Recent Colloquia

3 June 2014

Jon Charterina-Abando 
Associate Professor of Marketing Research, Department of Business, Finance and Marketing Management, University of the Basque Country, Bilbao, Spain
Why we must bet on manufacturing: reversing the Washington Consensus in our cities and regions

Should the invisible hand of free markets stay as invisible as possible? For the last 30 years, in Western countries and very especially in the US and the UK, under the auspices of the World Bank and the IMF, a form of capitalism consisting on shifting away from manufacturing towards services and minimizing the role of the state, has led to the diminishing of industry and serious disparities among regions.

In contrast to this context of withdrawal of government intervention and delocalisation followed by most of the big manufacturing multinationals, we analyze the so-called Marshallian Industrial District model. Our concern will be focused on the present situation of some Italian, Spanish and British regions, where industrial districts comprising mainly small and medium-sized firms compete successfully against these trends. 

Duration: 1h25

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27 May 2014

Maria Freddi
Associate Professor of English Language and Linguistics University of Pavia, Italy
Choice in Language

In the digital era it is very easy to access, store and process texts in massive quantities and treat them as specimens for the study of language, known as corpora.

In the first part of my talk, I will introduce the audience to some of the tools used in corpus work to explore language variation, or linguistic choices speakers make when they speak or write. 

In the second part, I will focus on a case study I am currently working on, concerning the ways in which scientists from different disciplinary areas use language to argue their case and disseminate knowledge.

Duration: 1h42

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20 May 2014

George van Kooten
Professor of New Testament & Early Christianity, University of Groningen
Pagans and Christians in Debate: Mythology, Philosophy and Religion in the first two centuries AD

In this informal talk I am going to argue that from the time of  Jesus the Christian movement  consciously engaged with the broader Graeco-Roman world in various ways.

Christian New Testament writings are usually approached from the background of early Judaism. This makes perfect sense, as the New Testament often shows its dependence upon, and roots in, Judaism. I broaden this picture by drawing attention to the larger Graeco-Roman world in which Jesus and the New Testament authors lived.

According to the earliest Gospel of Mark, Jesus travelled to the Hellenized Decapolis, and probably spoke Greek there, as he did with the inhabitants of cities such as Tyre. There is also a remarkable similarity between Jesus’ parables and the fables of Aesop.

Later, the Gospel of John thoroughly engages with the world of Greek mythology, symposia, and Platonic dialogue.  The Christian communities arising from such encounters most commonly designated themselves, not as “synagogues” but as “ekklesiai”, i.e. as “assemblies”, in conscious imitation of the civic assemblies of the Greek cities of the Roman East.

Slides (PDF, 1.8 MB)

Duration: 1h28

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Tuesday 13 May

John D Barrow
Professor of Mathematical Sciences, DAMTP Cambridge University
Counter Culture: A look at some unusual applications of mathematics in the arts

We will take a brief look at a range of applications of very simple mathematics to a wide spectrum of the arts:

•  We begin with the role of some simple patterns, identify Dali's inspirations from higher-dimensional geometry, see how the study of complex systems sheds light on what we like, and describe the possible role of fractals in defining abstract expressionist art and identifying fakes.
•  Three simple applications of Pythagoras's theorem reveal the logic behind the creation of the Tunnel of Eupalinos on Samos in 520BC, show the best place from which to view a raised statue, and determine how far it is to the horizon.
•  Simple geometry lies behind the layout of medieval manuscripts and the elegant utility of modern paper-sizing.
•  We will see how the construction of smooth curves play a role in architecture, the aesthetic design of sports cars, safe motorway junctions and roller coasters, and led to the creation of Henry Moore's beautiful stringed sculptures.
•  Finally, we show how the famous probability theorist Andrei Markov pioneered the mathematical textual analysis of poetry, just over a century ago.

Duration: 1h43

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6 May 2014

Ahmed Alwishah
Assistant Professor of Philosophy (Islamic Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy, and Islamic Theology) Pitzer College, California
Divine Knowledge and Human self-Awareness

The nature of Divine knowledge is a philosophical problem that preoccupied many theologians and philosophers in the monotheistic traditions, and the Islamic tradition in particular.

In the 11th century, Avicenna, a Muslim philosopher, presented a distinctive and untraditional view of divine knowledge that influenced not only the Islamic world but also the Jewish and Western traditions. He argued that God knows all things only in a universal way and that He has no knowledge of the particulars that exist in the spatial-temporal dimension.

I will briefly explain the key premises of Avicenna’s view and contextualize it within Islamic tradition. Then I will show how it intends to justify the concept of theodicy (justice of God).  Finally, I will challenge the view that certain knowledge, such as self-awareness, cannot, by definition, be accessible to the divine intellect. Two anticipated responses to the challenge above will be examined.

Duration: 1h29

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29 April 2014

Jill Burton
Adjunct Associate Research Professor of Applied Linguistics, University of South Australia , Adelaide
Some Thoughts on History-Making with Reference to Lady Anne Clifford (1590–1676)

The life of Lady Anne Clifford and her record as a family historian reflect an unusual, indomitable woman of interest to any modern historians and historiographers fascinated by how individuals make history.

She was a seventeenth-century heiress who endured numerous legal struggles before in middle age inheriting a large estate in the north of England during the Civil War. She spent the remainder of a long life rebuilding her estate. She also created and commissioned written documents, memorabilia and a family painting. This considerable archive records her struggle and argues her place in history and the future status of her family. 

I will introduce Lady Anne Clifford and the extant records that we have to evaluate her achievement. I will explain why she interests me and invite discussion of some questions the study has raised for me as a new historian attempting to understand this piece of the past.

Duration: 1h19

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22 April 2014

John Regan, PhD, Research Fellow, Clare Hall,Professor Helen Weinstein, Public Historian and Broadcaster, 

Problems of interdisciplinarity:
(i) recent histories of academic ‘collaboration’
(ii)  the challenges of translating academic work for broadcast media

This talk will consider the recent trend in research towards projects which are 'collaborative' across academic disciplines. Is the richest future for research to broaden our canvas across disciplines, to truly share with the public through 'citizen-sourced' projects, communicating our research to a wider public using broadcast media?

Or might time be better spent questioning what modern interdisciplinarity is, interrogating the principles underlying collaborative research in the humanities? What value is there in a radically new model of collaboration which posits the value of conceptual, and not merely discursive, work across disciplines?

The speakers seek to debate these issues and tentatively to posit some radical solutions.

Duration: 1h40

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4 March 2014

Iain Black
Senior Tutor, Clare Hall
Lutyens, empire and the City of London

Of all European imperial cities London is the most difficult to read. Lacking the centralised power and formal planning of Rome, Vienna or Paris, any understanding of the role of empire in shaping London as an imperial and post-imperial space requires attention to multiple perspectives and sites. Whilst the City lacked large-scale formal planning schemes to represent itself as the centre of imperial finance and trade, consciousness of empire in the design and building of key monumental corporate headquarters was nonetheless present. This talk focuses on the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1920 and 1939. By seeing his work in the City as at once both ‘commercial’ and ‘imperial’ the talk will argue that an analysis of the evolution of Lutyens’s interwar design practice can provide a useful window on the complex process of ‘imperial building’ at this key site at the heart of empire.

Duration: 1h14

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18 February 2014

Crosbie Smith
Professor of History of Science, University of Kent
Unlocking the Secrets of Victorian Steamships

In recent years, maritime historians have spoken with a variety of voices. Some have elevated engineers such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and ship-owners such as Samuel Cunard to the status of lone genius. Others explain the rise of Victorian ocean steam navigation in terms of wise company management and business practices, the progress of technology, or simply to sheer good luck.

This talk reflects on the strengths and weaknesses of these explanations. It will consider, through case studies drawn from the early decades of ocean steam navigation, the ways in which insights from the recent history of science and technology can help to unlock the secrets of Victorian steamships in the context of an age of faith in engineering and empire.

Duration: 1h40

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11 February 2014

Jonathan Yewdell
Chief, Cellular Biology Section, Laboratory of Viral Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Bethesda, MD USA
Everything You Wanted to Know About Immunity to Viruses (but were afraid to ask)

Viruses, the tiniest speck of genes wrapped in the thinnest of skins, pose an ever present threat to cellular organisms, including us. 

Thanks to the evolution of the vertebrate immune system, we have many effective mechanisms for dealing with viruses.  And thanks to the human nervous system, we are smart enough to devise vaccines to deal with the viruses we cannot control without medical intervention. 

I will discuss the remarkable David and Goliath battle between virus and host, though who is David and who is Goliath depends on your point of view.

4 February 2014

Katherine H. Terrell
Associate Professor of English, Hamilton College
Poetry, Politics, and Legendary History in Medieval Scotland

I will discuss the competing English and Scottish origin myths as they developed in 12th through 15th centuries, and how these myths are  taken up by Scottish poets and used to articulate a national identity.

These myths, which pit (English) Trojan against (Scottish) Greek ancestries find their fullest expression in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britaniae and John of Fordun’s Chronica Gentis Scotorum, but are also invoked in legal and diplomatic discourses and extensively cited in arguments before the papal court.

I demonstrate that Scottish historiography comes into its own as a nationalist movement in response to English aggression. I then explore how this legendary history is taken up by poets in the reign of James IV and used to articulate notions of Scottish identity and create a national community out of the shared experiences of Scottish readers.

For a copy of the slide presentation, please email:

Duration: 60 mins

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21 January 2014

David Ibbetson
Regius Professor of Law and President of Clare Hall
Does Hittite Law Matter?

The Hittites were a Bronze Age Indo-European people from central Anatolia. They are better known in the popular imagination for their prowess in battle than for their civilisation, but in the last century cuneiform texts from the seventeenth to thirteenth centuries BCE have revealed the contents of their law code together with other peripheral information about their legal system.

This talk will put the Hittites in the context of the legal systems of the Ancient Near East and point to ways in which they perhaps mark an important step forward in the development of law in the world before the rise of Greece and Rome.

It will concentrate on two aspects in particular, the rules relating to homicides and sexual offences, where we can see clear similarities to the legal systems of the modern world, but at the same time differences in the way in which the issues are formulated.

Slides presentation (PDF, 78KB)

Duration: 1 hour 31 mins

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14 January 2014

Dr Hans Schwarze 

Clare Hall and Tuebingen University

Film, Poetry and Music – how do they go together in Night Mail (1936) – the documentary film, with music by Benjamin Britten and poetry by W.H. Auden

The speaker discusses the classic film Night Mail about an express train travelling through the night from London to Glasgow.

This ambitious and inventive film was directed by the legendary John Grierson.  It is regarded as a masterpiece, and is one of the most critically acclaimed and best-loved films produced within the British documentary movement.

Powerful images are combined with a score by Benjamin Britten creating railroad rhythms and the poem by W.H. Auden This is the Night Mail crossing the border.

The speaker discusses the film, its participants, its makers and contributors and then shows the film. He talks about its filmic language and discuss the film makers’ intentions.

Duration: 1 hour 36 mins

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3 December 2013

Jenny Rampling
Research Fellow, Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Clare Hall
Unlocking the secrets of alchemy in Early Modern England

In sixteenth-century England, a host of would-be adepts – priests and princes, merchants and medics – pursued the goals of alchemy, from the prolongation of life to the transmutation of base metals into gold and silver.

The practical content of their recipes was often disguised using metaphorical language and fabulous imagery. This language of secrecy has perplexed modern scholars, but it is not a new problem.

The speaker traces the struggles of early modern readers to interpret medieval instructions, using their knowledge of alchemical language and practice to extract workable procedures from encoded sources and attract investment for alchemical projects.

She describes her own attempts to decipher some medieval English experiments and recreate them in a modern laboratory.

Duration: 1 hour 27 mins

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26 November 2013

Michael Dunne
Centre of Latin American Studies
Kennedy: rhetoric, reality and recollections 

The speaker argues that as a  president with gifted speech-writers Kennedy left a legacy of fine words – but also ruthless politics. 

Did JFK die on the eve of breakthroughs in civil rights, relations with the Soviet Union, the war in Vietnam?  Or did the Cold War Warrior remain cold on these and similarly crucial issues, domestic and foreign?

A number of Kennedy’s speeches (notably his Inaugural, the Brandenburg Gate speech, and the American University Commencement address) will be examined to evaluate the conflicting interpretations of the man and his presidency.

Duration: 1 hour 43 mins

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19 November 2013

Peter Marks
Associate Professor Department of English, University of Sydney
From Nineteen Eighty-Four to 2013 and beyond: The Surprising Legacy of George Orwell

George Orwell has been called the ‘most influential political writer of the twentieth century’ and ‘the greatest English essayist since Hazlitt’. He is credited with introducing the term ‘cold war’ in 1945. He invented the terms Big Brother, Thought Police, doublethink and the telescreen. The adjective Orwellian is used to describe government intrusion and malevolent power.  

Peter Marks explores the irony that George Orwell never experienced the fame, authority and controversy that his name and writing command over sixty years after his death.

Duration: 1 hour 30 mins

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12 November 2013

Royden Loewen
Chair in Mennonite Studies, Professor of History, University of Winnipeg, Canada
Horse and Buggy Genius: Anti-Modernity and the Old Colony Mennonite Diaspora in the Americas, a recent history

This paper introduces a unique story. It is based on conversations with two groups of people who have rejected almost everything we as “moderns” assume to be true and good: ease, progress, knowledge, certainty, popularity, self-actualization and upward mobility. It tells the recent history of so-called ‘horse and buggy’ Mennonites who live in Canada today or are linked to Canada by ancestry. The story is one of contrasts: of Old Order Mennonites in Canada who have confronted modernity by hunkering down in a highly developed country; and Old Colony Mennonites of Canadian ancestry who have done so by scattering throughout Central and South America, especially to places in southern Mexico and eastern Bolivia. Both groups are obscure.  Neither has received the scholarly attention of the more numerous and now iconic Amish (mostly of the United States) have, nor gained the affection of modern media. This paper tells the story of these highly reclusive people by listening to them, reporting on approximately 250 interviews conduced between 2009 and 2012 in about 25 communities in five countries. It recounts their anti-modern ways, their pre-modern cosmologies, their communitarian ways, their inefficient economies, shameless fertility rate, and simple stubbornness. But it makes a case why, within the wider scheme of things, their very existence adds richness to global discourses. Their sense of history, simple ways, closeness to nature, and contestation of consumer culture, is a story worth telling. And who knows, perhaps aspects of their maddeningly primitive communities may one day hold the key to our own survival.

Duration: 1 hour 29 mins

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5 November 2013

Clive Sherlock
Reformed psychiatrist with an interest in emotion – East and West.
What is emotion and how does it affect the body and mind?
Western Psychology meets Buddhist insight

In this talk I shall try to answer the question, What is emotion? Emotion theorists struggle to understand and make sense of emotion. Some see emotion as the smoke and deduce the fire: there must be something, but they cannot make out what the fire is. It used to be thought of as an evil presence that possessed individuals. Now, emotion theorists think of the precursor to emotion as “mechanisms”, as states of “action readiness”, as “basic” or “universal” emotion and some suggest “ur-emotion”. But the question remains, what is emotion? In answering this question I shall describe how our reactions to emotion cause depression, anxiety, anger, stress, rage and other psychological problems and what can be done about it.
Slides (PDF, 670KB)

Duration: 1 hour 34 mins

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22 October 2013

Analysing Attitudes to English Usage
Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade
Leiden University of Linguistics (Life member of Clare Hall)

One of the objects of the University of Leiden research project “Bridging the Unbridgeable: Linguists, Prescriptivists and the General Public” is to study attitudes to English usage. To this end, an online survey was conducted last year on the acceptability of three problematical sentences, and in this talk I will present the results of the survey. In analysing the data I will focus on the emotional language used in many of the responses, and I will try and explain why such language occurs. In addition, I will discuss what looks like a new usage problem that arose spontaneously in several (American) responses. The attitudes survey is still open, and those interested in the topic (native and non-native speakers of English alike) are cordially invited to express their opinions on any one or all of the sentences in the survey.

Slides (PDF, 1.1 MB)

Duration: 1 hour 21 mins

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15 October 2013

China’s sense of history past and present
Michael Loewe

China’s historical writings are voluminous, including the basic series of twenty-five dynastic histories that range from 221 BCE to 1911.  Officially sponsored, these works set out to prove the legitimacy of  rule that each house enjoyed, coupled with emphasis on the evil ways that brought its predecessor to ruin.

The compilers sought to set human activities within the inescapable cycles that govern the universe, writing with an air of superiority and and an isolationism that called for a single and harmonious rule of all mankind.  Such was what may be seen as the Chinese version of a Whig interpretation of history, flawed by pride and bias and giving rise to misconception.

Officials called on incidents of the past to explain the activities of the present. Exceptionally some Chinese scholar-historians adopted a highly critical stance, breaking away from traditional standpoints and periodisation.  China’s leading universities to-day accept the need for a critical approach and, despite sensitivity over some matters, they invite westerners to deliver lectures on China’s history to their students.  Splendid newly built museums, crowded by parties of school children, and carefully maintained archaeological sites testify to the serious presentation of China’s past to its inheritors of to-day.  

Duration: 1 hour 39 mins

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A Midnight Modern Conversation (Detail)
Engraving by
William Hogarth, 1732

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Updated  Jun.08.2014
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