Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books and Newcastle University are collaborating on an innovative Knowledge Transfer Partnership to celebrate the work of author Michael Morpurgo, with a research-led approach to a children’s literature exhibition.
Michael Morpurgo and his archive
The multi-award winning author and former Children’s Laureate donated his entire archive to Seven Stories in 2015. Michael Morpurgo’s archive contains draft manuscripts, photographs and notebooks, including those related to his much loved and well known works such as War Horse (1982) and Private Peaceful (2003).
Reaching wider audiences
To achieve their goal of celebrating and sharing children’s literature with as wide an audience as possible, Seven Stories wanted to establish a research-led capability to allow them to successfully interpret, manage and showcase this new collection. This would lead to a greater understanding of how to pitch and present exhibitions to meet the needs of a wider audience.
First of its kind
Seven Stories embarked on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Newcastle University’s School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics (SELLL) to research the archive. KTP is a Government-run research programme which helps businesses to improve their competiveness and productivity by accessing the knowledge and skills that reside within UK universities.
This project is believed to be the first English Literature KTP, and is being funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
Researching the archive
KTP Associate Dr Jessica Medhurst has been working with Seven Stories to provide expert insight into the historical context of the works, and how this affects the ways in which the former Children’s Laureate constructs his stories.
Dr Medhurst said: “The Knowledge Transfer Partnership has presented the opportunity to experiment with the ways in which academic research can inform and contribute to a public exhibition.
Looking at Michael’s archive with the needs of Seven Stories’ exhibition and visitors in mind has turned the idea of public engagement on its head – it has shaped the research agenda of the project rather than coming out of it.”
KTP Associate Dr Jessica Medhurst has been working with Seven Stories to provide expert insight into the historical context of the works, and how this affects the ways in which the former Children’s Laureate constructs his stories. Dr Medhurst’s academic supervisors are Dr Anne Whitehead and Dr Lucy Pearson.
A new exhibition
The project culminates in the exclusive exhibition, Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories, which chronicles Morpurgo’s creative process and writing career. The exhibition opened on 2 July 2016 and runs for 12 months. After this it will tour nationally, starting with the V&A Museum of Childhood in London in summer 2017.
Michael Morpurgo said he was ‘enchanted and moved’ by the exhibition at Seven Stories. “I think there’s no other place in the country which understands the importance of literature for children as well as this place does. The people here care deeply about what they’re doing.”
A developing partnership
The KTP between Seven Stories and Newcastle University is part of the Vital North Partnership, a strategic partnership supported by Arts Council England from 2015 – 2018.
Rachel Smith, Vital North Partnership Manager, explains: “Dr. Medhurst’s work is a key development in the collaboration between the School of English and Seven Stories, whose partnership led to a 4* Impact Case Study in REF2014.
The Vital North Partnership aims to cement this relationship: helping Seven Stories to build new academic and public audiences, and extending collaborative activity across the three Newcastle University faculties.”
Michael Mopurgo at Seven Stories’ Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories exhibition. Image: Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, photography by Rich Kenworthy.
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