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Event: Migration through (Pre)History

Josie RMills28 January 2019

Migration through (Pre)History, an evening of short talks by UCL’s Student Engagers, will be taking place on Thursday, 7 February 2019, from 6:30-9pm in UCL Art Museum

Coming up in UCL Art Museum, we’re hosting a series of talks around the theme of migration, and with Brexit coming up, there’s no wonder that’s what’s on our mind!

We’d like to welcome you to join UCL’s Student Engagers Josie Mills, Hannah Page, and Jen Datiles, current PhD researchers, to explore the migration of people and the movement of objects through time and space. Inspired by the Octagon Gallery’s 2019 exhibit Moving Objects, Student Engagers will use UCL Art Museum as a space to investigate the movement of people across disciplines. Highlights include migration in prehistory and the spread of botanicals in the nineteenth century. Stick around for some wine and snacks afterward!

The event is free and will be held at UCL Art Museum on Thursday 7th of February from 6.30 – 9.00 pm.

The speakers are:

Josie Mills is a PhD candidate in the Institute of Archaeology specialising in prehistoric archaeology, applying scientific techniques to stone tools made by Neanderthals. In her PhD she is studying where flint used to make lithic artefacts comes from in order to look at movement and landscape use during the Middle Palaeolithic. She is also interested in how we, as modern humans, perceive prehistoric behaviour and the division often drawn between us and other species.

Hannah Page is a fourth year part-time PhD student in the Archaeology department. Her thesis focuses on sociocultural and political organisation and change in the early 2nd millennium AD in Uganda. Her research aims to reconstruct key aspects of life at the site of Ntuusi through the detailed archaeometric (scientific) analysis of pottery. This type of ceramic analysis can be used to understand scale and organisation of production practices, identify cultural groups and understand networks of local and long-distance trade and exchange. She is also active in running excavations and coordinating field schools and outreach events in the UK and sub-saharan Africa.

Jen Datiles is a PhD student at the UCL School of Pharmacy studying food and medicinal plants that were exchanged between Asia and the Americas via the Spanish Galleon Trade (1565-1815). Using selected plant species as case studies, her research aims to link historical documentation with modern use-knowledge of traditional food-medicines through fieldwork and work in various archives and herbaria.

As usual our events in the museum aim to be inclusive and interactive, with lighthearted discussion about the topic of the event and how this might relate to our own research areas. You can book the event by clicking here. Booking is encouraged but not essential.

We look forward to welcoming you on the night!

For more information please email josephine.mills.10@ucl.ac.uk or follow us on Twitter @ResearchEngager

Beyond the PhD: Public Engagement and Employment

KevinGuyan8 December 2014

Kevin GuyanBy Kevin Guyan

I write this blog post as a break from PhD research and the task of looking for part time employment. My mind is fast becoming foggy from the endless administration loop of locating a job posting, completing the Application Form and tailoring my CV and Cover Letter to match the job specifications. However, this communication with non-academic employers has allowed me to see which experiences feature regularly in my applications, regardless of the job application.

My role as a Student Engager has featured in the majority of submissions and it is apparent that the versatility of the project presents a number of skills that impress potential employers. At the interview stage, employers scroll down my CV and are attracted to the project.   The interviewer invites me to ‘say more’ on the project and elaborate further on what it means ‘to engage with the public’.

Employers are keen to hear more about the following engagement skills:

Customer service.   The majority of employed positions require an ability to deal with other people and my work in UCL museums provides excellent examples.   Although we are not ‘selling’ our research to the public, the ability to spot an interested visitor, strike up conversation and bring discussion to a constructive close are all useful skills that have impressed in interviews.

Dissemination of information. Though it is a stretch to describe our experiences of marketing and communication, the sharing of our research with the public and shaping of events to target audiences that may not normally engage with universities, is a great talking point.

Dealing with diverse audiences. There is no set audience for the people who are brought together for a public engagement event, our previous events have attracted everyone from departmental colleagues to local residents who popped-across the road to see what was happening. This diversity of interactions is well suited to employment in everything from a coffee shop to a library front desk.

Project management. Finally, the ability to develop an idea from inception through to eventual completion is another talking point. Examples cited include our 2013 event Landscape and 2014 event Movement.

By explaining the Student Engagement project to non-academic employers, the many merits of the project and their stretch beyond our university setting become apparent. The project not only allows for the presence of public engagers in UCL museums and the delivery of events, but also provides a training platform for a handful of PhD students who may not acquire these skills elsewhere.

Student Engagers running a session at our May 2014 event Movement.

Frustratingly, the Student Engagement Project has attracted more attention from employers than the skills required to undertake my PhD. Admittedly, the positions under discussion are non-academic and therefore do not call for a knowledge of postwar gender history in Britain. I hope that my PhD will become a greater talking point after its completion.

The typical model of an application form, in which you identify skills and support them with evidence, fits well with the variety of tasks undertaken as a Student Engager.   However, rather than writing a love letter to the Student Engagement project, my thoughts have instead turned to important questions over the training of PhD students and their readiness for an extremely competitive job market after leaving university.

A substantial number of students graduating with PhDs will not go on to pursue careers in academia.   University chiefs therefore need to ask how research students can utilise their time at university to develop their employability above and beyond the research and writing of a thesis, acknowledging the reality that many students will need to jump from an academic path to an equally competitive Plan B.

For those that pursue a PhD that directly follows a postgraduate degree, undergraduate degree and secondary school, as is my situation, there is the risk of emerging from the education system in your mid-to-late twenties lacking the diversity of skills and experiences gained by contemporaries from a decade in the job market. I am conscious of this risk and have proactively worked to expand my experiences. Yet, universities face the difficult task of juggling the provision of ‘extracurricular’ opportunities for students while not prescribing the activities of independent researchers.

As an example, the Student Engagement project has offered me experiences that complement the rigours of academic research and I therefore wonder how universities can adopt and expand aspects of the project to ready other PhD students for employment beyond academia.

Looking back on ‘Blockages in the System’: a reflective comment on working with PhD researchers beyond your discipline

Ruth MBlackburn16 June 2014

Kevin GuyanRuth

      

 

 

 

 

By Kevin Guyan and Ruth Blackburn

On the evening of Friday 23 May we presented Blockages in the system: health research in postwar Britain’  to an audience of around 30 people in UCL’s Bloomsbury Studio. Positioned between two presentation screens, showing in bright Technicolor a journey through the streets of London in the 1950s, the audience sat in two long rows as if they were journeying on a classic Routemaster bus.

 

Photograph by Christie Lau

Our presentation explored links between good physical health and exercise, discussing the bus men study conducted by Jerry Morris (1910-2009), Emeritus Professor of Public Health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and commonly referred to as the father of exercise epidemiology.  Morris was the first to establish proof that the frequency and severity of heart disease was reduced among workers who did more active jobs, having reached this conclusion in the late 1940s by conducting an innovative and efficient ‘experiment’ that studied the behaviour and indicators of physical health in several thousand London Transport employees; particularly focusing on health differences between bus drivers and conductors.  Our study of Morris also sought to position his work within the wider context of postwar London, showing that his research on the health of London transport workers was a product of its time and is an interesting example of broader changes in how ‘experts’ were understanding and explaining human action and behaviour.

In this blog post we will discuss the process of developing our presentation for Movement, focusing particularly on our experiences of working with a PhD researcher from another discipline.  Ruth Blackburn is based in the Department of Primary Care and Population Health and her research explores the prevention of heart disease and stroke in people with serious mental illness.  Kevin Guyan is based in the Department of History and is currently exploring the role of ‘expert knowledge’ in how ideas of gender and domestic space were understood in London during the 1940s and 1950s.

It is hoped that by looking back on the process of developing our presentation, we will be able to share the benefits of this approach with other researchers who are also considering developing a project that crosses different backgrounds and knowledge-sets.  However, we will also identify difficulties encountered in our project and limitations that we feel can hamper this inter-disciplinary style of event development.

Developing the Idea

‘Blockages in the system’ grew organically from discussions over possible links in our PhD research.  The paradigm with which each of us viewed Jerry Morris and his work was very much a product of our training and academic disciplines.  Numerous pages of ideas were exchanged in an attempt to fathom cross-over points between Jerry Morris’s epidemiological study of London Transport Workers and notions of expert knowledge in postwar London.  Throughout this process, we both had a sense that similarities were present, yet also did not wish to elevate themes that were overly tenuous. A series of meetings with staff working across the university were instrumental in helping us to streamline our ideas and bring in more material from UCL Collections.  Each of these meetings highlighted both the expertise and enthusiasm of the Museums and Collections staff and the epic proportions of UCL Collections.  Our first meeting was with Krisztina Lackoi, Research Co-ordinator for Museums and Collections, who introduced us to a breadth of ideas, people, objects and spaces that we would otherwise not have considered – we left feeling enthused by the project but overwhelmed by the wealth of material available. Ruth’s notes record an eclectic list: circuit boards, walking sticks, space science laboratories, model boats, nuns, bicycles and ice skates; each representing a few tentative steps down a primrose path.

After some deliberation we decided to add a ‘Lost Property’ strand to our presentation, and felt that RJ Berry’s mice (Grant Museum) and the Counting Gloves of Francis Galton (Galton Collection) were fitting objects to focus on. At present, Berry’s mice are not on public display so Mark Carnall, Curator at the Grant Museum, kindly arranged for Ruth to visit the Grant Museum’s storage facilities and explain what is known about the specimens.  Ruth was struck by the incredible number of specimens (around 8000) collected by Berry and the difficulties in storing, researching and using this kind of collection: another possible avenue for exploration emerged, but as yet remain untapped.  Our final meeting with Subhadra Das, Curator UCL Teaching and Research Collections, confirmed that Galton’s Counting Gloves were also well suited to our event and was able to provide additional information on their use and history.  She also volunteered to accompany the Gloves to Movement so that our audience were able to see them first hand (no pun intended).

Challenges

Bringing our viewpoints and expertise together was an enriching and enjoyable experience, although the struggle to find mutually acceptable terms did often prove challenging!  It became clear, in the process of drafting our script, of the need to simplify our respective terminologies when sharing work with people beyond your own field.  An early draft from Ruth was peppered with references to ‘epidemiology’; after his first reading Kevin explained that it should not be assumed that this term (common to those working in Ruth’s field) would be understood by the audience.  This resulted in the addition of a brief ‘introduction to epidemiology’ that ensured everyone was fully aware of the terms being discussed in the talk.  Similarly, an attempt by Kevin to frame Jerry Morris as an example of a postwar expert increasingly interested in the actions and behaviours of the individual perhaps failed to accurately reflect his life’s work, as he was, above all, a scientist rather than a political thinker.  With a limited knowledge of Morris’s work and even less knowledge of the development of epidemiology in Britain in the 20th century, Kevin’s judgement of Morris was refined by the presence of a second pair of eyes that were better educated in the history of science, and thus this description of Morris was suitably diluted.

Working as a Postgraduate Student Engager routinely involves identifying across three distinct interstices: firstly, confidence in your own research and an awareness of its wider links to other fields; secondly, identifying links between your own research and the work of other engagers; thirdly, finding connections between these shared research interests and material from UCL Collections.

It is admittedly a challenge to satisfy all three components and you do often question why you are making life more difficult for yourself, surely it would be simpler to speak about your own research in isolation. However, this is not the nature of the Postgraduate Student Engagement Project and having this push factor, forcing you to question the wider relations of your work, is undoubtedly beneficial.  As with a previous Postgraduate Student Engagement event, Landscape, one approach followed is to identify a broad arc under which the public can enjoy samples from across the engagers’ disciplines.

Looking Beyond this Project

The process and merits of developing an interdisciplinary event are broadly analogous to those arising from public engagement.  At the most basic level, both serve as a delivery tool for feeding back research ideas and results to stakeholders including the public.  But the benefits reach further than dissemination alone; they allow researchers to identify new and unexpected connections by entering into a dialogue with people with different experience and perspectives.  Furthermore, this process of sharing ideas with people who are unfamiliar with our own field (and the associated “assumed knowledge” and terminology) forces us to change the way that we present information, which ultimately results in a deeper understanding for both parties.

Looking beyond ‘Blockages in the system’, what will we take from this experience and apply to how we develop projects, both within and beyond our respective disciplines, in the future?  As PhD researchers, it is common to find ourselves only presenting our work to those working in the same field.  However, with the impact demands of the Research Excellence Framework the ability to share what we do with those not academically involved in the field is a key requirement of future researchers.  An interdisciplinary approach is certainly not the path to follow by those looking for quick and easy results.  However, with the right type of support and the provision of ample time (planning projects always take longer than expected) exciting research projects can undoubtedly be developed.

Photograph by Christie Lau

Photograph by Christie Lau

Movement Taster – Blockages in the system: health research in postwar Britain

KevinGuyan19 May 2014

Kevin GuyanRuth

 

 

 

 

 

By Kevin Guyan and Ruth Blackburn

This taster is from a larger presentation, Blockages in the system: health research in postwar Britain, which forms part of the Student Engagers’ Movement event taking place at UCL on Friday 23 May. What follows is a sample of the interdisciplinary work by PhD students Kevin Guyan, Department of History, and Ruth Blackburn, Department of Primary Care and Population Health, linking their interests in 20th century British history and health sciences. Movement will also relate these ideas to objects from UCL Collections as well as giving attendees an audiovisual experience of travelling on a London Routemaster bus.

 

Bus driver and conductor © Transport for London

Bus driver and conductor © Transport for London

 

The links between good physical health and exercise have only relatively recently been established. In the postwar decades there was particular interest in investigating heart disease: an increasingly common ailment with causes that were poorly understood at the time.  Jerry Morris (1910-2009), Emeritus Professor of Public Health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and commonly referred to as the father of exercise epidemiology, was the first to establish proof that the frequency and severity of heart disease was reduced among workers who did more active jobs.

He made this discovery in the late 1940s by conducting an innovative and efficient ‘experiment’ that studied the behaviour and indicators of physical health in several thousand London Transport employees; particularly focusing on health differences between bus drivers and conductors. The selection of the two study groups was critical for the success of the experiment. This is because the bus drivers and conductors were very similar groups of people in most respects (e.g. age, socio-economic status and diet) but differed in terms of the amount of physical activity that was undertaken whilst at work.

By studying differences in the rates of cardiovascular disease between these two groups the ‘bus men study’ showed that the additional physical activity that bus conductors undertook whilst at work was associated with a 50 per cent reduction in heart disease. This finding was the first real evidence to demonstrate that being more active brought substantial health benefits and highlighted the importance of exercise as a public health intervention.

It is now time to position Jerry Morris’s study within the wider context of postwar London, showing that his research on the health of London transport workers was a product of its time and is an interesting example of broader changes in how ‘experts’ were understanding and explaining human action and behaviour.

Morris addressing the 1954 World Conference of Cardiology in Washington DC © The Telegraph

Jerry Morris in 1954 © The Telegraph

The decades following the Second World War experienced a widening of ‘expert knowledge’, particularly within fields linked to the physical and social health and well-being of citizens.  The esteem of qualities associated with experts also underwent a shift: moving from the predominance of highbrow cultures (for example, the humanities) to also include masters of science, skill and technology. This period was witness to the rise of the scientific and technical expert.

The belief that experts were striving for a ‘New Jerusalem’, a utopian ideal removed from the realities of postwar austerity, often distract discussions of British planning.  However, there was undoubtedly a political dimension to these projects, reflecting the politics of the Left, Fabianism and the Labour Party. It is not coincidental that Morris was a Socialist and championed the need for state intervention to improve the welfare of the population throughout his life’s research. In his work, the line between science and politics is often blurred – expressing the view that positivist forms of science work in tandem with socialist principles.  In this political vision of a New Britain, the rational and modern nation would require the successful management of health and disease.  Morris and his expert knowledge of epidemiology would therefore position him as a central figure in this imagined future.

This interest in the political led to what is arguably the most interesting development in his work: his definition of the individual. Morris did not focus on moral deviancy or communities positioned on the edge of society; nor, in his ‘bus men study’, was his primary focus the influences of class or social situation.  Instead, his chief research interests were individual actions and ways of living, removed from their social and economic contexts.

By moving the focus of one’s likelihood to encounter disease away from social class or community and instead considering the activities that individuals perform, although throughout his life’s work Morris was deeply interested in how socioeconomic factors affect the activities people perform, the ‘bus men study’ differed from the approach of scientists before him.  Importantly, the fluid nature of modern life was also acknowledged and the need to view subjects as ‘changing people’ operating in changing social environments. As experts grew more willing to challenge the influences of social class and instead consider the complex effects of social and biological relations, ‘ways of living’ emerged as a primary factor in the study of health and disease.  The offshoot of this finding was groundbreaking: a call for the reform of everyday lifestyles. With this conclusion, Morris’s ‘bus men study’ should not only be viewed as a key text in epidemiology but also as part of a wider shift in 20th century Britain over the role of scientific expertise and definitions of the individual.

Health and the male body

Health and the male body

Movement Taster – Movement in Premodern Societies

StacyHackner14 May 2014


engaging

The following is a taster for the Student Engagers’ Movement event taking place at UCL on Friday 23 May. Stacy, a researcher in Archaeology, will be discussing movement through the lens of biomechanics.

by Stacy Hackner

Imagine you’re in the grocery store. You start in the produce section, taking small steps between items. You hover by the bananas, decide you won’t take them, and walk a few steps further for apples, carrots, and cabbage. You then take a longer walk, carefully avoiding the ice cream on your way to the dairy fridge for some milk. You hover, picking out the semi-skimmed and some yogurt, before taking another long walk to the bakery. This pattern repeats until you’re at the checkout.

What you may not realize is that this pattern of stops and starts with long strides in between may be intrinsic to human movement, if not common to many foraging animals. A recent study of the Hadza, a hunting and gathering group in Tanzania, shows that they practice this type of movement known as the Lévy walk (or Lévy flight in birds and bumblebees). It makes sense on a gathering level: you’ve exhausted all your resources in one area, so you move to another locale further afield, then another, before returning to your base. When the Hadza have finished all the resources in an area, they’ll move camp, allowing them to regrow (for us, this is the shelves being restocked). This study links us with the Hadza, and the Hadza with what we can loosely term “ancient humans and their ancestors”.

Diagram of a Levy walk.

Diagram of a Levy walk. Credit Leif Svalgaard.

It’s unsurprising that the Hadza were used to examine the Lévy walk and probabilistic foraging strategies. As they are one of the few remaining hunter-gatherer groups on the planet, they are often used in scientific studies aiming to find out how humans lived, ate, and moved thousands of years ago, before the invention of agriculture. The Hadza have been remarkably amenable to being studied by researchers investigating concepts including female waist-to-hip ratios, the gut microbiome, botanical surveys, and body fat percentage. Tracking their movement around the landscape using GPS units is one of the most ingenious!

Much of the theoretical background to my work is based on human movement around the landscape. The more an individual moves, the more his or her leg bones will adapt to that type of movement. Thus it is important to examine how much movement cultures practicing different subsistence strategies perform. The oft-cited hypothesis is that hunter-gatherers perform the most walking or running activity, and the transition to agriculture decreased movement. An implicit assumption in this is that males, no matter the society, always performed more work requiring mobility than females. This has been upheld in a number of archaeological studies: between the Italian Late Upper Paleolithic and the Italian Neolithic, individuals’ overall femoral strength decreased, but the males decreased more; over the course of the Classical Maya period (350-900 AD), the difference in leg strength between males and females decreased, solely due a reduction in strength of the males. The authors posit that this is due to an economic shift allowing the males to be free from hard physical labour.

However, I take issue with the hypothesis that females always performed less work. The prevailing idea of a hunting man settling down to farm work while the gathering woman retains her adherence to household chores and finding local vegetables is not borne out by the Hadza. First, both Hadza men and women gather. Their resources and methods differ – men gather alone and hunt small game while women and children gather in groups – but another GPS study found that Hadza women walk up to 15 km per day on a gathering excursion (men get up to 18 km). 15 km is not exactly sitting around the camp peeling tubers. Another discrepancy from bone research is the effect of testosterone: given similar levels of activity, a man is likely to build more bone than a woman, leading archaeologists to believe he did more work. Finally, hunting for big game – at least for the Hadza – occurs rarely (about once every 30 hunter-days, according to one researcher) and may be of more social significance than biomechanical, and berries gathered account for as many calories as meat; perhaps we should rethink our nomenclature and call pre-agricultural groups gatherer-gatherers or just foragers.

For a video of Hadza foraging techniques, click here.

For a National Geographic photo article, click here.

 

Sources

Marchi, D. 2008. Relationships between lower limb cross-sectional geometry and mobility: the case of a Neolithic sample from Italy. AJPA 137, 188-200.

Marlowe, FW. 2010. The Hadza: Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania. Berkeley: Univ. California Press.

O’Connell, J and Hawkes, K. 1998. Grandmothers, gathering, and the evolution of human diets. 14th International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences.

Raichlen, DA, Gordon, AD, AZP Mabulla, FW Marlowe, and H Pontzer. 2014. Evidence of Lévy walk foraging patterns in human hunter–gatherers. PNAS 111:2, 728-733.

Wanner, IS, T Sierra Sosa, KW Alt, and VT Blos. 2007. Lifestyle, occupation, and whole bone morphology of the pre-Hispanic Maya coastal population from Xcambó, Yucatan, Mexico. IJO 17, 253-268.

Announcing Our Next Event, Movement

StacyHackner3 March 2014

Movement: An Interdisciplinary Experience

Friday, May 23; 18:30-20:00 

UCL Art Museum & Other Spaces

Movement: through time and space, across landscapes, inside our bodies. Join the Student Engagers for an evening exploring aspects of movement inspired by the Octagon Gallery’s Knowledge in Motion exhibit. Using UCL’s gallery and museum spaces, we investigate movements internal and external, mental and physical, historical and contemporary. Drinks and discussion to follow.

This event is free but places are limited. Please book here.

Anatomical Study of a Skeleton with its Left Arm Raised Walking to the Left, Simon Francis Ravenet the Elder (1706-1774)

Anatomical Study of a Skeleton
with its Left Arm Raised Walking to the Left
,
Simon Francis Ravenet the Elder (1706-1774)