Portrait of British Academy president Julia Black

President of the British Academy, Professor Julia Black, has urgently defended the value and importance of study and research in humanities against financial cuts, declaring them “not an optional extra” and “essential” to a thriving society and strong, liberal democracy.

In her speech, ‘Humanities in a Changing World’ at the Exchange last month – part of the College of Arts and Law's ‘Transformative Humanities’ public lecture series convened by Professor Dagmar Divjak – Professor Black said: “when both public and private finances are strained, the fact that financial cuts are impacting the humanities shows that we need to re-energise support for them across the board – from students and government, to taxpayers and voters”.

Chiming with the British Academy’s launch of its manifesto calling on the next government to strengthen the social sciences and humanities, Professor Black’s lecture pointed to the fact that all the world’s most pressing problems – from the climate crisis to geopolitical tensions – are rooted in people, culture and societies that the humanities can help to understand, critique and tackle by constructing new paths forward.

“The Humanities are not an optional extra,” she said. “In this changing world, we need them more than ever. We need to understand who is questioning their value and their relevance – and we need to know how to communicate and reach those different communities on whom we rely for support – and indeed, for our legitimacy”.

Our Birmingham 'Transformative Humanities' lectures testify to our firm belief that research, teaching, and learning in arts and humanities are fundamental to developing ways to live well together. At this time when many universities are reducing their humanities offerings, we are developing more programmes, doing more research, and engaging more with the public. Like the British Academy, we know that the humanities can unlock how we understand the challenges we face, develop solutions, and work together to implement them.

Professor Fiona de Londras, Director of Research at the College of Arts and Law, University of Birmingham