Durquest – Bringing Durham’s History to life.

By Noreen Mansuri, MA in Theology and Religion.

The city of Durham itself is an intensely beautiful and historic place. There is so much history there but what makes it special is that it appreciates having that history – it looks after it and does positive things with it.

– Bill Bryson

As an applicant for the 2018/2019 St John’s Postgraduate Scholarship, I wanted to come up with a creative way to contribute to postgraduate student life in college. Being fascinated by the rich history in Durham, I decided to develop a project that would encourage students to engage with the city in a way that would meaningfully add to their experience as Durham residents while socializing as a community, and voila, DurQuest was born!

DurQuest was an opportunity for Johnians to work with one another on projects that explored Durham’s long and intriguing history. Students were encouraged to take a ‘second look’ at the features of the Durham landscape that they encounter daily through a creative medium of their choice. These included anything from videos, paintings, drawings, presentations, and even song parodies. The group with most creative submission would then win a free dinner and game at the Durham Escape Room!

Three projects were submitted, each focusing on different sites in Durham. They were:

1) A poster presentation of the history of Prebend’s Bridge, with a plaque on its western end. On it, is a poem by Sir Walter Scott that describes the bridge’s picturesque view of the Cathedral. (You might have seen this poem on your way back to the Bailey while crossing the bridge!)

2) A copper wire sculpture depicting the architecture of Durham Cathedral and the incremental addition of its different parts. (It is pretty amazing to think how this was built in the 11th century!)

3) A PowerPoint presentation on the political history of the building that now houses Jimmy Allen’s. (Did you know that in the 17th century, Jimmy Allen’s was a prison?)

During the DurQuest Displays Event on the 24th of January, 2019, Johnians were able discuss and share more about their projects with their peers. Overall, it was wonderful to be able to witness all the engaging exchanges that happened between the presenters and viewers, and it was evident that everyone in the room that night learnt a lot about Durham’s history.

If you weren’t there to experience the magic of that night, maybe these anecdotes from two of our participants will help you get a sense of the spirit of DurQuest!

‘By participating in DurQuest, I felt that I learnt a lot about the history of Durham. Our project was a wire sculpture of Durham Cathedral, and by using the wire to create cross-sections, we hoped to represent the incremental additions which were made to the architecture of the Cathedral. For example, the Cloister was largely completed during the 15th and 16th centuries, whilst the Norman structure of the Cathedral was completed much earlier – during the 11th and 12th centuries. Overall, this was a fun way to engage with the history of Durham and we really enjoyed completing the project!’

– Chloe Gontier, 4th Year Law Undergraduate

‘I thought DurQuest was a brilliant idea which gave us the opportunity to explore the city we inhabit on a much more intimate level. I was pleasantly surprised by how fascinating and rich in history parts of the city which we walk past every day actually were, which helped create a newfound appreciation in me for the place. The evening event was lively, informal and fun, with a brilliant range of creative works being presented. An overall enriching and thoroughly enjoyable experience!’

– Matt Hamaia, MA in Politics and International Relations

Indeed, these Johnians have truly managed to embark on a DurQuest – producing fascinating and informative projects uncovering interesting details about the sights we probably take for granted every single day. What many of us fail to realise is that there is a whole string of interesting facts, curiosities, and marvels embedded within Durham’s long history for us to uncover.

As a current Durham resident, I’m glad that I was able to be part of a rewarding and engaging event that aimed to perpetuate its history, and give credit to the beautiful city that we live and breathe in.

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