Nancy Holman

Nancy Holman, Geography & Environment (Photo: aperiofilms for LTI)

What are you worried about in today’s interview?

That I might swear.

Who the f*** cares!

Big grin on Nancy’s face.

Interviewing Dr. Nancy Holman is a delight from start to finish. She is quietly wicked: “It is my avowed aim to make you explode with laughter”, she threatens as soon as we explain that no one but her must be heard on tape. She is surprisingly American: born in Texas, she sports an interesting Portsmouthy drawl. As a baby she was given a nappy pin in the shape of a gun that could shoot real bullets. She is deeply fond of her students:

“If you had to leave the LSE, what would you miss the most?”

“I would miss my students.”

Nancy may be lucky to have her students, but that holds the other way round, too. Her students are lucky to have her.

Dr. Nancy Holman, Director of Planning Studies in the Department of Geography & Environment, has been at the LSE for longer than she cares to remember (she arrived in 2000), and she obviously loves it here. She is “passionate” about planning, which sounds a bit like being passionate about aircraft hangars, or spoons. But read her on strategic planning in London for example, and you’ll get some of that passion, it shines through. The article exposes how subtle shifts in planning policy language indicate a not so subtle shift in planning policy strategy and coherence. Clear, sober, convincing, but with a simmering undertone of righteous indignation at the effects any incoherent strategy will have on the life of Londoners. Her passion makes sense, because it is clearly political: planning is about housing, it is about a basic human need for shelter, for home. That makes its focus universal.

That ‘passion’ (or, that grim determination that one is trying to do right, and to be useful, which arguably is what it means to be an academic) spills over into her teaching practice. Being solitary wouldn’t work for her, she needs the buzz of being on campus, being and talking with her students, working on projects with colleagues, some of whom are former students. It gives her a sense of excitement.

“The thing that gives me the biggest joy in my life is the people that I get to interact with in my teaching. I love the research, I love my colleagues, they’re very lovely […] but my students, […] there is a core sense of who they are and I am very lucky, the groups I get on regional and urban planning are fantastic.”

To repay her students for the joy and excitement they provide, Nancy gives them a rich educational experience; they go on urban walks and longer trips to interesting cities in Europe, they are taught to collaborate and to think of planning in narrative and visual terms. She selects her students carefully, in order to get a diverse mix of educational, academic and life backgrounds. The MSc Regional and Urban Planning Studies is not about competition, but about collaboration: “because planning is about collaboration.

“In planning, the ability to think about spaces on both paper and visually is a key core skill that our students need to develop and we feel that this initiative could help them to develop these transferable skills.”

To that end Nancy nabbed herself an LTI Grant to support her work on GY454, a compulsory course unit on the MSc in Regional And Urban Planning Studies. Being given proper equipment, students will achieve better film results and attach greater importance to the experience. That in turn helps students gain more confidence in interpreting urban areas through film. Similar to Professor Callahan in IR, Nancy teaches her students to think and communicate visually and in terms of narrative while being alert to the politics of the visual. Visual stories can distort as much as they can reveal, and what is left out of a film is often as important as what is being put in.

Technology plays a part in her work, and though she is fond of art, she doesn’t use it in her teaching beyond using imagery to to try to tell a story. Above all, she reveals, “humour has more to do with my teaching than anything else.

What Nancy did/ does:

  • Nancy received an LTI Students-as-Producers Grant in 2015 “Using Film in Urban Planning Analysis:
    • 8 filming (DSLR) kits from LTI for 40 students (to work in 8 groups)
    • Funding for 20 hours of GTA support and film making advice
      • Get students thinking about visual representation and storytelling through film earlier in the year.
      • use the equipment to record and create narratives for the various field trips and walks throughout the year
      • Take them on longer field trips (past excursions to Turin, Bucharest, Moscow…)
    • Each group to produce a short film, presentation and project summary.
    • Share the films, presentations and write-ups via the Department of Geography website.
    • Invite community groups that participate with our students on their fieldwork to the end of year presentations.
    • Try to get the best films entered into the LSE Research Festival.
  • Uses humour.
  • Loves her students.


Words: Sonja Grussendorf
Photo &  Video: AperioFilms