Spotlight on Undergraduate Research: The Student Research Portfolio and the Georgian Ghosts Project

This guest post ties in with our traditional mid-September focus on teaching resources and pedagogy. Here, two Warwick Faculty of Arts undergraduates introduce us to an innovative interdisciplinary group research project that may provide inspiration for tutors elsewhere.

Jessica Barton and Dan Smith

This year at the University of Warwick, the Faculty of Arts introduced the Student Research Portfolio (SRP), which encouraged second- and third-year students to explore a topic, to develop their research and teamwork skills, and to produce an output. By allowing students across disciplines to work together, the SRP challenged its participants to step beyond the limits of their undergraduate degree and its typical forms of assessment. As the scheme was completed entirely online, students were also able to strengthen their digital skillset. We were part of one of the SRP groups, and worked on an outcome entitled The Georgian Ghosts Project. It was inspired by a ghost story from eighteenth-century Cork, Ireland, which has survived in a manuscript housed at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library, Manchester [1].

Most likely written by the prominent Methodist Hester Ann Rogers (1756-94), the manuscript records the dramatic conversion experience of a candle-maker called Cadwallader Acteson. He is haunted by the ghost of his deceased mistress, assaulted by a ‘hellish monster’ with long claws, and finally reassured by a heavenly voice promising redemption. Along the way he navigates knotty relationships with various women, most notably the ghostly mistress, a scheming maidservant who convinces him to attempt the murder of his wife, and the long-suffering wife herself. The story provides a thought-provoking perspective on eighteenth-century religion, gender roles, and the potentially perilous results of household tensions.

Portrait of Hester Ann Rogers. Wikimedia Commons

The main objective of ‘The Georgian Ghosts Project’ was to make the manuscript accessible to a wider audience. From a series of blog posts on gender, print, architecture, and Methodism, to a poster on the early modern context of ghost stories, the project utilises a range of digital media to captivate academic and non-academic audiences alike. Particularly important is the storyboard, which uses woodcut-style illustrations to condense the ghost story into manageable scenes. A scholarly edition of the manuscript, with commentary by group member Luke Holloway and Dr Martha McGill, awaits publication [2]. The project has also developed a following through the use of podcasts and social media posts. The diversity of outputs is testament to the varied talents of project members, who each brought their unique skills and research methodologies to the task.

Selection of illustrations from the storyboard by Jessica Barton

The University of Warwick runs a similar programme called the Undergraduate Research Support Scheme (URSS), through which students can conduct an independent research project under the supervision of one of the department’s lecturers. While this is a valuable scheme, the emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration makes the SRP unique. In terms of potential outputs, the SRP also offers extensive freedom. Without the constraints of a typical undergraduate module, we were able to let our creativity guide us into new avenues of research and dissemination. The opportunity to conduct a project on any chosen topic is relatively rare within a degree programme, and it is something that we really made the most of during our time on the project.

While we would normally have collaborated face-to-face, the pandemic changed the ways in which we approached this project. Completing the project online had several advantages. A Microsoft Teams space allowed us to keep all of our documents in one place and easily gauge our overall progress. By scheduling fortnightly video calls, we could regularly update each other on our individual contributions. Online learning also made it easier to contact our supervisors and fellow team-members for help, making our research much more efficient. However, we did miss out on the dynamics of in-person discussion. In future years, perhaps a combination of online organisation and face-to-face meetings is the way forward.

Examples of graphics created by group member Martyna Wrona

Thinking of avenues for improvement, there could also have been more engagement with other groups on the scheme. While we did present our project to the others on one occasion, there was otherwise very little inter-group communication – only by accident did another group catch wind of one of our outputs and decide that they could create something similar. If we had a platform to encourage discussion between groups, then ideas could be more easily exchanged, and all of our respective projects could be improved.

The SRP has taught us the value of collaboration while developing our digital and inter-personal skills. The pedagogical value of undergraduate research is now receiving greater attention in academic circles. It is hoped that ‘The Georgian Ghosts Project’ shows what can be achieved not only through online resources and media but also by undergraduates themselves.


References

[1] Methodist Archive and Research Centre, John Rylands Research Institute and Library, Manchester, Fletcher-Tooth Collection, MAM/FL/33/1/4.

[2] Luke Holloway and Martha McGill, ‘The Conversion of a Cork Candle-Maker: An Account by Hester Ann Rogers (1788)’, forthcoming in Wesley and Methodist Studies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s