Wednesday, 25 April 2012


At the University of Leicester, Bennett Building, Department of Geography, this morning for the latest seminar in the University's Mapping Faith and Place project. Mapping Faith and Place is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) within their funding stream, "Care for the Future: Thinking Forward Through the Past".

The core aim of the project is explore the significance of South Asian religions and cultural heritage in Leicester's urban landscape. The wider context for this work, of course, includes the other aspects of religious and cultural identity and life in the city. There's more to the diversity of Leicester in terms of faith and belief than just the South Asian representation - as the project acknowledges, both in these workshops and in its print and online publications.

This is the last of three seminars for this project. You can read earlier blog posts for the launch event (Friday 7 October 2011), first seminar (Tuesday 18 October 2011) and second seminar (Monday 16 January 2012). These seminars will be followed by a final conference in the summer, although it's hoped that the project will continue beyond that period of initial funding.

Leicester Council of Faiths has lent a hand at various stages of this project (although if we'd grasped how significant Mapping Faith and Place is, we'd surely have done more to help). We borrowed the two pop-up banners for our display at Highcross during Inter Faith Week a couple of months ago, when we also distributed many copies of the Leicester Faith Trail booklet. Members of staff (Deirdre O'Sullivan and Dr Ruth Young - both of whom are here today) and students from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History took part in that exhibition.

The first seminar focused on built sacred spaces in a stricter architectural sense: whether new-built or taken over from other, earlier uses, expressing a break from, or continuity with the past. The second concentrated on sense of place: how people construct stories around geographical sites and personal identities. Today we're looking at new media, the transformative nature of digital technology to affect identity and project it into the world.

I was concerned that we’d have an unmanageably small turnout this morning, given torrential rain and the relatively difficult access to the venue. But there are a dozen of us here, which is more than enough to make it work.

First order of business is the uploading, copying or scanning of resources related to places of worship or faith trails that each of us have been asked to bring today. I've brought three digital photographs taken on the Holi Yatra Walk, Saturday 10 March. Others have brought sound clips, video and solid artefacts.

Dr Claire Jarvis, Senior Lecturer in Geographical Information, gives a fascinating PowerPoint presentation, "Representing Faith and Place". She shows and discusses some ancient maps which may be said to tell us more about the people who made them rather than the places they were intended to describe. She speaks of how we are becoming "prosumers" (a hybrid of producer / consumer) in this geospatial digital age; prosumers of a vast quantity of maps, which are being created and used in greater numbers than ever before, and in increasingly imaginative and idiosyncratic ways. Maps are being increasingly used to reflect lived experience, to tell stories about ourselves as individuals and communities. We see some examples of this kind of map too, which say something more nuanced than just where something is located or how to find a place. I'm especially struck by this quotation in her presentation, from Miguel Helft, in the New York Times, 27 July 2007:

With the help of simple tools introduced by Internet companies recently, millions of people are trying their hand at cartography, drawing on digital maps and annotating them with text, images, sound and videos.
In the process, they are reshaping the world of mapmaking and collectively creating a new kind of atlas that is likely to be both richer and messier than any other.

Incidentally, this concept of being a "prosumer" reminds me of the theory and practice of Co-Production, which was the topic of a meeting at County Hall on Monday morning.

Claire leads us through the process of creating our own maps, each of us at a work station, using mscape maker. I get to add my first digital image but no more, as I have to leave early for a Funding Fair at Voluntary Action LeicesterShire. I'm sorry I don't get to stay for the rest of this seminar, as I've found what we've done so far utterly fascinating and would love to learn and practise more. I hope to be able to follow up in my own time.

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