Skip to content The Open University

Research in the Arts

The Faculty of Arts is internationally recognized for innovative research across the range of its subject areas, including the study of literary, philosophical and visual texts and their reception; the historical investigation of policing, science and religion; and the exploration of performance in music and drama. Much work is focused on the United Kingdom (with strong interests in the national histories and cultures of Ireland, Scotland and Wales) but there is also considerable expertise relating to continental Europe, Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Several major AHRC-funded projects are based in the Faculty. There is a strong vision for developing successful interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, and a commitment to ensuring that our research effectively informs not only our own teaching but a wider process of knowledge exchange with cultural and heritage partners.

As members of an academic community, we advance our knowledge and understanding through research and scholarly activity which contributes to the global research community and enhances the reputation of the University as a centre of academic excellence. See The Open University Student Charter to learn more about our principles.

The faculty is happy to accept applications for Honorary Associate status from Associate Lecturers each year for a deadline of 1 December. Find out more.

Faculty staff can follow this link to access the Arts Research intranet.

Research features

Major funding boost for arts and humanities research at The Open University

Students applying for arts and humanities doctorates at The Open University and six other partner institutions across the South East will share in a £17m funding award announced by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) on 15 October 2013.

The funding was awarded to CHASE (Consortium for Humanities and the Arts South-East England) – a partnership of seven institutions (The Courtauld Institute of Art, Goldsmiths, University of London, The Open University, and the Universities of East Anglia, Essex, Kent and Sussex) formed to promote excellence in research, postgraduate research training and knowledge exchange in the arts and humanities.

The successful CHASE bid, coordinated by the University of Sussex, was one of 18 successful bids out of 30 shortlisted to be awarded funding from the AHRC. More than 230 students across the seven institutions stand to benefit from the award, over five years. The funding will cover fees, maintenance and professional development opportunities, including the enhancement of media skills and placements overseas or with prestigious arts organisations. Read more about this story.

University of the Air project

The Arts Faculty and members of the Art History Department have supported the University of the Air project, and the commissioning process. The Arts Faculty is committed to encourage such creative initiatives that celebrate the synergies between artistic innovation and OU research. On 6th of November the four commissions will be celebrated, and the artist commissioned for the England section of this project, Caroline Devine, will launch her work titled ‘On Air’ on the Open University campus at Milton Keynes. She has created a multiple speaker sound installation along the walkways and public spaces of the campus, animating architectural and acoustic space without visual trace. Themes from research in Design and Technology  are integrated into the acoustic layers, as though fragments of thoughts, voices, knowledge, research and histories of the Open University remain floating on the air currents throughout the campus and are made temporarily audible by the work. Research in the Arts is also celebrated in the commission for Northern Ireland at Belfast by the artist Carrie Neely. Her film installation ‘Luminous’  incorporates arts research themes, poems and prose by celebrated Northern Irish writers and OU students and lecturers. In the windows of the OU building in Belfast, Carrie will curate the “CURIOUS” installation, designed by digital artist Conan McIvor, on the theme of Open University research in the field of Digital Humanities.

CHASE (Consortium for Humanities and the Arts South-East England)

The Open University is now part of the Consortium for Humanities and the Arts South-East England (CHASE). This consortium, which includes the Universities of East Anglia, Essex, Kent and Sussex, along with Goldsmiths, London and The Courtauld Institute of Art was formed out of a year-long process of exploration and discussion. CHASE aims to deliver outstanding doctoral student training and broader research collaboration across the seven constituent members. In doing so, CHASE seeks to shape a future in which the values and dispositions associated with arts and humanities scholarship - inventiveness, craft, rigour, intuitive and counterintuitive insight - flourish by embracing the opportunities presented by developments in research practice, media and technology.  

CHASE is already running two AHRC–funded Skills Development Programmes for PhD students (‘Going Digital’ and ‘Becoming a Public Intellectual’) and has bid to the AHRC under its Block Grant Partnership 2 scheme for 300 doctoral studentships. The results of this bid will be announced in October 2013 and CHASE doctoral students will be able to access a supervisory base of supervisory base of nearly 1,000 academics, many of whom are also leading practitioners, including artists, curators, novelists, poets, playwrights, musicians and lawyers. Our facilities and resources are rich and distinctive: CHASE includes 2 of the world’s finest university museums (the Courtauld InstituteGallery and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts); key national archives and resources (such as the History Data Service, the Mass Observation Archive and the Witt and Conway libraries); university theatres and cinemas (e.g. the George Wood Theatre, the Gulbenkian); laboratories and studios (for instance Goldsmiths’ Digital Culture Unit, the OU Institute of Educational Technology and the Courtauld’s conservation facilities).

The Listening Experience Database

January saw the start of the Listening Experience Database project, a collaboration led by principal investigator Prof David Rowland, involving the Music Department, the English Department, KMi and the Royal College of Music, and also employing crowd-sourcing techniques. The project has been awarded funding of £750,300 over three years from the AHRC, and its core purpose is to design and develop an open-access database which will bring together a mass of data about people’s experiences of listening to music across historical periods and cultures. See the project website for more information.

Atlantic Sounds: Ships and Sailortowns

Dr Catherine Tackley (Music) and Dr Graeme Milne (History, University of Liverpool) are delighted to announce a new AHRC Research Networking project ‘Atlantic Sounds: Ships and Sailortowns’.The ‘Atlantic Sounds’ project aims to investigate, from a UK perspective, the role that music has played in cross-cultural encounters around the Atlantic rim (which includes the Americas, Africa and the Caribbean) from around 1740 to the present. Over the next 18 months the project will stage a series of three Colloquia and an International Conference incorporating a study day for postgraduate students in different locations (London, Cardiff, Falmouth and Liverpool) which are relevant to the topic of ‘Atlantic Sounds’. The network and project website was formally launched on 20 November 2012 at the Department of History, University of Liverpool.

Digital Humanities

The Digital Humanities Thematic Research Network is a cross-discipline research theme in The Open University, led by Prof Phil Perkins and Dr Francesca Benatti. We include over 20 projects that have received extensive funding from the AHRC, the ESRC, JISC, the British Academy, the Museums, Library and Archives Council, and Google. We collaborate with the OU’s Knowledge Media Institute (KMi) to expose and connect our digital resources through the use of linked data and with the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology (IET) on the design and delivery of our content.

We aim in particular to investigate new avenues of research in the Arts and Humanities through digital technologies, to promote a critical perspective on the use of digital technologies as research tools, and to explore questions of power and accessibility in wider use of digital resources. For more information, please join one of our seminars, visit our website and our blog, or follow us on Twitter @DH_OU.


PELAGIOS stands for 'Pelagios: Enable Linked Ancient Geodata In Open Systems' - its aim is to help introduce Linked Open Data goodness into online resources that refer to places in the Ancient World. The Pelagios Digital Map of the Roman World, created by Johan Åhlfeldt, has been nominated for a Digital Humanities Award in the “Best DH Visualisation or Infographic” category. The Digital Humanities Awards "are a new set of annual awards given in recognition of talent and expertise in the digital humanities community and are nominated and voted for entirely by the public. These awards are intended to help put interesting DH resources in the spotlight and engage DH users and general public in the work of the community." The nominations represent the best work in Digital Humanities in the categories of tools, resources, short articles and public engagement. 

Beyond the Frame project update

The projects ‘Making Britain: South-Asian Visions of Home and Abroad’ and follow-on ‘Beyond the Frame: Indian British Connections’, led by Prof Susheila Nasta, are featured in a new AHRC brochure on UK-India research partnerships. Prof Nasta and research associate Dr Florian Stadtler participated in an RCUK event highlighting ‘Beyond the Frame’s’ research collaborations between Britain and India as a case study at the British High Commission in Delhi on 25 September 2012. The touring facsimile exhibition, ‘India in Britain’, curated with the British Library was also on display. The project team have produced interactive online resources for the British Library’s award-winning ‘Timelines’ website and a linked ‘Asians in Britain’ website.

Building on History: Religion in London

Building on History: Religion in London is an innovative project which aims to work alongside London’s communities and faith groups to assist them in exploring and understanding their religious histories and heritages. Funded by the AHRC and The Open University Development Fund, this project represents a partnership between The Open University and Royal Holloway, University of London, in collaboration with representatives from the Anglican, Baptist, Black Majority Church, Jewish, Methodist, Muslim and Roman Catholic communities. The AHRC has produced a short audio slide show about the project and the blog provides updates on events and activities. See the project's website for more information.

researching in a library