A Rubicon moment: there is no going back for the School of Advanced Study

Friday 9 October 2015

In life we all face ‘Rubicon’ moments. Where we come to a crucial point, face a pivotal decision, take it and move on. After that we embrace the change and there is no going back.

That is what has happened at the School of Advanced Study (SAS). We’ve taken a decisive step forward to heighten our reputation globally as a centre of excellence for research in the humanities as well as cementing that international marque with a digital persona. 

It is no secret that in order to move forward institutions need a clear and coherent strategy along with financial stability. Thankfully, our financial side is relatively healthy due to continued investment from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), increased financial commitment from the University of London and our own earned income streams. Thanks to this economic vote of confidence, elements of our strategy have now been put into play.

Another open secret is that having the right talent on board is the lifeblood of any institution. So spreading our net internationally, we’ve recently appointed a number of gifted experts in their fields. These run the gamut of disciplines, from urban history to postcolonial studies, to law and information policy, digital classics and experimental aesthetics. 

They include Professor Sarah Churchwell, who will promote and coordinate public engagement activities across the SAS’s institutes and Senate House Library, as well as lead the School’s flagship Being Human festival. This is important work in raising the profile of the festival, which has more than doubled in size since its first outing last year, and is a great vehicle to demonstrate the kind of profile and leadership we’re aiming for.

The evidence of success is already there

Professor David FreedbergAnd two SAS member institutions, the Institute of English Studies (IES) and The Warburg Institute, have new directors. Professor David Freedberg agreed to cross the Atlantic to take over at Warburg, and Rick Rylance, currently chief executive of the Arts & Humanities Research Council, is set to join IES in December.

These are the incredibly talented people, and yes it’s still SAS, but now it has increased its capability and capacity. For example, for years, people have been pointing to the steady decline in modern languages in higher education, but signed off only this week, our new MRes in Modern Languages has already started registering students.

How do we know all this will be successful? The evidence is already there. Come along to our ‘Universities and counter-terrorism: Prevent in practice conference’ seminar to see some of the UK’s leading academics and political brains dealing with the crucial balance between freedom and fear of terrorism.

And without leaving the comfort of your offices take a look at our Commonwealth Oral Histories project website. It now boasts interviews with some 65 leading players involved in the recent history of the Commonwealth. Taken together, these give an unparalleled overview of the changing nature of the organisation over the past 50 years, an invaluable resource for anyone investigating its history.

In 50 years’ time, how will SAS people look back at our history? We’d like to think they will see 2015 as a Rubicon moment where we stepped up a gear and moved on to greater success.

New appointments
Digital history: Professor Jane Winters, head of digital publications at the Institute of Historical Research, was appointed to a personal chair in digital history with effect from 11 December 2014.

Public understanding of the humanities: Professor Sarah Churchwell, professor of American literature and public understanding of the humanities at the University of East Anglia, became the School’s first chair in public understanding of the humanities on 5 October 2015. She will create an overarching intellectual and operational strategy for the public understanding of the humanities, embedding this within the School’s wider mission to promote and facilitate research.

Institute directors
Professor David Freedberg, Pierre Matisse professor of the history of art at Columbia University and director of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, was appointed director of The Warburg Institute with effect from July 2015.

Rick Rylance, chief executive of the Arts & Humanities Research Council and chair of the Research Councils UK executive group, joins the Institute of English Studies as its director with effect from 1 December 2015. 

Language and law: Stephen Neale, distinguished professor of philosophy at City University of New York (CUNY), will be attached to the institutes of Philosophy and Advanced Legal Studies as professor in language and law from 1 January 2016.

Experimental aesthetics: Vittorio Gallesse, professor of human physiology at Italy’s University of Parma, joins the Institute of Philosophy as professor in experimental aesthetics with effect from 1 January 2016. 

History of art: Dr Joanne Anderson, previously lecturer in Renaissance art history at Birkbeck, was appointed lecturer in 13th–17th century history of art at The Warburg Institute from 1 August 2015.

Publishing and production: Mr Jon Newbury, associate publisher for open access at Elsevier, was appointed publishing and production manager for the Institute of Historical Research, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and the School of Advanced Study with effect from 10 August 2015.

Commonwealth studies: Dr Sue Onslow, senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, was appointed senior lecturer in Commonwealth studies with effect from 1 September 2015.

French studies: Dr Dominic Glynn joined (1 September 2015) the Institute of Modern Languages Research as lecturer in French, having previously worked as an academic and dramaturge in France. He has taught at the universities of Oxford, Nanterre Paris Ouest La Défense, Reims Champagne-Ardenne, and Sciences Po, collaborated with the Comédie de Reims and the Avignon festival.

City studies and modern languages: Dr Claire Launchbury, previously French teaching fellow at the University of Leeds, started as postdoctoral research fellow in city studies and modern languages at the Institute of Historical Research and Institute of Modern Languages Research on 7 September 2015.

Translation/translingual studies: Dr James Hadley, former visiting scholar in translation studies at Nanjing Agricultural University in China, joined the Institute of Modern Languages Research on 7 September 2015 as early career researcher in translation / translingual studies.

Postcolonial studies: Dr Catherine Gilbert previously a postdoctoral research fellow in the University of Nottingham’s French and Francophone Studies Department, became research officer in postcolonial studies at the School’s Centre for Postcolonial Studies on 14 September 2015.

Digital classics: Dr Gabriel Bodard previously principal investigator on the SNAP:DRGN project, networking ancient prosopographies, took up his post as the UK’s first reader in digital classics at the Institute of Classical Studies with effect from 28 September 2015.

Urban history: Dr Tom Hulme, research associate at King’s College London, joined the Institute of Historical Research on 1 October 2015 as early career lecturer in urban history.

Law and information policy: Ms Christina Angelopoulos will join the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies on 16 November 2015 as early career researcher in law and information policy from the Institute for Information law of the University of Amsterdam.