Understanding Landscapes through Creative Auto-Ethnographies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


Traditionally, geographers have been interested in landscape but have not been very successful in understanding how people create a sense of place and an attachment to landscape through literature. When literacy scholars, on the other hand, study literature and landscape, they tend to do this in abstract or purely theoratical terms. They also focus on published novelists and poets and have not traditionally paid attention to ordinary, real people who express their identities in part through writing about themselves and their everyday lives.

In this series of workshops, geographers and literacy scholars are brought together to find common ground and open up new ways of understanding landscape that draw on and combine their disciplinary strengths and address their different weaknesses. We will host a series of events, beginning with a two day symposium for geographers, literacy scholars and others from related disciplines (e.g. cultural studies). This will prepare the ground for three writers' events in Cornwall which will be run for primary school children, young people (aged 16-19) and adults from writers' groups, respectively. The aim of these events is to get people thinking and writing about landscape and how landscape makes a difference to who they are and how they develop a connection with place. Cornwall's well established reputation for inspiring writers, artists, and creative people makes it an ideal place in which to explore the meaning of landscape in everyday life. These events will be filmed, with small groups interviewed using a minidisk recorder.

They will be followed up with another symposium, to discuss the writers' events, at which excerpts from the film and audio recordings will be shown and examples of the creative writing presented. Academics will be joined by some of the writers from the groups of young people and adults to share in the process of analysing the writers' events. Finally, an academic conference will sum up the broader implications for future work on landscape and literature.

The benefits to the researchers of this project are matched by those to the community of writers with whom we will work. The primary school children will particpate in a writers' event designed as part of a geography and literacy cucciculum unit. This will be facilitated by the Cornwall-based curriculum development organisation, Sense od Place, which will also benefit from new insights into working with primary school children. The young people will be drawn from Truro College's sub-degree and foundation level literature programmes. Their writers' event will be designed with the aims of these programmes in mine and will raise awareness amongst the young people of the role that landscape plays in their sense of self. The writers' event for young people will also raise aspiration for further study at degree level. Finally, the adult writers' event will encourage greater self-awareness, reflection and new creative possibilities for a group whose creative writing skills are already more well developed. The children, young people and adults will see their work published in an anthology of creative writing from the project and will have access to the project website.

Overall, the project forms part of the University of Exeter's outreach activity in local communities as well as serving the purpose of bringing together academics in an innovative series of workshops.


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