The personal histories of people living with lung disease have been documented by students and transformed into art as part of a new interdisciplinary learning project at the University of Plymouth.
Members of the Plymouth Breathe Easy Support Group were interviewed by History undergraduates, who recorded their memories and stories using oral history, including reflections upon their debilitating conditions.
These oral histories were then taken by Illustration students and used as the inspiration for a range of artwork encompassing graphic comics, storyboards and an interactive game.
And earlier this month, at a special event on campus, the Breathe Easy members were able to see for the first time how their words had been recorded, interpreted and turned into art.
“It’s been a fascinating project,”
says Dr Darren Aoki, Associate Professor of World History and Oral History, in the School of Society and Culture.
“We have brought together history, illustration and medicine and set about documenting and interpreting these hidden histories. And through it, some really powerful themes have emerged, such as how we’ve come to learn so much more about our environment and our health, but at the same time, how maybe we’ve lost some of that sense of community that we once had.”
The project began at the start of the year, when the history students conducted the interviews with the Breathe Easy Plymouth members over Zoom, when many were living in isolation due to the pandemic and the second national lockdown.
“This in itself was incredibly important,”
said project co-lead John Kilburn, Lecturer in Illustration in the School of Art, Design and Architecture.
“All of the interviewees expressed how the engagement with the students broke the sense of isolation they were feeling, which had been compounded by their own vulnerability to COVID. It established a ‘duty of care’ that was maintained throughout the project, as the students were responsible for representing these intensely personal reflections and memories.”
The interviews were designed to explore how health had shaped each person’s historical identity, including their relationships; their engagement with medical professionals, institutions, processes, and treatments; their aspirations, achievements, difficulties, and hardships; and especially their own sense of wellbeing.