Image description: a leaf holding a cityscape, and the word nature, with the BSHR logo on a white background.
In this student spotlight we’ve spoken to Calista Chong, the chairperson of BSHR, and Ernest, co-founder, to find out more about the publication.
What is the Broad Street Humanities Review and why is it important?
Calista: The Broad Street Humanities Review is the University of Oxford’s very first student-run undergraduate humanities journal, established with the aim of invigorating interdisciplinary academic writing in our student community and beyond. It’s a great place for anyone wishing to develop their original ideas and contribute their unique perspectives to scholarship.
Why/how did it begin?
Ernest: The shorter, unglamorous truth – in my view at least – is that it started in Staircase 1 of Trinity College overlooking the eponymous Broad Street. It was born out of a slight annoyance that there weren’t great avenues for students to explore writing out of the narrow pedagogical demands of the average tute essay. Plenty of emails later, and after some brief but insightful meetings with people like Trinity stalwart Prof. Bryan Ward-Perkins (now retired) and Dr. Perry Gauci over at Lincoln, we registered the BSHR together with a bunch of friends! Hence the incredibly historian-centric committee at the start. The longer version involves a lot of brainstorming over things that seem a bit minor now – do we frame it as an interdisciplinary, or multidisciplinary journal? What about the postgrads? Why does the Proctor’s Office take so long to reply, anyway? And what about the first theme? Deep down, of course, there was still an excitement to get the process of students writing lest we consign the BSHR to the scrapheap of great-but-unrealized ideas. Two years from now, looking at how the new team’s handled everything, I’m really proud of how the project’s come along!
How has BSHR responded to the pandemic? What sort of events have you been holding in the past few terms?
Calista: Frankly, we saw the pandemic as an enabler more than a stumbling block. It allowed us to welcome international submissions for pitches and editor applications and thus far, we have writers from Brown University, National University of Singapore, University of Cambridge and Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University. In the summer last year, we recorded a podcast series entitled, Disruption Discussed, where our committee members engage leading experts in a discussion on the theme of disruption from different disciplinary angles. You can still listen to our podcast episodes here!
During term time, we also host a variety of panels that centre on the given theme through different disciplinary lenses. For instance, our journal’s theme in Michaelmas 2020 was Nature, and one of our events featured Dr Tom White and Dr Deborah Lilley where they discussed eco-criticism in literature and art (watch here). More recently, we unveiled our theme for Hilary 2021 – Time! Our first event in the series was an illuminating discussion with Professor David Armitage, in which he made a compelling case for presentism in history. I’m most excited about our last event of Hilary, where we gather for a lively debate on the motion, ‘This House Believes That Now Is The Best Time To Be Alive’, featuring Professor Ian Goldin and Dr Andrew Edwards. We’re looking for student speakers to participate in the debate too – let us know if you’re interested!
What is the most rewarding part of being part of BSHR?
Calista: The most rewarding part of being part of the committee is the friendships that I’ve made over the past year! Running an interdisciplinary journal also encourages me to think more flexibly and creatively and I learn to jump out of the disciplinary ‘box’ that used to confine my thinking about a particular problem or subject.
Can you tell us more about your latest edition, with the theme of nature?
Jamie: It seemed that it was an absolutely vital topic and very timely—with climate change, ecological destruction, pollution, and climate justice, among many others, really important issues of our time. But I think also the pandemic has really brought out the value of nature—it’s highlighted the need for time in nature and the need to rethink our relationship with it, given that deforestation and overpopulation were significant factors that increase the likelihood of a pandemic. So we chose the topic and then in week 3 of Michaelmas I hosted a panel on ecocriticism and the importance of art and literature for environmental issues. In my preliminary research I got lost down a rabbit hole and absolutely fascinated by the distinction between earlier and later environmental thinking—in short, we no longer consider nature as an externality, but see humans as part of rather than apart from nature. And to be honest I could not have imagined a set of writers and editors that rose to the challenge any better—without too much consideration, the majority of our authors looked at this problematic idea of nature as externality, arguing everything from its implications for meta-ethical theories to its manifestation in the othering of climate refugees in the present day.
I’m particularly proud of the diversity of topics and forms of presentation in the issue: for the first time we had a video essay and accompanying essay, as well as an absolutely gorgeous piece of creative writing. We also had students writing about film (Studio Ghibli) and a variety of literature, from Zadie Smith to Aldous Huxley. That was very exciting. I think one thing I can point to for the success of this journal issue is our editing process, which we’ve worked really hard on—it really engages the editors, asking them to be involved in the contribution from the off. Writers stay in regular contact with editors and submit various drafts, with specific guidance given to editors about how to give feedback. In that sense I think we don’t just receive but cultivate really strong submissions and I also believe we really empower both our writers and editors with new skills—we don’t just take their contributions but really give back too. All in all, I think this means our contributors will go out into the world carrying the ideas we’ve taught them and skills we’ve instilled in them, and hopefully spread the word!
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Image via BSHR