As part of the University of Brighton’s Research & Knowledge Exchange Week, the Centre for Design History hosted its first Postgraduate Research Student Symposium on 28 March 2024 at Mithras House. With three panels on varied themes, the event showcased research of the University’s PGR community, their work engaging with multiple strands under the ambit of Design History. From sustainable design practices and technology intervention, decolonisation and museum studies, to textile arts and material culture – the symposium embraced all of these and more. 

Panel 1 titled ‘Legacies of Oppression’ was opened by Alice Strutt who questioned the biases present in datasets built on machine learning systems and how these particularly affect the queer community in perpetuating gender stereotypes. Instead, she brought into focus how non-binary principles can be utilised in the design of AI datasets to achieve sustainable futures. Chantal Spencer traced the historical foundations of participatory design practices, critiquing them via intersectional feminist and mobility justice perspectives. With an aim to develop philosophies of inclusive practice within her work, she concluded the presentation with an evocative quote by her ‘Bottom-up design still leaves us at the bottom’. Laharee Mitra explored the ‘decolonisation’ strand, viewing it through the lens of legacy – of institutions, collections and founders. With a focused case study on the Wellcome Collection and the Horniman Museum, she shared findings from her ethnographic fieldwork, of how learning and engagement staff within museums incorporate decolonisation into their daily practices when interacting with visitors, school groups and the wider community. The panel concluded with Fe Stevens’ presentation that re-imagined the current healthcare scenario. With NHS as the key case study, the research mapped the historical discourse of healthcare by adopting creative practice methodologies. 

Speakers (L-R) Chantal Spencer, Laharee Mitra, Alice Strutt and Fe Stevens answering questions at the end-of-panel discussions, moderated by Aurore Damoiseaux.

The symposium then veered towards discussions on questions of identity, heritage and social issues with the second panel titled ‘Identities Within Social Change, which Kamal Badhey opened by sharing her research work on a diasporic archive based in the Midlands. She discussed some insights from her oral interviews with families, centred around photographs and memory. Aurore Damoiseaux’s research focused on dress, identity and memory at Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp (1981-2000). Exploring how clothing can act as a carrier of memories and emotions, she outlined how protesters at the Camp used clothing and dress objects to promote and legitimise their identity as political participants. The panel rounded off beautifully with Alice JL Pierre’s presentation on her personal project ‘Write me a Novel’ that uses the human body as a page. Exploring the many possibilities with the human form, Alice’s images of bodywriting captivated many in the audience. 


Aptly titled ‘Connecting Threads, the last panel was replete with textiles, artists and the archives. Pragya Sharma discussed the limited surviving hand-knitted objects from India, demonstrating their intricate craftsmanship and the need to trace the overlooked provenance of these objects. Anika Shaikh’s research focused on the British woman textile artist Ethel Mairet and her little-known significance on Japanese Crafts. Interacting with archival material on the artist’s lifetime of work that draws inspiration from the ideas of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement, Anika also engages with the major figures of the Mingei Movement. Oknim Jo followed with a detailed discussion on Mansill Pai, a woman designer in the post-Korean War Era. Pai’s five-decade-long career left a personal archive that comprises more than 4500 items– an exhaustive archival material that Oknim will be working on. The panel and the symposium came to a close with Becky Robinson’s research on protest and subversion through the medium of needlework, as undertaken by two women in an asylum in the nineteenth century. As part of her presentation, she showcased some intricately embroidered textiles, that left the audience in awe. 

Becky Robinson presenting her talk titled ‘How Women in Asylums in Nineteenth Century Britain Found Their Voice: Protest and Subversion Through the Art of Needlework’

The series of presentations throughout the afternoon made everyone feel inspired and overwhelmed at the same time, by the enormous breadth and diversity of research being undertaken as part of the Centre for Design History. As PGRs, who largely work independently, this informal space brought them together, sharing research in a friendly, non-judgmental environment that enabled thought-provoking conversations and facilitated learning about one another’s research.    

The event was curated and organized by PGR Representatives – Chantal Spencer, Kamal Badhey, Laharee Mitra and Aurore Damoiseaux.  

Centre for Design History co-directors (L-R) Megha Rajguru and Claire Wintle.