‘We build digital spaces to tackle global challenges through the humanities’

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‘We build digital spaces to tackle global challenges through the humanities’

PhD students Rose Hilton and Elin Ivansson develop digital spaces where academics can meet, mingle and merge ideas.

In a nod to Sheffield Hallam’s humanities department, they called their undergraduate platform Virtual Floor 11.

“Our original idea was to help students meet in a social setting”, said Elin. “We wanted to connect people across Creative Writing, English Literature and English Language for a wider conversation.

“We began by hosting virtual meetups with themes such as ‘how to write academic essays’ and ‘managing your assessments’. But when we did an evaluation, we found that students were just really happy to talk about the written word and they felt like this was a space that they could do that. In essence, we created a geek community.”

“For me, one of the highlights was a reading from a poetry student”, said Rose. “It was just a really beautiful moment. It was clear how much that peer-to-peer feedback meant to her. Since then, we’ve had some really positive feedback from many other students.”

Virtual Floor 11 isn’t their first foray into digital collaborations. As president and secretary of Sheffield Hallam's Postgraduate Research Society, they've been hosting weekly Zoom sessions, virtual quizzes and even a Pod-Club since the pandemic began. And in 2020, they managed and hosted Earthly Matters, an online international event for humanities academics with a focus on sustainability.

“Because it was online, we could have international participation without international travel,” explained Rose. “The three-day itinerary catered for broad conversations about sustainability with topics designed to encourage real action. We were joined by 30 academics per day from all over the world—from Australia to Kuwait.”

This year, they’re stepping up to the plate again. Earthly Matters 2021 focuses on 'Mind, Body, Nature and Society' and features keynote speakers: Georgia Ennis, a multimodal anthropologist who engages with communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon; Dr Julian Dobson a researcher and writer at CRESR with expertise in social and economic regeneration and urban greenspace; and Dr. Jo Clement, poet and editor for the Butcher's Dog Magazine. Her practice-led research is focused on Romani literature and culture.

“The main thing that appeals to me is building communities where the humanities is valued”, explained Elin. “A place where academics can meet academics across the world. And one that isn’t run by people who are already established in their field, so everyone feels they have something to contribute.”

And for up-and-coming academics in action, the duo has some advice.

“Find someone you can work with and who you can have useful conversations with,” implores Rose. “And don’t put it off. It’s easy to think, I’ll come back to that later, but seize the moment! I’m really happy I took these opportunities when I did.”

You can find out more about Earthly Matters and their 2021 event by visiting their website.

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