325 episodes

The University of Oxford is home to an impressive range and depth of research activities in the Humanities. TORCH | The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities is a major new initiative that seeks to build on this heritage and to stimulate and support research that transcends disciplinary and institutional boundaries. Here we feature some of the networks and programmes, as well as recordings of events, and offer insights into the research that they make possible.

TORCH | The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities Oxford University

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The University of Oxford is home to an impressive range and depth of research activities in the Humanities. TORCH | The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities is a major new initiative that seeks to build on this heritage and to stimulate and support research that transcends disciplinary and institutional boundaries. Here we feature some of the networks and programmes, as well as recordings of events, and offer insights into the research that they make possible.

    • video
    Book at Lunchtime: Born to Write

    Book at Lunchtime: Born to Write

    A TORCH Book at Lunchtime webinar on ‘Born to Write: Literary Families and Social Hierarchy in Early Modern France’ by Professor Neil Kenny. Book at Lunchtime is a series of bite-sized book discussions held weekly during term-time, with commentators from a range of disciplines. The events are free to attend and open to all.

    About the book:

    It is easy to forget how deeply embedded in social hierarchy was the literature and learning that has come down to us from the early modern European world. From fiction to philosophy, from poetry to history, works of all kinds emerged from and through the social hierarchy that was a fundamental fact of everyday life. Paying attention to it changes how we might understand and interpret the works themselves, whether canonical and familiar or largely forgotten. But a second, related fact is much overlooked too: works also often emanated from families, not just from individuals.

    Speakers:

    Professor Neil Kenny is a Professor of French at Oxford University, a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College and Lead Fellow for Languages at the British Academy. He specialises in early modern French literature and thought, especially from the early sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century. Professor Kenny’s current focus is on the relation of literature and learning to social hierarchy and previous projects have investigated different kinds of knowledge and belief.

    Professor Caroline Warman is a Professor of French Literature and Thought at Oxford University, and President of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. She specialises in the circulation of ideas and materialist thought and has recently completed a book on Diderot called The Atheist’s Bible: Diderot and the ‘Eléments de physiologie’.

    Professor Ceri Sullivan is a Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University and the author of five books on the literary features that structure early modern texts about religion, trade, bureaucracy, and rhetoric. She is the general editor of the English Association's series Essays and Studies and her most recent publication is Shakespeare and the Play Scripts of Private Prayer.

    • 1 hr 6 min
    • video
    The Formula of Giving Heart: Panel Discussion and Conversation with the Artist

    The Formula of Giving Heart: Panel Discussion and Conversation with the Artist

    Part of the Humanities Cultural Programme, one of the founding stones for the future Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities. This panel discussion and conversation with artist Khaled Kaddal examines The Formula of Giving Heart as a piercing study of our contemporary socio-political environment. Drawing from a variety of theoretical and creative perspectives, the panellists variously explore such themes as the global increase in physical confinement(s), the rise of cybernetics and biodata, and the continued privileging of contemporary science/medicine as distinct from other historical practices of healing. Exploring these phenomena amid a backdrop of global precarity, The Formula for Giving Heart forges fascinating linkages between seemingly disparate phenomena. It demonstrates how spatial imprisonment exists in and through hyperlinked and technologized (global) networks, ancient Pharaonic languages map onto and exist as contemporary (computer) code, and apparently distinct socio-political events—from the Coronavirus pandemic to the 2011 Egyptian revolution—can feel familiar through the very extraordinary nature of their temporal and affective regimes. Exploring these themes through the world premiere of Kaddal’s newest work, this panel broadly considers our present moment as well as the shifting nature of sonic and visual performance during a time of global crisis and ever increasing technologization.

    Christopher Haworth is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Music at the University of Birmingham. His scholarly interests lie in the broad areas of electronic music and sound art, which he researches using a mixture of historiographic, philosophical, and ethnographic research methods. He is currently researching the short-lived 'cyber theory' moment that accompanied mid-1990s hype for the internet and World Wide Web in Britain, and he was previously an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellow on Music and the Internet: Towards a Digital Sociology of Music. He also composes computer music, often incorporating principles from psychoacoustics, music psychology, and cybernetics.

    Khaled Kaddal is a Nubian visual artist and sound performer, raised in Egypt and currently resident in London. Allaying science and politics, spirituality and technology, he works with two interdependent abstractions; ‘Immortality of Time’ and ‘Sovereignty of Space’, in search for the imperishable balance between intelligence, emotions and moral judgments. Recent solo show at Overgaden Institut for Samtidskunst, Copenhagen; group exhibitions include ‘One the Edge’ at Science Gallery, London; ’10 Years of Production’ at Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah; ‘What do you mean, here we are?’ at Mosaic Rooms Gallery, London; ‘Art Olympics’ at Tokyo Metropolitan ArtMuseum, Tokyo; Performances at ‘Keep quite and Dance’ at Cairotronica Symposium, Cairo; Zentrum der Kunster Hellerau, Dresden; and ‘Daily Concerns’ at Dilston Grove Gallery, London. Kaddal has an upcoming show at 5th Biennale Internationale de Casablanca, Morocco; and a Resident Fellow at Uniarts Helsinki, Finland. He studied Computer Science at AAST (EG), and Sound Art at the University of the Arts London (UK).

    Darci Sprengel is an ethnomusicologist and Junior Research Fellow in Music at St John’s College, University of Oxford. Her research examines contemporary music in Egypt at the intersections of technology, capitalism, and politics. She is currently completing her first book, 'Postponed Endings': Youth Music and Affective Politics in Post-Revolution Egypt, which examines Egyptian independent music in relation to conditions of military-capitalism. She has two additional research projects. The first analyses music streaming technologies in the global South using a feminist and critical race approach to digital media. The second explore

    • 1 hr 9 min
    • video
    Book at Lunchtime: Porcelain - Poem on the Downfall of my City

    Book at Lunchtime: Porcelain - Poem on the Downfall of my City

    TORCH Book at Lunchtime webinar on Porcelain: Poem on the Downfall of my City by Durs Grünbein, translated by Professor Karen Leeder. Book at Lunchtime is a series of bite-sized book discussions held weekly during term-time, with commentators from a range of disciplines. The events are free to attend and open to all.

    About the book:

    Porcelain is a book-length cycle of forty-nine poems written over the course of more than a decade that together serve as a lament for Durs Grünbein’s hometown, Dresden, which was destroyed in the Allied firebombing of February 1945. The book is at once a history and “declaration of love” to the famed “Venice on the Elbe,” so catastrophically razed by British bombs; a musical fusion of eyewitness accounts, family memories, and stories, of monuments and relics; the story of the city’s destiny as seen through a prism of biographical enigmas, its intimate relation to the “white gold” porcelain that made its fortune and reflections on the power and limits of poetry.

    Published in English for the first time, this translation by Professor Karen Leeder marks the seventy-fifth year anniversary of the firebombing.

    Panel includes:

    Professor Karen Leeder is a Professor of Modern Languages at Oxford University and a Fellow of New College, Oxford. She has published widely on modern German culture and is a prize-winning translator of contemporary German literature, most recently winning the English PEN award and an American PEN/Heim award for her translation of Ulrike Almut Sandig. She was a TORCH Knowledge Exchange Fellow with the Southbank Centre from 2014-15 and she currently works with MPT, Poet in the City, and The Poetry Society on her project Mediating Modern Poetry.

    Durs Grünbein was born on 9 October 1962 in Dresden. He is one of the most important and internationally powerful German poets and essayists. After the opening of the Iron Curtain, he traveled through Europe, Southeast Asia, and the United States. He was a guest of the German Department of New York University and The Villa Aurora in Los Angeles. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the Georg Büchner Prize, the Friedrich Nietzsche Prize, the Friedrich Hölderlin Prize and the Polish Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award. His books have been translated into several languages. He lives in Berlin and Rome.

    Edmund de Waal is an internationally acclaimed artist and writer, best known for his large-scale installations of porcelain vessels, often created in response to collections and archives or the history of a particular place. His interventions have been made for diverse spaces and museums worldwide, including The British Museum, London; The Frick Collection, New York; Ateneo Veneto, Venice; Schindler House, Los Angeles; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna and V&A Museum, London. De Waal is also renowned for his bestselling family memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010), and The

    White Road (2015). His new book, Letters to Camondo, a series of haunting letters written during lockdown was published in April 2021. He was made an OBE for his services to art in 2011 and awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize for non-fiction by Yale University in 2015. Born 1964 Nottingham. He lives and works in London.

    Professor Patrick Major is Professor of History at the University of Reading, where he is also an associate of the East German Studies Archive. His research interests are primarily the political, social and cultural history of divided Germany in the Cold War. He has published on the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and Hollywood's depictions of 'bad Nazis' and 'good Germans', and is currently researching the bombing of Berlin in the Second World War.

    • 1 hr 10 min
    • video
    Under the Rainbow: Voices from Lockdown

    Under the Rainbow: Voices from Lockdown

    TORCH Goes Digital! presents a series of weekly live events Big Tent - Live Events! Part of the Humanities Cultural Programme, one of the founding stones for the future Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities. Under the Rainbow: Voices from Lockdown will feature the author James Attlee in discussion with Marina Warner and Professor Pablo Mukherjee (Warwick University). Chaired by Professor Wes Williams, TORCH Director.

    This event is also in collaboration with Blackwell's of Oxford. Blackwell's of Oxford has been selling books on Broad Street for over 140 years making it Oxford's oldest bookshop. With over five miles of books in the Broad Street flagship, Blackwell's booksellers' passion for the putting right book into the right reader's hands is undiminished after over a century. Under the Rainbow: Voices from Lockdown is for sale at Blackwell's Bookshop on Broad Street. Call 01865 792792 for a copy signed by James Attlee and if you live within the Oxford ring road, Blackwell's will deliver it to you by bike. Alternatively, you can place an order online at Blackwells.co.uk.

    Speaker Panel:
    James Attlee is the author of Under the Rainbow:Voices from Lockdown; Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey; Guernica: Painting the End of the World; Station to Station, shortlisted for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year 2017, and Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight, among other titles. His digital fiction The Cartographer’s Confession won the 2017 New Media Writing Prize. He works as an editor, lecturer and publishing consultant and his journalism has appeared in publications including The Independent, Tate Etc., Frieze and the London Review of Books.

    Marina Warner is an acclaimed polymath: a writer of fiction, criticism history, and mythography; her works include novels and short stories as well as studies of art, myths, symbols and fairytales. She has written for many publications, from The London Review of Books, through the New Statesman, to Vogue, and is a Distinguished Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford.

    Professor Pablo Mukherjee teaches on the English and Comparative Literary Studies program at Warwick University, and is an expert on Victorian as well as contemporary imperial/colonial and anti-imperial/colonial cultures.

    • 1 hr 2 min
    • video
    Book at Lunchtime: China’s Good War

    Book at Lunchtime: China’s Good War

    A TORCH Book at Lunchtime webinar on ‘China's Good War: How World War II is Shaping a New Nationalism’ by Professor Rana Mitter. Book at Lunchtime is a series of bite-sized book discussions held weekly during term-time, with commentators from a range of disciplines. The events are free to attend and open to all.

    About the book:

    For most of its history, the People’s Republic of China limited public discussion of the war against Japan. It was an experience of victimization - and one that saw Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek fighting for the same goals. But now, as China grows more powerful, the meaning of the war is changing. Professor Rana Mitter argues that China’s reassessment of the World War II years is central to its newfound confidence abroad and to mounting nationalism at home.

    China’s Good War begins with the academics who shepherded the once-taboo subject into wider discourse. Encouraged by reforms under Deng Xiaoping, they researched the Guomindang war effort, collaboration with the Japanese, and China’s role in forming the post-1945 global order. But interest in the war would not stay confined to scholarly journals. Today public sites of memory—including museums, movies and television shows, street art, popular writing, and social media—define the war as a founding myth for an ascendant China. Wartime China emerges as victor rather than victim.

    The shifting story has nurtured a number of new views. One rehabilitates Chiang Kai-shek’s war efforts, minimizing the bloody conflicts between him and Mao and aiming to heal the wounds of the Cultural Revolution. Another narrative positions Beijing as creator and protector of the international order that emerged from the war—an order, China argues, under threat today largely from the United States. China’s radical reassessment of its collective memory of the war has created a new foundation for a people destined to shape the world.

    Speakers:

    Professor Rana Mitter is Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford. His books include China’s War with Japan: The Struggle for Survival, 1937-1945 (Penguin, 2013), [US title: Forgotten Ally] which won the 2014 RUSI/Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature, and was named a Book of the Year in the Financial Times and Economist, and China’s Good War: How World War II is Shaping a New Nationalism (Harvard, 2020). His recent documentary on contemporary Chinese politics "Meanwhile in Beijing" is available on BBC Sounds. He is a regular presenter of BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking/BBC Arts and Ideas Podcast.

    Professor David Priestland is Professor of Modern History at St Edmund’s College Oxford. His research specialises in communism and market liberalism, especially in the communist and post-communist worlds. His publications include a comparative history of communism, The Red Flag:

    Communism and the Making of the Modern World, and Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A New History of Power, a study of the history of market liberalism and its place in global history.

    Professor Vivienne Shue is Professor Emeritus of Contemporary China Studies and Emeritus Fellow of St Anthony’s College Oxford. Her current research examines certain distinctively 21st century Chinese governance techniques and practices, including high-tech national development planning. Her publications include The Reach of the State: Sketches of the Chinese Body Politic, and most recently To Govern China, co-edited with Professor Patricia Thornton. She is the former director of Oxford’s Contemporary China Studies Programme.

    • 1 hr 1 min
    • video
    The Cake, Emma’s Romantic dreams, and le bovarysme - part two, French

    The Cake, Emma’s Romantic dreams, and le bovarysme - part two, French

    Elise Busset, an undergraduate at Oxford University, reads an extract from Madam Bovary in french. Blog post by Professor Jennifer Yee. The heroine of Gustave Flaubert’s 1857 novel Madame Bovary, Emma, is the daughter of a farmer, who has been educated ‘above her station’ alongside aristocratic girls in a convent. She read Romantic novels, some of them smuggled into the convent illicitly, and her reading has filled her with vivid, unrealisable fantasies and less clearly defined aspirations to a more glamourous life. When Charles Bovary, a medical officer from a nearby village, comes to the farm to set her father’s broken leg, he falls in love with her. He is probably one of the first men Emma has met who is not a farmer, a priest, or her father. Naturally she accepts him. Theirs is a country wedding, rather more rustic than Emma would have liked (she would have preferred to be married at midnight, by the light of flaming torches). Emma’s wedding cake gives physical form to her Romantic dreams and half-formed aspirations. Clearly, Emma is not going to find satisfaction in her married life. Madame Bovary is one of the greatest French adultery novels, adultery being - of course! - one of the great themes of the French novel. Plot spoiler: it doesn’t end well. At the moment of her wedding, however, Emma still has, intact, the notion that she will find ‘la passion’ and ‘la félicité’ in married life. For the first chapters we are not given much access to her point of view. Instead, we see her mostly from outside through Charles’s gaze: her slim fingers, her sensuous gestures, and a sort of iridescence of her whole being, from the colour of her eyes to the light playing through her parasol. The wedding cake offers us a glimpse of things that we will learn later about Emma’s inner, fantasy life; and because it is a visually ridiculous object it also tells us about the impossibility of those fantasies. The cake is a joke - a grosse blague, such as Flaubert was very fond of. And yet it is not simply a way of mocking Emma’s Romantic dreams and social aspirations. Flaubert believed that irony at the expense of his characters did not reduce pathos (or the reader’s emotional response); on the contrary, it should increase it. Emma is a tragic figure in a very modern sense: she is caught in the gap between her inner life and the real world in which she lives. We are all potentially subject to this irony. Flaubert is reputed to have said ‘Madame Bovary, c’est moi’ and many of us could say as much. Later in the century, a philosopher called Jules de Gaultier was to coin the term le bovarysme (Bovarysm) for what he saw as the essential human capacity to imagine that we are something we are not. Here is the description of Emma’s wedding cake, in French and in English. On avait été chercher un pâtissier à Yvetot, pour les tourtes et les nougats. Comme il débutait dans le pays, il avait soigné les choses; et il apporta, lui-même, au dessert, une pièce montée qui fit pousser des cris. À la base, d’abord, c’était un carré de carton bleu figurant un temple avec portiques, colonnades et statuettes de stuc tout autour, dans des niches constellées d’étoiles en papier doré; puis se tenait au second étage un donjon en gâteau de Savoie, entouré de menues fortifications en angélique, amandes, raisins secs, quartiers d’oranges; et enfin, sur la plate-forme supérieure, qui était une prairie verte où il y avait des rochers avec des lacs de confitures et des bateaux en écales de noisettes, on voyait un petit Amour, se balançant à une escarpolette de chocolat, dont les deux poteaux étaient terminés par deux boutons de rose naturelle, en guise de boules, au sommet. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, 1857. Listen to the passage read in French by Elise, an undergraduate at Oxford University. The

    • 1 min

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