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MLAC Events Bulletin: 21st-27th November

Monday 21st November

IAS Fellows’ Seminar – Narratives of complexity and emergence: paradigms of level and scale

13:00-14:00, IAS Seminar Room, Palace Green, Dr Richard Walsh (University of York, UK)

I came to the IAS with very specific questions about the implications that ideas of scale had for a narratological perspective upon emergence in complex systems. However, I also think that the theme of scale is applicable in a much broader and more generously interdisciplinary way that might better serve as the focus of this seminar. Those original questions arose in the context of my collaborative work with complex systems scientists on the problem of narrating complexity, out of which has come a volume of essays, and part of my editorial frame for those essays has been an introductory chapter called “Narrative theory for Complexity Scientists.” Writing this chapter has required me to recalibrate the scale of my thinking about narrative in two respects. Firstly, to re-think a conceptual framework that has been elaborated within a fairly narrow disciplinary frame in terms that are broad enough to engage different disciplinary interests not just across the humanities, but also to the range of sciences and social sciences that are the conceptual homes of my complex systems colleagues. Secondly, to re-think the concept of narrative itself in terms that framed the highly elaborate cultural and literary forms normally privileged by narratology with a much larger and more fundamental idea of narrative as a mode of cognition. My approach, in that chapter and for this seminar, is to present and elaborate upon a definition of narrative understood as a mode of cognition, in terms that don’t presuppose the conceptual framework of narratology (and indeed call into question some prevailing narratological assumptions). The goal is to identify the affordances and limitations of narrative cognition so as to make clear how and why these are consequential from the perspective of complexity science; but in doing so, I hope to make these ideas available for discussion across a whole range of other interdisciplinary contexts.


What, fundamentally, do we mean by “narrative,” as distinct from the narratives or stories that instantiate it?

Do the formal features of narrative cognition, understood as a mode of sensemaking upon which we are to some extent dependent, constrain the scope of knowledge or understanding in significant ways?

How might the affordances of narrative cognition inform the foundations of the framework of meaning and value with which narratives negotiate in their more sophisticated cultural forms?

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.

175 Lecture Series – ‘From There to Here’

‘When I Grow Up I Want To Be…’ Sir Robert Burgess, Former VC, University of Leicester

17:30-18:30, Joachim Room, Hild Bede

Places are limited and will be allocated on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. Free of charge, all welcome! To book your place email

Contact for more information about this event.

Human Scale: Morton Feldman: Scale versus Form – Public Lecture

18:30-19:30, Department of Music, Durham University, John Snijders (Durham University)

Head of Music Performance at Durham University, John Snijders will give a lecture on the late works of American composer Morton Feldman (1926-1987) and his involvement with ‘scale’ as opposed to ‘form’ in musical composition. Feldman’s body of work shows a gradual shift from thinking in short, compact forms in the 1950’s and 60’s, to a slight increase to what he called ‘the twenty-minute piece’ in the 1970’s. Through thinking about memory and scale, in combination with an interest in Turkish and Anatolian rugs and the work of painters like Mark Rothko, new elements started to emerge. Concepts such as ‘crippled symmetry’, microtonal inflections, and patterns are coupled with increased length, culminating in the 5-hour String Quartet (II), written in 1983. The lecture investigates this shift in compositional thinking, and the transition from form to scale.
The talk will take place in the Lecture Room of the Music Department, on Palace Green. Admission is free.

For further information contact:

Click here for more information.

Tuesday 22nd November

Ushaw Lectures Series: ‘A Monk’s Books: Windows on Religious Life in Early 16th-Century England’

17:30-19:15, Exhibition Hall, Ushaw College, Professor Anne Thayer, (Lancaster Theological Seminary, PA)

Thomas Swalwell was a member of the last generation of monks in the

Durham Priory. Educated at Oxford, he held a number of responsible offices in the monastery. Swalwell is noteworthy for the substantial amount of marginalia he left behind, both in books that he identified as his own and books that belonged to the Priory library. This paper examines the marginalia in a sampling of books now housed at Ushaw and the Durham Cathedral Library which supported his wide-ranging tasks and revealed the concerns of this dutiful monk.

Professor Anne Thayer joined the faculty of Lancaster Theological Seminary in 1999. She is the Paul and Minnie Diefenderfer of Professor of Mercersburg and Ecumenical Theology and Church History. A native of Ohio, Anne received her B.A. in physics from Wellesley College in 1979. She earned M.A. degrees from Episcopal Divinity School in 1989 and Harvard University in 1991. She received her Ph.D. in Religion from Harvard University in 1996, where she focused on Christianity in late medieval Europe.

Professor Thayer is interested in the popular communication of theological ideas; her research has focused on preaching and pastoral care in the later Middle Ages. Among her publications are ‘Penitence, Preaching and the Coming of the Reformation’, an analysis of the role of late medieval penitential preaching in the varied appeal of the Protestant Reformation, and ‘Handbook for Curates: A Late Medieval Manual on Pastoral Ministry’, a translation of the most popular guide to parish ministry in Europe in the centuries prior to the Reformation. She is active in a variety of professional organisations including the American Academy of Religion, American Society of Church History, the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference, the International Medieval Sermon Studies Society, and the Mercersberg Society.

There will be a drinks reception in the Refectory from 5.30pm. For anyone wishing to book a place, please email or telephone Jane Lidstone on 0191 334 1656.

If you need help with transport between Durham City and Ushaw, please contact Jane Lidstone at or on 0191 334 1656 at least three working days before the lecture.

Click here for more information.

Vincent van Gogh – Film screening

17:45-20:00, ER140

This screening provides a further chance to see Vincent Van Gogh – a New Way of Seeing, orginally released in 2015, the 125th anniversary of the artist’s death. For this documentary, Seventh Art enjoyed unprecedented access to the treasures of Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. The film provides viewers with the inspiring experience of seeing Van Gogh’s masterpieces close-up and discusses recent research that questions some of the myths about his troubled life.

The Exhibition on Screen documentaries from Seventh Art Productions form an innovative series of high quality films about the work of individual artists based on major art exhibitions and collections. Each film is shown only once at selected venues around the country.

This screening has been arranged by Art Fund Durham and Cleveland in collaboration with Durham University’s Centre for Visual Arts and Culture. The screening will be introduced by Dr Anthony Parton, a distinguished art historian from the university, with time afterwards for discussion.

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.

 Language Encounter

18:00-20:30, Lindisfarne Centre, St Aidan’s College

Aidan’s is hosting an evening for native and non-native speakers of RUSSIAN, SPANISH, FRENCH, GERMAN and ITALIAN on Tuesday 22 November 2016, from 6pm – 8.30pm in the Lindisfarne Centre, St Aidan’s College. Come along at any time from 6.30pm onwards to converse and make friends. This is an excellent opportunity to practise your language skills in an informal and relaxing setting. In the past we have run joint evenings like this one and also separate evenings for each language; by attending you can help by sharing ideas for future activities and themes.

Anybody teaching speakers of these languages is encouraged to let their students know about the event. The event is open to staff as well as students. For further information contact

Human Scale: Morton Feldman (1926-1987) – Triadic Memories (1981) – Concert

19:30-20:30, Concert Room, Department of Music, Durham University, Palace Green, Concert Performance by John Snijders (Durham University)

Click here for more information.

Wednesday 23rd November

Understanding the validity of data: a knowledge-based network underlying research expertise in scientific disciplines

13:00-14:00, ED130, School of Education

This talk considers what might be taught to meet a widely held curriculum aim of students being able to understand research practice in a discipline. Led by Ros Roberts, from the School of Education, the seminar is open to everyone and booking is not required.

Expertise, which may appear as a ‘chain of practice’, is widely held to be underpinned by networks of understanding. Scientific research expertise is considered from this perspective. Within scientific disciplines, how research is conducted to solve different problems varies with concomitant effects on the validity of the data and the strengths of the claims made. Despite this variation, the overarching concepts of validity and reliability and the underpinning and inter-related network of more specific ‘concepts of evidence’ are applicable to understanding a wide range of research designs and the uncertainties in the resultant data and claims. These constituent ideas, which inter alia have been validated as relevant to professional and academic expertise, form an integrated knowledge-base about evidence which can be visualised on a concept map. The network of ideas underpinning research expertise across scientific disciplines is outlined. Research from explicitly teaching the concepts of evidence is reported and the implications for teaching and learning in science-based disciplines in school and HE are considered.

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.

Public talk: Working as a medic on the original “Boaty McBoatface”

17:30-18:30, Collingwood College, Penthouse Suite

Join Collingwood alumnus Ric Mellor as he talks about his experience of working as a medic for the British Antarctic Survey on RRS Ernest Shackleton.
This event is free to attend and open to all.

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information. 

Human Scale: Time on a Human Scale Public Lecture series – Empty and Embodied Time: the disintegration of concepts of historial time in the twentieth century

18:15-19:15, PG20, Pemberton Lecture Rooms, Palace Green, Professor Lucien Hoelscher (Ruhr-Universitat Bochum)


Lucian Hölscher, professor emeritus for modern history and theory of history at the University of Bochum, is one of the leading students of religion, temporality and historical theory in modern European history. His main areas of research include the history of religion, historical semantics and theory of historical eras. His Publications include: Semantik der Leere (Semantics of Emptiness, 2009); Geschichte der protestantischen Frömmigkeit in Deutschland (History of Protestant Piety in Germany, 2005), Neue Annalistik (New Annalistic Traditions, 2003).

One of Lucian Holscher’s most widely recognized works was published in 1999, ‘The Discovery of the Future’. Here, he tracked the history of the future in Europe, from its discovery in the early modern period up to the present day. He shows how, in cyclic patterns, the anticipatory perspective of the human race has been conquering more and more future spaces for over 300 years. In this way, our life in the present has become fundamentally oriented towards the future.

Holscher is now developing his concern with concepts of time and modernity and his lecture will address the theme by exploring two forms of Historical time in the modern era since 1700: the empty time concepts of Newton and Kant, leading to the modern world calendar, where everything is in temporal relation to one another; and the many concepts of embodied time, which have populated the modern world, including as much nations and classes as ideas, eras and many other objects of history, which all have their own time schedule. He argues for a greater concern for the concept of empty time, because it is the central medium of human life and communication, as can be demonstrated by going back to the controversy between Newton and Leibnitz in 1715.

He proposes to criticize recent concepts of time, such as Francois Hartog’s ideas of ‘régimes of historicity‘ and ‘presentism‘, and also today’s prominent concept of ‘acceleration‘. And he asks what kind of new insights we hope to get in focussing on questions of time.

Click here for more information.

Ustinov College Seminar: An Exploration of Identity

18:30-20:00, Ustinov College, Fisher House,

What comes in to your mind when you hear the term ‘identity’? Imagine you marry someone of different nationality, but society keeps labelling you with your original citizenship. How would you perceive your own identify? How would you deal with the potential conflict between your spouse and your other family members?

During this workshop, we will brainstorm the concept of identity through a role-playing simulation. come along to share your ideas.
Everyone welcome. Refreshments provided.

Contact for more information about this event.

Click here for more information.

Thursday 24th November

Reading Group on Agamben’s Use of Bodies

17:00-18:00, A56

The second meeting of the Agamben reading group will take place 5-6pm on 24 November, A56. The reading is Chapters 4-6 of Part I of the Use of Bodies.

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.


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