Hidden Narratives conference, 11th July 2017

Thank you to everyone who supported our conference on 11th July by presenting research, attending, asking questions, offering help and advice, booking and preparing rooms and providing food and drink.  We have had very encouraging feedback that suggests people had an enjoyable and interesting day, and have shared a few photos below.Conference photo collage 2


“Stories in the background” – Dr Kayleigh Moore talks about her presentation for the Hidden Narratives conference

Kayleigh photo

With just three days to go to our conference, Dr Kayleigh Moore talked to Dr Duncan Dicks about her presentation, Creative Transgression.   In this short video, you can listen to Kayleigh talking about her interpretation of the Hidden Narratives theme of the conference, the relevance of her own experience of doing a PhD, and the other talks she is most looking forward to on Tuesday.

The last few tickets for the conference will be available free from Eventbrite until Sunday evening.

“Make space for Shakespeare” – Dr Paul Innes discusses his talk for the Hidden Narratives conference

Paul Innes

Our one-day mini conference titled Being Human: How Hidden Narratives Challenge Authority is just a few days away.   The day will include two keynote speakers, nine short presentations from researchers and opportunities for questions.

In this short video, you can hear Dr Paul Innes chatting to one of the conference organisers about his talk.  His presentation will consider how Shakespeare attained the status of national poet, and the implications for some of the other great poets who were marginalised to make way for Shakespeare.

We have made additional tickets available for the conference, but please book soon to be sure of a place.  Tickets can be ordered free of charge from Eventbrite, and include refreshments and lunch.

#ResistResilience – a talk by Dave Webster and Nikki Rivers at the Hidden Narratives conference

sk2Duncan Dicks met up with two of our presenters for the Hidden Narratives conference on 11th July, to find out how they are planning to challenge the current enthusiasm for “resilience” in education and life.



Who are you?

Dave Webster – I teach Religion, Philosophy & Ethics, as well as working for the Academic Development Unit, where I am interested in the interplay between what and how we teach.

 Nikki Rivers – I teach English Literature. My main areas of interest are contemporary literature, popular culture and feminist theory.

What are you going to be talking about?

We hope to introduce a note of much-needed scepticism into conversations around ‘resilience’, and ‘grit,’ particularly with regard to the assumption that these are characteristics we should be instilling in our students and ourselves. Instead we want to look more broadly at external factors that might contribute to the need for resilience.

What other talks at the conference are you looking forward to (and why)?

Martin’s Anarchy is guaranteed to be good value…

What single thing would you like the audience to take away with them from your talk?

#ResistResilience – don’t be seduced by neoliberal assertions that you need ‘grit’, and that your struggles are your fault, when what is needed is systemic change.

Creativity in a totalitarian society – a talk by Senja Andrejevic-Bullock at the Hidden Narratives conference

Organiser Duncan Dicks recently met up with one of our presenters to find out more about her conference talk planned for 11th July.

Senja photo

Who are you?

I’m Senja Andrejevic-Bullock, writer and playwright, Lecturer in Dramatic Writing.

What are you going to be talking about?

I’ll be talking about what effect the regime of a totalitarian society might have on the citizen’s creativity.

What other talks at the conference are you looking forward to (and why)?

Very much looking forward to Martin Randall’s ‘Anarchy’ (because it’s such an interesting topic and I love it’s relationship to the whole idea of a hidden narrative). But also, virtually, all of the rest. All the talks sound fascinating and it’s going to be a mega-interesting day.

What single thing would you like the audience to take away with them from your talk?

Former Yugoslavia was a very unique country, in both its best and worst aspects. I don’t think there’ll ever again be a place quite like it. It’s greatest strength, however, were its citizens, who always had the most remarkable spirit of resistance not just against a foreign occupier (Germany) but also against its own internal repressive forces.

“It’s not as simple as it looks” – what to expect at the Hidden Narratives conference

Dr David Webster and Duncan Dicks in conversation

A one-day mini conference titled Being Human: How Hidden Narratives Challenge Authority has been organised by postgraduate research students at the University of Gloucestershire on 11th July 2017.   The day will include two keynote speakers, nine short presentations from researchers and opportunities for questions.

In this short video, you can listen to Dr David Webster in conversation with one of the conference organisers, discussing his introductory talk, The Curious Case of Social Media. His presentation will consider the discourses around social media, make comparisons with traditional journalistic approaches and assess the potential of social media to be subverted and appropriated by those in power.  Other talks in the programme will reflect contributors’ interest in how we challenge authority powerfully and constructively.

Tickets for the conference are still available free of charge from Eventbrite, and include refreshments and lunch.



Dr Wendy Russell, Tom Williams, Dr Stuart Lester, Hilary Smith, Dr Malcolm MacLean


The project ‘Sharing memories of adventure play’, which was part-funded by the Being Human Research Priority Area at the University of Gloucestershire, held a film premiere and exhibition event on 27 January which was attended by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor/Sheriff of Gloucester.

The project worked with adventure playgrounds in Bristol and Gloucester to gather memories of those involved as children, staff, families and communities, over their history, in order to explore their value. It drew on concepts from post-qualitative research methodologies, memory studies, geography, philosophy and policy, developing a ‘critical cartography’ approach as a different way of articulating the value of adventure playgrounds in ways that can be used to inform future policy. There is plenty of evidence showing the benefits of play for children, less showing the benefits of play provision. What does exist tends to show the instrumental value of adventure playgrounds and playwork in terms of its capacity to address social policy concerns such as reducing physical inactivity and obesity, crime reduction, or community cohesion.  These are important, and at the same time the desire to show measurable benefits in this way obscures other ways of expressing value. We used performative, creative and non-representational methods, both in terms of process (data co-production and analysis) and artifacts (artists’ drawings, video, exhibition). Our approach to working with memory was to see it as always relational, emerging in an ever-changing form from an embodied and embedded relationship with the world. Minds and bodies are always mixed up in a tangled web of connections and disconnections: places, feelings, histories, the here-and-now, other people, material objects and so on.

These methods brought to the fore the singular and rich stories that showed just how much these spaces mattered to people as spaces for play and for being a little different in and with the world and much more besides. What many people also talked about was how safe they felt there, how they could be themselves, how the adults were accepting and caring. What emerged from the stories were the rhythms, moods, habits, rituals and routines that enabled children and adults to navigate and negotiate their way through the playground and keep a playful atmosphere alive.

Film, exhibition and short report:

We held events at each of the playgrounds and recorded these using video, audio and the work of artists. From these we have produced a film, an exhibition, launched at an event at the University of Gloucestershire on 27 January 2017, attended by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor/Sheriff of Gloucester. There is also a short report.

For more information, visit here

Lower High Street Project

From Professor Melanie Ilic. The History staff team is pleased to announce that it has been successful in securing two internal grants to undertake research focusing on the history of Cheltenham’s Lower High Street, near FCH campus. University-wide LIFT (Learning Innovation for Tomorrow) money will be used to support Level 5 group project work, and funds from the Being Human Research Priority Area will be used to run a parallel series of staff and postgraduate projects.

captureHistory’s new Lower High Street (LHS) project explores what it means to ‘Be Human’ through the provision of primary documents-based historical, social and cultural analyses of the Cheltenham Lower High Street commercial and residential communities, its buildings and landscapes, and by offering digital capture of the memories of local residents and traders alongside a photo archive. It explores the construction of multiple and sometimes conflicting identities through the examination of historical and contemporary everyday aspects of the lives of LHS traders and residents; and, through oral interviews and online surveys, the subjective responses of the local communities to the changes they have experienced and that are being proposed in the LHS area. It will also examine the ways in which local town planning endeavours have been received and responded to by residents and traders in the LHS area, and the impact that town planning has had on the historical makeup of the local built environment. The project also examines the construction, maintenance and persistence of a sense of distinction and ‘difference’ amongst local residents and traders in the LHS.

To discover more about the project please see https://historyglos.com/2016/12/12/the-lower-high-street-projects/


Bob Dylan, by John Hughes


On 17th May 2016 I gave a talk on Bob Dylan in the Oxfam bookshop for the Cheltenham Poetry Festival. I began by apologizing that this wouldn’t be a talk about Dylan the poet or his songs as poetry, because I believed the best or primary way to approach his poetry was not through the literary critical lens of ‘what does it mean?’ but through trying to account for its power to attract and even inspire the listener. So, the question was rather, to coin a phrase: ‘how does it feel?’. And proceeding in this way, I said, was also my way of connecting with one kind of ideal reader that I had in mind when I wrote my book – my teenage self who was crazily enthusiastic about Dylan’s songs, and the cultural and personal attitudes he expressed, and about the words, but who was more concerned with what the words did than what they meant, and the intensity and power of the responses they produced.

As a way of exploring this, the talk began by rehearsing the core idea in my book on Dylan: that his work obeys a temporal dynamic, of a particularly American kind, involving a transitional subjectivity, caught between a prior inexpressive version of whom he has been, and a future self he has not yet become. Bound up in this, I argued, we can describe so many otherwise diverse aspects of his work: such as, for instance, his attitudes to politics or love; the values of his voice and his singing; the ways he appears in photographs; his comic encounters with the press; the iconoclastic facets and structure of his career; and the scenarios of his songs, too, so often involving as they do ideas of travelling, of protest, conflict, of gambling, or keeping on keeping on…

The talk then narrowed to identify the different ways in which Dylan’s voice worked in the 1960s to call out its society and to call out otherwise inarticulated dimensions of experience, first recruiting the listener to participate in changing times, to fight racial oppression; then exploring different more inward ideas of constraint and freedom in the mid-60s. I used various well-known songs to exemplify the case and then played some snatches of lesser-known songs, and fielded questions. As this suggested the talk was mostly about the 60s, but the q and a went much wider, thankfully.

So finally, what has all this to do with being human? I suppose my simple reply would be that 1960s Dylan was an artist whose work was inspirational because it was not so much an art of self-expression as an art of coming- to-expression, which set itself against what was limiting in available social scripts of identity and gambled on departing from them in pursuit of some real, but as yet unachieved, version of the self. As such it exemplified through its own practice and content what it still produces in its listeners, the sense that through it they can become different from themselves, be themselves in some new way. Is anything more human than that?

UPDATE 28/10/2016

Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate: Yah-Boo!

Bob Dylan’s elevation to Nobel Prize winner is something that has been in the wind for a while you can say, since every year his name is mooted as a candidate, a kind of standing reproach for some to the literary elitism of the Nobel committee. However, as so often with Dylan, the actuality of the prize has been divisive, testifying to his continuing power to stoke controversy over the value of what he does: specifically the literary quality, or even literary status, of his work. On the one hand, poets and writers throng to celebrate the award, and Seamus Perry, Chair of the Oxford English Faculty, makes an enthusiastic claim (with which I find it hard to disagree): that ‘Dylan winning the Nobel was always the thing you thought should happen in a reasonable world but still seemed unimaginable in this one’. On the other hand, the briefest glance at the internet or social media shows how actually how totally unimaginable it appears to so many people in fact that it should have been awarded in this world. Above all, the award has just irritated so many people who appear bamboozled by it, leading novelist Irving Welsh to claim in an oft-repeated tweet, that it was a ‘nostalgia award’ wrenched from ‘senile, gibbering hippies’.

Yet it is worth pointing out Welsh remains in a tiny minority of literary artists, most of whom welcome the award (even if their own work remains more firmly entrenched in traditional print culture). An anthology of poems, for instance, by seventy poets greeted Dylan’s seventieth birthday, and Salman Rushdie, Andrew Motion, and many others (of the usual suspects) have been out and proud, and loud and vocal in the press since Dylan’s prize. So is this the Nobel just the occasion for a tiresome rehash of debates that have been going on since the sixties, about the literary qualities of Dylan’s work, where different people audition as gate-keepers or custodians of the literary, and squabble accordingly? Undoubtedly yes, it is all grist to the newspapers (in fact, the nadir of media coverage was plumbed by the BBC who showed a clip of a rubbish Dylan impersonator as the man himself on the 6 o’clock news).

However, even though it is a tired old debate, it is one that is worth considering briefly. My book on Dylan, Invisible Now, I confess was an attempt to find a way to write about what I saw as the sheer inspiration of his work when he was or is at his best, most undeniably in the mid-60s. But I was all too aware that it would be falsifying to treat it as poetry simply. Equally, it seems true that many poets remain in awe of Dylan’s mid-60s prodigality with words, and would give their eye-teeth to be able to do a fraction of what he seemed to do, and with such apparent abandon. So the need for me was to try for an idiom, a way of writing, that could register the literary qualities of his work, as well as its cultural influence, and subjective power, and all its other wider contexts and features… For instance: how write about the relation of his songs to the times, to his musical tradition, to the music, to his ways of singing, to the differing performances and so on?

With reference to this discussion about the Nobel though, I believe it was this audacity and unbridled creativity with words that was always what other writers acknowledged. And this was often with a kind of amazement or envy that Dylan was able to take possession of popular forms and infuse them with a kind of endlessly transformative linguistic inventiveness that over and again in different ways was able to depict and contest his society, and to gauge variously its constraints and possibilities for individual expression. In this respect, those writers who have identified Dylan with ancient bardic traditions are surely on to something. More specifically too though, there is the point that it is not just what Dylan’s words mean that matters as what the words do. And this after all is in the other sense what the songs mean to those who love them. Right from my first listening to his songs, I felt there was an effect of vitality and decompression in his work that was bound up with the words, and that meant that what was important was the listener too; or put it another way, that the listener needed to be the kind of listener who could, and wanted to, respond to what Dylan, specifically, was doing with words.  And while many people do respond enthusiastically to this, one needs to acknowledge, many other people do not, or in mixed ways. And the bamboozlement or hostility that has greeted his award just speaks to this. In such ways Dylan was always a divisive figure, and continues to be so, as we have seen. So the question is not simply whether what Dylan does with words is poetry (the answer probably is no, but it is poetic or literary? Yes, and in the truest sense, one might say). Rather the question is whether one accepts what he does and responds to it, as I say. Which means that the essential thing is whether these songs speak to you, perhaps, whether one is able to answer the question ‘how does it feel?’ in some positive form or other.

Humanities Student Research Conference, 9 June


All humanities students and staff at the University of Gloucestershire are invited to the third annual Humanities Student Research Conference. The conference allows students who have taken the Scholarly Research Project module or have recently completed a dissertation to showcase their research by giving a short, engaging presentation. Students are strongly encouraged to give presentations at the conference because of the invaluable experience it provides. If you would like to give a presentation then please email Hilary Weeks hweeks@glos.ac.uk.  The conference is taking place on the 9 June in the FCH campus, and a full programme with further details will be available shortly.