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The highly successful exhibition “Empires of Emptiness: Fortresses of the Sahara and the Steppe” is starting a new life on the grounds of the University of Birmingham School, after its first highly conclusive showings on the University of Birmingham campus (February to May 2016) and at the Jackfield Museum in the Ironbridge Gorge (May to September 2016, extended until January 2017 due to popular demand).

Exhibition outside school building

“Empires of Emptiness” showcases the research project “Outposts of Conquest: the History and legacy of the fortresses of the Sahara and the Steppe in Comparative Perspective, 1840s to the present day”, undertaken with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and led by Dr Berny Sèbe as principal investigator. It analyses the ways in which European empires expanded into deserts and arid spaces in the nineteenth century, comparing and contrasting, through the case-study of military fortifications, the Russian conquest of the Central Asian steppe and French expansion into the Sahara desert. 

Exhibition in corridor

This event features the hallmark outdoor exhibition “Sahara and the Steppe” which has made the success of this unique “visual and academic journey through Algeria and Kazakhstan”, ensuring that research results are shared through billboard-sized panels showed on public grounds, bringing cutting-edge arts and humanities research in accessible way to a wide audience. It also includes a new, smaller-size version of the indoor exhibit “Fortresses of the Sahara and the Steppe”, presenting the results of the historical and socio-cultural study of military fortifications in the Sahara and Central Asia. This portable version of the exhibition has been produced specifically to be displayed in schools around the UK, thanks to funding from the Leading 2 Engage initiative of the University of Birmingham, and the University of Birmingham School showing plays the role of a pilot scheme.

Throughout the duration of the exhibition, the University of Birmingham School will organise a series of pedagogical events in relation with the exhibition, involving teachers in Modern Languages, History, Geography and Arts. For the School Principal, Michael Roden, this exhibition ‘offers a ground-breaking opportunity to get our pupils acquainted with state-of-the-art research in the Humanities, thanks to the innovative displays of Empires of Emptiness, combining visual, historical and cultural approaches to convey its research results attractively and creatively to our pupils, our members of staff and the wider community.’ He added: ‘we believe that initiatives such as this one will change the relationship between schools and universities, and even beyond, create links between secondary education and academic research in ways which had never been explored before’.

School Principal

Members of the public can visit the “Empires of Emptiness” exhibition by prior arrangement: please contact Anneka Deva, External Relations Officer, University of Birmingham School (