Wolfson College Humanities Society

By Cambridge University

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A collection of lectures organised by the Wolfson College Cambridge Humanities Society.

Episode Date
Adriana Alexander - The Honour of Sharing : the Sharing of Honour
How does a Lovari extended family enact the sharing of material resources, and of intangible gifts conveyed through gesture, dance, song and speech? How do these practices confer identity and what may they have in common with those of certain communities in Europe, perhaps in the Middle East and Central Asia, and in their country of origin – India? After a brief overview of current knowledge and hypotheses regarding the origin of Romani communities, with some comments on their distribution in Europe today, I will present points of view put forward by Romani and other authors in the ongoing debate about how the ancestors of today’s Romani communities may have fitted into the Hindu caste system. A resolution of this issue will need to be informed by new insights gained from linguistics and genetics, but also by the cultural practices and the actual religious beliefs of Romani communities in Europe and those of – perhaps related – groups in the Middle East, Central Asia, and India itself. To illustrate the culture and beliefs of Romani communities, I will show extracts from the video of a recent wedding celebrated by a Lovari family.
Jan 22, 2015
Bill Lubenow: Intellectual Societies: Intimacy and Knowledge in the 19th Century
E.M. Forster’s famous phrase, ‘Only Connect’, is not only a guide to a successful emotional life; it is also a guide to cognition. The universities were reformed in the nineteenth century but despite this they still lacked curiosity, imagination and originality, in short, what we might call research. Consequently the cultivation of knowledge was thrust out into those colonies of learned societies which emerged in this period: the Royal Society, the Metaphysical Society, the Philological Society, the Royal Asiatic Society and many others. This talk takes up the inner history of these societies and shows the ways in which knowledge formation was a social process. Learning was spawned in the interstices of conviviality and sociality.
May 13, 2014
Bjorn L. Basberg: Maynard Keynes and his Whaling Adventures
The economist John Maynard Keynes’ activities on the stock market are well known. One company in which he bought stocks in the late 1920s was the Hector Whaling Company Ltd. The paper explores how Keynes became involved in this company and the analysis provides new insights to the more general question on the motivations and decisions behind his stock market investments.
May 26, 2015
David Jacques: Blick Mead: The Cradle of Stonehenge?
The discovery of a spring complex, adjacent to Vespasian's Camp and just over a mile from Stonehenge, with well preserved and substantial Mesolithic deposits, potentially transforms our understanding of the Mesolithic use of the pre Stonehenge landscape, and the establishment of its later ritual landscape. This talk outlines the newly discovered local landscape history of the Vespasian's Camp area, the field interventions, and concludes with a review of the site and its wider significance and context for the later development of the Stonehenge ritual landscape.
May 13, 2014
Dr Alexi Baker: Technology, Tools, and Toys of Early Modern Science
Dr Alexi Baker’s research over the past decade has revealed how ‘scientific instruments’ before the rise of modern science included everything from cutting-edge technologies and everyday tools to fashionable accessories and entertainments. She discusses how London dominated the early modern trade in these wares – outfitting science, fashion, and diverse other pastimes and professions across Europe.
Dec 18, 2014
Dr Amira Bennison: Architecture & Design in Medieval Morocco: the building strategies of the Marinid sultans
This talk explores the ways in which the Marinid dynasty in Morocco exploited architecture and display to legitimise themselves before their subjects, a volatile mix of restive tribesmen and proud urbanites. Marinid ceremonial and demonstrations of power served to win over public opinion by providing employment and stimulating the economy in a manner as familiar today as it was then.
May 01, 2013
Dr Anna Upchurch: The Arts and Humanities Today: Re-framing the ‘value’ debate
How can the arts and humanities meet the challenges of contemporary society without relying on notions of socio-economic impact? This talk contributes to current debates on whether and why the arts and humanities matter to society, and how their value can be articulated in ways that avoid over-simplifications and the crude equivalence of ‘value’ with ‘utility’ in a narrowly instrumental interpretation of ‘impact’.
Oct 16, 2013
Dr Ben Griffin: Fidgets, Scoundrels and Mummy's Boys: Performing Masculinity in the Victorian House of Commons
This talk examines the gendered political culture of the Victorian House of Commons by looking at the efforts that politicians made to appear ‘manly’. This culture had very real political significance: it shaped the interactions between politicians, it shaped their public images, and it underpinned the opposition to admitting women as members of parliament.
Mar 12, 2014
Dr Dan Carter: Reform, Revolution, Reaction. Land and the indigenous question in Allende's Chile
This talk explores the familiar topic of Chile under the Popular Unity Government (1970-1973) from a less familiar angle: the indigenous heartlands of the south. Here, unresolved territorial conflicts between European settlers and the Mapuche people accentuated the political divisions of a nation-state in denial about its indigenous heritage. Through the history of the Araucanía region, we can understand the obstacles to Allende’s “Chilean road to Socialism”, the hopes of Che Guevara-inspired revolutionaries and why a supposedly stable democracy gave way to a 17-year-long military dictatorship.
Feb 06, 2014
Dr David Taylor: Spectators at the Print Shop Window: Caricature and the Rhetoric of the Gaze
This paper offers a close reading of the grammar of the gaze offered in eighteenth-century prints that depict crowds of people looking at the window displays of London’s many print shops. It asks how far we can read them as accurate records of spectatorial practice, and what we can learn from the ways in which they advertise and project both their own public and their own position within the visual economy of the street in the Georgian city. The images discussed can be viewed using the links below: John Raphael Smith, "Miss Macaroni and her Gallant" (1773) http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=1172511&objectId=3423048&partId=1 Piercy Roberts, "Caricature Shop" (1801) http://images.library.yale.edu/walpoleweb/oneitem.asp?imageId=lwlpr10184 James Gillray, "Very Slippy-Weather" (1808) http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=38375&objectId=1480045&partId=1
Jan 22, 2014
Dr Glen Rangwala: The Aftermath of War: Iraq Ten Years On
This talk reviews the extent of Iraq’s transformation over the last ten years, looking at what Iraq’s experience shows about the limits of political change in a region marked by deep legacies of violence and oppression, unresolved social divisions and external interference.
Feb 26, 2013
Dr Justin Colson on London Bridge
Dr Justin Colson talks about London Bridge which has existed in one form or another since the fourteenth century. He explores the social world of the Bridge in the late fifteenth century, and how the economic activities of its tenants exploited the opportunities of this unique location, providing new insight into the commercial world of the late medieval City of London.
Mar 05, 2015
Dr Lauren Arrington: Art, Empire, and Revolution: the Lives of Constance and Casimir Markievicz
Constance Markievicz (nee Gore-Booth, 1868-1927), was born to the privileged Protestant upper class in the west of Ireland. She embraced suffrage and then scandal as she left the Slade School of Art in London for a bohemian life in a Parisian atelier. There she met Casimir Dunin Markievicz (1874-1932), becoming part of a local avant-garde, which had the painter and mystic, George Russell (AE) at its centre. The Markievices took a prominent role in anti-imperial debates that not only related to Constance’s home country but also Casimir’s native Poland during World War One and to the post –War Irish republican movement.
Mar 14, 2013
Dr Mary Laven: Wax, wood and narrative: the miraculous culture of Renaissance Italy
From the late fifteenth century, the walls of Italian shrines became crowded with tavolette dipinte – small painted wooden boards recording instances of sickness, violence, accidents, natural disasters and demonic possession, and attesting to the miraculous intervention of the Virgin Mary and other saints. Dr Laven shall explore the significance of this new cultural form and contextualize the appeal of pictorial ex votos with reference both to grander trends in Renaissance art and to the simultaneous rise of the printed miracle book. Thus, she will shed new light on neglected forms of religious creativity and to investigate the role of narrative in fuelling devotional renewal before Trent.
Jun 10, 2014
Dr Michael C Scott: Best Seat in the House: viewing Greek history through its theatre
Theatres today are places of entertainment, dark spaces in which we cut ourselves off from the realities of daily life for a few hours. But theatre for the ancient Greeks was anything but a space of entertainment and escapism. It was a central pillar in the way their society – and particularly democratic society – functioned; a space in which every citizen was expected to be active and play their part. In this talk, I use the theatre as a way in to thinking about the nature of ancient Greek society and as a result Greek history. How were the major issues, events and ideas that governed the lives of the Greeks represented, reflected on, articulated and even created within the space of the theatre? And what can an examination of theatre’s own history of artistic and architectural development as well as geographical spread tell us about the changing nature of Greek society and the course of Greek history?
Feb 19, 2013
Dr Nick Saville - Communications in a Globalised World: English is necessary but not sufficient
Cambridge English Language Assessment tests more than 5 million learners of English in over 100 countries every year and this constitutes a major asset in delivering the University’s educational mission around the world. However, a key question for Cambridge English is how to promote the wider use of English while at the same time supporting the learning and uses of many other languages – hence the title of the talk. Dr Saville will discuss this issue of “multilingualism” – a research theme within the University’s interdisciplinary Language Sciences Initiative (LSI) – as well as more generally illustrate the work of Cambridge English Language Assessment.
Nov 06, 2014
Dr Patricia Fara - Erasmus Darwin: Poet of Progress
rasmus Darwin – Charles’s grandfather – was well-known among his eighteenth- century contemporaries, highly respected by many but reviled by others. Energetic and sociable, this corpulent tee-totaller wrote best-selling poems on plants, technology and evolution. He also ran a successful medical practice, was a Fellow of the Royal Society and promoted industrialization by sponsoring science, innovation and entrepreneurship in the Midlands. In her research, Patricia Fara has explored fresh ways of thinking about this champion of Enlightenment thought. More than fifty years before his famous grandson, Erasmus Darwin dared to publish controversial ideas about evolution that put his medical text on the Vatican’s banned list. Politically radical, he campaigned for the abolition of slavery, supported the French Revolution, promoted education for women, and challenged Christian orthodoxy.
Oct 20, 2014
Dr Robert Amundsen - Ibsen's women on and off the stage
There were two categories of women in Henrik Ibsen’s life: the women in his dramatic universe and the women in his own life. Ibsen’s attitude to women is highly complex: whereas the many women who inhabit the different settings of these late nineteenth century bourgeois families are as diverse as the plays themselves, they share a few common denominators, that this talk will seek to demonstrate.
Feb 23, 2015
Dr Rowan Williams - Mysticism and politics; some thoughts about St Teresa of Avila
This year is the 500th anniversary of the birth of Teresa, one of the foremost ‘mystical’ writers of the Christian tradition. Research in the last fifty years has clarified more and more the nature of her social background in a converted Jewish family and thus the way in which her religious writing is shaped by the issues and politics of 16th century Spain. I hope to sketch this background and offer some more general reflections on the title.
Feb 25, 2015
Dr Suvi Salmenniemi: Neoliberalism, Socialism, and the Politics of Knowledge
This paper argues that neoliberalism offers a highly productive site to excavate the ways in which Cold War power/knowledge formations have shaped, and continue to shape, sociological thinking, and suggest that post-socialism can make similar critical intervention into sociological thought as postcolonial and feminist scholarship, since it challenges us to rethink some key epistemological and ontological issues in sociological knowledge production.
Feb 26, 2014
Hugh Gault: C.R.Fay: The Differences between Making History and Writing It
The economic historian Charles Ryle Fay (1884-1961) was a staunch advocate of workers’ and women’s rights, and also became one of the leading British machine gunners during World War One. As an economist his associates included Alfred Marshall, JM Keynes and Sir Austin Robinson; as a historian he taught at Cambridge University for almost thirty years and in Canada in the 1920s, writing twenty books, including idiosyncratic works defying biographical norms – on his heroes William Huskisson and Adam Smith. What does his life tell us about the differences between making history and writing about it?
Dec 18, 2014
J. Lee Thompson: Un-Righteous Neutrality: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War, 1914-1917
By the time neutral America officially joined WWI in April 1917 as an “Associate” of the Allies, Theodore Roosevelt had for two and a half years been carrying on a quixotic and unpopular struggle at home. This domestic crusade was fought against what he considered the craven neutrality of Woodrow Wilson, whose very presence in the White House TR blamed on himself. This talk examines these years in the multiple, intertwined, contexts of Roosevelt’s post-presidential political career, the preparedness movement, and the “Special Relationship” he fostered between America and Britain which helped define his perceptions of the war in Europe.
May 30, 2014
Jennifer Davis: Trade (mark) Wars, 1860-1920: Sweatshops, the Retail Trade and the Meaning of Trade Marks
A registered trade mark acts an indication of origin for goods but tells us nothing specific about the circumstances under which the goods originated. This limitation was not inevitable. After trade marks became objects of registration in 1875, what information they would embody was a matter of heated contestation between manufacturers, retailers, exporters, trade unions and anti-immigration activists. This lecture will examine this debate and suggest why, in the end, it was the interests of labour which lost out.
May 20, 2015
Laura Zucconi: Transgendered Copper Mining in the Levant
The description of Esau’s family in Genesis 36 and I Chronicles 1 has the figure of Timna change gender in the span of a few verses. She is a concubine, a sister, and then a male head of a clan. This study uses archaeology to help us understand the function of multiple genders in the Hebrew Bible’s genealogies which originated as oral mental maps of how the various Canaanite tribes related to one another politically and economically.
Jun 08, 2015
Louise Foxcroft : Calories and Corsets: 2000 years of diets and dieting
The media’s obsession with weight is perceived as a recent phenomenon but we have been struggling with what, when, and how we eat ever since the Greeks first pinched an inch. This surprising and sometimes shocking talk exposes the anxieties, fashions and ‘anti-fat cures’ that have driven an expanding dieting industry, and reveals the extreme and often dangerously absurd lengths people have gone to in order to slim down. Slides from the presentation can be viewed at: www.wolfson.cam.ac.uk/sites/default/files/LFoxcroft_Presentation.pdf
Nov 14, 2013
Philip Allott: 'The True Function of Education'
Plato began the discussion about the purpose of education. Each succeeding age has given its own answers. Now it is our turn.
Feb 13, 2014
Prof. Simon Goldhill: Sappho, Lincoln, & the American Senate: Picturing Female Desire in the 19th Century
Why did Lincoln prompt a discussion of Sappho in the American Senate? And how does this lead us to explore why Sappho was good to represent for nineteenth century artists and what do these representations tell us about female desire in this era and the role of the classical past in it?
Jun 18, 2013
Professor Bruce Berman: Culture, Politics, identity: how we know who we think we are
The production of culture is an open-ended and highly political process that demarcates the experience of daily life and its continuity and change within social institutions from the family to the state. The construction of modern ethnic identities and their politicization revealed the crucial role of the 19th and 20th century development of the intellectual ‘disciplines’ and institutions of the humanities and social sciences in the imagining and dissemination through mass media and popular culture of the often conflicting identities of ethnicity, race, class and gender. These have created contending claims to interpretive authority and a cultural politics that both unites and divides us.
May 22, 2013
Professor David Feldman - Israel and Antisemitism
When does criticism of Israel become antisemitic? This longstanding debate was revived last summer in the context of British and European responses to Israel’s assault on Gaza. David Feldman will analyse last summer’s controversies as well as the question of when, if ever, criticism of Israel is a form of racism.
Feb 12, 2015
Professor David Maxwell: Zimbabwe since Independence
The talk will examine the history of Zimbabwe since Independence in 1980, paying particular attention to the origins and nature of the country’s economic and political crisis.
May 29, 2013
Professor David Runciman: Climate Change and Conspiracy Theory
Arguments about climate change are rife with conspiracy theories. There are those who think the whole thing is a giant hoax: a scam cooked up by environmentalists and left-wing scientists to empower governments and rip off consumers. But there are equivalent suspicions on the other side: a belief that the sceptics and denialists are just the front for an oil industry-funded plot to bamboozle voters and keep the fossil fuels flowing. The prevalence of these kinds of conspiracy theories is one reason why the debate has become so fractious and polarised. This talk will explore why the climate debate seems so susceptible to conspiracy theories and what that tells us about the current state of mistrust in democracy: mistrust of experts, mistrusts of corporations, mistrust of government itself. Why on an issue like this – of such enormous importance – do we find it so hard to believe what we are told?
May 30, 2014
Professor Jerry White - Dickens during the Great War
The novels of Charles Dickens reached new heights of popularity during the First World War, symbolising for many the quintessence of Englishness and the values that the war was being fought to defend. Dickensians of every stripe used his name and works to raise funds for the war and to stimulate pro-British feeling in the colonies and America. But Dickens was hugely popular too in Germany, so that his writing could be found in trenches on both sides of No-Man’s Land, sometimes to the consternation of Dickensians at home. Jerry White charts the use and abuse of Dickens and his legacy across the course of the First World War.
Nov 06, 2014
Professor Julius Lipner - Hinduism: the challenges of a polycentric approach to shaping our world
Hinduism is by far the majority culture of India, which is set fair to become a superpower in the next few decades. How then does the polycentric, decentralizing phenomenon of Hinduism influence and guide the gaze of Hindus at the world and help determine their interactions with it, especially in the context of modernity and its counteracting forces? And what can we learn from this encounter?
Feb 12, 2015
Professor Nigel Morgan: The Oldest Illustrated Book in Cambridge - a reconsideration of the St. Augustine Gospels
Corpus Christi College possesses one of the oldest extant illustrated manuscripts, the St Augustine Gospels from the sixth century. This lecture discusses the origin of illustrated books in Late Antiquity and their earliest appearance in biblical texts. This famous Gospel Book is thought to have been brought from Italy to England by St Augustine of Canterbury on his mission to evangelise the Anglo-Saxons in 597. The evidence for and against this identification will be discussed.
Jan 21, 2015
Professor Robin Cormack: “The nightingales won’t let you sleep in Platres”. Re-visiting the Greek Past
How do artists and poets create dialogues with the past? Prof. Robin Cormack explores the way in which the artists feature in the exhibition 'Myths, Memories and Mysteries', jointly hosted by the Museum of Classical Archaeology and Wolfson College, revisit and remember Greek histories.
Oct 22, 2014
Professor Simon Blackburn: Brains, Science, and Human Nature
Although there have been a large number of books busy explaining that advances in neuroscience are due to revolutionise, or at the very least underpin and accelerate, our understanding of human nature, there has been less reflection on just how likely or unlikely that is. In this talk I hope to suggest that the issue is a good deal more complex than some of the more triumphalist, and optimistic, writings in this genre seem to think.
Feb 19, 2013
Professor Sir Richard Evans: Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen and his "Diary of a Man in Despair": a conservative rebel in Hitler's Germany
Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen’s “Diary of a Man in Despair” has long been known as a searing indictment of Hitler and the Nazis, written in secret in a Bavarian hillside retreat. Asked to write a Foreword to a new edition, Richard Evans uncovered a hornet’s nest of allegations and counter-allegations about the author and his work. This talk investigates the book, its writer, and the charges that it was all falsified.
Mar 13, 2013
Professor Sir Richard Evans: Gender and Sexuality in Victorian England
This lecture was given in place of the advertised lecture by Professor Sir David Cannadine who was unable to attend.
May 30, 2014
Professor Sir Tony Wrigley: Energy and the industrial revolution: opening Pandora's box
The two most fundamental transformations of economic life in human history were the Neolithic food revolution and the industrial revolution. It is no surprise that the latter was unexpected by contemporaries, but it is intriguing and instructive that those who were best informed, such as, for example, Adam Smith and the other classical economists, were explicit that such a transformation was impossible. The paradox can be resolved, however, by considering the role of energy supply in the transformation which was taking place.
Oct 23, 2013
Professor Tony Lentin: Rogue Judges - Rebels or Reformers? The Case of Sir Henry McCardie
The recent forced resignation of Mr Justice Coleridge prompts questions about rogue judges and the boundaries of judicial misconduct. How far may a judge express controversial opinions? How far may his personal convictions influence his decisions? Clashes with the Executive and with his fellow judges characterised the judicial career (1916-1933) of Mr Justice McCardie -`rebel judge who feared nobody’. Did his iconoclasm help or hinder reform of the law? Maverick or hero?
Mar 05, 2014
Professor Warren Dockter - Churchill and the Islamic World
In this anniversary year – 50 years since the death of Winston Churchill and 70 years since the end of WWII – Warren Dockter will look at Churchill’s long relationship with the Islamic world and his lasting legacy in the Middle East, which continues to be felt in the region and in British policy today.
Apr 29, 2015
Robert Koepp - George Elliot and the Religion of Favourable Chance
Professor Robert Koepp examines how Eliot's characters struggle with the profoundly human inclination to trust in luck by worshiping at the altar of 'blessed Chance'- arguing that this tendency is central to the novelist's treatment of various moral dilemmas in her fiction.
May 28, 2015
Simon Szreter: Social Security in Britain -cost or benefit ? A historical perspective on a 2015 general election issue
Prof Szreter will discuss the costs and benefits of the long-term history of a national social security system in Britain. He will argue that such a perspective is important for evaluating the current political and policy choices being proposed by the major parties in the general election
May 08, 2015