£2.6 million Wellcome Discovery Award for ‘Melting Metropolis’ historical urban heat study

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Researchers from the University of Liverpool have received a prestigious Wellcome Discovery Award to investigate the history of heat in cities.

A team led by the Department of History will examine the effect of extreme heat in three major cities, London, Paris, and New York, in the post-war era (1945 to the present day).

Researchers will study how Londoners, New Yorkers and Parisians have experienced heat and sought to mitigate its impact on their health and well-being. They will consider people’s lived experience alongside the actions of urban authorities and planners.

With global temperatures currently rising due to the climate crisis, heatwaves are often amplified through urban heat island effects in cities. This project aims to understand how historical experiences of high temperatures in urban areas can shape how we tackle this pressing issue in the present and future.

Entitled ‘Melting Metropolis: Everyday Histories of Health and Heat in London, New York, and Paris since 1945,’ the project is worth £3.3m in total, for which the team has received £2.6m of funding from Wellcome.

The project, starting in February 2023 and spanning six years, will employ archival research, oral history, ethnography, and community engagement to investigate the challenging interaction between the climate crisis, health, and cities.

In addition to Historians from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences – Dr Chris Pearson and Dr Laura Balderstone, the Project Team will include Dr Shelda-Jane Smith from the Department of Geography and Planning, and Dr Kara Schlichting from Queens College, City University in New York. Research Artist Bryony Benge-Abbott will work with the team, communities, and other artists to creatively explore the past and present of urban heat.

As research artist, Bryony Benge-Abbott will lead on creative pilot projects to support the development of longer-term community engagement in the three cities, alongside research into the embodied, sensory exploration and expression of the physical experience of global warming.

The Project Team will work closely with project partners, the Somers Town Community Association in London, and Urban Archive and Queens Public Library in New York.

Discovery Awards provide funding for established researchers and teams from any discipline who want to pursue bold and creative research ideas to deliver significant shifts in understanding that could improve human life, health, and wellbeing.

This is the first time that researchers at the University of Liverpool have received a Discovery Award.

Principal Investigator, Dr Chris Pearson, Reader in Twentieth Century History, said: “As the summer heatwave of 2022 starkly exposed, urban climates are getting hotter, raising many pressing physical and emotional health concerns for many people across the world.

“Working with affected communities, the Melting Metropolis project team will think innovatively about ways to understand and tackle the issue. By looking to the past, we hope to contribute to solutions to tackle climate change both today and in the future.”