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94.5% of our undergraduate students go on to work and/or further study within six months of graduating

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First symposium on the sound and music in documentary film

Andrew Kötting

Andrew Kötting - photo courtesy of Patrice Terraz

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 10:54:00 GMT

The symposium welcomes the innovative and controversial film maker Andrew Kötting as its keynote speaker

Dr Geoffrey Cox A GROUNDBREAKING conference at the University of Huddersfield features a lecture and a performance by one of Europe’s most innovative and controversial film makers.

The two-day event (Feb 23-24) is titled Sound and Music in Documentary Film.  Organised by Senior Lecturer Dr Geoffrey Cox (pictured left) – himself a composer for film whose latest work will be premiered at the event – it is thought to be the first symposium to focus on its topic.  It has attracted contributors from several European countries, plus China, the USA and Latin America.

The keynote talk is to be given by Andrew Kötting, creator of a sequence of experimental documentaries and feature films that have earned him a reputation as a maverick, but also the admiration of leading critics.  He is a professor at the University for the Creative Arts.

Andrew Kötting’s 2016 film EDITH WALKS At the University of Huddersfield conference, Andrew Kötting’s lecture will be followed by a performance based on his 2016 film EDITH WALKS (pictured right), which reimagines a 104-mile journey made by the lover of King Harold, after he was slain at the Battle of Hastings.  A segment of the film will be accompanied by a live performance from Claudia Barton and Andrew Kötting.

‌Sound and Music in Documentary Film aims to bring together researchers and practitioners to discuss the use of sound and music within all aspects of documentary, probably for the first time, said Dr Cox.

His own new film Mill Study – made with Keith Marley – will be screened during a documentary film night (Thursday, 23 Feb, 7.30pm) that is part of the University of Huddersfield’s annual Electric Spring –“five days of sonic exploration”, running from 22-26 February.

Mill Study evokes the atmosphere of a working textile mill in Slaithwaite.  The same film night also features Mark Lyken’s and Emma Dove’sdreamlike Mirror Lands, an award-winning portrait of the Black Isle in Scotland.

Dr Cox will also present a paper at the conference that includes an analysis of the legacy of documentary pioneer John Grierson, who was the subject of 1969 tribute film presented by Alfred Hitchcock.

“Grierson himself coined the term ‘documentary’ in the 1920s,” said Dr Cox.  “There is a strong argument that the documentary as we know it came from Britain.  In the early days they were doing more experimental things than became the norm after World War Two, when journalistic modes became dominant.

Mark Lyken’s and Emma Dove’s film Mirror LandsMark Lyken’s and Emma Dove’s film ‘Mirror Lands’

“Nowadays, it’s very varied and much more open.  You still have issue-based, journalistic documentaries.  But you also have those that cross over into art film.”

Sound and Music in Documentary Film breaks new ground, because though the importance of sound and music in fiction film is recognised in creative practice and increasingly in academic study, its creative use in documentary has been downplayed generally and even seen as problematic.

“Once you start adding music that’s evocative, or you start manipulating sound, then there are questions about reality, misrepresentation and personal views coming in.  So there has always been a slight suspicion of manipulation,” said Dr Cox.

However, attitudes have been changing, and the University of Huddersfield conference will feature a wide range of papers and presentations from researchers at nine UK universities plus institutions in Sweden, Brazil, the USA, Finland, Chile, Canada, France and China.

Sessions cover topics that include the voice in documentary, the role of sound in industrial and nature films, a range of international perspectives, plus sonic representations of World War Two.  Among the contributors is University of Huddersfield PhD student Simon Connor, who probes the multi-faceted role of the sound design engineer in documentary film.

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Prof eases actor Warwick Davis’s upset on BBC TV tonight

Rachel Cowgill and Warwick Davis

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 12:15:00 GMT

‌Professor Rachel Cowgill comes to the rescue when the famous actor appeared on Who Do You Think You Are? to discover one his forebears performed as a blackfaced musician

Warwick Davis POPULAR actor and presenter Warwick Davis (pictured right) is the latest celebrity to uncover his roots in the BBC television programme Who Do You Think You Are?.  He is pleased to discover a forebear who was a professional entertainer – but duly shocked when a University of Huddersfield expert explains just what branch of the business his ancestor was involved in.

Warwick’s great great grandfather Dennis Manning was from an Irish immigrant family living in East London.  He became a violinist and in 1858 he performed with Pell’s American Opera Troupe.  This was led by Gilbert Pell, who was also a member of a popular group from the U.S. that toured Britain named the Ethiopian Serenaders.  It was a blackface minstrel troupe.

Ethiopian Serenaders This meant that when Dennis Manning took to the stage with Pell’s ensemble, he almost certainly blacked up, using burnt cork, and performed songs and music plus what playbills described as “the comicalities, eccentricities and whimsicalities of the slaves and free blacks of America”.

Professor Rachel Cowgill, Head of Music and Drama at the University – is a leading researcher of music and musical life in the 19th century.  Her work has led her to investigate the blackface minstrel troupes that flourished during this period.

They were popular well into the 20th century, and the BBC TV’s now controversial Black and White Minstrel Show remained on air until the 1970s.  But today they are abhorred, which meant that when Professor Cowgill was enlisted to explain to Warwick Davis just how his great great grandfather had performed on stage, it was an eye-opener.

“I showed him the evidence and he finally twigged!” said Professor Cowgill, who added that the actor had been a pleasure to work with.  The two were filmed at Northampton Town Hall, where Pell’s American Opera Troupe, with Dennis Manning, appeared in June 1858.

‌Professor Cowgill points out that during the Victorian period, blackface minstrel performance – by professionals and amateurs – was regarded as good, clean, wholesome entertainment.  “The thing that people often don’t get today is that it was highly respectable.  In America, it was a very edgy, street-based form of entertainment, but when it comes to the UK it becomes very bourgeoisified.”

Blackface minstrel troupes also performed in seaside resorts, where holidaymakers were accustomed to seeing wandering bands singing songs and playing banjos.  Also, some high quality music was written for performance by minstrels, said Professor Cowgill, who added that other cultural influences on the troupes included Lancashire clog and Irish step dancers.

In her contribution to the 2012 book Music and Institutions in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Professor Cowgill’s chapter on The Victorian Policeman as Musician includes a description ofthe Metropolitan Police Minstrels, a blackface troupe made up of serving officers.

It performed regularly in the capital for over 60 years, from around 1870 until 1933, and its popularity was such that similar troupes started up in police forces elsewhere in the country.  Now, Professor Cowgill aims to research the Metropolitan Police Minstrels in extra depth, for a new book.

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Do supermarket chains truly embrace Farm Animal Welfare?


Tue, 14 Feb 2017 11:41:00 GMT

Dr John Lever probes the extent to which farm animal welfare is part of the corporate social responsibility strategies of large food companies

Dr John Lever BY failing to fully understand and embrace the principles of farm animal welfare, big supermarket chains could be causing environmental damage and imperilling the long-term viability of their businesses.  This is one of the arguments developed by the University of Huddersfield’s Dr John Lever (pictured right).

His latest publication investigates the extent to which farm animal welfare (FAW) is part of the corporate social responsibility (CSP) strategies adopted by large food companies.  It is argued that FAW is currently “unfocussed and separate” from the core business agendas of large global food companies.  Big firms “have little understanding of why they engage with FAW in the first place” and fail to make connections with broader issues of sustainability.

“There is mounting evidence that improvements in FAW can be linked to the three pillars of sustainable development – environment, society and economy,” writes Dr Lever in his contribution to the new book Stages of Corporate Social Responsibility

‌Intensive animal agriculture has a major impact on climate change, being responsible for the emission of more greenhouse gases than global transport.  Also, it is in direct competition with humans for water, food, space and other scarce resources, and it can cause water pollution and damage ecosystems.  A large pig farm can create as much faecal waste as a small city.

cows “Keeping animals under less intensive conditions, with better welfare, can clearly have an impact in these areas by reducing stress, pollution and environmental damage,” writes Dr Lever, adding that “the poor treatment of animals can impact human health through the spread of pathogens”.

‌Increasing numbers of consumers view animal welfare as an important issue in its own right, but “it seems clear that many companies use FAW simply to communicate brand awareness through differentiated product ranges,” according to Dr Lever, who co-authored the book chapter with Dr Adrian Evans, of Coventry University.

One of the conclusions of the chapter is that “by damaging the environment and undermining social and economic development, supermarkets and corporate retailers are hindering their own ability and capacity to produce and sell food in the future”.

chickens Dr Lever is Senior Lecturer in Sustainability in the Department of Management at the University of Huddersfield’s Business School.  He is a long-standing researcher into issues that include sustainable communities and food systems.

At the University’s recent Business School Research Conference, he presented a paper titled Farm animal welfare, responsible business & the role of big brands: the politics of sight.

“While some companies are starting to make commitments that appear to go beyond the usual public relations ‘greenwashing’,” Dr Lever stated that this new corporate embrace of FAW is part of a big brand takeover aligned with responsible business practice at the expense of the environmental sustainability concerns.”

greenwash Partnership working between non-governmental organisations and supermarkets has helped to improve awareness of farm animal welfare over the last 25 years.  But Dr Lever states that the recent intensification of this process means that many global food companies are struggling to catch up and understand the connections between the welfare of farmed animals and wider sustainability issues.

‌His forthcoming publications include a book on halal and kosher meat markets.  He has also developed links with The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare, which is designed to help drive higher farm animal welfare standards through the provision of an annual review of how the world’s leading food businesses are managing and reporting their FAW policies and practices.

Dr Lever himself has a special interest in how non-governmental organisations (NGOs) form partnerships with big corporations to improve farm animal welfare.  He has embarked on a series of interviews with a number of NGOs as part of his current research.

“Farm animal welfare is a big area, covering subjects such as politics, sustainability and business responsibility, so it is a good topic for teaching,” added Dr Lever, who has introduced it into various undergraduate and postgraduate modules.  His new book chapter was partly conceived as a valuable teaching aid.

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Educational videos show off Heritage Quay collections

Heritage Quay

Mon, 13 Feb 2017 14:43:00 GMT

The downloadable resources are designed as a resource for teachers

SLICES of local history can be viewed in a series of educational videos created to showcase the collections based in the University of Huddersfield’s award-winning Heritage Quay.

The videos cover the categories of the arts, sport, politics, industry, music and education and are widely available on YouTube - see below.  Free educational packs are also available to download as a resource for teachers to inspire their pupils and immerse them in Huddersfield’s history.

Heritage Quay Each of the packs gives an introduction to the category, possible questions to be answered and post-film activity suggestions for teachers to partake in with their pupils in the classroom. 

Some of the areas explored are the beginnings of the game of rugby and how it split into the two games we now know as Rugby League and Rugby Union, Huddersfield’s vibrant arts scene, Heritage Quay’s music collections and the town’s development as a textile town.  Also explored is the history of the University of Huddersfield with its founder Frederic Schwann.

Professor Christine Jarvis, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, unveiled the films at a launch event held in Heritage Quay and said the videos had been created to not only share the fantastic collections held in Heritage Quay with the wider public but to also inspire local schools to bring their pupils down to the archive to view the collections in person.

Aimed at children aged between 5-14 years, the videos have been created specifically to follow the National Curriculum of areas studied between Key Stage One to Key Stage Three.

Sarah Wickham, the University’s Archivist and Records Manager said: “It’s great to be able to showcase historic items from the collections through these films.  Research has shown that this can inspire children to engage with subjects like art and design, citizenship and history, and we hope that will be the case.”

The videos have been a year in the making and have been created by the leading video and film production company Digifish.


SPORT This film serves as an introduction to the sport collections at Heritage Quay and highlights the history of Rugby League and the sport’s close links with the town of Huddersfield. The film and the accompanying education pack provide a focus for a local history study as set out in the KS2 national curriculum.

THE ARTS The Arts scene in Huddersfield is a major area of strength in the archives. The film and the accompanying education pack gives an introduction to the development of British theatre and highlights items from the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield Operatic and Dramatic Society, and Mikron Theatre collections.

EDUCATION This film gives an introduction to the history of the University of Huddersfield, highlighting the role of Frederick Schwann and the Ramsden family in its history. The video and the accompanying education pack provides a focus for KS2 local history study. Items shown in the film include commemorative china which marked the opening of the Ramsden building, and the bell which called students to their classes.

MUSIC This film highlights the rich variety contained within the music collections at Heritage Quay. From brass bands to dance bands, contemporary music to classical, this video and the accompanying education pack is an accessible introduction to a range of musical genres for those studying music at primary level.

INDUSTRY The film gives an overview of Huddersfield’s development as a textile town, highlighting the links between textiles and manufacturing, and focusing on local engineers Hopkinsons, whose archive is one of the largest and most complete at Heritage Quay. The film and the accompanying education pack are a valuable starting point for a KS2 local history study, as well as supporting the KS3 themes of industry, empire and technological change. The Fabrics of India sample books shown in the film may inspire and interest textile students.

POLITICS This film introduces the collections of three significant figures which are prominent in the archives – Robert Blatchford, Victor Grayson and John Henry Whitley. The film and the accompanying education pack gives a brief outline of their achievements in bringing about social and industrial improvements for working people and invites the viewer to consider their legacies. The film is intended for a primary audience, however it provides a good starting point for KS3 students studying British politics between 1860 and 1939.

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