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.


. Read all 11 comments . Category: Social Science History and Philosophy . Tags: , ,

The future’s bright for Stratford

MatthewWeait_400x400Professor Matthew Weait is Pro-Vice-Master (Academic and Community Partnerships) and the man responsible for developing Birkbeck’s provision in east London. Here he tells us of his vision to widen access and welcome a greater number of students.

University Square Stratford (USS) is a £33m state-of-the-art campus situated at the heart of Stratford’s cultural quarter. It’s also home to hundreds of Birkbeck students who are undertaking a wide range of programmes from undergraduate (Honours, Foundation and Certificate levels) to postgraduate courses.

Aiming to widen access and encourage progression into higher education for non-traditional students, USS is attracting growing numbers of students who see the value of the Birkbeck way of learning. A recent survey of students at the campus indicated a high level of satisfaction with the experience of learning there, although it is clear that there remain opportunities for enhancement and increasing use of the building.

Since October 2011, I’ve been fortunate to have been Birkbeck’s Pro-Vice-Master (Academic and Community Partnerships), a role I’ve held in conjunction with my work as Professor of Law and Policy in the School of Law. That has allowed me to develop and introduce the College’s Institutional Partnership Agreement (IPA) with support from the Widening Access and Student Engagement team. The IPA has resulted in a significant increase in progression from FE Colleges to undergraduate degrees, with enrolments across all programmes doubling since 2012/13.  This is certainly an encouraging growth, and we can only see greater opportunities as we move forward with our plans for the campus. And no, it won’t be without its challenges!

USS is a wonderful place to study – a beautiful building with excellent facilities and support. I would like all students at Birkbeck – especially those living or working in East London – to use it more, whether or not they are registered on courses at USS. After all, it’s something they are entitled to do! I would encourage my Birkbeck colleagues to make this more widely known.

In addition to thinking about ways in which more programmes might be offered at USS, I’m also in the process of developing a Centre for University/Community Partnership there. The Centre would provide a space for community organisations to explore and develop collaborative learning and teaching and research opportunities with the College, and is something I’m particularly excited about. I think there is great potential here – the Centre will, I hope, create opportunities for enhancing the impact of our research through knowledge co-creation, and contribute to our internationally excellent research reputation while at the same time being consistent with our Mission. Watch this space!

Development of this great asset is an important undertaking and I’m very happy to discuss any aspect of USS and the opportunities available there for staff and students, and I’m always keen to hear ideas for its future growth.

. Read all 2 comments . Category: Higher education . Tags: , , ,

A work placement with the Globe Research team

Jenny ReidThis post was contributed by Jen Reid, a PhD student in Birkbeck’s Department of English and Humanities. She writes about her experience of a research placement at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

My three months as part of the Globe Research team were varied and stimulating: in what other role would you find yourself reading sixteenth-century midwifery manuals one week, scouring the internet for pictures of apothecaries another, and editing play scripts for upcoming productions the next?

The research interns take on tasks and answer queries from inside and outside the Globe, so every day was different – which is not surprising given the Globe’s own commitment to a range of activities, not only putting on productions but educational work with local schools, exhibitions and scripted performances of rarely performed plays. Not everything we did related to research; on one occasion we compiled an online resource for schools studying Othello, and on another I provided scene summaries for excerpts from around fifteen plays for Globe Education’s event programme. On my last day, I was asked to find manor houses in the Cotswolds with a historical connection to the theatre as part of the preliminary planning stages for the ‘Read Not Dead’ on the road events. I even helped out at the ‘Concert in Winter’ event, stewarding nursery school children to and from their performance on the Globe stage itself of ‘Engine Engine Number Nine’.

Most of the time, though, we were given research tasks. Sometimes these were about plays just about to open, for the company lecture or for the director to clarify points of performance. In my second week, for example, we were asked to look at ideas of sexuality, pregnancy, and love at first sight for the winter production of The Changeling which was due to begin a few weeks afterwards. Usually there would be a few of us in, so we would divide up the research topic between us: I looked at early modern pregnancy. The aim would be to draw up a report between us by the end of the day, tailored to the requirements of whoever had requested the research, and including pictures as well as summaries of the topic and suggested further reading. I enjoyed these jobs the most, as they afforded an opportunity not often encountered while doing a degree, to spend just a few hours hunting out the salient details of a subject, before moving on to the next. Not only that, it was exciting to know that, for example, our research document exploring sixteenth-century English xenophobia would be helpful for director Jonathan Munby deciding when to set his production of The Merchant of Venice, opening at the Globe in late April, or that our report on eighteenth-century madness could help furnish historical background for Claire van Kampen’s Farinelli and the King.

Undertaking the placement during the winter season meant that I witnessed the excitement surrounding the new Sam Wanamaker indoor theatre, which opened early last year, and we had the opportunity to be part of the projects surrounding this new venture, for example by conducting and transcribing audience and actor interviews. We were by no means confined to productions in the Sam Wanamaker, however, and particularly in the new year, many of our tasks related to productions on the Globe stage during the upcoming summer season. This meant we got a great opportunity to get a sense of the different demands and considerations for the two stages: anyone interested in the day-to-day running of a theatre as well as in early modern research would enjoy the experience as thoroughly as I did.

. 1 comment . Category: Arts . Tags: , , , ,

Globe Education Placement 2014/15

TNashhis post was contributed by Nash Trevelyan, a student on Birkbeck’s MA Renaissance Studies. As part of her course, Nash completed a research placement at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and here she shares her experiences.

Studying early modern theatre has been the perfect cover, allowing me to veil my questionable taste for the sensational and the lowbrow under the guise of Serious Literature Student. So when it was announced that the opening season at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse would be Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, a production promising ‘[d]ead hands, macabre wax figures [and] a poisoned Bible’, I felt I’d hit the jackpot. It was fantastic to see the playhouse put through its paces in its opening season; many of the production choices were an intriguing balance between innovation and tradition and the possibilities for future productions were becoming apparent.

The SWP consolidated the first season with a compelling series of Research in Action workshops exploring the versatility and limitations of the playhouse, which would be endlessly useful for my forthcoming incarnation as a part-time graduate student on Birkbeck’s MA Renaissance Studies. The prevailing theme of the workshops was the experimental nature of the playhouse, and as such attendees were encouraged to move around the theatre, investigating sightlines and acoustics, to broaden our understanding of the space. I learned something important about indoor playing every time I visited, so when Birkbeck offered me the opportunity, alongside PhD candidate Jennifer Reid, to partake in a research placement at the SWP, I was thrilled and excited at the prospect of gaining an additional perspective on the theatre that was fast becoming intrinsic to my research interests.

Dr Will Tosh, Post-doctoral Research Fellow with Globe Education, gave Jenny and me the warmest of welcomes. We were stationed in the Globe’s Library and Archive with the research team, which consisted of postgraduate researchers from a wide range of institutions. Research requests would come in from a variety of sources, though they most often came from the director of an imminent production as part of the pre-production process. Tasks were prioritised and delegated by the Research Coordinator. Using the in-house style guide, Jenny and I contributed to documents on an array of subjects including early modern understandings of biology, sexuality, madness, racism and otherness – all themes that related either to the current season at the SWP or the forthcoming season at the Globe – ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, The Changeling and The Merchant of Venice. It was imperative that our research employ reliable resources and as such we made good use of the Globe’s onsite library, as well as online databases such as EEBO and JSTOR, as well as the Wellcome, British Library and V&A sites for images. We were given the opportunity to attend Globe Education’s many lectures and events that shared themes with the current production run, which again proved useful to the research we were undertaking. We also conducted audience interviews as part of ongoing research on how the new space is perceived, which is indicative to how playhouse response is such a fundamental concern within the Globe’s ethos.

Life in the archive could be surreal at times: I researched frost fairs while overlooking the Thames from the window, while the sound of musicians rehearsing floated over from the Globe. We even took tea breaks in the green room with the actors (a 17th-century nobleman with an electric kettle is an arresting sight). The area is so steeped in history that the whole experience was immersive. My relationship with the playhouse in the months preceding my placement informed and inspired my research; visualising the ways in which it may be used was a useful tool, particularly when time is of the essence as part of a research team with a vast amount of information to collate and examine.

Entering the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and watching my own research in action during performance was something I could never have imagined when I first stepped inside the playhouse just nine months before. It was also a huge privilege to be named in the programmes for the duration of the season, alongside actors, creatives and academics that we have admired for many years. I gained valuable insight into the ways research is used and presented by an institution with the size and reputation of Shakespeare’s Globe, particularly at such a significant moment in its history – and I have certainly become a better researcher for it.

. Reply . Category: Arts . Tags: , , , ,