The Exhibition Starts Here: A Visit to Exeter

By Karis Shearer (AMP Lab Director)

In early July I had the pleasure of spending three very sunny days at the University of Exeter with our research collaborators Dr. Charlotte Tupman and Prof. James Clark in the Digital Humanities Lab.

With our previous DH Exchange, which generated two training modules and knowledge exchange about community-building through lab spaces, nearly wrapped up our focus was now on developing the detailed Project Plan for a new research initiative called “Press Play! Research Creation, Arts Entrepreneurship and the Digital Archive.” Press Play, which empowers undergraduate interns to create public exhibitions from digital archives, launches this fall with the support of the UBC Okanagan Excellence Fund, the University of Exeter, and SpokenWeb-Concordia.


Research collaborators reunited! Karis and Charlotte take a selfie at Exeter’s Streatham Campus.


Building Research Collaborations

I’m happy to say that despite the 8-hour time difference, over the past year our research teams have become total pros at virtual meetings (8am Pacific Standard; 4pm British Standard is our ideal window of time). My UBCO colleague-friend Dr. Emily Murphy, who participated in the DH Exchange and is Co-Investigator on Press Play, joined us on FaceTime (yes, 8am in Kelowna — thank you, Emily!) to do some planning for the most practical aspects of our upcoming project.

Working through the fine details is important because our university systems are quite different. We’ve learned that even when things appear to be the same, they may not be! Not long into our first research collaboration, for example, we discovered that every time one of us said the word “module” the other understood it to mean something different. (You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.) Comical as these moments are, they’ve been important for learning how things work at our respective institutions and have helped us move forward more quickly and effectively. Moreover, our collaborations are now solidly grounded in friendships and after we’re done for the day, we’ve been known to head into the city to do some curry research and the occasional cream-tea research (jam first or cream first? Hmm, more testing required).

City of Exeter.  A local resident stands in the middle of the road.


Planning Press Play!

On this visit we dedicated much of our time to mapping our Press Play project plan in detail, consulting with new members of the our research team, with DH Lab manager Emma Sherriff, with Associate Dean of Research Prof. James Clark (Exeter), and with FCCS Dean Bryce Traister who was also visiting University of Exeter. The Press Play initiative involves three universities (UBC Okanagan, University of Exeter, and Concordia University), new team members, student intern exchanges, as well as the use of digital and non-digital exhibition spaces, so there’s a good deal of fine-tuning to do as we get ready to launch this fall.

Since I was on site, I was excited to find out what kinds of exhibitions were already happening at U Exeter and what daily life was like for students there. I began by going to the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies to look at their exhibition “The Painters of the City: North Africa 1880-1920”:

I shared some of my photos with my colleague and Press Play collaborator Dr. Hussein Keshani back home who works on Digital Islamic Art History so he could see the gorgeous architecture and the kind of work being done at the Institute.

Then I visited some of the student spaces on the Exeter campus like the Students’ Guild and the Campus Accommodation that undergrad intern Connor Spence had introduced me to last time I was here. I wanted to get a sense how our UBCO undergraduates might find student life at Exeter:

Exeter’s Streatham campus is well within the City of Exeter, but the magnificent view from the Student Residences gives the impression of being in the Devon countryside:

Chairs on the student residence patio overlook the Devon countryside.


Wildflower gardens at U Exeter campus.

On the final day, with our project plan and meetings complete, I was treated to a tour of the Devon countryside (made somewhat longer than anticipated by my “helpful” navigation), a glimpse into farm life, and an introduction to the charming marmalade cat Henry, thanks to my collaborator friends Charlotte and James.

The picturesque Devon countryside.

As we get ready to launch Press Play this fall, I’m grateful for the hospitality my Exeter colleagues have shown me and genuinely excited to expand our research circle to include more colleagues and students from both sides of the Atlantic.

The exhibition starts here.