Monthly Archives: September 2011

Geoffrey Hawthorn: Thucydides and us

Professor Geoffrey Hawthorn, from the University of Cambridge, spoke to two WP audiences about the Athenian general and historian Thucydides, and how, when he read him later in life, he found him to be greatest writer on politics there has been. Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War, fought between Athens and Sparta from 431-404 BC, is remarkable for its refusal to tell us what to think; the bare-boned narrative, punctuated by full-scale debates where participants argue what courses of action to take, gives us just people’s deeds and their words – there is no explanatory ideology, no religious or political framework. It is intensely human.

Afterwords many students stayed for refreshments and to discuss the talk with Geoffrey. It was a particularly special meeting, as Patricia Williams, Bernard’s widow, was able to be with us again.

James Grime: The Enigma Machine

James Grime, from the University of Cambridge, introduced a large WP audience to codes and their history (from shaving a slave’s head to sending credit card details across the internet), and then demonstrated an original Enigma machine (see right). It was an engaging and fun session, and led to an interesting discussion on the use of codes in the Second World War, and finally to a code-breaking workshop where our students broke, or attempted to break, various encoded messages. A great start to the WP year.

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