Category Archives: Social Science

Stephen Banks: A Polite Exchange of Bullets: Duelling and Honour

Dr Stephen Banks, from Reading University, spoke to all branches of the WP about duelling in England, with swords and then pistols, and the violent culture of honour of which it was a part. He shared, in a fascinating, fun and clear way, his original research into the history of this (to us) alien cultural practice: 16% of duels ended in death, 40% in injury, yet only a small percentage of challenges actually ended in a duel. Duels were usually fought not on great issues of politics or religion, but over apparently trivial matters of respect, matters which nevertheless were to do with the all-important concept of honour: one man was killed when his labrador shook water over a lady’s dress…

Peter Tatchell: “The War on Terror” & “The Unfinished Queer Revolution”

Peter, a veteran and internationally-renowned campaigner against all forms of injustice, gave the WP two excellent talks. The first was on “The War on Terror and the Subversion of Civil Liberties”, in which he detailed the Government’s creeping assault on our traditional freedoms, particularly in the realm of peaceful protest. The second was “The Unfinished Queer Revolution”: here Peter explained how far gay and lesbian rights had moved in Britain over the past decade, but outlined where there was still discrimination, both in the law and in the ways the law was enforced. A clear and engaging speaker, Peter made a huge impact. And in subsequent informal conversations many students and staff had a chance to discuss issues with him.

You can find out more about Peter’s work here.

Peter Tatchell

Britain’s newspapers

Dr Alison Lord spoke to all three branches of the Williams Project about the range of newspapers available in Britain. She explained the history, circulation and readership of each, and members were then asked to compare, from a cunning series of photocopies, how each paper’s 29th-September front page story was treated by all the other papers.

And, the very next morning, the Sun changed its allegiance from Labour to Conservative: someone must have squealed.

The Meaning of Ruins

Professor Andreas Schönle, from Queen Mary and Westfield College, spoke to the two older branches of the WP about what ruins are, and how their interpretation can teach us about how we view the world. A challenging and high-level presentation.

The students discussed what we mean by ruins, suggesting “the London Wall” (preserved near the Museum of London) and various castles. It was generally agreed that ruins were structures which were falling down or a state of decay. More interestingly we then talked about whether ruins had to be “old” and Prof. Schönle showed us various “modern” examples of ruins from Chicago (an old theatre – now used as a car park, and the old railway station) and London (Bankside and Battersea Power stations and the successful adaption of one of these to become Tate Modern). This opened up a discussion about how we use ruins, as visiting them just to look at them (and, latterly, paying money for doing this) has only relatively recently become popular – from the grand tour onwards.

We then moved on to the Coliseum in Rome and its changes of use over time, and to a “modern” building in East Germany built on the site of an old castle – there was huge debate in Germany about whether to knock down and conserve the castle/rebuild the castle or whether to keep the “modern” building; it was finally decided to rebuild the old castle, but this decision has taken years and it has been discussed at length.

In the final part of the talk Professor Schönle introduced the idea of people’s different views of, and interpretations of, ruins.

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