The belief in the importance of promoting greater global understanding across countries that inspired the UN Charter remains as important and relevant today as it was thenby David Cannadine / October 24, 2020 / Leave a comment
If humanity is successfully to tackle its most significant current challenges—from Covid-19 to climate change—this will be in no small part thanks to a document signed 75 years ago.
The United Nations Charter, which came into force on 24 October 1945, not only created the UN, but also sought to commit the world’s sovereign nations to peaceful co-operation. It is thanks to this agreement that we have institutions like the World Health Organisation, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Change Agreement of 2015, all of which serve as focal points for tackling grand challenges, from global warming and conflict to poverty and pandemics.
Yet nurturing international co-operation didn’t stop with the Charter in 1945. Indeed, it has never stopped. And nor should it. We should always seek to maintain our shared values of peace, justice, equality, and sustainable living. This requires a free transnational exchange of ideas, a willingness to co-operate even when times get tough, and a determination to focus on our similarities, rather than our differences.
At the British Academy, we celebrate these values and these efforts with the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, awarded annually since 2013 in recognition of works of non-fiction that promote a cosmopolitan view on global issues.
Scholarship, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, contributes an enormous amount to international cooperation. The study of languages opens our minds to limitless possibilities and multifarious cultures. The study of history and archaeology reveals the complexity of human lives and societies in every age, as well as our own. From philosophy to psychology, all these SHAPE disciplines help us to form a broad and global outlook.
And this helps us to re-examine what we mean by peace, justice, freedom and equality, and how we can co-operate on transnational grounds to do what is in the broader human interest, rather than putting sectional and individual self-interest first.
New discoveries can, for example, challenge our assumptions about human potential for peaceful cooperation. In one of the works shortlisted for this year’s prize, Pekka Hämäläinen argues in Lakota America that “two Americas” once existed side by side in the push for western expansion. His history of the Lakota people explains how they cohabited with the emergent American nation, carefully balancing military advancement with culture, trade and—for at least half a century—peaceful…