Under the spotlightDavid Murphy, New Head of School for Humanities

Head of Humanities David MurphyDavid Murphy has recently been appointed as the new Head of School for the School of Humanities and we managed to catch up with him to find out a little bit more about his Strathclyde career and what led him into his current role. 

Tell us a little about your career so far…
I completed my PhD in Dublin, where I grew up, and worked there for a couple of years at Trinity College, before moving to the University of Stirling in 2000. I spent 18 largely happy years there before making the move to Strathclyde in January 2019. As for my research, it focuses on the history and culture of France’s former colonies in West Africa, and Senegal, in particular. I’m also very interested in issues around race, identity and citizenship in contemporary France.

What has been the most memorable moment of your career to date?
That’s a hard question to answer. I feel really honoured right now to have just received the SU’s Best in Faculty teaching award. I’ve been teaching in HE for twenty years and this was my first ever teaching award. In research terms, I suppose it has to be meeting and working over the past year with the French World Cup-winning footballer, Lilian Thuram, who has, since his retirement from football, become a leading anti-racism activist. At the very least, this is research that my kids finally think is cool!

What inspired you to enter into your field of work?
It’s so long ago now that it’s hard to remember my original motivations. But it’s certainly the case that I love languages, and I’m really grateful for the access to other cultures, histories, practices and ways of thinking that French has given me. As for the study of French colonialism, well, an education in the Republic of Ireland certainly meant that I had a keen awareness of the complex legacies of language, culture, history and empire, and I wanted to understand how these legacies played out in the French context. The fact that the legendary Senegalese filmmaker, Ousmane Sembene, visited Dublin in the mid-1990s just as I was choosing a PhD topic, was also a key factor.

What is your role within the school?
I have been deputy head of the School of Humanities for the past year, shadowing the current head, Kirstie Blair, who has been showing me the ropes before I take over her role on 1 August. Kirstie has been a great HoS so these are big shoes to fill but I’m looking forward to leading a large and really diverse school. That said, I’m very conscious of the challenges we face due to the Covid-19 crisis.

What current trends do you see influencing your field?
The resurgence over the past few months of the Black Lives Matter movement and the renewal of calls to Decolonize the Curriculum have certainly given new impetus to questions that have been of central interest to my own research over the past two decades. I think it’s vital that we capitalise on the renewed attention given to such matters to try and achieve two things: 1) increase the number of BAME students who study languages in HE and subsequently go on to become academics themselves; 2) embed issues of diversity and inclusiveness within curriculum design.

Tell us about any research you are currently involved in…
Like most academics, I always seem to be juggling a few projects at any given moment. Right now, I’m editing the English-language translation of Lilian Thuram’s Mes Etoiles Noires, a history of leading black political, cultural and sporting figures, which will be published early next year. I’m also completing the manuscript of a biography of the Senegalese anti-colonial activist, Lamine Senghor, who was a major but now largely forgotten political leader between the two world wars. I’ve also got plans to continue my research on Pan-African cultural festivals but they may need to go on the back burner while I’m Head of School…

What initially attracted you to the University of Strathclyde?
Well, first of all, I was flattered to be approached about applying for a post under the GTAP scheme. Then, I became excited about the possibilities for working across disciplinary boundaries with colleagues in the School of Humanities and the rest of the Faculty. Strathclyde is a much bigger university than Stirling and the possibilities for collaborative, interdisciplinary work here are so much greater. Finally, I’m delighted to now have both my work and family life based in Glasgow, after almost two decades of commuting. Strathclyde is at the heart of the city and is woven into the cultural, social and intellectual life of Glasgow, which has been really exciting for me.

After studying French what opportunities are there for graduates?
There are so many opportunities for students with language skills. Beyond language-specific roles such as teaching, translating and interpreting, the ability to speak and write a second language has been proven in study after study to offer graduates a real advantage in many sectors.

You can keep up-to-date with David's work and research here: