Explosive Transformations: Cultural Resilience to Natural Hazard on St Vincent and Montserrat

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Art, Media and American Studies

Abstract

This project responds directly to Strand 4: Cultural Heritages, Interpretation, and Representation and the Translating Cultures and Care for the Future themes in its examination of the ways in which response to and recovery from future volcanic events on the Eastern Caribbean islands of St Vincent and Montserrat is shaped by the cultural memory and narratives developed through past experiences. The project is interdisciplinary in its conception and design, bringing literary studies together with volcanology, international development, and project partners responsible for future emergency response on the islands, to allow for a thorough investigation of the ways in which resident populations have responded historically to severe natural threat, how crises have been dealt with, and recovery undertaken. In this way the project explores the extent to which knowledge of disaster translates between cultural and scientific experiences of volcanic risk and the extent to which cultural experience of past risk shapes future response by offering a comparative analysis of the literary record, oral traditions and histories, songs, and other artistic expressions, and working with local populations to gain an understanding of the place of the volcano in the cultural imaginary. The PI, Co-Is, and Project Researcher will work closely with the Project Partners, combining our different sets of knowledge and expertise, research methodologies and practices in order to examine the ways that literary studies can be conducive to new models of scientific, social, and political development. The project will combine literary scholarship to explore the place of the volcano in Caribbean literature and oral culture, archival research to search out evidence of experiences of past eruptions that are hidden from the official colonial records, focus-groups and interviews with local communities on both St Vincent and Montserrat as well as the islands' diasporas in the UK, and a three day workshop in the Eastern Caribbean bringing together the Project Investigators and Researcher, the Project Partners, and other invited stakeholders from literary scholars, writers and performers, artistic figures, archivists and publishing houses, and civil and community groups where we will discuss our findings and explore the ways in which they can be put to the most use for the communities affected by volcanic risk.

Planned Impact

The aim of our Pathways to Impact plan is to (i) preserve the new knowledge gained from this project for the benefit of the resident populations of St Vincent and Montserrat who have been affected by and are at risk from volcanic activity, and (ii) to share our findings on the extent to which these might inform future preparedness to volcanic eruptions. Thus the individuals and institutions who will benefit from this include:

(1) Managers and Assessors of Volcanic Risk. In the specific context of St Vincent and Montserrat these are: the Seismic Research Centre, University of the West Indies; National Emergency Management Organisation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Montserrat Volcano Observatory) and on institutions on other volcanic islands of the Caribbean. These institutions will benefit from the research in a number of ways. They will be involved in steering the project enabling them to have an input into the direction the research takes and to evaluate its usefulness to their own work. The research will provide a deeper understanding of the place of the volcano in the cultural and historical imaginary on the islands and thus will enable them to take these factors into account when planning for future volcanic events.
(2) Communities at risk: The population and civil society organisations within the islands of Montserrat and St. Vincent. The benefits of our proposed research to these communities and organisations is to be able to utilise our findings in understanding the place of the Volcano in the cultural landscape in order to be able to better prepare for future hazard. Local communities at risk will be brought into conversation with other stakeholders enabling them to take an active part in discussions about how best to manage risk as well as preserve cultural heritage.
(3) Caribbean Archivists; writers and specialist publishers: from the University of the West Indies; on St Vincent, Barbados, Martinique; writers and Calypsonians across the Caribbean and in the UK, and those who publish and disseminate their works.
(4) Visitor attractions on St. Vincent and Montserrat who wish to explore and commemorate important facets of cultural history: the St. Vincent and Grenadines National Trust; St. Vincent Botanic Gardens, St. Vincent National Parks); the Montserrat Volcano Observatory; and on Martinique (Maison du Volcan; Musée Franck Perret); tourist officers in the High Commissions for St Vincent and the Grenadines.
(5) UK Diaspora: UK communities from the St Vincent and Montserrat diaspora.
(6) Wider publics with an interest in volcanoes and Caribbean culture

All of these groups will benefit from a new awareness of the ways that people and communities are shaped by the volcanic environment in which they live; and of the many ways in which this relationship is expressed in written and oral culture; these will bring accessible new understandings of how people have coped with past hazard events, and signpost how the communities, agencies and institutions can prepare for future hazard events.

To preserve the new knowledge we will work with groups (1)- (4) to co-design an exhibit that displays and commemorates this information in a way that is both accessible and provides a lasting legacy of the information. We will use a three day workshop to do this where we will articulate and then discuss some of the key components. On Montserrat and St. Vincent we will collate and share all relevant new documents and materials with the relevant archives. At the end of the project we will produce a reflective document written for the first group that reflects on the extent to which the narratives uncovered provide evidence that might help to build future preparedness. By partnering with these organisations they will be able to use these analyses in their ongoing engagement with the communities at risk.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Volcano Exhibition 
Description A mobile exhibition made to emulate a volcanic shape made from an aluminium frame with a canvas exterior onto which images and text have been cast. The exhibition brings together scientific data with poetry and other cultural artefacts in a non-hierarchical way and is a physical demonstration of the ways in which science and culture are of equal importance to understand the volcano. The exhibition is designed to be interactive and incorporates an interior space that can be used for social and educational activities, such as storytelling. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The exhibition is being transported to St Vincent, Eastern Caribbean, for Volcano Awareness Week, 23-27th April 2018. 
 
Description The research undertaken for this project has established that community responses to the threat of future volcanic activity in the Eastern Caribbean, specifically Montserrat and St Vincent, is overwhelmingly informed by cultural memory and narratives of past eruptive events. Moreover, it has revealed that these memories and narratives are in turn influenced by the specific storytelling traditions of the Eastern Caribbean, traditions which established themselves in the Caribbean during the colonial period and were vehicles for the enslaved communities to preserve oral traditions from west Africa which function as coded social, cultural, and historical archives. Storytelling is a rich archive of social and cultural experiences and as such is historically and geographically specific and inherently political. By analysing these stories - in their different forms, from family narratives, through 'jumbie' stories, to song and written poetry - our research reveals the extent to which contemporary responses to disaster management exists within the living legacy of slavery and colonial power structures. In this way the volcano and the threat of eruption moves between the experiential and the metaphorical, the geological and the cultural. These archives - these alternate sets of knowledges - enrich understanding of peoples' relationships to place and thus understanding of scientific and social volcanic risk and other natural hazards as well as helping to rebalance the hierarchical structures of knowledge production, with scientists being storytellers, too.
Exploitation Route The research outcomes can be taken forward academically as a model of interdisciplinary research engaging with disaster risk reduction; by physical scientists and social scientists concerned with risk, and by historical, literary, and cultural studies concerned with how their area of study (whether temporal or geographic) might inform discussion on DRR. The outcomes of the project are of use, too, to communities at risk of eruption in the Eastern Caribbean, as well as in other volcanic locations globally. The findings can and will be put to use in the service of managing disaster risk (through government agencies and institutions responsible), education (outreach by said agencies and institutions as well as schools and teacher training / curriculum development), and to preserve and commemorate cultural heritage.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

 
Description The research findings were used to stimulate a workshop on the place of the volcano in the cultural imaginary in the Eastern Caribbean. The workshop was held in St Vincent and brought together community members from St Vincent (from residents at risk, through the forestry commission, the Department of Culture, Ministry of Education, arts collectives, to those responsible for managing risk (NEMO) with writers from St Vincent and Montserrat, academics from the university of the West Indies, and an interdisciplinary team of academics from the UK. Workshop members co-designed a mobile, transportable exhibition which will be used across the Eastern Caribbean in educational, educational, and disaster management activities. In 2019 the findings were used in discussions on Montserrat with different publics and civic groups as part of the Follow on Fund to design and deliver a similar exhibit for the island and for the UK diaspora and policy makers.
Sector Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description 'Disaster passed'. Resilient Caribbean futures via shared knowledge of recent disasters.
Amount £81,767 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/S00579X/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 10/2019
 
Description 2017-18 GCRF QR University of East Anglia
Amount £24,600 (GBP)
Organisation Higher Education Funding Council for England 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 07/2018
 
Description Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE): - 2017-18 GCRF QR University of East Anglia (£ 9800; 2018 - 2018)
Amount £40,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of East Anglia 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 07/2018
 
Description Exhibition design and creation 
Organisation Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have provided materials from our research findings, as well as ideas and suggested designs from a workshop held on St Vincent. In addition, knowledge of the local environment (natural, political, educational) to be considered in the final design and production.
Collaborator Contribution Technical and design expertise.
Impact The design and production of a mobile exhibition, the production and transportation of which will be complete in time for Volcano Awareness Week on St Vincent, 23-27th April 2018.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Seismic Research Centre 
Organisation University of West Indies
Department Seismic Research Centre
Country Trinidad and Tobago 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have worked collaboratively with the Seismic Research Centre on the design of the community consultation event, the creation of the Exhibit and in the coming year its presentation will be included in 'Volcano Awareness Week'
Collaborator Contribution Attrended and helped design the community consultation. contributed to the research process (Particularly in interviews of scientists about the role of story telling). Inclusion of our exhibit in their outreach program.
Impact Exhibit. Writers, community-member, scientists (volcanologist).
Start Year 2016
 
Description Community citizen science workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We held two 'story-telling' evenings in St. Vincent. These were designed to value the communities observations and knowledge of past volcanic activity, and to encourage ownership of risk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Community-based discussion of multi-hazard impacts 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Two day long workshops in communities in St. Vincent to explore the impacts of various hazardous events in the community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Explosive Transformations workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Workshop designed to engage with poetry, prose and cultural responses to volcanic exhibit. Also designed to create a new exhibit for St. Vincent.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description More Alike than Different: Volcanologists as Storytellers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Gave interdisciplinary talk about the value of the humanities in hazards based research to an international audience of volcanologists.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://vmsg2018.leeds.ac.uk/programme/
 
Description Norwich Castle Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 'Romans versus the Volcano'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Soufriere Blow - an Exhibition on St Vincent 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We created an Exhibit that commemorated and celebrated past eruptions and appropriate cultural responses to those eruptions on island. This exhibit was left as a legacy of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018