Hearing from our Fellows: Sharing New Knowledge
Neil Armstrong once said that “research is about creating new knowledge”, and whilst this is undoubtedly true, my passion for research has always revolved around sharing this new knowledge with others.
From quite early on in my university career, I knew that I wanted to undertake a PhD. However, I didn’t want my work to only speak to other academics. The idea of conducting research in a bubble was off-putting to me. Instead of being holed up in an Ivory Tower, I wanted share my work with people outside that world, and to get their feedback. Of course, I enjoyed discussing my work with family members and friends. But beyond the people I was already close to, I wanted to share my research with people that I didn’t know yet. I wanted my research to be of interest to the lady who might sit next to me on the bus, or the young family in the queue in front of me at the supermarket. I wanted to be part of a project that had tangible outputs. Consequently, being involved in Invisible Dust’s ‘Under Her Eye’ Fellowship has given me the opportunity to undertake the kind of work I have always wanted to do.
In February, I received an email about the opportunity from the White Rose College of Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH), the body which is my Centre for Doctoral Training. The programme would allow students to collaborate across disciplines and produce events for the ‘Under Her Eye’ summit. This email spoke to me, because Invisible Dust’s mission – ‘to make the invisible visible by creating links between artists and researchers on the subject of climate change’ – mirrors my own personal mission to communicate my own research in a way that is engaging, thought provoking, and creative.
My research doesn’t explicitly talk about climate change. I am in the final year of a collaborative PhD project, co-supervised by the University of Sheffield and Chatsworth in Derbyshire. Chatsworth is well known as the country estate belonging to the Duke of Devonshire. Every year, it welcomes hundreds of thousands of tourists, who come to see its magnificent state rooms, unparalleled art collection, diverse gardens and extensive parkland.
However, up until recently, not much research had considered the experience of the tenants and employees who had lived and worked at Chatsworth, looking after the house, gardens and grounds. The project I belong to, entitled ‘From Servants to Staff: The Whole Chatsworth Community 1700 – 1950’ is comprised of 3 separate PhD projects, split up by time period. My period of focus is the first half of the twentieth century. Alongside my PhD colleagues, I study previously uncatalogued material, held within the Cavendish Archives at Chatsworth, which relates to servants, tenants, farmers and labourers.
The term ‘Climate Change’ was not in use during my period of focus (it was first used by geochemist Wallace Broecker in 1975). Nevertheless, my research does consider the evolution of the relationship between members of the Chatsworth estate community and the local environment in which they lived and worked. This includes an investigation into the impact of technological advancements upon the local area, such as the transition from horses to motor cars as the primary mode of transportation, as well as the effects of social upheaval and military action during the First and Second World Wars upon the local landscape.
So, whilst my research doesn’t ever make use of the term, the topics I focus on do relate to the contemporary issues of climate change. Nevertheless, I wasn’t confident the connection between my research and climate change would appear significant enough for my application to the ‘Under Her Eye’ Fellowship programme to be accepted. Yet, I knew that if I didn’t apply to the ‘Under Her Eye’ Fellowship, I would regret it. So, in spite of my nerves, I sent off an application with the support of my centre for doctoral training.
To my surprise, on 5th March, I found out that I had been successful! I would be working alongside 13 other female-identifying researchers and artists on the ‘Under Her Eye’ programme. The all-female nature of the Fellowship never felt strange to me – yes, it is unusual, but it is also very necessary. Studies have shown that, for a variety of reasons, women are likely to be greater affected by climate change than their male counterparts. For example, a recent BBC News article explored the fact that around 80% of people displaced by climate change are, in fact, women. However, this is not the only reason I am grateful for the feminine slant of the ‘Under Her Eye’ programme. This is the year in which the United Kingdom celebrates the centenary of (some) women first getting the vote. Yet we still live in a world in which equality between the genders has not yet been achieved. What better way to raise the profile of female academics, artists and professionals than by bringing them together to talk about an issue as big as climate change?
The ‘Under Her Eye’ Fellowship officially began on Thursday, 19th April 2018. This was the first day of an intensive weekend in which all of us met each other and the Invisible Dust team for the first time. On an extremely sunny day in Scarborough, we got to know about each other’s interests in climate change, and each other’s professional backgrounds. But more than this, we discovered our shared likes and dislikes, the experiences we had in common and we made human connections, which are so vital for collaboration. I think that we were all surprised by how easily we got to know each other and start working together.
Over the course of the weekend, we attended a number of different training sessions, seminars and workshops on topics as diverse as public speaking, media communications and food as art. Alongside my other fellows, I learned that there are so many different ways that a researcher can engage with those outside of academia. I learned to have more confidence in myself, and, by opening myself up to new experiences, I broadened my own understanding of ‘public engagement’.
The connections I made over the course of that weekend with my other fellows have remained intact, and I have continued working in collaboration with some of my new colleagues. Together, we have been drawing up project proposals for the ‘Under Her Eye’ Summit & Arts Festival. With my attention now turned to the event taking place in a few weeks time, I know that as much as I enjoyed the intensive weekend in April, I have even more to look forward to at the event itself. Taking place on the 1st and 2nd of June, the ‘Under Her Eye’ Summit & Arts Festival provides the perfect forum for sharing new knowledge in relation to climate change. I not only look forward to sharing these experiences with the other fellows, the Invisible Dust Team Members and all those attending the Summit and Arts Festival, but I also look forward to sharing them with others who won’t be at the event by writing up another blog post afterwards, and continuing to make my research accessible to all.
Fiona Clapperton is a Final Year PhD Student funded by WRoCAH. She is working on a Collaborative Doctoral Award project co-supervised by the University of Sheffield and Chatsworth. The project makes use of material within the Chatsworth archives in order to gain an understanding of the wider community who have lived and worked at Chatsworth over the past three centuries. Fiona’s research focuses on the first half of the Twentieth Century. Upon completing her PhD, Fiona intends to pursue a career in heritage as a historical consultant.