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‘The expertise of humanities and social sciences are not optional but essential’, says new British Academy president

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The humanities and social sciences will be vital if we are to tackle the challenges facing society and the world, according to the new President of the British Academy, the historian Professor Sir David Cannadine.

In a speech this week outlining his vision for the Academy over the next four years, Professor Sir David Cannadine said: “The expertise of the humanities and the insights of the social sciences are not recreational but fundamental, not optional but essential.

“The sciences, medicine and technology may change the world but without the humanities and social sciences, we cannot hope to understand the world or come to terms with those changes,” he added.

“For example, we live in a society where a great deal of low paid work - in retail and in transport – seems likely to disappear in the not-too-distant future. But what are the hundreds of thousands of people who might have expected to earn their livings in these sorts of jobs going to do instead? We also live in a society where cities are becoming ever more crowded and congested: how, do we safeguard quality of life and cities them sustainable? The Academy exists to put the collective knowledge of its Fellows and researchers to work in confronting and addressing these challenges.”

Sir David also highlighted Academy’s role in the UK’s negotiations to leave the European Union.

“The public debate over Brexit seems interminable and unavoidable, and the Academy is playing a significant part in it, involving Fellows from many disciplines, from history to philosophy, from economics to politics, and from international law to international relations,” he said.

Elsewhere in the speech, Sir David stressed the need to raise the Academy’s profile and called for closer collaboration with similar institutions.

He said: “We must raise our international profile. The Academy supports research institutes in Ankara, Athens, Nairobi, Teheran, Rome and Amman and we work well and closely with the Royal Society, and the Academies of Medicine and Engineering here in London. But, especially in this era of Brexit, we must work to strengthen our connections with the great academies of Europe and those in North America and in Asia.”

“We may be the British Academy, but we are also an international organisation, with global reach and resonance.”

The speech, which was Professor Sir David Cannadine’s first since becoming President of the British Academy in July, was attended by Fellows of the British Academy, representatives from cultural institutions, research funders, journalists and politicians.

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