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Current Projects

Borstal Lives

Borstal Lives: Young People, Crime and Institutionalisation in Twentieth-Century England and Wales

Young adult (aged 16 to 23) prisoners have long been perceived as a problem for both society and government. Indeed, this group of prisoners has been described as ‘a forgotten group in the penal system’ (http://www.barrowcadbury.org.uk). Historically, they have been over-represented in prisons and their re-offending rates are high. Despite this, young adult prisoners, and Borstal institutions in particular, have been subject to limited investigation. There has been no full study of the system and its young inmates. This research project will map and identify records for a larger future project, through the close examination of selected institutions, including the first Borstal, which opened in Kent in 1902; Feltham, in West London, which became a Borstal in 1910; and Aylesbury, which became a girls Borstal in the 1930s. Consequently, this project will be the initial stage of the first full study of young adult prisoners in the English and Welsh Borstal System between its establishment in 1902 and abolition in 1982.

War on Waste

This project makes a connection between Dr Henry Irving’s research on recycling during the Second World War and contemporary debates around waste. Support from the CCA allowed Henry to hold a workshop with a group of students from the Leeds School of Arts. The students responded to Henry’s work by producing of a series of posters inspired by those used during the Second World War. Their designs were then combined with historical examples to create a pop-up exhibition about recycling and waste reduction. The project shows just one way that history can be used to stimulate discussion in the present day.

Contact: Dr Henry Irving 

Forged by Fire

‘Forged by Fire: Burns Injury and Identity in Britain, c.1800-2000’ is a four-year AHRC funded project, which started in September 2016, bringing together urban and medical historians to research the relationship between fire, burns injuries and social identity in Britain. Our three case study cities are Birmingham, Glasgow and London, and we are investigating iconic fatal fires as well as smaller, everyday burning incidents. We are interested in the effect of burns and scalds on individual and collective identity in a variety of arenas, including the home, workplace and outside, and are including various social groups ranging from young children to the elderly. The project is also interested in the history of burns and fire prevention and protection, which involves researching emergency services and burns treatment, as well as historic prevention campaigns. The project team currently comprises Professor Jonathan Reinarz (University of Birmingham, Principal Investigator), Dr Shane Ewen (Leeds Beckett University, Co-Investigator) and Dr Rebecca Wynter (University of Birmingham, Research Fellow). Shane Ewen’s contribution involves working with partners in the fire and rescue service as well as government, through the History and Policy network, and he has appeared on BBC television and radio to share his research into the history of fire safety. For further information on the project, including recent publications and conference presentations, visit the project website: https://forgedbyfiresite.wordpress.com/.

Contact: Dr Shane Ewen

The Emily Hobhouse Letters

The Emily Hobhouse Letters: South Africa in International Context, 1899-1926

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, The Emily Hobhouse Letters: South Africa in International Context, 1899-1926, is a three-year collaborative research project that is piecing together the life and work of humanitarian reformer and pacifist Emily Hobhouse. The project team – Drs. Helen Dampier (Leeds Beckett University), Rebecca Gill (University of Huddersfield), and Cornelis Muller (University of the Free State, South Africa), are focusing on Hobhouse’s epistolary networks and her practical contribution to projects for international peace, relief and reconstruction. In 2019 the project will launch a landmark touring exhibition in South Africa and the UK, and this will be accompanied by public lectures and schools events related to the project’s key research findings. 

To contact the project team email emilyhobhouseproject@gmail.com, or tweet @emilyhobhouse 


Contact: Dr Helen Dampier

Naming Adult Autism

Dr James McGrath’s research project on Naming Adult Autism passionately argues for greater dialogue between the sciences and humanities towards further understandings of autistic adulthood.  His work, including his teaching, also explores further intersections of culture and medicine. His book Naming Adult Autism: Culture, Science, Identity is a literary critique of how autism is narrated both in culture and in science. Published by Rowman & Littlefield International in 2017, it is one of the first academic books on the topic to be authored by an adult diagnosed autistic. Naming Adult Autism experiments with the academic book as both a scholarly and literary form. The first chapter, ‘Outsider Science’, uncovers a series of oversights both in diagnostic questionnaires and in ongoing surveys of autistic traits among the general population. The fourth chapter, ‘Title’, experiments with minimalism as an academic tool, and consists of a three-line poem. In addition to contributing to Leeds Beckett’s Cultural Conversation series James has given conference papers on his work at the universities of York, Huddersfield, Leeds Trinity and Liverpool Hope. In May 2018, James was featured reading several of his autism-related poems, as well as from his academic book, on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb. James’s recent essay, ‘Doctor, I’m Damaged: Medical and Cultural Narratives of Nicky Hopkins and the Rolling Stones’, will be published in the edited collection Beggars Banquet and the Rolling Stones in 2019. A number of James’s publications on autism, music and poetry can be accessed here: https://leedsbeckett.academia.edu/JamesMcGrath

Contact: Dr James McGrath

Our Criminal Ancestors

This project encourages and supports people and communities to explore the criminal past of their own families, towns and regions. In this project we interpret 'criminal' broadly to mean people who have (historically) encountered the criminal justice system. This might include the accused, victims, witnesses, prisoners, police and prison-officers, amongst others. Moreover, the project will reveal that 'Our Criminal Ancestors' were often ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances. It will allow a greater understanding of the difficult situations that often led to individuals, and sometimes groups of people, encountering the criminal justice system. Hence, criminal ancestors might include, not only pickpockets, shop-lifters and horse-thieves, but also vagrants, drunkards, debtors and political protestors. Through this project, we hope that the public will gain greater understanding not only of their own family history, but also the history of the communities, towns and regions in which they live and work.

Consequently, this project is characterised by a desire to encourage and facilitate public engagement with crime history. It will do this through knowledge exchange, interactive workshops and website dissemination. This will be achieved through engaging with our 'criminal past' as local communities, regions and nationally, primarily through a collective interest in our criminal ancestors.

Queer Beyond London

Queer Beyond London is an AHRC-funded collaboration between Leeds Beckett University and Birkbeck College, University of London to research histories of sexual identities and communities in the contrasting cities of Leeds, Plymouth, Brighton and Manchester since c.1965. The project team comprises Professors Alison Oram (Leeds Beckett) and Matt Cook (Birkbeck) and Dr Justin Bengry (Goldsmiths). The research explores the difference locality makes to the ways sexuality is understood and experienced, and so develops an account of particular 'queer' social, radical, and commercial networks. The research will look at how continuities and disjunctions in these local lives and networks articulated with, but also functioned at a distance from, broader currents and accounts of gay and lesbian life in Britain. It considers the local impact and relative significance of famous LGBT landmarks such as the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, the inception of the Gay Liberation Front in 1970, the AIDS crisis from 1981, the activism around Clause 28 in 1988, and the successive pieces of equalities legislation culminating in the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act of 2013.

At a detailed and local level, we explore the intersection of sexual, religious, ethnic, class and gender identities. We investigate how patterns of local socio-economic growth or decline, of gentrification, of dissent and radicalism, and of migration affected people who identified as gay and lesbian and others who did not but whose sexual, social and community networks overlapped or intersected. In this way we will, firstly, fracture (or 'queer') homogenising general accounts, and, secondly, complicate local community research where identity categories are often the starting point.

This will be the first sustained, contextualised and comparative historical investigation of the local impact of changing cultural attitudes and official policies concerning sexuality, and the first to look at the particularities of lesbian, gay or other queer lives in cities with different subcultural associations and reputations. It will also feed a broader appetite for accounts of the lesbian, gay and queer past and interrogate the individual, community and political implications of that appetite. The project will bridge a gap between 'popular' and 'academic' LGBT or queer histories, and draw attention to local and national resources, archives, community projects and on-line resources.

Creating and Developing Coaches

Asians within football, at all levels.  The scheme aims to open up more opportunities for BAME players and football staff by increasing the number of, and empowering, coaches and volunteers from BAME backgrounds and also enabling tighter support networks for them. 

To date, work has focused on the creating coaches scheme. Since April 2016, this initiative has hosted events in Bradford, Leeds, West Riding, Huddersfield, Sheffield, and West Ham and has worked with over 200 coaches. The initiative targets under-represented groups, i.e. BAME communities or those working within BAME environments. Creating & Developing Coaches invites coaches to network with key stakeholders within the region, e.g. local County FA. By the end of the event, coaches have gained key information about coach development opportunities, further volunteering opportunities, built key networks, and heard success stories from role models.

A key element of this work is tackling the barriers to participation,  in this case on-line/ social media. The project recognises that English football has worked to combat racism in football stadia and around football matches, but it notes an increased volume of racist content on social media, which is often aimed at football players. The project offers an evaluation of the English Premier League and Football League reactions and responses to racist content. Through interviews with key officials in Professional Footballers’ Association and also in the campaign Kick It Out, it seeks to identify operational difficulties, gaps and good practice in the combatting of racism.  The on-going project argues that a number of interrelated systematic failings thwart anti-racist ambitions and it also identifies a culture of secrecy at many clubs. The project concludes with some recommendations about how these weaknesses may start to be improved.

Contact: Dr Dan Kilvington

Media and Place

Media and place provides an overarching project for distinct but related work- activities. These are connected firstly by the combination of techniques from social geography, textual analysis and non-media centric theory to examine the sensory, affective and socio- cultural dimensions of ‘place-making.  Secondly, the activities share a focus on the construction of The North. Thirdly, they feed into wider debates about territorial stigmatization, belonging and community- making with a particular regard for prevailing socio-economic contexts and material realities.

The work has been supported by Leeds Beckett research funding and a BA Small Research Grant on constructions of Holmfirth.

Contact: Dr Zoë Tew-Thompson, Dr Lisa Taylor, Professor Jayne Raisborough and Dr Katherine Harrison

Verdant Creativities

This ongoing project investigates how practices of urban gardening inform our understanding of northern identities, urban change and cultivation. Focusing on case studies of urban gardening in Leeds and Wakefield, UK, the project explores how gardening communities participate in practices of place-making and connection. These practices are undertaken through planning, planting, and hands-on gardening as well as using new media platforms to facilitate connectivity and create networked gardening communities. In this way the research interrogates the temporal and spatial transformations of place, and the interrelationship between both online and offline locales and the communities they produce. The research speaks to emerging debates within the field of media & cultural studies for a ‘non-media-centric’ approach and responds to that call by refocusing attention on everyday practices of place-making and identity building rather than the grand projects of urban redevelopment that have characterised the previous decade in northern British post-industrial cities.

The research explores urban gardening practices in the context of broader national and international debates about urban transformation and the constitution of place. The project seeks to explore the ‘politics of planting’ that might emerge through the exploration of embodied practices, and assesses how far new media facilitates or constrain such practices. These practices of verdant creativity are interrogated via three key themes: creativity, protest and place- making; the project seeks to understand to what extent local actors consider their endeavours to be concerned with the creative transformation of place.

Given the return of the ‘Garden Cities’ discourse under the previous coalition government (in relation to Ebbsfleet), the controversial campaign for a ‘garden bridge’ for London, and cuts to Local Authorities’ budgets in an era of ‘austerity’ politics in the UK, this research considers how individuals and local groups negotiate and navigate sites to plant and transform.

Contact: Dr Zoe Tew-Thompson

Commoners Choir

Commoners Choir’s first project Magna Carta was developed in order to create a project that articulated feelings about attachments to place. The choir was conceived as a mobile entity. Magna Carta set out to commemorate the 1932 Kinder Trespass and its purpose was to walk and sing at the site of the protest – at Edale and on Ilkley Moor. The choir sang to a small audience in this location and a short film, made by LBU, publicizing the events was posted on YouTube. The choir continued to grow beyond this initial project and protested about a range of socio-political issues – the Magna Carta songs were taken forward as part of its growing body of work.

The choir boasts a litany of gigs from Ilkley Literature Festival to ‘shock’ performances – such as the Bradford Film Museum and Bradford Peace Museum.  In 2017 its debut album ‘Commoners Choir’ was released to critical acclaim and the choir have performed on Radio Leeds and on BBC’s regional news programme ‘Look North’.  Reviews testify to the Choir’s impact. Likening it to a ‘singing newspaper for today’, the Ilkley Gazette suggested it disseminated views on ‘bigger issues of social injustice – inequality, homelessness, vanished communities.’ Online Fruck magazine suggested that the choir was distinct from other choirs because it performed original songs, claiming that it would continue, ‘to grow, provoke and engage.’ In his article for the Guardian, choir member Allan Clifford spoke of his own personal transformation as a result of being a choir member: ‘Singing in the choir has made me much happier … it has not so much changed me as confirmed me …I have met an incredible group of people who inspire each other to get out of the house and do something.’  In February 2018, the choir were filmed returning to Edale for the anniversary of the Magna Carta walking and singing project as part of the ITV programme ‘Britain’s 100 Best Walks’, coming  no 36 out of 100.

Contact: Dr Lisa Taylor 

Landscapes of Loss

This project aims to develop an inter-disciplinary creative approach to the problems of divided post-industrial areas – in both the UK and beyond - and argues for the necessity of healing opportunities. An on-going ethnography of Firth’s carpet factory in Bailliff Bridge, West Yorkshire, it examines how ex-workers/ residents responded to the demolition of the factory using ‘walk and talk’ tours. In its current stage, the project aims to investigate the importance of photographs and objects that ex-workers donated to the project. The research found nostalgic memories of Firths as a paternalistic workplace had provided a ‘whole way of life’ through social activities. Felt loss of community heightened the need to treasure photographs, a feeling doubled by the perception of newcomers, thought to lack understanding of a village once proud to produce carpets.

The work draws on Keightley and Pickering’s (2012) concept of ‘mnemonic imagination’ which re-evaluates reflective elements of nostalgia as a creative response to loss. The project will include former employees working with an artist to re-animate their photographs and conduct qualitative interviews about everyday remembering practices of working life. Analysis of this data will test out both reflective and restorative forms of nostalgia to unlock their creative potential.

Contact: Dr Lisa Taylor

Carnival Event.

Caribbean Carnival Cultures

The Caribbean Carnival Cultures research project at the Centre for Culture and the Arts falls under the Postcolonial Cultures strand. Despite the 50 years that British Caribbean communities have brought carnival, their major artistic creation, with its highly significant cultural history, into the public life of the UK there is little scholarship on this topic in cultural studies, in history, or in literary studies. The aim of this project is to create a platform to develop carnival research in the UK and internationally.

To this aim project lead Dr Emily Zobel Marshall alongside Professor Emeritus Max Farrar have successfully organized a Caribbean Carnival Symposium in 2014 and Emily has presented her ongoing research on Carnival Tricksters at the Leeds Cultural Conversations Series. A Leeds Beckett University funded PhD student Tola Dabiri is further developing the project through her analysis of the function of the oral tradition in carnival cultures in her thesis entitled ‘De-coding 21st Century Carnival’.

Working in partnership with the Leeds West Indian Carnival Committee, the Centre for Culture and the Arts hosted an international conference in May 2017. The conference celebrated the 50th anniversary of Leeds West Indian Carnival, the first Caribbean street carnival in the UK. This interdisciplinary event brought together researchers, participants, costume designers, musicians, filmmakers, artists and founder members of the Caribbean carnival in the UK and internationally to showcase and analyse the phenomenal people's art of carnival. 

More information on this project. 

Contact: Dr Emily Zobel Marshall.

Image © Max Farrar

The Congo Free State across European Cultures

Funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research this project will create the first European research network on colonialism’s culture in the Congo Free State. The aim of this project is to identify the Congo Free State as a case study par excellence for cultural exchange in the history of European overseas.

This project will be the first to analyse the Congo Free State under Leopold II (1985-1908) as a space of international cultural encounter through an analysis of its cultural production across language, media and society. From this new perspective, the Congo Free State will be considered as a transnational phenomenon with a significant impact across the fin the siècle world.

We will set up a structurally embedded Congo Free State research network that organises academic and public events, academic publications and a virtual research portal creating a focal point for anyone interested in the Congo Free State. We envisage that our research will inform future events and exhibitions in European museum galleries dedicated to colonial history.

As Joseph Conrad says of the arch-colonialist in his Congo novella, Heart of Darkness: "All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz". We intend to show the validity of this remark, and to consider how the likes of Kurtz also contributed to the making of Europe.

Our partners in this project are:

  • Open University of the Netherlands
  • Uppsala University
  • Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren

Contact: Dr Rob Burroughs

Heaton Project

The aim of this project is to produce a guide to locations in Leeds connected to Dr John Deakin Heaton (1817-1880) and mentioned in his Journal. Heaton was a Leeds physician and promoter of provincial civic pride in nineteenth-century Britain. His journals are a rich and varied resource providing information for scholars researching issues relating to the domestic and civic activities of the urban middle-class elite during the nineteenth century. The guide will comprise a map interface with content plotted at specific locations using map pointers.

The content will be in the form of text and images derived from Heaton's Journal and other sources as well as explanatory information provided by the project's Director, Dr Simon Morgan. The guide will be available as a mobile web application, as well as desktop and tablet versions, providing users with location-based walking tours of the many sites of interest.

The journals comprise seven closely written leather-bound volumes, totalling approximately 2,800 pages (1.4 million words), which were probably written up from a daily diary, now lost. The journals document the life and times of a man who was at the heart of the nineteenth-century Leeds elite. They are an invaluable resource to scholars interested in the public and private lives of the provincial middle-classes, the feminist activities of his wife, and his sister Ellen's activities as an early patron of Dante Gabrielle Rossetti and correspondent of John Ruskin. The journals have recently come into the possession of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society (YAS) who are keen to make this source more accessible to scholars while actively engaging the wider community of Leeds and the West Riding of Yorkshire with this fascinating part of their history.

Our partner for this project:

  • University of Sheffield HRI Digital


  • English studies, heritage, history, manuscripts, mobile applications, online resource, social history
  • Technologies: CMS, CSS, GoogleMaps API, HTML, mobile applications, MySQL, PHP

Contact: Dr Simon Morgan

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