On Tuesday, 27 November, the 'Uncomfortable Oxford Project' had it first public meeting and meet-and-greet session inside the History Faculty building of the University of Oxford. A little bit over a month after the Festival of Ideas and Science ended, on October 22nd, it was a good way to reflect on the outcomes of the first edition of the tour and to consider where the project was going next, now that it had more defined goals and longer-term objectives.
Despite an utterly uncomfortable weather, quite typical of Oxford at the end of November, a dozen of volunteers came to the meeting. The session started at 6 p.m. with an informal gathering in the Common Room of the History Faculty, allowing people to meet, to chat informally and to get to know each other and their respective interests. At 7 p.m., the information presentation started, with the two founders of the UnOx project, Olivia Durand and Paula Larsson, reflected on the outcomes of the October tour series, and on the research involved in creating its content. They were also very happy to introduce their newly-recruited project coordinator, Chelsea Haith, a first year doctoral student in Literature, thus enlarging the fields represented in the project.
This was followed by a presentation of the upcoming projects undertaken by UnOx for the first semester 2019. Indeed, in addition to the tour, UnOx is also planning for different collaborations with existing groups and institutions, as well as one-off events on different specific issues. In particular, UnOx will collaborate with the Pitt Rivers Museum during the 'Refugee week' (June 17-23), in the context of the exhibition on the 'Jungle' of Calais that will debut in the Spring. This project aims to highlight through the exploration of material objects the continuities between imperialism, colonialism, and today's immigration and refugee movements.
UnOx is also planning a few workshops, in particular a 'Teaching Public History Workshop' at the end of January 2019, focusing on the practical aspects of engaging the public when teaching or doing public history. Finally Paula and Olivia announced their attention to bring speakers to talk more in depth about some of the specific stories highlighted during their tours: they plan on hosting a lecture on 'Harold MacKinder and the ascent of Mount Kenya', questioning the involvement of the University of Oxford and its School of Geography in Geopolitics, as well as a talk on the theme of 'Wealth and Inequality' in Oxford in partnership with the local charity Homeless Oxfordshire.
The whole event lasted for about two hours, with many suggestions about events that could be promoted or organised by the Uncomfortable Oxford Project, but also discussions about the more practical aspects of running tours, including research and training. By the end of the meeting, the project had recruited a new communications officer, a website manager, and six new guides and researchers. Although the Oxford term is drawing to a close, UnOx seems to be ready to take off a life of its own!