Heritage expert is UKRI Future Leader

  • Date

    Wed 15 Jun 22

Dr Paola Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco, smiling and looking happy, wearing red glasses

An Essex heritage expert has been awarded £1.5m to demonstrate how 3D technologies can help communities rebuild after disaster.

Italia Terremotata

Dr Paola Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco is one of 84 researchers awarded a UKRI Future Leadership Fellowship to tackle global issues and commercialise their innovations.

The UKRI Fellowship scheme, announced by Science Minister George Freeman, is worth £98m in total.

The assessment panel at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) described the research proposal as “an important and novel project” and Dr Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco as an “inspiring individual” and an “effective communicator with exceptional leadership potential.”

Dr Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco, from the School of Philosophy and Art History, previously worked with the people of Senerchia in southern Italy on a project to help them rebuild their town and sense of community. Her co-produced film, Italia Terremotata, which combines 3D visualisation with 360 panoramas, interviews, soundscapes and music, won a British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies award.

This UKRI Fellowship allows Dr Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco to build on the success of Italia Terremotata. Her four-year REbuilding a sense of PLACE (REPLACE) project will include the first in-depth longitudinal study on the socio-cultural role of 3D technologies in building community resilience and helping communities prepare for, respond to and mitigate the social effects of natural disasters.

Dr Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco explained: “Natural disasters are causing the destruction of landscapes and built environments more frequently than ever before. When communities lose their physical homes they also risk losing their identity.

“Heritage, both tangible and intangible, is essential to both an individual’s and a community’s definition of identity, self-understanding and sense of place. When considering such losses, we need to explore ways in which we can rebuild not only the lost heritage but also the sense of place.”

Dr Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco will work with community volunteers from southern Italy to host exhibitions of her work and collect data through surveys. In Irpinia she will work with the community with the aim of establishing a new Museum of Resilience.

The project will inform local and national hazard management policymakers such as Italy’s Regional Cultural Relics Office as well as the international disaster management community through the World Heritage Committee.

“The climate crisis is producing an important shift in the political agenda, which is moving from a focus on mitigation of impacts to one of resilience and adaptation meaning REPLACE will have an increasingly global relevance. Potentially, it could translate to other contexts, such as post-conflict environments,” added Dr Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco.

Professor Diana Presciutti, Head of the School of Philosophy and Art History, said: “This award is an extraordinary achievement, and testifies to the strength of Paola’s research and its capacity for global impact. The research questions she will explore are novel and pressing, both at the academic and policy level. Her work will fundamentally change the way communities around the world relate to their past, as well as how they build resilience for the future. With the resources provided by the Fellowship, Paola will be able to realise her ambition to make Essex a leading centre of heritage studies.”

Professor Andrew Le Sueur, Executive Dean, Arts and Humanities, added: “Paola's pathfinding research and education work is shaping the evolving identify of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. This Fellowship award opens amazing opportunities for Paola but will also have influence across the Faculty. She exemplifies the University of Essex's mission to contribute to improving lives through research.”