Taking the fight to academia

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”
― George Orwell, Why I Write

For the next three weeks or so Dawn of the Unread has decided to leave the garret and get out in the public to spread the word of the impending abookalypse to universities. On 19 – 20 June we went to Nottingham Trent University for their 4th Annual Research Conference and I gave a 25 minute paper on how we’ve pooled together some incredible student talent from the humanities department to work with us. I’ll be converting this talk to a digital humanities manifesto at Durham University for the conference: Beyond Crisis: Visions for the New Humanities on 8-9 July as well as using Dawn of the Unread as an example of Best Practice at the Creating Colleges for the Future Conference at Nottingham Trent International College on 16 July.

I can’t emphasise how important student contribution has been so far. They’ve helped with everything from filming, social media, research, marketing to editing, all of which is detailed in NTU’s annual report. You can read about us on page 23. Talking of ‘23’, take a look at this video essay Press When Illuminated produced by filming student Will Price and written by Adrian Reynolds, which explores everything from synchronicity to eugenics in trying to determine the blurry nature of reality.

There are of course deep rooted issues underpinning our comic, and in particular how we can best tackle the UKs appalling illiteracy statistics. Entering academia is integral to this fight as universities have the potential and resources to directly influence policy makers. It also enabled me to present our case before people I would perhaps not bump into under normal circumstances. One such person was Stella Wisdom who is part of the Digital Research & Digital Curator Team at the British Library. I’ll be popping down to the British Library with Paul Fillingham in the next month to give a talk about how digital and print can live happily together.

You will be able to 'play' Dawn of the Unread by 7 July

You will be able to ‘play’ Dawn of the Unread by 7 July

On the day of my NTU talk yet another depressing report was released, this time from the Education Select Committee, detailing the awful performances of white working class children in our schools and the need to attract high quality teaching. I grew up in a white working class mining community and so these issues are very important to me. This is why Dawn of the Unread will have a ‘gaming’ function to it when the App is released as the tasks will help raise aspirations, by giving teenagers a platform to express their ideas, as well as creating a sense of civic pride in their home city, something we hope to achieve through the visiting of literary locations which will be tracked via GPS.

After the conference I pegged it over to the Nottingham Writers’ Studio for a Pecha Kucha event called Write About Nottingham on Friday afternoon. Pecha Kucha is basically Twitter for powerpoint. You have 20 slides and 20 seconds for each one, ensuring you think concisely about what it is you want to say about your project.

Paul Fillingham and James Walker (me) bringing digital to  Bromley House Library.

Paul Fillingham and James Walker (me) bringing digital to Bromley House Library.

It’s a simple format for raising awareness about what’s going on in your local community and from this I met Jeff Goatcher who argued that it is a waste of time teaching students about sociology using convoluted academic language and then expecting them to go out into the ‘real world’ and practice the discipline with ‘ordinary’ people. Afterwards I suggested that perhaps literature could help bridge that divide…

We’re going to look at how books such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning can serve to paint a picture of a particular historical moment and how these social conditions (the factory, alcohol, post-war, etc) created particular types of people/attitudes – the essence of sociological inquiry. This can then serve as an introduction to academic theories and arguments. Similarly, the ethos driving Dawn of the Unread is clearly a sense of civic pride and awareness of where you come from. Hopefully it may motivate students to try out similar ideas and move thought beyond the comfortable confines of the page.


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