Telling the Bees 1

The first Telling the Bees project (AH/M009319/1 & AH/M009319/2 ) was a multi-institution, interdisciplinary Connected Communities-funded project (Apr 2015 - Oct 2016) examining the rich folklore, traditions and contemporary practices of beekeeping. This was a collaboration between universities of Edinburgh (Maxwell, PI), Sheffield (Pillatt, Co-I) and Falmouth (Downing, Co-I) and project partner Tay Landscape Partnership. We were joined by Designer Liz Edwards (Lancaster University), Artist Morvern Odling (Edinburgh), and multi-talented advisory group.

The project worked with Scottish beekeepers, primary schools, storytellers, artists, designers, scientists, interested members of the general public, and our community partner, Tay Landscape Partnership (TayLP). Inverting the concept of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), we aimed to codesign ‘Future Folklore’ that codified or repackaged scientific and environmental knowledge in new artefactual and narrative formats. Future Folklore is closely aligned with the emerging field of Design Fictions – a way to explore possible future narratives through designed objects, enabling new perspectives and conversations on present and near future issues.

Project activities revolved around two broad themes: (1) using knowledge of the past to enable new perspectives on the present and future of bees and beekeeping, and (2) exploring the roles that making and storytelling can play in bringing groups together to generate and foster ideas.

We adopted a Research through Design approach to understand and discover knowledge through the process – even our project meetings were highly participatory, using making as a way of thinking with paper-prototypes and craft materials.

Our CoDesign Workshops

Drawing inspiration from a series of semi-structured interviews with beekeepers and hands-on hive inspections, as well as an examination of the folklore and traditions of beekeeping described within the Moire Rare Book Collection of the National Library of Scotland, the Telling the Bees codesign workshops resulted in a host of new ideas as to how we might share knowledge about bees.

Workshop Resources

The Future Folklore Beespoon

From these, the Future Folklore idea chosen to prototype most fully was the Beespoon – a small copper spoon, 1/12th the size of a teaspoon, representing the amount of honey a single bee can produce in her lifetime.

TayLP Fruit Festival & Public Engagement Activities

The Bee Story Boxes

Additionally, a collaboration with 3 rural primary schools, an artist (Morvern Odling) and a beekeeper led to the development of story and making workshops, where children produced decorated wooden beehive boxes containing their own imaginative bee stories.