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SHAPE BA funding

Funding helps SHAPE understanding of heritage

Published on: 17 October 2023

A Newcastle University academic is among the first to receive funding for an innovative public engagement research project that will focus on experiential learning for heritage audiences.

Dr Meg Kobza, a Leverhulme early career researcher in the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology, is one of 14 researchers to receive funding via the British Academy’s new SHAPE Involve and Engage Awards, a pilot scheme designed to support creative methods of engaging the public in cutting edge SHAPE research (Social sciences, Humanities and Arts for People and the Economy).

Each award is in partnership with a regional cultural organisation, including galleries, libraries, archives and museums, and Dr Kobza will work with Tatjana LeBoff, curator at the Bath Assembly Rooms, managed by the National Trust.

The project will focus on Georgian fancy dress balls in the eighteenth century, the experience of them - both historically and how contemporary heritage visitors engage with Georgian fancy dress - reframing the historic and curatorial research.

The award will allow Dr Kobza to develop an innovative public engagement project and supporting activities, co-designed with the Bath Assembly Rooms, to inspire and connect local communities with SHAPE research topics and meaningfully involve them in the creation of new research outputs.

It is hoped that inviting others to collaborate on the activities and be part of the research will provide insights that cannot be achieved via traditional archival or historic research and will foster new interdisciplinary relationships and networks.

Dr Meg Kobza said: “I am delighted to work with the National Trust at the Bath Assembly Rooms to bring the Georgian fancy dress experience to life for modern heritage audiences. Our co-creation of a fancy dress ball within this historic space will engage general and academic audiences through experiential learning and encourage reflection on making and wearing fancy dress. The significance of fancy dress has been overlooked due to its associations with play and ephemerality but this event will provide an important opportunity to engage heritage audiences in conversations about the legacy of fancy dress, its relationship with cultural appropriation, and its place within leisure culture in the past, present, and future.”

The project will also lay the groundwork for creating new types of multi-sensory visitor engagement that can be applied to other heritage sites, bringing Georgian sociability to life in tangible, smellable, and audible forms.

Working with local young people and existing academic communities will help the Bath Assembly Rooms build lasting relationships, processes, and policies to allow the institution to be more resilient and effective in the future, as well as offering the chance for participants to gain skills, confidence, and connections.

Tatjana LeBoff, curator at the Bath Assembly Rooms, said: “The Bath Assembly Rooms were made for entertainment and for people to come together. This new approach to research through engagement and participation is a fitting way for us to understand more about what it was like to attend fancy balls, concerts and events at the Rooms in the Georgian era. We are excited to work with Dr Kobza to bring the Rooms to life with a fancy dress ball and other programmed events, reflecting the Rooms historic use, but in ways which are relevant, inclusive and fun for our visitors today.”

The SHAPE pilot scheme was subject to high demand the British Academy said, receiving many more applications than anticipated.

Professor Julia Black, President of the British Academy,the UK's national body for the humanities and social sciences,said: “Our vision is to see public engagement fully embedded in research and so we are delighted to support these partnerships between researchers and cultural organisations which will do just that, galvanising local communities and target audiences related to their research themes. I know that the review panel were struck by the sheer creativity, innovation, diversity and variety held not only within our disciplines, but in how researchers feel they can meaningfully engage with audiences through arts and culture institutions which sit in the hearts of communities. On behalf of the Academy, I offer my warmest congratulations to those who have received awards. We hope that their partnerships will inspire and spark new meaningful connections between communities and the humanities, social sciences and arts.”

The SHAPE Involve and Engage projects will be delivered between October 2023 and October 2024, with more details of public activities and events to be revealed at a later stage.

Press release adapted with thanks to the British Academy

Close up of the interior of the ballroom at Bath Assembly Rooms, now managed by the National Trust. Credit: Meg Kobza

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