Making a Difference

Patrik Svensson is Professor of Humanities and Information Technology at Umeå University and Visiting Professor of Digital Humanities at University of California at Los Angeles. For this year’s Being Human Festival he is the organizer of a conversation on “Making a real difference”. We approached him to ask a few questions.




Why the conversation?

Let me first say that I’m very excited about the event. While I am very appreciative of work done in the established disciplines, the need for humanities-based action has really grown on me. There is a great deal of power in the humanities that could be unlocked, I think. The humanities often end up in outside position, which in some ways is productive, but also hinders us from actively engaging with societal, cultural and technological issues and challenges in ways that would benefit our students, ourselves and the world. This is not about giving up a critical role or succumbing to external pressures to be useful, but rather to follow a humanistic ethos, take responsibility and further our research and teaching.

What does it mean to make a real difference?

I hope that this is what we will find out through the conversation, but for me it is about taking the knowledge and competence of the humanities very seriously and thinking about how this can be part of attempting to solve real-world challenges. This is not about just handing over ready-made journal articles to external partners or the humanities serving as window dressing, but rather about being involved in collaborative processes where conceptual thinking, critical perspectives and making come together. Humanists can take a lead or be high-value and confident partners. There is not one model, of course, and I am not saying that there is not good work of this kind already going on, but we need to scale humanities involvement up which also means that new practices, platforms and understandings need to be developed inside and outside the humanities. It is a matter of changing how we think about ourselves and others, and also about our partners engaging with us full on and with respect.

A two-hour conversation?

Yes! I think the format will work very well. It will be a semi-structured dialogue between the five people on stage in the magnificent Senate Room in the Senate House. The audience will be asked to participate and brief recorded skype interviews will be incorporated into the presentation. The central question is how human and humanistic knowledge make a real difference. Key issues to be discussed include the environment, race, austerity, neuroscience and philosophy, and the digital. I have organized many events and conversations, and I can honestly say that the caliber and intensity of these people and the format surpass anything with which I have been involved earlier. It is a dream come true.

Who are the participants?

 Natalie Jeremijenko’s work as a scholar and artist on the environment is brilliant and persistently innovative. She commands and deserves attention. David Theo Goldberg is a leading intellectual and scholar on race, ethnicity and critical theory and one of the most prevalent champions of the humanities. Gary Dirks, who was an executive at BP for thirty years in Asia and China, calls for the humanities to take the lead approaching global sustainability with a low-key, insistent fervor. Barrý Smith is a fiercely sharp philosopher and cognitive scientist who calls for the coming together of philosophy and neuroscience. Gargi Bhattacharyya has few peers in the way her scholarship acutely addresses key challenges in our world – including race, sexuality, trafficking, austerity and the war on terror. How can her–and their generally–work inform action?

 The event will also incorporate brief pre-recorded skype interludes with participants who are equally important, but not present physically. Allison Guess’s research focuses on critical Black geographies and she is placed in the program of Earth and Environmental Sciences at The Graduate Center at City University New York. Matt Ratto, Director of the Critical Making Lab at the University of Toronto, explores the intersections between digital technologies and the human life world. Stefanie Wuschitz is an artist and researcher at the Vienna University of Technology who does work on feminist hackerspaces, open source technology and data publics.

 There will be plenty of time for open discussion. I hope to see you all there!

Sign up for the event on the 21st Nov, 4pm, at Senate House: Making a Real Difference


What is the nature of wine perception, and is wine flavour objective?

What is the nature of wine perception, and is wine flavour objective?

Professor Barry C. Smith, Director of the Institute of Philosophy and co-director and founder of the Centre for the Study of the Senses (pictured), was interviewed by wine writer and wine columnist for The Sunday Express Jamie Goode, for Jamie Goode’s Wine Blog.

JG: What can your discipline, philosophy, give to neuroscience that can help here? Or would you consider that perhaps your discipline has changed a bit?

BS: Our discipline has changed a bit. We have always been interested in the nature of experience and the nature of perception. If you ask philosophers what their core business is, it is objectivity and subjectivity. This is one of the reasons I have got into this area. All the great wine critics go on and on telling you things, and then they say, of course, taste is subjective and it is all a matter of individual opinions. And then they tell you which vintage is better than another, and which domain is better. And I think, hold on, I thought it was all subjective and a matter of opinion. So is this just autobiography? If so, why should I care about you? They don’t really believe that it is entirely subjective.

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AHRC Science in Culture Theme- The Lived Environment Workshop

AHRC Science in Culture Theme- The Lived Environment Workshop

Storify summary of a two day interdisciplinary workshop organised by the AHRC Science in Culture Theme at the Royal Society, London, 19-21st May.

Orchid Observers- New Citizen Science project

Orchid Observers- New Citizen Science project

A new citizen science project, Orchid Observers has been launched by Zooniverse and the Natural History Museum as part of the AHRC Large Grant Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st centuries. The project will look at the impact of climate change on the flowering time of UK orchids.

This new project asks citizen scientists to take part by taking photographs of wild orchids during spring and summer 2015 and uploading them to the project website. Participants can also help by carrying out online research to identify uploaded orchid photographs and to extract data from the Natural History Museum’s 15,000 specimens gathered over the past 300 years. By examining the results of the photographic and online research, scientists can look at flowering times from past and present to assess the effects of climate change.

For further information on the project and how to take part, please visit the Zooniverse and Natural History Museum websites.

The Orchid Observers project has also been featured on BBC Earth

Funding opportunity: Early Career Researcher Workshop- The Lived Environment

Funding opportunity: Early Career Researcher Workshop- The Lived Environment

The AHRC Science in Culture Theme is holding an inter-disciplinary research development workshop bringing together early career researchers from the arts and humanities and the science on the theme of ‘The Lived Environment’. It will be held on Tuesday 19th May (evening reception), Wednesday 20th and Thursday 21st May 2015 at The Royal Society, Carlton House Terrace, London.

The aim of this ECR Workshop is to bring together early career researchers to explore opportunities for reciprocal research collaborations across the arts and humanities and sciences around the broad theme of ‘The Lived Environment’.

Following the workshop attendees will have the opportunity to apply for collaborative research innovation awards to take forward some of the inter-disciplinary research ideas which emerge.

Expressions of interest applications (EoI) are invited from early career researchers from across a wide range of the arts and humanities and early career researchers from across a wide range of the sciences to attend the workshop. Applications will be assessed by a peer review panel.

The closing date for Expressions of Interest (EoIs) is 4pm on Friday 10th April 2015.

Further information about this opportunity is available on the website Funding pages.

Project calls on the public to reveal Victorian natural history

Project calls on the public to reveal Victorian natural history

An AHRC-funded project is looking for members of the public to contribute to efforts to gather detailed information on the rich treasure trove of illustrated material, illustrators and authors, currently locked away in Victorian Natural History publications.

Zooniverse, the premier citizen science platform, has today launched Science Gossip– a new crowd sourcing platform to investigate the use of illustrations in scientific publications. This is based on a unique collaboration between Zooniverse, the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the AHRC’s Science in Culture theme large grant project Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries.

It is hoped that members of the public will be able to help identify and tag illustrations currently in the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s online database. Once a page has been identified as containing an illustration, citizen scientists will then be asked to add relevant information from the image itself. This information will create essential data for historians to understand Victorian illustrating practices at a crucial moment in scientific history when Darwin was developing his theories of evolution.

In participating in this digital project, the ‘citizen scientists’ will also be helping academics to better understand the 19th century origins of the citizen science movement itself. Visitors to Science Gossip will be uncovering the names and characters of people who contributed to the growing visual culture of science publications.

Professor Sally Shuttleworth, Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and the Principal Investigator for the Constructing Scientific Communities project, said:

“This is the first time Zooniverse, or any of the project partners, have tried to use today’s citizen scientists to help map the contributions to science made by ‘citizens’ in the past. The public really can help to make a difference to our understanding of the culture of these nineteenth-century publications. I would very much like to harness the huge popular interest in natural history to further our research into this crucial area of modern scientific advancement.”

AHRC at the Being Human Festival

AHRC at the Being Human Festival

A short film revisiting the 2014 Being Human Festival of the Humanities has been released. The film features researchers from two AHRC Science in Culture Theme Large Grants ‘Rethinking the Senses: Uniting the Philosophy and Neuroscience of Perception’ and ‘Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human Chicken Interactions’.

As part of the Festival, Rethinking the Senses organized a day of experiments and live demonstrations at the Science Museum Dana Centre to explore the way that the senses work together (footage from 1.27) while the Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human Chicken Interactions team invited the public to join them at Vindolanda, Roman Museum to find out more about the origins and domestication of chickens (footage from 3.29).

Being Human is the UK’s only national festival dedicated to demonstrating the breadth, diversity and vitality of the humanities. During the inaugural festival in 2014 over 60 universities and cultural organisations organised over 160 free events sharing the best and most challenging thinking in the humanities with audiences across the country. Events included hackathons, wiki-edits, pop-up talks in pubs and cafes, fashion shows, art installations, exhibitions and more.

This short film revisits 2014 Being Human Festival events giving insights into innovative research taking place across the humanities and the UK.
Researchers and the public will again be invited to take part in the Being Human festival in 2015. Further information is available on the Being Human Festival website.

Call for proposals to present events at the Cheltenham Science festival

Call for proposals to present events at the Cheltenham Science festival

Cheltenham Festival LogoAHRC-lg3




To mark its tenth anniversary in 2015, the AHRC is looking to extend its partnership with Cheltenham Festivals by inviting applications from researchers to present their research at one of a series of four engaging public events at the Times Cheltenham Science Festival and the Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2015. One event will run at the Science Festival, and three at the Literature Festival.

Cheltenham Festivals is the charitable organisation behind the town’s internationally acclaimed Jazz, Science, Music and Literature Festivals. Through cutting edge and creative programming, Cheltenham’s four festivals have provided a platform for debate and commentary from writers, performers, scientists, musicians and scholars across the world.

Up to twenty successful applicants will have a chance to develop their event ideas with experienced Cheltenham Festival producers and members of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement team at a dedicated workshop. Of these, up to four will have the chance to hold their event at one of the Festivals.

A workshop held on 23rd February 2015 will focus on the Science and Literature festivals. The selected researchers will benefit from a unique opportunity to work closely with the Cheltenham Festival producers to create interactive and engaging events, invite high profile speakers, where relevant, and ultimately share their research with a public audience.

We welcome applications from individual researchers or project teams with one lead applicant, working in all areas of the arts and humanities. The topics of the proposed events should fall within one of the disciplines within the AHRC’s remit.

The Times Cheltenham Science Festival

The Times Cheltenham Science Festival will be held from 2 June to 7 June 2015. The Science Festival is a celebration of science, engineering, technology and maths, promoting dialogue about the latest ideas and cutting edge research. It has become recognised as one of the most important platforms for science communication and engagement with the public, and includes a thriving schools programme and weekend activities for all the family. With hands-on interactive experiences and lively events, it showcases science from Britain and around the globe in a unique festival format.

Past AHRC events at the festival have focussed on what science and the arts and humanities can learn from each other. Descriptions of these events can be found on the AHRC website (opens in a new window). The remit of this year’s science festival is very broad, and applications are invited on all relevant topics from researchers across the arts and humanities.

A copy of the call document is available to download here: Cheltenham Festival call document 2015

The deadline for applications is Monday 9th February 2015 (23.59pm).

Please visit the AHRC website to find out more about the application procedure 

[Photo credit:]

Call for Papers: Working with Nineteenth Century Medical and Health Periodicals

Call for Papers: Working with Nineteenth Century Medical and Health Periodicals

Working with Nineteenth Century Medical and Health Periodicals
St Anne’s College, Oxford
30 May 2015

The nineteenth century saw an explosion in the number of medical periodicals available to the interested reader. Publications such as the Lancet and British Medical Journal are familiar names to many of us, still published and widely read today. The period also saw a huge range of smaller journals appearing, as practitioners increasingly organised themselves into more discrete medical ‘specialisms’ towards the end of the century. The Asylum Journal, later Journal of Mental Science, for example, sought to bring together the knowledge of those working in the expanding field of psychiatry, whilst The Homoeopathic World provided a forum for discussion for those practicing homoeopathic medicine, and was read both by medical professionals and laypeople.

As digitization projects advance, an increasing number of these medical periodicals are becoming available to researchers. We are interested in learning more about the nature and methodologies of current research projects that involve working with these journals, as well as broader issues surrounding this kind of research: digitizing material, locating journals (particularly obscure ones), and using and searching collections. We will be asking questions about how to read periodicals, how to situate these materials within a broader historical medical context, and how to construct narratives based on periodical research. In the longer term we would like to build up a network of people working closely on or with medical and health periodicals.

We welcome proposals from researchers working on medical periodicals across the world. If you would like to give a short (c.10 mins) presentation on your work in this area, please email by 13 February 2015, including an abstract of not more than 250 words and a short biography. If you would like to attend the workshop without giving a paper, please register your interest by emailing us at the address above.

This workshop is being co-hosted by the ERC-funded ‘Diseases of Modern Life’ and AHRC-funded ‘Constructing Scientific Communities’ projects at the University of Oxford.

AHRC/ BBC New Generation Thinkers 2015- Call closing soon

AHRC/ BBC New Generation Thinkers 2015- Call closing soon

The Arts & Humanities Research Council, BBC Radio 3, and BBC Arts are looking for the UK’s next intellectual broadcasters in the arts and humanities.

The New Generation Thinkers scheme is seeking innovative programme ideas, talent, and expertise from early career researchers who are passionate about communicating their research across the airwaves.

The scheme, led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) with BBC Radio 3, will invite up to sixty early career researchers to BBC-run workshops to develop their programme ideas alongside experienced BBC producers. From these sixty, the ten resident New Generation Thinkers for 2015 will be selected, and will go on to develop their ideas for BBC Radio 3 in a year-long partnership. .

The scheme is partnered with BBC Arts to provide opportunities for the New Generation Thinkers to develop their ideas for television and have the opportunity to make a short taster film of their idea to be shown on the BBC arts website – . Past New Generation Thinkers have appeared on radio, on television, in print, and at cultural festivals.

Applications are invited via an online form until Monday 15 December 2014.