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Karen O'Brien and Fiona Hill in Washington DC

Senior University colleagues have been visiting Washington DC to reinforce Durham’s relationships with our wider community, our research partners and our alumni and supporters in the United States.

A delegation from our Arts and Humanities and Social Science and Health faculties are visiting partner research institutions this week, including the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington DC, where the two institutions have cemented their partnership with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding.       

The latest in our Global Lecture Series  

Meanwhile, alumni, invited guests and senior staff gathered for the latest in our Global Lecture Series, which took place in the residence of Durham alumnus, James Roscoe (Politics, St John’s College, 1995-8). James is the Deputy Head of Mission for the British Embassy in Washington DC.   

Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor, and our Chancellor, Dr Fiona Hill took part in a conversation in the style of a fireside chat, discussing social cohesion, global order and the contribution of education to economic progress. 

The links between social and political 

In a discussion which combined the personal and the professional, and drew links between the Washington of County Durham and Washington DC, Dr Hill referenced her own childhood in an area characterised by industrial decline and poverty, but also full of culture and cohesion - and generosity. Dr Hill benefited educationally from support which often emanated from her local community, support she continues to recognise as transformative for her life. 

Dr Hill and Professor O’Brien drew comparisons between the social and political repercussions of deindustrialisation in the US, the UK and elsewhere, emphasising the social and cultural impact of industrial decline, as well as the economic. Drawing on her own connections to the North East and her first-hand experience, Dr Hill's research has deepened comparative insight into the experiences of multiple countries addressing fundamentally similar problems. 

The pair considered the progress of major structural and economic transitions in geographies such as Germany and Russia, drawing on latest evidence to illustrate differences in the impact of government policy, and the historical trends contributing to this. A clear message emerged of the dangers of over-simplified explanations which can influence public and political opinion. 

The role of education

In particular, access to education was discussed as a critically important counterbalance to populist narratives. Dr Hill emphasised the unequivocal imperative of education to social cohesion. In this context, both Professor O’Brien and Dr Hill agreed on Durham University’s role not only as an educator, but also as a civic institution bringing opportunity, hope, and aspiration. 


About Dr Fiona Hill  

Chancellor Fiona Hill embodies the many links between Durham and Washington DC having been born in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, the daughter of a coal miner. She is an acclaimed foreign affairs specialist, author and former presidential advisor to George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. She served on the US National Intelligence Council from 2006 to 2009 and was a member of the US National Security Council from 2017 to 2019.  

North American partnerships  

The event was part of a wider trip to North America, including alumni engagement activity and partnership development in Toronto, New York, Washington DC and Boston. We have long-standing connections in North America.   


At Durham, our academic staff conduct innovative and impactful research to transform lives and make a difference, globally and locally: research to empower and inspire. Collaboration with a broad mix of partners is central to enhancing global knowledge and developing global citizenship. 

A globally outstanding centre of teaching and research excellence, a collegiate community of extraordinary people, a unique and historic setting – Durham is a university like no other. We are in the World Top 100 - ranked 78th in the QS World University Rankings 2024. Our staff and students come from over 120 countries, creating an outward-looking, globally-minded and inclusive university.  


Find out more  

News of Fiona Hill giving this year’s St George’s House Annual Lecture  

The Smithsonian visit    

Partnerships with North America  

Our global alumni community