AHRC / BBC New Generation Thinker 2022
Updated: May 10
I am delighted, and feel very lucky, to have been selected as an AHRC/BBC New Generation Thinker this year.
The New Generation Thinkers scheme runs annually, and enables ten early-career academics to make BBC radio programmes about their research, and take part in AHRC events such as the Being Human Festival. Some former NGTs, such as Shahida Bari, Laurence Scott and Lisa Mullen have even gone on to become regular BBC Radio 3 presenters.
This year, I’ll be joining the NGT class of 2022 alongside the utterly brilliant and lovely Joan Passey (Bristol), Jim Scown (Cardiff), Shirin Hirsch (MMU/People’s History Museum), Louise Creechan (Durham), Oskar Cox-Jensen (UEA), Emma Whipday (Newcastle), Ellie Chan (Manchester), Sabina Dosani (UEA) and Clare Siviter (Bristol).
The episode of Free Thinking in which we are introduced can be found here: New Generation Thinkers 2022.
In this post I’ll identify the resources I found most helpful when writing my application.
The first thing to say is that I would recommend the scheme to anyone interested in finding wider audiences for their research. The application form is mercifully short and uncomplicated, comprising personal and topic eligibility; research history (250 words); current research activity (250 words); a programme pitch (250 words); and a review of a film, play, exhibition, book or other, on a topic or area separate from the research (250 words). Following the application stage, 60 finalists are invited to two days of workshops, and from there, 10 are selected as NGTs and given further media training.
I’ve really enjoyed the whole process - from application form through to recording programmes for BBC Radio 3. So far, I’ve taken part in two episodes of Free Thinking, the aforementioned New Generation Thinkers 2022 and Modernism around the World.
Useful Sources of Information
One of the first things I did was reach out to NGT alumni who had kindly offered to share their successful application materials - see Noreen Masud’s tweet here and Daisy Black’s brilliantly useful blogpost here. I think a number of the 2022 NGTs owe a great debt to Noreen’s generosity! And I particularly enjoyed reconnecting with Daisy, who I knew from our PhD days at the University of Manchester.
I also watched online videos featuring NGT alumni speaking at conferences and events. These include an interview with Fariha Shaikh as part of #ECRday2021; and a conversation between NGTs John Gallagher, Hetta Howes and Christina Faraday hosted in the Public Engagement Toolbox area of the Society for Renaissance Studies website.
I didn’t manage to attend an AHTV: Exploring Research in Television event prior to writing my application, but I wish I had, as this year’s event was full of tips about how to pitch ideas and bring research content to various platforms.
Finally, and most obviously, I spent a lot of time listening to the Arts & Ideas podcast, concentrating particularly on episodes featuring NGTs. This helped me to better understand the style, tone and format of BBC Radio 3 programmes, as well as the methods used by researchers to convey their ideas to public audiences. Without exception, NGTs come across as incredibly passionate and excited about their work. They are brilliant at telling stories, and are able to conjure up memorable images and phrases to convey their research in accessible and entertaining ways.
You can find essays by the first 100 NGTs in this audiobook: Instant Expert (Penguin, 2021).
Once I had a draft of my application, I sent it to colleagues and friends for comments (my grateful thanks to them all, and in particular Michael Durrant, Matthew Whittle and Emma Sutton). As with most applications, it’s also really important to seek advice from non-specialist readers, as the audiences you are engaging will likely know very little about your area of research (my thanks in this respect go to Gavin Simpson, Pauline Ong and Barry Munslow for their brutally honest feedback!).
You can read my successful pitch and review below.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, a new artistic-cultural movement emerged. Modernism, as it came to be known, broke from established traditions. Creatives and thinkers began to use experimental forms to represent, and respond to, a rapidly changing modern world – a world shaped by empire, global wars, new technologies, and drastic shifts in scientific and political thought.
Those considered the pioneers of modernist literature all come from Europe and America. Familiar names include James Joyce, TS Eliot, and Ezra Pound, as well as figures associated with the Bloomsbury Group, such as Virginia Woolf and EM Forster. Less familiar are the names of South African modernists: Olive Schreiner, HIE Dhlomo, Roy Campbell and William Plomer. Yet these authors also used innovative literary techniques to engage with conditions of modernity.
This programme reveals the hidden African origins of modernism. It uncovers stories of South African writers and their modernist texts, showing how they preceded, coincided with, even inspired, their more famous counterparts. The programme also presents new readings of canonical modernist texts and contexts by showing how South African literature influenced English modernist cultures. For example, Woolf read Schreiner's novels, and published one of Plomer's with the Hogarth Press.
The programme ends with a final story:
Solomon Plaatje sits at his desk in 43 Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury, four years before the Woolfs move in to number 52. He is the first black African to write a novel in English. It is the modernist masterpiece: Mhudi.
“Wives may be merry, and honest too” laughs Suzanne Ahmet as Mistress Page, who tumbles into this joyful Storyhouse production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, splashing champagne over set and audience. Indeed the merriment is amply provided in this modern interpretation, as Shakespeare's bawdy malapropisms are given new relevance through comedy voices, sight gags and slapstick, with ad-libbed asides and sing-along bursts of 80s and 90s pop.
Most daringly, the production departs from established representations by positioning the wives, rather than Falstaff, as the keystones of the play. Howard Chadwick's brilliantly bumbling knight now becomes foil to the greater laughs garnered by Mistresses Page and Ford (the latter played by Victoria Brazier), as they bundle him into an oversized bin, clad him in curtains as the old woman of Brentford, and direct audience laughter at the Danny-Zuko-from-Grease inspired outfit in which he intends to woo.
The merry wives are amply supported in their endeavours by a predominantly female cast. No longer idiotic busybody, Mistress Quickly turns confidence trickster who extracts payments in exchange for information; and the multiple-suitors plot is resolved in favour of Mistress Fenton, whose marriage to Anne Page secures a future for female-centred experiences, truth in love, and freedom from economic dependence on ridiculous, jealous men.
Ultimately, the wives' hilarious revenge on the men who exploit the controls and benefits accorded to their gender has its reward: Falstaff is fooled, and Ford is humbled. It's a gratifying end, and merry too!
Again, I’d like to reiterate how brilliant the New Generation Thinkers scheme is for providing opportunities for early-career researchers to develop skills and experience in media and public engagement. I found the workshops and training days incredibly helpful, motivating, and enjoyable, in large part due to the engaging and inspiring contributions of the other applicants, BBC and AHRC staff, and media trainers. I learned a lot in a very short time, and – added bonus - have so many new and wonderful recommendations for books, music, and podcasts to follow up!
Even though I still find the process of recording programmes rather daunting, the production teams and presenters I’ve worked with have been very welcoming, supportive and encouraging. One of the things I’m most looking forward to now is recording an episode of ‘The Essay’ next Spring, in which I plan to discuss a range of connections and relationships between South African and Bloomsbury modernisms. I also very much hope to finally meet the rest of the 2022 cohort of NGTs in person later this year, to continue hearing about their research on literary soils, the sounds of the sea, families of witches, and so much more!
I’m very happy to be contacted by anyone thinking of applying to be a New Generation Thinker. Feel free to drop me an email at J.MunslowOng@salford.ac.uk