While the dictionary definition for ‘chitchat’ may be ‘inconsequential conversation,’ conversely this iSPER Research Initiative considers approaches for engaging the public in casual but enlightening dialogues around our historical research into local crime, regional history, and community institutions. Through making use of the extensive changes and increased portability of technology, #CHITCHAT? acts as sandpit for research collaboration and a forum for the development of tools that encourage public engagement with our research findings and other heritage materials. This initiative engages academic researchers, industry professionals, heritage stakeholders, and the general public in transdisciplinary conversations around Crime, History and Public Institutions through transmedia methods, sources, and platforms.
Chief Constable Joseph Sowerby, 1892–1917. Photographs with permission Graham Naylor, Plymouth City Library
#CHITCHAT? Co-Lead – Professor Kim Stevenson
Kim is Professor of Sociolegal History in the School of Law, Criminology and Government. Her research expertise focuses on the history of crime and criminal justice and the use of newspaper crime reportage. She is co-founder of SOLON Interdisciplinary Studies in Law, Crime and History, promoting research that draws primarily on legal and historical perspectives, and is co-editor of the Routledge SOLON book series: Explorations in the Histories of Crime and Criminal Justice. Kim is currently leading research on Everyday Offending in Plymouth 1850-1914.
For more information about Kim's research and publications visit to her profile page.
#CHITCHAT? Co-Lead – Dr Simone Schroff
Simone is a lecturer in law specialising in the qualitative, quantitative and comparative analysis of copyright law and policy. Her work focuses on the empirical assessment of copyright law and policies in the cultural heritage and business context as well as the historical analysis of copyright and contract law to facilitate mass digitisation projects. In this context, Simone has worked on a number of projects in cooperation with cultural heritage institutions to find solutions to the copyright challenges they face when they digitise their collections to make them available online or re-use materials to enhance the visitors’ experience.
Professor Judith Rowbotham, Visiting Researcher, on the Importance of Heritage
#CHITCHAT? member, Professor Judith Rowbotham is a Visiting Researcher in Plymouth's School of Law, Criminology and Government and a Director of SOLON Interdisciplinary Studies in Law, Crime and History.
In this video Judith speaks about the value of heritage and the role it plays in underpinning individual, community and national identities.
She describes how the work of #CHITCHAT? will show how crime has shaped heritage across Plymouth and the South West of England and emphasises the importance that this understanding can play in developing our future.
#CHITCHAT? Technical Director – Rob Giles
Rob is #CHITCHAT’s digital and IT expert. Promoting TransMedia story-telling methodologies, he is a specialist in the use of educational technology and mixed media resources as a means of engaging the public with their crime heritage. He has created virtual reality installations of a prison cell at Bodmin Jail, Tavistock courtroom and a convict transport ship and produced and directed the Timelock film 'How to fix a town like Plymouth' based on Plymouth’s Chief Constable Joseph Sowerby.
#CHITCHAT? Member – Dr Iain Channing
Iain is an interdisciplinary scholar based in criminology whose research crosses the fields of criminology, history and law. He specialises in the history of policing, public order and political extremism publishing a monograph The Police and the Expansion of Public Order Law in Britain, 1829-2014 (Routledge, 2015) and together with Kim Stevenson and David Cox co-edited Leading the Police: A History of Chief Constables 1835-2017 (Routledge, 2017).
#CHITCHAT? Member – Dr Lisa Deblasio
Lisa is a lecturer in public law and contract law. She recently completed her doctorate into the experiences of birth mothers and adoption. Lisa’s research interests include women who experienced forced adoption in the mid twentieth century, women and mental illness - particularly those committed to asylums in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and historical child migration.
#CHITCHAT? Member – Dr Corina Medley
Corina is a lecturer in criminology. She is an early career researcher with specialist interests in critical and cultural criminology, green criminology, capitalist realism and consumerism, sexuality and with respect to the #CHITCHAT project, crimes and offences committed against animals and animality.
#CHITCHAT? Member – Dr Sharon Beckett
Sharon is a lecturer in criminology in the School of Law, Criminology and Government and lectures on a range of criminological issues. Her main area of expertise is workplace violence, specifically women’s experiences of violence and abuse. Sharon’s historical focus in the workplace compliment her main area of research interests that centre around employers and employees, including how traditional practices have impacted upon the modern day workplace.
Events and projects
#CHITCHAT? at the Plymouth History Festival 2019
7 May 2019 – How do you Fix a Town like Plymouth?
#CHITCHAT? presents a screening of its acclaimed docudrama on Plymouth’s Chief Constable Jospeh Sowerby 1892-1917 in association with Plymouth Arts Centre.
16 May 2019 – 'The Woman is Sure to Get In' Nancy Astor – Poverty, Philanthropy and Plymouth
Judith Rowbotham gives a public lecture at Devonport Guildhall to celebrate the centenary of Nancy Astor taking her seat in Parliament.
Digitizing Antonia Raeburn’s Suffragette Collection
Work has now started on cataloguing the private archive collection of Antonia Raeburn, local author of The Militant Suffragette published in 1973. This unique archive consists of a series of interviews conducted by Antonia from the 1960s onwards of surviving suffragettes with accompanying photographs, letters and other ephemera, which is now under threat. With Antonia’s permission #CHITCHAT? has been commissioned to digitize the material in order to preserve it for future generations.
Transportation from the South West, Labour and Servitude
In association with Professor Lucie Guibault and Dr Jerry Bannister at Dalhousie University the team are developing a research project to compare and contrast the transportation of convicts and migration patterns from the South West to Canada, the Caribbean and the Antipodes from 1847-1874. This project sets out to recover the life course histories of those transported to colonial destinations including Nova Scotia, Bermuda, Gibraltar, Western Australia and the Cape Colony.
#CHITCHAT? External Consultant – Craig Newbery-Jones
Craig's interests include legal history and the representation of the law and lawyers in historical and contemporary culture, often intersecting with considerations of the ethics and regulation of legal professionals. Craig also has a keen interest in pedagogical theory, research and innovation, having led numerous projects based around Experiential, Technology Enhanced, and Problem Based Learning. These interests have recently converged into an aspiration to use contemporary technology and medias to engage the public in socio-legal historical research. He believes that virtual, augmented, and mixed reality experiences can be spaces of interactive experimentation for reflective learning within the heritage sector, and beyond.
#CHITCHAT? at the ESRC Festival of Social Science 2018
This is the fifth year that the iSPER’s #CHITCHAT Research Initiative team has participated in the ESRC Festival. This year CHITCHAT premiered the dramatized film documentary ‘How do you fix a town like Plymouth?’. The film is a home production, featuring Joseph Davidson Sowerby, former Chief Constable of the Plymouth borough police who led the force between 1892 and 1917 with a mission to clean up the town. Read more information about this film project.
The festival also saw the launch of the first publication of new archive material based on a new contemporary oral history archive developed by staff and students and showing the experiences of those responsible for policing the Three Towns. The brochure is based on over 20 full interviews capturing the stories, experiences and anecdotes of former serving officers including Plymouth’s first policewoman Eileen Normington, and is celebrating 50 years of Devon and Cornwall Police. Download the brochure.
How Do You Fix A Town Like Plymouth? An historical account of Chief Constable Joseph Sowerby 1892–1917.
Selected to be shown at The Dadasaheb Phalke International Film Festival in Mumbai on 20 February 2019.
#CHITCHAT? at the Plymouth History Festival 2018
5 May–3 June – Legal Tyranny: Conscientious Objection in the Three Towns 1853-1914
#CHITCHAT? presented this free exhibition in association with RIO at Devonport Guildhall
10 May – Objecting In Conscience - from Victorian Vaccination to Military Service, a historical exploration of Plymouth's part in the state's failure to persuade
Everyday Policing: The Oral Testimony of Retired Police Officers
#Chitchat? worked with Devon and Cornwall Police on a study of the nature of everyday policing in the 20th century.
Conference: From Trauma to Protection: The Twentieth Century as the Children’s Century, 20 April 2018
Professor Kim Stevenson is co-authoring a book with Dr Kate Gleeson from Macquarie University and Dr Sinéad Ring from the University of Kent on responses to historical child sexual abuse, comparing England, Ireland and Australia.
They presented a panel together at the From Trauma to Protection: the Twentieth Century as the Children’s Century conference, held at the University of Warwick on 20 April 2018. The conference was in association with Sciences Po University in Paris and the Centre for the History of Medicine at the University of Warwick.
#CHITCHAT? members are also involved in Cornerstone – an interdisciplinary research group that brings together staff from across the University of Plymouth working in the field of Heritage (or how we live with the past today).
Dr Judith Rowbotham
Celebrating the strength of ‘ordinary’ women on International Women’s Day
"For International Women’s Day 2018, I want to remember and acknowledge the strength and achievements of women, particularly those in the South West (including Plymouth) during the Great War – not singling out the ‘heroic’ individuals, but instead appreciating the impact that a community of women who came together to work for their country had. In contributing to the war effort, ‘substituting’ for men, huge numbers of ‘ordinary’ women demonstrated quietly, and largely without fuss, that they were capable of doing well things hitherto considered ‘extraordinary’ for their sex. It was the impact of the mass of women that changed hearts and minds in government, and forced them to extend the franchise to include at least some women. Few of them thought of themselves as heroines, or extraordinary in what they achieved – but I do!"
Witness seminar 12 April 2018 – Plymouth Policewomen’s Department
#CHITCHAT? held its sixth witness seminar capturing the fascinating memories and stories of seven former policewomen who served in Plymouth City Policewomen’s Department in the 1950s and 1960s, covering themes relating to the uniforms issued, training received, relationships with the public, operational duties and work undertaken. Their oral testimony will be transcribed and stored on the University of Plymouth’s Contemporary Oral History Archive.
Pirates, Police and Pasties 30 March–8 April 2018
Bodmin Jail in association with University of Plymouth Time-Lock Productions presented Pirates, Police and Pasties. Time-Lock is part of the University's iSPER #CHITCHAT? Research Initiative.
Conference: Union and Disunion in the Nineteenth Century, 22–23 June 2017
#CHITCHAT? is supporting the University of Plymouth Nineteenth Century Studies conference on the 22–23 June at the main campus of the University.
The #CHITCHAT team will be delivering a panel session on Plymouth: A Case Study of Unity and Disunity, which will include a specific focus on Union Street.
Further information about the event can be found on the PUNCS website.
Plymouth Past: Sustainable Future
#CHITCHAT? members participated in the 2016 ESRC Festival of Social Sciences, a celebration of some of the country's leading social science research and its impact on society, the economy and politics.
As part of their participation members produced the video on the left which provides a fascinating virtual tour of Plymouth's past and how it influences its present and future in the context of ensuring sustainability.