Job advert ruffles feathers at School of Advanced Study

Disquiet over plan to appoint new professor in digital humanities

July 17, 2014

Further controversy has broken out at the University of London’s troubled School of Advanced Study after plans emerged to appoint a new professor in digital humanities.

It follows a proposal, later withdrawn, to merge the SAS’ Institute of English Studies into the Institute of Historical Research and the Institute of Modern Languages Research that was greeted with protest. There have also been concerns about what a legal action by the University of London may mean for the 350,000-volume library at the Warburg Institute.

A new development has now sparked further anxieties, namely an advertisement for a chair in digital humanities, described as “an exciting opportunity for a leading practitioner in the field to play a key role in promoting digital humanities activity across the school and central University of London, and in championing the digital humanities to the wider academic community and beyond”.

Sir Brian Vickers, one of the 18 distinguished senior fellows at the SAS, said that it was “odd” that the school claimed that it could not afford to appoint a new director of the Institute of English Studies, but can afford to enter a field “already fully occupied” by a “world-class” department at King’s College London and an up-and-coming one at University College London. “The dean should now hold off with this project until he has brought stability to the Institute of English Studies,” he said.

Roger Kain, the dean and chief executive of the SAS, said the school saw the digital humanities “as essential to its mission to promote and support research nationally and internationally”.

“A very clear steer was given to the SAS in its most recent funding review, led by Professor Edward Acton on behalf of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, to take an active role in championing debates fundamental to humanities research, such as those relating to open access and other digital humanities innovations,” he said.

Professor Kain added that “following the outcome of the Acton review in 2012, new funds were made available through investment by the University of London specifically for the purposes of enacting the recommendations of the review. These funds were absolutely ring-fenced against strategic targets. This included new posts, of which the chair in digital humanities was one. The creation of this post was prior to, independent of, and beyond the scope of discussions within the school about established posts for directorships of institutes.”

He said the post was not meant to “duplicate the excellent research” undertaken in other digital humanities departments, “but to complement it through the provision of research resources of benefit to the national scholarly community”.

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