Dr Leighton Evans – Dillwyn Medal Winner 2023

The School of Culture and Communication is delighted that Dr Leighton Evans has been announced as one of this year’s recipients of the prestigious Dillywn Medal, awarded by the Learned Society of Wales. He received the medal from former Swansea colleague Professor Elwen Evans in front of an invited audience in the Senedd Building in Cardiff Bay on Thursday evening, 26th October.

In nominating him, Head of Media and Communication at Swansea Professor Richard Thomas described Leighton as “a colleague who excels at every part of his role – he is an innovative and ground-breaking researcher, an inspirational teacher and a kind and thoughtful mentor”. An exceptional, well-rounded academic colleague, while he himself would undoubtedly be most proud of his research outputs and ongoing work in Virtual Reality and the metaverse, his excellence within the other elements of his job has a similarly positive impact.

As a researcher, he is the first author in Media Theory to publish on Virtual Reality for many years following its re-emergence in 2015. Alongside his co-author, his is also the first to publish a media focused book on the Metaverse. His “Locative Social Media” was described by one critic as having accomplished “something very ambitious: a deep theoretical reflection on the phenomenology of place”. His work more generally has been described as “timely”, “insightful” and “highly readable”.

Leighton receives his medal from Professor Elwen Evans

One of the seconders for this award, Professor Rob Kitchin from Maynooth University in Ireland notes that Leighton’s work is globally impactful and influences debates concerning locative social media. He describes Leighton as a “productive and influential scholar” whose work is “important as it truly interdisciplinary, blending media studies with philosophy and ideas from several social disciplines”.

As the Director of Swansea University’s Centre of Digital Arts and Humanities (CODAH), Leighton tirelessly promotes and facilitates opportunities for others to network with likeminded scholars.

As a teacher, he is best summarized by an outgoing student who spoke on behalf of many in saying that “Leighton is the reason we come to university”. He would modestly reject this as hyperbole, but it is not. He has taken the media subject into new and exciting realms such as Virtual Reality and the study of Gaming. As an UG programme Director, the way that the Media team kept strong links with students and delivered top-quality education during COVID was largely down to his example. In 2023, he won a university-wide teaching award for inspiring teaching.

As a mentor and line manager, he is sensitive, supportive and helps those he manages with their career development, and with all other pastoral elements. Much of this work and support is done quietly, and without fanfare, but he has a significantly positive impact on those around him. Such is his knowledge of the pedagogical process, his office is invariably something of a one stop shop for colleagues trying to develop the best ways to teach, assess and bring the best out of their students. His advice is always based on wisdom and extensive experience, but it is delivered with care, kindness and no little humour.

Leighton told the audience about his own academic journey

Speaking shortly before the award ceremony, Leighton reflected that he was “delighted and honoured to be receiving the Dilwyn Medal” and that he felt it was “not just a recognition of past efforts, but a profound encouragement for the future”. He described himself as “deeply humbled and inspired to continue pushing the boundaries of knowledge for the betterment of Wales and the wider world” and that it is also “an acknowledgement of the cooperation and relationships with other researchers in the field of digital media in that time and the work done supervising and teaching students who will become the next generation of important scholars in the field”. At a time when the digital is seen more as a threat to our autonomy and humanness than ever before with the advent of AI, he suggests, “engagement with the field through critical theory and philosophy is more vital than ever”.

Leighton concludes that he hopes his work “continues to inspire others and makes a contribution to our understanding of living in the digital world”. As someone who epitomizes everything that is good in higher education, his colleagues in the School of Culture and Communications are extremely proud of him and conclude that there is no more worthy recipient of the Dillwyn Medal in 2023.

Leighton was one of three Swansea University medal winners – Professors Siwan Davies and Tom Crick also received Learned Society awards.