HSS8121 – The Research Proposal

Rather than doing my documentation is a series of smaller posts, I’m going to do them as several massive ones to get the gist of my work across.

I absolutely love that we had to do a research proposal for this assignment. Sad, I know.

I’ve been working on my research proposal for a while. Since November. Granted at the time it wasn’t for this module, it was for my PhD application. My application jumped ship from Culture Lab across to Media Culture Heritage (sorry guys), where it seemed my research interests had a better fit.

Background to My Research

Somehow these blog posts keep transitioning into me rambling and giving nostalgic anecdotes… And this one is no different!

[Side note, until I started this course I turned my nose up at blogging and thought it was a bit of a vanity project for people. Turns out I love a good vanity project, thanks CAP for introducing me to the blog world. I have plans after this to start my own (maybe (probably not though)) and call it ‘The World According to Willy’ (that’s me, btw).]

I have had an interest in my specific research field since the first year of my Undergrad. Back then it was a photography series based around Cragside. They style of it has become a bit if a cliche so I’m not sharing it here. My family has a large collection of photographs of their time at Cragside so I went around the Estate photographing the locations of the old photos and mapping the two together. It looks a cliche but my intentions were quite political. I wanted to show how the National Trust had ‘destroyed’ the Estate in terms of it’s original purpose. A home. Two notable images show the entrance to the Manor, formerly with my great-great-aunt and her son sitting on the steps with a little dog – now there is an access ramp and queueing instructions where they once sat. Similarly there is a photograph of my grandmother as a little girl standing outside her house. Now her old home is a NT office, a woman can be seen through the window working on her computer.

Over time this series developed, with the input of families who lived there before/at the time of the NT’s arrival (1970s). I approached the NT to try and get the work exhibited but this was met with a resounding ‘No’. It didn’t ‘fit’ with the ethos they wanted to present the site as.

From that point, (this is where we get to the recent/relevant section) my research interests became more theoretical as opposed to merely practical. I looked at Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, and Jo Spence. Jo Spence in particular had a strong influence over my direction with this: namely her ‘social album’. Her work stated that a family album should contain all aspects of family life – the good and the bad. Family albums in the current style are archetypal to a time, place and social class. The are intermittent and interchangeable, the only differences being the names, faces and exact locations that the photographs were taken. With my Cragside work, I wanted to apply this idea of the social album. Use the images, and the stories of those involved as an archive to discover the social context of those who lived there and what the social constructs of their community was.

This is (vaguely) what my initial research proposal was about. An ethnographic research study to understand this now lost community, and how this loss impacted the former community across the following generations. What made it a more prevalent, and allowed it to become more of a social study critical to the understanding of the power struggles currently taking place across rural England was coming across several news articles from 2013 onwards which stated that other NT owned lands across the country were facing similar struggles to what my family and the former Cragside residents faced during the 1970s. This has taken place in Staffordshire, Gloucestershire, Norfolk and other areas of Northumberland.  Rent control, forced evictions, loss of jobs, the removal of communities. This is a continuous social issue within England today and very few are aware of it.

From there I started to look into forced displacement. How viable is this as a PhD proposal? Has this been done before? Not here.

There is a lot of research into large scale displacement. I have looked at Gentry’s study of Maori displacement and Anna Bohlin’s study of District Six in South Africa to name but a couple. The closest to home research I a came across was an extensive amount of studies on the effects of the Highland Clearances in Scotland.

Back to CAP and the Brief

As I said, a lot of the work proposed for my PhD was theoretical. One of the aims in that proposal considered conferring with the former community and discussing whether or not they would like to be represented onsite, similar to the District Six Memory Cloth and Barossa Valley Wall Hanging which I had previously looked at. If they did decided that they would like to be represented (which I have discussed with them during my past work and they were very keen on having their story told, I would then approach this using research through design.) My supervisors and i spoke about this point, and said that it was secondary to the research I was actually going to be doing – understanding the social community make up in rural England and analysing the effects of their displacement trans-generationally.

When the HSS8121 brief came through, I knew that i had to acc a digital and creative aspect to the proposal. I didn’t want to submit what I had for my PhD proposal, I wanted to alter it so that it included the creative representational aspects that i had left behind the first time around. The background and context remains the same – it is the same study after all, just taken from a different angle. I re-worked and re-worded my original proposal and used it as a draft to build this version from. I looked further into community memory projects – Barossa valley Wall Hanging, District Six Memory Cloth, and re-visited an old favourite: the work of Nicky Bird. Nicky Bird was my original inspiration in first year, and I had the pleasure of working with her for my dissertation in third year. The projects provided visual guidance for ways that I could approach representing Cragside, and in turn other displaced, however they did not work with the constraints of being placed on land owned by the NT. Who have previously made it clear that they don’t want my artwork physically in place onsite.

So I turned to the intangible. Tim’s sound walk session really inspired me (see previous post) to start thinking about sensory memory walks. This would offer both a research method and a creative output.By transforming the data captured during the sensory memory walks, I could then develop this into a locative media device. The same applies for the ethnographic work I had planned to do using photographs as discourse tools. The content could be digitised into an app meaning that the narratives could be accessed onsite in the specific location intangibly without the need to place anything physically on NT land.

This started off as a theoretical ‘I’m doing it for the assignment’ idea. Having developed it and thought about it extensively over the course of the last few weeks, I think this is the direction I want to progress with. Especially after the presentations and finding out how closely this connects to Tom and John’s work (I think we need to have a conversation about this!!). Speaking of the presentation, that is hands down the least nerve wracking presentation I have ever given. I think it was because this is something I am so passionate about, and have spent the last 5 or 6 months (or 4 years) working towards.

As for the PhD, my proposal was accepted by MCH and I have been offered the place, but since I don’t yet have my Masters, Northern Bridge did not grant the funding. So I’m postponing until 2018 when hopefully I will be able to secure the funding for it. This gives me more time to develop the direction that I really want to go down.


As an additional note, I have enjoyed reading the edited Heritage Matters volumes published by Newcastle University. Notably:

Displaced Heritage: Dealing with Disaster and Suffering, 2014

Edited by Ian Convery, Gerard Corsane and Peter Davis
First published: December 2014




Making Sense of Place: Multidisciplinary Perspective, 2012

Edited by Ian Convery, Gerard Corsane and Peter Davis
First published April 2012


I have also been researching rural studies, looking in particular at Liepen’s work around the construct of community and sense of place.

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