Here Dr Vicky Margree, Principal Lecturer in our School of Humanities and Social Science tells us about studying the humanities at Brighton and why the subject is so important at the moment in terms of global challenges such as climate change and racism.
Hi Vicky, tell us a bit about you and your interests?
“My background is in literature and philosophy. As a child, I’d always loved reading fiction, and could just get lost in the world of a book. I’d feel sad when I reached the end of a novel and had to leave that world and its people behind. Then I went to a college where it was possible to take philosophy A Level, and I loved that too. I was fascinated by the questions philosophy asked: for example, about the nature of reality, or what the good society would be like, or what freedom or justice mean.
“But I also felt that in their own ways, works of fiction were often exploring the questions that philosophy raises. So the two subjects seemed to complement one another incredibly well. Since then, I’ve come to see how history and politics are also pieces of the jigsaw that we need if we are going to build a full picture of our world. ”
What drew you to teaching the humanities?
“I was drawn to teaching because it means you get to talk about subjects that fascinate you with people who are also interested in them. I feel that I learn from my conversations with students at the same time that I am helping them to learn.
“I think the humanities subjects are central to understanding global challenges. Let’s take climate change as an example. We need history to understand how we’ve got to the point where human beings are impacting the planet with such serious consequences. We need politics to understand what are the global forces that present both potential solutions but also barriers to implementing solutions.
“Literature can help us imagine what is it like to live in regions of the globe where the worst effects of climate change are already being felt, or what it might be like if our own environments were to become transformed. Philosophy gives us the conceptual tools to consider questions such as whether non-human life (animals and plants) has value in itself or only in relation to us; or whether we have moral obligations to generations of people not yet born.
“I think the same is true of all the urgent problems of the modern world: war and violence; oppressions based on ‘race’, sex or gender; poverty and insecurity. These are complex problems which have to be approached from a variety of angles. History, philosophy, literature, culture and politics – these are all needed in order to see our world clearly, understand how we got here, and judge what needs to be done.”
What advice would you give to prospective students?
“I’d say to students that it’s important not to impose limitations by telling yourself there are things you can’t do. Education is transforming. It means you become able to do things that you’d never imagine you could – whether that’s to produce a long piece of writing, or deliver a talk before a roomful of people, or become an expert on a subject you didn’t even know you were interested in. Sometimes that transformation can be unsettling – for example if your study leads you to question things you previously believed. But that’s also part of the excitement of studying humanities subjects. ”
How are students supported on our Humanities courses?
“We know it can be hard to attempt something that makes you nervous, or open yourself up to consider viewpoints different from your own. What’s important is that students are recognised as individuals and supported in relation to their particular needs and interests. So lecturers work closely with students. We have small group seminars, one-to-one essay tutorials, and Personal Academic tutors. Tutors provide support with essay writing, speaking in seminars, delivering presentations, conducting research. And if any student is experiencing personal difficulties, we can put them in touch with our Student Support and Guidance Tutor, or with other professionals in Student Support Services.
“So an important piece of advice for prospective students would be: should you ever find yourself experiencing a problem, please don’t isolate yourself, but get in touch with a tutor as soon as possible. We like our students and we genuinely want to help! ”