RIP Nicola and Agnes? Killing off your audience, and reviving them again.

Questions of audience and familiarity.

Friends, partners and parents joined us in the last sandpit, questions of audience brought them swiftly into the room. The familiarity of writing for those whom you already know is comforting, particularly when everything else around you is new, agile and iterative. In a task that asks us to profile our readers, I find I am writing for my mother and a version of myself who chose to pursue a different professional path (teacher, lawyer, civil servant...). These are iPad owning, broadsheet reading, national trust visiting, Man Booker prize following, exhibition gazing, knowledge acquiring people. An armchair exhibition of an illuminated biography of Mary Curzon for this audience is within their cultural comfort zone, something to be shared with facebook friends, sent the link, sent an RFID enabled bookmark for a birthday present to unlock their content. An enjoyable read that piques the curiosity.

 I‘ve been giving my familiar audience some thought…

 I hope that this engagement with digital humanities on a platform that promises to reach a wider audience will open up new readers to the life of Mary Curzon. In the meantime, writing for the familiar audience is a challenge in itself.

 Agnes would have high expectations.  A history graduate, a teacher inspired by a quiet Marxism and Feminism, a woman who taught in an under-privileged area and cajoled many parents to send their children to University. She would have expected much more than a story of the Raj, she was used to archive materials, she wanted a social commentary, and was prepared to be unsettled, but was saddened by the realisation that her school education in the 1940’s and early 1950’s continued to replicate the imperial citizenship of the late Victorian period. Nicola was at University studying Geography at the start of the post-colonial turn in her discipline - telling stories that inspire a Raj nostalgia or recirculate the colonial racism of the past will be a gross disappointment. Reading against the grain, telling small stories that make us read lives and worlds differently is part of her generation’s education.

 The intergenerational work of engaging productively with colonial legacies is part of the motivation for this political life.