Birkbeck is launching a short course on antisemitism – here’s why. 

This article was written by Dr Brendan McGeever. Dr McGeever is based in the Department of Psychosocial Studies and the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism. He is part of the teaching team for Facing Antisemitism: Politics, Culture, History alongside course leader Professor David Feldman (Department of History, Classics and Archaeology and Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism) and Dr Ben Gidley (Psychosocial Studies).

Image credit: domoskanonos

Antisemitism sits at the centre of British political debate like never before. It is a subject that is explosive and controversial, but one that is often poorly understood, leaving some people troubled and others perplexed. The persistence of antisemitism, both in Britain and globally, provokes urgent questions that should concern us all.

At Birkbeck we have developed a new short course to explore the sources, development and contemporary forms of antisemitism – and never has a course been so timely and so needed.

Facing Antisemitism: Politics, Culture, History is open to students and the public. Taught over three evenings, it draws on history and the social sciences, to answer questions such as: How can we recognise and define antisemitism? How does it relate to other forms of racism? How widespread is antisemitism? Where does it come from? Why does it persist?  What is the impact of antisemitism on Jews? What is the relationship between anti-racism and opposition to antisemitism? Birkbeck is ideally placed to provide this course: it is the only university in the UK with an institute dedicated to the study of antisemitism.

Those who take the course will learn about the manifestations and sources of antisemitism and be equipped to recognise antisemitism, both in the past and in the present. Antisemitism has no single home: it can be found across religious and political divisions. For example, there is a long tradition of antisemitism on the political right, particularly on its fascist fringes, which today are increasingly encroaching into the political mainstream. But antisemitism has also been a recurring feature on the left, and to a great extent this is what generates controversy and confusion today. What this tells us is that antisemitism resides within political culture: there is a reservoir of myths, stereotypes and narratives about Jews that traverses the political divide, and it is there to be drawn on whenever Jews – implicitly or explicitly – become the subject of political debate.

For me, as a sociologist, with a special interest in racialization, one of the important features of the course is that at Birkbeck we consider antisemitism as a form of racism. This perspective makes it possible to identify the specificities of antisemitism, as well as its connections with other forms of prejudice and domination. Students will also learn about the changing place of antisemitism within the politics of anti-racism. Half a century ago, opposition to antisemitism and opposition to other racisms were closely aligned. Today, these connections are slender, and for many, there has been a parting of ways. This is nowhere more apparent than in the debate over Israel and Palestine. This course navigates this contested history and provides the concepts to understand the relationship between anti-Zionism, anti-racism and antisemitism. It is a course for today’s troubled times.

If you want to learn more about antisemitism, this course is for you.

 

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24 hours until the start of my 5,000km journey….

Robert Hargreaves, an undergraduate in BSc Psychology with Neuroscience, is doing a 5000km bike ride in aid of the world’s first Toddler Lab currently being built on campus. Robert shares his feelings as he prepares to embark on his journey. Please support Robert as he undertakes his fundraising bike ride.

I leave Paris and head through Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany into Denmark. Once I reach Skagen, I’ll take a ferry over to Gothenburg and then head up through Oslo all the way to the top of Norway, along the Lofoten Islands to just above Narvik. Well within the Arctic Circle, the trail heads East through Lapland until I reach Finland and the Gulf of Bothnia, where the home run starts from the top to the bottom of Sweden, through Copenhagen and finally on to Berlin.

It will be an amazing experience taking in the Eiffel Tower, Dutch canals, Danish ports and peninsulas, Norwegian fjords, glaciers and untouched countryside. There will be lots of interesting people to meet and maybe even a few saunas along the route that will help with any aches and pains I may incur.

I think the solitude will take its toll; the climate will be tough, supermarkets sparse.  I will mainly be wild camping, but I’ve got Kandel, Dennett, Eryn Saks, Pinker, Blakemore and Plomin audiobooks to keep me company, so going into the final year of the bachelors it’s a great opportunity for learning, meditation and self-reflection.

We have some great professors and lecturers at Birkbeck who are teaching us about developmental neuroscience and psychology from the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development. They covered a lot of research from the BabyLab, so it inspired me to get involved and help raise money for them to enable them to buy more equipment for the new ToddlerLab centre.

Although this is going to be difficult, I have some experience.  In 2017 I cycled 6,000km in 100 days for BEAT the UKs eating disorder charity and the Body Dysmorphic Foundation, so I’m using the same kit and anything I’ve had to buy or consume is entirely self-funded and 100% of any donation or gift aid will go directly to help Toddlers with Neurological problems.

I will be posting photos of the journey, the people I meet, some beautiful sights, landmarks and maybe even a few wolves and bears along the way. The Birkbeck owl mascot will be coming along for the ride, and will pop up across eight countries and might even call in at some other universities along the way!

Please follow the social media feed, send messages of support along the route and, if you’re able to, donate to ToddlerLab.

You can follow Robert’s journey on Instagram and Twitter, with the hashtag #RobsBikeRide

 

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Digital Transformation Project: progress report

Birkbeck’s digital team is upgrading the Birkbeck school/department web presence, to provide entirely new, refreshed content, including new images, and improved navigation. With five school sites, 18 department sites, 21 microsites and over 32,000 content items – pages, images, files, events and news stories – all of which need to be reviewed and upgraded – this is a huge undertaking.  

Jane Van de Ban, Digital Content Lead, tells us about the latest developments.

Following a directive issued by the college’s Web Working Group, we have prioritised department-related research content. We are pleased to report that, with the latest release, this project has now (almost) been completed.

What’s new?

We have done a lot to get us to this point, namely:

  1. New annual event and event series information

Our schools and departments offer a vibrant calendar of recurring public events, from school weeks, to annual memorial lectures, to seminar series and more. Most (if not all) of these events are free to the public and showcase the huge range of research that is undertaken by our academics. But it hasn’t always been easy to find out about the full range, as our events calendar is packed, and the information was scattered across our website, siloed on separate department sites.

We have brought this information together and make it far easier for the public to see these events.

Want to see more? 

Don’t see your event series? If you are a member of staff and responsible for either an annual event or event series, hosted by Birkbeck, please raise a query on Ask, so we can investigate.

  1. Updated research centre content

We know how central research centres are to the research activity undertaken by our departments.

You can find information on a number of research centres in places other than the Birkbeck website – which means they are out of scope for the Digital Transformation project. But where we found research centre content hosted on either school or department pages, we knew we could present this key information better. We redeveloped these (which also involved migrating publications information into BIROn and events information into the events calendar), got them checked and signed off by content owners, and then put them live.

2.1 Want to see more?  

Need a new research centre web page? If you are a member of Birkbeck staff and want to talk to us about getting a research centre resource like the ones shown here, please raise a query on Ask in the first instance and direct it to Ollie Berman.

  1. Research networks, groups and societies

All our schools and departments facilitate networks of academics with common interests, which are less formal associations than research centres – but are identified by a range of names (clusters, groups, societies, etc.).

It is clear that, even with different names, these networks have a lot in common, in that they provide a focus for specific research activity. Because of their similarities, we decided to bring them together and provide much more targeted, bespoke pages to highlight what they do.

3.1 Examples 

  1. Guidance for prospective MPhil/PhD students

We know, from analyses we have done on how people use the web, that prospective MPhil/PhD students are more likely than any other student group to look at pages on department sites. And we found that a number of departments provided guidance to help these students in their recruitment journey.

We have created bespoke wayfinding pages for prospective MPhil/PhD students, which give easy access to a range of sources of advice and guidance. In addition, where we found them, we have embedded relevant department videos providing targeted advice to help these students or provide an insight into department research.

In most cases, these pages not only replace but improve on existing content on department sites, and those pages have been redirected to this new content.

4.1 Want to see more? 

  1. New research wayfinding pages

There are two main reasons for visitors to look at academic department content: to find out about the staff and to find out about the department’s research. We know this, because for years we have been monitoring the way people use the Birkbeck website – staff and research always come top when it comes to the departments. But, having analysed the research content on our department sites, we know that we have not always made it easy for visitors to understand what research means for individual departments.

Building on the work we’ve done throughout this project and as the final big task in this stage of the Digital Transformation Project, therefore, we have now created research wayfinding pages for our academic departments (with the exception of Computer Science, which is out of scope for this project, and the School of Science, because we ran out of time to complete their pages). Now, when you select ‘research’ on a department wayfinding page, you will find pages that:

  • showcase the full range of research centres and networks department academics belong to (including interdisciplinary working groups)
  • provide easy access to related research information, like department staff pages, staff research interests, department publication lists (on BIROn) and the support offered to staff by the Birkbeck research office
  • signpost department-specific event listings, so visitors will find it easy to sign up for your next event.

As with all our wayfinding pages, these pages can expand and contract, as new research initiatives or sources of information come onstream or end.

5.1 Have a look 

  1. What you won’t find

In analysing the current content to inform our redevelopment work, we have realised that some of our public content is problematic. So, mostly, you won’t find the following – and I’ll explain why:

6.1 Duplicate course information

Some departments have long included course descriptions on their sites – and we understand that this stems from a desire to ensure that our prospective students have as much information as they need to make the right decision about studying. But having course information on department sites is problematic, because:

  • If content is included in more than one place (ieit is ‘duplicate’ content), it will get out of sync (because it represents an additional maintenance load), and we run the risk of providing inaccurate information, with no way for prospective students to gauge which is the correct source. For example, in analysing the content currently located on department sites, we found information provided on more than 12 degrees that are no longer offered. (On the course listings, programmes that are withdrawn are automatically taken down through an existing workflow.)
  • The Competitions and Market Authority (CMA) requires universities to provide accurate and complete course information to prospective students (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cma-advises-universities-and-students-on-consumer-law). We have always aimed to ensure that our course information is both up-to-date and accurate: we do that better if course descriptions are only located in one place.
  • We know where people look for information on our site, as we monitor usage through Google Analytics. So, we know that prospective students don’t expect to find the information on department sites – they look at our course listings for course information. Providing key information elsewhere makes it harder, not easier, for them to ensure they have all the information they need.
  • Duplicate content pages undermine the ability of users to find course information, because – if Google perceives what they consider to be content that is substantively the same, they will only show one of the pages in their results. Having one destination improves the ability of external visitors to find all their course information through search.

For all of these reasons, we have taken the decision to remove this duplicate content from public view and ensure we have a ‘single source of truth’ in our course listings. To this end, we have reviewed the course information on department sites and integrated all ‘added-value’ information into our course descriptions. And we have now redirected department course information to the course pages, so the department course pages are no longer publicly accessible.

6.2 Information on current MPhil/PhD students

A number of departments include information on their current MPhil/PhD students. We understand how important this information is to our colleagues in departments. However, in looking at this information, we found that very many of these ‘current’ students are no longer current – having completed their degrees, in some cases, years ago. Moreover, we are now subject to GDPR regulations, which stipulate that we need to have proof of explicit consent where we publish personal information.

To ensure we are GDPR-compliant in relation to PhD students will involve a significant amount of work and effort, something we don’t have the resources to address. However, there are plans in the pipeline – once our new academic staff profiles go live – to expand the new resource to include PhD student profiles.

Considering all this, we have therefore taken the decision to remove this content from public view by redirecting these pages to new information. And, in the meantime, we have signposted the ORBIT resource, where you can read published PhD theses for each department.

Updates? If your course description needs to be updated, you should contact the Digital Publications Officer in External Relations, who can help you.

6.3 Current research projects

Birkbeck is, quite rightly, proud of its research reputation and the world-class research that is undertaken by our academics. But, right now, we’re not showcasing this as well as we could. Our academics are engaged in a huge range of research projects – both funded and unfunded – covering the breadth of the disciplines, but if you look at our website, it seems we are only telling people about a fraction of this work.

We know people want to know about our research – in a recent survey of alumni, for example, 38% of respondents told us that this is precisely the information they want to read. And our Development team tells us that potential funders want to know about the research our academics undertake and how it will contribute to society. For these reasons, we are developing new research project overviews, curated and developed by professional writers, to ensure that we provide a good introduction to this important area of our research work.

This work is ongoing, and we will be in touch. In the meantime, we have removed current research project information on department sites from public view (as much of it referred to completed research projects).

Where we have found information on current research activity hosted on external sites, we have signposted them – but this is an area that will be developed further.

6.4 Local event information

In analysing department research information, we found detailed event information all over the place – and, in most cases, it was out of date, yet still being presented as a future event.

Detailed event information needs to be included in the Birkbeck events calendar, *not* on local content pages. This makes it easier for your audience to find this information – and also means that you will retain the details for future reference.

If you need to publicise an event, you can enter your event details in the events system in My Birkbeck for Staff.

6.5 Journal articles

We have to stop using the Birkbeck website as a file repository, because it slows it down and causes usability problems.

All journal articles, conference proceedings, working papers, etc. need to be included in BIROn – which will make it easier for people to find this important collateral.

If you need help with this, please contact Paul Rigg for information and support.

  1. Future content developments

The aim of this stage of the Digital Transformation Project is, ultimately, to take down all of the remaining school and department pages. Future content to go live includes:

  • Information on labs: We have developed new lab pages for the School of Science, replacing existing content on school and/or department sites. These new pages are being checked and, once approved, should go live on our site, replacing the current pages (many of which are out of date).
  • Research project overviews (see above).
  • Revised PhD funding information: Currently, it is impossible to find the full breadth of PhD funding available to our students. In this project, we aim to make that experience easier and have developed a resource to improve the prospective student experience. This is due to be sent out for approval and checking, after which we will replace all of the current PhD funding information on department sites and redirect them to new pages.
  • Prospective student information: We need to ensure that prospective students who come to department sites can find relevant information as quickly and helpfully as possible. We will be working on this project, once we’ve had a chance to finalise the research offering.
  • Remaining information on department sites:To enable us to finally take down the department microsites, we will do a final sweep of all of the remaining content and either develop replacement content or jettison it, depending on its currency and value.
  • School web presence: All of our school sites need to replaced. What that looks like and the function they meet is yet to be determined, following consultation with relevant staff.
  1. Related / future projects

Other projects that are either being undertaken or are in the pipeline include:

  • SSL: We need to implement improved security on our public-facing web. SSL will deliver this and is in the process of being added to our site (you will know when that change has happened because our URL will change to https://www.bbk.ac.uk/).
  • New and improved search: Our course search and site search are being replaced by Funnelback.
  • New academic staff profiles: Following extensive consultation, our academic staff profiles are being improved. All being well, these will go live during the summer.
  • Research student profiles: Once our academic staff profiles are in place, we can look to develop profiles for our PhD students.
  • Sharepointproject: External Relations and ITS have launched a joint project to improve access to our staff-facing information, using Sharepoint.

You will find out more about these and other projects as they develop, as we will aim to publish information here on them.

  1. Project team changes

Jane Van de Ban, Digital Content Manager, and Dr Ben Winyard, Senior Content Editor, are leaving Birkbeck, after a number of years.

It has been a pleasure to work on the Birkbeck website and we look forward to seeing how it develops in future.

If you have queries about the Birkbeck website, please contact Ollie Berman (o.berman@bbk.ac.uk), Head of Communications, in the first instance.

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Reflecting on an internship in Public Engagement

Simon Watt reflects on his six month internship project managing the Public Engagement Awards, working with the Birkbeck Public Engagement Team

Back in October 2018, I joined Birkbeck as their second Public Engagement Intern. I have spent all my adult life working in public engagement, usually in relation to science, in some form or other, but this was my first role working embedded within a Public Engagement team in a university.  As such, this post at Birkbeck offered me the excellent opportunity to expand my knowledge of public engagement with research within the higher education sector and to work with a group of people that I like and whose work I greatly respect. Birkbeck has a strong tradition of socially engaged research and a commitment to its historical mission to connect with a wide and diverse range of people outside of academia. This mission is precisely why this was a university I wanted to work for; very few places have such a sense of social responsibility and a desire for equity of knowledge at their core.

My role was centred on the Public Engagement Awards.  This project was now in its second year, having been initially developed by the team with last year’s public engagement intern, Rhea Sookdeosingh, who has since moved on to another role within the college as a Public Engagement & Events Coordinator in the Department of History.  Rhea left the project in a very good state and I hoped to build upon her legacy.

The awards exist for many reasons.  They seek to acknowledge and celebrate the ground breaking public engagement projects being conducted by researchers here. They allow us to take the public engagement pulse of the college and take a snap-shot of how the research conducted at Birkbeck both affects and is affected by the outside world.  The ceremony itself acts as a fun means of putting some of our champions of public engagement all in the same room so that they have the opportunity to reflect on their own and each other’s processes, learn new approaches and possibly meet new friends and potential future collaborators for the first time.

It felt a real privilege to be behind the scenes and shape the awards so that they might act as an incentive to take public engagement seriously and help improve how people here interact with the wider public.  By redrafting our application process to reflect what best practice looks like, changing the prizes we award with the aim of upskilling our researchers or furthering their capacities in other ways and working on the visuals used throughout to better show off engagement achievements, we have pushed for a more holistic approach that benefits not only our researchers but those they work with.  I hope the awards continue to flourish.

The scheme culminated in the Awards Ceremony at Mary Ward House where, over wine and nibbles, the shortlisted researchers swapped stories and revelled in their success.  You can learn more about the winning projects and the night as a whole here.

By far my favourite aspect of the scheme was meeting the researchers along the way.  I was continually surprised and impressed by their raw enthusiasm and desire to make the world that little bit better through their work.  It was terrific to learn of what they were doing and help their future projects prepare before they take flight. Understanding what they were doing now was the first step to suggesting how they might scale up their efforts and what other avenues might be worth pursuing.  It should come as no surprise that our department, which helps researchers and our research culture grow by building mutually beneficial and respectful relationships, also benefit by building such relationships ourselves with as many people as we could.

I feel greatly indebted to the people of External Relations, Development and Alumni and the Research Office who have not only provided solid support and expertise throughout these last six months, but made my time here such a joy.  In particular I owe thanks to Mary-Clare Hallsworth and Katy Glazer, as the Public Engagement Team, who aided and abetted me all the way. They have changed how I think in many ways and helped me grow in confidence with regards what my opinions and expertise are worth.

I will continue to make my own engagement projects and help others with theirs.  I am, as ever, keen to collaborate.  Please get in touch.

Contact the public engagement team: public-engagement@bbk.ac.uk

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