Canterbury Christ Church University’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ series
By Professor Carolyn Oulton, professor of Victorian Literature at Canterbury Christ Church University
Carolyn Oulton, from Canterbury Christ Church University, reflects on her series of events ‘Canterbury Tales’. Carolyn gets to the heart of the Being Human ethos by explaining how her team went about attracting a diverse audience for their events. There are also some top tips on working with partners and the rewards that come from it. This series was funded by a Being Human Small Award.
Tell us a little bit about your series of events.
In our series we wanted to explore the ways that Canterbury and East Kent have staged their own history over time. Events included a round table, an exhibition, a historic and musical walk followed by a creative writing workshop in a 19th-century prison, an immersive drama exploring links between suffrage and the white feather movement, and an afternoon at Margate’s Dreamland.
One example of the fantastic events we put on was ‘Walk Through the Walls’ which was a great immersive walk charting changing attitudes to power and authority from the Early Modern period to the present day. The walk ended in the Canterbury prison. Historic songs echoed round the walls, followed by a writing workshop that gave participants a way to think about writing ‘in place’.
Who was your target audience? Why was it important for you to reach these groups?
Throughout our series of events we wanted to show that we were prepared to engage in difficult conversations. That’s why we held an event in a former prison and for our drama ‘First of the Feathers: Soldiers and Suffragettes’ we handed out feathers to non-combatants. We wanted to look at what it means to be excluded or to be forced into discourses of ‘heroism’ versus ‘cowardice’.
We worked with local schools, heritage organisations and arts professionals to make these conversations as relevant and also as creative as possible. Boys of sixth form age are less likely to think about taking a degree in English rather than a STEM subject, although anecdotally there is less gender imbalance in History. Our events were planned to appeal to this group without excluding other local audiences.
What worked particularly well in the planning, design and delivery of your events? Did you face any challenges?
We began planning early and had a clear agreement for who would organise what. We did work with a number of new external partners, but in each case one of us already knew someone ‘on the inside’ – making contact with the right person at an early stage was vital.
Working with different types of organisation creates logistical challenges, for example schools were dealing with university applications just as the final details needed to be arranged and school and university terms don’t always align. We found it really helped to flag any key deadlines in good time, such as when we needed letters of support from our partners for the Being Human application process.
On the day of events such as ‘Walk Through the Walls’ the weather was always going to be a worry. In the event the walk took place in the rain and the prison was freezing – we were careful to plan round this and warn participants to come appropriately dressed!
What was your motivation for getting involved in Being Human? Did you find it useful to be part of the festival?
This was a chance to work across disciplines, find points of connection and share new perspectives. We wanted to challenge the attitude that history and writing from the past has nothing to do with us today. All our events tried to complicate assumptions about men and women’s roles in history and also about who the humanities ‘are for’.
It was extremely useful to be part of the festival. We have forged new partnerships beyond the university and found ways to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries for future projects.
Do you have any top tips or lessons learned for future Being Human event organisers?
- Start planning early.
- Ask partners what they hope to get out of the experience.
- Different organisations will have different requirements for sign off and permissions – if in doubt, check!