Infrastructure of extraction, power production and environmental amelioration – a multidisciplinary teaching project

Our teaching and research have always been interconnected, and our recent projects the “Landscapes of Post-War Infrastructure: Culture, Amenity, Heritage and Industry’ and ‘Cooling Down’ are no exception. This year, we have been working with undergraduate architecture and post-graduate architecture and landscape architecture students at the Manchester School of Architecture, to explore various methods to investigate the values that landscapes of infrastructure hold; a core question in our research projects.

Our post-graduate landscape and architecture students worked together to understand the interconnected landscapes of extraction, power production and environmental amelioration through case studies of the Aire Valley power stations of Drax, Eggborough and Ferrybridge, the Gale Common ash disposal site and the Selby coal field including Gascoigne Wood Mine and Kellingley Colliery. The focus of the unit was to understand and actively use a variety of methodologies to interrogate the history and present of these sites, and to contextualise these histories in the broader questions of political and social contexts, nationalisation and privatisation, mining and power production, and the questions of amenity and community.

In normal circumstances we would take our students to visit archives to understand the wealth of available materials in different collections, and how to use them to understand the focus of their studies. This year, we had to come up with an alternative way of teaching. We were very fortunate that we have some wonderful partner institutions, who were keen to adapt to the ‘new normal’. Our long-term collaborator, the Museum of English Rural Life, provided our students with an online session about their collections, and allowed us to use their digital reading room. The Yorkshire Film Archive not just provided our students access to some of their digitalised collections, but has also used our work as a means of testing some of their new digital content delivery and, as such, the students’ involvement has been helping the development of the heritage sector. The National Coal Mining Museum enabled a museum-museum loan through ManMet Special Collections (an accredited museum in its own right) to allow our students to access materials that would otherwise be unavailable due to lockdown – this involved a dash across the country by Richard at short notice!

The work is still ongoing, and we are hoping to have a final intensive week in January, when together with our students we can finalise the case studies and conclude their findings. In the meantime, they have created a set of short films, to communicate their first research results, which you can watch here:

We would like to thank our collaborators, Jennifer Glanville, Guy Baxter and Adam Lines at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading, James O. Davies at Historic England, Megan McCooley and Sue Howard at the Yorkshire Film Archive, Stephanie Thompson at the National Coal Mining Museum and Jeremy Parrett at MMU Special Collections for all their help and work.

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