The Social Scholar is a new lunchtime series of seminars starting this week looking at the pros and cons of social media in the humanities sector and investigating current best practice. We had a quick word with Dr Matt Phillpott who is convening the seminar for the School of Advanced Study to find out more.

1. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Blogging for Historians blog

Blogging for Historians blog

I’ve just joined the Communications team in the School of Advanced Study after three years working on podcasts and online research training at the Institute of Historical Research.  During that time I became interested in how academics use social media largely because I was trying to work out for myself what I might want to get out of blogs and Twitter.  Last year I was awarded a small scholarship through the Social Media Knowledge Exchange scheme which gave me the opportunity to interview experts who already were using blogs in their own work.  This project resulted in my own site Blogging for Historians.

Before all of this I studied as an historian at the University of Sheffield.  My doctorate was part of the British Academy John Foxe Project and my topic was the study of medieval history in Foxe’s major work, the Acts and Monuments.  I still hold an interest in this subject and continue to examine the writing of history in the sixteenth-century outside of my working hours.

2. The Social Scholar is a new lunchtime seminar series run by the School of Advanced Study.  What is it all about?

The purpose of the seminar is to look at various aspects of using social media in the humanities.  We hope that it will shutterstock_131556587become a forum to discuss and learn about the various options out there, and to help us all to make better and more informed use of these tools.

The idea is to hold a monthly seminar (term-time) with each session lasting about an hour. The seminar will open with a 20 minute presentation from an expert already using or thinking about social media (We already have a great line-up for this term) and this will be followed by discussion and questions.

We are hoping that the Social Scholar becomes more than a place just to discuss social media but an arena for informing and training people in how better to make use of it, and to consider both the good and the bad. For anyone already using social media in their work this is an opportunity to improve or learn more; for those unsure or outright against it, the Social Scholar is a forum to debate and discuss, and ultimately to become more informed.


3. Could you tell us a bit about how the Social Scholar came into being?

When I moved over to SAS in the summer they were in the process of evaluating their own use of social media.  When Dee Burn (Head of Communications and External Relations) asked me to convene a seminar on the subject I was thrilled.  As I’d already begun to investigate best practice for blogs I saw this as a really great opportunity to find out more.

Although social media has become increasingly important in the things that we do, there is very little out there in the way of training or discussion and debate. Dee felt that it was time to change that.  Initial plans were underway for the Social Scholar near the beginning of this year, but it was only really in August that we began to work out what the seminar would be about and who we might ask to speak.

It’s been a bit of a rush to get there, but I think the line-up of speakers that we have look great.


4. What can we expect from the seminar?

We have a great line-up this term.  The first session features Julian Harrison from the British Library talking about the Medieval Manuscripts blog and the British Library’s use of Twitter. Julian plans to talk about how the British Library has used social media to promote the things that they do, and why he thinks these tools are essential and useful.

In November we debate the relative merits of blogs as single-authorship or multiple-authorship with Mark Carrigan.

The British Library

The British Library

Mark is an important voice in the blogosphere, having posted regularly on the LSE Impact blog and elsewhere. He blogs in several places, either as an individual or as part of a collective, so Mark’s views about what works best should be both informed and fascinating.

Next up is Anne Alexander who I previously knew from the aforementioned SMKE project. Anne headed up that project but she is also interested in how new media technologies such as social media inform and challenge issues of leadership, collective action and social movements in the Middle East, particularly Egypt, Iraq and Syria. In December Anne will be talking with us about the broader issues of ethics and social media. I think this is an aspect of social media that few have really tackled as yet, so this should prove an interesting discussion.


5. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Only one thing. I would urge people to give the seminar a try whether or not they like the idea of social media or not.  I think it’s safe to say that there is still some controversy and uncertainty about social media in the arts and humanities.  What purpose does a blog serve? Does it circumvent established academic procedures? Is the time spent on it worthwhile? Is Twitter actually useful or is it the ultimate in work-time procrastination? What can Facebook actually provide the academic?  What about Pinterest, Linkedin,, and all the others?  What can they offer us?  These are all questions I would like the seminar to discuss. I don’t necessarily expect to find definitive answers, nor agreement, but hopefully thought and debate.

The seminars are free to attend and we warmly welcome anyone with an interest or point of view.  I would be thrilled to see researchers including postgraduates and lecturers attending, as well as those working in research/training/events-related positions. Social media can be used for a variety of purposes by people working in very different aspects of the arts and humanities so it would be great to get as many people in as possible with a variety of views and interests.


The Social Scholar will be held once every month term-time between 1pm-2pm on a Wednesday at Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU in room 246. It’s free to all to attend and coffee/tea will be provided (please also feel free to bring your own lunch!). Each session will comprise of a 20 minute presentation from an expert using social media, followed by debate, discussion and questions.