Tag Archives: Digital media

Upcoming talk: Researching our Futures, Newcastle University, 16th March

I am looking forward to speaking at the Researching our Futures, a student-led careers conference taking place at Newcastle University on 16th March 2017. The topic of my talk is “Digitising our futures: early career professionalization in the digital sphere“, and I’ll be talking about using online and social media as an early career researcher in relation to issues of professionalization, identity and career development.

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The changing culture of digital academia – interview

I spoke to Tomi Oladepo, who runs the brilliant Digital Media Culture blog, about what digital media means to me as an academic. We talked particularly about the changing culture of academic digital media usage over the past few years, the context of public engagement, and where digital media seems to be going. It was a very thought-provoking discussion for me – thanks to Tomi for featuring me on the blog.

Living history: Downton and Talking Statues

The last week or so has seen several news stories on the theme of heritage and tourism in the news that I found intriguing from the work I’ve been doing on “locating the Victorians” recently.

The first was this story about the opportunity to “live like the Crawleys” by bidding for a Downton Abbey experience involving an overnight stay and dinner at Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed; alternatively, guests could enjoy some of the “downstairs” experience with lessons on table-laying from a butler. In light of a recent resurgence of tourism oriented around the idea of ‘re-living history’ the Downton experience is doubly interesting, both taking the idea of ‘re-living history’ one step further than the usual historical tours and trails, but also re-figuring what is ‘historical’ about the history that is being re-lived: Downton is of course a fictionalised history that both plays on and departs from the popularity for adaptation of Victorian and early 20th century, so the idea of “living like the Crawleys” takes on an interesting inference in its purporting to be a ‘historical’ experience in any sense – and, in turn, raising questions about what’s ‘real’ about ‘re-living history’ anyway.

Another story this week raised a different perspective on engaging with historical spaces. The Talking Statues project has given voice to a selection of statues in London and Manchester, allowing visitors to use their smartphones to access audio recordings of the statue figures talking. It’s an interesting development in digital heritage models which have used similar initiatives to bring heritage or historical sites “to life” through audio tours and trails, which until now have typically used mobile apps or websites (see my locating Dickens post for examples). These apps and podcasts have proved successful in opening up new perspectives on places and engaging people in looking more closely at the urban landscape, but they depend upon the intention of the user to find out about the tour, download the app or audio, and then visit the sight as a planned activity. What’s interesting and different about Talking Statues is that it takes the onus off the user to know in advance about a tour or trail and instead can capture the unintentional passer-by, thereby potentially creating whole new audiences for heritage tourism (even if only on a micro-scale) who may never have thought to engage in such activities before. As with the Downton experience, though, this also raises questions about the ‘history’ that is being accessed through the (fictionalised) first-person narratives written by contemporary writers.

On a quick final note, it was good to see this news of an industrial heritage trail linking five sites across South and West Yorkshire – it’s great to see the working sites of the industrial revolution gradually gain heritage prominence next to the Downton-style houses.

Dickens apps, maps and more

This week I’ve been finishing an essay on Dickens 2012 and ‘locating the Victorians in the bicentenary year’; although I’ve written and spoken about this work quite a few times now (including an essay in this forthcoming book), this piece has given me the opportunity to focus on more detailed analysis of content included in Dickens apps, maps, podcasts and films. It’s led me to discover some great resources on the theme of Dickens and London, so I thought I’d collect these together into a blog post with a brief review of each.

Apps and audio podcasts

  • The Guardian audio walks; this five-part series of walks around Dickens’s London, Rochester and Portsmouth by The Guardian are excellent: informative, engaging, and lively discussion, interspersed with readings from the text. In 2012 I tried out two of the walks – The Heart of the City and David Copperfield – and wrote about them for JVC Online.
  • Dickens in Southwark; I haven’t had the chance to do these walks myself, but I’ve been greatly impressed just using the app and listening to the audio of this walk. The core content is lively and informative, while there is extra audio on the map that was developed from a creative project involving Southwark residents. The app is easily navigable, has a well-functioning map, and with a total of 25 ‘stops’ there is lots of content to explore.
  • Dickens Trail, Charles Dickens Museum; this app uses Dickens’s characters as a guide to his London locations, with four themed walks following Magwitch, Lady Dedlock, the Artful Dodger, and Samuel Pickwick. The real shame of this app is that there is no audio content, only text on a map, which makes for a much less engaging experience.mzl_xswkqymm_320x480-75
  • Dickens Dark London; this was one of the first Dickens apps that I came across and reviewed, a little harshly perhaps. The idea of the content is nice, with illustrations accompanying a reading of extracts from Dickens’s works, themed around his night walks, but it’s a shame there is so little free content – only one serial installment is provided and the rest are priced at £1.49 each. The best thing about this app is its map feature, which combines an 1862 map with a map of contemporary London, and allows you to scroll between each or view a composite image of the two – great for easily viewing structural changes to the city.
  • Celebrating Dickens; the University of Warwick’s Dickens offering includes a wealth of material from researchers and students at the University of Warwick on many aspects of Dickens’s life and writing, and the app features a navigable map of Dickens locations not just in London but also in East Anglia, Kent and the Midlands. Highly recommended, of course!

Creative projects

  • The Houseless Shadow; directed by William Raban, this is a short version of the full film installation that was commissioned by the Museum of London for their Dickens and London exhibition. The piece uses a reading from Dickens’s essay “The Night Walks” with images of the contemporary city. Raban discusses the aims behind the piece in this conversation recorded at the BFI.
  • The Uncommercial Traveller; this project by the British Council created a series of theatrical audio guides to Penang, Melbourne, Singapore and Karachi. The audio aims at creating a really evocative experience of each city and makes for interesting listening even if you aren’t in the relevant city.
  • Sketches by Boz: Sketching the City; another British Council project that developed written and artistic creative responses to cities around the world through a Dickensian lens
  • Dickens and London film; the British Council produced a collection of teaching resources on Dickens 2012 and I particularly enjoyed this short piece on Dickens and London

 

Dickens at 201 – reflections on the bicentenary year

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Yes, it really has been one year today since the start of the bicentenary of Charles Dickens – and no, I’m not about to suggest that we start another year of celebrations… I did want to take the opportunity to reflect, though, on some of the issues that have been raised over the last year, both in the content of the celebrations themselves and in the wider context of the year as a whole.

mzl_xswkqymm_320x480-75As has been clear in my previous Dickens 2012 posts, one element that has particularly interested me is the emphasis on Dickens and place, and especially Dickens and London, that has been present in many of the bicentenary activities: a whole host of different ways of connecting Dickens and London, from tours that root (/route) Dickens firmly in the material landscape of the city, to digital media forms that offer truly mobile yet completely dis/non-placed experiences of “Dickens’s London” across the globe. I’m really interested in thinking further about the what and why of these forms, particularly in terms of issues around nation that I’ve raised before, but also with regards to ideas of impact: why this emphasis on place and what does it tell us about the types of cultural activities that we value? What impact has this had on the public understanding of Dickens?

There are wider questions too about the impact of Dickens 2012 and how this has shaped the cultural imagination of Dickens. Was it too much and are we all just suffering from Dickens fatigue now? Is there the possibility that Dickens overkill has had a negative or detrimental effect? And at what cost the over-investment in Dickens 2012? Dickens didn’t need putting on the map, and a whole host of other writers have been dwarfed in his shadow this year, not least those whose bicentenaries also marked significant moments for Victorian studies.

But there is one thing that I think Dickens 2012 offers to scholars of other writers, and that’s a legacy of how we “do” bicentenaries. Dickens 2012 has been marked not just be quantity, but also by the quality and sheer variety of forms through which we’ve been able to engage with Dickens’s life and works: a whole host of innovative, engaging and insightful documentaries, podcasts, lectures, talks, digital media, mobile apps, maps, have really expanded the possibilities – and I think there’s something about the collective proliferation of the focus on Dickens that has been particularly interesting and indicative. It’s not just public engagement either, and within academia we’ve seen discussions of research take on exciting new forms, from the 4-day travelling conference that gestured towards the internationalism of Dickens’s works and Dickens scholarship, to the Dickens’s World online conference that went a step further in enabling a truly global discourse of Dickens to emerge. We can but take from this the potential and possibility for other writers too, and use Dickens 2012 as a model for future bicentenaries.

I think, too, Dickens 2012 has opened up the potential for new lines of inquiry between critical and cultural debate: the year has provided a wealth of material for thinking about “the idea of Dickens” as a collective form. As I’ve gestured towards in this and other blog posts, and am seeking to do in my new research, Dickens 2012 has shown how public engagement is not just useful for the communication of research but might also be taken as an indicative source of analysis – and not just at its most obvious level in terms of reading contemporary culture, but also by using this understanding of our own times to open up new ways of interrogating facets of the Victorian period.

A year ago I posed the question “so now what?” After Dickens 2012, what’s next; Bronte 2016? Dickens 2012 has continued to open up more questions than answers, but I think it is clear that the time is now to start reflecting on what the year has given us, what ideas it has produced and developed, as well as to seize new possibilities for the future celebrations of other authors. At 201 Dickens might feel like especially well-trodden ground, but the space remains for mapping new movements and forging new directions in our interactions with the Victorian past.

What’s the use of books?

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Leah Price’s How to do Things with Books in Victorian Britain for Open Letters Monthly, an online arts and literature review site. Price’s work is a rich and evocative study of the many uses to which books were put in Victorian novel, and I’d strongly recommend it to any Victorianist – it’s one of those books full to the brim of fascinating information you never knew you wanted to know, whilst producing some important overarching arguments about Victorian culture more widely and gesturing towards new directions for the intersection of literary studies and material culture. It’s also highly pertinent to the theme of this week’s BAVS conference, Victorian Values, raising questions about the value of books in the Victorian age and the meaning of books today as we shift towards digital media.

You can find my review here, and I’d also highly recommend checking out the rest of the September issue of OLM – a review of John Bew’s Castlereagh: A Life and a piece on “Therapeutic Wordsworth” by Stephen Akey are particular highlights.