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The University of Southampton
Southampton Institute for Arts and Humanities

How does technology make us?

Image courtesy Drew Crawford/John Lloyd Fillingham © 2020
Image courtesy Drew Crawford/John Lloyd Fillingham © 2020

Theme lead: Dr Seth Giddings

Our researchers explore the relationships between technologies, concepts of the human and posthuman, creative practice, and everyday life. We have close links with the Alan Turing Institute and host an active AI and Arts group. This group draws on researchers from across the university and recent workshops have focused on computer generated fiction, artificial creativity, and building a creative AI lab.

We have a long history of collaborations, with artists, scientists, engineers and across the cultural, creative and heritage sectors. These collaborations have enabled  ground-breaking projects: from the high-profile successes with the Tiber Valley, Portus and Black Sea projects to the digitisation of the Jane Austen sound archive and explorations of  the  infrastructures and innovations of European Film Studios digital innovation. 

Current SIAH projects

Local government data analytics for culture and creativity

Lead Researchers: Dr Dan Ashton, Makanani Bell

This project examines how local government authorities in England design, structure and implement data analytics relating to the cultural and creative industries (CCI).

The generation, analysis and communication of data is vital in understanding and positioning the significance of the CCI to the economic and social life of the UK. However, the Local Government Association Creative places report (2020) notes that whilst the CCI are as assets to local economies and communities, ‘councils, sector bodies, government – as well as businesses and investors – all struggle to find data which is specific to the creative part of a local or regional economy.’ Whilst this report identifies a struggle for councils to find data, an important but under researched aspect is to understand what CCI-related data is and could be collected by councils.  

This project brings together these related but currently disparate initiatives and activities to examine local government data analytics relating to the CCI. This project will create new insights into data analytics – the types of cultural data collected by local authorities (e.g., surveys of cultural participation; business start-up figures), who collects it, and how it is used - relevant for the project’s local government participants and a wider range of beneficiaries including CCI businesses, support agencies, and local enterprise zones.

English as a Medium of Administration

Lead researcher: Kate Borthwick, Alison Dickens

This project will develop and pilot a two-week, online, open course on the topic of English as a Medium of Administration working in partnership with Futurelearn (an online course platform provider). It is aimed at University administration staff who are required to deal with international students and staff on topics related to administration. The course is likely to cover language communication issues, language of socialising, pronunciation and intercultural communication/issues. The course will be interactive with learners learning from each other as well as course content.

This course builds on an existing successful partnership between Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), Brazil, a WUN partner, and the Schools of Humanities (MLL) and Education at UoS. The partnership was established through a 2019-21 British-Council project funded under their digital capacity-building/internationalisation theme. The project involved partner visits for consultation, and UoS staff delivering training in video creation and online learning, MOOC-creation and delivery. UFMG staff have worked as facilitators twice on the UoS MOOC ‘English as a Medium of Instruction for Academics’ (EMI) and delivered subsequent training to their own staff in a cascaded, knowledge-exchange model. The EMI MOOC serves as a focus for discussions exploring the nature of internationalisation both at UoS and UFMG, and our shared experience on delivery of the online course has furthered our knowledge of English Medium Instruction and digital co-delivery across borders. This project has demonstrated that an important aspect of effective EMI delivery is being able to actively incorporate and work with local, regional contexts.

Our new course will take our partnership forward by co-creating a short online course for administrators. It offers an opportunity to explore and understand the mix of ‘global and local’ context in effective EMI delivery. Content will be created by MLL/ACIS staff working with the School of Education’s media team. The course will be delivered on the Futurelearn platform working with the Futurelearn team. The course will be facilitated by a team from UoS and UFMG and may include some local, live sessions. By co-creating such a pilot course, the UoS team aim to test the market for this kind of course, with an aim to develop a longer, richer version for an enterprise market. A working partnership with UFMG will enable us to explore issues of necessary language level, potential intercultural issues and differing contextual needs. The knowledge exchange will be two-way as we learn from each other on how this kind of course can be of benefit.

Unpacking Southampton's Collections

Lead Researcher: Dr Jonathan Conlin

Southampton holds collections of art, costume and design of national importance, only a small fraction of which can ever be displayed in the city's two museums. Objects with the potential to enrich our teaching of History and English and inspire pioneering research bids inevitably remain out of sight, stored in Unit 31, the Local Collections Management Centre in City Industrial Park, West Quay. A SIAH intiative is providing opportunities for our scholars to visit Unit 31 and meet with a curator to survey materials of interest to their specific areas of expertise. Two will be provided with facilities to scan items for use in teaching and in the development of future research bids.

Smart Textile with Integrated Functional Electrical Stimulation for Stroke Rehabilitation at Home 

Lead researcher: Dr Kai Yang

Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability affecting 1.3 million people in the UK. Two thirds of stroke survivors have weak upper limb movement affecting their independence and quality of life. Stroke cost the NHS and the wider society £26 billion per annum. The aim of this project is to demonstrate the feasibility on developing a smart textile technology that enables stroke survivors to perform rehabilitation exercise independently at home. We will gain feedback from end users on how digital technologies can improve patient outcomes and build partnership with key stakeholders for follow-on product development. 

Recent SIAH projects

Building a Creative AI Lab

Lead Researcher: Dr Seth Giddings

The project will explore the creative and critical possibilities of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics technologies in the arts and humanities.

It will survey the range of consumer, educational and open source products and systems that might offer accessible and hands-on exploration of the workings and possibilities of AI, machine learning and robotics to arts and humanities scholars and students. 

Developing approaches for site-responsive composition

Lead Researcher: Dr Drew Crawford

In collaboration with: Plus Minus Ensemble, Tim Hand

The project is a workshop developing approaches to site-responsive composition, exploring music’s relationship with the acoustic in which it’s performed, and the choreographic implications of spatialising sound in live performance. A final showing will allow an invited audience to explore, over 30-minutes and three floors, the immersive, emotional experience of music moving around acoustic space.  

A partnership with Plus Minus Ensemble, Tim Hand (audio), and John Hansard Gallery, the work draws on scholarship from a range of fields, including acoustics, affective aesthetics, and aural architecture, as well as theatre-, choreography- and studio-based creative practices. 

We have an emotional relationship with the sound of physical spaces, both natural and made-made (consider the awe-inspiring depth of sound in Salisbury Cathedral, or the tinny brightness of a bathroom for example). Music has evolved along with and for these spaces, and composing in ways that exploit the acoustics of physical space – it’s fundamental frequencies and reverberation times, for example – offers novel aesthetic possibilities and models of working.  

Further, as a creative practice that can be deployed in non-traditional performance spaces and audience-performer configurations, this research is a potentially a vital resource for reinvigorating live sound performance cultures post-COVID19.


(Image Credit: Larry Achiampong, Pan African Flags for the Relic Travellers' Alliance (motion), John Hansard Gallery 2020-21. Courtesy the artist and Copperfield London)

Critical Posthumanism in Practice

Lead Researcher: Dr Megen De Bruin-Molé

Humanistic principles underpin key discourses in biology (we are individual entities), psychology (we are individual actors), economics (we are rational actors), law (we are responsible for our actions), art (we are individual authors of human stories), AI research (the goal is to produce computers which “think like us”), medicine (there is a clear idea of a healthy human which we should aim to remain in line with), and ecology (the earth should be optimised for human habitation).

In many of these areas, however, the centrality of such thought is being questioned. Critical posthumanism is an academic field of inquiry that deconstructs the human (and humanitarian) impacts of these liberal humanist systems and institutions, particularly in the ways that they have been accelerated and exacerbated by advancing technologies. Critical posthumanism proposes that even as we are considering new advances for humanity, it is crucial to continually re-examine their old foundational logics. This project seeks funds to enable the first steps in formalising a UK network of critical posthumanist thinkers and practitioners in the arts and technology.

Sounding History

Lead Researcher: Dr Tom Irvine

Collaborator: Prof Christopher J Smith

Sounding History is a new podcast on music’s global histories focusing on unheard links between music, technology and the environment. It is presented by Dr Thomas Irvine (University of Southampton) and Prof Christopher J Smith (Texas Tech University). The podcast links to Irvine and Smith’s book project Labor, Energy, Data: A Global Music History for the Anthropocene. Each 30-40 minute episode focuses on two “postcards” from global music history illustrating the book’s main theme: that the history of music since 1500CE cannot be separated from histories of the environment, technology and labour, and that these histories can and must be told using the voices of the unheard: workers, indigenous people, outsiders and the mainly anonymous music makers who have made the world’s sounds in the past 500 years.  

An AR exhibition for a mixed multimedia museum

Lead Researcher: Dr James Stallwood

Collaborator:  Mr Michael Padmanathan

We are developing an AR sporting exhibition for a museum of sports located in Wimbledon. The museum celebrates all sports centered in Wimbledon. The long-term goal of the project is to provide a multimedia curation for historic artifacts and simulation-spaces for visitors (both offline and online) to explore. This initial design, a small proof of concept, will form part of a larger cross platform smart system that will be integrated with data from various collection points to both guide visitors in their experience and provide an artificial intelligence framework for adaptive updates to the digital exhibition spaces.

The project uses a variety of methods including gamification, reward structures, metacognitive input address, and ML networks so as to deliver historical information to the visitor in a manner that most gratifies and engages them. The focus of this stage is to create a small experience for later engagement testing and providing a road-map for technical delivery.

Southampton Institute for Arts and Humanities: Digital Infrastructure & Capability

AHRC: Capability for Collections Fund

In 2021 SIAH was awarded £710k from the AHRC’s Capability for Collections Fund that will allow us to continue and expand this work. We have new capacities and expertise in digitisation and investigation of portable material culture and paper-based archives; digitisation and investigation of landscapes and the built environment; data handling, visualisation and engagement. This funding allows our research with technologies to continue to be world-leading.

Voices in the Gallery

Lead researcher: Dr Sarah Hayden

Voices in the Gallery is funded by two AHRC Innovation Fellowships.   

Read about the project’s exhibitions, events, publications and other outputs on the Voice Gallery website.

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