I found the recent Williams Project talk particularly captivating because it illustrated the importance of Mao Zedong’s communist career. Although previously, we have learnt about Mao only through his connection to Stalin in the cold war period, here we see that his disregard for ‘textbook communism’ has shaped the way China is governed today. Mao’s modern communist ideologies were extremely influential – so much so that when he died in 1976, it was felt across the globe. It was great to hear SOAS Senior Lecturer, Dr Laamann talk to us about a subject he has a passion for – and it will no doubt inspire us to do the same.
Mr Pepper using his own equipment illustrated the growing tension between music and socially low status of various disadvantaged groups in the USA in 1980s, such as Black Americans, LGBT people, Latinos. This helped the industrial music to emerge to demonstrate strong relation between machine and a man, which expressed itself in the development of the electronic pop. The controversy of the “oppressed” groups relieving their frustration and their need for change in music led to a moral panic in the Great Britain, particularly under the rule of Margaret Thatcher. This backlash against thatcherism was also an expression against the popular drive for consumerism, capitalist success and the productivity of individuals. Fascinating, how much we can learn from the simple movements on the floor and use of discarded industrial equipment.
Dr. Katya Rogatchevskaia from the British Library made a fantastic presentation on the dangers and intentions of the propaganda in general and using specific examples from Russia, ranging from the first time used it by the last Romanovs in 1900s to the current leaders of the Russian Federation. Various issues were raised by her critical approach, which was illustrating potential power of propaganda used by any regime or system to pass a message to targeted and receptive audience. She focused on Noam Chomsky’s “The 5 Filters of the Mass Media Machine” to explore factors behind the Propaganda; its authority, message (which is difficult to disagree with), and intentions, particularly with the usage of selected aesthetics.
Can something stop being a propaganda? What influences these changes in “unloading” the objects, buildings, piece of art from the intention to indoctrinate? How much do we need to know to understand the context of the time to read the message and to be bothered by it?
We are very grateful to Katya for the thought-provoking lecture, where we need to reassess our own critical and therefore independent thinking, which we apply or not to assess the credibility and intent of the messages and news selected and presented in current media.
It is difficult in the space of 1 hour to present hugely rich and complicated history of a country currently standing nearly 40 mln citizens. Dr Calma, from Polish Embassy has used several interesting maps to effectively show the ever-changing borders of Poland. Today almost mono-ethnic and predominantly Catholic, Poland was once a multi-cultural polity, inhabited by Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Lithuanians, Jews, Tatars, Armenians and Germans. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as it was called from the 16th to the late 18th century, was one of the earliest confederate countries in early modern Europe. As Dr Calma pointed out, for a long time, it also boasted a tolerant policy towards different ethnicities and faiths. It was fascinating for students to see many cultural and political links between Poland and Britain. Dr Calma talked with passion. Her presentation was followed by long discussion with some of our international boarders.
Dr Charlie Laderman (OC) is a lecturer in International History at the department of War Studies in King’s College London. He has studied across the country and also the United States where he attended both the University of Texas and Yale University.
Dr Laderman’s research focuses on the relations between the United States and nations around the world. During the afternoon we were introduced to Dr Laderman’s book ‘Donald Trump: The making of a worldview’, which led into a fascinating lecture on Trump’s foreign policy. The talk gave us an insight into why Trump is the way he is on the topic of international relations, and also revealed to us how his views and methods of berating other countries haven’t changed since 1987. Dr Laderman also discussed the necessity of American involvement in various regions in relation to defence, such as in the Middle East. Later, he went on to answer a number of ‘what if’ questions, with many answers putting us on edge. Overall, this lecture was both compelling and educational which really left us thinking about what could happen in the future with such an unexpected figure directing the foreign policy of arguably the most powerful nation in the world.
Dr Katya (Ekaterina) Rogatchevskaia is the Lead Curator of the East European Collections in the British Library. She headed the organization of the Library’s exhibition “Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths’’ which commemorated the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
During the meeting, Dr Rogatchevskaia guided us through the exhibition, beginning with its promoting poster. As she admitted, she did not initially like it, but the image used in 20th century by the Red Army for propaganda appeared to be powerful for modern spectators. Dr Rogatchevskaia vividly presented to us not only the history of the Russian Revolution, embodied in the British Library’s exhibits, but also the perception of the revolutions’ impact around the world. At the end of the meeting we could see fragments of Russian films from the first half of the 20th century and observe how those images – although stained with propaganda – managed to leave lasting and emotional impressions.
On the 10th October, we had a chance to listen to representatives of Solution Not Sides organisation, whose main aim is to promote unbiased attitude to Israel-Palestine conflict. Our school was visited by Israel and Palestinian peace activists, who gave us an introduction into this important problem, as well as talked about their personal experience. We could learn not only about the background and history of the conflict, but also hear about the everyday lives of people living on the both sides. Wasim and Shay, who were the Palestinian and Israeli speakers, shared with us how they are trying to overcome that problem in their home countries, as well as presented their opinion about possible solutions to the issue. After the presentation, all Williams Project listeners could participate in the discussion and take part in questions and answers session. At the end, speakers encouraged us to think about our ideas for the possible solution to the problem, which won’t favour any side of the conflict. The presentation was a great possibility to hear about the conflict directly from people that it concerns. After this edition of Williams Project, all participants surely changed their attitude to the conflict, trying to find an effective solution, rather than opt for any of the sides.
Nietzsche in full swing
On the 12th September, the first Williams Project of this academic year was held in which Professor Ken Gemes and Dr Andrew Huddlestone of Birkbeck, University of London, came to talk about Nietzsche, a prominent German philosopher of the 19th century. Being the Bernard Williams Philosophy Lecture, we welcomed Patricia Williams, his widow, yet it was also special as it was the first of many more interactive seminars in which the audience were constantly questioning and participating in a discussion which was constantly interpreting what the philosopher means.
The talk began with a reading from ‘The Gay Science’ on the madman and whether ‘God is dead’ – with ‘God’ referring to the idea of god, religion and morality and whether we have some morals and human values left in this westernized modern world. This encouraged further questions of “How does the madman react to the death of God?” and “How did the marketplace folk, the non-believers, react to the madman’s whimsical nonsense?”. More importantly, the passage describes us as the murderers of God, which invites us to ask “What do we do now if there are no more Christian values? Do we create our own or is the madman merely a madman and we should ignore him? Do we need these old values in such a new society?” The discussion only developed further into ideas and many questions regarding nihilism and also the personal and political beliefs of Nietzsche – an atheist!
Overall, this talk was incredibly engaging – allowing the audience to question what the ‘death of God’ means to them, and serves as a great introduction to a year of Williams Project sessions.
On Tuesday 20th June, the Williams Project was graced with the presence of Mr. Pepper, Chigwell’s Head of Government and Politics, who led a discussion on the disappointingly niche and restrictive topic of ‘the state of the world’. A handful of the topics discussed included issues surrounding overpopulation, and the ensuing ‘New Great Game’ between Central Asian countries in their battle for water and other resources; the problem of climate change, and whether the brief electoral cycles mandated by most Western democracies have led to our leaders neglecting long-term environmental strategy in favour of a short-term view; and, cynical as we are, the questionable motivations of politicians – especially in the United States – who engage in “pork barrel” tactics, securing government funding for local projects and corporate donors perhaps at the expense of the broader national interest. We are very grateful to Mr. Pepper for teaching us such engaging conversation starters as “ecoconservatism” and for bringing his customarily broad and insightful political knowledge to what was a very interesting talk.
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.