Inspiring peopleSarah Martindale

The value of transformative digital technologies as part of everyday culture
Research Fellow and Doctoral Training Programme Manager
Sarah Martindale2


How would you explain your research?
I study audiences and why the media they engage with matters to them. Working collaboratively with computer scientists and artists allows me to investigate how people experience innovative new cultural experiences, involving cutting-edge technologies like Virtual Reality and Brain-Computer Interfaces.
I’m surrounded by inspiring colleagues who are great to work with, generous with their knowledge and ideas, and invite my input.
What inspired you to pursue this area of research?
Inspired by my undergraduate tutor, Professor Lisa Jardine, I’ve always been interested in cultural continuity: the relationship between artworks venerated as ‘classic’ and mass media often viewed as less important and interesting. Lisa taught us about Shakespeare using modern cultural reference points. I went on to study audiences for popular Shakespearean films during my PhD. After that, I jumped at the chance to come to the University of Nottingham to study how new digital media are made and consumed. After all, we imagine future art based on our understanding of what’s come before: ‘Hamlet on the holodeck’ (as Janet Murray put it).
How will your research affect the average person?
Stories and imaginative worlds are important to everybody across the human lifespan, in one form or another. Through the internet we have access to a vast and ever expanding repository of narrative content. By helping to identify meaningful new ways in which people can experience a rich variety of creative material, I want my research to benefit mass audiences and diverse audiences.
What’s the biggest challenge in your field?
Establishing the role of arts and humanities approaches within cross-disciplinary digital culture research. Artists envision amazing new stories and ways to deliver them. Talented technologists help realise the artistic vision. Cultural research is important because it understands the wider context in which these innovations exist. Audience research is important because it can determine if and why interactive/immersive media have value for creative industries and their customers.
What’s the greatest moment of your career so far?
I manage a doctoral training programme for PhD students, which means that I’m constantly delighted and inspired by fresh new research. I’ve co-supervised one PhD all the way through the process so far. This student studied Minecraft players and discovered that a new (and unregulated) commissioning market has emerged, based on this hugely popular videogame. Since completing the PhD this student has moved on to work for Sony PlayStation.  Another of my current students is an immensely talented filmmaker who’s creating and touring brain-controlled cinema, to a great deal of interest. It feels like I’m witnessing an evolutionary leap in the medium of film through this work.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to take opportunities that are outside your narrow comfort zone. Studying Shakespearean film audiences isn’t as different from studying Virtual Reality audiences as it might initially appear. Being prepared to contribute has meant I’ve had some amazing experiences: in the pit lane at Silverstone while drivers were fitted with sensors and filmed for a car advert; designing smart plants with visitors at the V&A; wandering round a Victorian photographic exhibition in Virtual Reality; chatting to an AI Alice in Wonderland. I really hope that the impetus towards interdisciplinary research is more than just rhetoric, because I believe it’s necessary. I hope others will occupy the space between disciplines too and won’t mind being disruptive in the process.
What research other than your own really excites you?
Because I study storytelling and digital technologies I find it exciting that researchers are increasingly interested in the relationship between science and fiction. We need to imagine better futures before we can effectively design them, for example
Are you working with any partners or collaborating?
All the research done in Horizon is collaborative and involves external partners (there are too many of them to list here). I love working in this way because it means the research is always informed by multiple perspectives and has real world applications.
How does being based at the University of Nottingham allow you to fulfil your research aspirations?
Because the University of Nottingham is research intensive, there’s an amazing portfolio of projects and a pipeline for developing new ideas. I’m surrounded by inspiring colleagues who are great to work with, generous with their knowledge and ideas, and invite my input.


Global Research Theme
Cultures and Communication

Research Priority Area
Creative and Digital

View Sarah's full profile

Dr Sarah Martindale has been a Research Fellow at Horizon Digital Economy Research since January 2012, exploring the ways people attach meaning and value to digital interactions and new media, as part of interdisciplinary projects investigating digital transformations and their potential future implications. She is also the Training Programme Manager at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in My Life in Data.

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