Two years have passed since the previous issue of the British Academy Review but it feels like several lifetimes. COVID has of course turned everyone’s life upside down, wreaking economic havoc and forcing people to sacrifice freedoms on a scale not seen for many years. In the UK we’ve also gone through Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, the political, economic and social consequences of which will take many years to understand.
Another notable change has occurred within the British Academy. In summer 2021 I took over the role of President and it has been a great pleasure meeting the staff, working more closely with our Fellows and getting to grips with the huge variety of work the Academy does, from funding new research and hosting events to weighing in on the most pressing higher education and public policy issues of the day.
I was particularly honoured to take over from Professor Sir David Cannadine. David was an exceptional President and the Academy emerged from his term a more outward-looking, effective and influential organisation. I’m very grateful to have taken on an organisation in such great form.
As David highlighted in his final speech to the AGM, the need for the social sciences, humanities and the arts – the SHAPE subjects – has never been greater.
It is only with the insights from subjects as diverse as anthropology, psychology, history, law, economics and geography that we will ensure the health, wellbeing and prosperity of the UK and provide the cultural and societal enrichment that has sustained us during the pandemic, which is far from over.
Despite the progress that many countries have made in tackling the spread of COVID-19 with the vaccine, there is a long way to go when it comes to dealing with the consequences of this pandemic. Indeed, as the British Academy highlighted earlier this year, the societal impacts of the virus are so vast and far-reaching that the global recovery could take a decade or more. Thankfully, the social sciences, the humanities and the arts are on hand to help guide this recovery and help decision-makers face up effectively to the challenges facing us all.
Indeed, experts in these fields have a special role to play in fashioning a bright, exciting and equitable future. This doesn’t just apply to our recovery from the pandemic but to tackling climate change, to refreshing the business world with an added sense of purpose and to solving some of society’s smaller – yet no less important – challenges. We also want to celebrate our disciplines for their intrinsic value in enabling us to understand people and societies across time and space, and to explore deeply what it is to be human.
Professor Julia Black,
President of the British Academy