Freya Purcell

Freya Purcell is a Social and Urban historian, interested in how people have navigated cities during the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Her work looks at how people across the social spectrum interact with the space around them and in particular seeks to expose the stories of working class individuals. 

Freya Purcell graduated from Queen Mary University of London with First-Class honours degree in History in 2017 and has since gone on to work in Leighton House Museum. Her future goals are to continue her work in museums expanding the histories they tell to their audiences. She can be found on twitter @folderolfreya and she lives off tea.

Main image credit: Egerton, Street Breakfast, 1825, Aquatint, London Metropolitan Archives, College Record Number 26902 




Degree Details

School of Arts & Humanities

Freya's current dissertation project seeks to investigate drink stalls in the long 18th century to try to understand how people perceived the street space. This project examines how new drinks in the 18th century affected urban sociability but shifts the focus away from the more studied tea gardens and coffee houses. Instead Freya’s project considers Salop: another novel drink to the period but one which has escaped the history books. Her other academic interests are histories of Sense and Material Culture which drew herto the V&A/RCA MA in History of Design as it allowed for a multi-disciplinary approach to history.

When lockdown happened Freya like many others moved to work remotely from herhome in London. This move to the digital landscape and new challenges prompted Freya’s interest in Designed Discomforts as she and her cohort sought to question the new norms and their effects on different issues in society.

Screenshot 2020 07 02 at 16 02 56 — Digital Discomforts Team

Digital Discomforts Project Introduction

Quarantine, lockdown, social and physical distancing, pandemic: words we usually only encounter in dystopian literature and movies have become the defining motto of our lives. As we adjust to life under new rules, we, as the Royal College and Victoria & Albert Museum’s History of Design programme, like everyone else, have had to radically alter our approach to studying and working.

As first-year students, our contributions to RCA2020 form a work-in-progress encounter with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This serves as a springboard for collecting, discussing and sharing ideas on the topic of Digital Discomforts. The project explores issues brought about by the impact of digitization and the web, such as structural inequalities in digital access, the design of sites and content encountered online, user experiences in the internet and evolving conversation channels.

Resulting from intense weeks of collaborative work, the following diagrams are representations of our practice as design historians, intended to reflect real-life corridor-conversations we would have usually had in person as part of our studies. Impromptu, spontaneous and intellectually unpredictable these conversations embrace spelling mistakes and thematic jumps as characteristic of the method of communication. Our diagrams show the twists and turns of such informal, creative encounters.

You may find them sometimes difficult to navigate, or even difficult to read. This is a deliberate dramatisation of the experience of digital inequality, bringing with it digital discomfort.

Yarden Levy:

Maximilian Glatzhofer:

Fleur Elkerton:

Denise Lai:

Deepika Srivastava:

Emma O’Regan-Reidy:

Toni Rutherford:

Discussing Disability

Launch Project

digital dicomforts and disability fv

The aim of this conversation was to discuss the issues and assumptions surrounding access and abilities when using digital interfaces. Issues that were explored include: the difficulty for researchers with dyslexia and dyspraxia to engage with screens; the lack of flexibility in digital learning interfaces; zoom fatigue; and noises, fonts and colours which limit accessibility and pose potential risks to certain users. These were balanced against the benefits that online teaching has provided for those with mobility issues and limited access to physical resources. The overarching questions that guide these responses are how digital experiences are designed either as user-centric or human-centric, and how these choices belie assumptions of a universal way of processing digital information.


Mapped Conversation
digital discomforts

Libraries archives chat

Despite the availability of digital repositories, physical libraries and archives have remained an essential asset for design historians. This conversation unravelled the types of discomforts that students have experienced as a result of a lack of access to these resources. On the one hand, it revealed the ways in which design historians have adapted their research methods in order to accomodate this lack. These maneuvers have involved establishing links with varying institutions for access to specific online resources and dealing with catalogue algorithms which promote certain terms and languages over others. Critically, the conversation highlighted the need to question the disproportionate distribution of knowledge in the digital archive, and how digital libraries and archives can act to eradicate these biases.


Mapped Conversation

dating apps

There is an ever-increasing panorama of dating apps, each with their own signature approach towards connecting strangers online. What sets each app apart can either be an alluring concept (c.f. Hinge’s ‘The dating app designed to be deleted’), or innovative features and interfaces (the infamous swipe function). Often, what determines the success of these apps is a claim to have uniquely overcome the discomforts behind online dating. In this conversation, students discuss the extent to which the design of dating apps have influenced the dating landscape, and the ways in which gender, sexuality, and geographies shape the individual user’s experience.


Mapped conversation


Reflecting on permanence in an increasingly digital world, this conversation is centred around moving from discussions that could previously be had in person, to the effects of life lived increasingly online. What is the impact of (the lack of) physicality on issues like memory and action? Do we run the risk of “forgetting” current events more easily because of their fleeting digital presence? Can we expect anything to change in the future, through the impact of recorded events? In discussing such questions, examples of recent events including the removal of imperialist monuments and recordings of protests prove central for navigating the relationship between public spaces and the Internet.


Mapped conversation
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