Report – Who else did we work with and why? April 2016 and still ongoing

Who else did we work with and why?

 The Everyday Lives at War project, based at the University of Hertfordshire, contacted us early on in our project, and asked if we would be interested in conducting the Scottish element of the research into the different roles basketry played in World War 1. We accepted and found that this basketry pushed us to learn and think about the role of baskets in war, both in terms of the kinds of baskets needed, for example, shell cases, aeroplane seats, pigeon baskets, baskets for use in health (dressings and bandages) and hot air balloons for surveillance. It also pushed us to do more research into the use of basketry (and net-mending) in the rehabilitation and healing of injured soldiers, both physically and psychologically.

In Scotland, basket maker Tim Palmer had reconstructed two aeroplane seats which provided a wealth of information for this project.

Liz Balfour and Steph Bunn began by visiting the Scottish War Blinded institution and the Lindburn Centre to learn more about the role of basketry in work with blinded soldiers.

We developed this, through learning about the very knowledgeable Dr Irene Paterson, who had founded the Department of Occupational Therapy at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. Irene has written a book specifically about the history of occupational therapy in Scotland, and has a wealth of knowledge about the value of craft skills in rehabilitation, for people with physical injuries, strokes, brain injuries, learning difficulties, and even TB.

We visited Irene Paterson and were able to talk to her first-hand about the extensive research she’d done in occupational therapy and craft. This was invaluable, it links so clearly with the work we have been been doing with An Lanntair on the use of work with both hands in encouraging hand memories. It also links to the work we have been doing with children on the role of using both hands in learning complex, dextrous construction skills in mathematical and constructive kinds of thinking, and with our work on basketry and maths, and basketry and robotics.

We also visited Joyce Laing, who lives locally to St Andrews, in Pittenwheem. Joyce had coincidentally worked with Angus McPhee, a well-known soldier from South Uist who had been badly affected by World War II and had spent much of his life weaving grass artefacts, a process which drew on skills he had learned as a child on Uist, and which helped him come to terms with his experience.

Most recently and still ongoing, is the work that Tim Palmer is doing in Raigmore Hospital, working with a consultant there to develop practical basket-work activities with people with brain damage to see how this helps their rehabilitation. Tim is himself, both a retired consultant and an expert basket-maker, so is eminently suited to this proect. There is still more to report on this.

The Anthropology and Geometry Research Group, Manchester Metropolitan University

The Anthropology and Geometry research group has been working at MMU to explore the meeting points of maths and anthropology. Steph gave a paper there, Forces in Translation, which addressed the bodily mathematical understandings that emerge through practical skills such as basketwork. The paper discussed how through engaging our bodies with our environment in making and building, we come to understand form, force, and measurement, and how these factors come to work together. With baskets, bags and nets, we are dealing with different materials, and hand skills, where one hand ‘crosses over’ to help the other; we learn what makes an integral structure; about proportion; planes and surfaces; and how the knowledge at the point of making translates into mathematical understanding.

University of Aarhus, research into handskills and robotics

In Denmark, and also later at Nottingham Trent University, Steph gave lectures which  explored the rich context that hand-skills such as basketry provide for learning new skills and understandings, and for helping develop new and innovative ideas. The University of Aarhus’s Department of Education, led by Cathrine Hasse has become a key partner in our research and with whom we would like to develop future research into the importance of handwork such as basketry for cognition. This has led to a mutual interest in how some new contexts for learning and working may be less rich and stimulating, and a concern to explore the ongoing potential of handskills in the creative human production of ideas.

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