A new conversation series led by the School of Advanced Study


Open for Discussion logo

'Open for Discussion’ is an annual series of conversations convened by experts at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London that brings multidisciplinary humanities perspectives to bear on critical social issues -- issues with human dimensions frequently overlooked in current policy debates.

Each conversation features thought-leaders and humanities researchers in wide-ranging discussions that present questions of policy, practice, and opportunity. In the tradition of the School’s approach to humanities research, the series experiments with new ideas and formats. Each conversation generates a range of provocations, interventions, and/or policy papers to spur further discussion.

2020-21 Series: What the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Revealed about Us

The focus of this year’s series are those things that the COVID-19 pandemic has made visible, or rather what it has forced us to see more clearly: Black Lives Matter, digital poverty, privacy rights, the importance of communication, the value of the arts and heritage sectors, and the types of knowledge needed to confront global challenges.

How Can History Strengthen Democracy?
19 May 2021, 6.00-7.15pm BST

Free and open to the public
Registration required: https://www.sas.ac.uk/events/event/24182

Convened by Professor Sarah Churchwell, Chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities, School of Advanced Study. 

How can history strengthen democracy? Increasingly the social and political conditions that foster liberal democracy are under challenge across the globe, including pluralism, civil liberties, respect for minority and migrant communities, and a social order predicated on commitment to the rule of law. These challenges have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has created a premise for (further) authoritarian interventions from regimes seeking to consolidate their power. At the same time, history has itself become a subject of intense and widespread political debate.

This panel asks what lessons, if any, can be drawn from a wide array of global histories to help strengthen civic education and recommit citizens to the democratic project around the world. 
Confirmed speakers: 

  • Prof Peter Frankopan, Professor of Global History, Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research and Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, author of The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (Bloomsbury, 2015) 
  • Prof Sunny Singh, Professor of Creative Writing and Inclusion in the Arts, London Metropolitan University 
  • Dr Keri Leigh Merritt, Independent Scholar, author of Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South, (Cambridge University Press, 2017) 
  • Zoé Samudzi, PhD candidate at the University of California, San Francisco researching German colonization, European biosciences, and how the genocide against Herero and Nama and San peoples in Namibia (1904-08) produced a Black indigenous identity. 

‘On the Outside Looking In: Do We Need a SAGE for the Humanities?’

14 December 2020, 6:00-7:30 pm, via Zoom
Watch a replay of this event on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLFC7ioUpUo&t=2s​

Convened by Professor Barry Smith, Director of the Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London. 

Confirmed speakers: Professor Jo Wolff (Oxford), Professor Philippe Sands (UCL), Professor Lyndsey Stonebridge (Birmingham), Ms Subhadra Das (UCL), Professor Jeremy Farrar (member of SAGE, Wellcome Trust)

'Digital Access, Inclusion, and the Humanities' 

23 February 2021, 6-7 pm via Zoom
Free and open to the public
Registration required: https://sas.ac.uk/events/event/23475

Convened by Dr Naomi Wells, Early Career Researcher in Italian and Spanish, Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London, and Professor Jane Winters, Professor of Digital Humanities, School of Advanced Study, University of London. Hosted by Michael Hayman, Honorary Professor of the Purpose Economy at the School of Advanced Study.

Confirmed speakers: Roopika Risam (Associate Professor of Secondary and Higher Education and English, Salem State University), Gabriela Baeza Ventura (Associate Professor of Spanish, University of Houston), Bethany Nowviskie (Dean of Libraries and Professor of English, James Madison University), Anasuya Sengupta (Co-founder and Co-director, Whose Knowledge) 

Across the world in 2020, the Covid-19 crisis led to the closure of the physical spaces where people engage in and with humanities research. University buildings, libraries, museums, and archives were shuttered for more than a third of the year in the UK and have only gradually been able to welcome back staff, students, and visitors. Even twenty years ago, the impact of the pandemic on our ability to conduct research, to collaborate, to access cultural heritage and to share knowledge would have been devastating.Today, we have the web, social media, digitised collections of documents and objects, video and audio conferencing, online classrooms, and MOOCs. All of these tools and more have been deployed to allow people to access from home the best that the humanities have to offer.  

But how equal is this access? How many children have been disadvantaged because they do not have their own computer or a reliable internet connection? How many of the university students learning and researching from home or in halls of residence have been able to consult the digitised collections that they need? Who has decided what does and does not warrant digitisation, and how much access to digitised material will cost? What is the impact of copyright, IPR and legal deposit legislation on people’s ability to work with digital sources? How evenly are the disadvantages and opportunities spread across different groups in society, and between different nations?

This conversation will explore the enormous value of digital tools and platforms in enabling, promoting and developing the humanities at a time of crisis, but it will also consider how the humanities can help us to examine the challenges and pitfalls of the digital.

'Unlocking Collections' 

Thursday, 18 March 2021, via Zoom
Free and open to the public
Registration required: https://sas.ac.uk/events/event/23447 

Convened by Professor Clare Lees, Director of the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, and Professor Bill Sherman, Director of the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London.

As museums, archives, and libraries adapt to a series of lockdowns, we have a stronger sense than ever of the challenges involved in providing access to the objects that carry our collective memories. While one-way routes and Perspex shields may be new, the complexities around acquiring, preserving, finding, and using collections are not:

  • How can we give access to the vast number of objects in storage?
  • How are institutions showing the hidden histories of their collections (attending to marginalised communities, scientific mysteries, and so on)?
  • How can similar objects in different collections be brought together?
  • What new tools are emerging for recording and sharing cultural heritage?
  • How are researchers engaging with and making innovative use of collections?

Confirmed speakers include: Rebecca Bailey (Head of Exhibitions and Outreach for Historic Environment Scotland and Programme Director for ‘Towards a National Collection’), Catherine Ince (Chief Curator, V& A East) , Adam Lowe (Founder, Factum Foundation), Catriona Cannon (Deputy Librarian and Keeper of Collections, Bodleian Libraries) and Maria Fusco (Professor of Fine Art, Dundee).

Covid-19, International Perspectives and Transnational Collaboration
22 April 2021- 6.00-7.30pm BST

Free and open to the public
Registration required: https://www.sas.ac.uk/events/event/23290 

Convened by the Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study
Charles Burdett (Director), Joseph Ford (Lecturer in French) and Godela Weiss-Sussex (Reader in Modern German Literature)

During a ‘global’ pandemic, the capacity to learn from the experience of others and share knowledge across borders is essential. Responses to Covid-19 have varied markedly across the globe. The differences in the approaches taken are due to systemic political and economic conditions, but also to cultural and historical factors. One lesson that has emerged clearly is that only a joint transnational effort will enable us to respond efficiently and decisively to the threat of an illness that knows no borders. In this panel discussion, Humanities scholars of languages and cultures will reflect on the handling of the pandemic in their cultural/geographic area of expertise – and suggest lessons to be learned from other nations. They will then go on to explore the place of creative and cultural production in building a more transnationally interlinked post-Covid world – as well as the contributions to be made by research in the Humanities, and specifically Modern Languages.

Charles Burdett / Godela Weiss-Sussex (IMLR), Chairs

  • Astrid Erll (Frankfurt)
  • Charles Forsdick (Liverpool)
  • Ignacio Peyró (Director Instituto Cervantes London and UK Coordinator. Author)
  • Alejandro Arenas-Pinto (UCL)
  • Nelson Mlambo (University of Namibia)
  • Leon Rocha (Lincoln)

Respondent: Steven Wilson (Queens University Belfast)

Languages and the Pandemic: Public Health Engagement with Multilingual Communities in the UK
27 April 2021, 6.00-7.30pm BST

Free and open to the public
Registration required: https://www.sas.ac.uk/events/event/23291

Convened by the Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study
Charles Burdett (Director), Joseph Ford (Lecturer in French) and Godela Weiss-Sussex (Reader in Modern German Literature)

During a ‘global’ pandemic, the capacity to learn from the experience of others and share knowledge across borders is essential, as is the need to recognise that linguistic and cultural marginalization in the UK risks further alienating communities at a time of public health emergency. Covid-19 has at once revealed and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities across the UK. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black, Asian and minority ethnic people has been documented in reports by the director of Public Health London, Professor Kevin Fenton. In one of these reports, he identifies the need for culturally appropriate and cross-language communications for minoritized communities in the UK. 

Drawing on the expertise of those working with multilingual communities in the UK, this discussion probes to what extent national and local communications and responses to COVID-19 can more effectively address the complex needs of multilingual communities in the UK, resulting in more inclusive, socially egalitarian and effective public health engagement. 

Joseph Ford / Naomi Wells (IMLR), Chairs

  • Li Wei (UCL) 
  • Emma Whitby (Chief Executive of Healthwatch Islington) 
  • Yaron Matras (Manchester)
  • Claudia Lopez-Prieto (Citizens UK)
  • Lucía Vinzón (Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK)
  • Soledad Montanez (Manchester / IMLR)