10/03 – 17/03 Aidan Byrne

I have been following Aidan’s Twitter account, @plashingvole, for some time and hold him responsible for many hours spent getting riled up about academic injustices and disappearing down rabbit holes of interesting (if, strictly speaking, tangential) links to thought-provoking content on his blog and all over the web.  He is great at Twitter and has a bigger-than-ours following of his own so we were really pleased that he offered to support the @wethehumanities project with a week’s curation.  His introductory post feels like a call to arms and I for one am really looking forward to what he does with his week.

How do I sustain the excellent work of my illustrious predecessors here at We The Humanities? I intend to use my week to highlight and even promote the work done across the country (and the world), unseen and unheralded, to enrich the lives of citizens everywhere. From the symbolic crochet done by Fukushima survivors to the outreach work of theatre companies like Borderlines in Stoke-on-Trent, I want to emphasise the role of culture in restoring dignity and worth to communities battered by weather, real or political.

I’m going to talk about the role of art – and its absence – in the lives of the excluded, and why professionals in the field of humanities have a moral duty. I work partly on novels by miners, the unemployed and the excluded, particularly from the 1930s, an era which seems to be more and more familiar as the economy declines and inequality increases. Like JB Priestley in English Journey, I too understand why miners should have champagne and pianos, theatres and racecourses. There are too many organisations and people out there speaking for and about the excluded: the poor, the unemployed, ethnic minorities and the provincial. This week, I plan to highlight what they’re doing for themselves out of sight of authority, and what we in the humanities are doing alongside them.

My day job is working as an academic at the University of Wolverhampton. Half my job is in the English department, while the other half is in Media and Cultural Studies. I teach a range of periods and texts, from Ben Jonson to The Grapes of Wrath to Eimear McBride’s stunning new novel A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, and on the media side proudly apply cutting edge theory to texts often looked down upon by the snootier commentators around: I’m sure that I’ll find room to discuss the impending closure of BBC3 and the gradual exclusion of young people from the cultural landscape.

I’m always looking for texts which tell previously untold stories by bright new voices, and I’ll devote some of this week to loudly singing their praises. It’s great working at a university like mine. Our students are almost all local, working-class and from families with little previous engagement with higher education. Embedded in the community, we take great pride in promoting social and economic empowerment through knowledge and intellectual endeavour. In an era of STEM and political contempt for the humanities, it’s more important than ever to stress the cultural and social importance of the humanities. Like Louise before me, the work of groups like Arts Emergency is both sadly necessary and admirable.

Hopefully I’ll entertain you with a selection of the weird and wonderful in the coming week – and also give you plenty to think about.

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