British Columbia

UBC hosts Canada's largest academic conference this week

More than 8,000 attendees have arrived at the University of British Columbia as it hosts the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences runs until June 7

The University of British Columbia welcomes over 8,000 attendees this week to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the largest academic conference in Canada. (Robb Douglas/CBC)

Renowned Victoria, B.C.-based author Esi Edugyan took the stage Sunday at the University of British Columbia as part of the largest annual academic conference in the country. 

Edugyan, who spoke about her most recent and Man Booker nominated novel Washington Black, took time to reflect on a key theme of this year's conference — listening across, not just within, communities. 

"The act of reading a book, and reading about somebody who is completely unlike yourself … when you are forced to confront their lives on this very granular level and are privy to their thoughts ... this is something where you are forced into this fellowship, this relationship with somebody," Edugyan said during her lecture. 

"That's the beginning of empathy."

Author Esi Edugyan, right, in conversation with Prof. Minelle Mahtani at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences on Sunday. (Roshini Nair/CBC)

It's a lofty goal for the nearly 8,000 attendees who will be attending workshops, networking and sharing ideas on campus this week. It's the 88th annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which rotates across the country every year and brings together over 70 academic disciplines. 

The theme this year is "circles in conversation," and part of the conference's goal is to break down barriers to make space for dialogue, debate and dissent. 

Patrizia Albanese, president of the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences, which organizes the event, says the conference is also making an effort to break down barriers between academia and the general public. 

"It's not just a bunch of professors sitting around talking to each other about things that only interest us. A lot of the things that the social sciences and humanities do have profound impact on social policies [and] on people's lives," says Albanese.

Patrizia Albanese is president of the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences, which organizes the conference. (Roshini Nair/CBC)

She noted there are a number of events open to the public this week, including a speaker series held throughout the week at the Frederic Wood Theatre and several exhibitions. 

Highlights include presentations by David Suzuki and Stan Douglas, a theatre series exploring the challenges of being a veteran, and a roundtable discussion on Indigenous women's rights. 

The conference runs until June 7 at UBC's Point Grey campus. It is separate from the Women Deliver conference, which is also taking place this week in Vancouver.