Author - Catherine Ellis, Blog, events

MLAC Events Bulletin: 14th-20th November

Monday 14th November

IAS Fellows’ Seminar – When Black and White isn’t Black and White: Researching the Racial Scale for the 21st-Century

13:00-14:00, IAS Seminar Room, Palace Green, Dr Julia Prest, University of St Andrews

Writing and speaking about the racial scale poses a number of methodological and terminological challenges that Dr Prest would like to explore with colleagues at the IAS.

Some individuals believe that the very term “race” should be avoided: in 2013, the French National Assembly voted (controversially) to remove the words “race” and “racial” from its penal code on the basis that the concept of “race” has no scientific foundation. While most researchers agree that the topic is important and still timely and that therefore the term must be used, this is a reminder of how careful the researcher must be. The situation is further complicated when the researcher is studying an undeniably racist society (in Dr Prest’s case, the slave society of eighteenth-century Saint-Domingue). How is one to fully understand that society while distancing oneself from its racist precepts? And what terms should be used when writing or speaking about it for a modern audience? How, for instance, should she refer to the term “nègre” that occurs repeatedly in the primary literature? This is not simply an ethical dilemma; the issue is also one of accuracy. Even if anachronism can be negotiated, what exactly is meant by the racially-inflected terms “noir” and “blanc” (or “black” and “white”) and all the nuances in between?

These terms are loaded, ambiguous and charged. The question of self-positioning is also a difficult one. Recent discussions on the website of the American Musicological Society have included comments from established researchers suggesting that “white” individuals have no business researching issues relating to “black” music and that those who do are necessarily, if inadvertently, perpetuating the oppression inflicted by their ancestors.

Should Dr Prest begin every talk by acknowledging (and perhaps apologizing for) the fact that she is white and middle class? Or should the response to the researcher be colour-blind in line with the casting practices that opera companies and theatre companies are being encouraged to adopt? It turns out that the issues she is researching have become part of the experience of transmitting that research to others and that they may both be equally difficult to resolve.

Fellows’ seminars take place on Monday lunchtimes in the seminar room at Cosin’s Hall.

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.


Idle and Dissolute, the 160th Brigade RFA (Wearside Brigade) in the Great War

19:30, Durham TA centre – top of Gilesgate just by the roundabout/new traffic lights. Entry round the back of the building from 7.00pm.

Phil Adams has lovingly reconstructed the history of this Brigade, largely Sunderland men, and will give an illustrated talk on the topic. While Phil’s talk is the important part of the evening, I should point out that the sofas are leather and comfy and the refreshments are at NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institute) sprices.

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.


Tuesday 15th November

Videogames and Literature: Achieving Interdisciplinarity

13:00-14:00, Birley Room, Hatfield College, Dr Alistair Brown

Part of the DH Durham and the Institute of Advanced Research Computing lunchtime seminar series on Digital Humanities.

On the face of it, the ways video games and literature tell stories may seem to be very different: video games are multimedia and interactive works, whereas literature is largely text based and plotted in a way that is predefined by an author. Nevertheless, in the 1990s literary scholars were among the first to incorporate game studies within the university context, colonising games on behalf of the discipline of English. Like all colonisations, though, the trading partnership was one-sided; early English scholars were keen to show what they could do for games, but less interested in what games could do for literary scholarship. While the digital humanities in general has seen digital practices radically reshape the way the humanities are practiced, an archaeology of literature and game studies shows little attempt to reflect on how the study of video games might teach us to think differently about traditional literature itself. This talk will illustrate how literary scholars can modify their practices and methodologies, treating interdisciplinarity and intermediality as a two-way exchange of knowledge and ideas between video games and literature. In particular, it will show how game theory can be applied back to literature, and will demonstrate how the development of game adaptations of literary texts could provide a means of literary critique.

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.


Cultivating the Sacred Environment: The Experience of Pilgrimage in Medieval English Cathedrals

17:30, Learning Centre, Palace Green Library, Dr John Jenkins, (University of York)

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 presentation studies the way in which the internal spiritual landscapes of
England’s cathedrals were controlled, contested, activated, and experienced,
and how this shaped the way in which pilgrims to major shrines engaged with the
sacred space of their destination.

Dr John Jenkins is a researcher on the AHRC-funded project ‘Pilgrimage and England’s Cathedrals: Past and Present’ at the University of York. His research interests focus on the relationship between religion, the Church, and society. He previously worked on the University of Oxford’s ‘South Oxfordshire Project: perceptions of landscape, settlement and society, c.500-1650’

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.


Wednesday 16th November

Networks Reading Group

12:00, A56

The reading group on Networks will next meet 12-1pm on 16 November in Elvet Riverside A56. The reading, from Benjamin Bratton’s The Stack ( was kindly suggested by Gerald.

Contact for more information about this event.


Migration, Religious Security, and Public Schooling

13:00-14:00, ED134, School of Education

The School of Education welcomes Dr Bruce Collet to the seminar series. Everyone is welcome to attend and booking is not required.

Bruce Collet is an Associate Professor in the Social Foundations of Education at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. His main research interest concerns migration, religion and schooling in liberal democratic states.

In the contemporary era, the “secularization thesis”, or the belief that as societies progress through modernization and rationalization religion will lose its authority within social life as well as state governance has been seriously called to question. Religion continues to have a profound effect on life within modern liberal democratic states, and one area where we see this very strongly concerns the religious identities of migrant populations. Public schools within democratic states are interesting and important ‘theatres’ where migrant student religiosity meets both the challenges and demands put forth by institutions that, in least in principle, are guided by liberal democratic values. This lecture examines migration, “religious security”, and public or state schooling within the liberal democratic state. Religion has very often provided migrant communities with a symbolic interpretation of their migration experience, ritual reinforcement of their identity, and the moral support of self-esteem (Alba, Raboteau, and DeWind, 2009). In this sense it has often given migrants a sense of security in the face of the traumas and disruptions associated with migration, and with the multiple challenges and demands presented by hosting societies. Yet migrant communities, like their hosting societies, must also balance and many times reconcile their religious identities and requirements with the subjective conditions essential to the reproduction of democratic life, including autonomy and the right to question if not exit one’s religious upbringing. Hence schools can support religious migrant students, but schools also face some significant challenges in doing so in light of their roles as institutions reflective of the liberal democratic state.

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.


Durham Early Modern Group Seminar

Francisco Bethencourt (King’s College, London), ‘Social Inequality in Early Modern Europe’.

16:30-18:00, Seminar Room 1, History Department, 43 North Bailey

Contact for more information about this event.


The Defacement of Irish Modernism

17:30-19:00, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House, Dr Barry Shiels

An Inventions of the Text seminar.

In this paper I offer my take on the question of what a red face means in literature; specifically, given the odd position of Irish-ness within the history of English sentiment, I want to think about what an Irish red face means. To do this I shall consider the discursive history of the blush as it has made itself felt on the different faces of Irish modernism.

Today, when we consider the face at all, we tend to think not so much about traditional portraiture, and more about technology -Facebook, Face-time, face recognition- as well as reiterations of older debates regarding the status of the veil and the gender politics of facial exposure. Such contemporary concerns, however, remain inexorably tied to questions of reading, where the face communicates itself as plot device and character function, signifying age, race, class, and the lines of desire that create the temporality of a narrative. Through exploring the figure of the blush, I shall argue that there is a progressive defacement at work in the canonical texts of Irish modernism, that there are cultural reasons for this, but also aesthetic and narrative consequences which continue to be of relevance to how we read.

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.


Thursday 17th November

Ecology & the Arts Research Group Seminar: Dr Caitríona Ní Dhúill

‘The Gender of Energy’

17:00, ER149

Contact for more information about this event.


A Very Private Affair: A Soviet Dissident’s ‘English Wife’ – Book Launch with Pam Wardell (Edinburgh)

17:00-18:00, Russkiy Mir Centre (A29)

The Russkiy Mir Centre is delighted to invite everyone to the book launch with Pam Wardell whose recent book, ‘A Very Private Affair: A Soviet Dissident’s ‘English Wife’, was published in September 2016 by Howard Press.

About the book:

‘A Very Private Affair…’ is a story of Speranza Howard (1903-95) who was born and brought up in pre-revolutionary Russia and escaped with her family to London in 1920. It is also a story of the outstanding Russian writer Boris Pilniak, who visited Britain just once, in 1923, but claimed to have lost his heart to a half-English girl he met there during that visit. The identity of his ‘English wife’ was unknown until 1995, when in the Russian memorabilia that Edinburgh based producer Pam Wardell had stored in her loft, she found two bundles of love letters written by Boris to Speranza, Pam’s aunt, during the period of 1923-29. In her book, Pam Wardell tells two parallel stories: one about the secret life of her aunt, Speranza, and her love for the Soviet writer, Boris Pilniak; the other about her personal journey to uncover the impact of the Russian Revolution on her family’s history.

About the author:

Pam Wardell, born and raised in Glasgow, was a BBS Scotland radio producer for over 20 years. In 2001 she turned to her long-cherished project of writing a book about her mother’s family, their years spent in St Petersburg & the dramatic story of their escape from the Russian Revolution. In 2004, with support from the Scottish Arts Council, Pam went to St Petersburg to find the flat where her mother’s family had lived and to Moscow to meet Dagmar Kassek, an academic specialising in Boris Pilniak’s works and biography, who at that time was collecting Pilniak’s letters for publication (Moscow University Press, 2011). Through a unique collaboration with the graphic designer Janey Boyd (Mamook Graphics), Pam has produced a stunningly illustrated account of a 20th century life history which she will present to the audience.

The event will take place at 5pm on Thursday, 17 November, 2016 in the Russkiy Mir Centre (A29, Elvet Riverside 1).

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.


The Good Story: Arabella Kurtz in conversation with Angela Woods

17:30-19:00, Wolfson Gallery, Palace Green Library, Dr. Arabella Kurtz

Why do we feel the need to transform our experiences into a more or less coherent story? Is life inherently narrative or is narrative rather a means for exploring, interpreting and understanding life? What role does narrative imagination play in our beliefs, emotions and social interactions? Can a narrative approach to traumatic events or experiences of psychological distress help extricate meanings and plan better actions?

Dr. Arabella Kurtz is the author, with Nobel Prize winning author J.M. Coetzee, of The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy (2015). In conversation with Angela Woods, she will address the benefits and stakes of a narrative approach to experience, both in everyday life and in her clinical practice as a psychotherapist, and reflect upon the importance of the interdisciplinary encounter between psychotherapy and literature around the narrative nature of life and mind.

This event is supported by Durham University’s Department of English Studies. It is also part of the linked programme of events around Hearing Voices: suffering, inspiration and the everyday, a major exhibition on voice-hearing produced by Hearing the Voice and Palace Green Library.

Click here for more information.


IAS Fellow’s Public Lecture – The Temporality of the Deep Human Past

17:30-18:30, Sir James Knott Hall, Trevelyan College, Professor Ann McGrath, Australian National University
This lecture argues that historians need to consider fresh approaches to both historical chronology and to temporality itself. It considers how collaborative community engagements with Indigenous ‘dreaming stories’ may offer tools to develop relevant methods of understanding the temporality of the deep past.
Aboriginal Australians have the ‘oldest continuing culture on the planet’. While this phrase has entered the imagination of the Australian nation, it obscures the astonishingly long duree of 60,000 years into a blur of continuity and immeasurability. This time span seems to defy the possibility of narrative and to stand outside ‘history’. Certainly, such a temporal scale is difficult to envisage. Additionally, it lacks the usual European and northern hemisphere reference points, with their accepted yardsticks based upon technology, modernity and political reigns.
Periodization remains an important tool that historians use to conceptualize human narratives (Davis 2008). Viewing the world primarily from Europe, twentieth century prehistorians and archaeologists divided early human history into the categories ‘Stone Age/Palaeolithic’ and ‘Bronze Age’. This entrenched the Aboriginal Australian past into the static vision of a ‘timeless’, unchanging and primitive era still reflected in many European museums. Today’s archaeologists tend to divide Australia’s deep past into climatic zones such as the Pleistocene and the Holocene. While this resonates with the current challenge of the Anthropocene, it can also privilege environmental determinism above human dynamism.
One possible way for historians to contribute to humanizing the deep past would be to probe the stories of individuals, such as Lady Mungo, who lived at least 40,000 years ago. As revealed in our film, Message from Mungo, it was easier, however, to narrate her role in the present rather than in the past. The film’s local Aboriginal participants challenged western notions of temporality, portraying the vast time gap between Lady Mungo’s life and their own as relatively meaningless; she was ‘like an old aunty who died yesterday’ but whose living presence continued to intervene in the present. Could such perspectives expand our theoretical understandings of temporality, of history’s lives operating in the past and present?

Click here for more information.


2016 Van Mildert College Trust Annual Lecture: “Small World, Big Problems: Why we need multilateralism more than ever”.

17:30-18:30, Ann Dobson Hall, Van Mildert College, The Right Honourable Lord Malloch-Brown

The Right Honourable Lord Malloch-Brown will be presenting the 2016 Van Mildert College Trust Annual Lecture entitled “Small World, Big Problems: Why we need multilateralism more than ever”. This public lecture is free to attend

The lecture will discuss how bilateral diplomacy is in crisis because of difference challenges to state authority, and the pressing need to find collaborative approaches to problem solving that involve and inclusive set of stakeholders.

Lord Malloch-Brown, now sitting as a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords, has extensive knowledge and experience of geopolitics, having held senior positions in the UN, World Bank and British Government over more than 20 years.

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.


Friday 18th November

Being Human: a festival of humanities – Public Lecture – Time-reckoning, Astronomy and Easter in the Middle Ages

14:00-16:00, Durham Cathedral, Chapter House, Dr Philipp Nothaft, All Souls College, University of Oxford

We are very pleased to give details of the Durham University contribution to the Being Human Festival of Humanities 2016. The Festival is the only UK Festival of Humanities, and showcases the central role of humanities in contemporary research, its interaction with science, social science, and the multitude of exciting, creative, and stimulating projects being undertaken.
The Durham activities form part of a suite of events across the North-East, and the whole of the country, in mid-november. Our theme is the universe and human perception from the ancient world to the modern-day. Featuring research from the Ordered Universe project on medieval and modern science, the EAGLE galaxy modelling programmes, research on ancient astronomy, medieval astrolabes, Renaissance attitudes towards science, John Dalton and colour vision in the 18th century, Ushaw College and its scientific holdings, and contemporary astronomy, we have to principle events under the title: ‘Heavens Above!’
This public lecture will take place in Durham Cathedral, Chapter House 2-4 and will be delivered by Dr Philipp Nothaft, All Souls College, University of Oxford: ‘Time-reckoning, Astronomy and Easter in the Middle Ages’.

This event is free and open to the public. Tickets will be available on Eventbrite. For more details please contact

Click here for more information.


Saturday 19th November


Heaven’s Above! Interactive Exhibition: Humanity & the Universe

11:00, Pemberton Rooms, Durham University, Palace Green, Durham

Come and experience the universe! Hands-on activities for all ages, multi-media presentations, poster exhibitions, artwork and installations, will showcase human understanding of the universe, in the western tradition, from the ancient world to the modern-day. From Babylonian Astronomy to the medieval theories of sight, colour and astronomy; from Renaissance star-gazing to 18th century optical experiments, a blow-up planetarium, and a 3D fly-through modern galaxy-modelling in Occulus Rift technology. Engage with artistic collaboration with research into medieval and modern science: film, drawings, glasswork and projections and make your own astrolabe. Re-enactors will guide you to the past and through the event. Short talks on the hour will feature the exhibitors and the day finishes with a question and answer plenary with a modern scientist and a medieval historian.

This event is part of the Being Human festival – the UK’s only national festival of the humanities. As our festival events are free, not everyone who asks for tickets come to our events. To make sure we have a full house, we allocate more tickets than there are seats. We do our best to get the numbers right, but unfortunately we occasionally have to disappoint people. Admission is on a first-come-first- served basis, so please arrive in good time for the start of the event.

To reserve a free ticket visit: and search for ‘Heaven’s Above!’

Contact for more information about this event.



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