Telling the Bees

An ongoing research collaboration between Digital Creativity Labs at the University of York, and the Universities of Sheffield and Lancaster, has fostered new ways of thinking about bees and beekeeping through design, drama, and digital making.

Beekeeping’s extensive cultural heritage, which includes early cave paintings, contemporary poetry and novels, folktales, and street art, provided a rich setting in which to consider how both scientific and tacit knowledge about beekeeping could be repackaged into future folklore artefacts or experiences as a means to consider future ways of knowing and learning.

Like traditional folklore, where ownership is shared and different narratives and interpretations emerge over time, future folklore draws on the past, reflects on the present and projects into the future to incite new conversations, understandings and imaginings about a subject. 

The team adopted a design approach to examine shifting perceptions across past, present and future stories about beekeeping. Researchers undertook a literature review of archive texts, conducted interviews with Scottish beekeepers, and held a series of co-design workshops with beekeepers and storytellers. 

The workshops involved a wide spectrum of activities, with a focus on creativity and collaboration and effectively shared participants’ stories, knowledge and experience.  Participants examined the relevance of folklore to today by looking at literature and drawing on interview data and archive research.

The workshops culminated with the co-design of various prototypes intended to serve as future folklore artefacts. One of these prototypes was the Beespoon.

A small copper spoon that holds one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey, the Beespoon represents the life’s work of a honey bee. As a future folklore object, the Beespoon draws on past narratives and contemporary knowledge and practices to prompt dialogue, reflection, and understanding. 

The Beespoon has been exhibited at many events during and since the projects formally ended, including Edinburgh Science Festival, BBC Countryfile’s Live, Kew Gardens, and many others. The Beespoon is now available for community groups and organisations to borrow (subject to availability). Please do contact the project team via the Telling the Bees website to find out more.

Telling the Bees comprised two projects undertaken between 2015 – 2016 and 2017 – 2018 in collaboration with Tay Landscape Partnership, GrowTheatre (Sheffield) and Explore York Libraries and Archives.

Click here to access the academic paper: Stories in a Beespoon: Exploring Future Folklore through Design.

Photo credits to Liz Edwards and Lindsay Perth.