Category Archives: History

Rick Findler: war photography in Syria

This Williams Project we had the opportunity to meet and talk to Rick Findler, a war photographer who has just come back from Syria. He has also photographed conflicts in Libya, Somalia and Iraq and his dramatic photos have headlined on major publishers such as the Guardian and the Independent. We talked about the inherent dangers and risks that come with going to war zones and what Rick’s experience of it was. He told us about both his recent and past experiences, focusing primarily on his friendships with a sniper, Macer, who went to Syria on his own accord from London, and a Syrian fighter, Sofian. He told us how Sofian had unfortunately been killed and we then progressed to discuss Sofian’s life as a fighter before discussing Rick’s other experiences. The lively discussion ended with a video Rick filmed at a previous conflict to reinforce how loud war is and exactly what life looks like on the front line. What we all took from this WP was the importance of raising awareness of war through the media, as many aspects of its danger are often ignored.

Ash and Leah

Ian Keable: Magic through the Ages

On Tuesday 28th February, Ian Keable, who visited the WP in its heady early days, came back to entertain and inform us about the history of magic. By talking engagingly and knowledgeably about how conjuring involved, and by making rings fit together and come apart again (and then letting the audience (fail to) have a go), and by an amazing act of ‘telepathy’ involving tearing up a newspaper, he achieved both his aims. His patter was suitably distracting, and we enjoyed very much his dry wit.

Emily Miller: ‘Does Britain need a museum of migration?’

Emily Miller, the Head of Learning and Partnerships at the Migration Museum Project, discussed whether Britain needs a migration museum. France, Germany, Portugal and many more countries have migration museums, yet Britain is not among this list, and Emily Miller’s talk focussed on why this needs to change. Migration is a pertinent and sometimes controversial issue, and the intention of setting up a migration museum is to tell personal and evocative stories of immigrants throughout history. It is easy for people to stereotype immigrants, but the point Emily was making is that everyone comes from somewhere, and everyone has a story which needs to be respected and tolerated, rather than faced with prejudice. The Syrian refugee crisis, unfortunately, is one of many throughout history – something that people often remain ignorant to unless they actively go out of their way to broaden their knowledge about the history of migration. What is most frightening is that attitudes to those seen as ‘other’ have changed so little over time. For example, in 1290, Edward I issued an edict which expelled all Jews from England, and as recent as 2016, people have been filmed on high streets in London claiming that they want immigrants to be shot. Education of people to eradicate these prejudices is vital, since a harmonious society cannot result from tensions based on something so small as background and fear of the unknown. The Migration Museum Project so far does not have a location for a physical building, but the need for plans to come to fruition in the future is a great one. For now, they are putting on events and exhibitions in places around London, such as a migration walk, and they have big hopes for the future – so watch that space.

Olivia Mendel-Portnoy

Mark Pottle: ‘”The worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”: Winston Churchill, Isaiah Berlin and Democracy’

Mark Pottle is Isaiah Berlin Legacy Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford. Having studied Modern History at Sheffield University and done his doctoral research at Oxford University, he continues his work on modern British history at Oxford and with emphasis on Isaiah Berlin. Berlin was a Latvian-born Jewish philosopher and political theorist, whose family came to England in 1921, some years after the Russian Revolution. Mr Pottle gave us an insightful talk on democracy – “the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried” as said by Winston Churchill. It was the principal idea behind this quotation that the discussion revolved around: the huge injustices we see in modern day democracies while also knowing its worse alternatives. Mr Pottle also introduced Isaiah Berlin to those of us who had previously been unfamiliar with him, and along with that – his key ideas on Liberalism, Pluralism and their place in, and importance to, democracy.

Ashok Oberoi

Simon Webb: ‘Slavery in Mid-20th-century Essex’

On the 26th of September, author and historian Simon Webb spoke to the Williams Project on the idea of British concentration camps after the second world war, where German prisoners of war were kept to provide forced labour for farming and rebuilding after the war. This is an idea that makes the listener inherently uncomfortable, and a topic that most historians simply gloss over. However, throughout the hour, Simon Webb went into great detail around the events and details that resulted in this, the loopholes that allowed surrendered prisoners of war to be kept for forced labour, and the eventual cancellation of the program during the Nuremburg Trials. Simon kept the audience captivated throughout the talk, which culminated in his excellent answering of the questions proposed to him from the attentive audience.

Michael Newman

Richard Maynes: Was Jesus a Historical figure?

On Tuesday 14th June, Maths teacher Mr Maynes delivered the arguments from Richard Carrier about the likelihood of Jesus existing as a historical figure. He analysed the wide historical context and different kinds of evidence using Bayes’ theorem – a mathematical tool used to assess probability. He explored evidence against Jesus, such as how his story isn’t the first of its kind, and how scholars who wrote the Bible were aware of the kinds of similar tales (such as that of Romulus) which have not been proved to be real. Moreover, he addressed the issue of discrepancies surrounding how the dates of kings with whom Jesus interacted don’t all match up with the dates Jesus supposedly existed in. As well as this, he posed the possibility of Jesus being created as a human figure solely to strengthen the control of the church. Mr Maynes claimed that even Biblical scriptures cannot be seen as totally reliable since many allegedly forged letters have been entered under the name of St Paul. He then combined the evidence he had researched, using Bayes’ theorem to conclude that there was a 17% chance that Jesus existed.
Mr Maynes delivered an interesting, coherent talk which was easy to follow and made some controversial claims, sparking debate, particularly in the claim made that the book of Acts cannot be trusted as a source at all because the book is, allegedly!, a myth.
Olivia Mendel Portnoy
P.S. Peter Walling, OC and former WP speaker, read this post and kindly sent the Library a copy of Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?. Ehrman, an agnostic, argues against the claims made Richard Carrier and others that Jesus probably never existed. The book is in the Library.

Freddie Meier: The ethics of shooting a young Adolf Hitler

Our topic on May 24th was ‘The ethics of shooting a young Adolf Hitler’ – a talk and discussion led by Mr Freddie Meier (MFL department). Mr Meier took us through various scenarios, real or imagined, about the early years of Adolf Hitler, before expanding his theme into a full discussion of utilitarian and deontological ethics: whether an action is good because the consequences are good, or because the action is just good in itself. We soon understood that there is no easy easy of deciding whether an action is good or not, and left the meeting puzzled yet enlightened.

Paul Fletcher: The Second World War as seen by French Cinema

On Tuesday the 26th April, the Williams Project attenders were fortunate enough to listen to a talk given by our very own Mr Paul Fletcher. The presentation gave an insight into the second world war from a French perspective, by showing an abundance of marvellous clips from classic French war films including Monsieur Klein and Hiroshima Mon Amour. Mr Fletcher also articulated how there were no second world war films made during the war itself. It was only after the war ended that the French made copious amount of war films, using various genres such as love films, action films and even cartoons set during the war.

The films portrayed some of the things that happened in France during the War including when the German soldiers took over the North of France, creating the German-occupied Zone, so they could use the coasts nearer to Britain, and leaving the South of France as the free zone. The film La Ligne de démarcation clearly illustrates this situation. The talk was extremely riveting and showed me an insight on the second world war which I had never seen before.

Charlotte James-Pajwani

Mr C. Lawrence: “Cyprus: Aphrodite’s War”

On the 1st July, the Williams Project saw a talk by our very own Mr Lawrence. He talked about Cyprus, a vivid place of his childhood, and of the military problems found there.

He spoke of how the northern part of Cyprus had been invaded by Turks, wanting their land back, and how Greek Cypriots had fled. Places like Famagusta became full of civilian deaths that had come from both the Turk Cypriot side and the Greek Cypriot side. Something interesting I learned was that the invaded city of Varoosha became fenced off and, to this day, remains a ghost town with the memories of civilian life still intact as they were 40 years ago.

This talk was intellectually put together by Mr Lawrence from both a subjective and objective view and was a very good subject to end the official Williams Project year.

Adam Goriparthi

Angela Findlay: “The other side: Germany, looking forward through the shadows of the past”

Angela Findlay (website) spoke to the WP a year and a half ago about her work using art in prisons to help offenders in their rehabilitation. Today she returned, to speak about her work researching her mother’s family’s German ancestry, and particularly her reflections on her grandfather’s career as a Wehrmacht general. He fought heroically in the German campaigns in Russia and Italy, before being captured and kept as a PoW, first by the Americans, and then by the British until 1948. Subsequently he was a broken man…

Angela wanted to find out how complicit her grandfather was in Nazi atrocities, to what extent he was a ‘true’ Nazi, and why he was so broken after the war. She found much ambiguity, and no clear answers, but her discussion then spread out to cover Germany as a whole, and the wounds she still has from that terrible period. She showed pictures of modern memorials to the victims of the Nazis, not, as in Britain, statues of heroic soldiers which one has to look up to, but upside-down monuments, or towers which sink into the ground, or Jews’ name-plaques in pavements polished to a shine by pedestrians’ feet.

It was a very moving afternoon, made so not just by the subject matter, but by the clarity and depth of Angela’s responses to what she has discovered.

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