“I'm fascinated by how teaching human sciences will evolve”

© 2018 EPFL Alain Herzog

© 2018 EPFL Alain Herzog

Béla Kapossy is the new director of EPFL’s College of Humanities. He will take up his duties on 1 August. A historian with a keen interest in the political and economic ideas that shaped the modern era, Professor Kapossy shares with us his fascination with new technologies and the social, ethical and philosophical issues they raise.

What is your view of the digital humanities?
I’m a historian, and my field has specific traditions and teaching methods. Historians are gradually becoming aware of the important role the digital humanities play in research and education. And EPFL is a leader in this area. I’m really looking forward to exploring what different fields of human sciences stand to gain from these technological tools and to see what new questions are raised thanks to or as a result of these technologies – and what sorts of solutions we can come up with.

What do we need to be aware of going forward?
There is a growing awareness that engineering teachers and students should really learn all they can about how their future discoveries could affect society. In reality, all of the questions raised within the scope of digital humanities – questions of a social, ethical or philosophical nature – break very new ground. The ethics of artificial intelligence and big data require specific training. The human and social sciences can bring a new perspective to what is being done. The digital transformation will present clear challenges to EPFL’s various schools, and the College of Humanities will have a key role to play here.

How do you think the College will change over time?
I think it will become ever more relevant. I would like to improve the level of communication between engineers and human sciences researchers who also study digital humanities. There are different needs and different challenges that we will have to identify and tap into. This will also give us a chance to look at why communication at times can be difficult. I am convinced that we can make students aware of these issues and bolster EPFL’s relationship with the University of Lausanne (UNIL) in this regard.

Béla Kapossy, a Swiss citizen, was born on 25 October 1965 in Bern. After studying history at Heidelberg University and the University of Cambridge, he began his academic career as the assistant to the Chair of the History of Political Thought in Social and Political Sciences at the UNIL. Since 2009, he has been in charge of the Lumières.Lausanne platform, which is hosted by the Centre des sciences historiques de la culture in UNIL's Faculty of Letters. He is a professor of modern history at the Faculty of Letters (UNIL) since 2011.

In 2015, Professor Kapossy was appointed director of the cross-disciplinary doctoral program on the age of the Enlightenment, funded by the University Conference of Western Switzerland. He has also chaired, since 2016, the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences Committee at the Data and Service Center for the Humanities.

Professor Kapossy’s research centers on the history of political and economic ideas. He is interested in the political, social, economic and cultural conditions that European thinkers considered essential for political institutions to function and in the historical theories they developed to explain why some European and non-European nations succeeded while others failed.