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Stories of our Own: Helping Marginalised Communities to Write Their Stories

English academics’ research in life writing, creative uses of oral history and literary representations of marginalised communities has helped enable local communities to document their own stories.

Dr Siân Adiseshiah, Dr Amy Culley and Dr Rebecca Styler have been keen to use their research to benefit communities outside of Higher Education. This has involved helping local communities to research, represent and document their own narratives.

The contribution of class, gender, culture and ethnic identities to the experience of marginalisation, as well as an examination of the effects of living in isolated rural communities, are key interests in Dr Adiseshiah’s published research on contemporary drama.

"These are stories that may not be part of mainstream historical narratives. The lives of everyday people tell us about human nature, about identity, about community interactions. So I think it's vitally important, from a historical perspective, to capture these life stories."

Dr Culley’s research into women’s self-narration of the late 18th century addresses the ways in which individuals represent their personal stories and the lives of others in order to find alternative methods of writing the past. She has explored these themes in her co-edited collection Women’s Life Writing, 1700-1850: Gender, Genre and Authorship.

Dr Styler’s research interests focus on women’s religious writing of the 19th century, including spiritual biography and autobiography. A chapter of her book, Literary Theology by Women Writers of the Nineteenth Century (Ashgate, 2010) shows how writers constructed collections of short biographies of women as a way to reflect on their own political and spiritual needs.

The cross-disciplinary project ‘Telling Our Stories’, supported by a £37,000 Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) award (Principal Investigator: Dr Leslie Hicks), involves Lincoln academics from English, Media, Education, and Social Sciences.

There are five separate Lincolnshire projects with a variety of aims, including writing the history of a building; capturing stories of life and work; recording the memories of a Forge in Spalding as a way of developing a local history of the community; and writing the history of a section of the defunct Stamford Canal as part of a wider local history narrative.

Cross-generational and inter-cultural community exchange form part of the local project activities, which produce a better understanding and appreciation of diversity and help to foster more inclusive, cohesive and confident communities.

This new interest results directly from the research discoveries and emerging stories the project has helped to promote.

Dr Adiseshiah was part of another group that received a £25,000 AHRC award for the ‘Looking Back for the Future’ project for which she provided research-informed drama workshops to enable members of the local communities to discover imaginative ways of writing their life stories.

Other activities organised by the academics have also included public talks, workshops and a conference.

The University has supported these projects as part of its investment in research and wider public engagement.