It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where this PhD project began, but it certainly grew out my involvement with the Graylingwell Heritage Project. This was a Heritage Lottery Funded community, heritage and arts programme which charted the history of Chichester’s Graylingwell Hospital. I worked as an administrator, voluntary researcher and oral history interviewer for the project while studying English and Fine Art at undergraduate level. I’ve had a life-long love for the historical, particularly the nineteenth century, and I found Graylingwell Hospital’s heritage absolutely fascinating. I didn’t anticipate the huge impact that this project would have on my work (and life), but now, as a PhD student, I can fully appreciate how it has shaped my career.
Built in 1896 as a mental health facility, the hospital was formerly known as the West Sussex County Asylum, and has had a significant impact upon Chichester’s local community as a place of employment throughout the last century. As a medical institution, Graylingwell Hospital has played an important role in the history of mental health treatment in the UK and the development of psychiatry in the 20th century. It is also noted for the important role it played in national history as a war hospital during the First World War, providing care for injured servicemen from 1915 to 1919. The hospital closed in 2001.
A student of art, English and history, I naturally became very interested in The Wishing Well, which was a magazine printed and distributed by Graylingwell’s Occupational Therapy department between 1946 until at least 1960. These magazines, which are currently held at the West Sussex Record Office, were a creative showcase for the patients of Graylingwell, and include prose, poetry, and written reports on every facet of Hospital life. Visual art features heavily in these magazines, including paintings, woodcut prints, and cartoons. Continue reading →
On my knees, in an art gallery in a bohemian district of Lima, with my head inside a large rock, I thought: “How did I get here?”
I was being shown around an exhibition by an artist whom I wanted to interview. I had the impression at the time, and still do, that this preliminary meeting was a sort of test. I was being judged on how open I was to the artist’s ideas, how I would talk about their work and what the benefits to them would be.
Placing my head in the rock was an extension of this test; it was about my willingness to embrace certain elements of spirituality and of the artist’s vision (which I had quite possibly shown some scepticism towards). However, it was also a demonstration to me that the methods for introducing myself, gaining a person’s trust and setting up an interview in the UK, simply did not apply in Lima. Continue reading →
Books – in the form of tangible, material objects that collect in vertical and horizontal arrangements on my shelves and desks – are my most conspicuous possessions. In the context of my research, which looks at the publication of sixteenth and seventeenth-century history plays, and draws on bibliographic studies and the (affectionately dubbed) ‘New Boredom,’ my attachment to the printed text is perhaps understandable.
I relish the feel, texture, dimensions and physical presence of a printed book, and the ways in which my books contain little histories of my reading experiences. Pages are downturned in the corners and covered in markings and marginalia, recording my thoughts, ideas and tangential observations, many of which I have silently ‘updated’ to improve upon the inarticulate musings of my undergraduate days. Rather than replacing my worn editions, I am still drawn by these old, faded texts bearing layers of comments and providing a context for nostalgic reminiscences, as well as the occasional insight or grimace. Continue reading →
‘The machine is temperamental, so when you thread the microfilm through, don’t be surprised if it won’t stay put. We use this little sellotape tab to hold it in place, but it doesn’t always work.’
I look around at the other machines. ‘Should I use another one?’
‘Oh no. They’re actually broken.’
I am in Bristol Central Library. They’ve recently suffered funding cuts and can’t afford new machines, so really this could be any library. I am here to research the local Jewish community for an exhibition.  See? I tweeted about it, which makes it Proper Research With Impact, and also Networking.