Arts Week is Nigh!

There is so much to tell you about this week, I fear I will be unable to cram everything in! I’ll start with a word on upcoming Careers and Employability events. On Thursday 18th May, at 6pm, the Careers and Employability team will be running an event called ‘What Employers Want; Media’, featuring alumni speaking about their careers and experiences post-Birkbeck. There will be some guests of particular interest to students in the department, notably Cristina Lombardo who completed our MA History of Art in 2009, and is now Rights and Clearances Manager at VICE Media. The following week, we have the last of the workshops in the series which Careers and Employability and the History of Art department have been running this academic year, thanks to support from the Alumni Fund. Sign up and come along to the Keynes library on Wednesday 24th May, at 4pm, to find out how to ‘Manage your Digital Footprint’.

Arts week 2017 banner

Arts week is nigh! I hope everyone has been combing through the lists of events which will ensure the School of Arts will be a hum of activity and excitement all the way from next Monday through and into the weekend – and reserving their free places on Eventbrite. In my last blog posting, I pulled out some highlights, from an introduction to the upcoming Peltz exhibition of works from the Adamson collection, through a session on modernist architecture, to a panel discussion about the politics of landscape. And don’t forget the photo competition! Do you have any photographs of animals who look like politicians?! If so, send them in – there are prizes to be had!

The first Arts Week event organised by my colleagues here in the History of Art department will take place on the Monday: Steve Edwards and Patrizia di Bello speaking about the Jo Spence archive. And here’s Steve to tell you about a valuable new addition recently made to that archive:

Steve Edwards on Picture Post

“The History of Art department has just acquired a complete set of the photo-magazine Picture Post (forty thick volumes). We are excited to have found a good-quality complete run – which is now rare.

Set up by Stefan Lorant, a Hungarian picture editor and refugee from Hitler, Picture Post was published by Hulton Press from 1938 to 1957. Lorant bought with him new ideas from Germany concerning journalism, photography and magazine layout and he hired important photographers, including Bert Hardy and Kurt Hutton. Tom Hopkinson took over as editor in 1940. At its high point during WWII, Picture Post was selling nearly two-million copies every week.

Accounts of modern media often focus on film and television, but the picture magazines were at the heart of the new visual culture of modernity. Along with magazines such as Life (USA), Vu (France), USSR in Construction, and AIZ (Germany), Picture Post pioneered an approach that combined photographs edited in narrative sequences with captions and short news items, to tell stories about everyday life. Often this meant focusing on aspects of society overlooked by the more traditional press, whether unemployment or an afternoon at the football. Significantly, Picture Post also paid a lot of attention to women’s experience and employed Grace Robertson as a photographer as well as women writers such as Dorothy Parker and Ann Scott-James. This focus on the ordinary and the ignored doesn’t mean it ignored politics; Picture Post covered world events as well as British life and took a particularly clear anti-fascist stand.

Our set of Picture Post will prove invaluable for teaching and research in the history of photography, but it will also be important for anyone interested in the visual culture of the twentieth century. It will be housed in the Jo Spence Memorial Library at Gordon Square (at one point Spence worked on the magazine). We will be organising special sessions with Picture Post for those interested, so look out for announcements.”


Even with everyone caught up in preparatory work for Arts Week, there are lots of other activities and events to tell you about. On Tuesday 17th May, at 7pm, you can go and hear Gabriel Koureas at the newly re-designed National Army Museum, taking part in a panel organised to coincide with the current War Paint exhibition. The discussion will look at how art – historically and today – influences public perceptions of the army. Or, this very evening (5pm, Wednesday 10th May, Keynes Library), the Murray Seminar will be given by Joanna Cannon, on her ‘Second Thoughts: Redating the Frescoes by the Maestro di San Francesco at Assisi’. The mid-thirteenth-century murals in the Lower Church of San Francesco at Assisi mark a key moment in the construction of the narrative of the life of St Francis.  But when, precisely, was that moment? Dr. Cannon will be revisiting her often-quoted article of 1982, ‘Dating the Frescoes of the Maestro di San Francesco at Assisi’, to argue against some of her earlier conclusions, and to explore the implications of this change of mind.


I shall save further news until my next posting, as I’m keen to hand over the rest of this blog to another of my colleagues, Zoë Opačić, to tell you about a very grave and pressing situation concerning Central European University, where Zoë will be spending a couple of weeks later this month as a visiting lecturer. If, having read her piece, you would like to add your voice to the widespread protest against what’s happening in Hungary, then do sign the petition.

Zoë Opačić on Central European University

“Just over a month ago the Hungarian government passed new legislation that not only takes a step towards limiting academic freedom but also makes the existence of Central European University all but impossible. CEU is a liberal English-language university accredited in the US and Hungary and situated in Budapest. It was founded in 1991 through generous sponsorship of the philanthropist George Soros with the aim of promoting democratic values at the end of the Cold War. For decades this university has provided a truly international platform for research and has been particularly active in bringing together young scholars from the former Yugoslavia under the umbrella of scholarship. In my field, the Middle Ages, CEU has been one of the leading and most forward looking institutions, always coming up with new initiatives, collaborative projects and publications:

The current threat to the university’s survival in Budapest is one of several questionable policies promoted in recent years by the nationalist Hungarian government under PM Viktor Orban. However, the issues at stake are universal – the freedom of universities in Europe and everywhere to exist and operate without political pressure. Over the last few weeks thousands of Hungarians, supported by the international community, have protested on social media, on the streets of Budapest and abroad, but the government in Hungary remained unmoved. Recently the European Commission finally stepped in and sanctioned Hungary for its undemocratic education laws. However, as things stand, the university’s licence will be withdrawn in October, leading to its departure from Hungary and the loss of hundreds of jobs. In the words of the CEU’s rector, Michael Ignatieff: ‘This is a line in the sand. If universities can be shut down in the heart of Europe, then what does it mean for the future of democracy?’

Many of us at Birkbeck have had contacts with CEU and with its scholars and alumni. In 1993, Birkbeck’s distinguished philosopher, Eric Hobsbawm, gave a prestigious lecture at the CEU (later published in the New York Review) reflecting on Central Europe, which he described as the backbone of the European Union. He also singled out the political role of historians, especially their duty to resist the formation of national, ethnic, and other myths. Unfortunately many of his warnings proved prescient.

I will be taking up a position as a visiting lecturer at the CEU for two weeks at the end of May. As well as teaching a post-graduate course and delivering a public lecture, I hope to extend our support to colleagues and fellow students in Budapest.

If you wish to find out more about the current state of play, follow this link to BBC news, and get more information about CEU’s on-going campaign and ways to support it here:”