What’s Your AI Idea?

Are you a Sussex researcher in the arts, humanities or social sciences, with an idea about how AI might be used in your work? Are you looking for some expert advice, and the chance to explore some collaboration?

If this sounds like you, submit your idea here, and/or get in touch with j.c.walton@sussex.ac.uk.

Weird AI-generated landscape
jbustterr / Better Images of AI / A monument surrounded by piles of books / CC-BY 4.0

AI and Archives

By Sharon Webb

The Sussex Humanities Lab was delighted to welcome speakers and delegates online and in-person to the AI and Archives Symposium last month (April 2023). The event, a collaboration between the Sussex Humanities Lab and two AHRC-IRC funded research projects, Full Stack Feminism in Digital Humanities and Women in Focus, was an opportunity to share interest in, knowledge of, and concerns with AI systems in archives and archival praxis.

I began by introducing the Lab itself, partly to provide context to the space in which the AI and Archives Symposium was being held, but also because it provided a useful foundation for thinking about the presenters’ many research areas. The AI and Archives Symposium spoke to SHL’s creative, critical, and collaborative approach to research: our programme has a wide disciplinary reach, from community archives to AI, media theory to conservation technology, critical heritage to intersectional feminism, digital humanities to experimental music technology and critical making. A perfect setting for this collision of past, present and futures: AI and Archives! What follows is an edited version of my introduction.

“AI and Archives” covers a lot of ground, and requires conversation that is critically engaged, creative and exploratory, and informed by feminist, queer and anti-racist ethics and approaches. The conversations around AI and Archives are collaborative across and within disciplinary boundaries – much like how SHL brings those elements uniquely together under one programme.  

The foundations of the symposium lie not in the current hype around AI but within dialogue to address or redress the historic and chronic under- and mis-representation of specific histories related to women, people of colour, LGBTQI+ communities, as well as the histories of individuals and communities who exist across multiple lines of identity politics and their intersections. Work in both projects, Women in Focus and Full Stack Feminism, considers how “archives”, as a place of knowledge, knowledge exchange, of power, disempowerment and empowerment, play a pivotal role in terms of acknowledging and celebrating the existence of alternative histories to those which form the traditional historic canon (mostly covering the domain of cis-white men, the victors and their conquests, trade and empire). Both projects, and indeed other projects related to SHL’s research cluster, Critical Digital Humanities and Archives, view archives as a place where identity lives, and where we can exemplify the contributions of those who have often been ignored, sidelined, and/or silenced, explicitly or otherwise.  

A critical aspect of the Women in Focus project is revisiting records in East Anglian Film Archives (EAFA) and Irish Film Archives (IFA), editing metadata and thereby revealing and acknowledging the role of women amateur filmmakers. These records range from short “home movies” to longer travelogues, and include a rich mix of topics. Revisiting and editing these records is labour-intensive. While the collection is relatively small (in comparison to other archival collections elsewhere), the task of reviewing each record and its associated object remains complex and time-consuming. The original metadata also speaks to this resource scarcity, as some descriptions are limited in scope and missing crucial detail about contributors to the resource. 

With this in mind, we thought about how computer vision might help generate descriptive metadata for moving-image archives. Of course, within digital humanities and computer science, there are many ongoing experiments exploring how AI might assist in identifying, describing, and/or tagging digital objects – the work of Lisa Jaillan, our first speaker, attests to this – but the current hype also demands some immediate responses. As AI tools multiply and grow mainstream, and potentials turn into realities, such work becomes timely, not least because of the problems of bias and discrimination which such systems can replicate and perpetuate.  

AI, machine learning, computer vision, and other automated methods have an allure for several reasons. For example, while the digitisation of historical records has developed considerably, archival methods of cataloguing (metadata descriptions) remain largely the same (manual, human). Automated methods can provide resource and quick fixes for an industry or service which faces dwindling resources despite ever-increasing content.  

The challenge we face is using AI for good – while anticipating, acknowledging and/or expecting elements which are/could be profoundly bad. A few years ago, Dr Ben Roberts, co-director of the lab, ran an AHRC Network grant called ‘Automation Anxiety‘. It explored contemporary attitudes toward automation, and framed them within the longer history of ‘automation anxieties’ related to mechanical devices. A notable example is, of course, the Luddites. Often misrepresented as mere technophobes, the Luddites quite rightly argued for more critical reflection on the economic and social consequences of technological change within textile manufacturing. Luddite perspectives were revived by Langdon Winner in the automation anxiety wave of the 1970s, and are attracting attention once more today.

There are many contexts in which we could discuss the topic of AI and Archives. Using AI to generate descriptive metadata, whether to describe text, moving image, audio, etc., can itself help with the problem of discoverability, which might in turn help to address the problem of biased training sets. AI being used to improve archives, archives being used to improve AI: perhaps we are amid a new archival turn!  

However, the scale of implementing these systems is not trivial, and nor are the associated environmental costs, including the carbon impacts of training and running AIs, and of running the servers where archival data is stored.  If AI removes the barrier of describing collections, does it also remove the barrier/process of appraising? We can/could possibly “save everything” but this preservation strategy would likely be at odds with climate change strategies – what additional pressure might digital archiving activities impose on our already delicate global ecosystem?

Like most people, I did ask ChatGPT to write something: ‘a 200 word abstract about AI and Archives’. Among its list of “benefits” it listed that “AI has the potential to automate many of the tedious tasks associated with archival work, such as cataloging and indexing”. And while this may of course be of benefit, we must question what the fallout of such an approach is. What does knowledge gain? What are the epistemological pitfalls of such an approach which removes the human? Is an archive a mere store for documents or do they serve a wider purpose? Conversations around AI and Archives, and digital material in general, do require us to think critically about the social and cultural role of archives, in our communities, in our societies. 

And to whom is this task “tedious”? This depends on the context – for community archives who are archiving their histories, this work is not tedious, it is an essential activity in terms of knowledge production, community identity and historical acknowledgment. If knowledge is power, then what happens when our knowledge production processes are no longer mediated through us, but rather done for us? Machine talking to machine, rather than one human (the archivists) talking with a researcher.  

Archiving in these contexts provides a close reading of the artifacts. The archival process itself is a meaningful exchange with history. This is not a “tedious task” but an important intergenerational passing of knowledge, of culture, of life experience. Wrapped in this context, we know ethics should be a driving force for any conversation or experiments with AI technologies. AI is maths after all – if we don’t calculate the parameters, who will!  

A summary of the event and speakers will follow in the next few weeks, but perhaps the most enduring thought for me was that we do not experience these technologies equally. Nor do we experience heritage and archives in the same way – questioning representation and questioning our individual experiences and responses is imperative. How we “handle” heritage objects and their interpretation must be informed by collective, community driven activities and dialogue. Archives and heritage objects are not merely objects: they represent stories, experiences, life, death, hurt, violence, trauma, and joy. Critically, they represent human sentience, and whether AI will read these objects in this way is still yet to be seen. 

Democratising Digital Decarbonisation

This summer, the Sussex Humanities Lab, as part of our Experimental Ecologies cluster, is running a project focused on the challenges of decarbonising the digital. With a fabulous set of collaborators, including the Digital Humanities Climate Coalition, Hampshire Cultural Trust, Bloom & Wild, Greenly, and GreenPixie, we’re working capture and share some best practice in measuring and reducing carbon emissions, with some particular emphasis on digital carbon and cloud computing.

Key outputs will be:

  • A case study about Hampshire Cultural Trust‘s sustainability journey, emphasising challenges and opportunities distinctive to the GLAM sector
  • A case study about Bloom & Wild’s sustainability journey, emphasising ICT and Cloud

Decarbonisation must operate on a tight timeframe. The IPCC has established that global carbon emissions would need to peak and begin an unprecedented fall within the 2020-2025 period to have a reasonable chance of aligning with the Paris Agreement.

Across many sectors, despite ambitious net zero commitments, it remains challenging to interpret what climate transition means for day-to-day decision-making, longer-term strategy, or the interests and agendas of different stakeholders. The legal and regulatory environment is rapidly evolving, along with standards and certifications, and informal sectoral norms. Organisations’ capacity to interpret and to apply these to their own operations varies considerably, and where there are gaps, climate tech and climate consulting services are set to play a key role. It’s easy to get stuck in the phase of data collection, or trying to figure out what data to collect, and delay actual carbon reductions. Communicating climate risk and climate action with internal stakeholders is challeging too.

Unsurprisingly, we’re seeing a boom in commercially available climate-related expertise, on a variety of models. Buying in the right expertise can help clients to put evidence into practice. But there are plenty of questions around such engagements. Who can or can’t afford bespoke consulting engagements? To what extent can and should such expertise be automated and platformised? Can we reconcile tensions between a technical mindset (seeking optimal solutions) and a political mindset (making value judgments and trying to do the right thing)? How do state-of-the-art carbon analytics services fit into the broader picture of climate policy, climate justice, and the political economy of energy transition?

And, of course, what role might universities play in identifying digital decarbonisation methods and best practices, enriching these with interdisciplinary expertise, and getting them to the decision-makers who need them? How do we ensure that the legitimacy that academics can generate and confer is being deployed responsibly, within the wider ecology of decarbonisation knowledge and practice? Who is an expert on who is an expert?

In 2019, the University of Sussex joined many others in declaring a climate emergency. Democratising Digital Decarbonisation aims to balance action research with an exploratory ethos. In other words, we plan to make tangible contributions to net zero goals in the short term. At the same time, we fully expect to emerge from the project not only with a few new answers, but also with a few new questions. And we’re not just interested in producing new knowledge or new research agendas. We’re interested in knowledge exchange in the richest sense: in learning from one another; in nurturing learning within networks of collaboration, care and solidarity; and in valuing that knowledge not just wearing our professional hats on, but with our human hats too. We think this is a good approach to doing research in the middle of an emergency!

Project team:

  • PI: Jo Walton (j.c.walton@sussex.ac.uk)
  • Co-I: Josephine Lethbridge
  • Olivia Byrne
  • Alex Cline
  • Polina Levontin
  • Matthew McConkey


  • HEIF
  • ESRC IAA (scoping: Mainstreaming Climate Transition)
  • GreenPixie
  • Greenly

Research Assistant: Sustainable Software and Digital Infrastructures

This is a fixed term 0.5 appointment for three months (May to July). All work can be conducted remotely. Interested candidates may apply here before 25 April. Enquiries: j.c.walton@sussex.ac.uk.

The Sussex Humanities Lab is seeking a Research Assistant to explore the future of digital technology (especially cloud computing) in relation to net zero and climate justice.

Key requirements:

  • PhD in a relevant subject (e.g. Computer Science, Engineering), or comparable expertise
  • Good analysis and communication skills

Interest in any of the following will be beneficial:

  • Cloud computing
  • Machine Learning
  • Web3
  • Sustainable IT
  • Sustainability reporting and certification
  • Climate analytics
  • Carbon accounting
  • Energy transition
  • Science communication
  • Decision support tools
  • Digital Humanities
  • Climate justice

About the project

Globally, the amount of data we store and process has exploded in recent years, and is projected to keep rising. Exciting new AI tools hit the headlines almost daily, and look set to become an increasing part of everyday life. Meanwhile, countries and companies are scrambling to meet their net zero targets — with the IPCC warning that these targets are not yet ambitious enough. So how do we align the future of ICT with the future of our planet?

You will be part of a small team, whose interdisciplinary work focuses on bringing together cutting-edge evidence and creating accessible, actionable resources to support net zero and climate justice. This project investigates digital decarbonisation, focusing especially on cloud computing. There will be opportunities for dialogue with leading digital carbon consultancies, as well as organisations working on tracking and reducing their digital carbon.

Our work will expand the Digital Humanities Climate Coalition toolkit (https://sas-dhrh.github.io/dhcc-toolkit/), a free and open-source resource devoted to deepening and widening understandings of the impacts of digital technologies.

The research project will run May to July. The post will be paid at point 7.2 on the HE single pay spine.

Informal enquiries are welcome: j.c.walton@sussex.ac.uk.

Reference: 50001228

Bridging the gap between computational linguistics and concept analysis

by Eddie O’Hara Brown

“Bridging The Gap” by MSVG is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

One of our priorities at the Concept Analytics Lab is to utilise computational approaches in innovative explorations of linguistics. In this post I explore the disciplinary origins of computer science and linguistics and present areas in which computational methodologies can make meaningful contributions to linguistic studies.

The documented origins of computer science and linguistics place the fields in different spheres. Computer science developed out of mathematics and mechanics. Many of the forefathers of the field, the likes of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, were first and foremost mathematicians. Major players in the development of the field in the twentieth century were often mathematicians and engineers, such as John von Neumann and Claude Shannon. On the other hand, linguistics developed out of philology and traditionally took a comparative and historical outlook. It was not until the early 20th century and the work of philosophers such as Ferdinand de Saussure, when major explorations into synchronic linguistics began.

The distinct origins of computer science and linguistics are still visible in academia today. For example, in the UK and other western universities, computer science is situated in STEM subjects, and linguistics often finds a home with humanities and social sciences. The different academic homes given to linguistics and computer science often poses a structural barrier to interdisciplinary study and creation of synergies between the two disciplines. 

Recent research shows that the merging of linguistic knowledge with computer science has clear applications for the field of computer science. For example, the language model BERT (Devlin et al., 2018) has been used by Google Search to process almost every English-based query since late 2020. But we are only just beginning to take advantage of computational techniques in linguistic research. Natural language processing harnesses the power of computers and neural networks to swiftly process and analyse large amounts of texts. This analysis complements traditional linguistic approaches that involve close reading of texts, such as narrative analysis of language, discourse analysis, and lexical semantic analysis.

One particularly impressive application of computational linguistics in the analysis of semantic relations is the word2vec model (Mikolov et al., 2013). word2vec converts words into numerical vectors and positions them across vector space. This process involves grouping semantically and syntactically similar words and distancing semantically and syntactically different. Through this process corpora consisting of millions of words can be analysed to identify semantic relations within hours. However, this information, as rich as it is, still needs to be meaningfully interpreted. This is where the expertise of a linguist comes in. For instance, word2vec may identify pairs of vectors between which the distance increased across different time periods. As linguists, we can infer that the words these vectors represent must have changed semantically or syntactically over time. We can rely on knowledge from historians and historical linguists to offer explanations as to why that change has occurred. We may notice further that similar changes occurred amongst only one part of speech, or note that the change first occurred in language of a particular author or a group of writers. In this way, the two fields of computer science and linguistics necessarily rely on each other for efficient, robust, and insightful research.

At the Concept Analytics Lab, we promote the use of computational and NLP methods in linguistic research, exploring benefits brought by the convergence of scientific and philological approaches to linguistics. 


Devlin, Jacob, Ming-Wei Chang, Kenton Lee, and Kristina Toutanova (2018) ‘Bert: Pre-training of deep bidirectional transformers for language understanding.’ Available at https://arxiv.org/abs/1810.04805

Mikolov, Tomas, Kai Chen, Greg Corrado, and Jeffrey Dean. (2013) ‘Efficient estimation of word representations in vector space.’ Available at https://arxiv.org/abs/1301.3781

What is Concept Analytics and who are we?

Concept Analytics Lab (CAL) gathers linguists, AI engineers, and historians and is aligned with Sussex Humanities Lab within the Critical Digital Humanities and Archives research cluster. The principle mission behind Concept Analytics is to understand human thinking by analysing conceptual layering in texts. We overcome the divides between humanities, AI, and data science by harnessing the power of computational linguistics without losing sight of close linguistic analysis. 

Although CAL was formally set up in 2021, its existence is the culmination of research energies over the previous few years and our desire for a stable space to explore concept-related ideas with like-minded scholars.  Establishing the Lab has provided us with a platform from which we showcase our research expertise to researchers and other external partners. CAL has grown and changed through 2022, during which time we have counted on a team of six researchers at a range of stages in their careers, from undergraduate to postdoctoral level. The team is led by Dr Justyna Robinson. 

CAL has so far partnered with research groups within Sussex, e.g. SSRP, as well as ones further afield, e.g. Westminster Centre for Research on Ageing. We have worked closely with Archives such as Mass Observation Archive and Proceedings of the Old Bailey, as well as non-academic organisations. 

What were the highlights of the past year? 

Our activities in the past year centred around exploring the content of the Mass Observation Project (MOP) and their Archive of May 12 Diaries with the aim of identifying conceptual changes that happened during Covid-19. We have completed two main research projects. CAL was awarded funding through the UK-RI/HEIF/SSRP call Covid-19 to Net Zero, in collaboration with industry partner Africa New Energies, to identify the impact of Covid-19 on people’s perceptions and habits in the context of household recycling and energy usage. CAL was also commissioned by the PETRA project (Preventing Disease using Trade Agreements, funded by UKPRP/MRC) to discover key themes and perceptions the public holds towards post-Brexit UK trade agreements. Keep reading for summaries of the findings of these research projects, as well as our other achievements this year. 

Household recycling with Africa New Energy (ANE) 

Through this project we identified that respondents to the MOP Household Recycling 2021 directive were deeply committed to recycling, but that these feelings were coupled with doubt and cynicism in relation to the effectiveness of the current system. MOP writers pointed to a perceived lack of transparency and standardisation in recycling processes and systems. Lack of transparency and standardisation have also been identified as obstacles to recycling adherence and efficacy in more policy-based analytical surveys (Burgess et al., 2021; Zaharudin et al., 2022). Changes in recycling habits among the UK population were identified as resulting from external factors, such as Covid-19 and reduced services, as well as lack of knowledge about how and what can be recycled. This research has significantly impacted the way our grant partner ANE approach their operations in terms of gaining energy from organic waste content. The research results also led ANE to start work on gamifying the waste classification process. It aims to encourage recycling compliance by replacing the current sanction-based system with a more rewards-based system. This research shows that the CAL already has a track record of establishing commercial routes of impact for our research and we see extending the scope of this impact to be a critical next step in CAL’s research programme. Further details on the collaboration with ANE can be found in this blog post.  

We are seeking further HEIF funding to expand on the work already done with the Household Recycling directive to maximise policy impact by processing the handwritten answers and also processing the 2022 12 May Diaries for insight into the impact of the current energy crisis on respondents’ behaviour and attitudes to energy. As part of this project we would hold an exhibition in which we would invite various stakeholders including policy makers to showcase our work. 

MOP UK Trade Deals 

We were commissioned by the PETRA project’s lead Prof. Paul Kingston from the University of Chester to perform a conceptual linguistic analysis of the MOP UK Trade Deals directive. We used our approach to identify hidden patterns and trends in the answers to the directive questions. The conceptual analysis allows us to combine quantitative with qualitative methods and identify otherwise unperceived patterns. The main themes that arose were related to the perceived quality of trade deals and concerns about animal and ethical standards. We also performed an analysis linked to people’s knowledge, belief and desires. The results of the analysis will inform policy makers in their decisions regarding trade deals. Additionally this piece of work has attracted some interest from public health bodies with whom we are preparing a potential grant for future research. 

Papers and presentations 

In 2022 Justyna Robinson and Julie Weeds both presented the work they did within the context of the Old Bailey archives and have had their paper on that work published in the Transactions of Philological Society. In this paper they describe a novel approach to analysing texts, in which computational tools turn traditional texts into a corpus of syntactically-related concepts. Justyna Robinson and Rhys Sandow also have authored a paper forthcoming in 2023, ‘Diaries of regulation: Mass Observing the first Covid-19 lockdown’. This research will be presented at Mass Observation’s 85th Anniversary Festival, Mass Observation Archive, The Keep, 23rd April 2023. 


As part of the SSRP/HEIF funding we received earlier this year we have also developed a website, which can be found at conceptanalytics.org.uk, where we also post blogs with news pieces and short research insights. 

Embedding Sustainability in the Curriculum

Presenting the Media Arts and Humanities Sustainability Educator Toolkit:

Or if you prefer, here is the Google doc (feel free to leave comments).

This toolkit is aimed at supporting educators (at Sussex and beyond) to build themes, concepts and practices related to sustainability into our teaching. It’s a grab-bag of inspirations, provocations, and helpful signposts.

It covers:

  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • Planetary boundaries
  • Climate change and climate justice
  • Ecocentrism
  • Indigenous knowledges
  • Degrowth and postgrowth

There is a focus on media, arts and humanities, and some focus on the University of Sussex. But we hope it will be useful much more widely.

This toolkit is complemented by a crowdsourced living document of links and resources. We have been inspired by the commitment to decolonising the curriculum in the past few years. Now it is time to embed sustainability – and acknowledge the deep relationship between the two.

The toolkit is published under a CC license.

Other related resources:

Storytelling and play for climate futures

By Jo Lindsay Walton

One of the most interesting projects I’ve been part of this year is the climate futures roleplaying game Kampala Yénkya. With the support of the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme, I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside Dilman Dila and Maurice Ssebisubi (Uganda), Polina Levontin and Jana Kleineberg (UK), Bright Nkrumah (Germany / South Africa), and assorted playtesters and reviewers, to create innovative educational materials around climate adaptation, localised for Uganda.

UNESCO highlight the importance of futures literacy to a just climate transition:

Democratizing the origins of people’s images of the future opens up new horizons in much the same way that establishing universal reading and writing changes human societies. This is an example of what can be called a ‘change in the conditions of change.’

In the Global North, games and science fiction have longstanding links with futures research, and more recently have developed a strong connection with climate futures specifically (something we’ll be exploring in a special issue of Vector in spring 2023). By contrast, African speculative cultures are underutilised and under-theorised in the context of adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. 

The project’s key deliverable was a tabletop roleplaying game, Kampala Yénkya (the title roughly translates to ‘Kampala of Tomorrow’). The game involves mapmaking and collaborative storytelling, and seeks to empower players to imagine the future of Kampala in many different ways. It is available to download here, under a Creative Commons license.

This is the first edition (‘Oracle’ edition), designed to be played with fairly minimal materials: a copy of the rules, an ordinary deck of playing cards (or two), some tokens (e.g. matchsticks), and blank paper and pen for drawing a map.

Science fiction writer Dilman Dila provided the initial inspiration and wrote a substantial portion of the game materials, as well as a supplementary collection of short stories. The game design was informed by the Applied Hope: Utopias & Solarpunk games jam which I co-organised last year, supported by SHL. Kampala Yénkya evolved through several rounds of playtesting in four of Kampala’s secondary schools. Maurice Ssebisubi, an environmental scientist and an educator, coordinated the games that involved nearly two hundred students, ensuring that the game is responsive to local climate information needs while also being fun and inspiring to play.

The bulk of the funding was made available from the SSRP’s Fund #6 to support the work of a team of Ugandan and UK academics, educators, and artists, to develop and test innovative climate action education materials for use in Uganda. SHL provided support in-kind in the form of me, and also a little extra funding for translation. All the core team members also volunteered additional time on the project. Special thanks also to Peter Newell and Michael Jonik for their help early on.


Kampala Yénkya: Oracle Edition is now available as an open beta. This version of the game can be played with easily sourced materials (matchsticks, playing cards, pen and paper). The oracle edition is published in English and Luganda. bit.ly/ImagineAlternatives

Kampala Yénkya: Deluxe Edition is currently is in its playtesting / graphic design phase (design by Jana Kleineberg). Game packs will be delivered to 20 further Ugandan schools in late 2022 / early 2023. Each game pack contains:

  • Game materials and instructions — custom designed cards and ‘story stones’ for playing Kampala Yénkya. With the help of narrative prompts, players imagine Kampala in 2060, while also getting quizzed on their climate knowledge. 
  • Inspiration deck — extra storytelling and worldbuilding ideas written by Dilman Dila, with contributions by Polina Levontin.
  • Further information — for players who want a more in-depth exploration of themes raised within the game.

Ugandan SF writer Dilman Dila has written a collection of short stories (working title Kampala Yénkya: Stories) set in a future Uganda, which will be published by Ping Press in 2023, with an introduction by Wole Talabi. Dila’s five interlinked tales were developed in dialogue with climate experts across Uganda and the UK. The collection also includes Q&A to enrich its value in educational settings.


Uganda: Seventeen groups across four secondary schools participated in a climate quiz, raising awareness of climate issues and collecting baseline data to inform our project
Uganda: Students from four secondary schools participated in a series of Kampala Yénkya workshops, led by Maurice Ssebisubi. Students responded positively to the game, and many of their suggested improvements have been incorporated.
United Kingdom: Kampala Yénkya was featured along other arts-led climate communication projects at The Carbon Deli, a two-day installation at The 2022 Great Exhibition Road Festival in London.

Next Steps

The project wrapped up officially at the end of July, but the momentum has continued. Maurice Ssebisubi is leading on the creation of a network of environmental clubs across schools in Uganda. This work has been supported through our project, with the climate quiz and game playtesting used as activities to pilot the clubs.

We are exploring a potential workshop around the game at African Futures 2023 (Cologne).

The project will also be the central case study in a chapter on climate risk education for Communicating Climate Risk: 3rd Edition (SHL, 2023), from the Sussex Humanities Lab and the Institute of Development Studies PASTRES project.

All game materials are made available under a permissive Creative Commons licence, to encourage sharing and adaptation. We have received expressions of interest in localising the game for other countries (South Africa, Nigeria), and will be exploring ways to support this work in the future.

Tabletop roleplaying (TTRPG) is popular all over the world, including many countries in the Global South, for both entertainment and education. But as far as we’ve been able to discover, it doesn’t yet appear very prevalent in Africa. We would be interested in hearing from TTRPG players, designers, writers, or societies / groups from the continent.

Neurodivergent Art Jam

By Hanna Randall

During March, April and May, the SHL was host to a series of weekly art-making and creative writing workshops for PhD researchers who identify as neurodivergent (autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, anxiety, depression etc.), which was funded by the University’s Researcher-led Initiative Fund.  

The Art Jam was primarily intended to be a way of creating access to a safe and validating creative space where neurodivergents are among other individuals with similar experiences, fostering a sense of community and support. Neurodivergent people are often forced to mask their true selves in public and in learning environments for fear of discrimination and oppression, which, of course, is both exhausting and detrimental to our mental health and wellbeing. But a dedicated community such as this can render masking unnecessary for its activity duration, and it’s super fun! 

The SHL is such a great space for this sort of community-based workshop series thanks to Silverstone’s accessibility, the SHL’s lighting and sound set-up which can adapt to suit sensory sensitivity, the outside garden suited to solitary creating, and the general adaptability of the room’s layout. Before and throughout the sessions I made it known to participants that social interaction was not expected, and non-normative social interaction and any sort of embodied expression of neurodivergence, such as using fidget spinners and tactile comfort objects, stimming, or using headphones or earplugs, would be met with absolute acceptance and fellow understanding.  

Embodied ways of thinking, such as art-making and creative writing, are often a neurodivergent individual’s mode of expression, thanks to our divergent minds and ability to make connections through non-linear thinking. A regular space with free access to art materials and creative prompts provides a perfect environment to engender embodied exploration and play. Thanks to the Researcher-led Initiative Fund, the workshops were furnished with a bunch of art and craft materials such as paints, pencils and drawing pens, clay, pastels, and sketchbooks. In the first few weeks, we responded to prompts and created drawings, short pieces of creative writing and collage poems. Some participants were keen to learn lino printing, so we got some more materials in and had several excellent sessions designing a print, cutting the lino and pulling some beautiful prints. In other sessions, we learnt embroidery and played with play-dough in a spaghetti maker. Watch this space for more Art Jam sessions in the coming academic year…