Durham academic selected as New Generation Thinker

Image from AHRC

Image from AHRC

Dr Noreen Masud has taken up the prestigious role as one of this year’s New Generation Thinkers (NGT) which will see her working with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and BBC Radio 3.

Hundreds of researchers applied to this year’s scheme, and Noreen was one of ten selected as a NGT for 2020, which will include working with BBC Radio 3 to develop her own programmes for the station.

The announcement of Noreen’s appointment was made shortly after the UK went into lockdown, so we caught up with Noreen to find out more about her role as an NGT and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on her research.

How are you coping with recent events?

I am locked down alone in Newcastle with my cat, who is curled up on my lap as I type. I grew up in a confined situation in Pakistan, and know how to cope with prolonged periods of fear, uncertainty and monotony, so I’m fine. I’m getting on with my work, using online resources and the books that I’ve got with me. I’m lucky in that I can do without archive research for now.

I also volunteer for my local mutual aid group in the west end of Newcastle, monitoring phone and email inboxes and distributing aid requests.

However, I want to stress that anyone finding work difficult right now is responding reasonably and sanely to the situation.

Spending my time in solitude, speaking to people only over the phone or video calls, means that I spend a lot of time thinking about the complexity of encounters: specifically, at the moment, how we change or don’t change when we’re observed. I’m enjoying the experience of spending most of my time unobserved.

What is the nature of the research you are working on?

My research looks at the feelings people associate with different landscapes: in particular, flat landscapes, such as the Norfolk Broads or the Cambridge fens.

In these spaces, nothing is hidden, and yet there is nothing to look at. I am working on a book about twentieth-century writers, including D.H. Lawrence and Gertrude Stein, who write about these kind of landscapes and the feelings associated with flatness.

For the NGT programme, I’ve pitched a radio feature exploring whether literature might help us enjoy and appreciate some of Britain’s flattest landscapes. Far from just being sites of boredom, melancholy and terror, the Norfolk Broads and the Cambridge fens suggest interesting ways of thinking about memory, intimacy, hope and attention.

How have recent events impacted the plans to work with AHRC and the BBC producers?

We’re very lucky in that a great deal can be done long-distance. The situation is still evolving, but it seems clear that we can record portions of audio from wherever we are. My plans to actually visit the Broads and the fens, interviewing people who’ve made their homes there for the programme, may have to shift to a long-distance format. But a great deal can be done via email and phone calls, and I am also working on a piece about the use of the absurd in literature, which may go out in late June.

Watch this video to meet Noreen and the other 2020 New Generation Thinkers


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