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Queen Mary researcher wins rising star award from BBC and AHRC

New Generation Thinkers recognises the UK’s most exciting early career arts and humanities researchers, and among this year’s top ten is Dr Gemma Tidman from Queen Mary’s School of Languages Linguistics and Film.

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The BBC works with the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) each year on a nationwide search for the most promising new academics whose ideas will resonate with a wider audience. Their chosen New Generation Thinkers represent some of the brightest early career researchers in the country, whose research has the potential to redefine public understanding of diverse topics and issues.

Dr Tidman, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Comparative Literature and Culture, said on receiving the award: “I’m thrilled - and very surprised! - to have been selected as one of this year’s BBC-AHRC New Generation Thinkers. I’ll be developing programmes for BBC Radio 3 based on my research into French literary and cultural history, particularly my current project looking at the early modern history of word play and literary games.”

Following a competitive application process with hundreds of academics, Dr Tidman is one of just ten awarded a place on the prestigious scheme for 2023. Over the next year, she will be mentored by BBC producers to create programmes for BBC Radio 3 series Free Thinking, as well as their Sunday Feature and The Essay slots.

Offering more insight on her work, Dr Tidman explained: “Many of the games we enjoy today have a fascinating history that leads back to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France, from playful fairy tales to charades (originally written riddles) and board games like the Game of Life. These sorts of games might seem trivial, but they were often used for serious purposes: to make covert political statements, to engage in culture wars, or to play all sorts of other power games. 

“Looking at the history of literary games can not only tell us about the past, but also about our present; after all, we still use word play for all sorts of powerful reasons – whether to sell products, improve mental agility, or pull the wool over people’s eyes. I’m very interested in the serious things play can do, and I’m looking forward to bringing some of this to Radio 3 audiences soon.”

Hear more from Dr Tidman introducing her work on BBC Sounds (13 minutes into the programme).

Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, commented: “The New Generation Thinkers programme brings interesting, important ideas to a wider audience, shaping public thought and discussion. This is research at its most original, vital and compelling. These brilliant original thinkers demonstrate the potential for the arts and humanities to help us to better understand ourselves – our past, our present and our future.”

BBC Radio 3’s Head of Speech Matthew Dodd added: “The research these academics present is key to understanding our past and present, offering new perspectives on the exploration of human history and culture. Their inspiring and stimulating ideas deserve to be heard by a non-specialist audience, and we are pleased to be able to give these fascinating minds a platform to bring their work to as many listeners as possible.”

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