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New voices on arts, humanities and social sciences

Date/Time: Thursday 25 November 2021, 5.30pm

Venue: This is an online event

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On Thursday 25 November, three early-career researchers from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Newcastle University will be have the opportunity to deliver a Public Lecture, describing their cutting-edge research.

Congratulations to the three winning applicants, David Johnson, Violeta Tsenova and James Barker who were chosen by a public vote:

Neurotic Angels: Impossible Requirements and Unhappy Women in the Victorian Home
David Johnson, PhD in History, Classics, and Archaeology

My research project examines the history of the middle-class home in England and Scotland during the nineteenth century.  Using tools from emotions history, my work defines the emotions expected within the home using a lexicon of emotional words constructed from a survey of domestic economy guides, and then compares the lived experiences of householders as recorded in private writings to the prescriptive advice.  The project draws from Actor-Network theory to define the nineteenth-century middle class, and to address the way domestic guides and the overall home environment developed over the period.  My methods provide a unique framework to brings cohesion to a diverse set of primary sources which include domestic guides, diaries, letters, and poverty studies from the nineteenth century. 

My research shows that there is a strong alignment between the emotional vocabulary used in domestic literature and the written records of middle-class householders in the nineteenth century.  Further, across both urban and rural settings in England and Scotland for the entire period the emotional vocabulary is largely consistent, both in terms of desirable and undesirable emotional traits in the home, though there is evidence that the mistress of the home was not always as happy at home as she was expected to be.  In particular, the standards of behaviour a woman in the home was expected to measure up to were almost impossibly high both for her character and her duties in the home, but many women truly internalised these expectations, and then berated themselves for their failures in their private diaries.  The result is that the supposed ‘Angel in the House’ was often a miserable figure that at times verged on being neurotic.  

Who are the Genius Loci in cultural heritage?
Violeta Tsenova, PhD in History, Classics, and Archaeology

My project explored the intersection between Human-Computer Interaction design and the means for interpreting and communicating history, heritage, and personal narratives at cultural sites. I sought to expand design approaches that would present plural knowledges on equal par with expert interpretations of heritage sites and collections. I argue that embracing a design process supports a nascent cultural shift in traditional institutions. Such a perspective shift adds to the process of diversifying narratives and values and those involved in producing cultural knowledge. I achieved this by proposing a design approach - “designing with genius loci” – to working and sustaining design activities with communities interested in heritage. Through employing “designing with genius loci”, I have re-thought how to co-design with communities affected by heritage interpretation in order to explore and diversify dominant values.

To develop this approach, I regarded participants in my project as genii loci – the many spirits of a place – people whose memories and conceptualisations of heritage contribute to a pluralised perspective of both the past and present. I contribute three actionable design areas central to the approach: 1). designers working in heritage should negotiate with interpretative voices; 2). designs do not engender new values and qualities but emphasise what is already there; and 3). designers should move away from privileging historical reconstructions and instead focus on designing for contemporary experiences of heritage. By guiding designers on who the genii loci can be and how to work with them, the approach is applicable across different heritage sectors (i.e., museums, libraries, NGOs) and design modalities (such as artistic interventions and larger interpretative systems). Importantly, participating communities are equipped with a nuanced understanding of digital technology and its role in bringing out divergent knowledges and values whilst facilitating a shared interpretation of the past.

PhDolly: What Dolly Parton can tell us about LGBTQ+ Belonging in Country Music
James Barker, PhD in Music

My research focuses on LGBTQ+ inclusion in country music using Dolly Parton as a case study. I bring the combination of rigorous original research that works to assert LGBTQ+ experiences and stories at the heart of country songs, and this is grounded in my practical experience and engagement with artists and fans of the genre. Country music is a genre that has often been assumed to lack LGBTQ+ representation and its songs are often presumed to reinforce heteronormativity if not outright homophobia. This is despite there being LGBTQ+ artists and fans, and country music scholarship that has acknowledged this. Nevertheless, the country music industry has continued to exclude LGBTQ+ artists.

In this public lecture, I will explore how Dolly Parton as recognised somewhat uniquely as an LGBTQ+ ally within country music, can in fact be situated within its aesthetic and political strains. In so doing I hope to demonstrate LGBTQ+ allyship as not exceptional for the genre, but that LGBTQ+ people can belong in country music. I also acknowledge that Parton as a straight white ally has limitations as a case study. Therefore, I will also explore where we might need to move from Dolly in order to give LGBTQ+ artists, past and present, their due; and how this must be rooted in intersectional and coalitional politics.   

Live Q&A:

The lecture will be followed by a live Q&A with the speakers. You can submit a question in advance by sending an email to or during the event using YouTube Live Chat or via Twitter @InsightsNCL.

This event will be hosted on YouTube, registration is not required.