend weekends together, my family (partner and children) will come south to join me for the weekend. Unless I can work out how to use someone else’s mobile device (no, I don’t have one – why the hell would I want to read emails when not working?), tweets at the weekend will be limited, because I’m not taking my computer to the zoo. (It won’t fit under the pushchair, and anyway might get eaten by a giraffe. Or something.)

What I do hope to show during my week is that it is not only possible, but enjoyable and above all healthy to be a researcher and balance an active family life. This means that I will do more than ‘merely’ introduce you all to the fascinating, ever-present and growing methodology that is multimodality (warning: once you pop you can’t stop), we will spend some time having fun in the Middle Ages, we will listen to some of the music I work with from that time, and we will revel in the uncertainty that is dealing with a past from which so little documentation survives. Be warned, my friends, that I will also introduce you to Goat Major (5) and Goat Minor (3), and to my co-goatherd the Goatfather (33). As the week goes on, these three will be travelling more than the length of Norway’s train routes to join me. (‘More than’ since we live half a day’s drive north of the northernmost terminus. Flying is for commuters.) And – why not? – there might even be some Norwegian lessons.

I look forward to debates on the work/life balance which is rightly so dear to all our hearts, on whether it really costs £10 a pint here (spoiler: it does), on the realities and necessities of pursuing two academic careers in one household, the experience of living, working and bringing up kids in a culture and language that is not my own, and on life as an immigrant (and voluntary exile). There will be beauty, there will be love, and I hope there will be laughter.

Welcome to Norway!

10/03 – 17/03 Aidan Byrne

I have been following Aidan’s Twitter account, @plashingvole, for some time and hold him responsible for many hours spent getting riled up about academic injustices and disappearing down rabbit holes of interesting (if, strictly speaking, tangential) links to thought-provoking content on his blog and all over the web.  He is great at Twitter and has a bigger-than-ours following of his own so we were really pleased that he offered to support the @wethehumanities project with a week’s curation.  His introductory post feels like a call to arms and I for one am really looking forward to what he does with his week.

How do I sustain the excellent work of my illustrious predecessors here at We The Humanities? I intend to use my week to highlight and even promote the work done across the country (and the world), unseen and unheralded, to enrich the lives of citizens everywhere. From the symbolic crochet done by Fukushima survivors to the outreach work of theatre companies like Borderlines in Stoke-on-Trent, I want to emphasise the role of culture in restoring dignity and worth to communities battered by weather, real or political.

I’m going to talk about the role of art – and its absence – in the lives of the excluded, and why professionals in the field of humanities have a moral duty. I work partly on novels by miners, the unemployed and the excluded, particularly from the 1930s, an era which seems to be more and more familiar as the economy declines and inequality increases. Like JB Priestley in English Journey, I too understand why miners should have champagne and pianos, theatres and racecourses. There are too many organisations and people out there speaking for and about the excluded: the poor, the unemployed, ethnic minorities and the provincial. This week, I plan to highlight what they’re doing for themselves out of sight of authority, and what we in the humanities are doing alongside them.

My day job is working as an academic at the University of Wolverhampton. Half my job is in the English department, while the other half is in Media and Cultural Studies. I teach a range of periods and texts, from Ben Jonson to The Grapes of Wrath to Eimear McBride’s stunning new novel A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, and on the media side proudly apply cutting edge theory to texts often looked down upon by the snootier commentators around: I’m sure that I’ll find room to discuss the impending closure of BBC3 and the gradual exclusion of young people from the cultural landscape.

I’m always looking for texts which tell previously untold stories by bright new voices, and I’ll devote some of this week to loudly singing their praises. It’s great working at a university like mine. Our students are almost all local, working-class and from families with little previous engagement with higher education. Embedded in the community, we take great pride in promoting social and economic empowerment through knowledge and intellectual endeavour. In an era of STEM and political contempt for the humanities, it’s more important than ever to stress the cultural and social importance of the humanities. Like Louise before me, the work of groups like Arts Emergency is both sadly necessary and admirable.

Hopefully I’ll entertain you with a selection of the weird and wonderful in the coming week – and also give you plenty to think about.

Louise Jackson reflects on her curation week

Our fabulous first curator, Louise Jackson, has very generously written down her thoughts about the (wonderful) part she played in launching @wethehumanities.  Not only are we thrilled by her contribution but we’re also really excited by how much she got out of it too (it makes us feel slightly less selfish about pummelling her with questions and comments for a week!).  As Krissie said this week, the project would be nothing without the account curators and we’re hugely grateful not only to Lousie but also to everyone who has signed up to guest edit and to all the people joining in the conversation as followers too.

When the idea of @wethehumanities started circulating around Twiiter, I knew that this was something that the Humanities absolutely needed, both to disseminate the work that takes place but also to foster cross discipline engagement and from different experience levels across the sector. As I took over for the launch, I really had no idea what was going to happen: Would all the supporters stop being interested because I was going to write about Music and Dance? Would there be a rejection of Music and Dance as part of the Humanities agenda? Would I actually be able to build up a momentum whilst carrying on in my day-to-day senior role?

I will answer these questions in reverse. I wasn’t sure how best to fit my work obligations around @wethehumanities before I started but I wanted to ensure that at least during the first week that there would be a constant stream of information being passed through it through retweeting items that were coming in, whilst also detailing elements of my work life, which are so entrenched in the research I conduct. The particular aspect I hadn’t thought about was the sheer volume of information I would be privy to. On the Monday evening I was so overstimulated that I couldn’t sleep – it was fascinating to see @wethehumanities coming to life.

Introducing two niche areas of Arts practice and pedagogy was a very special part of my week: Punk Pedagogy (an edited collection I am working on with Dr. Mike Dines) and live tweeting from the talk by Tim Roberts (Circus Space) to the followers of @wethehumanities. The interest that people showed in this area was amazing. Likewise, live tweeting from Prof. David Kirsh’s seminar about Creative Cognition provided, I hope, an explicit example of where the Arts cross over into scientific investigation. All of these activities were received more enthusiastically than I could have imagined.

My final concern, regarding the support that had already been built during the pre-launch period was stupid. On the first morning we gained many more followers and by handover to the next curator, Danielle, we had surpassed 900. I am pleased to say that Danielle is building that following through a range of incredibly interesting and informative discussions.

I am so very proud to have been a part of the launch of this great initiative and I hope we see a great many more interesting areas represented and explored. It was helpful for me to engage with a much broader audience than I usually have access, and it has certainly given me lots of ideas to take away and play with.

I’m off to start pushing my next project (Widening Participation in the Arts – with Dr. Katy Vigurs). Best of luck to the future curators and a massive thanks to Jess and Krissie for doing such a fabulous job in setting this up. As I write this, I am watching two window cleaners who are abseiling down the building opposite as they do their job. It’s interesting, but I wouldn’t want to swap places…

Louise Jackson.

8th – 15th September 2014, Maggie Scull

We’ll be travelling from Scotland to England on Monday for a curator from the USA who’s an expert on the Northern Irish Troubles.  It’s always interesting to hear someone’s fresher take on a culture you’ve grown up with so I’m looking forward to hearing more about her research and her experiences of studying and living in the UK.

Hello everyone! I’m Maggie Scull, but you may know me by not so original twitter handle, @MaggieMScull.  You’ll also sometimes find me @4nationshistory but I’ll elaborate more on that later. I’m just beginning the second year of my PhD in History at King’s College London.

Before moving to London, I completed my BA in European History from Boston University with a minor in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.  I then relocated to Indianapolis, Indiana to work as a secondary special needs teacher before moving to London to begin my MA in Modern History at King’s.  My experience teaching secondary has shaped me in a variety of ways, which I’ll talk about this week as well.  I’m about to head into my first semester as a graduate teaching assistant so if anyone has advice, feel free to send it my way!

The current working title of my PhD thesis is “The Catholic Church and the Northern Irish Troubles, 1969-1998”.  I look at the Church as an institution: how did it change throughout the Troubles?  Why has little academic research been done on the Church itself but largely focuses on religion? I also work with both private and public archives as well as conducting interviews with priests and former members of paramilitary organisations. My oral history and archive sources can sometimes conflict, which I hope to discuss this week as well.

My subject is very emotionally charged, another topic I hope to cover. How do we delicately handle a very sensitive subject, especially when we’re coming from an “outsider” position?

In addition to my research for my thesis, I have also been developing a Four Nations History Network with Naomi Lloyd Jones (@beingahistorian) also based at King’s.  Our conference, “United Kingdom? Four Nations Approaches to Modern ‘British’ History” will take place on 20 February 2015. You can find more information on our blog here.

I hope to talk more about our inspiration for the conference, successes/challenges in planning the event and four nations approaches to British History in general.

I’m also American and I want to discuss the differences in European vs. American academia, as well as immigration issues, living costs, the NHS, higher tuition fees, etc.  I’m starting to get the hang of this transition, so I’d like to offer my advice to any prospective crossovers but also hope others can guide me as well!

To conclude, in my spare time I love to travel, go to the theatre and cook.  I read about 10 food blogs daily so if you ever want recipes, feel free to ask! Cooking is a major passion of mine and allows me to totally forget about any stresses in my day. It’d be great to talk about more hobbies outside of academia, as I feel like many people (myself included) only discuss our PhD research outside of work.  I’m really looking forward to meeting you all!