Sarah Churchwell to lead public engagement at School of Advanced Study

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Professor Sarah Churchwell, author, literary prize judge, journalist and one of the UK’s most prominent academics, is to be the University of London’s School of Advanced Study’s (SAS) first chair in public understanding of the humanities. She will take up her post in October.

Professor Churchwell, who received her BA from Vassar College and MA and PhD from Princeton University, will work with colleagues in SAS and beyond to develop new initiatives to build and enhance the public profile of UK humanities research.

One of her first tasks will be to 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.

Professor Churchwell is currently professor of American literature and public understanding of the humanities at the University of East Anglia, where she has taught since 1999. In recognition of her current academic standing in the field of 20th-21st century and contemporary American literature and culture (see below), she has also been appointed to a professorial fellowship in American literature in SAS’s Institute of English Studies. 

‘I am delighted to be joining the School of Advanced Study to help promote and advance the outstanding humanities research being produced today across the UK,’ says Professor Churchwell, joint-holder of the 2015 Eccles Centre Writer in Residence at the British Library and fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. ‘We will be working hard to build public confidence in the crucial role humanities research plays in sustaining and strengthening our society.’

In her new role, Professor Churchwell will promote and coordinate public engagement activities across SAS’s institutes and the Senate House Library. This includes leading the School’s flagship Being Human festival, which is run in collaboration with The British Academy, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

The author of widely discussed books, including The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, and co-editor of Must Read: Rediscovering the Bestseller, Professor Churchwell has also written and reviewed extensively for national and international newspapers and periodicals, as well as appearing frequently on television and radio. Her most recent book, the critically acclaimed Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of the Great Gatsby, was published in 2013.

Professor Roger Kain, CBE FBA, dean and chief executive of SAS, says the interviewing panel was deeply impressed by Professor Churchwell’s strong commitment to the educational and scholarly values which the School holds dear.

‘Through the Being Human festival, the School has taken a lead in celebrating the humanities, and engaging a wider public. We now seek to underline this commitment with an established chair in the public understanding of the humanities,’ says Professor Kain.

‘It is a role that is both challenging and rewarding, but Professor Churchwell’s distinguished record as an educational leader and an outstanding scholar makes her appointment an exciting one, which will allow the School to build on the excellent work that is already driving its achievements to the forefront of supporting and promoting international humanities research.’

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1. For further information, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, media and public relations officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8653 /

2. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities and celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2015. It was officially opened on 15 March 1995, by Sir Anthony Kenny as a federation of the University of London’s research institutes and, since then, has established itself as the UK’s national humanities hub, publicly funded to support and promote research in the humanities nationally and internationally. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2013-14, SAS: welcomed 743 research fellows and associates; held 2,081 research dissemination events; received 26.4 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 202,891 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities: Being Human. Find out more at or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.

3. The University of London is a federal University and is one of the oldest, largest and most diverse universities in the UK. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University is recognised globally as a world leader in Higher Education. It consists of 17 self-governing Colleges of outstanding reputation, together with a number of prestigious central academic bodies and activities. Learn more about the University of London at

4. Sarah Churchwell is professor of American literature and public understanding of the humanities. Her research and teaching expertise are in 20th-21st century and contemporary American literature and culture; biography and autobiography; American film history; gender theory; cultural studies and popular culture. She is the author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, co-editor of Must Read: Rediscovering the Bestseller, and author of various scholarly articles, chapters and introductions, as well as an extensive portfolio of literary journalism. Her most recent book, Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby, was published in 2013. She is a member of the Folio Prize Academy, a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts and has been a judge for many literary prizes, including the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize), the David Cohen Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, and most recently a judge of the 2014 Man Booker Prize.