The occasion of the Summer Newsletter provides an invitation for reflection on the Subject Centre’s inaugural year, and the opportunity to look forward to and outline some of our plans for the future. Undoubtedly, those who work at the Centre have had a busy and fulfilling first stage, and we have been delighted by the warm response from English departments across the country.
The range of activities run by the Centre in the first year has included visits to departments, study days and training days. All of these activities have demonstrated a great willingness among those who teach the subject to exchange ideas and share their experience with colleagues right across the sector. Whether people have come under the title of preparing for academic review, or discussing the nature of the seminar, our evaluations and other forms of feedback strongly suggest that one real enjoyment and value of these sessions is that which centres on the exchange of views and experience. At the very least, colleagues are discovering that others share the problems and difficulties that might sometimes seem to be theirs alone, but frequently the evidence suggests that the teaching of English is accompanied by a great deal of pleasure and a vigorous interest in students’ experience of the subject. Thus, the interchange between colleagues is also about success, the discovery of different teaching techniques, and discovering new approaches to the subject. One of the Subject Centre’s prime aims is to build a network of exchange among those who teach English, and that can only be built on the development of a sense of solidarity and common purpose. This is emerging strongly, and we will seek to develop it further next year.
Throughout our first year we have established close contacts with a number of departments, and with many of those who have attended our events. We will increase the network next year by continuing our programme of visits to departments. Out of the 120 departments we have on our list, 92 have been represented at Subject Centre events. This high participation has enabled us to gather a substantial amount of information about the priorities of English departments, their needs, and matters of common concern or questions. We have established a plan of activities and events around these for next year, but it is also the case that we are always anxious to hear more, and take suggestions from departments. The Subject Centre is a resource for the teaching of English in Higher Education: if you wish us to gather information, conduct analyses, or simply run staff development events, you should let us know. We do not necessarily have the expertise in-house to meet such needs, but our philosophy is firmly founded on the belief that the community as a whole is a rich resource, and we can contract expertise from within it. Our prime aim next year will be to produce more material results and outcomes. The headlines in our programme are our Project Development Grants (which entails the devolving of money out to Departments), a national project on the use of IT in English, the production of reports on admissions, the subject’s teaching and learning, and (possibly) skills, the development of database resources to enable the rapid discovery of materials and expertise, and the first stage of planning for a major international conference in 2003 provisionally entitled ‘The Condition of the Subject’.
This conference will provide a forum for the community to reflect upon its practice and the institutional structures through which it is materialised. It could be argued that we have an ideal notion of our subject constructed largely out of our research practice, and a material practice governed by the increasing demands of corporatism, regulation, central schemes, or by what has become known as the market. It is clear that English has evolved rapidly over the last two decades as a result of the theoretical revolution, but it could also be argued that the transformations wrought by institutional imperatives and national agendas have had equally large effects. At the same time there are other imperatives that will produce material changes that will be, arguably, beneficial (the need, for example, to publish our research to a wider audience than that indicated by decreasing library sales, or the increasing requirements of professionalism). This conference will aim to discuss these and other matters. In addition, the international status of English has changed, and the nature of the subject’s relations to other disciplines has had profound effects on the understanding of its intellectual boundaries. English is now a subject, arguably, with no centre and no margins, and while this latitude is widely celebrated as a healthy antidote to canonical prescription, it also presents challenges to the conceptualisation of subject knowledge. We plan to kick the conference off this year with some preliminary events (meetings, symposia and planning groups). More news of this and other activities in our programme will be included in our Autumn Bulletin, and future mailings. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all colleagues who have worked with the Subject Centre this year, and have brought so much stimulation and ideas to its events and future planning.