Film, PG events, Workshop

Events 16th – 20th May

Monday 16th May


Eleanor Courtemanche, University of Illinois: Activating Victorian Utopias for Future Use, 14:00-15:00, Tristram Room, St John’s College

Fredric Jameson famously argues that in postmodern capitalism, the utopian imagination has withered; it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of the capitalist system. This imaginative poverty became even more pressing after the Great Crash in 2008, when it became clear how difficult it was to envision any alternative to the policies of austerity. In this situation, the hunt for utopian alternatives leads us backward, to the great wave of Victorian utopias, as much as toward the future. These hopeful stories, written between 1880 and 1910 (including Looking Backward, News from Nowhere, A Modern Utopia, and Old-New Land) envisioned audacious solutions to pressing social problems — to class warfare, mass poverty, mechanized labor, the marginal status of women and Jews. In fact, these utopias successfully predicted many things that came to pass, including universal education, social security, health, and accident insurance, and women in the workplace. In this talk I will describe some of the aesthetic, historical, political, and disciplinary barriers to recovering the progressive politics of these utopian works, balancing a historicist approach with what the V21 Collective manifesto has identified as the new “strategic presentism” in Victorian studies.


Ted Underwood, University of Illinois – Seminar: Predicting the Past; Using Machine Learning to Illuminate Three Centuries of Literary History, 16:00-18:00, Seminar Room, Institute of Advanced Study, Cosin’s Hall

What can scholars do with large digital libraries? We’re certainly comfortable searching and browsing them, and we’re beginning to get used to the idea of mining patterns: we can visualise maps and networks and trends. On the other hand, interpreting large-scale patterns often remains a challenge. To address that problem, a number of literary scholars have begun to borrow methods of predictive modeling from machine learning. Instead of tracing a pattern and then speculating about what it means, these scholars start with a specific question they want to understand — for instance, how are men and women described differently in novels? Then they explore the question by testing models that make predictions about unlabeled examples. For instance, if we only know what a character does in a story, without names or pronouns attached, how easy is it to predict the character’s grammatical gender? Since the past already happened, the point of making predictions about it is not really to be right. Instead we trace the transformation of cultural categories by observing how our models work, and where they go wrong. Professor Underwood describes how these methods have been used to illuminate the differentiation of genres, the emergence of distinctively literary diction, and the waxing and waning of gendered assumptions about character.



Tuesday 17th May


Informal lunch, short introduction and screening of BODY GAMES. CAPOEIRA AND ANCESTRY (JOGO DE CORPO. CAPOEIRA E ANCESTRALIDADE) with director Matthias Röhrig Assunção, 12:30-16:00, Birley Room, Hatfield College

CVAC is delighted to welcome Matthias Röhrig Assunção to Durham. He is one of the directors of the award winning film BODY GAMES. CAPOEIRA AND ANCESTRY (JOGO DE CORPO. CAPOEIRA E ANCESTRALIDADE). During his visit he will be giving a talk, answering questions and screening the film. (First talk and screening 12:30 at Birley Room).

BODY GAMES presents a sensual tapestry of combat games from both sides of the Atlantic. It tells a story driven by Mestre Cobra Mansás need to understand the ancestry of his art form, Capoeira, as part of a wider concern with his Afro-Brazilian heritage. The search starts in Rio where, as a 12 year old street child, Cobra found survival and self-esteem playing Capoeira. Through Capoeira he grew into Brazil ́s black movement and discovered hisidentity as an Afro-Brazilian. A powerful Brazilian myth links Capoeira to a legendary Angolan game called Engolo. Through an exchange of Capoeira and Engoloin the dusty villages of Southern Angola, Cobra and his friends begins to understand the affinities and differences between combat games played on both sides of the Atlantic.

If you would like to attend this part of the event which includes lunch, please book your place by emailing 


A Poet-in-Residence Event: A Conversation with Dmitry Vedeniapin About Poetry and Translation, 16:00, ER247

The Center for Intercultural Mediation in collaboration with Russian and Translation Studies will host a conversation about poetry and translation with a prominent contemporary Russian poet Dmitry Vedeniapin.  



Wednesday 18th May


The Return of the Avant-garde: Soviet Theatre during the Thaw, lecture by Dr Jesse Gardiner, Durham University, 17:00, Russian World Centre (A29)

The talk will present an outline of a book project, The Return of the Avant-garde: Soviet Theatre during the Thaw, which is based on Dr Gardiner’s PhD thesis, completed in 2014. The book considers how the revival of avant-garde theatre during the thaw reflected a new political environment that enabled the rehabilitation of victims of Stalinist repression in the cultural sphere (e.g. Meyerhold, Mikhoels, Tairov) and opened up a debate about the legacy of Stalinist culture.  The book suggests that the shift away from the Stalinist hegemony of Stanislavskian realism towards a plurality of styles and methods, and towards a re-engagement with popular theatrical forms and devices, reflected a potential politicization of Soviet aesthetics as a form of dissensus (Rancière 2004), – a disruption of planes of understanding and norms of practice.



Professor Seamus Perry: William Blake’s London and Eliot’s Waste Land, 17:30-18:45, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House

An Inventions of the Text seminar. There are many presences in The Waste Land, whose diverse importance has been drawn out by commentators: Shakespeare, Dante, Virgil, Baudelaire. Another voice behind the poem is that of the English Romantic poet William Blake, who, with Baudelaire, is Eliot’s great precursor as the poet of the infernal city; but Blake’s poetic identity as a Londoner makes him an especially significant figure. As well as that, Blake possessed for Eliot what he called, in a memorable essay written while The Waste Land was brewing, “the unpleasantness of great poetry”. What did Eliot learn about the uses of unpleasantness from Blake?


Thursday 19th May


Catholic recusants in performance, 14:00-15:00, Chapel of the Nine Altars, Durham Cathedral

A free public talk to accompany the exhibition Plays, Processions and Parchment. Apart from transforming doctrine and worship, the Reformation also influenced broader religious practices and attitudes towards traditional festivity. During Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the celebrations of particular feast days and parish fund-raising entertainments, such as May games and Robin Hood plays, experienced decline and severe intolerance voiced by the Puritan-minded clergymen. Traditional festive customs were perceived as characteristic of the idolatrous late medieval religion. This paper will discuss some North-Eastern instances of Catholic participation in contentious customs and recreations and how they could have articulated identity and social reality of a persecuted minority. When Catholic recusants performed as players, dancers, or musicians, their entertainments could have easily been perceived by the authorities as an attack on the established religion.



CVAC and IAS Visual Evidence Series: Authority, Attribution and the Politics of Connoisseurships (c.1700 – 1900) – Workshop, 19th May, 14:00 to 20th May 2016, 14:00, Senate Suite (19th) and Oriental Museum (20th)

In recent years, there has been an explosion of scholarly interest in the practices by which the fine-arts have been historically collected, classified and institutionally legitimized. In the process the historiography of art history has been dramatically revised. A host of studies have identified the elusive but pivotal role of commercial networks, dealers and critics in the maintenance and extension of ‘art worlds’. Dealers and critics acted as proxies for plutocrats and for governments at a time when the quest for prestigious artworks was a source of acute geopolitical competition. This workshop will explore the political, economic and juridical questions related to the authentication and ownership of works of art in the heyday of nation-formation, imperialism, globalization and world war.

This two-day workshop will be led by Thomas Stammers (History) but is open to scholars from all departments in the university. It will draw on the participation of resident IAS fellow for Epiphany term, John Brewer, and will feature a number of distinguished external speakers, including Nick Pearce, Veronique Gerard-Powell, Barbara Lasic, Christopher Hodgkinson, Matthew Potter and Emanuele Lugli. As well as providing a forum for established and emerging scholars, the workshop will include a session at the Oriental Museum. 
The workshop will be held in the Senate Room of University College (Castle) on the 19th May and the Oriental Museum on the 20th May 2016. Attendance for members of the university will be free, but there will be a small charge for outside visitors. 
To reserve a place, please email



Durham’s Centre for Modern Conflicts and Cultures: Professor Deborah Cohn, Indiana University, Bloomington – In between propaganda and escapism: William Faulkner as Cold War Cultural Ambassador, 17:30, ER141

Between 1954 and 1961, the U.S. Department of State sent Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner on several goodwill missions to Latin America, Asia, and Europe. This lecture examines how the nationalist priorities and racial politics of U.S. foreign relations during the cold war permeated these trips. It further analyses how the writer, who generally shied from public engagements, became a pro-active and ardent spokesperson for democracy while abroad, and how he exercised an unusual amount of freedom to criticize the colour line in the U.S. The story that emerges from studying Faulkner’s travels ultimately reveals the complexity of the writer’s execution of his role as cultural ambassador, as well as his own doubts about the democratic system. See flyer here. All welcome.


Friday 20th May


Italian Postgraduate Research Seminar, 12:00-13:00, A56

Marzia Beltrami (Durham): ‘Crime plots as trajectories: finding one’s way through counterfactual spaces’

Gian Luca Troisi (Toulouse Jean Jaurès): ‘Sciascia’s Narrative in Todo modo: Between Metaphysics and Microphysics of Power’

For more information on this event, please contact







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