Institute Theme

Our community voted for the Institute's inaugural theme for 2023/24.

The first annual theme for the Media, Arts and Humanities Research Institute is Beginnings.

What does it mean to begin? And where might beginnings take us? Edward Said argues that a beginning ‘not only creates but is its own method’. In turn, ‘Beginnings’ has unique capacity as an inaugural theme to generate new ideas and projects, and to encourage us to think expansively within and beyond our disciplines.

This multidisciplinary theme has great creative and critical potential. It invites us to consider different beginnings: creation, emergence, making, natality, newness, the unprecedented, the past and that which came before. We might explore how to represent the beginnings of the cosmos, or the birth of consciousness, in sound, images, movement, performance, language, or stories. We might ask what technologies mediate experiences of coming-into-being, or experiment with what it means to make a beginning in the context of the current wave of generative AI. Together we can explore how beginnings shape critical and creative practice, from temporalities, genealogies, life-writing and history to archaeology, etymology, and memory. Such explorations have radical possibilities. In myths of origin, creation intertwines with order, so that – as Giorgio Agamben claims – the removal of the origin collapses oppressive social and political structures and permits new ways of being. A focus on beginnings invites us to test the potential of this theme to create new research methods and pedagogies through which to respond to challenges of the present and the future. How might beginnings help us to navigate climate transition, and to reframe responses to ecological crisis in terms of new practices and technologies? Can a turn to beginnings help us to rethink what learning and research mean in the present moment?

‘Beginnings’ builds on existing research in MAH, and the theme’s resonance with work in the sciences and social sciences will create opportunities for exciting transdisciplinary spaces. Research in this vein is already underway in the School. Examples include research into:

  • Beginnings in early modern drama
  • Origin myths in a post-industrial music theatre reimagining of John Milton’s Paradise Lost narratives of origin, ideology and the body / 'nature’
  • Science fiction and climate futures
  • Sussex Humanities Lab’s investigations of social and cultural dimensions of innovation and emerging technologies
  • Centre for Early Modern and Medieval Studies’ forthcoming symposium on early representations of consciousness in literature, music and technology.

 Further suggested public-facing ‘Beginnings’ events might include:

  • a symposium on beginnings and climate transition
  • a workshop exploring the beginnings of higher education (or Sussex and its place in the community) in order to reimagine the University’s role in the present and future
  • co-creative, student-led workshops on learning and ‘the beginner’: what is the difference between a ‘student’ and a ‘beginner’?
  • events on beginnings and research methods: does tracing beginnings offer alternatives to scientific research models for creative / critical practice?
  • a high-profile keynote / headline event at the Festival of Ideas (the capaciousness of the theme permits multiple possibilities)

This suggested programme reflects the breadth of ‘Beginnings’: a theme that promises new directions with the potential for longer-term project.


Starting off an exciting programme of events linked to this theme, the initial Media, Arts and Humanities Research Conversation on Beginnings, open to all interested faculty and PGRs across the University, took place in October 2023. Read the summary report from the Beginnings Conversations.

A further seven events will take place during spring/summer 2024. These include:

  • 24 April: The Concept of the Archive (in Early-Modern/Contemporary Poetics) Panel and Discussion  
  • 20 May: Beginnings: Making your Own Press - a Vine Press Workshop  
  • 30 May: Launching the Black Studies @ Sussex Legacy Collection: Beginnings in Context and Community Symposium  
  • 31 May: New Beginnings Explored through Speculative Fiction: Symposium, Workshop and Producing of Artwork  
  • 5 June: Preface, Prelude, Prologue Symposium 
  • 19 June: Menopause: New Perspectives, New Beginnings Conference 
  • Activist Beginnings Workshop and Showcase - Social Justice, Leadership & Organising 

Watch this space for more details.