History Department in Lockdown

The History Department has continued to provide an interesting and eclectic range of speakers to inspire us though the virtual medium of Zoom and virtual HATA trips have taken historians to fascinating parts of the world. Read more here.


Claire Perry O’Neill On Climate (History Society)

Claire Perry O’Neill, MC parent, former Devizes MP, climate minister and leader of the preparations for the aborted Glasgow summit, gave a very well attended and absolutely riveting talk about climate conferences (from Montreal to Glasgow). In so doing she didn’t stint from a terrifying portrayal of what’s likely to be ahead if we don’t address climate change, but she also offered sincere, practical and reasonable approaches to change course and stem the damage as much as possible. Her assessment of the conferences themselves was sobering, and she compared them with ‘the emperor’s new clothes’, noting the lack of progress with the goals countries nominally sign up to, and commenting especially on how people were debating about the exact status of a particular meeting in Madrid’s conference last year, while demonstrators were calling for urgency just outside. However, she suggested other approaches which may well be more productive. This was an enthralling talk, helpfully linking History, Geography, Politics, Economics and Physics in the kind of cross-disciplinary manner which I feel sure will become ever more important in our world.


Janine Webber, A Survivor From The Holocaust (History Society)

This was Janine’s fifth visit to the College (even though this time it was only virtual), and we were honoured indeed to welcome her. In the morning she joined my Shell Form lesson, fielding the questions and themes raised by a very able and interested group who’d researched her history carefully. After lunch she spoke on Zoom to about 200 people, mostly Shell pupils, and her story was as remarkable and moving as ever; and she delivers it in the most compelling manner imaginable. She told the Shell how she witnessed the murder of her family, mostly in the Lvov ghetto, and how she escaped to hide in a hole for a year, and then to become a ‘Christian’ maid. It’s an incredible story, recently the subject of a short film and even a hiphop song. And it gave some perspective to our present anxieties.


Guy Preston – International DJ (Music Technology, and The History and the Arts Society)

Guy Preston has an amazing CV: he’s been a top DJ for more than two decades, a favourite of royalty, Prince (no relation), and companies such as Vogue and Chanel… Recently he DJ-ed for the Beatles in the opening night of their new film, and this New Year he was in the Maldives with Madonna, Liv Tyler and various other celebrities. At present he’s unable to do his usual commutes to London, Paris, Venice, Miami, LA, Moscow and so on, and is hunkering down in a Wiltshire village – from which he could regale us both with fascinating insights into the bright and colourful lights of the world of DJ-ing, and the technical and musical challenges. It was great in particular to hear how he works with first-rate jazz musicians, integrating their brilliance into particular moments of a party. He has a very particular skill, and it was fascinating to hear about it and about the world in which he operates.


Jon Cannon on Beijing (Lecture to Lower Sixth Scholars and The History and the Arts Society)

Jon Cannon is a major architectural historian, and it was wonderful to hear his analysis of the city planning of old Beijing. The city is the subject of a special study by the Lower Sixth Scholars, who have now written copiously about several aspects of it. Jon talked about ‘geomancy’: the desire of the Ming rulers of Beijing to align the whole city correctly, to organise it according to careful hierarchical arrangements of concentric rectangles, of height, of colour, with plenty of reference to cosmology. One fascinating connection he made was with Avebury: Beijing also makes great play of ritual circles. This was a sophisticated and enthralling lecture, which will have inspired all who heard it to look carefully into the plans of any city.


School Trips (Virtually) with the Hata (History and the Arts Society): To Syria, New York, Xi’an And Cairo

Each week there’s been a HATA trip, as usual; but pre-lockdown these have tended to visit places such as Avebury, Swindon’s railway museum, local hillforts and parish churches. Lockdown has opened up the whole world instead, and there have been full tours each week, each employing photographs and numerous maps and plans. We kicked off with a guided tour of Krak des Chevaliers, the great crusader castle in Syria: we studied the context, the setting, and then ‘walked’ around its various spaces, trying as much as possible to feel what it was like to be there (pre-Syrian Civil War, at least). The next week we visited the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an, and examined the nature of Tang China, including its urban life, its poetry and its political and religious culture. Then we went to Cairo’s Al Mu’izz Street, the monumental street through the Fatimid’s planned city, exploring its constellation of mighty 11th-16th buildings (mosques, mausoleums, hospitals, markets and so on), and discussing the context of slave emperors, the Arabian nights, and the Hajj. And in the week before half-term we were at Ellis Island in New York, studying early 20th century immigration to America (including the sources and reasons for the immigration, as well as the process and the fates of the immigrants). As a backdrop to this we looked at the spectacular development of New York at that time. Just after half-term we’ll visit Pilgrim’s Rest, an old mining settlement in South Africa. So MC cultural trips are alive and well, in a sense!

Christopher Moule
Head of History

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