Winds of the South: Intercultural university models for the 21st century
Editors: Manuela Guilherme Gunther Dietz
THE STUDY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE, LANGUAGE AND CREATIVE WRITING IS AN IMPORTANT AND DYNAMIC ENTERPRISE.
Prof.s Lorna Hardwick and Elle Chambers, founders of the Higher Education Research Group in 1992: an international network of leading discipline researchers advocating for the Humanities as transformatory and the Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) Arts subject centres they helped to set up and advise and who became the original UK Editorial Board
Prof. Mary Huber, Carnegie Academy for the Improvement of University Teaching, Prof. Kate Stimpson, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University & former President of the Modern Languages Association (MLA) and Prof. Sean Brawley, founder Australasian Editor, now Head of Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University
And Sara Miller McCune, founder of Sage, who in 1997 approached us in HERG, proposing that we turn the Humanities & Arts International Network newsletter and website and the collected papers of the annual conference ‘Innovations in Teaching and Learning in the Humanities’ into the first Sage Humanities journal.
In the late 1990s when I was finishing my Higher Education Research Group inspired monograph on ‘teaching dialogic texts then and now’: Dialogic Education and The Problematics of Translation in Homer and Greek Tragedy, I was invited by Cornell’s Society for the Humanities to be part of the Writing in the Disciplines Cornell Consortium.
WiD’s mantra informed this journal’s mission statement: that you do not ‘do’ research and then ‘write up’ but rather that you transform as you write the discipline. What we needed to transform Humanities HE was transformative Humanities writing and this, the first international Arts and Humanities HE journal, to publish in: a journal for essays about innovations in disciplinary meaning-making and significance-highlighting processes. So,
Arts and Humanities in Higher Education seeks to:
How have we done in fulfilling these objectives?
We have published international leaders’ exemplary essays (e.g. vol. 13.1-2, 2014 writings from and inspired by Arendt, Attridge, Barnett, Bhabha, Clarke, Deegan, Derrida, Evans, Heaney, Kanter, Mandela, Moltow, Ndebele, Nussbaum, Stimpson, Strathern, Tagore, New Voices and Editors).
And special international Issues on Teaching Literature vol. 6.2 (2007); Modern Languages vol. 10.2; Religion vol. 10.3 (2011); Digital Humanities vol. 11.1-2 (2012); Creative and Performing Arts vol. 12 2-3 (2013) and Reflective Conservatoire vol. 15 3-4 (2016).
With fora on Civic Engagement, Public Value of Arts and Humanities’ Research, Theorising Practice, Masculinities, CASTL & SoTL, Digital Storytelling and the forthcoming Special Issues on Tuning History; Dialogue in Theology & Philosophy, Narrative Medicine & Critique as a Signature Pedagogy in the Arts and Humanities, we have covered every and multiple Humanities and Arts disciplines.
And with State of Urgency: The Humanities in South Africa, vol. 15.1 (2016), A Humanities Manifesto for Europe & the forthcoming South American Intercultural University Models, we have published contributions from every area of the world.
So it is left for me to give happy thanks for the past and very best wishes for the future to the new Editor, Jan MacArthur, a great supporter of the journal since discussing the ideas which were to become her 2013 book Rethinking knowledge within higher education: Adorno and social justice.
And to give heartfelt thanks to the founding Editorial Board for 15 years of service:
Derek AttridgeYork University, UKRon BarnettInstitute for Education, UKRandall BassCenter for New Design of Learning & Scholarship, Georgetown University, USAMichael BérubéPennsylvania State University, USAAlan BoothUniversity of Nottingham, UKChrissie BougheyRhodes University, South AfricaRosi BraidottiUtrecht University, The NetherlandsJim ColemanUniversity Council of Modern Languages, Open University, UKSteven ConnorRegius Professor, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, UKBrett de BaryCornell University, USAMarilyn DeeganDigital Humanities, King’s College London, UK Simon GoldhillCentre for Research in Arts, Social Science and Humanities, University of Cambridge, UKLorna HardwickThe Open University, Milton Keynes, UKPoul HolmDirector, Humanities Research Centre, Trinity College, Dublin, IrelandJonathan HolmesCreative and Performing Arts, University of Tasmania, AustraliaStanley N. KatzDirector, Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, United StatesBen KnightsTeesside University, UK Sherry LinkonGeorgetown University, USAAlan LiuEnglish Department, University of California, Santa BarbaraJohn Bosco LourdusamyIndian Institute of Technology Madras, IndiaPeter MandlerUniversity of Cambridge, UKDavid PaceIndiana University, USAOtto PetersFernuniversitat, Hagen, GermanyStephanie PittsDepartment of Music, University of Sheffield, UKKate StimpsonNew York University, USAPatrik SvenssonDirector, HUMlab, Umeå University, SwedenDavid TritelliAssociation of American Colleges and Universities, USAJohn UnsworthDirector, Illinois Informatics Institute, University of Illinois, USAPeter ValeChair of Humanities, University of Johannesburg, South AfricaGeoff WardPrincipal, Homerton College, University of Cambridge, UK
Jan Parker, University of Cambridge, December 2016
Time is at the heart of what we do as historians, and how we teach our students. Daily, we’re confronted with a wide array of past presents and expired futures. Conceptually, our teaching is also committed to a belief in the future, and the urgent need to help students mobilise and develop the skills learned studying the past as they move beyond the classroom. In forging this link – or in engaging students enough to forge it themselves – teaching French history is both a particular privilege and a challenge.
These challenges were the subject of a roundtable we held at a recent workshop on ‘Teaching and Research in French History’ held at the Institute of Historical Research in January 2017. Organised by Chris Millington, and funded by a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award, this workshop built on another held last year, which explored ‘Teaching History in the 21st Century’. There, we’d sought to bring high school teachers and university lecturers together to help bridge the expectation gap between A Level and undergraduate study (both for students and for teachers). This time, we took that process one step further, seeking to bridge the gaps in our own experience.
Our roundtable at this conference was a somewhat rare opportunity for a conversation about teaching between those still finishing their PhDs (and those that just had) with a supportive community of Early Career Researchers (mostly 5 or so years on from the PhD).
One of the main subjects for discussion at the roundtable will be familiar to anyone that teaches the history of lands beyond this rainy island: how do you teach foreign language primary sources to resolutely Anglophone students? Published, translated source collections are scarce and so whilst we shared tips and compared notes on our favourites, we needed to look further. So we gazed enviously across the Rhine at the riches of ‘German History in Documents and Images’ (GHDI): curated, translated sources of varying types that cover whole periods with pertinent introductions. Oh, for a francophone equivalent!
Yet the object of our desire, we realised, lies mostly within our reach. We all work in archives, we all bring our research into our teaching, and we all translate (whether for use in our teaching, or for publishing with those that blanch at foreign tongues). We can’t perhaps dream in the same scale as our Teutonic colleagues, though we can collaborate more and more openly as young scholars. We discussed how wonderfully well-intentioned online syllabus collections can frighten off precariously employed post-docs, and how we’d been reluctant to contribute the sources that we’d personally translated and curated from archival documents. While we were open and supportive of collaboration and collegiality, we are also forced to defend our every asset in a competitive job market. As the idiom goes: why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?
Yet, if the tumult of contemporary politics had seemed to hollow out a belief in the future, we affirmed that our actions as researchers should seek to build new bridges, and that we ought to create new opportunities for sharing and collaboration in our own profession.
From here, we began to talk about what other sorts of sources that people used in their teaching, and what sorts of issues this raised. Film screenings are wonderful ideas, though it can be difficult to pitch these to students. One brave soul told how he’d had students sit ashen-faced through all four hours of The Sorrow and the Pity, but others professed that they’d consciously steered themselves towards screenings that would be more instantly accessible. To ensure that screenings promoted active learning and not simply entertainment some described breaking films into sections to be presented with framing commentary; others produced instructive handouts for students to take specific notes; others still asked students to review films the following week (both in their own words, and drawing on published reviews). Novels, plays, and music offered similar opportunities and challenges, suggesting different forms of emotional engagement that could enliven the pasts to which we address ourselves.
Performing snippets of plays or – heaven forfend – singing to students all seemed like useful ways to take learning beyond the page and encourage them to embody the past. So too did the use of objects suggest ways to elicit mutual story-telling and serve as anchors for complex discussions. How much more vibrant a discussion of the barricades of 1968 when we can pass a cobble stone around the room? Or, we might run our fingers across old coins to illustrate the quick march of regimes, comparing the symbolism of Republics and Empires as they rose and fell. Magazines too provided an engaging, tactile means of flicking through the past, and we discussed presenting printed copies of archival material to similar effect (where a departmental printer could become a samizdat press). Throughout this discussion, the focus was not on accumulating artefacts nor relying on storied museum collections at elite institutions, but on thinking of ways that material objects that we collect or create could serve as thematic gateways to the issues that we teach.
Well aware that those issues need be bound to our research, we also discussed how to proceed when, as PhDs and postdocs, we need to parcel together teaching posts across different institutions (and eras). The balance of finding ways to satisfy teaching agendas of departments and also appealing to students is a delicate one indeed. We looked at how using even one primary source from our own research in a broad survey course could be a liberating experience that helped establish a bridgehead for our work within tight teaching constraints. Likewise, the internet offers opportunities to access source collections which could enable students to establish their own bridgeheads: publishing blogs, reports and projects based on topics that matched our inherited learning outcomes. Pointing classes towards the GHDI, the Old Bailey Online, or many other archival repositories could encourage them to take up their role in the creation of knowledge and establish portfolios for future work. Focussing on the process of research, and looking to communicate beyond the academy allows us the opportunity to make the teaching of history an education with the future firmly in mind.
The most pressing theme throughout our discussion was the need to ensure students acted as producers and not consumers. Whether it be through engaging with different types of sources, sparking a new engagement through the use of objects, or by letting students become researchers themselves, the ultimate goal was to emphasise the agency of those in our classrooms and lecture halls.
What, then, is the trick to teaching French History? That’s a difficult question, but for our part it lay in navigating the pressures of precarity, forging supportive networks, and ensuring that historical thinking is a force for progressive action.
Andrew WM Smith, February 2017
‘Is our ability to judge, to tell right from wrong, beautiful from ugly, dependent upon our faculty of thought? Do the inability to think and a disastrous failure of what we commonly call conscience coincide?…. An answer, if at all, can come only from the thinking experience, the performance itself, which means that we have to trace experiences rather than doctrines.’ (Arendt, 2003: 159, 167)
In an interview, a man who worked as a killer-of-Tutsis thinks back to a particular day during the three months of the Rwandan genocide. He remembers one of his many victims: ‘Me, I knew this old man by name, but I had heard nothing unpleasant about him. That evening I told my wife everything, we did not discuss it, and I went to sleep’ (Hatzfeld, 2005: 22). The killing was a job, not a vendetta; it was nothing personal; working hours pretty well contained it. The killers could sleep well and, next day, continue their work. For many years, I have been asking myself, how could they do it? What was going on in the minds of those whose job it was to kill, to colonize, in the Third Reich, Armenia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo—too many times and places? What were they thinking when they faced their victims, among them acquaintances, friends, unthreatening strangers, and workers they saw every day? How can people enslave, exploit unto death, rape as an act of war and genocide, and traffic in children?
It is a very old and always searingly new question to which there are many responses. Two of the most basic conclusions to which I have come are these: no great harm to many people could ever be perpetrated if distorted systems had to rely on sadists to do it, nor would great good affecting many people happen if we had to depend on saints. And: people who are not thinking are capable of anything. I have learned that when systems go bad, when the extraordinary becomes ordinary, it does not take a Hitler, an Idi Amin, a Jeffrey Dahmer, a Charles Manson. It just takes a practiced conventionality, a cliche´d conscience, emotional conformity, susceptibility to small-scale bribery by salary, goods, and/or status, a sense of isolation, and distrust of the reliability of others that works against taking a differing public stand. It just takes, that is, much of what in better times keeps a society provided with reliable and ambitious workers, status-anxious consumers, polite neighbors, agreeable team players, and citizens who make no waves: an ability to go along thoughtlessly, to play the game. These are challenging things to say or ought to be. I have worked as an educator on the college and university level for more than a few decades and have come to believe that education may be our last, best, and perhaps—given the record of other social, economic, and political institutions, most assuredly including religious—our only hope of making Never again anything other than a tragically failed cry of the heart.
Hannah Arendt’s ‘banality of evil’ and the evil of banality
In the late-1960s, I returned from a Fulbright fellowship to teach and to study classic Indian dance (Bharat Natyam) in Gujarat, India, to graduate work in political science and theory at the University of California, Berkeley, and then philosophy at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research, where the first course I took was Hannah Arendt’s ‘Political Experiences of the 20th Century.’ Those were stormy, fascinating, and irregular times. I wrote my first paper for Arendt asking, how could so many deeply idealistic Communists in the early days have failed to see, and to stop, what was happening as Stalin took power? It was extraordinarily difficult, I had to realize, to think outside of the ways they had for so long thought, and to question what they had believed so fully that it had given meaning to virtually all moments of their daily lives. They were not blinded ideologues, they were people who needed to make sense of things, as we all do, who found it exceedingly difficult to do so if everything they had believed in, figured out, lived by was implicated, now, in violently negating its own premises and promises. In short, they were in extraordinary circumstances, horrifying ones, but I no longer found them unusual.
Reflecting on Arendt’s work and its early reception by good people who were deeply pained, I thought that perhaps it would have helped had she spoken first of ‘the evil of banality,’ a phrase she never used, rather than ‘the banality of evil.’ The evil of banality has haunted my thinking ever since, as has Arendt’s use of ‘thoughtlessness’ to describe what was most extreme, most striking, about the man on trial in Jerusalem.
So, whatever else I have been doing, studying, teaching and writing, I have continued to try to get in close to what people caught up in extraordinary events as perpetrators, as resisters, as immediate observers were thinking. I have worked in Academe, where the emphasis is more on knowing, interpreting, testing, theorizing than it is on just trying to understand. But I have increasingly felt that understanding what perpetrators and those who resisted them thought they were doing, how they made sense of it all, was the single most morally pressing question I could ask about human beings, creatures and creators of meaning that we are. But, while the individual is finally where moral responsibility lies, it is also important to emphasize that all the many systems within which we live our lives matter a great deal.
I admit to being unusually disarmed by the pairing of a film still of the young and brilliant John Berger (1926-2017) with a distinctly unflattering photo of the then president-elect of the United States, Donald J. Trump. A clickbaity move by Salon, the pairing draws us academic types in through our own mourning of the recently deceased Berger, the first “celebrity” death of the new year. Instantly recognizable from his iconic BBC series “Ways of Seeing,” the long-haired art historian with rock-star looks jumps out from beyond the grave, warning us of the mystifications inherent in the analysis of images, which occlude evidence of exploitation, oppression, objectification, or class struggle. The keen edge of every sentence, the razor blade he uses to “cut up” a Botticelli, these are fresh in our grieving minds, having re-watched the series or reread the book, to forestall the feeling of loss, despite his long life, well lived.
How do we see Mr. Trump through Berger’s eyes? The mugging, shrugging, unserious and shockingly incurious reality TV star billionaire exudes artifice. The presence of the American flag pin (was it made in China like most of his products?) clings to an expensive but ill-fitting suit. The fake tan and comb-over bespeak someone utterly lacking aesthetic discernment.
The colliding of the two works into one banner image accompanies art writer Noah Charney’s meditation on “Why art history might be the most important subject you could study today.” Charney, reflecting on Brexit, the near axing in the UK of the art history A-Level exam, and the American election of Donald Trump, turns to Berger as a provider of armor against fake news in visual form: “He is the most overt of art historians who taught us how to see differently. That is about as good an argument as I can think of for why art history is an important field of study, and a good antidote to the narrow-minded, horse-blinder mentality that plagues many politicians and American citizens, and perhaps even certain presidents who need not be mentioned.” Touting the interdisciplinarity of art history, and its relation to optics, psychology, and a multitude of other fields, Charney suggests that the visual acuity demanded of art history fosters an ability to “open one’s mind to alternative viewpoints.”
OK to be fair, the visual pairing of these two figures is completely, and utterly incongruous, to the point of absurdity. The two men share a photoshopped field, a pale blue background unifying their space, and jockey for positional hierarchy. Mr. Trump in the foreground shrugs, smirks and squints, his demeanor is evidence of the emptiness of his utterance. Mr. Berger wins. You can see it in his eyes.
The designer who crafted the above banner chose his Berger image carefully. The eyes are animated, the mouth shaped around a brilliant utterance. And of course, there is the caption, freezing the exact moment from “Ways of Seeing” that these words are spoken. Those who know the series or the book, recognize that Berger’s description of “their own highly personal and exceptional visions” is not a compliment to the artists, it is the language of mystification. It is verbiage as interpretively slippery as Mr. Trump’s use of “tremendous” or “terrific” or “beautiful” or “best;” empty rhetoric that masks ideological obfuscation. Mr. Trump describes a “beautiful” wall, which in reality is an ugly barrier to keep out brown people. He brags of an electoral victory that was huge. It was not.
My colleague Shaoni Bhattacharya has already launched the conversation here at AHHE about how we might utilize our research to borrow some of the successful tactics of the ascendant authoritarians: “Charismatic leaders, as some might say Trump is, know how to tap into the primeval human mind. An emotive message switches on brain pathways that are hard to reverse with straightforward facts later…Add to that the power of groups – being persuaded that you are a member of any type of group – can cloud individual judgment, however smart you are, and it’s hard to overturn emotionally-seeded opinions.” Emotional appeals seem unserious, and playing to the passions is the domain of the demagogue. And yet linguists and others have for years been saying to personalize the message, to tell stories. So Bhattacharya might be worth paying attention to, especially in the realm of the visual.
The censorship of images usually stems from the belief that they bypass the rational mind. In the nineteenth century caricatures, a newly caustic form of criticism in France, met particularly harsh restriction from the censor’s scissors. Seen to speak directly to the eyes and emotions, and thus incite violence, caricature, as a visual medium, threatened power. In our visually saturated 21st-century, with the world coming to us through our devices and our screens, in an almost inescapable barrage, what has the power to speak to our eyes, open them to alternative viewpoints, allow us to separate the fake or falsified from the witnessed, the testimonial? Art history can help hone and refine our discernment, but also trains us to recognize, beyond the what, exactly how images mean.
A poet, novelist, screenwriter and art critic, Mr. Berger’s vision was exceptional, his writing often highly personal. In an essay called “On Visibility” Berger wrote: “Not to say that behind appearances is the truth, the Platonic way. It is very possible that visibility is the truth and that what lies outside visibility are only the ‘traces’ of what has been or will become visible.” In the image above Berger is coming into visibility, staring us down and compelling us to look, to hold the gaze, to refuse to look away. Watch this space.
#ArtHistoryEngaged – you can follow the author on Twitter @proftinkerbell.
John Berger, “On Visibility” (1977-78) in The Sense of Sight: Writings by John Berger (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), 219.
Shaoni Bhattacharya, “The Brexit/Trump Phenomenon: Why did they happen, and what are the ramification for arts and humanities higher education?” Arts and Humanities As Higher Education (December 7, 2016.) http://www.artsandhumanities.org/uncategorized/the-brexittrump-phenomenon-why-did-they-happen-and-what-are-the-ramifications-for-arts-and-humanities-higher-education/
Noah Charney, “The art of learning: Why art history might be the most important subject you could study today” Salon (January 15, 2017) http://www.salon.com/2017/01/15/the-art-of-learning-why-art-history-might-be-the-most-important-subject-you-could-study-today/
Karen J. Leader is Associate Professor of Art History, and Faculty Associate in the Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Florida Atlantic University. Her activities on behalf of art history and the humanities can be found here. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @proftinkerbell.
At the close of 2016, the European Commission celebrated 20 years of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. 2017 sees the MSCA support their 100,000th researcher, and the Actions continue to attract high numbers of applicants from across STEM and the Humanities in Europe and beyond.
I am the European Editor for Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, and I was fortunate enough to receive one of the MSCA Fellowships, under FP7 (2012-15). As an International Outgoing Fellow, I was given three years of funding to focus entirely on my research into European History. The ‘Outgoing’ phase of my project was based in the History Faculty at Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts); Phase 2 (the ‘reintegration’ part of my fellowship) saw me return to my home institution, Brunel University in London, UK.
The assistance provided by the Fellowship was two-fold. First of all, it allowed me time – at a prestigious American university – to focus entirely on my research. It also meant that I could benefit from training programmes, in my case: language lessons and management training, via the American system. Secondly, it allowed me to refocus my work in a new direction. Previously, my work had looked primarily at English-language history. A solid amount of time spent honing my language skills, with time to familiarise myself with the Spanish and Portuguese holdings in the key collections at Harvard and elsewhere, enabled me to move my career in a new direction. I now teach and write about Anglo-Iberian relations and the press – a career swerve that would have been extremely difficult without the time and support afforded by the Fellowship.
My Fellowship Project was entitled: Reshaping the Black Legend – Conflict, Coalition and the Press in Early Modern Europe. Acronym: CONCOPRESS. Further details are available here: http://cordis.europa.eu/result/rcn/192071_en.html.
Since 1996, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) have provided grants to train excellent researchers at all stages of their careers – be they doctoral candidates or highly experienced researchers – while encouraging transnational, inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary mobility. The programme is named after the double Nobel Prize winner Marie Skłodowska-Curie to honour and spread the values she stood for. The c. 100,000 researchers who have benefited from the programme include five Nobel laureates and an Oscar winner – and many projects (including my own) are in the field of Arts and Humanities (or cross-sector collaboration). So don’t be put off by the name: the MSCA are very keen to support the Arts and Humanities too!
I was very proud to be chosen to represent the Arts and Humanities at the European Commission’s celebration of 20 Years of the MSCA in Brussels, on 29 November 2016. Official speakers included Martine Reicherts (Director General of Education and Culture) and Tibor Navracsics (Commissioner of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport) but MSCA recipients filled the majority of the programme – showcasing their work funded under the Actions, via a series of TED-style talks. Research speakers were able to meet the day before the event and received training from the team who trained Barack Obama in public speaking, and – as always – the training opportunity was superb. The live-streamed event was an excellent chance to network and meet with policy officials, commissioners and other researchers, and our talks are now available to watch online: http://ec.europa.eu/research/mariecurieactions/news-events/events/year/2016/1129-20-years-msca_en.htm
I am a British passport holder, and am acutely aware of how fortunate I am to have been funded under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. As the UK awaits the triggering of Article 50, and in light of Theresa May’s decision to withdraw the UK from the Single Market, it remains unclear if UK-based researchers will benefit fully from these Actions in the future. UK-based scholars interested in these Actions should follow announcements by the UK Research Office (UKRO) for further information. The UKRO is the European office of the UK Research Councils. It delivers a subscription-based advisory service for research organisations [in the main UK HEIs] and provides National Contact Point services on behalf of the UK Government. UKRO’s mission is to maximise UK engagement in EU-funded research, innovation and higher education activities.
If you are interested in applying for funding via the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, further details are available here: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/h2020-section/marie-sklodowska-curie-actions
My talk for the MSCA celebrations was entitled ‘Text and Image: what are they good for?’ and it enabled me to relate my historical research to present-day interactions with printed text and images. My specialisms lie in the field of printed propaganda, and my Fellowship allowed me to undertake several outreach activities – with schoolchildren and with the general public. One of the excellent features of the MSCA Fellowships is that they encourage you to think about the ‘public worth’ of our research, and how our work can reach out to and help others.
In my talk I explored the use of text and image historically, and their use during the lead up to the EU Referendum in the UK and the American election in 2016. I also referenced the outreach work embedded into my fellowship, where I have worked with schoolchildren and young adults, to tackle stereotyping in the media. Questions afterwards stimulated some vibrant discussion about how to help young people navigate real/fake news in the media. It gave me a chance – in a room full of policy makers – to emphasise how important it is to encourage Humanities research if we are to stem the tide of hate speech and propaganda in the world today.
In the current climate within Europe and beyond, it is essential that we continue to promote our work in the Arts and Humanities to a wide audience, and that we engage with both our peers and our communities, to remind our societies – and our politicians – just how vital our work is to our local and global communities, and to undertake research-led teaching that inspires the next generation of scholars.
In my next entry on this blog, I will detail more work undertaken by Humanities scholars under the aegis of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions.
Dr Elizabeth Evenden-Kenyon is a Senior Lecturer at Brunel University in London. See her webpage for contact details: http://www.brunel.ac.uk/people/elizabeth-evenden (You can also follow her on Twitter: @codexhistoria)
If you are a current recipient of an MSCA fellowship and have not yet joined their vibrant alumni association, see here for details: https://www.mariecuriealumni.eu/
“In him, we cannot easily discern separate medical and humanistic sensibilities” (Joanne Trautmann describing William Carlos Williams)
John McFarland was born into a medical family in Liverpool in 1930. His father was an orthopaedic surgeon and mother a paediatrician. He later studied medicine in his home town and proceeded to have a very successful career as a general surgeon.
Even though the facts paint a straightforward story I truly believe that he was always torn between the arts and science, and here are some of the reasons that we might consider him a medical humanist:
The surgeon said “It’s an ulcer.
But you’re fortunate, we can cut it away”.
They laid me on my back.
The knife was clean, I suppose, unforgiving.
and afterwards there was great pain
and someone else’s blood dripping into me.
I thought of you and my heart turned.
I wished to see you sitting in the sun,
to run my hand lightly down your back
and think those things that one thinks
in the warm afternoon.
There were those days walking together,
you will remember them,
when it was you and the sky
in those warm us-days
and we crossed the clear, pebbled streams,
always your hand in mine.
The microscope confirmed the diagnosis.
But there’s no need to worry,
they have cut it all away.
“Crab” was written in the 1980’s when he was practising medicine, and it is a personal reflection on breast cancer, which was one of his specialties.
Sing of Africa the fierce, Light and shade, trees and jungle.
Care for those who care for these things,
The dark people who to the river come and go
Where murky waters slide through mud and crocodiles.
At this place occurs, one day, a disastrous battle;
A crocodile drags a screaming girl towards the strand
Where villagers attempt to save her, just alive.
Her bones now pierce her skin, also periosteum
Which send to her brain messages of fear and pain.
Her mangled leg will not destroy her but foreshadows death.
For three weeks, infection stemmed, she does not die,
The plane, with steady throb, dips through the silent clouds.
The pilot, old time adventurer, right hand severed in the past,
Jams his stump into the controls, a three-point landing.
The girl, leg splinted Tobruk style, is lifted to the tiny plane.
The pilot turns his craft and takes off towards the hills.
He reaches back to check a flapping door and finds, writhing in agony, The girl who must be tended. I inject her arm,
Prepare to sit out the night with the bundle of my keeping.
Suddenly her breathing stops, she’s pulseless, damp and cold,
I who put the morphia in cannot take it out.
Nor does the dawn which splits the night give any comfort.
The pilot from his cockpit, flickering green, says,
“We’ll sight Nyeri Station soon, not far ahead”.
Above, the omnipresent vultures gyre, raiders for Zoroaster,
They cast no patterns in the air, nor plane a shadow on the sand.
We home in on the runway, draw up beside the kerosene flares,
Many pilots receive some small applause for this, but reaching back
We find a twisted ghost just breathing, a heart just pumping.
When death is fragile prepare for life.
She is alive. It is enough.
The hospital built, no doubt, so man himself could salve
The ills of life, is near.
There the surgeon, supple fingers, agile knife,
Stabs the pus to find more pus, all anatomy corrupted.
Gently the blade moves in, the leg is eased away.
Thus, without a poisoned limb to drag down the bloody show,
The healing process may begin.
“A matter of opportunity” was specifically written for a poetry prize, about a year before he died in 2013. Here, he looks back in hindsight to an event that happened when he was serving in the army as a doctor in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising in the early nineteen fifties. This war made a big impact on his life, and interestingly enough, he was employed as an anaesthetist.
This year has seen the anti-expert backlash in full swing. First there was the UK referendum’s vote for leaving the European Union, a Brexit, against much expert advice, and then there was the unexpected election of Donald Trump as the next US President. In both instances, professional polls were proved wrong.
For many in the academic community – be it science, humanities or arts – these seismic political ructions, backed by a large proportion of the public, seem hard to understand in the context of expert advice that warned against them.
The UK is currently in the throes of Brexit anxiety – Brexit may mean Brexit according to our politicians – but what exactly does that mean? And how will the will of the people be carried out?
As well as political consequences, Brexit has had deep social and economic ramifications. And the world is waiting to see what turmoil a Trump Presidency will likewise bring. With both events, stock markets tumbled the world over and planning for the future, whether at national or individual level has become harder overnight.
For the academic community – international and outward-looking, the implications may be worrying especially when it comes to the movement of talent across the globe. The science journal Nature’s news site noted that researchers are more than concerned about their academic positions and funding, with some foreign academics in the US considering returning to their home countries. If this is the case in higher education in STEM subjects, one can only speculate the situation that arts and humanities researchers find themselves in. And as racist incidents have increased after both events, some academics have found themselves at the receiving end of abuse in the UK.
In the wake of the referendum, the UK’s Russell Group of universities put out a statement to condemn xenophobic incidents and reassure the academic community:
“Now more than ever we should ensure our campuses are places where diversity is welcomed, cherished and respected,” said Professor Sir David Greenaway, at the University of Nottingham, and Chair of the Russell Group, and Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General and Chief Executive of the university group.
So why did the public in both countries vote the way they did? Is it down to the disenfranchised protesting at neglect from successive governments? It’s hard to understand in the UK, when Brexit will leave the average household £4,300 worse off a year by 2030 and every year thereafter. It’s difficult to see how Brexit will make already impoverished groups any better off – with fewer jobs in a falling economy, Brexit is likely to hurt the poorest most.
And how does Trump, the billionaire in the gilded Trump Tower, strike a chord with the ordinary, working man that he professes to represent? Harness people’s emotions, stir up their deepest fears. That’s how. Our brain neurology responds best to emotive pleas, not cold, hard facts. This is where the experts are getting it wrong. To reach people, to disseminate research and expert advice based on it, academics need to engage their passion.
That is at least, the message I learnt from a recently published book, Denying to the Grave: Why we ignore the facts that will save us by daughter and father duo, Sara and Jack Gorman. The focus of this book was not politics, but health. Why don’t we look after ourselves the way we should, or carry on with negative health behaviours in the face of good scientific evidence? Given Brexit could be the UK’s ultimate act of self-harm: might there be answers here too?
The book’s answers were complex but simple too – and much of it comes down to our basic evolutionary hardwiring. Charismatic leaders, as some might say Trump is, know how to tap into the primeval human mind. An emotive message switches on brain pathways that are hard to reverse with straightforward facts later. And us humans have a strong “confirmation bias”; that is, we don’t like changing our minds once made up. Add to that the power of groups – being persuaded that you are a member of any type of group – can cloud individual judgment, however smart you are, and it’s hard to overturn emotionally-seeded opinions.
So what next? 2017 is an unknown and unpredictable prospect. Experts, academics and higher education in general may need to fight their corner harder not to lose the gains made in terms of freedom of movement and valuing diversity. They might do well to employ some of the tactics (in a positive way) used by negative campaigns – that is, to use the fruits of higher education research and reach out to the public’s psyche, not just its reason.
Are you feeling concerned by the outcomes of the recent election in the US, and Brexit in the UK?
‘Reading Bodies, Writing Minds’ is a one-day conference exploring mental health issues in the medical humanities, and will be held 13 April 2017at Highfield House, The University of Nottingham’s University Park Campus. The conference is intended to stimulate interdisciplinary discussion on modern and historical aspects of medical humanities. The keynote speakers include Dr Mary Ann Lund (University of Leicester), specialising in Elizabethan-era melancholy, and Dr Chantelle Saville (University of Auckland), speaking on medieval theory of emotion.
This interdisciplinary event is intended to foster communication between different study areas and subjects and to that end we invite abstracts addressing historical and modern entanglements of medicine and the humanities. Submissions might include, but are not restricted to, the following topics:
Colleagues who wish to be considered to present a paper please submit by 1 February 2017 an abstract of no more than 250 words which outlines the paper and the area of research. Submissions should be sent by email to the conference organisers here. All accepted papers will be considered for peer-review and potential publication in an edited volume of conference proceedings.
For general enquiries or further information about the conference, please contact Martin Brook