Four years as a New Generation Thinker

In this Blog, John Watts, Programme Coordinator at AHRC, describes the many events, projects and organisations that Dr Naomi Paxton has taken part in since becoming a New Generation Thinker.Naomi

In 2014 I was involved with the New Generation Thinker scheme run in conjunction with BBC Radio 3 which aims to develop a new generation of academics who can bring the best of university research and scholarly ideas to a broad audience through working with the media.

Naomi Paxton, then a PhD student at the University of Manchester, was pitching at Broadcasting House to become one of the ten New Generation Thinkers and subsequently became one of the 2014-15 cohort. In 2018 I witnessed Naomi as her comedy character Ada Campe win the New Act of the Year award at Richmix in Shoreditch. In the meantime I have followed Naomi’s journey with interest and wanted to ascertain how becoming a New Generation Thinker in 2014 has shaped her subsequent career.

Naomi’s research is on the work of the Actresses’ Franchise League, its membership, influence and legacy. In 2015 she completed her doctoral thesis, entitled Re-evaluating the Actresses Franchise League: actresses, politics and activism from 1908-1958 in the Drama Department of the University of Manchester. She has two new books coming out this year – Stage Rights! The Actresses Franchise League, activism and politics 1908-58 which is being published by Manchester University Press in May 2018, and The Methuen Drama Book of Suffrage Plays: Taking the Stage which is being published by Bloomsbury in July 2018.

The importance of public engagement is not lost on Naomi. In Autumn 2016, she was employed by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, as London Hub convenor for the Being Human Festival after holding a Cultural Engagement Fellowship there from February to June of that year. For Naomi, the New Generation Thinker experience was a great help in securing this position and has been an asset in both her academic and freelance work.

Her public engagement skills were also enhanced by her participation in the NCCPE’s Public Engagement Academy from 2016-17, and she has since devised and delivered interdisciplinary Public Speaking workshops to PhD students and ECRs at the University of London.

The four years since Naomi became a New Generation Thinker have also spanned the period commemorating the anniversary of the First World War, underpinning the numerous initiatives, events and public engagement activities Naomi has been involved in. The most recent position she’s held has been Research Assistant at Parliament on What Difference Did the War Make? Votes for Women and World War One – a joint project between Professor Krista Cowman at the University of Lincoln, Professor Angela K. Smith at the University of Plymouth, and the UK Parliament Vote 100 team.

In this capacity Naomi curated an exhibition in the atrium at Portcullis House featuring works from the Parliamentary Art Collection, devised an event for the 2017 Being Human Festival, commissioned a project song from folk singer Louise Jordan, developed a suffrage themed board game for Parliament’s Equaliteas initiative, organised workshops for secondary school students in Lincoln and Plymouth, and managed three public round table discussions involving MPs, experts and historians.

She also contributed video content and interviews based on her research to ‘Beyond the Ballot’, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) created by Royal Holloway and UK Parliament. The online version of the project exhibition is a very good example of the far reaching effect of collaborative initiatives in Public Engagement with a very comprehensive range of activities and information. It can be found now on www.parliament.uk/whatdifference

The combination of huge enthusiasm for her subject and an ability to engage in an informative and amusing manner is a great asset in bringing history to people and revealing the extraordinary stories of previously undiscovered or forgotten individuals who contributed to the shaping of the society of today. Naomi has worked with feminist production hub Scary Little Girls to bring some lesser known stories of the First World War to life – such as the YMCA Shakespeare Hut for ANZAC soldiers, built to commemorate Shakespeare’s tercentenary on what is now the site of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

She has taken part in Living Literature events, given talks and lectures, and appeared frequently on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4 discussing her research. She‘s also been continuing her work as a performer, communicating with new audiences as the host of Museums Showoff, an open-mic night in London, and the host of Carry on Curating at the V&A Museum. The New Generation Thinkers scheme gave Naomi the opportunity to learn through doing, work with experienced producers, collaborate with academics from different institutions, shape and frame her research outputs for specialist and non-specialist audiences, and encourage other arts and humanities scholars in their own public engagement activities.

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