Open for Discussion- Digital Access, Inclusion, and the Humanities

A full transcript of the event is available to read here.

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.


  • 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) 

Gabriela Baeza Ventura answers The digital divide: what does it mean in terms of access?
Who are disadvantaged because they do not have access to a reliable internet connection? How many students learning and teaching from home are unable to consult materials as needed?.

Anasuya Sengupta answers: The digital divide: what does it mean in terms of access?
When we talk about access to digital infrastructure, to the internet, What do we mean by access? Access means different things to different people. It's not as simple on and off button. At the same time, access is much more than an on and off button. And it's much more than the technical infrastructures that allow us to be online. For us at Whose Knowledge the questions that we ask, are predominantly about; What do we find once we're online? Whose knowledge is it online? 

Bethany Nowviskie answers: The digital divide: what does it mean in terms of access?
How can we best support the continuity of teaching, learning and research for our faculty, our students and our staff? How do we meet them, where they are in terms of the hardware and bandwidth challenges that they may be experiencing? How do we anticipate their needs for born digital and digitized content? And how do we support rich, interactive, inclusive instruction?

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.

School of Advanced Study
Roopika Risam (Salem State University), Gabriela Baeza Ventura (University of Houston), Bethany Nowviskie ( James Madison University) and Anasuya Sengupta (Whose Knowledge) 
Event date: 
Tuesday, 23 February 2021 - 3:54pm