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Cultural Interventions: CHCI Annual Meeting 2019

The Annual Meeting of the Consortium of Humanities Centres and Institutes 2019 was hosted by the Trinity Long Room Hub and explored the theme of cultural interventions over three days of panel discussions, keynotes, performance and visits to Dublin's leading cultural institutions.


 Brian Friel: “It’s all about language.”

Stephen Rea: “What is? Translations?” [Friel’s play]

Friel: “Everything”.

This brief conversation, recalled by Stephen Rea, speaking on the Field Day panel on the last afternoon of CHCI’s Annual Meeting in Dublin, seemed to encapsulate the mood and themes of the unique three days when 250 directors, scholars and members of cultural and humanities centres and institutes from round the world descended on Trinity.

Stephen Rea in conversation with Chris Morash, Clair Wills and Conor McCarthy, and Angela Bourke as part of CHCI 2019.

‘Cultural Interventions’ was the theme chosen by the Trinity Long Room Hub for CHCI’s 30th Annual Meeting and its first in Ireland. It proved a dynamic, versatile theme, enabling focussed individualised events such as Judith Buchanan’s wonderful ‘Silent Shakespeare’ – interpreting Shakespeare through silent film - as well as the exploration of overarching themes like Commemoration, Trauma, Civil War and The Radical Middle.

The sessions, as they unfolded, exemplified Friel’s insight: everything, or at least every successful cultural intervention, comes down to getting the language and the translation right - where translation is between languages, but also across cultures and between mediums, e.g. translation into film, music, visual art.












Keynote lecture with Professor Joep Leersson and opening of annual meeting.

The majority of events were interdisciplinary panel discussions involving participants from different continents. This reflects the global, open-ending, questioning spirit of CHCI and its focus on advocacy and on using the arts and humanities to confront universal challenges.

CHCI: bringing the arts and humanities together around the world

The Consortium of Humanities and Centres and Institutes, CHCI, was established in 1988 with the mission of supporting the future of the humanities by building global networks and nurturing new forms and methods of global interdisciplinary research.

CHCI grew out of the American Council of Learned Sciences (ACLS) and in its first years was very much a north American organisation but it has since expanded to 270 members around the world, with growing membership in Africa and Asia.

The Board of the Consortium of Humanities Centres and Institutes with Chair Sara Guyer.Find out more abou CHCI and its board members here.

CHCI members come from very different political, social, cultural and funding environments – Rosi Braidotti of Utrecht University humorously contrasted the great philanthropic foundations in the US, with the approach in Europe of ‘governments making disastrous decisions about humanities’.

But what was striking, across the differences, is what members agree on: first, that ‘cultural intervention’ means not just intervening on questions traditionally associated with culture like drama, art and literature, but on global challenges like migration, climate change, populism and colonialism. And second, the importance of strengthening collaboration – that’s collaboration between disciplines, interdisciplinarity, and between countries and regions, building global networks.

A number of speakers noted that humanities must get better at measuring impact – proving when and where it successfully intervenes. Conversely there was a robust argument that humanities not be reduced to ‘instrumentality’ and justifying itself for the value it brings to the health sciences, environmental studies and technology etc – humanities projects have unique aesthetic, emotional, sensory, affective value in themselves.

It’s impossible to summarise the richness and diversity of the twelve or so sessions across the three days. As you might expect in a cultural and humanities debate, the interventions – both from the panel and from the floor – were distinguished by their eloquence. This was a symposium of elegantly phrased insights and pithy aphorisms, which would make brilliant tweets - and perhaps the best way to capture its flavour is to reprise some of these.

CHCI Dublin in 15 Aphorisms:

  • “For science, you put on a white coat and go into the lab. In Arts and Humanities, we lack a livery”
  • “The quintessential can be consequential”
  • “Brexit is a cloud with very few silver linings, but one benefit is that ears are now open to the fact that language and culture do matter”.
  • “We should be careful about always making the case for arts and humanities in terms of impact and how we bolster the economy. We don’t want to give in to instrumentality.’
  • “The arts and humanities also meet society’s demand for disinterested knowledge’
  • “It’s not just about advocacy for the arts and humanities but about testifying. And we need to exemplify at the point of advocacy.”
  • “Where is our identity located? The stomach? The heart, brain or skin? For Didier Anzieu, it’s the skin – le Moi-Peau. The skin is a nice metaphor for wrapping up identity.”
  • “Auto-exoticism is still a bit of an affliction in Ireland. There is nothing special to thinking that you are special.” 
  • “There is no author without the archive. It’s the archive and the attendant commentary that allows the author to function.”
  • “Satire attacks all around from the centre – it unleashes ‘a plague on both their houses’.”
  • “The radical middle is a space for translation.”
  • “To counter the segregationalist logic of the algorithm, we need the logic of the analogue.”
  • “Why do anti-humanist sentiments have such a purchase? Because the libido of radicalism has been stolen from the left.”
  • “Like maybe all successful cultural interventions, Field Day was about taking a local conversation and putting it in an international context.”
  • “Why does Ireland have a direct provision? Why must we act out the behaviours of imperialist countries?”


The Annual Meeting ended with a focus on one of the most successful cultural interventions in Ireland, or anywhere, in the last forty years. Chaired by Chris Morash, a panel of Stephen Rea, Clair Wills, Angela Bourke and Conor McCarthy spoke about Field Day, which began in Derry at the height of the Troubles in 1980 and became “a sort of national theatre – people in Dublin and Belfast hated that the energy had gone to the north west.”

Asked how Field Day became so successful, co-founder Stephen Rea said that “there was no masterplan. What happened is that the first play Friel wrote for us – Translations – was a masterpiece. If it hadn’t been, maybe we wouldn’t have gone on to be a company of cultural intervention.”

These ‘interventions’ included theatre and poetry readings, the famous Field Day pamphlets, and the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, edited by Seamus Deane. The Anthology was ‘a place to present competing ideologies and remake a sense of Irish history’.

Stephen Rea performs Seamus Heaney's translation of Book VI of the Aeneid.

After the three days of debate and discussion, the symposium ended with two events ‘exemplifying’ the strength of humanities, Field Day and Northern Irish cultural interventions, all together.

The short, poetic, hard-hitting film Hard Border, written by northern playwright Clare Dwyer Hogg and performed by Stephen Rea was commissioned by the Financial Times. It exposed the magical thinking of Brexiteers with wit and icy rage.

The finale, to a packed Edmund Burke Theatre, with members of the public also crowded in, was Stephen Rea’s magnificent reading of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Book VI of the Aeneid. A reminder, in case we’d forgotten, that it’s always about finding the right language.

- Written by Bridget Hourican for the Trinity Long Room Hub


Listen by Podcast:

Welcome and Keynote

Welcome by Jane Ohlmeyer and Keynote with Joep Leerssen, University of Amsterdam.


Hard Border

Actor Stephen Rea and in conversation with writer of 'Hard Border' Clare Dwyer Hogg; chaired by James Chandler.


Civil War and Cultural Interventions: The Example of Field Day

A panel discussion with Stephen Rea, Clair Wills, Angela Bourke, Conor McCarthy; chaired by Chris Morash.


Srinivas Aravamudan Memorial Lecture: The Radical Middle

A discussion convened by Homi Bhabha with Premesh Lalu, Jim Chandler, Wang Hui and Debjani Ganguly.

Cultural Trauma and Documentary Making

A panel discussion with Esther Hamburger, Joyce C.H. Liu, and Bríona Nic Dhiarmada; chaired by Eileen Julien.

Advocacy for the Humanities

A panel discussion with Jennifer Edmond, Daniel Carey, James Schulman, and Andrew Thompson; chaired by Rosie Braidotti.



Stephen ReaIrish Independent - 22 June 2019

Actor Stephen Rea: 'The DUP's looking to a Britain that is basically over'

Read the full article here


Stephen ReaA conversation at the CHCI Annual Meeting in Dublin with CHCI President, Sara Guyer, and the Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, Jane Ohlmeyer, on why arts and humanities matter.

Read the full article here

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