“Are You Here” and Cultural Mapping

Here is a guest blog about my work, as featured on the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities Practice Research Network.

Source: Are You Here, Cultural Mapping

This has information on my MA project and my PhD work.  My Masters was about walking in the footsteps of my ancestors and included an ebook, illustrations, a blog and an exhibition, whilst my PhD has elements of digital storytelling, mapping, and creative activities with community groups.



Create Cafe- Mapping my Paisley

As part of my PhD I have been working with some community groups around Paisley, exploring what culture means to them.  One of the groups, Create Cafe, asked me to put up a blog post about what the group made.  It was so much fun to work with the young people who attended the cafe and the Create Paisley volunteers, a real privilege to be able to spend some creative time exploring the town through their eyes.

I explained the project in my participant information sheet/ consent form like this:

‘Mapping My Paisley’ is about drawing a map or picture about your view on what is important to you in Paisley; where you enjoy spending time, what you think is important to the culture of Paisley, which areas you like and what you think could be better.

So what did Create Cafe make?

Six maps were created by Create Café and three different kinds of maps were made, one as drawing on top of a printed map of Paisley, one as a mind map list and four as plans of a part of Paisley they knew.  Some maps showed Create as their centre of Paisley, some concentrated on a small area of the town and some mentioned places outside the town as well.

The average number of things in the maps was 9, with some as many as 19 or as few as 3. One map included very detailed drawings of buildings and features, some drew pictures of things which they associated with Paisley (e.g. things which their favourite shop sells), many added notes to what they included to show what it meant to them such as visiting friends, being a member of a band or where they took art lessons.

Some of the places which were included are as follows:

Natural features

Buildings/ landmarks

Clubs, societies and events

  • Sports and active hobbies – Pokemon Paisley, Parkour coaching, Barshaw Golf Course
  • Paisley Comicon
  • YMCA, Create (office and Blend café), Arts Collective of Paisley and Art Classes

Activities and meeting places


  • Transport hubs (Paisley Canal, Paisley Gilmour Street)
  • Paisley Cross and County Square
  • Roads including the Wynd, Barrhead Road, High Street, Causeyside Street

Areas mentioned

These map results are anonymised as a general summary.  The picture at the top is actually my map, where I was playing with ways of representing places; as a practitioner-researcher I think it is good to test out your ideas.. no prizes for noting that my picture of Paisley includes the university and is rather cafe, museum and parks -centric, and on reflection it is pretty funny that I have drawn a cup of coffee bigger than the abbey.  I wanted to work with Create because I hoped to involve groups which can traditionally be under-represented in cultural discussions to explore a diversity of opinions on culture and what it means; I also worked with The Star Project, and ROAR Connections for Life.

Thank you again Create Paisley and all of the cafe attendees!


International conference abstract accepted

I had my conference abstract accepted for the 22nd International Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies.  Organised by Stadtarchäologie Wien this conference is an annual event, having started in 1996.

This is the first international conference I have presented at as a practitioner-researcher and I am taking part in the PhD/Masters session, presenting on my work around digital cultural asset mapping.

The themes for the conference include digital archaeology, virtual and augmented reality for interpreting heritage, using historic maps and round tables and discussions on cultural heritage.

View my abstract on the CHNT website at http://www.chnt.at/revealing-hidden-cultural-heritage-through-digital-cultural-asset-mapping/

More information on the conference programme for 2017 can be found here with conference proceeding publications here.


“Mini publics”- practice and research

I attended a seminar today at UWS about academic blogging, which is something I have left alone for a while but always intended to get back to (this is what not to do, for I think blogging is often best as a regular and scheduled activity).  I thought I would “revive” my blog here as a little reflection on today’s seminar and as a way of pressing play on this blog again.

The seminar was organised by UWS Centre for Social Science and Creativity (CSSC) and invited speakers were Pat Thomson,  Paul Cairney and  Jane Tinkler  who all provided inspirational presentations about their own practice and their thoughts on the role(s) of blogging in academic life.  If you follow the hashtag #uwsblogging  you can get a feel of the discussions, it was even trending in Glasgow for a while!

I was particularly taken by the term “mini publics” used by Pat Thomson as it made me think about all the projects I have been involved in recently and in the past, and what those audiences were.  For some of the projects like Digital Commonwealth  blogging was integrated within these practices and was an intended teaching and learning outcome, I’ve tinkered with collective blogging based around training sessions and seminars  but for others the work was documented as part of an institutional publication  or went unblogged as it was part of everyday work in a particular role. I have also been employed specifically to blog, as I was the IHBC newsblog consultant   for several years and wrote about the work of that organisation and current heritage and cultural issues.

The visibility of researcher work discussed by Jane Tinkler was fascinating.  I am only a “Phd-er” (again, Jane’s term, not one I had heard before but very relevant to my own academic identity; am I currently “invisible”, “solidly middle”, or an “influential-communicator”? ) What do I want to be as a practitioner-researcher? (another term I have only just learned, which seems very relevant to my own approach (comes from Little et al, 2013).  I’ve only just completed my PhD transfer event, so these issues are very fresh in my mind.

I am a visual thinker.. but I also love writing, I think today’s session has given me a kickstart back to posting on here again.. here is my short visual summary of the session.  My featured post image is space for contemplation, for this is what the session gave me!

IMG_5534 Continue reading “Mini publics”- practice and research

Scottish Graduate Social Science Summer School reflections

I am really glad that I attended this summer school, I was a little scared about going as I did not know anyone and it was the first big academic conference I had been to since starting, but even the application process was really helpful (as I had to write an abstract of my PhD), and in attending I met people working in lots of different academic areas, and made some great friends.

The School was a mixture of talks, workshops and social events, based in the rather grand buildings of Edinburgh University. Five days of packed programme were organised, and I had booked different sessions so that I had some full days and some half days (planning to fit in some reading and writing in my ‘spare’ sessions).

The sessions which I booked were:

  • Designing creativity and innovation in research (we wrote mini manifestos)
  • Evaluating your digital impact (this was really useful for me as I found out lots of ‘academic networking’ tips and learned new things about how paper rankings and academic profiles on Google Scholar work)
  • writing for a broader audience (useful to be reminded of this, some good tips and food for thought)
  • what I did with my PhD (career routes post PhD, I learned a lot in this and it got me thinking about work en route to PhD completion in terms of papers I might write and things which will help me post PhD)

One of the sessions I found most helpful was a coaching session encouraging us to get ‘your PhD your way’, led by Will Med encouraging us to reflect on our core values and also learn to tame our critical gremlins. I had never thought about coaching before, but I have returned to the techniques which I learned that day on a regular basis and am very thankful for this session.

The weather was unseasonably warm for Edinburgh in June, which led to some picnic dinners and very pleasant walks between campus and halls (living in halls again was a fun reminder of undergraduate life though I am glad I have my own space back now!). We were priviledged to enjoy some time out on the fringe terrace roof garden, teaming up to try out a quiz.


The Quiz with a naughty book! #summerschool #phdchat

A photo posted by @ali_instagramming on Jun 9, 2015 at 2:33pm PDT

In summary, I would highly recommend attending these academic summer school type events, it may sound like a lot of time away but I found that sharing experiences with others and having a period of taught activities covering different disciplines and skills was a huge boost.



Link to programme

Scottish Graduate School of Social Science




More lovely new things to learn

So I may not be a knowledge ninja quite yet (more on this later) but I have been spending a lot of time reading academic papers as well as policy around heritage strategies and ‘creative places’ and various e-books and websites related to this.  Today I attended my formal PhD student induction with lots of others from around the University which included lots of useful information on the practical ‘need to knows’ for student life here as part of the UWS research community.

Like most universities, UWS has a graduate researcher training programme – we had an interesting overview of the courses available and a ‘student eye view’ of how they can help. Here is a copy of the older programme, but it shows the kind of events put on.  Many people also stressed that networking was one of the key things they got out of the events, it was fun to meet other PhD students today from places as far away and as close as Glasgow, Ayr, Bangladesh and Algeria.

It is good to think about CPD.. I already do this as a member of professional institutes but academically there are transferable and academic specific skills which I would like to develop more.  I signed up for a conference in June organised by the SGSSS which covers various topics of direct relevant to my PhD (and has networking and other social events).  There is an upcoming UWS research conference including poster presentations given by 2nd and 3rd year students from around the university, which will be good to see how it all works before I do it next year.  I am also going to sign up for events bulletins from UWS careers and the library (Moodle has a lot on it too).

Library things

Today I learnt I can access any library! I applied for Sconul access which would allow me to borrow books from other academic libraries.  I presume it also allows me to sit in their libraries to work (my brain likes a change of scenery, I used to enjoy sitting in Glasgow School of Art library when doing my evening graphic design class research.. they have fantastic creative research books, and when I used to teach at GCU and City of Glasgow College I used the GCU library occasionally to do TQFE work as their learning pods were a fun and colourful environment to spend time in).  I love libraries.. might even make a little trip back to where I used to sit in the Andersonian as a creature of habit in my undergraduate planning days.  UWS library in Paisley has some great quiet study areas, as well as ‘coffee break’ areas where you can sit, and the Ayr Campus is very light and airy with group study rooms and quiet study as well as a great selection of journals and periodicals to browse.  Have Eduroam and library ticket, will travel!

Vitae, Academia.edu and Mendeley

I had been meaning to explore these further; today Vitae was mentioned as being particularly useful for developing skills at different stages of research and I have been completing my profiles on Academia.edu (and set up a group in Mendeley as an experiment to see how it works).

Knowledge ninjas and mind mapping

As I mentioned before, I love mind mapping, so when I was browsing my local charity shop books I was utterly delighted to find a Tony Buzan mind mapping book.  I had read it years ago, but not only was this a lovely book it was actually signed… and supported charity too.  Must buy, a good £3.99 there I thought.  I have been flicking through this and its lovely diagrams, reminding myself of some additional techniques for memory recall and creative association.  I also got ‘how to be a Knowledge Ninja’ from my local Glasgow library, a new book which includes mind mapping but also goes into the practicalities of sorting out ‘stuff’ to be able to achieve more from your day.

The Cornell note taking system was new to me (see pdf for info); although I feel I have an adapted version of this which involves using one page for notes from whatever I am reading at the time, and the opposite page for reflective notes and action points.  I later review these in a mind map and save into Evernote.  One of the things which first taught me how to revise was an article in Cosmopolitan magazine on how to pass exams.. a rather unlikely source one would possibly think but I remember it being stuck to my bookcase and trying out some of the tips and I have used them ever since!  Knowledge Ninja has given me a further 20 points to reflect on and try out (some I do, some I knew, others which are new or are helpful to be reminded of).  I enjoyed the style and presentation, a ‘quick read’ or something to dip in and out of. The Knowledge Ninja also has amusing little cartoons and summary points which make it a useful starting point for studying any topic at pretty much any level.  Follow @thinkproductive and author @grahamallcott on Twitter for more.

Reflecting on reading

Weirdly, reading is helping me do more reading!  Whilst on holiday not too long ago I got back into fiction reading, and used my iPad as a Kindle reader for the first time in any sort of concentrated manner.  Sitting in the sun sipping cocktails is not the usual way I spend my day and it felt very luxurious but it reminded me I always used to love novel reading, so I devoured lots of holiday reading (mainly the escapist kind which often has pink sparkly writing on the spine in print books, but also some classics and one or two business books).  Since I came back and have been PhD reading I have been doing more evening reading- I found a fun travel book and started using ‘Goodreads’ which recommends books which you might like based on ones you have already read.  I did not expect that reading for my PhD would lead me to want to read more for leisure, I now have a list of ‘to read’ novels and some forthcoming AyeWrite events to attend (including a writing workshop.. using Day One has made me write more and explore creative writing).  Has anyone else felt this reading = more reading and more writing effect?

Digital academia (#JobsQ), museums week and dividing my time

Contrary to how my online persona may appear, I do not actually spend hours and hours on the internet, I am actually quite judicious about dividing my time between all the things I have to do so that online research and social media connections are a productive and useful part of my day rather than a time sucker. I have also been looking into ways to incorporate exercise into my week (partly as I have signed up to a 10k in May.. eek, but also because I do generally enjoy the exercise when I do it and know it actually does me good mentally and physically). I am currently adopting Fitbit to get my 10,000 steps a day, go to my local gym and booked into a lunchtime Renfrewshire Leisure Body Pump class today (which I was delighted to discover has the most reasonable student price of only £3.75!). A number of the PhD ‘how to’ books (and several blogs I follow) all speak about the importance of balance in dividing your time and making time to take care of your health. Internally, I probably know these things, but sometimes a friendly reminder helps, as does a bit of quiet space (recently discovered this room at UWS):

Space for contemplation
Space for contemplation

Yesterday I followed the #JobsQ Twitter feed from the digital academia conference in Warwick. I had been alerted to this via a phdchat tweet which Emma Cole (@Emma_Cole1) had suggested, she is experimenting with vlogs to reflect on and share her PhD experience.  Here is her vlog which reflects on the days teachings, and a copy of two of the presentations available, with many great tips (follow also The Thesis Whisperer’s blog , Dr Inger Mewburn also spoke at this event)


I find Twitter is quite useful for virtual conference attending (and very cost effective, of course).

All this week is ‘Museums Week’, an international event organised by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, which encourages professionals and the general public to share their experiences of museums and heritage using daily themes on social media. I have been joining in with the daily themes (yesterday was ‘behind the scenes’ secret museums day, and today is souvenir day). I find it fascinating to see the tweets from all over the world, and enjoy making a little contribution to the discussions.

From a PhD point of view, I find that these different ways of presenting heritage attractions to the world are rather interesting and tap into the public engagement, marketing and image making/ placemaking agenda as one can gain an impression of the character of a museum or attraction as expressed in its digital presence, its physical souvenirs are also part of this. I have been reading about perceptions of cultural heritage and opinions on the management its ethos in a publication edited by Waterton and Watson (2015), which (among other things) looks at leisure landscapes (Haldru and Boerinhoudt), the origins of tourism and different perceptions of heritage globally (Light) and also the cultural planning and conservation policy contexts for this (Pendlebury). I also like the tips in the presentations above.  Much food for thought.

I am really enjoying perusing and reflecting on academic articles and books again, my brain is full of happy endorphins (I know that it is exercise which is meant to do this, hopefully a bit of body pump, which I have not done for at least a year, will also help my afternoons reading and concentration and burn off some of the extravagant drink choice I made yesterday whilst taking my reading out and about!).

What do you do to help nurture your connections and maintain your overall good balance?

Books referred to:
Waterton, E. Watson, S (2015) The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Heritage Research, Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke