Hong Kong student protest map

Recently I was very fortunate to be able to spend some time with the student/Occupy protests known as the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong.

My photos included this astonishing map of the Admiralty area, which was located in the Admiralty MTR (mass transit railway) station, created by the protesters. It tells people where you can find first aid, supplies, social workers, “the stage” from which people sing and make announcements, and a self study area for students.

Umbrella-Revolution-map-image

On looking at the map, which many people were stopping to study, I realised that for me one immediate visual reference was the official map of Admiralty station, which I’d seen further inside the station.

So I went back inside and took a further photograph of that map.

MTR-map

I used these maps among other images in an exploration of multimodality in a lecture I gave on returning in my undergraduate Understanding Media course. I couldn’t have been more delighted than when after the lecture two students came up to me and offered to help me further with my interpretations. Since then they’ve suggested that in its detailed indication of details of everyday life, the protesters’ map may evoke a painting, attributed to Song Dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan called “Along the River during the Qingming Festival”. The painting captures the daily life of people and the landscape of the capital back then from the Northern Song period.

Looking into this painting I found indeed that it is “widely considered to be China’s best known painting” by: the Columbia University (2013) Asia for Educators: The Song Dynasty in China 960-1279. Life in the Song seen through a twelfth century scroll.

Further, I discovered that in the tradition of Chinese art,the practice of creating new versions, sometimes adding contemporary details, is a much respected practice. Take a look at this presentation of a Qing dynasty version in the collection of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, completed in 1736  and now with a contemporary reworking on the Museum’s virtual media site.  It’s really worth playing to show how imaginatively they’ve added animation and music to the presentation of the 18th century scroll.

All these images vary, of course, but have in common a panorama which includes many details illuminating everyday lives, including as to social interactions and even the idea of people of different social classes co-existing. This photograph shows the extraordinary disjunct between the tiny tents and the buildings of the business district.

Admiralty tents

So I’m now engaged in turning this into a research project, which means of course that I need to think ethical procedures through properly and make a submission to our ethics committee. That’s why I can’t name the helpful students, yet, although I intend to find ways of developing a proper collaboration and crediting their work.

What was I doing in Hong Kong for a week in the middle of term?  Well, I had quite a few things to do.  I taught Research Methods to a wonderful group of students on our MA TESOL (Hong Kong) who are about to embark on their independent dissertation projects.  I also visited the School of English, University of Hong Kong, and the Department of English in the City University of Hong Kong.  By the way the latter is now housed in a rather exciting site: the School of Creative Media, in the Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre.  I presented papers on my Edwardian Postcard Project.  I also met up with Winnie Ho, one of my PhD students – so we’ve had a good laugh about how far Lancaster Uni supervisors are willing to go to meet their supervisees! Finally, I was fortunate to catch up with Carmen Lee, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong,  a long term associate of the LRC, including, of course, co-author with David Barton of Language Online: investigating digital texts and practices.

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“What is a letter?” Interdisciplinary symposium, Oxford, 2-4 July 2014

I was fortunate to be invited to give a paper at the interdisciplinary symposium: “What is a letter?” earlier this month, by the organisers, Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig and Caroline Socha.

It is hoped that the papers presented will be published and meanwhile there are full details of the programme, including abstracts, available from the symposium blog.  Rather than try to cover the main programme here, I thought I would mention a few side shoots from my experience there.  One such is a mind map produced (after I’d had to leave) which I think does a good job of summing up concisely some of the themes raised. For me, many of the issues that are often raised in Literacy Studies appear here; such as materiality, social practices and text trajectories, albeit sometimes expressed with different terms.

IMG_5175 mind mapA highlight of the extra-mural activities for me was the invitation to view some of the special collections of the Bodleian library.  We were introduced to some of the most interesting items by the Keepers, headed by Chris Fletcher.  The most fascinating letter for me was one written by John Evelyn to Samuel Pepys.  Of course these are the two most celebrated diarists of their age (if not for all time) in England, but what was salient at this point in their correspondence was their interest in naval affairs.  Evelyn was a board commissioner, concerned with sick and wounded sailors as well as prisoners of war while Pepys was clerk of the acts to the Navy Board. Evelyn’s letter, written apparently while he was indisposed, included this marvellous sketch of the Dutch fleet making a raid up the Medway in June 1667. This map (pasted into a book into which such letters have been collected) is so marvellously detailed it includes a key to the ships and even details of sandbanks.

IMG_5101 Evelyn map

 

An event I missed at the end of the conference was a workshop on letter locking by Daniel Starza Smith (Lincoln College, Oxford) and Jana Dambrogio (Conservator of special collections at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).  From talking with them earlier, I know they are interested in many of the historical practices concerning, for example, folding letters to go through the post when envelopes aren’t available. IMG_5219 tuck and sealJana had shown me how letters were folded in the Soviet Union during WW2.  Here is another kind of example of folded letter.

folded letter

I’m certainly sorry I missed that workshop.

My own contribution was a paper about writing Edwardian postcards. There is a short illustrated summary here.

A couple of other papers at the symposium also drew upon an earlier work from the Literacy Research Centre, the book Letter Writing as Social Practice, edited by David Barton and Nigel Hall.