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2021

Interview with Jim Howell

24th February, 2021

 

On Thursday at 6pm, Jim Howell's pre-recorded talk will be available to access via the Manchester Lit & Phil website. You can register for 'Dying Laughing - a short walk around Romanian culture' by clicking here.

NB: If you have already registered for the event you will be contacted on the day with details of how to watch the talk.

In the meantime, as part of our ongoing series of interviews with our speakers, we had the chance to talk to Jim about his love of Romania and Lucien Blaga.

Q: Could you share an interesting anecdote about your time rambling through the Romanian countryside?

A: Quite often I would hitching up into the mountains. These had not been collectivised and were little changed from what they had been for centuries. During all these journeys I never had trouble finding food and shelter and never once did the question of payment arise. Perhaps the most surreal time was an afternoon I spent on the terrace of a peasant farmer’s house discussing the artistic merits of different kinds of wood block printing techniques used to produce the initial letters for bibles and sermons in Romania before modernity hit. I still have the book I was given that day.

Q: How was your experience in Romania as a student?

A: I was sponsored by the British Council in 1972 for post graduate studies in Romanian. The country and its leader, Ceausescu, who had not then begun his descent into madness, were then well regarded by many Western countries. Looking back on it the signs of the coming tragedy were there but I did not spot any of them. There were restrictions and you had to be aware of the limits but the relationship of a foreign student with the authorities was relaxed compared to that France a few years earlier.

In my student hostel I was the only Brit. There were lots of other Europeans while my next door neighbours were Russian on one side and Vietnamese on the other. Opposite were people from Somalia and from the Congo and just down the line were Americans, (North and South) and even a couple of North Koreans, who were in my class at university.

The teaching of the language was by very traditional methods but probably best for class with members from seven nations and effective enough for us to be able to put on a sketch at the students’ Christmas bash! After the first term my tutor encouraged me to travel round the country as much as possible and to record my impressions.

Q: What was it about Lucien Blaga that attracted you?

A: I have always loved poetry and then as now I was fond of the seventeenth century metaphysicals such as Donne and Herbert. Lucian Blaga had been fairly recently rehabilitated was and coming back into public consciousness when I was there. I found I liked his verse for the same reason as these English poets. It always took time to read and to savour but the result was well worth it.

Q: Is there a particular line from a poem that you enjoy, could you share what you like about it?

A: There are so many as Blaga’s subject matter was so wide. But the one I have chosen is both because it is a summary of what he was trying to do both as philosopher and as poet and because it is most beautifully written to set out a complex idea with an image that seems simple but which can be thought over for a long time.

'I’m always translating. I translate

Into Romanian

The song which my heart

Whispers softly to me in its own tongue.'

— Words from 'The Rhymer' by Lucian Blaga

 

Thanks to Jim for taking the time to speak to us. We hope to 'see' you soon!

 

 

REGISTER HERE TO WATCH THE RECORDED TALK

**Please note that booking closes at 1700 on the day of the event, and we are not able to process registration requests after that time.  If you believe you have sent a registration request but have not received a confirmation email with joining instructions, then please contact the office as soon as possible.  Enquiries regarding bookings sent to the office after 1730 on the day of the event may not be answered.**

Interview with David Brown

17th February, 2021

On Thursday, we were joined by David Brown from the Canal & River Trust. As part of our series of interviews with speakers, we had a chance to ask David some questions in which we cover the advances made in dam engineering, the Whalley Bridge dam incident in 2019, and biodiversity. We would like to thank David for taking his time to answer our questions. 

A reminder to all of our members that you can see all our upcoming lectures and events by clicking here.

Q: The engineering that underpins dams across the UK has developed over the past century, but could you highlight some of the major advances?

A: The Canal & River Trust, a charity established in 2012, and its predecessors the British Waterways Board, the British Transport Commission and the pre-nationalisation companies have been involved in the development of dams across the UK for over two centuries. Advances have included different materials and techniques for dam building; greater understanding of flood quantification for which we are still learning for example how to deal with the effects of climate change; spillway safety improvements; industry standards and guidance built on lessons learnt from our industry being open and sharing when safety incidents occur; extensive development of risk assessment and methods of mitigation; improved investigation techniques; the UK’s well developed emergency planning procedures and local resilience forums; our legislation has been developed from the lessons learnt and is brought up to date regularly and may be further updated following Toddbrook.

Q: The incident at Whalley Bridge triggered a re-analysis of dam in the UK. What lessons did the Canal & River Trust learn from the 2019 incident?

A: The Trust and the wider reservoir industry have learnt many lessons from the Toddbrook incident. The Trust appointed an independent engineer to review the incident and to give the Trust and the wider industry advice on what improvements could be made. We worked closely with the government’s inquiry and are implementing the initial findings in Part A. We await publication of part B later this year. Some of the improvements include increased investment in remote monitoring of reservoirs, moving our reservoir surveillance from paper records to a digital capture and alert system and improving safe inspection access to difficult areas on dam structures. We are improving our ability to identify change at reservoirs, improving our ability to effectively report and escalate actions and improving our response time if a change at a reservoir requires action. In addition we are using industry best practice methods to risk assess and identify safety measures at our reservoirs and we are heavily investing in the identified safety improvements.

Q: In an article by the BBC, they revisited Whaley Bridge a year later. One resident said that whenever they get heavy rainfall, they feel anxious. What changes are being made to this specific dam to make people feel safer for the future?

A: The Trust has gone of its way to reassure people that the dam is safe. We have provided regular updates on repair progress through a series of newsletters to more than 3,000 local residents. Immediately after the incident, we appointed a dedicated community engagement manager to work with local people, answering their queries and being a named point of contact within the Trust. For several months until covid lockdown, we hosted a weekly drop-in surgery where anyone could come and raise issues. We have held public meetings, open days and a public consultation event last September. We also provide regular updates on a dedicated section on the Trust’s website, plus social media posts and briefings for the national and regional media. We know people are concerned and our key message is always that the reservoir will remained drained until a permanent repair option is completed and the public are safe.

Q: What are some of the ecological impacts of dams on wildlife freshwater biodiversity — and how do you manage the relationship?

A: Many of our reservoirs are sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) or otherwise protected. We work closely with stakeholders, statutory and otherwise, to create water management plans. These take into account nesting birds, exposed mud flats for the waders, protecting fish stocks and the many important vegetation habitats around the reservoirs. Fluctuating water levels are important to the ecology at our reservoirs, some having been rising and falling to fill the canals each year across the UK for over 200 years. These reservoirs also supply water to the canals, which form a ribbon of wildlife habitat across broad swathes of the country. While there are many environmental concerns with the construction of dams and reservoirs, those operated by the Canal & River Trust have become part of the UK heritage and now provide a diverse habitat for wildlife.

 

ForeWords & AfterWords

16th February, 2021

 

Due to current circumstances, the Manchester Lit & Phil have had to readjust the format of our events, as our in-person lectures and seminars have been replaced by virtual lectures and talks.  This has meant that our lively community of learners has not been able to socialise in physical spaces, and we know many of you have missed this.

But we have good news for those who miss the comradery of your fellow Lit & Phil confidants!

Organised by members, the Manchester Lit and Phil will be trialling a series of virtual social sessions that will take place before and after our online events from 24th February.

Titled ‘ForeWords & AfterWords’, these sessions have been devised by members Joanna Lavelle and John Glenn and will both take place on Zoom.

 

ForeWords – open from 1745 to 1815

Signing up for a lecture? Why not pop in for a coffee and chat, before joining the event, for a chance to meet others.  Find out what’s going on in the society and who is who.  ForeWords is a new informal get together open to anyone attending a Manchester Lit and Phil lecture.

 

AfterWords – open from 1930 to 2015

The discussion doesn’t have to finish when the lecture finishes.  Pop into AfterWords after the lecture to share your reflections with other event attendees.

 

If you are interested in attending these socials please send an email to manlitandphilsocials@gmail.com and you will be sent the Zoom information.

 

We hope to see you all in person soon!

PS: Coffee, wine, gin, or an IPA are all encouraged, but maybe not all at once…

Interview with Dr James Grime

1st February, 2021

 

On Thursday, we are joined by mathematician Dr James Grime for his talk ‘Bits and Pieces: Secrets of a Digital World’. For more information — including registration — click here.

This is our first Young People’s events this year, so it would be great if you could forward the event on to family members or friends (ideally at learners aimed between 16-18). That being said, anyone is welcome to join, and it is particularly encouraged if you have an interest in mathematics, World War II, and Alan Turing — the latter belonging to the roll call of Lit & Phil alumni!

In anticipation for the event, we had time to ask Dr Grime about some of his work, including his work with Youtube channel Numberphile.

As with the Keir Giles Q&A and events, if there’s a question you would like to ask Dr Grime yourself, you’ll get a chance at the event on Thursday. Our online events end with a Q&A section, where you can put your questions directly to our speakers. Thanks to Dr James Grime for taking part!

Q: To kick things off, what do you love about maths?

A: Maths is about solving problems. Whenever you are solving problems you are using mathematical thinking. Is a cheaper washing powder better than a more expensive washing powder that works better? How do arrange a dinner party so that two people who hate each other are seated apart. Do I need to take an umbrella with me today? All these problem involve mathematical thinking. And that type of thinking applies to building bridges, designing medicines, and even solving problems within mathematics itself. Mathematics is all about abstract thought - and that's why it's great.

Q: Where did the inspiration for ‘Bits and Pieces: Secrets of a Digital World’ come from?

A: I have spent many years talking about the history and mathematics of secret messages. But there were always some stories I wanted to tell that I couldn't fit in my previous talks. So this talk is about modern digital codes that allow us to transmit messages around the world in ways that are secret, reliable and efficient. Our whole modern world depends on them. But to get there, involved some interesting ideas and interesting people.

Q: Is it fair to label Alan Turing as the forefather of artificial intelligence?

A: Many call Alan Turing the father of modern computing. His description of a computer is the basis of how computers work today. After World War II he worked on projects to make the first computers, which he hoped would be like an electronic brain, and was one of the first to consider the technical and philosophical implications of Artificial Intelligence, and these ideas are just as relevant today.

Q: You have an extensive presence throughout YouTube, be it your own channel SingingBanana or Numberphile. What are your personal favourite videos that you have been involved in?

A: For me, my favourite videos are when I can explain something quite high level, in a succinct YouTube friendly way. It's a fun challenge, and I don't always pull it off, but a good example of that is my video about the Four Colour Theorem, which is a famous result in mathematics that says any map can be coloured using only four colours, so that neighbouring countries are different colours. That's quite surprising and took 120 years to prove, but it's an important idea in networks like the internet.

 

REGISTER HERE

**Please note that booking closes at 1730 on the day of the event, and we are not able to process registration requests after that time.  If you believe you have sent a registration request but have not received a confirmation email with joining instructions, then please contact the office as soon as possible.  Enquiries regarding bookings sent to the office after 1730 on the day of the event may not be answered.**

 

Interview with Keir Giles

26th January, 2021

 

Keir Giles will be joining us this week to deliver his lecture: 'What Drives Russia To Confront The West?'

Ahead of his talk at the Manchester Lit & Phil, we had chance for a quick Q&A with Keir.

For more information about the event, including instructions for how to register, click here.

If there's a specific question you'd like to ask Keir, then you'll have a chance on Wednesday as part of the Q&A section of the event, when Keir will be taking questions from the audience. 

 

Q: To kick things off, you have devoted a large amount of your professional career to studying Russia. When did your interest begin?

 

A: I started learning Russian at school, and then in France, Finland, and eventually Moscow shortly before the end of the USSR. Since then, yes, I've spent 30 years working with or on Russia in one way or another.

 

Q: Naturally, people will always compare the current political tensions to the Cold War. Is this a fair comparison, or is it outdated?

 

A: It's true that there are some features of what is happening today that remind us of the Cold War. But that risks being a misleading comparison because there are key differences.

Toward the very end of the Cold War relations between Moscow and the West were at least relatively stable and predictable - but we should also think of the decades before that, full of proxy wars and dangerous confrontations.

Russia's idea of how it needs to deal with the rest of the world, with hostility and aggression in any domain where it thinks it will bring an advantage, is once again a major challenge to peace and stability not only in Europe but wherever Moscow feels an ambition to expand its power and reach.

 

Q: If the West views Russia as unpredictable and irrational—how does the Kremlin view the White House?

 

A: Watching the Russian attitude toward Donald Trump has given a case study in how Russia understands, or often misunderstands, politics in Western democracies.

Trump's image swung between being Moscow's puppet in the White House, to a figure of fun, but underlying it all was the persistent Russian belief that Western leaders have more power than they really do - that as in Russia, they can disregard democratic processes and order change or new policies.

The success of the US government at maintaining rule of law and frustrating some of Trump's more extreme and dangerous initiatives confirmed not only his own suspicions about the "deep state", but also deepened Moscow's conviction that the West is fundamentally untrustworthy.

 

Q: Can you recommend any reading material—either by yourself or someone else—for anyone with an interest on the topic?

 

A: One of the most striking things I found when researching my own book, Moscow Rules was how consistently past descriptions of Russia still ring true today.

Again and again I found diagnoses of the Russia problem from past centuries that could be repeated word for word today.

One of the best explanations of Russia comes from the 1970s: Tibor Szamuely's "The Russian Tradition".

There is also anything by Edward Crankshaw, including "Russia and the Russians".

Among the many, many present-day authors covering the topic I'd recommend Angela Stent.

 

REGISTER HERE

**Please note that booking closes at 1730 on the day of the event, and we are not able to process registration requests after that time.  If you believe you have sent a registration request but have not received a confirmation email with joining instructions, then please contact the office as soon as possible.  Enquiries regarding bookings sent to the office after 1730 on the day of the event may not be answered.**

 

2020

Spring 2021 Programme

14th December, 2020

We are delighed to share our full Spring 2021 programme with you.

There's lots to look forward to next year!  Members have priority booking so join today to secure your place at our online events.

We are currently offering discounted membership fees to new members.  See here for more information.

 

Spring 2021 discounted membership rates now available to new members

 

Here are the discounted subscription fees currently on offer to new members for ‘Spring 2021’ and until the end of March 2021*: 

Ordinary Membership (individual membership) £20.00 – Apply here

Joint Membership (group membership for a maximum of two people) £32.00 – Apply here

Under 30 Membership (individual membership for people under 30 years of age) £15.00 – Apply here

Corresponding Membership (individual membership for people who live outside of the North West region of England or who would like to support the Society but do not plan on attending lectures) £7.50 – Apply here

Student Membership (individual membership for people in full-time education) £3.00 – Apply here
 

Please note that you must be sixteen years or over in order to be eligible for membership.

*New discounted rates will be offered before the start of our summer term. Former members are not eligible for discounted subscription fees. If you wish to reactivate a lapsed membership please contact the Office by email.

The Lit & Phil's e-programme

2nd December, 2020

 

Earlier this year, we created a new e-magazine to keep the 'discussion for lively minds' flowing.  In case you missed any of the seven editions, here they are again:

 

Plagues and Pandemics

Plants that changed the world

Education: Past and Future

Beethoven

The arts in times of stress

A Taste of the History and Culture of Manchester

Funghi

 

Each edition suggests various online media items which you could look at, listen to, and also discuss on an online forum which we set up.

Have a read: who knows where the journey will take you?

MCR History Talks

23rd November, 2020

 

Did you miss the MCR History Talks podcast series earlier this year?  The episodes are still available for you to download and listen to.

 

There are three episodes for you to enjoy:

MCR History Talks: Health

MCR History Talks: Tourism

MCR History Talks: Alcohol and Drinking Cultures

 

Authors

Jessica White is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Manchester. Her thesis looks at the history of female identity in Britain’s inner cities from the 1970s, exploring the history of motherhood, feminism, race and multiculturalism. Jessica is currently the reviews editor for the European Review of History. 

Follow Jessica on Twitter: @Jes_sca

 

Adam Waddingham is a PhD candidate in Modern History at The University of Manchester. Broadly speaking, his research asks this question: where did Brexit come from? In constructing an intellectual history of Euroscepticism, Adam explores conceptions of political identity, constitutionalism, and race and multiculturalism. Adam is the co-convenor for the Political Studies Association’s Politics & History Group as well as an ardent follower of Manchester City. 

Follow Adam on Twitter: @adamwaddingham

 

We're hiring!

12th November, 2020

 

UPDATE 25th November 09:41 - We have been thrilled by the response to our advert and are now no longer accepting applications for the role.

 

JOB OPPORTUNITY - EVENTS AND DEVELOPMENT ADMINISTRATOR

Are you looking to start a career in events administration?  Do you believe in the value of education for all?  If so, we'd love to hear from you.

 

Background

The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society is looking to recruit a third member of staff to support our plan to grow membership numbers, develop our programme and professionalise the administration of the Society.  The Society was established in 1781 with the object of promoting the advancement of education and public interest in any form of literature, science, arts or public affairs and we currently organise a programme of 30 lectures each year by acknowledged experts in a wide range of subjects.  This is an exciting time to join our organisation as we work on key projects to increase our profile.

 

Purpose of role

The Events and Development Administrator will carry out routine, but nonetheless essential administrative tasks which contribute towards the smooth running of the Society. With an overall workload prioritised and managed by the Partnerships and Membership Development Manager, the Events and Development Administrator will also play an important role in flexibly assisting in a friendly manner all staff, officers, Sections and Council in our joint effort towards growth.

 

Key responsibilities

  • Events management
  • Co-ordinating membership
  • Finance and Administration
  • Assisting the Partnerships and Membership Development Manager and Operations and Volunteers Manager with projects to support our plan for growth

 

To be successful in this role you will need to:

  • Have a good working knowledge of Microsoft Office – including Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc.
  • Be able to communicate confidently and clearly both orally and in writing.
  • Be able to work as part of a team.
  • Have an ability to follow instructions and excellent attention to detail.
  • Display a positive, flexible and helpful attitude to fellow staff, officers, all members and wider partners.
  • Have a commitment to the beliefs of the Lit and Phil.

 

For further information about the role please see the job description.

To apply please send a full CV and covering letter to admin@manlitphil.ac.uk saying why you are the right person for the job, paying close attention to the key responsibilities and skills listed in the job description.

Please note that we will be assessing applications as and when they are submitted, so interested candidates should apply as soon as possible.

As we are currently working from home shortlisted candidates will be interviewed online.