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The Student Engager Project featured on the LSE Impact Blog

By Kevin Guyan, on 12 August 2016

The Student Engager project featured on the LSE Impact Blog, an online hub for those researching and working at universities who wish to maximise the impact of academic work.  In the article, the project coordinator Kevin Guyan discusses the potential benefits of the public engagement project for training the next generation of researchers in ways to communicate research with non-academic audiences.


LSE Impact Blog

To read the full article visit the LSE Impact Blog.



Stress: Remembering Men

By Kevin Guyan, on 16 November 2015

By Kevin Guyan


In the latest blog post to accompany Stress: Approaches to the First World War, Kevin Guyan explains what James Andrew Wykeham Simons’ 1948 painting The Seven Ages of Man tells us about remembering masculinities in twentieth century Britain. 


The Seven Ages of Man

The Seven Ages of Man © the artist’s estate, photo credit: UCL Art Museum

A reproduction of James Andrew Wykeham Simons’ 1948 painting, The Seven Ages of Man is currently on display as part of the Stress: Approaches to the First World War exhibition.  I selected the work for inclusion as it tells us a lot about masculine identities of the past and raises particular questions about how we commemorate men lost in war, themes addressed in my PhD research.

Simons’ painting takes its name from a monologue in the William Shakespeare play As You Like It.  The painting’s title invites viewers to look for Shakespeare’s seven ages of man and rethink your view towards masculinity – not as something fixed but as something continually in flux.

The youngest man found in the painting is the infant, held in the arms of his nurse.  The men are looking out to a body of water where the next age of man is located, the emotional lover, whom Shakespeare describes as ‘sighing like a furnace, with a wofeful ballad made to his mistress’ eyebrow’.  The turbulent years of being young and in love catches the attention of the other men in the painting.

The next stage to follow in a man’s life is the devoted soldier.  Shakespeare describes this man as ‘full of strange oaths, and bearded like a pard’, which was the Old English word for leopard and highlights young men’s tendency to grow patchy beards.

On his return from war, man enters the next stage of life in which they no longer feel the need to prove themselves and can instead sit back and enjoy commenting on the world around them.  We would today describe this phase as middle aged, and two characters in Simons’ painting fit this description.  At this point in Shakespeare’s journey through the seven ages of man the chronology becomes less clear, as it’s of course possible to be an older soldier or a younger man who is also self-assured.

Reaching the end of one’s life, and one becomes an old man who cares little about his dress sense, wearing ‘lean and slippered pantaloon’ to cover his ‘shrunk shank’ – his thin legs.  Finally, man’s life ends with ‘mere oblivion’ and is left ‘sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’.  Death.

I am unable to tell why Simons made one slight change in his painting from the Shakespeare monologue – he does not depict the age of the schoolboy and instead adds two, rather than one, middle aged men – the youngest in blue and the oldest in grey.  My hesitant guess is that this change reflected the huge increase in life expectancy in the mid-twentieth century, with the middle decades of one’s life expanding and therefore justifying an additional character.

“Rethink your view towards masculinity – not as something fixed but as something continually in flux.”

My own research explores the relationship between masculinities, planning knowledge and domestic space in Britain between the 1941 Blitz and the early 1960s.  One of the biggest changes during this period was men’s movement from old homes into new homes after the Second World War and the new opportunities men found in terms of privacy, more space, use of a garden and private bedrooms.  The move into new homes made it easier for men to perform family-orientated masculinities and change what they did in the home as fathers and husbands.

In my study of postwar housing, men’s gender identity is not fixed but something that can change according to time and place.  Similarly, in Simons’ painting, men’s masculine identities do not change according to space but change according to time.

The Seven Ages of Man, when viewed within the context of the First World War, raises questions about how and who we commemorate.  When commemorating men who served in the First World War we need to think about their masculine identities as something unfixed that could be achieved, lost and rediscovered – there was and is no option for lifetime membership. And for millions of men in the early twentieth century, the opportunity to progress through the painting’s seven ages was viciously cut short.

It is always sad to hear when the linear path of a man’s life does not proceed through the generations as predicted – painted against the backdrop of the mid-1940s, I therefore read Simons’ painting as an anti-war statement that reminds us of the many male lives that were unnaturally disrupted by conflict.  Approaching the subject of commemoration through a gender history lens raises new ways to think about men’s lives in the past and reminds us of the need to stop history from repeating itself.


Stress: Building an Exhibition

By Kevin Guyan, on 20 July 2015

Kevin GuyanBy Kevin Guyan


With the announcement of the Student Engagers’ autumn exhibition, here is the first in a series of blog posts that share personal insights into the curatorial process.


Stress offers the student engagement team an opportunity to curate an exhibition that counters the traditional view of museums and galleries as fixed spaces that display objects that convey a message. Instead – I see this as a chance for us to experiment with bold and exciting ways to share knowledge and create a space on campus for three-way conversations between curators, objects and the public.

The inception of our exhibition first found life in the summer of 2014 during a conversation between the student engagement team and the UCL Art Museum. Over one year later and, as design ideas and draft event listings are shared via email, the exhibition at last feels like it is coming together.

As our more experienced colleagues in UCL Museums and Public and Cultural Engagement warned, ‘exhibition time’ runs significantly slower than ‘normal time’ and we now appreciate starting this project with 16 months to spare. I remember looking at action plans with distant dates and the feeling that our plans were a lifetime away. Those dates have now come and gone as we hurtle through 2015 and towards our opening night on Friday 9 October.

The meat and bones of the student engagement project is the presence of researchers in UCL’s three public museums. Therefore, one of the key hopes for Stress was to import this practice and create an exhibition where a researcher was always present, waiting and ready for conversation.

The researcher’s presence will also create a way to feed-back information from visitors into the planning of events, pre-empting many questions and queries fielded and offering a more tailored visitor experience. It further gives us opportunities to adapt the exhibition during its run. For example, conversations between engagers and visitors will inform the writing of blog articles that will then shape how future visitors perceive the objects on display.

Like our previous events and exhibitions, Movement, LandSCAPE and Foreign Bodies, the theme of Stress brings together the research interests of a diverse group of PhD students under one overarching theme. This means that the visitor experience will differ according to the researcher in the exhibition space and their interpretation of the objects on display.

North Lodge

UCL’s North Lodge will house a team of postgraduate researchers throughout the exhibition.

I am excited to see how this works in reality – the continual presence of a researcher in the North Lodge exhibition space may prove overbearing and turn-off visitors looking for a space of solitude in busy Bloomsbury. More optimistically, the space will become a talking shop at the entrance to UCL’s campus and create a different, yet equally enriching, experience for visitors.

For me, public engagement is about more than sharing research ideas with other people. The benefits should reach far further than dissemination alone and empower researchers to enter into dialogues with people from different backgrounds. The process of sharing ideas with people unfamiliar with our own field will foster new and unexpected connections and force us to change the way we share our work, ultimately resulting in a deeper understanding for everyone involved.

We are attempting to build an exhibition with public engagement as a foundational building block and create a space that gives researchers and visitors opportunities to follow pathways unaware where they might lead. This is very much the ethos of the student engagement project – let’s see how our ideas work in reality.

National Gallery of Ireland Research Day

By Kevin Guyan, on 9 March 2015

Kevin GuyanBy Kevin Guyan

The Student Engagement project was the subject of a paper presented to an audience of museum and gallery professionals, researchers and members of the public at the National Gallery of Ireland Research Day on 6 March 2015.

The day’s theme was Conditions of Display: Research & Practice and preceded the reopening of the gallery in 2016, in which curators will make a number of decisions on rehanging and reimagining the collection.  It was therefore an ideal opportunity to share the ongoing link between researchers and public engagement taking place across UCL Museums and the possibilities the Student Engagement project presents for museums and galleries in both the UK and Ireland.

Artists and researchers from a number of UK and Irish universities and art colleges shared their experiences of devising, organising and interpreting exhibitions, as well as the public’s experience of these exhibitions once they go ‘live’.

Sean Rainbird, Director of the NGI, opened the day noting the need to consider the ‘physical experience of humans in space’ when thinking about museums and galleries.  Adding that this not only included the arrangement of space and objects but also the management of sound.

Gemma Tipton, known for her commentary on art, architecture and aspects of Irish culture for The Irish Times and regular contributions to TV and radio, raised interesting points about what the exterior of galleries say about the content within.  This instantly conjured up the very different entrances to the Grant Museum and Petrie Museum, and whether this shapes people’s interpretations of museum objects prior to their arrival in the museum.

Entrances to the Grant Museum (left) and Petrie Museum (right).

Entrances to the Grant Museum (left) and Petrie Museum (right).

Paul Green, PhD Candidate in the School of Art and Media at the University of Plymouth, shared the ongoing work of Cork’s South Presentation Heritage and the conversion of a convent into a public heritage site.  The need to ‘future proof’ the site so that it is ready for unforeseen uses and forms of engagements was insightful, as well as the involvement of design students in devising ways for the public to interact with the objects and space.

Mirjami Schuppert, PhD Candidate at Ulster University, examined the role of the curator in mediating artistic interventions.  She drew a distinction between ‘conventional curating’ and ‘contemporary curating’, which revolves around ‘creative authorship and discursive coproduction’, and expressed the need for those working with archives to give something back in return.

Saidhbhín Gibson, Masters in Fine Art-Sculpture Candidate at the National College of Art and Design, shared her artistic interventions in permanent collections at The Natural History Museum and The Lab, Dublin.  She also raised questions over the level of interpretation presented in museums, and the exciting possibilities that emerge when visitors are not given directions on how they should or should not understand an object on display.

Sabina MacMahon, Masters in Museum Studies Candidate at the University of Leicester, discussed her creation of the fictitious South Down Society of Modern Art and exhibition of its work.

Kevin Guyan concluded the day’s papers by sharing the case study of the Student Engagement project and how two-way discussions with visitors helped promote his work as well as reconsider views towards his own research.  He argued that curators should build strategies for engagement, like the Student Engagement project, into the planning of exhibitions and hanging of collections from the offset, as it brings a number of benefits for researchers and the public.

Conditions of Display

The Research Day discussed new ways to share collections.

A panel discussion followed that examined a number of these themes in further depth.  One person questioned the expandability of the Student Engagement project to larger, non-university spaces.  Though the focus of the project has thus far been UCL’s three campus museums, it seems likely that elements of this project could transfer to differently sized museums not linked to universities.  Another person asked whether this style of engagement was dependent on the layout of the museum space?  As Student Engagers report differing levels of success in different parts of UCL museums, environment undoubtedly plays a role in people’s willingness to converse.

People clustered afterwards to share their thoughts, both positive and negative, on the Student Engagement project.  A few audience members found the idea of a researcher approaching them when contemplating a painting or museum object an unwelcome idea, though admitted that others may enjoy this opportunity to share their opinion on the collection.  Others identified the two-way benefits of bringing researchers into the museum or gallery space and were excited by the project’s potential to serve as a training platform for students.  Expanding the skillset of PhD students, while also bringing into museums and galleries new methods of public engagement, interested many of those in attendance and it is hoped that elements of the work taking place at UCL appears in other museums and galleries.

Beyond the PhD: Public Engagement and Employment

By Kevin Guyan, on 8 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.

The Power of the Image – Museum Engaging and Visual Sources

By Kevin Guyan, on 1 September 2014

Kevin GuyanBy Kevin Guyan

In the first of two blog posts exploring Student Engagers’ experiences of using images when sharing research in museums, Kevin Guyan discusses the enthusiasm he has experienced and the two-way conversations created from photographs of homes in the 1940s and 1950s.

I was conscious of the importance of visual material in the sharing of my research since commencing the PhD process, with photographs possessing the power to transform dense moments of a presentation into something more accessible and engaging. However, a recent change in direction in my approach to engaging across UCL Museums has illustrated the power of the image even more than I had first imagined.

I am a PhD student in History and my research explores the ideas of experts planning the design of social housing in London in the decades following the Second World War.  I specifically question how planners understood men’s actions and behaviours within the home and attempted to reconfigure these performances through design and planning.  To summarise these ideas in a visual form I brought with me to the museum eight photographs: architects, planners and Royal attendees at the 1943 County of London Plan exhibit (below); images from the Live Architecture exhibition at the 1951 Festival of Britain; designs from the 1940s for how living spaces should be arranged and photographs of ‘model homes’ from the 1950s.


King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and an assortment of postwar planners at the County of London Plan exhibit. University of Liverpool archive [D113/3/3/40].

King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and an assortment of postwar planners at the 1943 County of London Plan exhibit. University of Liverpool archive [D113/3/3/40].

Upon display of the images, the heightened level of response from museum visitors surprised me.  Without the need for me to even look particularly inviting – visitors assembled at my table and questioned, ‘Well, what do we have here?’  This expression of interest enabled me to explain the Researchers in Museums project, give a brief outline of my research and explain why I am based in the museum for the afternoon.

The images offered a starting-point for conversation, with several of the visitors quick to draw links between the photographs and experiences from their own lives.  One visitor asked questions on racial differences in postwar domestic practices, citing a BBC documentary on the historical significance of the Front Room for black families in the latter half of the 20th century.  Another visitor examined the current arrangement of their own home – questioning where Dad relaxes after a day at work, in which room children do their homework and the location of where meals are eaten.  Memories of previous homes also featured in our conversations, with one visitor proudly sharing the forward-looking mindset of her Father who would always assist with the household chores or assist the children with their homework in the living room.  People were thinking about their own homes, both past and present, in a new way, while also educating me on their experiences and opinions towards my research.

This deeper engagement is exactly what I was hoping to achieve with my afternoon and made clear the value of public engagement when it operates as a two-way discussion, in which both the museum visitor and myself left feeling better informed about the subject.  This approach to museum engaging also enabled me to avoid disturbing visitors keen to explore the collections on their own, with no wish to engage in conversation.  This approach therefore circumnavigated this problem, with my assortment of images acting as a magnet for those in the museum that wish to engage in a personal conversation and learn more from their visit.

The use of images has made me think further about how those working in museums could expand upon this approach.  How can researchers discuss their work in ways that go beyond talking?  I am aware of other Student Engagers that have used sounds to spark conversations – I feel encouraged to explore ways to bring the smells of early 20th century housing into the museums, or evoke conversation through the tasting of certain foods and drinks.  History is a sensory journey into the past and there is a need for myself and others sharing their research with the public to look across the senses to make their research as accessible and engaging as possible.

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

By Ruth M Blackburn, on 16 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).


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

By Kevin Guyan, on 19 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

Question of the Week: Where did UCL acquire its Art Collection?

By Kevin Guyan, on 12 February 2014

Kevin GuyanBy Kevin Guyan

Questions directed towards Engagers come in all forms, one of the most common questions I have been asked while working in the Art Museum is also one of the most of interest to me:

Where did UCL acquire its Art Collection?

Excited by the romantic vision of illicit meetings between UCL staff and art collectors, foreign trips and auction houses, I made my own investigations into the history of the collection.

Perhaps reassuringly, the history behind the 10,000 plus objects in the UCL collection is more mundane than I had first expected.  The collection has developed through two main sources: links between UCL and the Slade School of Fine Art and the receipt of art work bequeathed to the museum.

A collection of material produced by prize-winning students studying at the Slade would, in its own right, offer a collection of great importance, with notable students including Stanley Spencer, Paula Rego and Augustus John.  This collection policy continues to the present day, with the museum recently acquiring A Printers’ Symphony,  a sound recording accompanied by a concertina of printed images and marks from these processes, bound together like a musical score and Marianna Simnett’s video Dog, which won the William Coldstream Memorial prize in 2013.

Marianna Simnett, Dog (2013) (c) UCL Art Museum

Marianna Simnett, Dog (2013) (c) UCL Art Museum

What about the collection’s Durers and Rembrandts – they surely were not linked to a school of art that they predate by over two centuries?  The second source explains the acquisition of the collection’s older material.

Above all, the collection is a teaching resource and it is the hope of benefactors that by donating their work to the collection it will be of benefit and enjoyment to the students and staff at UCL as well as being shared with the general public more broadly.

This made me think about how the museum goes about collecting work in the present day.  Space is an obvious limitation and the time of UCL staff is finite, there must therefore be limitations on what the museum can and cannot accept, raising questions over who holds the power of this decision?

The Art Museum is the only collection at UCL that continues to grow, as the other UCL collections do not acquire new objects.  Any acquisition of new works is first approved by a committee and is subject to a strict acquisition policy.  It can be the case that UCL chooses to turn down works if it is felt that they would be unable to conserve or store them properly.

The question of how UCL Art Museum acquired its collection made me rethink the processes behind why the collection takes it current shape.  A more in-depth account of the collection’s acquisition history and charting the chronological spread of the material would be fascinating – a ready subject, perhaps, for a future blog post?

Engaging with Black Bloomsbury

By Kevin Guyan, on 18 October 2013

Kevin Guyan

By Kevin Guyan



'Life Painting', Slade School of Fine Art.

‘Life Painting’, Slade School of Fine Art. George Konig, Keystone Press Agency.

The idea of Bloomsbury is as much a product of the mind as it is a geographical location.  Like Soho, its borders have been established through a mixture of real and fictional ideas, dependent more upon common opinion than municipal rulings.  The borders of Bloomsbury have been a common theme discussed by visitors to UCL Art Museum’s ongoing exhibition, Black Bloomsbury.

In my role as a Student Engager, it has been my task to draw links between the exhibition material and my own research interests.  My work explores how domestic spaces impacted upon the production and reproduction of masculinities in the postwar period (c. 1945-1966), a topic not unrelated to some of the themes emerging from the exhibition.  Afternoons spent engaging in the museum have helped shape my own research; offering a refreshing and reflexive dimension to my work.  Discussing people’s opinions on historical ideas has challenged visitors and I to reconsider our views.  The process usually begins with a casual, “is this your first time at the exhibition?”  After this pleasant introduction and explanation of my role within the museum; around half of the visitors will continue to explore the exhibition on their own, the other half will return with their thoughts, their opinions or questions on the work.
Although my own research focuses upon a different time period (1945-1966 rather than 1918-1948) and a different subject matter (White men rather than Black and Asian men and women), I have located some common themes running across both examples:

Space and identity

The relationship between space and experience, particularly within the context of identity, is one key example.  Black Bloomsbury is co-curated by Dr Caroline Bressey and Dr Gemma Romain, from the Equiano Centre based in UCL’s Geography Department, and because of this geographical context, an effective sense of people and place emerges throughout the exhibition.  For example, upon arrival, visitors are met with a large map detailing around 40 locations and a list of characters linked to the exhibition – showing where the characters lived, worked, met and socialised.

The role of place and space links to a secondary project I have been exploring in the past two years, focusing on how bodies were understood within dance hall spaces in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.  In my work, the dance hall is framed as more than simply a backdrop for events and instead participates in my historical research as a productive force shaping the actions described.  For example, my research has explored the architecture and spatial arrangement of dance halls, admission policies, rules and rituals – all components that impacted a particular sense of identity when ‘going dancing’.  It appears to be the case that Bloomsbury had a similar affect upon the characters featured in the exhibition.


Equally interesting has been a consideration of the exhibition’s methodological approach.  Alongside paintings, photographs are also displayed as a means to show how historians have been able to ‘see into the past’.  Unlike text sources that may make no mention of race, photographs present a visual window through which it is often possible to ‘see race’.  A key example of this approach in the exhibition is a class photograph of art students based at the Slade in 1938.  Although the name and background of every student is not known, the photograph allows modern-day observers to see the racial diversity of those attending the school at that time.

This is something I intend to echo in my own historical writing, in which actions and behaviours of men in domestic spaces are often hidden or beyond the vision of typical research methods.  Of course, it is very unlikely for source material to indicate that a household task was conducted in a ‘manly fashion’ or read personal accounts by men of domestic space, in which their sense of gender is discussed.  This therefore leads to questions over how best to trace these actions and behaviours?  This can be remedied by examining family photograph albums, documentary footage or any other visual source offering uncontrived access to spaces of the past, allowing historians to ‘see’ what men were doing in the home and how they were interacting with their environment.

Importantly, like Black Bloomsbury, my work also intends to not simply describe the actions and behaviours located or analyse them only within the confines of what is being discussed.  Instead, there is a need to conduct historical leaps – in which ‘everyday examples’ are used to consider what these performances say about wider ideas of race, gender and nation.

Politics and historical baggage

One key focus of the exhibition is on artists and their sitters, based on work developed with the Drawing Over the Colour Line project.  The relationship between artists and sitters has evoked several questions among visitors over the identities of these sitters and how they fit into wider social contexts of early 20th Century London.  What is often most interesting in the photographs of artists and their sitters is not located in the foreground but what is actually taking place in the background of the images.  A particular talking point has been a photograph of a Black male model, sitting perched in a loin cloth in the middle of the room, surrounded by several White, female students.  It is difficult not to see this image of a near-nude Black male and young, White women without setting-off historical alarm bells.  Yet, due to the spatial context of where these people are situated (in an artist’s studio rather than on the street) certain social customs appear to be excused, creating a situation far removed from the moral panic that may be found elsewhere in 1940s London over the association of Black men, quite often American servicemen, and White women.

Engaging upon ideas that are not resident in the distant past, has the potential for divided opinions and clashes over differing histories.  In my own public engagement events on experiences of ‘going dancing’ in London in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, there was often a tension between ‘official histories’ and personal reminiscences.  How can a workable history be extracted from memories – whose memories should matter most?  Should historians try to be as objective as possible or acknowledge that the past can be mined to satisfy contemporary political needs and desires?  These themes also emerge throughout Black Bloomsbury.  Some visitors have questioned the purpose of the exhibition and the political motivation for attempting to expand people’s image of Bloomsbury.  As I see it, it is not an attempt to evict Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and John Maynard Keynes from their associations with Bloomsbury and replace them with a new assortment of characters but instead to complicate this image and suggest that, as was the case with areas like Soho, there was an equally cosmopolitan presence in early 20th Century Bloomsbury.  Through the production of historical geographies or geographical histories, the exhibition and people’s responses to the material continues to show the importance of space in shaping the actions of historical actors and how historical figures are perceived by those living in the present.



Kevin Guyan will be leading a walking tour of Black Bloomsbury between 12 and 1.30pm on Saturday 26 October, exploring topics including geographical settlement, student organisations such as the Indian Students Union, Black visitors to the British Museum’s Reading Room and the fight against the ‘colour bar’ in the area.

He will also give a talk titled Going Dancing: Black Bloomsbury and Dance in the 1940s about the Black presence in 1940s Bloomsbury, focusing on histories of cultural interaction in social spaces such as dancehalls. The event takes place at UCL Art Museum on 15 November between 2 and 3.30pm.

For further information on either event please contact Martine Roulea, UCL Art Museum, m.rouleau@ucl.ac.uk or 020 7679 2540.