VC PER Awards - Dr Sophie Ratcliffe, Unsilencing the Library

Dr Sophie Ratcliffe

Dr Sophie Ratcliffe

The Vice-Chancellor's Public Engagement with Research Awards

A literature project run by researchers at the Faculty of English and Literature has won an award in this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards, which celebrate public engagement work across the University. The announcement was made at an awards ceremony at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on 28 June hosted by Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson. The winning project was recognised in the Collaboration and Communication Project Award categories - for projects that have collaborated with and informed and inspired the public about research.

The award-winning project Unsilencing the Library is a collaborative exhibition at Compton Verney Art Gallery and Museum. The project focused on finding the creator of a ‘mock’ bookshelf, a key decorative feature at Warwickshire’s Compton Verney, in which all the authors were women, and co-curating an exhibition with the public, which opens in June.

The project team, led by Dr Sophie Ratcliffe, invited a series of individuals and communities to select real books to accompany this Victorian feminist bookshelf. This year’s guest curators include actor and campaigner Emma Watson; local school pupils, and members of Prison Reading Groups.

The project has been a diverse and exciting collaboration, engaging with nearly 100 prisoners (60,000 through prison media), school pupils, teachers, bookbinders, textile designers, and museum staff.

Unsilencing the Library offers Compton Verney’s 80,000 annual visitors new insights into why books mattered in the past, and why they still do. The accompanying website at is an ongoing learning resource, and Radio 4's Woman's Hour are featuring the exhibition in a specially recorded programme.

Uncovering stories about reading – from Georgiana in the 1860s to the men at Bullingdon Prison today, has also hugely enriched the project team’s research and teaching.

The Room at Compton Verney Art Gallery and Museum

The Room at Compton Verney Art Gallery and Museum


The Vice-Chancellor's Public Engagement with Research Awards recognise and reward those at the University who undertake high-quality engagement activities and have contributed to building capacity in this area. Unsilencing the Library was one of six winners in the Project category of the awards.

Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor says: “I have been deeply impressed by the quality of the public engagement with research projects submitted for this year’s awards. The breadth and diversity of the activities taking place show how seriously the University takes its commitment to public engagement.”

Professor Alison Woollard, the University’s Academic Champion for Public Engagement with Research says: “Public engagement enriches both research and society and the University is committed to enabling our researchers to inspire, consult and collaborate with the public. I’m delighted that we are able to recognise and highlight the fantastic work our researchers are doing and hope these awards encourage more colleagues across the University to carry out their own public engagement with research.”