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Opening 2020: Inspiring Minds in Tumultuous Times

Monday 28 September 2020

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In this video of the opening event of the Academic year 2020, the Dean, Professor Stella Bruzzi, and the Head of Departments of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, welcome you and your fellow students to UCL.  Each of them reflects on the value of their humanities disciplines in these extraordinary times and on what the subjects you have come to study can tell us today.

We have gathered here some of the quotations, artworks, research projects, images and references that your Heads of Department draw on in their brief talks, so that you are able to think about them more in your own time.

Stella Bruzzi, Dean of A&H, draws on a wide range of references in cinema and culture to help us make sense of our present crisis, and perhaps to see it as not quite so new: her own experience of aftermath of the Manchester riots in 1981, Walt Whitman, and Hollywood melodrama.  In the difficult circumstances of this academic year, she encourages to adopt the maxim of Bette Davis’ character in the 1942 film, ‘Now, Voyager’: “let’s not ask for the moon; we have the stars!”  Watch the clip here.

Hear from the Heads of Department

Tim Jordan

Tim Jordan, Head of the Arts and Sciences Programme (BASc) - with a good dose of irony and some cartoon ears - urges us to take seriously the study of popular culture companies, like Disney, land makes a case for the need for interdisciplinary approaches like those you will learn on the BASc. Explore painter, Jeff Gillette’s take on Disneyland here.

John Mullan

John Mullan, Head of English, draws on a quotation from Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy to reflect on the way that literature hungrily imitates and borrows from other books, so that literature is itself books that are made of other books.  So he suggests that the study of literature can help us see that new things are often old and how to see old things in a new light.  Here is the quotation from the beginning of Chapter 1 that he discusses: “Shall we for ever make new books, as apothecaries make new mixtures, by pouring only out of one vessel into another?” Read more of John’s reflections on Tristram Shandy here.

Philippe Marlière

Philippe Marlière, Head of UCL European & International Social & Political Studies (EISPS) and a political scientist, draws on Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of symbolic power as a way to make sense of the world we live in.

Gesine Manuwald

Gesine Manuwald, Head of Greek and Latin, introduces us to the Roman orator and politician, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BCE), and suggests that looking back at the political oratory of classical times might help us gain a better grasp on today’s politics too. She talks about the famous statement, ‘If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.’, an adaptation of a comment in one of Cicero’s letters, and also about the beginning of his Second Agrarian Speech, Cicero’s inaugural oration as consul in 63 BCE, the Latin text and English translation of which you can find, for instance, in the Loeb Classical Library collection, accessible online via the UCL Library.

Elizabeth Shepherd

Elizabeth Shepherd, Head of Information Studies, argues for the importance of participatory community-based research, such as practiced by her Department, as a form of knowledge production that is based in social justice. Find more about the project she discusses, MIRRA: Memory – Identity – Rights in Records – Access, here and follow them on Twitter here: @mirraproject

James Wilson

James Wilson, Head of Philosophy, draws on the ideas of the American pragmatist philosopher, William James – as well as on an Indian folk tale – to suggest that the sort of world we encounter depends on the expectations that we bring to it, a notion that might act as a challenge to all of us as we begin a new year.  Here is a longer version of James’s thoughts on this sort of performativity. and here is a version of the folk tale: “We have a story in India about two men, one high-minded and generous, the other very selfish, who were sent to foreign lands and asked to tell what kind of people they found there. The first reported that he found people basically good at heart, not very different from those at home. The second man felt envious hearing this, for in the place he visited everyone was selfish, scheming and cruel. Both, of course, were describing the same land.” Discover more about the project Gutenberg version of William James's The Will to Believe, which was first published in 1897.

Jo Evans

Jo Evans, Head of the School of European Languages, Cultures and Society takes a detour via the French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, to point us towards Hans Holbein’s painting, The Ambassadors, (go and see it at the National Gallery!) in order to suggest that studying languages and cultures can enable us to see things from new and unexpected angles. If you are bold enough, watch this short film about Lacan here.

Kieren Reed

Kieren Reed, Director of the Slade School of Fine Art, reflects on the ways in which rapid technological advances – the fourth industrial revolution - have turned the previously unthinkable into a normalised reality for art and artists. As the Slade considers its own evolution as a world-leading art school, he invites us to consider the changing ways in which we engage with physical and digital objects, and move through physical and digital spaces.

Noting that cyber companies are seeking to employ more arts graduates, Kieren reminds us of the critical role of agile thinking, the ability to read and decipher complex material, and the capacity to think in abstract and unconventional ways in meeting the challenges of continuous tech advances.

Read more about the fourth industrial revolution here.

Sacha Stern

Professor Sacha Stern was unable to attend the opening event because he was observing Yom Kippur, one of the most important religious festivals in the Jewish calendar.

View his welcome video for students of Hebrew and Jewish Studies