Author - Catherine Ellis, Blog

MLAC Events Bulletin: 31st October – 6th November

Monday 31st October

IAS Fellows’ Seminar – Applying the New Institutional Economics to Societies of Different Scale – Judges and Nazi pressure in Germany and Occupied Countries

13:00-14:00, IAS Seminar Room, Palace Green, Professor Hans Petter Graver (University of Oslo, Norway)

The seminar will introduce four questions and an invitation. My main question is whether there is a Western legal tradition by which we can explain historical and current differences in the operation of different legal orders. Affirmative answers have been given to using the Western legal tradition as an explanation of the economic and political orders by Douglass C. North and Francis Fukuyama. To address the question I invite the audience to reflect on the follow-up questions “What is legal science?”, “Why can legal science not solve the puzzle?” and “Why is legal science necessary to solve the puzzle?” The issues must be addressed across several scales each addressed by different disciplines; a temporal scale addressed by historical analysis, an institutional scale (large-scale) addressed by political science, an individual scale (small-scale) addressed by social psychology and a normative scale addressed by law.

Places are limited and so any academic colleagues interested in attending a seminar should contact the Institute in advance to reserve a place.

Click here for more information.

IAS Fellow’s Public Lecture – Performing the Racial Scale in the Theatre: From Colonial Saint-Domingue to Today

17:30-18:30, Joachim Room, College of St Hild & St Bede, Dr Julia Prest, University of St Andrews

The casting of the “black” actor, Zoe Saldana, as the “black” singer, Nina Simone, in a recent film caused something of an uproar: Saldana, it was claimed, was not black enough and so wore skin-darkening make-up (“blackface”) and a prosthetic nose. These are not new issues. In order to open up the question of the racial scale at work in the theatre, Dr Julia Prest (University of St Andrews) proposes to compare the experiences of two female singer-actors who participated in the vibrant theatrical tradition in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) in the 1780s. This lecture is free and open to all.

The first is the white European star, Mme Marsan, who was best-known for her performance of French comic opera but who also participated in local productions and is known to have performed in blackface on at least one occasion (something that actresses in France refused to do at this time); the second is a local woman of mixed racial ancestry, known as “Minette” who is famous for having been the first non-white soloist to perform publically in Saint-Domingue, but who refused to perform repertoire that was not strictly “French”. Dr Prest will suggest that, in order to hold on to a position further up the racial scale than her ancestry would strictly permit, Minette had to be careful not to do anything that would push her back down that scale, while Mme Marsan, whose position at the top of the racial scale was almost untouchable, had more freedom to explore new theatrical possibilities. However, the fact that Marsan did not make a habit of performing blackface may have reflected a fear of degeneration. Although upward mobility was a common phenomenon on the island, the possibility of downward mobility (or degeneration) was not absolutely excluded. It will be seen that the issues faced by actors today have without doubt evolved but have yet to be fully resolved.

Contact for more information about this event.

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Tuesday 1st November

IAS Fellow’s Public Lecture – Understanding Marduk’s Cosmos: the development of astronomy in Ancient Babylonia

17:30-18:30, Sir James Knott Hall, Trevelyan College

The fifth tablet of the Babylonian epic of creation, Enūma Eliš, written in the late second millennium BC, describes the god Marduk’s creation of the sun, moon and stars, setting the stars in patterns which make up the constellations and giving the moon and sun a regular order of motion to define the month and the year. This idea of regularity and order in the motion of the heavenly bodies lay at the heart of Babylonian attempts to understand the motion and phenomena of the sun, moon and planets.

By the mid-first millennium BC, Babylonian astronomy had become a multi-faceted activity which included observation, prediction, the creation of mathematical methods for modeling and computing the astronomical phenomena, and the astrological interpretation of astronomical data. In this talk Professor Steele traces this development, outlining the observations, mathematical techniques, and methods of analysis and reasoning which were employed, and place this achievement within wider scholarly activity in Babylonia. The result of this development was the creation of the world’s first predictive science, a science which not only sought to model the motion of the sun, moon and planets, but also to use these methods of predict future astronomical phenomena. Many aspects of Babylonian astronomy, including the very idea of predictive science itself, were later transmitted to and adopted by Greek astronomers and would form the foundation of the western scientific tradition.

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The Cultural Geography of the Hearth

18:00, Learning Centre, Palace Green Library, Professor Julie Sanders, (Newcastle University)

This event is free to attend and open to all and will be followed by a drinks reception in the Courtyard Café, Palace Green Library.

This seminar will use the site and space of the household fireplace as a particular means by which to think through neighbourhood operations in the early modern period. Recent archaeological work undertaken by Staffordshire University’s Centre of Archaeology on Shakespeare’s New Place in Stratford-Upon-Avon has revealed the presence of a main kitchen including a hearth and a cold-storage pit. My talk will start from this site and what it might tell us about household practices as well as early modern food and fuel cultures and move out towards Shakespearean plays such as ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ and other plays by Middleton to trace the presence, operations, and meanings of Newcastle coal and Kentish firewood in early modern drama. The theoretical and critical intersection of early modern food studies, material history and the spatial and geographic turn in recent early modern scholarship will be explored en route.

Professor Julie Sanders is a Professor of English Literature and Drama in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at Newcastle University in the UK and currently also Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Humanities and Social Sciences. Her research is on cultural geography and early modern literature as well as on Shakespearean (and broader) adaptations and she co-edits an Oxford University Press series on ‘Early Modern Literary Geographies’ with Dr Philip Garrett. Professor Sanders is currently beginning work towards an eventual study of neighbourhoods as places of making in the early modern period. She is interested in artisanal and craft neighbourhoods, forms of knowledge making and experiment, and the role of locally and provincially made objects and found resource in the cultural and social economy of early modern London.

Contact for more information about this event.

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Wednesday 2nd November

MLAC Work in Progress Seminar: Professor Nick Saul ‘The IAS, Evolutionism, Literature and Contagionism’

12:00, ER146

Contact for more information about this event.


9th Wilhelm Levison Memorial Lecture: Odo of Tournai’s Disputation with a Jew and Some Other Interreligious Dialogues in the Wake of Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo

17:30, Learning Centre, Palace Green Library, Professor Bernd Geobel

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception in the cafe, Palace Green Library. The lecture and reception are free and open to all, however, booking is essential.

Please click here to register for this event.

Professor Bernd Goebel has been Professor of Philosophy and the History of Philosophy at Fulda Theo-logy Faculty since 2003. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Bonn and the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes Paris. He was a guest professor at the University of Notre Dame and the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes Paris, a visiting fellow of Magdalen College Oxford and the University of Durham’s IAS, and has been elected to a Visiting Fellowship at St Catherine’s College Oxford in 2017. Amongst his most recent publications are an edition and translation of Ralph of Battle’s dialogues on philosophical theology (with Samu Niskanen and Sigbjørn Sønnesyn, Freiburg: Herder, 2015), and a German translation of, and commentary on A.C. Ewings book “Ethics” (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 2014).

Abstract: I will commence by presenting Anselm’s critique of the Augustinian soteriology revived by the masters at Laon, and by analyzing his own rather groundbreaking theory of the Incarnation put forward in his dialogue Why God became man. I will suggest that the main argument of that dialogue is meant to be a rational proof for the necessity of the Incarnation from logical and moral premises, and that Anselm’s a priori theology is, at least in part, a reaction to the challenges posed to Latin Christianity by the propagation of Jewish and Muslim objections in the late eleventh century. After a survey of the seven extant dialogues between Christians and non-Christians written in the early aftermath of Why God became man, taking up, in some form or another, Anselm’s argument and rational method, I will focus on one of them – Odo of Tournai’s disputation with a Jew. I will discuss some intellectual and literary aspects of this relatively unknown, yet intriguing work and propose a novel interpretation. While Odo appears to be, and generally is, closely following Anselm’s lead, I will expose one or two deviations which may also shed new light on Anselm’s case.

Contact for more information about this event.

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‘Rutilio Grande, Oscar Romero and Pope Francis’ by Fr Rodolfo Cardenal, University of Central America

17:30-19:00, Pemberton Lecture Room, PG20, Palace Green

This lecture is part of a series of engagements with Catholic Social Thought and Practice. This is a termly lecture open to all members of the university and the wider public, focusing on questions of social, political and economic justice.

Click here for more information.


‘George Orwell’s Worst Nightmare’: Cybersecurity and Surveillance in Screen Narratives after Edward Snowden

17:30-19:00, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House, Dr James Smith

An Inventions of the Text seminar.

Contact for more information about this event.


Thursday 3rd November

DEI Seminar

Contested Powers: Energy, Sovereignty and the Good Life in Latin America

Professor John-Andrew McNeish, International Development and Environmental Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences- NMBU

13.00-14.00, Room D210 (Birley Room), Dawson Building, Science Site


Energy Resources have physical thermo-dynamic properties, but are made to possess powerful political and social properties.   In this paper I consider the political claims and counter-claims that surround the harnessing of energy resources- renewable and non-renewable- in Latin America.  In doing so I will not only outline the historic efforts of states and elites to harness energy resources as a source of economic wealth and as platforms for generating popular ideas of state and nation.


In addition to this established picture of the role of energy resources in the history of the region, this paper draws on recent anthropological research (focused on Bolivia and Colombia) to highlight the relationship between contrasting ideas of energy resources and popular expressions of sovereignty and development.  State imaginaries of resource wealth exist in tension with diverse political ontologies and sub-altern livelihoods that express alternative ideas of past, present and future.  The paper argues that this more comprehensive account can help explain why energy resources remains a controversial topic at the heart of current political debate and legal policy-formation.  Indeed, as I will evidence it also provides needed explanation of the rising incidence of socio-environmental contestation in Latin America.


John-Andrew McNeish is Professor of International Environment and Development Studies at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU).  McNeish is a Social Anthropologist with over 15 years of experience in consultancy, research project leadership and teaching. He is the current academic chair of NMBU´s Masters Programme in International Development Studies.


In addition to a series of publication in international peer-reviewed journals, McNeish is co-author of ten books including McNeish, Borchgrevink & Logan (Zed Books 2015) Contested Powers: The Politics of Energy and Development in Latin America and McNeish & Logan (Pluto Press 2012) Flammable Societies: Studies in the Socio-Economics of Oil and Gas. McNeish is currently a project member of the Norwegian Research Council funded Extracting Justice project studying the political and legal mechanisms used by local communities in four Andean countries to respond to the social and environmental damage caused by natural resource extraction.


With a focus on Central America, he is also a project member of the EU Horizon 2020 funded ICT4COP project focused on the role of community policing in post-conflict states.  He is currently in the process of completing a monograph focused on the Political Energy of Natural Resources in Latin America (Forthcoming Berghahn Books).


All welcome and free to attend, no need to register.

To reserve parking on campus for this seminar, please email


Agamben Reading Group

17:00-18:00, A56 (also 24th November and 8th December)

The Use of Bodies is possibly Agamben’s master work, concluding his famous Homo Sacer series. Moving from early Greek philosophy to the present, from Plato and Aristotle, through Paul and the Church Fathers, scholasticism, Leibniz and Spinoza, to Heidegger, Debord and Foucault, the book asks the following questions: What are bodies? What is at stake philosophically in the exploitation of our own bodies and those of others? How are bodies affected by our habits, our care, our mastery of techniques? How might thought about human potentiality and life be reinvigorated by a new conception of bodies and their uses? Because Agamben’s thought ranges so widely, the group aims to bring together colleagues and postgraduates from MLAC and other departments, with interests in classics, philosophy, theology, visual culture, history, the medical humanities, and languages and literature, to collectively read this fascinating and complex text.

The group is open to colleagues and postgraduates from all departments, and as you can see the relevance of the material is broad, so please feel free to circulate this announcement to anyone you think might be interested. To receive a copy of the reading, contact

Click here for more information.


IAS Fellows’ Public Lecture – Weight Problems: an Enquiry into Scales and Justice (Professor Massimo Leone, University of Turin, Italy)

17:30-18:30, Dining Hall, St Cuthbert’s Society, Durham

In 1901, Dr. Duncan “Om” MacDougall (c. 1866 – October 15, 1920), a physician from Haverhill, Massachusetts, devised an experiment to ‘determine’ the weight of the soul. He weighed six terminally ill patients just before death, and then he measured again immediately after they had deceased. He found that each of the patients had lost exactly 21 grams after passing away. He repeated the experiment with fifteen dogs, finding out that they would lose no weight through death. He therefore deduced that the human soul must weigh 21 grams.

Scientists had no hard time in debunking Dr. MacDougall’s experiments, although his measurements of the “weight of the soul” stayed in popular culture (in 2003, Alejandro González Iñárritu directed a popular movie entitled 21 Grams; Dan Brown mentions MacDougall’s experiments in The Lost Symbol, etc.).

Yet, the idea that the soul weighs and that its weight must be measured through appropriate scales is not new, but dates back at least to ancient Egypt. The lecture will retrace the cultural and visual history of these metaphysical measurements, seeking to show their ideological implications across cultures and epochs.

This lecture is free and open to all.

For more information about this lecture and speaker, please visit the Institute of Advanced Study website.

Contact for more information about this event.


Click here for more information.


Friday 4th November

Durham World Heritage Site 30th Anniversary Conference – Intangible Heritage

4th November 2016 9:00 – 5th November 2016, 17:00, Durham Cathedral, Durham Castle

As part of an ongoing series of events marking the 30th anniversary of Durham World Heritage Site’s inscription, a two day conference on Intangible Heritage will take place. Themes include Pilgrimage, Art and Artefacts, Music, and the Built Environment. Dr Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General, and John Grundy will deliver keynote addresses.

UNESCO director general Irina Bokova and TV presenter John Grundy are to deliver keynote addresses at a conference to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Durham Castle and Cathedral’s inscription as a World Heritage Site.

Spread over two days, the conference, which is jointly hosted by Durham Cathedral and Durham University, will celebrate and investigate the rich wealth of intangible heritage which adds so much depth to this wonderful site, including themes of pilgrimage and music.

In 1986 Durham Castle and Cathedral were recognised by UNESCO as being a piece of heritage with global importance, one of the first group of UK sites to be recognised, alongside sites such as Stonehenge and the Giant’s Causeway.

Whilst the site was first recognised for the incredible history and architecture of both the Castle and the Cathedral, the importance of the intangible heritage of the site is now also recognised.

The conference, which takes place on Friday 4 and Saturday 5 November 2016, will include four sessions, each focusing on a different aspect of the diverse intangible heritage of the site: Pilgrimage, Art and Artefacts, Music, and the Built Environment. The conference includes a fantastic programme of national and international speakers. The full programme is available on the link below.

Dr Bokova and John Grundy will also deliver public lectures on Friday 4 and Saturday 5 November respectively.

The conference is £60 for two days, or £35 for a single day.

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.


Public Lecture by Dr Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO

17:00-18:30, Science Site

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova is at the forefront of the promotion of World Heritage. This year Durham World Heritage Site celebrates the 30th anniversary of its inscription, and we are delighted to welcome Dr Bokova as part of those celebrations.

Dr Bokova holds an honorary Doctor of Letters from Durham University, and her visit for this lecture – at a time when she is also standing for election as Secretary General of the United Nations – demonstrate her commitment to the heritage of the city. Dr Bokova will also be delivering the keynote address at the Durham World Heritage Site 30th Anniversary Conference on Intangible Heritage, taking place on Friday 4 and Saturday 5 November.

The lecture is free, but prior booking is essential.

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.


Saturday 5th November

Conference: Perceptions of Architecture in Early Modern Europe

09:30-19:00, Kenworthy Hall, St. Mary’s College, Durham University


Across discourses and media, early modern Europeans encountered advice about and models for interacting with the built environment around them. Architects scattered brief instructions for designing a viewer’s experience throughout their treatises, poets narrated imagined tours of house and estate, and artists who composed prints and paintings of buildings located viewers at particular vantage points. Simultaneously, philosophers and scientists debated human perception of the physical world at large – for example, explanation first by Aristotelian Scholastics and then mechanistic philosophers of how particle vibrations acted upon the human senses to create mental images of objects. Such architectural, philosophical, and scientific discussions had their echoes in self-reflective viewing of buildings by travellers who described in their journals the buildings that they visited.

This conference investigates the terms, criteria and questions by which early modern viewers were expected to and/or did interact with the built spaces around them. In so doing, it merges independent yet overlapping strands of scholarly inquiry: for instance, architectural and cultural historians have examined uses of spaces and a patron’s rationale behind a design, while art historians who follow Michael Baxandall’s notion of the ‘period eye’ and literary historians who discuss the imagined tours of poets have analyzed concepts underpinning early modern viewing. These and other strands of inquiry are brought together by an international, interdisciplinary group of speakers examining case studies encompassing England, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Portugal during the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.

For the conference programme and registration form, please see:

Contact for more information about this event.


‘Voice-hearing: What does the future hold?

10:00-16:00, Wolfson Gallery, Palace Green Library

Hearing the Voice warmly welcomes you to a day-long event with academics, clinicians and experts by experience exploring future directions in voice-hearing research, the treatment of distressing voices, mental health services, public understandings of voice-hearing and the international Hearing Voices Movement.

The day will feature a public lecture by Marius Romme and Sandra Escher.

The programme will also include speakers from the Hearing the Voice team, such as Professor Charles Fernyhough (Director, Hearing the Voice), Dr Angela Woods (Co-director, Hearing the Voice), Rachel Waddingham (Chair of Intervoice) and Guy Dodgson (Clinical Lead, Early Intervention in Psychosis services, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust).

The event is free and all are invited to attend, but as places are limited early booking is essential. To reserve your place at this event, please follow the link to our Hearing the Voice website:

This event marks the opening of Hearing Voices: suffering, inspiration and the everyday, a major exhibition on voice-hearing produced by Hearing the Voice and Durham’s Palace Green Library.

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.


Public Lecture – John Grundy

19:00-20:30, Durham Cathedral

Local architectural historian and television presenter John Grundy will deliver a lecture as part of the Durham World Heritage Site 30th Anniversary series of events. The lecture will follow a two day conference, but is open to the public.

John Grundy, well known in the North East as an architecture writer and television presenter, will speak on Saturday 5 November. Initially appearing as a presented on BBC North East’s ‘Townscape’ in 1987, he now presents a regular feature on BBC Look North, as well as acting as Chairman of the Friends of Beamish.

Durham World Heritage Site are delighted to welcome him to deliver this public lecture, which will take place at the end of a two day conference on Intangible Heritage. The lecture is open to the public as well as conference delegates, and tickets will cost £7.50.

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.


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