Humanities research at Essex
Research leading to action
At Essex we believe in research that allows people to take informed action.
Our University was founded on interdisciplinarity and activism, and we draw
on a broad range of perspectives to investigate what it means to be human.
As well as understanding the complexities of what it is to be human,
our mission is to put human dignity and human rights at the heart of how
we study the humanities, as well as to ground our work in real-life problems.
Working across disciplines – new methods for a new world
Universities are typically organised according to subject boundaries and
are assessed and peer-reviewed along these lines. Yet the most pressing
human problems of our time lie across and between such disciplinary areas.
Essex was founded on the principle of interdisciplinarity, and we maintain
the flexibility of spirit and collaborative ethos to work across these areas
as the situation demands.
Real people with real problems
Our common focus is on people in positions of vulnerability and marginality.
We use our research and education to engage with the most urgent challenges to
human dignity, in the places where they are most severely felt.
Our academics cover a broad range of interests and expertise but are
bound by a shared set of concerns and a common social agenda.
The rights of people with disabilities
Essex Autonomy Project
Based in our School of Philosophy and Art History, the Essex Autonomy Project (EAP)
has been commissioned by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to provide
technical research support to UK government bodies in preparation for the upcoming UN review of UK compliance
with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
The EAP research team has already supported the Ministry of Justice’s review of whether the Mental Capacity Act
(MCA), part of the legal framework in England, is compliant with the CRPD and this new £100,000 project will
extend that work to Scotland and Northern Ireland to ensure all three legal jurisdictions have been reviewed.
Access to museums
Dr Michael Tymkiw
from the Centre for Curatorial Studies
in the School of Philosophy and Art History is leading research focusing on using digital
tools to expand museum access for visitors with physical disabilities. Project partners include the
Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Firstsite in Colchester.
Part of the project involves using eye-tracking technologies to study how visitors with
different degrees of mobility navigate through museum spaces — a study motivated by an interest
in developing a set of tactical guidelines that will help museums better install artworks and
design galleries for visitors with mobility limitations.
The other part of this project consists of developing a system that enables spectators
to 'virtually touch' objects by donning sensor gloves. This system seeks to increase
access among sight-limited visitors, for whom the sense of touch typically represents
the single most important means of experiencing museum objects.
Serious illness, depression, addiction or aging can leave people in a state of powerlessness – feeling unable to change
or improve their situation. Our friends, family and the professionals looking after us in the most difficult circumstances
can also often find themselves helpless to improve the situation.
Philosophers from our Humanities Faculty are now looking to understand experiences of powerlessness by working with
academics and healthcare professionals including staff at St Helena Hospice in Colchester. The three-year research
project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), responds to the crisis in public policy regarding
how health care professionals should approach this issue in the aftermath of the withdrawal of the Liverpool Care Pathway.
Detention, rights and social justice
The Detention, Rights and Social Justice Programme is an interdisciplinary programme that aims to
identify the parameters of legal and legitimate detention and the social forces that give shape to it.
It also focuses on treatment in detention and seeks to develop an understanding of the experiences and
lived reality of detainees.
Recent activities include the Programme’s work on the review on the UN Standard Minimum Rules on the
Treatment of Prisoners and puyblishing a second addition of the Torture Reporting Handbook.
See our Human Rights Centre website for more details about project and its publications:
Human rights and big data
Based in the Human Rights Centre in our School of Law, the ‘Human Rights, Big Data and Technology’
project maps and analyses the challenges and opportunities presented by the use of information and
communications technology (ICT) and big data from a human rights perspective.
The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Access to justice and services
National human rights institutions and access to justice
The Role of National Human Rights Institutions in Providing Access to Justice project
examines the roles that National Human Rights Institutions in Europe do, and should, play
in dispute resolution. The project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation.
Austerity and access to justice
Access to Justice is a new book examining how government austerity measures affect
access to justice and public services, published by Professor Ellie Palmer,
Dr Tom Cornford,
Dr Audrey Guinchard
and Dr Yseult Marique
from our School of Law:
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Humanities research profiles
Find out more about Humanities research expertise by visiting our
departments' and schools' websites:
Department research profiles