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.

Outputs

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.

Activities

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.

Applied Hope Game Jam

The Applied Hope: Solarpunk & Utopias Game Jam was an open games jam run in summer 2021, inviting game designers to create all manner of things related to envisioning positive futures. Entries were mostly storytelling and tabletop roleplaying games, although we also got prototype video games, zines, a Twitter bot, and more.

After poring through almost sixty submissions, some prizes have just been awarded:

1) Best RPG Under Five Pages: subconscious_Routine by poorstudents

2) Best Solarpunk DIY Game: Scraps by Cezar Capacle

3) The Lustrous Effervescing Fontanelle of Luminous Mutable Futures Award: It’s About the Yearning by Lonely Cryptid Media

4) Mx Congeniality: Moon Elves by Maik

5) The Applied Hope Fruiting Bodies Award: Roots & Flowers by The Gift of Gabes

6) The Best Adaptation Award: The Transition Year by Affinity Games

7) Best Game About Something Pretty Specific: Marvelous Mutations & Merry Musicians! by Wendi Yu

Special Prize: Big Buzz Award: The Nurture by hannah j. gray

Some remarks on the winners can be found here.

Digital forensics methods in humanities research

Last year SHL was lucky enough to have the brilliant and lovely Thorston Ries working with us on his Horizon 2020-funded DFitHH project, undertaken with the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie programme. Thorston’s project …

… used three born-digital archives as case studies: the personal digital archives of novelist, playwright and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi, technology journalist Glyn Moody, and the Mass Observation Project Archive. “The work with the archives resulted in awareness and advice for future improvement of archival workflows, tools and standards,” says Ries.

Full write-up here.

Thorston’s presence in SHL was enough to convert a number of us into digital forensics NERDs (Nothing’s Ever Reaaallllyyy Deleted).

And we’re off!

Sussex’s Dr Nicola Stylianou reflects on the launch of Making African Connections.

Suchi Chatterjee (researcher, Brighton and Hove Black History) and Scobie Lekhuthile (curator, Khama III Memorial Museum) discussing the project.
Suchi Chatterjee (researcher, Brighton and Hove Black History) and Scobie Lekhuthile (curator, Khama III Memorial Museum) discussing the project.

Last week was the first time that everybody working on the Making African Connections project was in the same room together. This was a very exciting moment for us and was no small feat: people travelled from Namibia, Botswana, Sudan and all across the UK to attend our first project workshop. We began by discussing the project together and then broke into three groups to discuss the three museum collections of African objects that are now in Kent and Sussex.

The first working group was discussing a collection of Batswana artefacts donated to Brighton museum by Revd Willoughby, a missionary. Staff at the museum will be working with researcher Winani Thebele (Botswana National Museums) and curator Scobie Lekhuthile (Khama III Memorial Museum) as well Tshepo Skwambane (DCES) and Suchi Chatterjee and Bert Williams (Brighton and Hove Black History). The second case study focuses on a large collection of objects from South West Angola that are held at the Powell-Cotton Museum and were acquired in the 1930s. The objects are mainly Kwanyama and this part of the project has, as its advisor, an expert in Kwanyama history, Napandulwe Shiweda (University of Namibia). Finally, the project will consider Sudanese objects held at the Royal Engineers Museum. Research for this part of the project is being conducted by Fergus Nicoll, Reem al Hilou (Shams AlAseel Charitable Initiative) and Osman Nusairi (intellectual).

The aim of the workshop was to decide together what the priorities for the project were. We will begin digitising objects for our online archive in April so we need to know which objects we want to work on first as some of the collections are very large. It will only be possible to create online records for a selection of objects.

BOT_20190212_3-1024x768
Viewing the objects in the store room

REMLA_20190208_1-1-1024x683
Viewing galleries at the Royal Engineers Museum

Before the workshop on Wednesday we had arranged for all the participants to visit the relevant galleries and see objects in storage. This had lead to some interesting and difficult conversations that we were able to build on during the workshop. Perhaps the clearest thing to come out of the meeting was the sheer amount of work to be done to fully research these collections and to understand their potential to connect to audiences and each other.

This post originally appeared on the Making African Connections project blog on 25 February 2019. Making African Connections is an AHRC-funded project.

Mending Dame Durrants’ Shoes

This week Louise Falcini gave us an update on the AHRC-funded project The Poor Law: Small Bills and Petty Finance 1700-1834.

The Old Poor Law in England and Wales, administered by the local parish, dispensed benefits to paupers providing a uniquely comprehensive, pre-modern system of relief. The law remained in force until 1834, and provided goods and services to keep the poor alive. Each parish provided food, clothes, housing and medical care. This project will investigate the experiences of people across the social spectrum whose lives were touched by the Old Poor Law, whether as paupers or as poor-law employees or suppliers.

The project seeks to enrich our understanding of the many lives touched by the Old Poor Law. This means paupers, but it also means workhouse mistresses and other administrators, midwives, tailors, cobblers, butchers, bakers, and many others. Intricate everyday social and economic networks sprung up around the Poor Law, about which we still know very little.

To fill these gaps to bursting, the project draws on a previously neglected class of sources: thousands upon thousands of slips of paper archived in Cumbria, Staffordshire and East Sussex, often tightly folded or rolled, of varying degrees of legibility, and all in the perplexing loops and waves of an eighteenth century hand …

Overseer note

These Overseers’ vouchers – similar to receipts – record the supply of food, clothes, healthcare, and other goods and services. Glimpse by glimpse, cross-reference by cross-reference, these fine-grained fragments glom together, revealing ever larger and more refined images of forgotten lives. Who was working at which dates? How did procurement and price fluctuate? What scale of income was possible for the suppliers the parish employed? What goods were stocked? Who knew whom, and when? Who had what? What broke or wore out when? As well as the digital database itself, the project will generate a dictionary of partial biographies, collaboratively authored by professional academics and volunteer researchers.

Louise took us through the data capture tool used by volunteer researchers. A potentially intimidating fifty-nine fields subtend the user-friendly front-end. The tool is equipped with several useful features. For example, it is possible to work remotely. The researcher has the option to “pin” the content of a field from one record to the next. The database automatically saves every iteration of each record. The controlled vocabulary is hopefully flexible enough to helpfully accommodate any anomalies. It’s also relatively easy to flag up records for conservation assessment or transcription assistance, or to go back and edit records. Right now they’re working on implementing automated catalogue entry creation, drawing on the Calm archive management system.


Personally, one of the things I find exciting about the project is how it engages both with the history of work and with the future of work. Part of its core mission is to illuminate institutions of disciplinarity, entrepreneurship, and precarity in eighteenth and early nineteenth century England. At the same time the project also involves, at its heart, questions about how we work in the twenty-first century.

Just take that pinning function, which means that researchers can avoid re-transcribing the same text if it’s repeated over a series of records. It almost feels inadequate to frame this as a “useful feature,” with all those overtones of efficiency and productivity! I’m not one of those people who can really geek out over user experience design. But most of us can relate to the experience of sustained labour in slightly the wrong conditions or using slightly the wrong tools. Most of us intuit that the moments of waste woven into such labour can’t really be expressed just in economic terms. And I’m pretty sure the moments of frustration woven into such labour can’t be expressed in purely psychological terms either. Those moments might perhaps be articulated in the language of metaethics and aesthetics? – or perhaps they need their very own (as it were) controlled vocabulary. But whatever they are, I think they manifest more clearly in voluntary labour, where it is less easy to let out that resigned sigh and think, “Whatever, work sucks. Come on Friday.”

I don’t have any first-hand experience of working with this particular data capture tool. But from the outside, the design certainly appears broadly worker-centric. I think digital work interfaces, especially those inviting various kinds of voluntary labour, can be useful sites for thinking more widely about how to challenge a productivity-centric division of labour with a worker-centric design of labour. At the same time, I guess there are also distinctive dangers to doing that kind of thinking in that kind of context. I wouldn’t be surprised if the digital humanities’ love of innovation, however reflexive and critical it is, tempts us to downplay the importance of the minute particularity of every worker’s experience, and the ways in which working practices can be made more hospitable and responsive to that particularity. (Demos before demos, that’s my demand).

I asked Louise what she thought motivated the volunteer researchers. Not that I was surprised – if something is worth doing there are people willing to do it, given the opportunity! – but I wondered what drew these particular people to this particular work? In the case of these parishes, it helps that there are good existing sources into which the voucher data can be integrated, meaning that individual stories are coming to life especially rapidly and richly-resolved. Beyond this? Obviously, the motives were various. And obviously, once a research community was established, it has the potential to become a motivating energy in itself. But Louise also reckoned that curiosity about these histories – about themes of class, poor relief and the prehistory of welfare, social and economic justice, and of course about work – played a huge role in establishing it in the first place.

Blake wrote in Milton about “a moment in each Day that Satan cannot find / Nor can his Watch Fiends find it.” I bet there is a moment within every rote task that those Watch Fields have definitely stuck there on purpose. It’s that ungainly, draining, inimitable moment that can swell with every iteration till it somehow comes to dominate the task’s entire temporality. It is politically commendable to insist that these moments persist in any task designed fait accompli from a distance, by people who will never have to complete that task more than once or twice … no matter how noble or comradely their intentions. But even if we should be careful about any dogmatic redesign of labour, I think we should at least be exploring how to redesign the redesign of labour. Karl Marx wrote in his magnum opus The Wit and Wisdom of Karl Marx that, unlike some of his utopian contemporaries, he was not interested in writing recipes for the cook-shops of the future. In some translations, not recipes but receipts. It actually is definitely the future now. And some of us are hungry.

JLW


The Poor Law: Small Bills and Petty Finance 1700-1834 is an AHRC-funded project.

  • PI: Alannah Tomkins (Keele)
  • Co-I: Tim Hitchcock (Sussex)
  • Research Fellow: Louise Falcini (Sussex)
  • Research Associate: Peter Collinge (Keele)