Queen Mary’s ‘Emotional objects: from lost amulets to found photos’

Queen Mary’s ‘Emotional objects: from lost amulets to found photos’

Queen Mary University of London’s ‘Emotional objects: from lost amulets to found photos’

By Helen Stark, former research project manager for the Living with Feeling project

Helen Stark reflects on her ambitious event ‘Emotional objects: from lost amulets to found photos’ which she organised in partnership with the Royal College of Nursing. Helen explains how they placed fun participatory feedback at the heart of their event, ensuring that there was a two-way sharing of knowledge between organisers and attendees. 

Tell us a bit about your event. What subject areas did you cover and what did you want to achieve?

‘Emotional objects’ was a drop-in event showcasing research from across the Queen Mary Centre for the History of the Emotions and beyond. It was part of the Being Human festival and funded by Being Human, the Centre for Public Engagement at Queen Mary University of London and the Living with Feeling project. On 20 November 2017, 175 visitors came to the Royal College of Nursing for activities and talks addressing our emotional relationship to the objects around us. We worked with a range of research staff affiliated with the Centre and external partners including the Royal College of Nursing (who provided a venue and stall) and artists Mervyn Millar and Georgina Fay, Soul Relics, and mixologists Killgrief and Comfort.

We had run a successful event as part of the 2016 festival and were keen to run another event in a similar format but with a different theme. Our aims were:

  1. To raise public awareness of the work of the Centre for the History of the Emotions and in particular the Living with Feeling project.
  2. To raise levels of public engagement experience and expertise within the team.
  3. To encourage visitors to think about how objects mediate and shape our emotional responses and the ways in which science and medicine use that ability.
  4. To get visitors to think about the ways emotions are affected by time, place and space; i.e. the ways in which they are constructed.
  5. To seek audience feedback and contributions to our research ideas and themes.

How did you make your event appeal to your target audience? What feedback did you get from attendees?

We had previously had a lot of success in attracting adults with an interest in history of science to our events. We wanted to combine this established audience with young people, aged between 11-18, who were educated in central London. We chose our venue with this in mind as the Royal College of Nursing is located near Oxford Circus, and also asked artist Georgina Fay to assist us as she is the education officer at the October Gallery. However, we weren’t as successful at attracting this new audience as we’d hoped because of the timing of the event (we ran sessions between 2pm-5pm and 6pm-9pm). Upon reflection, we should have started later – 4pm would have been ideal – as while teachers were unable to bring their pupils they would have happily encouraged them to attend after school.

Those that did attend learnt a lot! 66% said they learnt something new at the event and 84% stated that wanted to know more about the Centre for the History of Emotions. In the feedback forms participants tended to praise the variety of activities, the talks and the art activities. They called the event an ‘opportunity to learn and discuss in a fun way’ and commented that it was ‘interesting thinking about our emotional attachment to objects and their power over us’.

What worked particularly well in the planning, design and delivery of your event?

I am extremely proud of how we evaluated the event. The evaluation was themed around nostalgia for childhood objects. It was deliberately made to look attractive with toys and jars of sweets. There were a number of different activities. For example, we did a marble run where participants were asked to respond to four statements, such as ‘How and what I feel is affected by where I am and who I’m with’. Participants responded by choosing a colour of marble which represented the strength of their agreement with the statement and putting it in the run. We also had Etch A Sketches available for people to draw a picture representing their response to the event.

Evaluation was built into almost every part of the event; individual stalls also collected responses from attendees and there were other mechanisms too such as encouraging attendees to write what they thought while having a drink at one of our tables.

Do you have any top tips for future Being Human event organisers?

  1. Think carefully and strategically early on about how to organise the event so your intended audience can attend.
  2. Have volunteers/employees specifically working on evaluation so you get helpful data.
  3. Prepare promotional material about your centre/team so people can take it away with them/get involved after the event.

To be part of Being Human 2018 please visit our ‘get involved’ page.

Image copyright: image of evaluation stand, courtesy of Gary Schwartz.