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COVID-19 Crisis Blog: Public Outreach and the Pandemic Research and Power

11 November 2020 - As we navigate a national and global public health crisis with the spread of Covid-19 Coronavirus, we hear from our research and policy fellows, and members of our research community in a weekly blog which reflects on these new societal challenges. This week, Dawn Seymour Klos, early career researcher at the Trinity Long Room Hub discusses new initiatives for public outreach in research created during the pandemic.

Dawn Seymour Klos, PhD Candidate, School of Histories and Humanities

In March it felt as if the world stopped spinning. Some of us were separated from our support systems by oceans. Yet in the void of unyielding uncertainty, something pierced through the bleakness in screaming colour; sound. Sahar Ahmed, a PhD candidate in the School of Law posted a link to Hannah McGregor’s podcast Secret Feminist Agenda in our Hub community WhatsApp group. Just underneath the link she asked if anyone would want to try creating something like this at Trinity. The April call for co-creators evolved into six Trinity Long Room Hub residents creating a real plan for a new public outreach initiative. In addition to Sahar, Elizabeth Foley of the Classics department, Siobhán Callaghan of English, myself of the History department, Dr Clare Moriarty, IRC Postdoctoral Fellow, and Dr Lilith Acadia, aMarie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND Fellow.

The Hublic Sphere is a podcast where academics, activists, and anyone with a desire to learn more about how humanities can offer practices, solutions, but most importantly a place to engage with the real-world problems facing society today. Each contributor has their own distinct point of view and experience meaning no two episodes sound alike. Season one will be comprised of six episodes. Every conversation has been curated to discuss power. We chose such an ambiguous word by design. One of the wonderful things about academic research is the ability to peel back the layers of understanding to find what is truly hiding behind the curtain.

Episode one featured Dr Caoimhe Whelan and Dr Sparky Booker of the Friends of Medieval Dublin. In the episode, we explored how the Middle Ages can motivate a public movement to save heritage spaces. I was delighted to hear accounts of the Wood Quay protests just before the construction of the Dublin City Council offices just a stone’s throw from Trinity’s front gate. Although the motivating factors differ, the concept of public engagement to the point of protest mirror our world now.

A thread running through the episode was not what power is but what forms it can take and most importantly, who can access it. We held Zoom meetings to discuss not simply what we research but why we are drawn to it. These honest conversations revealed we were intrigued by issues of access, isolation, and the silencing of those who have incredible insights by global institutions. This realisation became even more paramount as access to information, experts, and meeting places evaporated overnight. We wanted to create a third space between the public and academic spheres that could exist without the constraints of a physical place, a place where everyone could participate, and all stories are welcome. We were determined to create in spite of Covid.

The Friends of Medieval Dublin exist in a space between the public and academic sphere. The goal of the core podcast team aligns perfectly with this mission. The Hublic Sphere is the liminal space between academia and the wider world where ideas, concepts, and theories can be questioned without fear. We present our findings in our own words, free of jargon, and free of charge. We sincerely believe quality education should be accessible and made available to all who wish to learn.

We are often asked, why podcasting? Truthfully, it is the intimacy of the conversation. Podcasts feel more like having an evening chat with a friend who can’t wait to tell you about the most amazing thing they learned that day. We will never lecture you. We want to instead invite you into a space that is neither ours nor yours, it belongs to everyone. The thought of someone hearing one of our episodes and then independently researching the topic or even better, becoming involved is why we chose podcasting. The written word is wonderful but often exists behind a paywall or retains an element of elitism in its language. We invite you to learn with us. As many of us are alone right now, it lets us sit in that loneliness with you for a while and hopefully help.

Our episodes are meant to be interactive. Listeners are invited to view our show notes after hearing the episodes. These documents provide additional resources, questions, and final thoughts from the host.

I am honoured to serve as the editor of the first season. My time at Trinity has been a whirlwind. Connecting with the team of this podcast has been the first time I felt truly anchored. Many of us hear sentiments such as, ‘when you get to university, you’ll find your tribe’. It took a global pandemic in my final year as a PhD candidate for me to truly understand and feel that statement. While COVID-19 has presented incredible challenges both personally and professionally, every time I sit down at my desk to put on my headphones to edit an episode, I feel a bit more at home. In the months of depression, it was a call to work in a medium I knew nothing about that brought back the colours missing from my everyday life. Sound is powerful but the community creating the sound is earth-shaking.

The Hublic Sphere was created and is produced by Sahar Ahmed, Siobhán Callaghan, Elizabeth Foley, Dr Clare Moriarty, Dr Lilith Acadia, and your friendly neighbourhood editor. We welcome each and every one of you reading this to listen, consider, and most importantly, participate. We are living in an extraordinary moment. We want to provide answers, challenge authority, and help you find your tribe.

Dawn A. Seymour Klos is a PhD candidate in the School of Histories and Humanities and Early Career Researcher in the Trinity Long Room Hub. Her thesis The Black Widow of Breedon: Isolde Pantulf’s Life and Identity in England and Ireland, 1170-1230 explores women’s rights and the rise of feminism under English Common Law. Dawn is the editor and co-creator of The Hublic Sphere podcast. She is passionate about public humanities. Dawn created Trinity HistoryCon, an annual academic conference and comic-con celebrating the study of history and popular media. Dawn is supervised by Professor Seán Duffy.

You can follow Dawn on Twitter @Medieval_Panda

Follow the Hublic Sphere on Twitter @HublicSphere

Follow Trinity HistoryCon on Twitter @duhistorycon

Recent posts in the COVID-19 Crisis Blog:

A Global Contagion (4 November 2020)

Gender and the Pandemic (29 October 2020)

Politics in Trying Times (2 October 2020)

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