Nottingham Castle is proud to support Nottingham’s students. In fact, we have two PhD students working with us at the moment, exploring the Castle’s hidden histories. This month, we caught up with PhD researcher Emma Fearon, who is currently exploring LGBTQI+ histories relating to Nottingham Castle. Read on to find out more…

A photo of Emma in a restaurant

Hi Emma! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your relationship with the Castle?

I’m a Midlands4Cities funded Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) holder. This means that my PhD project is funded and in collaboration with a cultural partner. For me, that is Nottingham Castle. My thesis aims to research and embed gender and LGBTQI+ histories in the historical interpretation of the Nottingham Castle site, as well as offer new methods of communicating academic research to castle visitors. I assist the castle in communicating diverse histories and bridge the gap between students and academics at NTU, and museum personnel at Nottingham Castle.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on a few things! For example, I’m involved in a ‘hidden histories’ group and work with other researchers connected to the castle site. We meet monthly to discuss our findings. I’m also assisting with the ‘Heritage Design’ project, which I’ll talk more about later. Lastly, I’m preparing a talk for LGBTQI+ history month at Nottingham Trent Students Union, which will take place on on 21st February. I’ll be joined by three other PhD students to discuss challenging heteronormativity in history. It’s all very exciting!

What inspired you to undertake research with Nottingham Castle?

Academically, I am interested in gender, sexuality and identity studies. My previous degrees were rooted in History and Classics, and I was never able to choose just one time period (which made thinking about applying for PhD research very difficult!) I spent the majority of the past three years working in Student Experience for the University of Nottingham’s School of English, which enabled me to be part of lots of worthwhile projects that enriched the experience of students within our School. I realised that I loved creating events and communicating with others, and I didn’t want to lose this by enrolling onto a PhD. So, when I saw the research project being advertised at the castle, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore a broad historical range whilst also being able to work on events. Luckily, my application was successful, and I’m so grateful that I’m able to research the history of Nottingham Castle whilst sharing marginalised histories with visitors.

What’s your favourite bit of research you’ve uncovered so far?

Researching the life of Margaret Cavendish has been really interesting. I didn’t know about Margaret Cavendish prior to starting my PhD, so it’s been fascinating learning about how she fought against social norms during the seventeenth century. Margaret was an intellectual and prolific writer, who wrote about philosophy and science as well as being a poet and playwright. She earned the nickname ‘Mad Marge’ for her ‘eccentric’ behaviour, which included wearing male clothing. Margaret’s life illustrates how the construction of gender is not a novel concept, and that people throughout history have played with gender for specific purposes, from proclaiming their identity to reclaiming their power within a patriarchal world. Margaret’s life also demonstrates how people in positions of privilege are more easily able to construct their identity without as many societal repercussions. Her complicated life offers lots of food for thought, and I’m surprised that Margaret isn’t more well-known!

Are there any upcoming projects you’re excited about?

I’m assisting with the ‘Heritage Design’ project, which is a collaboration between Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham Castle and Nottingham Television Workshop. The project will explore LGBTQI+ histories via pop-up performances, examining six figures from the castle’s history. The students involved in the project are incredibly passionate and creative, so I’m really looking forward to that.

About the NTU-Heritage Design project

The Heritage Design project is a collaborative project, working with BA (Hons) Theatre Design students of Nottingham Trent University and Television Workshop. The first project’s final performance, entitled ‘Ghosts’, launched in May 2021 to coincide with Nottingham Castle’s landmark reopening. Students designed CosProps and performed site-specific theatre, bringing to life six forgotten, denied, and unexpressed stories from Nottingham Castle’s history. The performance explored the history and architecture of the site and combined this with the stories and memories of people that lived there. Read more about the past performances here, or watch the video below. More details on this year’s Heritage Design project will be announced in April.