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'Misunderstood immortality' wins Capstone Conference 2021

‘’These are such mind-boggling topics!’’, a student exclaims. It is May 21st, and over fifty Humanities Lab students are gathered in a Teams room. The work that they have done as honours students over the past three years culminates in this afternoon: the annual Capstone Conference, where two prizes will be awarded.

The conference is the concluding event to the Capstone Projects. The past two months, honours students from the Humanities Lab track have been teamed up and tasked with conducting research into a series of topics. For example, how can the humanities contribute to sustainable development? Can governments adapt to technological advancements? And what role does social media play in post-truth politics?

"Many people have a limited understanding of immortality" 

The research projects lead to a policy report and a poster: the latter is what the students are presenting today. It is hard not to imagine how colourful the room would have been if the conference was a physical event. ‘’I would have loved to see you all in person’’, Jan Sleutels, chair of the Humanities Lab, says to the students. 

But despite its online format, there is a palpable excitement in the air. Students unmute their mics to clap for each other, compliments are expressed in the chat, and each new presentation raises thought-provoking questions to the audience.


‘’Eurovision makes it seem like Europeans are one big, happy group of friends,’’ one student presenter says, ‘’but euroscepticism is alive and thriving.’’ Euroscepticism, her group has discovered during their research, is not just a political concept. It is multifaceted: born from social divisions, economic inequality and geographical separation. ‘’That is why the humanities are so important when we think about this issue.’’ 

Another group has studied artworks about migration. The team discovered that certain works of art lump migrants together - often by using imagery of waves or flows of people. By doing so, the artworks obscure the diversity that exists among migrants, team captain Julia explains. On the flip side, when an artwork emphasizes the individual migrant, the work creates space for a discourse about the agency and personhood of migrants. Who are they and what is their story?

Science fiction

Throughout the event, students rate the presentations and posters. The groups with the highest scores take home gift cards. ‘’You won’t believe it!’’, Jan Sleutels laughs: one group has won both awards. It is high praise for team immortality, led by group captain Muriël.

People often misunderstand immortality, the team’s poster states, thinking that it is a science fiction trope rather than reality. But forms of immortality actually exist in today’s world. For example, digital technology has made it so that digital reflections of a person can live on long after they have died.

A fitting conclusion

With the presentations given and the prizes awarded, the event draws to a close. The questions posed by the students still linger in the air. If you had to boil the conference down to a single take-away, it might just be that the humanities play a crucial role in analysing the big changes happening in our world. For the students, that is a fitting conclusion to three years of studying the humanities, in all its multifaceted glory.

Text: Marjolijn van Raaij

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