Podium: Beyond Text showcase article by Professor Evelyn Welch

19 October 2009


The following article appears in this month's issue of the AHRC Journal Podium (Issue 13)

Over the past year, lawyers in Edinburgh have been dancing and Welsh poets have been writing to medieval bardic rhythms. Researchers have been fixing eye-tracking devices on subjects to investigate how we look at paintings and at poetry. Others are cataloguing medieval inscriptions across the Mediterranean, considering the uses of social media within the museum, and debating digital repatriation of works of art to countries such as Sierra Leone.   

This is just a taste of some of the many exciting and innovative projects funded by the AHRC’s Beyond Text Strategic programme.  Begun in 2007, the £5.5 million initiative is exploring forms of communication that go beyond the written record.  Bringing together a broad range of researchers from different disciplines, the programme takes up the contemporary challenge of assessing how we use, understand and capture the most transient forms of creative practice and ideas, both past and present. Paradoxically, this doesn’t mean avoiding text altogether – print is still essential for communicating the intangible (just as in this article).  Many projects are looking at how we can use new technologies to preserve anything from an endangered language to works of art that are deliberately designed to decay over time. The work has important implications. In a digital world, who owns our memories and those of past generations? How do we create a heritage for the future? What impact will the web have on our ability to remember and to forget?

As the programme director for Beyond Text, I am aware that these are important but difficult and complex problems. Their centrality to the arts and humanities community has been demonstrated by the high number of excellent applications that the programme has received and the diversity of projects that have been funded.  The programme as a whole has been very successful in constructing a community which is interdisciplinary, international in its outlook, and creative in making effective partnerships with groups outside higher education.

The full illustrated article by the Programme Director, Professor Evelyn Welch can be found here.



Arts & Humanities Research Council: Each year the AHRC provides approximately £100 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from archaeology and English literature to design and dance. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,000 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. Arts and humanities researchers constitute nearly a quarter of all research-active staff in the higher education sector. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. See Arts & Humanities Research Council website.