Famous authors and poets joined forces with eminent university lecturers and politicians at Sydenham High School GDST on Thursday 22 June, to celebrate the fundamental value and modern relevance of studying the Humanities at the first Sydenham Symposium.

Over 70 senior school pupils from Blackheath High, St Olave’s in Orpington, Bishop Thomas Grant in Streatham, Dulwich College and Elmgreen School West Norwood, as well as from Sydenham High, took part in the day of workshops and talks to celebrate the value of Humanities subjects and to demonstrate what areas of study and careers they can lead to post-GCSE.

The Sydenham Symposium: A Humanities Festival was opened by Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood. Ms Hayes, who is a geographer, told the audience of pupils from year 10 to year 12 that the Humanities provide vital perspective on our increasingly complex world, whether we are looking to examine the motivations of past leaders, the interactions between physical and human geography or the reasons for a particular ethical standpoint.  They enable us to move forward by learning from the lessons of the past.

A top line-up of guest speakers ran a series of workshops and talks throughout the day.  Best-selling historical mystery author Caroline Lawrence explored the hero’s journey in Greek and Roman myth and how this is used in modern film plots such as Star Wars. In contrast, author and director David Stuttard provided a fully immersive workshop exploring the differences between modern and Greek drama including recreating a Greek chorus in Ancient Greek. Poet and fiction writer Lydia Syson, examined the story of the forgotten women of the Paris Commune in the era of Les Miserables and eminent philosophy lecturer Dr John Tillson, from the University of Warwick, got students thinking about whether it is wrong to simulate wrong-doing in modern computer and video games.

The day ended with a plenary session delivered by Dr Kathryn Tempest, lecturer in Latin literature and Roman history at the University of Roehampton who provided an intriguing exploration of Roman and Greek social etiquette, including the dinner party, and how this compared with behaviour today.

Sydenham High Headmistress Mrs Katharine Woodcock said: “At Sydenham High we see the Humanities subjects as vital in education: exciting to study and key to understanding humanity itself. With increasing interest in learning about Philosophy, Religion and Ethics, History, Government and Politics, Geography and Classics, we felt the time was right to create a specific day of celebration for the Humanities that would draw interest from a range of senior schools in the area. I am delighted that so many of our neighbouring schools sent delegates.”

Dr Sarah Wallace, Head of History at Sydenham High, who organised the symposium, said: “All our speakers have built their careers from an extended study of one or more Humanity subjects and their workshops and seminars were designed to extend students’ knowledge of and curiosity about these exciting subjects and what you can do with them post-GCSE.”