Sensory Stories brings humanities research to life

Posted on 30 September 2010

AHRC funding awarded to a team of humanities postgraduates

Sensory Stories is an exciting new project that trains postgraduates to communicate their work with audiences beyond the university.  It will explore ways of presenting research stories through appeals to the senses, especially taste, smell, vision and touch, and by making use of objects, public spaces, and performance.

Sensory Stories has been awarded funding by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to develop the skills of research students in public engagement activities. The bid was developed by Jane Moody, Director of the Humanities Research Centre, in conjunction with an interdisciplinary team of doctoral students, led by Claire Wood from the Department of English and Related Literature. 

When I gave students the opportunity to taste authentic workhouse gruel, they immediately understood the pathos of the scene in a completely new way.

Claire Wood

“I first became interested in communicating ideas through the body when teaching undergraduates,” says Claire. “Sometimes they can find it difficult to get inside the social and historical world of the books we are studying. We are so familiar with the story of Oliver Twist asking for more food that we can easily forget its power and pain. When I gave students the opportunity to taste authentic workhouse gruel, they immediately understood the pathos of the scene in a completely new way. It struck me that the body could be a powerful interface for conveying research ideas to different audiences.”

The project takes some of its inspiration from the BBC/British Museum project, ‘A History of the World’, which uses manmade objects to explore global and local histories. Sensory Stories will host a training day in January for sixty students from across the country. Specialists in media communication, theatre performance and the heritage sector will lead workshops that showcase dynamic, interactive techniques for presenting research stories to members of the public. Groups of students will then take their own sensory stories to a variety of local audiences, culminating in a summer research fête at the University.

Jane Moody said, ‘This is a fantastic and really creative project which demonstrates the vibrant postgraduate research culture in the humanities at York. Sensory Stories is also a great opportunity for us to strengthen links—and develop new ones—between the city and the University.”

Notes to editors:

  • For more information contact Claire Wood ( and see the blog.
  • Each year the AHRC provides approximately £112 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from languages and law, archaeology and English literature to design and creative and performing arts. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,300 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.