Public Humanities

Institutes of Advanced Study are ideal spaces for the University and civil society to meet, and IASH is no exception. From intimate group discussions to public lectures with over 200 attendees, we are working hard to increase our range of accessible, public-facing humanities events through the Institute’s own activities, by partnering with Schools, Global Academies and external organisations, and by coordinating events for Scottish and UK festival programmes.

Below you’ll find a brief selection of some of the public humanities initiatives the Institute is involved with. To find out more about upcoming events, visit our events calendar.

Public Lectures

Throughout the year, we run a range of public lectures delivered by local and international speakers. These include the Fulbright Lecture, the Northern Scholars Lecture series and the Enlightenment Lectures.

Pop-Up Forums

The IASH series of ‘pop-up’ forums offer informative and accessible discussions for the general public on important and sometimes controversial ‘of the minute’ topics. As with our other events, our pop-up forums are offered free of charge and are very popular—registrations usually sell out and waiting lists are common.


Edinburgh is known as a festival city, and IASH participates in a number of ways during the city’s August festivals. We also engage with festivals at other times of the year, including Previously: Scotland’s History Festival, Book Week Scotland, Luminate (Scotland’s Creative Ageing Festival), and many more.

Dangerous Women Project

IASH provides an international, interdisciplinary and autonomous space for discussion and debate. In 2016, we introduced a digital initiative, the Dangerous Women Project. The Project raised some challenging questions about the dynamics, conflicts, identities and power relations faced by women in historical and contemporary societies. To do so, it published 365 responses to those questions on a specially designed website linking International Women’s Day 2016 with International Women’s Day 2017. Find out more here.

Spotlight on Research

Previous Academic Director of IASH, Professor Jolyon Mitchell features in a special edition on the Public Humanities, emerging out of a Toronto seminar organised by the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI) in June 2015. The volume explores “the history of universities; theories of publics; public lectures and festivals; and… the task of justifying humanities to public funders and critics.”

University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 4, Fall 2016, Publics for the Humanities?

Professor Mitchell’s contribution, In Search of Peace: Public Humanities and the Face in Creative Arts, can be read here (paywall). Abstract:

Through this paper, I will consider the roles that the humanities can play in interpreting and interacting with the arts. To investigate this topic, I will use several international examples. These are situated in Cannes, Edinburgh, and London, though they directly connect with countries such as South Africa and Mozambique. The world's best known film festival (Cannes), and the world's largest theatre and arts festival (Edinburgh), alongside the world's first national public museum (the British Museum in London), provide the contexts in which my argument develops. In each of these spaces, one can be confronted by a myriad of human faces, presented publically in innumerable ways. Film posters, stand-up comedy adverts, and exhibition fliers commonly employ the human face to attract, to intrigue, and to entice audiences toward their spectacle. The humanities can both interact with and critically analyse these uses of faces. The human faces in these diverse and dynamic settings provoke questions which the public humanities can address, as they interrogate celebrity, analyse portrayals of suffering, and in the shadows of dangerous memories, even help to create materials to inspire peace.