The brilliance of being in a Sandbox

As our Books&Print Sandbox gets underway, REACT alumnus Professor Tim Cole shares his experience of last year's Heritage Sandbox.

As our Books&Print Sandbox gets underway, REACT alumnus Professor Tim Cole shares how he benefited from being part of last year's Heritage Sandbox. Tim worked with Tom Bennett of Interactive Places on developing augmented reality mirrors in a project entitled Reflecting the Past. You can read more about that project here.

"Being part of the REACT Heritage Sandbox felt like taking a journey with a bunch of fellow travellers. Setting out, we all had some sense of where we might want to end up – after all, we'd made the cut by persuading the REACT interviewers of the strengths of the projects we hoped to achieve. But it wasn't a straightforward route from A to B, and where we ended up was more interesting because it was a more surprising result than we expected.

I think that we all accomplished both more, and less, than we hoped on that journey: three months isn't long and, for example, and our plans for a polished project were swiftly dialed back to plans for a proof of concept prototype that we could user test. But when we saw both our own and others' prototypes taking shape, from vague ideas to some kind of functioning reality in just a few months, it was one of the most exciting parts of being part of this team of fellow travellers.

I had also expected collaboration between myself as an academic and Tom as my creative sector partner, but I hadn't expected the wider collaboration within the Sandbox cohort as a whole, as we traded ideas, discussed the finer points of implementation and cheered each other on. At the final Showcase event it felt like WE had made it - all of us, this random bunch of interesting and interested academics and creatives taking this journey together.

Perhaps most surprising for me was how being part of the Heritage Sandbox has, in retrospect, subtly impacted my own academic research. On the one hand, it showed me something I already knew which is that that I immensely enjoy collaborative research: I like bouncing ideas of each other, and the kind of co-production that happens where looking back it is hard to say exactly who did what. On the other hand, it also felt that the ideas being developed during the Heritage Sandbox were seeping into the other things I was working on. Alongside working on the Heritage Sandbox I was writing up some research into Holocaust survivors' return visits to Auschwitz as part of a project on Holocaust landscapes. It was only once I had finished with this article that I realised how much it was influenced by the kinds of ideas that I was discussing with Tom as we developed our project.

I had assumed that the Heritage Sandbox would be a discrete project with a beginning, middle and end, that I did for one day a week when working with Tom. But in reality, it was less contained. Not only did it mean collaboration and co-production with Tom but also with this broader group of academics and creatives. And it felt like the relationship between my wider research interests and the Sandbox project were not only one way. I had assumed that my research interests would inform and feed into the project. What I hadn't expected were the ways that being part of Heritage Sandbox would go on to shape my research outside REACT in such an important way."

Tim Cole explores stories hidden within mirrors

Professor Tim Cole is Head of Subject, Historical Studies at the School of Humanities, University of Bristol.