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This summer, the Bodleian’s Public Engagement team facilitated ‘Greenspaces of a Self’, a six-week Bodleian Public Engagement with Research project led by mental health researcher Dr Stephen Puntis, NIHR post-doctoral fellow, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford. Dr Puntis worked in partnership with artist Eleanor Minney and the Harcourt Arboretum, in collaboration with university students and a local city walking group.

The project is in connection with Melancholy – A New Anatomy, a Bodleian exhibition due to launch in September 2021. The exhibition marks the 400th anniversary of Robert Burton’s book Anatomy of Melancholy and is a collaboration with the Department of Psychiatry. This research project aimed to chart the link between greenspaces and wellbeing in participants, thus possibly reflecting Robert Burton’s thoughts as expressed in the book: “Although our ordinary air be good by nature or art, yet it is not amiss, as I have said, still to alter it; no better physic for a melancholy man than change of air”.

The project used mindfulness-based approaches to explore the connection between greenspaces, a sense of self, and wellbeing. Each 90-minute session consisted of guided walks around the Arboretum followed by conversation, reflection, and activities including writing, drawing, and collaging. It is planned that some of the outcomes of the project will be shown in the exhibition as well as support the qualitative and experiential evidence base connecting nature and positive mental health.