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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Figuring Futures Seminar - Literary re-creation and historical re-construction: rivals for possession of the past?

9th November 2010, 17:30, Seminar Room 1, Department of History, North Bailey, Professor Derek Pearsall (Harvard University)

This is the third seminar in the Figuring Futures seminar series.

This seminar will try to find a basis for the belief that literature has as important a role as history in our understanding of the past. The ‘historicist' reading of literature has held such sway in the last thirty years that the possibility of an alternative has grown faint. Yet there is a strong argument that history, and the historicist interpretation of literature, reconstruct the past according to some predetermined model of what history should be. Literature, however, because it calls upon different powers of the mind, especially those of the imagination, retains the capacity to re-create the past in the past's own terms, so that we have an understanding of its very ‘form and pressure'.

The seminar series 'Through a Glass Darkly' is the flagship event of the Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in its inaugural year, 2010-11. Two interlinked themes will be addressed: 'Time, Art and Memory'; and 'Cultural Scripts, Augury and Prophecy'.

The Series is focused in particular on cultural scripts: the writing of the future within the literary and historical texts of the past, and their material contexts. A recurrent emphasis is the relation between anxiety and creativity: calling the future into question can inspire enduring, even visionary, thought and writing. Medieval and Renaissance thought resonates in various and interesting ways with later cultural attitudes, and seminars are intended to provide a lively forum for dialogue and debate. The Series includes nine eminent speakers (from the UK, Europe and the US) whose work spans a range of disciplines - English, French and Norse literature, history, theology and religion, cultural studies and the history of ideas.

Contact david.ashurst@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.