Deborah Ballin

Deborah Ballin is a Senior Lecturer in Filmmaking, working across a number of forms including documentary, audio, fiction and creative non-fiction.

Her practice-based research weaves oral history, archive and personal narratives into compelling authentic stories. She is interested in the intersections between documentary, memoir, oral history and historical fiction and the way hybrid inter-disciplinary works can offer extended or novel understandings of lived historical experience.

Her current research project Under an Artificial Sun is funded through a Wellcome Trust Research Bursary and focuses on materials in the Stannington Children’s Sanatorium Collection held at Northumberland Archives. It uses creative methodologies to investigate connections between this historic archive material and contemporary debates within child development and to uncover untold stories about the emotional legacy of childhood TB.

On 31st January 2019 she was invited by Helix Arts to come to one of their #Hadadi events to present her research in progress at Queens Hall Arts Centre Hexham. The event was attended by artists and academics across the North East and Ballin’s presentation prompted discussions about the creative use of archived oral history. The event also led to a collaboration with Helix Arts and Northumberland Archives on the development of a Wellcome Trust Public Engagement funding bid for a two-year participatory arts project using Ballin’s research as a starting point for working with arts organisations and young people’s projects in economically deprived communities across the North East of England. If the bid is successful the project will commence in Autumn 2019.

In March 2019 a short article about Ballin’s research project was published in the Current British Work section of the Spring 2019 issue of the journal Oral History.

On 2nd July 2019 Ballin and Northumberland Archives, Head Archivist, Sue Wood presented the initial creative outputs of the project at a public engagement event called Stories from Stannington Sanatorium, for former patients of Stannington Sanatorium, their families and the general public at Northumberland Archives. 

The event was attended by more than 30 former patients, staff and their families, many of whom are now in their 80’s and 90’s, as well as academics, local historians and the general public. Ballin outlined her research and read extracts from her experimental hybrid fact-fiction work ‘Under an Artificial Sun’ that layers archive extracts, short stories and oral testimony to explore childhood hospitalisation from multiple viewpoints. The text contrasts the ‘official’ institutional and medical accounts with remembered testimony and fictionalised voices. It entwines fact and fiction, ‘Creating a ‘discursive approach’ to documenting the past and exploring the ‘mutability of truth.’ Bruzzi (2006) and teases out themes of trauma, parental separation, resilience and boredom.

The presentation prompted the sharing of further memories of childhood hospitalisation from former patients and inspired a lively discussion and debate about the contradictions between staff recollections of the sanatorium and patient memories. Many attendees commented that the creative writing had ‘moved them’ and generated an ‘emotional’ response to the archive material that surprised them. Oral historian, Liz O’Donnell who recorded the archived oral history interviews stated that she had ‘never seen oral history presented alongside fiction and archive materials in this way’ and that it had contributed to a deeper understanding of the experience of childhood hospitalisation at Stannington Sanatorium.

Ballin, Deborah (2019) Under an artificial sun. Oral History. ISSN 0143-0955