Photo of Professor Elena Isayev

Professor Elena Isayev

Public engagement

Summary of Key Projects

(See below for overview from  Impact Case Study submitted for 2013 REF)

Interdisciplinary Projects, Ancient History, Art, Music, Community

2011 - ongoing            Future Memory in Place

                        In Collaboration with artist Catrin Webster

                        Funded by AHRC Beyond Text FoF Scheme (2011-12)              

Based on my research into ancient mobility and the construction of place, the project investigates migration and the bond between memory and place. It engaged some 3000 participants in Swansea, including pupils from 9 schools, primary and secondary, through a series of workshops, exhibition and public events that resulted in art works and performances: Tessera Hospitalis Sculpture – permanently at the National Waterfront Museum Swansea; Art piece – 1000 Colours Blue; and a film of the same name with music direction by Marion Wood and Michael Ormiston. It also produced education packs and internships in the Museum that created visitor activities in relation to the sculpture and main project themes.


2012 – ongoing           Future Memory in Red Road

                        In collaboration with artists, Iseult Timmermans and Catrin Webster,  and

                        Prof. Rebecca Kay, Prof. Alison Phipps University of Glasgow, and

                        GRAMNet (Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network)

                        Funded by AHRC Translating Cultures Scheme, CEES, (Glasgow)

                        University of Exeter, University of Glasgow, and Creative Scotland

Focusing on the Red Road Flats in Glasgow, this project draws on the themes and methods of Future Memory in Place. At its base are the peoples’ lives who lived in the flats across the four decades of their history; translating some of the hopes, aspirations and struggles of the changing population. It consists of workshops and a final performance which will literally echo a tribute and farewell through the skeletal framework of the flats prior to final blow down, and look towards the future. It is founded on research on emotional and physical attachments to and understandings of home through processes of place making and remembrance.


Impact Case Study Overview - Submitted for the 2013 REF

Title of case study: Memory, Mobility and Place

1. Summary of the impact

Isayev has led three projects, drawing on the implications of historical research, in collaboration with art practitioners, to engage young people, minority and disaffected groups in shared reflection and creative activity. These projects, centred on the paradoxical idea of Future Memory, have been used to create alternative spaces in which to re-think attitudes to human mobility, otherness and identity. These projects, while promoting new forms of cultural and artistic activity, have produced social benefit, in enabling large numbers of people, especially young people in deprived communities, to think constructively about their own identity, memories and sense of belonging.

2. Underpinning research

There is a widespread misconception that high mobility is a relatively recent phenomenon and that ancient society was largely sedentary, though in fact it too involved extensive movements of people. If we recognise this fact we can draw powerful analogies with the ancient world and use these to question current notions of belonging, ‘the migrant’ and the significance of place.

Isayev’s research, focusing on ancient Italy, challenges the prevailing view that in the ancient world there was a natural tie to a specific homeland and a demographically settled world. She argues that the combined evidence of archaeology and literature suggests that much human mobility in the last millennium BC was ongoing and cyclical. As a result, xenophobia is difficult to identify, and outside the military context ‘the foreigner in our midst’ was not seen as a problem. Boundaries of status rather than geopolitics were the ones that were difficult to cross. In view of the high level of population movement in pre-Imperial Italy, Isayev disputes the general assumption that ties to physical territorial sites were essential component of individual and collective identities. She also stresses the absence from ancient culture of many features, such as a rigidly bounded territorial citizenship, that are typical of the nation state. These observations allow us to raise broader questions about the nature of community membership and ‘belonging’, and to explore the implications for contemporary culture and practice. Isayev’s recent studies [3, 4 and 5] and monograph [6] examine diverse ancient patterns of mobility, and chart ancient attitudes towards migrant groups and individuals.

In 2008 and 2011, Isayev was awarded AHRC funding under the Beyond Text scheme for two projects, ‘De-placing Future Memory’ [a] and ‘Future Memory in Place’ [d], followed by a 3rd project ‘Future Memory in Red Road’ in 2012-13, for which funding was raised collaboratively [f]. In these projects, Isayev draws out the implications of her work on ancient Italy [1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6] for contemporary thinking about communal identity, place and memory. In particular, De-placing Future Memory looked at the transmission of memory across time and space and the way that material objects and artistic practice can help us to understand how future memory is embodied in places and objects and how this in turn affects one’s sense of belonging. In particular, her projects showed how migrant and displaced people create meaningful memory monuments that express their stories and identity. The projects are not explicitly about lessons drawn from the past. Rather, the ancient context, by providing alternative social and cultural models, has been used as a catalyst in collaboration with art and performance practice to stimulate a rethinking of fundamental categories such as place, mobility and memory, in a way that has led to a new understanding of what it means to belong to a community and place.

4. Details of the impact

Three projects produced substantial social benefit by enabling an expanding network of key participants, organisations and artists to promote shared reflection on identity and place among increasingly large numbers of members of the public. Two projects were based in Swansea and Glasgow, in areas that were among the most deprived in the UK.

 De-Placing Future Memory (2009) [a], brought together an interdisciplinary group of academics, along with international artists, musicians and curators, some from conflict areas (Palestine and Iraq). It engaged over 600 participants, including a workshop with 200 school children, and combined artworks, a month-long exhibition, and public presentations at the Exeter Café Scientifique and Phoenix Arts Centre.

   The methods explored in this first project were taken forward by Isayev with artist Webster and musician Wood in Future Memory in Place (2011) [d]. This involved thousands of people in Swansea, including 2700 pupils from 9 schools (with week-long workshops at each), members of the Brunswick Refugee and Asylum ‘drop-in’ centre, Gower College (ESL), and the over-55 Art Group at the Glynn Vivian Gallery. It included the creation of three public art-works in Swansea: (i) a sculpture relating to tesserae hospitales, distant friendship tokens, housed at the National Waterfront Museum ( (; (ii) a multi-media event, combining a visual installation, new choral composition and film, 1000 Colours Blue, performed live with a choir in Swansea City Centre, (;  (iii) an exhibition of 800 sent postcards painted by school-children; the postcards, and the 1000 Colours Blue have been on exhibition in Swansea galleries and in Glasgow Centre of Contemporary Art.

   The third project stemmed from a presentation in Glasgow of the Swansea project. This created an opportunity to explore ideas of memory and place in conjunction with the Red Road Flats community and Glasgow-based artists and academics (Kay, Phipps, Given and Timmermans) [f]. It engaged about 1000 participants in spring 2013. It included: (i) archaeological and sound workshops at St. Martha’s Primary School; (ii) story, photographic and music workshops with local community groups; (iii) a final event including a live choral performance and a soundscape created through a 25 storey building; (iv) a documentary film by Khan, still in the production phase; (v) a forthcoming exhibition at the People’s Palace, Glasgow of objects and stories created about them by school pupils.

These projects have strengthened links between artists, community groups and organisations, with significant impact going beyond the public events and workshops just described. For example, University of Glasgow archaeologists (e.g. Given) are designing an ongoing programme of outreach events, modelled on our workshops. Art students from Swansea Metropolitan who volunteered on our project have set up a community studio and art space, and are continuing to work with schools we engaged with (e.g. St. Helen’s Primary School). We did not aim to explicitly convey existing knowledge to a broader public but to enable the many participants to use verbal and artistic means to rethink their ideas about space, memory and belonging. In particular, we used distance and abstraction to promote reflection on highly contested notions in a way that is not exclusionary, and avoided conflict about ownership of locations and memories.

    Distance from contemporary problems was achieved by highlighting analogous ancient themes concerning foreignness, mobility and memory. Archaeological objects such as identity markers (used to create the tesserae hospitales sculpture), ancient mapping practices based on journeys rather than territory, and ancient comedies with numerous characters on the move, served as catalysts for wider discussion and activity. E.g. after creating a map based on journey stories rather than territory, which took up the whole playground, pupils were keen to know, or be associated with, people coming from somewhere else. They learnt to accept that migration is the norm through history and in our own time and that borders are fluid and constructed.

Regarding abstraction, we developed artistic ways of focusing on abstract entities that everyone shares such as the colour blue, while also highlighting the multiplicity of what blue is (this became the 1000 Colours Blue). The combination of the use of archaeological objects with creative artistic activity was taken further in Glasgow during the archaeological site survey at Red Road Flats. Pupils collected objects dispersed when the high-rise flats were recently blown down, and, having worked before with ancient archaeological objects, acted like archaeologists themselves by creating histories with objects. These histories were then translated into colour, by associating specific colours with specific emotions. Finally these colours were sung by a choir, leading to a public performance that projected these voices and sounds, along with stories by ex-residents of all ages and backgrounds, from one of the remaining towers. The 25-storey tower, already stripped for demolition, was equipped with 10 massive speakers on multiple floors, creating one of the largest musical instruments ever played, to a community gathering of 500 people on a very rainy day. Seeing and hearing the multiplicity of stories that made Red Road Flats the place that it was allowed the exposition of multiple narratives and the questioning and replacement of the dominantly negative and bleak narrative that had entered public consciousness regarding Red Road (as recently as this year, the blow down of these ‘dysfunctional’ buildings was widely publicised and depicted in the leading media networks).  This constituted a unique and remarkable cultural event with profound social significance for those involved. The documentary film of these events by Khan will take this to a wider audience and further an alternative multiple narrative.


3. References to the research

Publications all Peer Reviewed.

  1. Isayev, E. Inside Ancient Lucania: Dialogues in History and Archaeology, London University: Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies Supplement 90, 2007. ISBN: 9781905670031 [Substantial research-based monograph published in respected Classics and Ancient History series.]
  2. Isayev, E. Unintentionally being Lucanian; Dynamics beyond Hybridity. In S. Hales, T, Hodos (eds) Material Culture and Social Identities in the Ancient World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 201-26. ISBN 9780521767743.
  3. Isayev, E. Corfinium and Rome: Changing Place in the Social War. In M. Gleba & H.W. Horsnaes (eds), Communicating Identity in Italic Iron Age Communities (2011).  Oxford: Oxbow, 210-22. ISBN 9781842179918
  4. Isayev, E.  Migration in the Ancient Mediterranean the last two millennia BC. In I. Ness (ed.) Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration. Wiley-Blackwell (2013), 1-5.            ISBN 9781444334890: DOI: 10.1002/9781444351071.wbeghm357
  5. Isayev, E.  Human Mobility in Ancient Italy and aspects of globalisation before Empire. In M. Pitts & M.J. Versluys (eds), Globalisation & the Roman world. CUP: Cambridge (in Press 2014).
  6. Isayev, E.  Migration, Mobility and Place in Ancient Italy (forthcoming CUP in 2016/17).


Research Grants and Project Websites

  1. Isayev, I., Principal-Investigator for AHRC (2008) for: De-placing Future Memory.  £16,661.;
  1. Isayev, I, Davis Fellowship, Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, Princeton University (2010), for: project (related to monograph above [6]): Paradoxes of Place: pausing motion in ancient Italy & now: £28,000.
  2. Isayev, I. AHRC Fellowship (Jan-Sept 2011) for: Paradoxes of Place: pausing motion in Ancient Italy. £60.699.
  3. Isayev, I., Principal Investigator for AHRC (2011) for: Future Memory in Place. £24,426.
  1. Isayev, I., Co-Investigator for AHRC, Research Networking Grant (2011) with Guido Bonsaver (PI), University of Oxford and Guido Tintori, Key Partner, University of Leiden, for: Italy as a Crossroad. The transformative nature of Human Mobility: The Italian/Mediterranean case as an explanatory model. £28,324.
  2. Collaborative Grant Funding (2012-13) raised for Future Memory in Red Road, by: E. Isayev (U of Exeter), C. Webster (Swansea Metropolitan U), R. Kay, A. Phipps (U of Glasgow), Iseult Timmermans (Street Level Photoworks Gallery), from the following sources: Awards for All Scotland, Glasgow City Council North East Area Committee, University of Exeter, University of Glasgow (incl. portion of AHRC grant from CRSEES) and Swansea Metropolitan University. Cumulative TOTAL: £ 20 550.