Humanities for a better world

Published on 06 July 2023 Go back to The ACU Review
Collage of different patterns and textures

Building a fairer, greener world calls for collaboration across disciplines, countries and cultures - and it's why the ACU are so committed to bringing universities together.

By Joanna Newman, ACU

In this issue of The ACU Review, academics from around the world explore how the humanities are helping to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a global blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and planet. Why do the humanities matter in our collective effort to change the world? What do we miss when we overlook them? And are the goals themselves guilty of sidelining the contribution that the humanities make?

Richly varied, and at times deeply personal, articles draw on the diverse disciplines, perspectives, and lived experiences of their authors. Yet common threads are woven throughout. Among these, and particularly salient in a Commonwealth context, is the centrality of humanities subjects to addressing the legacies of colonisation – from recognising and retelling the past to including a far wider range of voices and worldviews in the stories we tell and teach. At the same time, many contributors convey a sense that their disciplines are at best undervalued and at worst imperilled, prompting searching questions about the role and purpose of higher education itself.

The theme of this issue is timely for a host of reasons, not least because the clock is ticking on the SDGs and attention is turning to the targets that will succeed them. At the heart of the humanities, as one contributor writes, is the understanding that there is a cultural element to every aspect of life. And yet, she points out, culture and the humanities are largely absent from the SDGs.

At the UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development in September 2022, 150 states adopted a Declaration for Culture, affirming for the first time culture’s role as a global public good with ‘intrinsic value to enable and drive sustainable development’, and calling for its inclusion as an objective in its own right in the successors to the SDGs. We see a similar shift at last year’s COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, at which governments recognised for the first time the critical link between cultural heritage and climate change. As another contributor to this issue points out, this acknowledged ‘the fundamental importance of culture – how we make sense of ourselves and the world we inhabit – to efforts to mitigate and adapt to a changing environment’.

How we make sense of ourselves and a fast-changing world is at the heart of what the humanities do, and this issue shows the many ways in which this work contributes to the world around us. What is clear is that the complex and deeply interconnected nature of the SDGs calls for an approach that draws on the expertise, experience and perspectives of the widest range of disciplines, countries and cultures, working together to find solutions to our most profound and pressing challenges. This, too, is among the strengths of the ACU’s unique network of universities around the world and why we are so committed to bringing them together.

Our interdisciplinary networks – working in areas such as peacebuilding, climate resilience, and universities’ engagement with the SDGs – are a perfect example of this in action, with members on every continent working together on the issues that matter to them. I warmly invite you to visit our networks page and sign-up today. The wider the range of ideas and perspectives that are shared through them, the stronger they become.

Dr Joanna Newman is Chief Executive and Secretary General of the ACU.

Image: ‘Strung Out’ by Peggy Dembicer via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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