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University of Plymouth collaboration

A recent collaboration with University of Plymouth (UoP) has seen us working alongside undergraduate students. Gathering the unique cultural histories of upland and coastal oak woodlands and reimagining how we visualise forests. Among the daily chores of film-making (aka standing about outside in all weather conditions, mostly damp and cold ones), and supporting sustainable innovative timber solutions, we love any opportunity to connect with dynamic upstarts. A chance meeting with the BA Illustration Programme Lead, John Kilburn from UoP, on Dartmoor last year has led us to just such a collaboration.

The beginning

Over the past few years John and his colleague Dr Darren Aoki (Associate Professor of World History and Oral History) have been curating a fascinating melding of history and illustration. Collaborating and cross-programming their individual subject matters the pair are carving out a space where students from disciplines that wouldn’t normally cross paths work in tandem to capture stories via different but connected mediums.

The project

Darren describes more about the collaboration here…

 ”History students hone their skills in oral history, using them to explore the memories of living witnesses of the past that narrate histories at risk of disappearing, and which record an intimate knowledge of the land, its custodian-ship, and its transformation over time. Once collected and recorded, these memories are given to their colleagues in Illustration, who …visualise the ideas and stories shared in an array of public-facing illustrated products:  graphic novels, posters, pamphlets, games, animations.”

Always keen to connect with our local community in new and vibrant ways, we selected two projects that we felt offered the greatest potential for rich story gathering – Dartmoor Commons and Estuarine Woodlands. History students were paired with landowners, woodland managers, and those who have worked the land and estuary for generations. The aim: to gather the perspectives of land use and land use change over time from those who whose lives have been so deeply entwined in those landscapes

The next step

Darren explains a little more about the next stage of the project

“Curating the words and ideas shared in the oral history engagement, they (students) create a visual record that is then shared with the interviewee-narrators, and Evolving Forests. We call this closing of the loop of knowledge creation and exchange ‘returning the stories’. It is a process that enables us to acknowledge the privilege of being invited into individuals’ lives, and to share the historical inspiration and creative sparks that were ignited by those who so generously shared their pasts and their knowledge with us. In this sense, ‘returning the stories’ is also an ethos of community, one embedded in the collaboration and co-creation of all our future through the recognition that our past matters.”

With stories captured, recordings and transcriptions have now been passed to the illustration students. We spent half a day with them this month walking Harford Common on Dartmoor in stunning sunshine. And visiting the estuary landscape to help them understand the physical landscape the histories are based on.. 

These groups will now bring these rich stories and perspectives to life. At the same time they will navigate creative ways of communicating oral histories with wider audiences. And in addition, find ways of reaching out beyond our immediate echo-chamber.

Through so much of the work that we do. We are always seeking out the spaces where professions, individuals, or specialisms rarely meet. However, the benefit from doing so is palpable. Fewer silos and greater collaboration seem to us to be one of the ways we can unearth creative solutions to the many and growing challenges we face.

In summarising the project for us Darren notes

“A fascinating diversity of experience and background is now amplified in the Evolving Forests oral history archive, and illuminated in the illustrated works. The foundation has been established upon which a deeper collaboration relationship can now be built. We look forward to working with Evolving Forests, and thank it for this wonderful opportunity to be part of its vital mission.”

We are so excited for the second phase of this project. What’s more, we cannot wait to see what the illustration students create in helping us reimagine how we visualise forests.


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