Affective Digital Histories: Re-creating Britain's De-industrial Places, 1970s to the Present
Affective Digital Histories is a research project investigating how community ties and bonds have changed, and continue to change, through periods of decline and regeneration of urban landscapes in some of Britain's post-industrial towns and cities. The archival materials that document these changes can be difficult to access and are currently scattered in different places. The University of Leicester has been awarded a number of research grants to do the work of collecting, analysing and digitising the data that exists.
The period from the 1970s to the 1990s, in particular, presents an interesting challenge to academic researchers because we know that while the decline of British manufacturing in the late twentieth century is well-documented, the stories 'out there' have not been told or researched for what they can tell us about people's emotional 'feel' for a place that they and their community might have been part of. These stories form an important tapestry of information about how certain communities think about, feel and use physical spaces that have undergone regeneration in recent decades. In Leicester, for instance, these include dance halls, rave venues and alternative clubs for a variety of uses.
This project, therefore, aims to bring together existing research on historical and heritage sites which have fallen into disuse and/or disrepair and that are now undergoing some kind of regeneration by city and local councils. Having done this, the researchers and community participants will then work closely together to develop a digital archive of open and publicly accessible data that forms a repository of some of the stories of communities that used, worked and played in these buildings.
The two sites for our study are Leicester's Cultural Quarter and Glossop's Howard Town and Whitfield Wards. University of Leicester researchers working in different departments (Management, Urban History, Geography, Museum Studies and Creative Writing) are pooling their knowledge and expertise to co-create original digital assets based on stories of how communities change how buildings and heritage sites are used, even as the buildings themselves help to shape human activities that take place in and around them.
We believe that digital technologies facilitate enduring and sustainable research assets that can be used and enjoyed by the public, schools, researchers, civic organisations and creative arts practitioners and businesses for generations to come. A key driver for our research is how people 'feel' a place and how they describe it to themselves and others.
A series of activities and workshops are planned to draw in participants from a range of backgrounds: civic organisations, writers, artists, arts venues, local councils as well as arts organisations and digital arts venues (such as the Phoenix in Leicester's Cultural Quarter). Two of these, for instance, involve creating an interactive 'audio trail' which provides an historical soundtrack to the various areas around the Cultural Quarter.
Drawing upon interview data, a digital agency will work with academics to create soundtracks which can then be made available to participants and visitors via WiFi. As people move around, they will experience a historical soundscape offering unique experiences of this space
In Glossop, three-dimensional models of buildings will be accessible to people incorporating stories and experiences of various under-researched mining communities and businesses in the area that have, as mentioned, experienced de-industrialisation in a personal way.
All these outputs will leave an important legacy for anyone interested in understanding how personal and hitherto private lives were lived during the late 1970s and 1990s but who are also keen to discover insights into the economically and culturally 'big' questions of how communities can shape the environments in which they lived.