Public Engagement at TORCH: Expect the Unexpected

Public Engagement has been at the centre of TORCH’s work since our foundation in 2013. We’ve supported projects exploring everything from the Andromeda myth, through queer rural connections, to the history of Oxford Castle.

Talking about our 2019 Victorian Light Night: Diseases of Modern Life project, Professor Sally Shuttleworth said ‘in all my years of teaching and research, I think it was the most enjoyable and rewarding event I’ve done.' The event welcomed 2,500 people to the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, demonstrating the exciting potential of public engagement.


Victorian Light Night: Diseases of Modern Life


Now, the Humanities Cultural Programme, one of the founding stones of the future Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities, means we can work with more cultural partners than ever before, building connections across Oxford and beyond ahead of the opening of the new centre.

‘At TORCH we make it possible for research to benefit a wider audience… knowledge and understanding can be exchanged in all sorts of unexpected ways.’ says Professor Wes Williams, TORCH Director.

During the pandemic, we adapted quickly to ensure this knowledge exchange could continue through our online event series, Big Tent! Live Events. Originally intended to take place in a physical big tent, these interdisciplinary, research-fuelled conversations found an international audience, drawing over 45,000 views. We explored theatre and the elusive quality of ‘liveness’ with actor Ben Whishaw and director Katie Mitchell, Professor Homi K. Bhabha spoke on the salient theme of ‘unpreparedness’, and the photography work of Johnny Pitts opened into a conversation on the ‘Afropean’. These conversations were informed by the pandemic, deeply engaging with the new ways of living and thinking that we were all adjusting to, but they also moved beyond it, giving insight into both artistic practices and research, and so providing new ways of looking at the world.


Talking Afropean


At the core of the Humanities Cultural Programme is the Projects Fund. Supporting 39 projects so far, we aim to nurture sustainable and meaningful collaborations between local creatives and academics, to support the local arts ecosystem, and to explore further connections at regional, national, and international levels. For example, Acting Outside the Box brought together Mandala Theatre company and researchers from the Department of Education to make Though This be Madness, a play about school exclusion, co-created with young people and in partnership with the Oxford Playhouse. After premiering at the North Wall Arts Centre alongside a panel discussion on how to change the narrative of school exclusion, Though This be Madness is now on a national tour.

Looking forward and beyond the UK, we are building on our long history of innovative public engagement work to create ambitious new international ‘Seasons’. Starting with Japan and Dante, these Seasons will tie into themes of current public interest and showcase high quality research in engaging new formats. Our late nights at the Ashmolean Museum will make a return, building vibrant activities around the current exhibitions. Participants will be able to engage with Japan in a literally ‘hands-on’ way by making works to be fired in an Anagama kiln, whilst as part of the Dante season, we’ll screen Luc Petton’s extraordinary Ainsi la Nuit, a ballet for human dancers, birds and other animals.

The Humanities Cultural Programme has allowed us to nurture our collaborations and embed research in the cultural work happening across Oxford, as well as bringing prestigious public figures to Oxford, putting the work of Oxford Humanities researchers on the world stage.


If you would like to support TORCH, including our work in public engagement:

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