How Vulnerable are the Humanities?

Masterclass with Simon During

This masterclass focusses on the problems that arise from the various pressures under which the Humanities are operating today. These pressures include managerialism, globalization, populism and threats to the centrality of the category of “the human” as a result of both global warming and digitalization. The class starts from the position that addressing these problems requires a full and neutral picture of what the humanities are and do: it will ask what would such a picture look like? It also investigates the efficacy of the many defenses of the humanities that have appeared over the past couple of decades. Students will be encouraged to address these issues from the perspective of their particular disciplines.


(required to be studied beforehand)

 Simon During

Simon During is a New Zealander who studied at Victoria University, Wellington and the University of Auckland before completing his PhD (on George Eliot) at Cambridge. He first joined the English Department at the University of Melbourne in 1983 as a tutor.  After visiting positions at the University of Auckland and the Rhetoric Dept, UC Berkeley, he was appointed Robert Wallace Professor at Melbourne in 1993.  As Head of Department there in the late 1990s, he was instrumental in establishing the Cultural Studies, Media and Communications and Publishing programs. In 2001, he left Melbourne for Johns Hopkins, where he taught in the English department for nine years. Between 2010 and 2017 he was a Research Professor at the University of Queensland as well as holding visiting positions at the FU Berlin, Tübingen, Université Paris, the American Academy of Rome, University of Cambridge, and elsewhere. In 2017 he rejoined the University of Melbourne’s School of Communications and Culture as an Honorary Professor.

He has made contributions to the studies of postcolonialism, secularism, Australian and New Zealand literatures as well as to cultural studies. But he has mainly concentrated on relations between literary and cultural history and European (mainly British) literature.

His books include Foucault and Literature (Routledge 1991) Patrick White (Oxford 1994), Modern Enchantments: the cultural power of secular magic (Harvard 2002), Exit Capitalism, literary culture, theory and post-secular modernity (Routledge 2010) and, most recently, Against Democracy: literary experience in the era of emancipations (Fordham 2012).
He is currently writing a book on the idea of the humanities.

About the masterclasses

Utrecht University Humanities Conference 2019 programme includes two masterclasses, led by the conference keynote lecturers Eleonora Belfiore and Simon During. The masterclasses will be simultaneous, which allows us to extend the number of the participants by 30 to the overall event (15 for each masterclass).

Participants can gain 1 ECs for the masterclass participation and 1 EC for conference presentation. The masterclass workload is divided into three parts: reading and a preliminary abstract (1); masterclass participation (2) and a conclusive reflection paper (3).

Please register by sending an email to:

Overall workload

1 ECTS for:

  • Preparing the masterclass (3 readings and a 500 word abstract),(22 hours)
  • Participation in the masterclass (2,5 hours)
  • Writing a 1000 word reflection (2,5 hours)

1 ECTS for:

  • Preparing one’s own conference presentation and presenting it (28 hours).

0,5 ECTS for:

  • Joining one panel on impact in the humanities and the Centre for Humanities discussion on Thursday, April 11 (3 hours)
  • Joining two keynotes and two of the student panels on Friday, April 12 (7 hours)
  • Writing a 750 word reflection (2,5 hours)

About Utrecht University Humanities Conference

The Utrecht University Humanities Graduate Conference is organized for and by R(MA) students and PhD candidates; our mission is to deepen and broaden the understanding of the role and position of the humanities field both within and outside of academia. We invite contributions of research master students and PhD candidates from all the disciplines in the humanities, to analyze and reflect on the twinned issues of impact and knowledge utilization, be it within their own field of research or that of humanities research in general.

It is an annual conference for Humanities research-oriented (R)MA students and PhDs both from Utrecht University and other (inter)national institutions. In 2019, the general topic of the conference is “What’s the point? Impact, and the future of Humanities”, and the conference is going to house among other activities three keynote lectures, a day of parallel sessions and two master classes.