Telling stories about humanities and social sciences

The people and their stories within the humanities and social sciences are compelling and important and deserve to be more widely heard. This is particularly true at a time when their value seems to be in doubt, as evidenced in the current suggestion that they should be priced less than the sciences.

There is no question that the UK needs, and indeed relies on, the expertise found within the humanities and social sciences. Archaeologists are instrumental in huge building projects such as the Olympic Park and Crossrail. Anthropologists work side by side with medics in developing countries during health epidemics such as ebola. Major tech companies in the US are hiring philosophers and other liberal arts graduates to work with scientists in shaping the ethical framework behind AI. Economists provide the analysis to drive policy around interest rates and inflation. Historical research has added new depth to commemorations of important national events, such as the centenary of the Armistice, or the new statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square.

And on an individual level, we all benefit from the insights and understanding of people, societies and cultures that our subjects provide. An economist wrote the article you read on your commute about why the high street is struggling. You may have heard a political scientist on a podcast talking us through political change in a country such as Brazil, or a linguist on the heritage of a well-known phrase. It was an art historian who explained the provenance of the painting you saw on your recent city break.

Hashtag campaigning

As the national body, we want to tell these stories so that there is a better understanding of what the humanities and social sciences are and why they matter. To do this, we will be taking to social media to demonstrate #HowHumanities and #HowSocialScience are important in shaping our world.

Using these hashtags, we will be sharing stories, thoughts and ideas about the importance of these subjects and we hope universities and others working in the humanities and social sciences will do so too.

It could be #HowHumanities research from your department contributed to public policy or enhanced our understanding of something, or #HowSocialScience gave a student the skills to go for a particular job or opportunity. Or a personal story about how the subjects have helped you to understand something or given you a fresh perspective.

We are particularly keen on stories that show the arts and the sciences working in partnership – disciplines that are too often portrayed as rivals or opposites.

This is something the British Academy explored in our recent Summer Showcase, which included interactive exhibits based on research combining medieval studies and astrophysics, and engineering with disability studies. We’d love to hear about your examples too.

This is all part of the academy’s role in speaking up for the humanities and social sciences. This is front and centre of our new strategic plan to 2022. In it, we outline our ambitions to invest in the very best research and researchers, to engage and collaborate with international partners, and to inform and enrich debate around society’s greatest questions.

Recent research on perceptions of universities found that telling people about the UK’s world-leading research was the most effective message to drive positivity towards the sector. We hope our campaign will build on this opportunity by telling the stories of research in the humanities and social sciences, and the impact it has had on our lives – and we hope you will join us.

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