Dr Godela Weiss-Sussex, acting director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR), discusses the institute’s new online resources and the importance of keeping connected in a time of uncertainty.

As Being Human’s director Professor Sarah Churchwell reminded us in her recent post, being human is about being connected. Amidst all the fears and uncertainties of these days and the disruption to our normal academic lives, it’s important to stay in touch, to remind ourselves of the huge variety of research that continues to be conducted in our field, and to support one another in enabling this research to continue. It is also an opportunity to question what a ‘normal academic life’ might and should look like in years to come, as we learn to make use of technology and virtual resources to enhance contact and communication within and beyond academia.

It is in this spirit that the IMLR would like to extend an invitation to everyone to sample its selection of online offers in a new section of our website, where we’re showcasing current research, facilitating online conversations and hosting virtual public engagement activities. You can take part in a Digital modern languages seminar, try your hand at theatre adaptation, read open access versions of our imlr books series, or simply join us for a chat about the book you’re reading.

Here are just a few highlights:

Online events will be kicked off with a free virtual version of our Playing with Prose theatre workshops, held over four sessions between 12 and 19 May, where actor Jack Tarlton will guide participants through the process of adapting novels for the stage. This will be followed on 18 May with a lecture (+ Q&A) by Jean-Michel Gouvard (Bordeaux), exploring Samuel Beckett’s responses to the Algerian War. The next step will be to take on the technical challenge of a virtual seminar, with our first digital modern languages seminar planned for 3 June. Recorded versions of these events will also be available as a podcast, so there’ll be chance to catch up afterwards.

Our podcasts and recordings as well as our Living Languages Blog provide a wealth of insights into the variety of current research in modern languages. These range from medieval social-distancing advice being resurrected by Godelinde Perk (Oxford) to a conversation about Urban Microcosms 1789-1940, the latest volume in the imlr books series, by its co-editors Astrid Koehler (QMUL) and Margit Dirscherl (Munich).

There is a light-hearted strand of podcasts and blog posts that simply asks ‘What are you reading?’, beginning with Professor Catherine Davies (IMLR) reflecting on the intriguing dearth of Spanish-language nautical novels. Another strand provides tasters for events we’ve had to postpone. As far as possible, we’re launching these on the day of the planned event, as just one way of showing that research and engagement and debate are very much continuing and that the full events are something to look forward to.

The first of these tasters is a talk by Joe Ford (IMLR) on the questions to be raised in the Decolonising Modern Languages conference he had been planning with Emanuelle Santos (Birmingham), which would have taken place in Birmingham on 22 April. Joe explores the shifts in perspective and approach that come with opening ourselves to encounters with postcolonial cultures, before engaging with respondent Naomi Wells (IMLR) on the difficulties and pitfalls faced in decolonising modern languages as a discipline. The video gives us a thoughtful insight into the core questions under discussion – and provides a great trailer for the postponed event.

Under ‘news from the archives’, Dr Clare George, archivist at the IMLR’s Research Centre for Austrian and German Exile Studies, has recently provided an insight into the papers of the Anglo-Austrian Society – an organisation founded by refugees from Nazi-occupied Austria and still going strong today. And we’re delighted to announce the publication of our first open access versions of volumes in the imlr books series (University of London Press): Writing and the West German Protest Movements: The Textual Revolution by Mererid Puw Davies (UCL) chronicling the 1968 movement in West Germany, which has already received great attention. This will shortly be followed by Paul Julian Smith’s (CUNY) Television Drama in Spain and Latin America: Genre and Format Translation.

This website is a true joint effort, involving colleagues from around the UK and beyond. Our invitation to the modern languages community to contribute to this resource has been enthusiastic and energetic, and we look forward to seeing it grow over the next weeks and months.

Any ideas for contributions – and indeed expansion – are welcome. Next on the cards, for instance, is a new strand of short videos by postgraduate students presenting their projects. We hope this will spark discussions, networking opportunities, and perhaps even joint thinking on future collaborative research.

As the pandemic and the social distancing rules have changed our lives, they have also made us think about the assumptions underlying our perception of the ‘normal’. We are finding that – while nothing replaces a good face-to-face conversation – many aspects of research facilitation can go online. Using different channels and new ways of doing things doesn’t have to mean providing less support.