Syllabus / Teaching

Over the years I have taught a wide range of undergraduate and graduate level courses together with visiting seminars at universities and institutions across the UK such as the University of Edinburgh, the Institute of Ismaili Studies and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. At De Montfort I teach in both the Schools of Design and Humanities where I deliver specialist modules on the Indian Ocean and more general courses in design history as part of the Design Cultures team.

Feet first – FOOT 1300, 2300 and 3301

At the moment I am fortunate to be in charge of all three years of Design Cultures teaching for De Montfort’s Footwear Design BA Hons. – one of only three such courses in the country and which attracts a truly international and highly able student body. Footwear is still sorely overlooked in Fashion History, and feet and footwear even more so within Material Culture Studies, yet as anthropologist Tim Ingold and many others have shown, feet are good to think with.

If your first impulse is to “look down” on feet, think again. Read Ingold’s “Culture on the Ground. The World Perceived through Feet” in which he makes the point that western thought and science suffer from a “long-standing tendency […] to elevate the plane of social and cultural life over the ground of nature.” As he argues, a “more grounded approach to human movement, sensitive to embodied skills of footwork, opens up new terrain in the study of environmental perception, the history of technology, landscape formation and human anatomical evolution” (Journal of Material Culture 9, no. 3 (2004): 315). For those reasons alone feet are worth a second thought and if you still need persuading I suggest dips into Caroline Knowles’s networked biography of the humble modern flip-flop Flip-flop: A Journey through Globalisation’s Backroads or into one of the essays in Giorgio Riello and Peter McNeil’s 2011 edited volume Shoes: A History from Sandals to Sneakers (out of print and badly in need of a reprint). As one reviewer summed up so neatly, the shoe is “a commodity, a technology, a personal possession, a nonverbal sign defined in social spaces, a creatively and skillfully crafted material object, and an integral part of a larger sartorial system” (Herz, 2011) – how can it not be good to think with?

I am enjoying giving the Footwear Design Cultures courses a reboot with particular inputs from Material Culture Studies and Anthropology, an experimental merging of Object Biography and Product Lifecycle approaches, and always with a Global mindset.

HIST3031 The Sea: History of, and in, maritime spaces

A 3rd year module designed as a first introduction to the “new thalassology” and its potential.

In 2015-16 and 2016-17 the module was organised thematically rather than by watery space or time period and encouraged students to rethink their existing historical knowledge from a thalassological perspective. Students chose a particular sea or ocean as their focus and developed their knowledge of its structure and historiography in order to develop their own Final Essay question.

I have been bowled away by the intrepid curiosity and hard work of my students with work ranging across practically every watery space on earth, large and small – from the English Channel to the Coral Sea, from the Pacific to the Arctic Ocean – and just as widely in terms of chronology.

For 2017-18 I am experimenting with a narrower geographical focus that will allow me to develop a module specifically on Indian Ocean histories. Leicester, however far from the sea itself, if very much a product of Indian Ocean circulations with a large number of its British Asian population having roots in East Africa. I am looking forward to teaching this history in this particular context.

MADI5206 Museum and Exhibition Design

I am delighted to have just joined the team that teaches this multidisciplinary MA level course. This module offers a broad introduction to all aspects of exhibition design targeted at designers but also those intending to go into the museum, heritage, or festivals sectors. Leicester is home to a vibrant museums community including the University of Leicester’s internationally renowned School of Museum Studies and the museum design consultancy Haley Sharpe, responsible for design and interpretation at internationally famous venues such as the Stonehenge Visitor Centre, galleries at the Royal Ontario Museum or the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. This resident talent allows the module to call on a huge range of specialist visiting lecturers, as well as the city’s multiple museum and heritage attractions, and the university’s own archives and Heritage Center.

The Politics of Islamic Pasts – An Approach through Visual and Material Culture

Developed for the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London and taught from 2008-09 and 2009-10 this course examines varied ways in which visual and material culture has been used in the construction of histories and narratives across contemporary Islamic polities and Muslim communities, from South Asia to Europe and North America. Structured around a series of case studies, students’ own presentations and essays explored a wide range of examples, including the Ismaili community’s own use of built heritage within its identity construction. Sadly, ongoing events in the Middle East make this course as relevant today as it was a decade ago.

Islamic Architecture in South Asia – 8th to the 18th centuries CE

Developed as an undergraduate module for the University of Edinburgh this was taught as a 3rd year undergraduate introduction to the Islamic architecture of the sub-continent taught through a survey of key buildings and sites.