Poetics of Uncertainty: Val Diggle's Doctoral Work with New Mappings


PhD researcher Valerie Diggle discusses her work on deep mapping and our relationship to the past.


Val Diggle is an artist and writer with a multi-arts practice. Her research is auto-ethnographic, looking at creative process in the context of academia, and is titled “A Poetics of Uncertainty: A Chorographic Survey of the Life of John Trevisa and the Site of Glasney College.”

A new kind of map

For her project, Val has selected a particular site in Cornwall (formally occupied by Glasney College, Penryn) and an historic figure (a 14th century Cornishman and translator named John Trevisa, who was probably educated at Glasney as a boy) to make a deep map, or chorographic survey, about the site and the figure and to articulate relationships between histories and fictions in site-responsive work about the past.

“Connections between Glasney and Trevisa are generally under-researched,” Val explains. “I decided to focus on an imaginative realm, beyond the archive, where the paper trail peters out, to construct a series of micro-narratives, that I call anecdotae or the secret history of unpublished things.”

Val’s method is innovative because it allows images, objects, sound files and texts (that did not sit neatly inside any one academic discipline) to become a kind of delirious museum, creating a zone between ways of thinking and making at university that have been traditionally separate—a fertile zone where interesting ideas can take root.

“My particular contribution to knowledge is a pedagogical one,” says Val. “What does it mean, to paraphrase Hardy’s Bathsheba, to be a female artist-scholar, using the languages and conventions of academic research chiefly invented by men to express their own ideas? Just what does interdisciplinary/super-disciplinary ‘practice-based’ research look like in a 21st century Institute of Higher Education in the UK?”

Real and virtual geographies

In 2015, Val was shortlisted for a New Media Writing Prize, organised by Bournemouth University, for an idea that was a spinoff from the Trevisa Project.

“The kind of rich, complex, visual and text-based narratives that have been produced during this research lend themselves to certain kinds of digital games, particularly those that are linked, via geodata to real places, in the real world,” Val explains.

“I am not in any way a gamer, but I remember being completely engrossed in the immersive environments of Myst and Riven years ago. I loved the atmospheric, ambient soundscapes, but most of all it was the emotional grip of that mysterious island that held my attention, this emotional complexity that I think is missing from many digital games.”

“One way to nurture a sense of engagement with the narrative would be to link the game to the natural resonance of real places – fostering a kind of gaming tourism.”

Why Falmouth?

While living in New Zealand, Val had an idea for a PhD that was to develop an illustrated e-novel, linked to, what was at the time, the growing trend of geocaching. A string of circumstances led to a move to Falmouth, however.

“My research was hard to pigeonhole,” says Val, “but found shelter under the umbrella of performance writing. Associate Professor Jerome Fletcher, who has a strong background in this area, agreed to supervise.”

“I looked around for another resonant site locally and re-jigged my research proposal. I haven’t lived in Cornwall for a long time, but I was born here; this transient Cornish identity gave another layer of cultural complexity to my research.”

Says Val, “I think the scale of Falmouth, its glorious location and the diverse range of courses on offer, make interesting synergistic collaborations possible.”

Val Diggle holds a degree in English Literature, a PGCE from the University of Bristol and a MEd in Creative Arts in Education from the University of Exeter.

Some examples of the Trevisa Project can be seen at http://www.loridiggle.com