Arts, Humanities and Culture researchers celebrated in second World Changers Essay Collection
The World Changers Collection II is a series of essays by University of Leeds researchers across faculties and schools. They write about their ground-breaking research and the insights they’ve gained.
The essays all relate to the University of Leeds’ ten-year plan which focuses on climate, addressing health inequalities, collaboration not competition, and the student experience.
Below are the researchers from the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Culture chosen to discuss their world-changing projects.
Writing queer history: uncovering hidden pasts for a more inclusive future
Dr Rosie Ramsden’s essay highlights the challenges that LGBTQIA+ people are facing at university and beyond.
She aims to ‘Queer the Curriculum’ to show LGBTQIA+ students and staff, as well as others, that they are welcome in the academic space and that their histories and futures matter.
In her studies and subsequent research, Dr Ramsden found that reading lists and literature itself often overlooked the complexity of women’s experiences.
Further, she found that they often assumed historical figures’ sexualities to be heterosexual, when there was no evidence to show that they were.
This led Dr Ramsden to undertake a rereading of history literature in her field of interest, which is Holocaust literature. She writes:
My goal was to shed light on representations which male-dominated and heterosexist – and often even feminist – scholarship, had overlooked.
This work challenges the dominant narratives of historical storytelling and research in order to represent people and experiences that have often been erased.
In turn, Dr Ramsden and her colleagues’ work increases LGBTQIA+ visibility and enables students to learn about a variety of lives.
For non-queer students, it promotes a culture of understanding and acceptance, while for queer students, this work can create a sense of heritage and belonging in different settings, including academia.
Finally, Dr Ramsden discusses what ‘Queering the Curriculum’ means to her. As well as teaching about diverse lives and histories, she wants to encourage belonging and participation in her students.
She discusses how she achieves this, by acknowledging the value of her students’ differing backgrounds and perspectives and ensures that a sense of partnership is instilled in the classroom, rather than the typically hierarchal lecturer-student dynamic.
Dr Ramsden’s research and teaching practices embody the values of the University of Leeds in its drive to deliver programmes that are shaped by the students themselves, as well as emphasising inclusion.
Dealing with disaster: Could COVID-19 improve the ways we do research?
Dr Luba Pirgova-Morgan explores the challenges of COVID-19 on research and the unexpected solutions that came from it.
Some examples of the changes that the pandemic brought to research and partnership included the need to redesign research around remote forms of interaction, which led to the use of digital innovations.
As well as communicating with people more visually, project partners were more empowered by flexible approaches to collaboration, such as the frequency and types of communication.
Project leaders had to consider more carefully who they invited to participate, how and why, and which kinds of events were most suitable for which kinds of research.
Additionally, conducting research remotely led to local partners having more responsibility and autonomy in projects.
Dr Pirgova-Morgan explains in her essay how this occasionally shifted the entire perspective and objective of projects.
She explains the pros and cons of new technologies, including being more able to reach isolated communities but being less confident in securing high-quality data and informed consent.
At the University of Leeds, the ambition is to be at the centre of a global research and innovation community. We want to build strong networks and partnerships with other institutions – especially those in the Global South. Dr Pirgova-Morgan’s research enables us to do this as effectively as possible.
Making change together: moving public consultation beyond engagement to impact
Dr Helen Graham and Phil Bixby wrote about the best ways to collaborate and involve communities from their unique perspectives.
They both identified problems with traditional public consultations in city planning and sought to improve the way the public is included in planning decisions from the beginning of a project.
The researchers wanted to achieve a long-term, creative process of large-scale public engagement, that ensures local knowledge and care for the city was respected and shaped the decision-making processes.
Their essay goes into detail about how they did this, from emphasising the personal perspectives of members of the public to encouraging self-reflection and running innovative events such as city walks and cycle tours.
Dr Graham and Phil Bixby discuss their project YoCo: York Central Co-Owned, which intends to build a carbon-zero, 15-minute, co-owned, mixed-use neighbourhood as part of the next phase of development around York Central.
They describe their unique approach to planning and decision-making, starting with “how [the neighbourhood] feels and sounds”, and then identifying which choices they all must make to achieve that.
The University’s ten-year strategy places Leeds firmly as a values-driven university, with a clear focus on making a positive difference in the world. None of the challenges that the world faces can be solved without the research and evidence-based thinking and actions of universities.
Bridging past, present – and future: how can heritage support development?
Dr Francesca Giliberto explores how heritage could be vital in tackling the challenges of the present.
Dr Giliberto’s research has spanned a variety of disciplines – architectural and urban heritage, conservation and management, international heritage issues and World Heritage, policy evaluation and sustainable development.
She wishes to “champion the distinctive contribution that arts and humanities research can make to urgent development challenges, especially in the Global South.”
There are a variety of complex developmental challenges around the world, such as climate change, refugee crises, poverty, food insecurity and inequalities. Due to their complex nature, Dr Giliberto explains that context is key in understanding and overcoming the challenges faced by different communities worldwide.
Understanding heritage can ensure that researchers in different disciplines thoroughly understand these contexts before designing their projects and delivering their recommendations. Dr Giliberto says:
Long-term engagement with local stakeholders is the key to stimulating local custodianship and achieving impact over the long term.
Dr Giliberto makes the case for heritage to have a clear role in achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and after.
One of her examples is regarding tackling poverty and food insecurity. She explains that traditional agricultural knowledge can be accessed through the heritage of specific cultures, and this can contribute to sustainable food systems for long-term agricultural success and food security in the face of challenges such as climate change.
Dr Giliberto emphasises the importance of understanding and valuing the expertise of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. She explains that this will help to nurture biodiversity, cut CO2 emissions, reduce conflicts and promote social justice.
She recognises that there can be challenges to this approach, for example, how to measure the impact of cultural heritage, but she emphasises the transformative nature of championing heritage across all disciplines.
World Changers collection II
The World Changers essay collection celebrates the transformative research that is taking place at the University of Leeds.
The collection is a testament to the dedicated efforts of our community to help create a fairer future for all – working through collaboration to reduce inequalities and enact meaningful and lasting societal change.
Other essays in the collection include reflections on co-production of studies in “In it together: where research and real world experience meet” by By Cara Gates, Kate Farley and Natalie Mark, and discovering ways to queer the curriculum in “Writing queer history: uncovering hidden pasts for a more inclusive future” by Dr Rosie Ramsden.