HUMSOC Lecture with Professor Helen Small

12 May 2021

What’s the value in studying the humanities? Earlier this week, we heard a most compelling answer to this question in our inaugural HUMSOC talk with Professor Helen Small, Professor of English Language and Literature at Merton College and OHS Governor.

To kick off the lecture, Professor Small provided the context for the question that was to form the basis of her talk, highlighting some of the perceptions that exist and have become increasingly prevalent over recent years: that the humanities aren’t concerned with the important and relevant issues of today’s world, that degrees in such subjects do not lead to jobs, and that pursuing the humanities is a luxury. Compounded by increasingly harsh cuts to arts subjects in the UK, these departments and their students are, understandably, feeling the pressure to demonstrate their subject’s value in today’s increasingly STEM-focused world.

With the scene set, Professor Small put forward several compelling points refuting these perceptions. From the idea that a student of the humanities can develop a better understanding of happiness to the argument that they have a crucial role to play in the functioning of a democratic society, the points she made were interesting, comprehensive and, above all, convincing! She succeeded in showing us just how much the humanities enrich our society and lives.

From Amy, Deputy Head Girl:

‘Thank you very much to Professor Small for speaking at the inaugural HUMSOC event. It was a really engaging and informative speech on the importance of humanities in society. For the sixth formers, it reassured us in our pick of humanities at A-Level and I hope the Year 10s and 11s who joined have been persuaded to pick humanities for A-Level and hopefully beyond. Professor Small armed us with an excellent arsenal of arguments to persuade any nay-sayer of humanities but also reminded us to keep the balance between humanities and sciences in our lives, even if we only pick one at university.’

We would like to say a massive thank you to Professor Small for joining us and delivering such an insightful talk. Out students and staff thoroughly enjoyed hearing from you.

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