Archive for the ‘Read’ Category

Interview with Professor Daniel Miller

Posted on: June 3rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

Daniel Miller’s book ‘The Good Enough Life’ is an original exploration of what life could and should be, based on his study of the residents of Skerries. We had the chance to ask him some questions ahead of his appearance at the We Invented the Weekend Festival on Sunday 16 June.


Q: Does the ‘good life’ as typified by the residents of Skerries represent a transplantable model or framework that might be applied elsewhere? Or must a truly happy community reach an equivalent equilibrium independent of outside influences?

A: In my book I detail the many factors that have come together to explain why people praise their town as the basis of a good life. For example, it is a town large enough that people feel some autonomy and small enough to expect to greet friends when they go out for a walk. I show why it was important that the community was largely created by migrants (blow-ins) rather than its historical population. I examine their deep commitment to family and the community. There is an egalitarian ethos and for the retirees I worked with, a freedom from obligations that may last now for decades. I assume that other places favoured by their residents share some of these traits and lack others. While entirely other factors may be relevant.

In considering outside factors, for Skerries, as an Irish town, this includes a relatively stable government, and a sense that they have benefited considerably from the EU. I also noted a marked desire to differentiate themselves from what they see as the divisive politics of Northern Ireland, as opposed to their highly consensual local politics. So yes, an equivalent place elsewhere is likely to require its own equilibrium of both inside and outside influences.


Q: How should we measure success and happiness in a society that often equates these concepts with wealth and consumption? What alternative metrics could be more meaningful?

A: The key point here is that we should not be imposing our criteria for what makes a good life onto another population. My book is not based on my judgment that this was a happy place. I wrote this book because the people of the town went on and on about how much they loved living there and saw it as the source of their happiness. My job was to find out why?

With regard to wealth and consumption, the standard of living in this average Irish town is now slightly higher than the UK and it may be significant that most of the people I worked with were born in poverty and appreciate the benefits of living what they would call a comfortable life. But status in the town today comes almost entirely from public commitments to environmental welfare and sustainability, while conspicuous consumption is scorned.

“For these reasons the key metric is whatever the people themselves use to measure their sense that they are living the good enough life, and then the task is to explain why they favour this measure.”


Q: How do different cultures define and pursue a ’good’ life? Are there universal principles, or is it highly context-dependent?

A: I have worked as an anthropologist in places ranging from India and London, to the Caribbean and Ireland. The universal that lies behind my book comes from the observation that many societies have a similar term to our word good. A word that links being a morally upright (good) person to the idea of having an enjoyable (good) time. Linking these two seems to be an ideal, irrespective of whether one does in fact depend on the other.

But both senses of this word, what makes a person moral and what makes life enjoyable, will be highly context dependent. The farmers I lived with in an Indian village would look aghast at the criteria that I found in secular Skerries.

“My discipline of anthropology is committed to reminding people of just how distinct each population remains with regard to such judgments. We need to respect the degree that things we assume are obvious and neutral are actually nothing of the kind.”


Q: How does our environment, both natural and built, shape our happiness and quality of life? Are there particular types of environments that are universally beneficial?

A: I have lived in several places where people depended mainly on what they grew as farmers or fished and had very few commodities. Some were mainly content and others mainly miserable. I don’t romanticise the condition of peoples who have limited access to medicine and education, whose economic security depends on the weather and whose lives are generally shorter than ours. In turn I suspect you have been to cities you really would rather not live in and some you find attractive propositions. Clearly living in a city is no guarantee of a good life either.

One thing about the environment is for sure –  if Skerries is a happy place, it’s certainly not because of the weather (!). There are elements of the environment most of us enjoy, such as beautiful landscapes while few find inspiration in an industrial wasteland. But more generally I think it is social and cultural values that have much more influence on happiness and the quality of our lives.


Q: How has technology changed the way we form and maintain communities? Can virtual communities offer the same depth of connection as physical ones?

As with many populations, people in Skerries tend to be very negative if you ask them about social media and smartphones in general. But the same people can be quite positive when I discuss particular apps, or how Facebook has become a community platform. Older people suffer greatly from a digital divide if they feel unable to use these technologies but may then enjoy a reconnection with their youth if they do subsequently master them.

What we need right now are not quick judgments suggesting these technologies are good or bad, but long-term scholarly observations of the hundreds of ways these technologies impact our lives.

That’s why I lived in Skerries for 16 months before thinking that I had any understanding of this question.  Dividing the world into the physical and the virtual doesn’t work either. Hardly anyone lives just online or without any online. It a constant blending of the two.

Our team has written thousands of pages based on our observations around the world. You can read about the results of this research through our free books, such as The Global Smartphone, or How The World Changed Social Media. The point is that discussion of this question needs to be evidence led.


Thank you to Daniel for taking the time to answer our questions. Daniel was interviewed by Isabella Parkes on behalf of Manchester Lit & Phil.

Professor Daniel Miller will be interviewed by Dr Sheila McCormick from the University of Salford as part of the We Think Big talks at the We Invented the Weekend festival, on Sunday 16 June 2024. Visit the festival’s website for more information.

Interview with Professor Rachel Bowlby

Posted on: May 30th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Rachel Bowlby has written several books about the history and theory of shopping, including Back to the Shops: The High Street in History and the Future. We had the chance to ask her some questions ahead of her appearance at the We Invented the Weekend Festival on Saturday 15 June.


Q: Historically, shopping has often been done in groups, with people participating in the activity with both friends and family. Today, internet shopping is an increasingly individual activity, with people browsing and purchasing alone. In this context, has the decline of the high street and the rise of internet shopping decelerated, or accelerated, consumer culture?

A: There are lots of questions here! To begin with, it could be said group shopping is a modern phenomenon, related to trips into the town centre or, more recently, the weekly shop at the supermarket. The core shopping encounter was one on one, a seller and a buyer across the counter, or at the market, or on the doorstep (the pedlar).

“What’s distinctive about internet shopping is that there’s no salesperson there – it’s not one on one so much as just one. That solitary situation began with self-service: just the shopper and the shelves, you pick out your items yourself.”


Q: Are there any historical parallels to today’s changing retail experiences that might inform the future of high street shopping?

A: One example is home delivery, which we associate with big chains but which was rediscovered during the Covid lockdowns as not necessarily large-scale or distant when local shops, small shops, started to do home deliveries, ordered online.  In other words, the tech and the the small scale aren’t mutually exclusive. And until the 1950s and 1960s – until supermarkets came in – that was standard for food shopping, all over the country. The local butcher or baker or greengrocer delivered to your door.


Q: What innovations in retail do you see as most promising for the future of shopping? How can these innovations address current challenges faced by the high street?

A: The rapid development recently of online platforms for second-hand buying and selling of clothes is a really exciting development.

“It’s a practical challenge to the culture of fast fashion which also transfers the initiative to consumers (who become sellers as well)…it’s a return to a one-on-one type of exchange.”


Q: Is ethical consumption possible? What might ethical consumption look like, and how might current examples serve as models for wider adoption amongst the public?

A: There has been a huge shift in perceptions of shopping over the past ten years or so. It can be seen in the way that every company now presents its environmental credentials, to show how it’s encouraging good consuming (recycling) or good production practice, from farming practices to the sourcing of materials to employee working conditions. That’s a sign of how norms have shifted. The other side of this is that everyone – we are all consumers – is much more aware of these issues.


Q: Many people today derive satisfaction from cultivating relationships with certain brands that ‘define’ their personhood. In this sense, can consumption be empowering to the individual? And, if so, should consumption be empowering?

A: This is another vast topic. Instead of empowering, it can just as much be said that brand loyalty is infantilising, encouraging us to troop along faithfully as the supporters of this brand rather than that one. A slogan like ‘The power to lower prices’ (a current Tesco slogan) is manifestly patronising. It’s obviously not customers who have that power!

The question of consumption being empowering or not has an interesting history in terms of gender.

“Back when ‘the consumer’ was imagined as a woman – a housewife – she was the opposite of empowered. She was passive, manipulated, brainwashed  (those were standard words in arguments against advertising in the middle 20th century).”

Then the image shifted, just when men started to be seen as shoppers too. The new consumer was no longer an idiot but a model of rational behaviour, someone with rights and choices. This was the ‘rational’ consumer, weighing the options and calculating the best option: the reader of Which?  magazine, say, or the user of comparison websites.


Q: How can consumers be encouraged to take more responsibility for their shopping habits in terms of sustainability and supporting local businesses? What educational or incentive programs could be effective?

A: By learning about the history! Which can be done in all sorts of ways. Reading about it.  And also talking to people with different experiences (different generations, especially). Everyone has theories about, and knowledge of, the history of shopping, because we all shop (or avoid shopping): we can’t not have a relationship to it.


Thank you to Rachel for taking the time to answer our questions. Rachel was interviewed by Isabella Parkes on behalf of Manchester Lit & Phil.

Professor Rachel Bowlby will be a guest panellist at the We Think Big talk, ‘We’re Still Shopping?!’, at the We Invented the Weekend festival, on Saturday 15 June 2024. Visit the festival’s website for more information.

Message from our President – June 2024

Posted on: May 30th, 2024 by mlpEditor

June 2024


There’s lots to look forward to this month

As we approach the end of the academic year and enter the last months of this year’s program, we want to end on a high.

We have numerous and varied events on the calendar, with there being something for everyone.

Alongside our programme of talks we are also involved in several new partnership initiatives. These are aimed at increasing awareness of Manchester Lit & Phil’s offer, hopefully encouraging people to join the mailing list and attend future events.

We are hosting a Salon on June 7 as part of the Universally Manchester Festival. Held in a relaxed atmosphere, the salon will offer the chance to explore AI, sugar, and enzyme engineering and to mix with a diverse group.

One of the most exciting partnerships this year is with the University of Salford for the We Invented the Weekend festival. We’re co-hosting a series of We Think Big talks as part of this very popular free festival at Salford Quays. It’s a huge event with a vast array of activities on offer. I am particularly looking forward to Manchester Lit & Phil’s Poetry Boat with Oliver James Lomax.


How you can support us going forward

The Lit & Phil was formed in 1781. We need your help to keep the Society thriving, growing, and evolving. As you know from my previous posts, the trustees are looking at how we need to adapt for the future.

Your support can take many forms – from talking to your social circle, to using social media to promote or review one of our events, to volunteering your time and skills.

We will be asking for more volunteers over the next few months and would welcome interest from both members and non-members. We will also look for specific skills and small groups to take ownership of various areas of the society’s activities by committing a few hours a week.

Two areas of focus now are the Memoirs and recruiting an Honour Secretary.

As our Memoirs Editor has retired, we are faced with the challenge of finding and mobilising a team to review the Memoirs’ content to ensure it evolves, maintains its core essence, and meets privacy laws. Currently, we are unable to make progress.

We also seek an Honorary Secretary, as Cigdem Balin and Charlotte Lanigan have asked to step down from this position.

I want to thank them for helping transition the role back into the membership and for their support over the last twelve months; they will continue to be active and influential in the Lit & Phil.

The position of Honorary Secretary is critical in any organisation; part of its role at Manchester Lit & Phil is to ensure we comply with all the Charity Commission requirements, run the statutory meetings and manage all motions presented to the AGM.

However, as we are looking to refresh the Articles of Association, the incumbent will have to lead a large piece of work and be a member of the Operating Committee, helping to define and implement the strategic priorities.

If you are interested in support the Lit & Phil on either a project or ongoing role please email

In closing, please share our program with your friends and family, bring them as guests, or treat them to an annual membership. It’s the ideal gift for someone who has everything.

I look forward to seeing you at one of the following events. Please stop me and say hello. I’d love to hear about your experiences with Manchester Lit & Phil and your ideas on how we can improve.


Peter Wright 


Interview with Oliver James Lomax

Posted on: May 29th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Q: How were you first introduced to poetry? Did a particular poet inspire you?

A: It must have been 1995, studying Seamus Heaney at Secondary School. I remember my English Teacher Mrs Gaffney asking me to read out loud to the class his poem Mid-Term Break. I mumbled through it, embarrassed, my voice half-breaking at the time, but those ending lines did something to me emotionally that a piece of writing had never done before. The feeling and connection seemed to take over my whole body, that experience has never left me. Both ‘Death of a Naturalist’ and ‘North’ by Heaney remain some of my favourite collections of poetry.

As a teenager I became more than a little obsessed with Bob Dylan. Dylan references Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud in his song ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’. I was so curious when I heard this that I headed out to buy my first ever book of poems, ‘A Season in Hell’ by Rimbaud. It certainly illuminated those early days living on a Bolton Council Estate. It was inspiring and overwhelming to me that he had written those poems when he was maybe only fifteen or sixteen years old.


Q: When you arrive at a new idea, do you ever find that poetry, in its pithy precision, can be a difficult way of communicating your thoughts? Why did you choose the poetic format?

A: Almost never. Poetry has become something of a verdict for me. I believe I lost the power of choice a long time ago. Of course, there are times when writing the work, that it is more difficult to come to terms with the theme and find the resolve. But that is the beauty of the journey, I never really know where the poem is going to take me, and I embrace this. I have tried to paint and sing but both of those moments are best left unsolved.

“I believe the oldest known poetic text dates back almost 3000 years, and for me poetry is more relevant than ever, as the most immediate expression of someone’s truth.”


Q: Much of your work looks to broadening literature’s reach and reappropriating it as a form of expression for the people, by the people. Why do you feel this is important?

A: I’m honoured to be able to connect with so many amazing young people every year when delivering poetry workshops, and I believe through sharing our experiences and writing poems we create a map of empathy.

“I see first-hand how poetry creates a sense of community, improves wellbeing, and offers young people the opportunity to find their own voice in what is a very challenging world.”

I’m proud to deliver sessions in collaboration with The Working Class Movement Library – their rare and beautiful archive inspires unique creativity, and importantly has the power to raise their class consciousness. It’s a privilege to be a part of this poetic journey and see young people become empowered by language.


Q: The Northern landscape, belonging and identity, are themes that run throughout your work. Can you explain why this is a pulse of intrigue for you?

A. I suppose these are just the things and places that happened to me, all I can do is respond poetically. Anything written in the landscape of memory is written here, and I’m not sure if my poems have a destination other than a sense of belonging.

“The ruins of Ladyshore Colliery on the banks of the River Irwell close to my childhood home continue to be a rich mine of spiritual and poetic connection for me. I find a real sense of otherness and elsewhere as I wander the site and it has offered the beginnings to many poems.”

My Nan, Margaret, is a recurring presence in my work. Her love, humour, and sadly her passing through dementia, are themes explored in my latest collection, ‘Burial of The Cameo’. I write about many things, but she is often the anchor. When I open the dialogue with her memory, I feel I can write with such honesty and vulnerability, that the poetic landscape seems to become vast and limitless. As Borges said, “Being with you and not being with you is the only way I have to measure time.”


Q: And lastly, as a mentor, if you were to hand down a book of poems to a pupil, which Greater Manchester poet would you chose and why?

There are so many wonderful Greater Manchester poets to choose from, but I would have to say Clare Pollard. Her first collection of poetry the ‘Heavy-Petting Zoo’ was written whilst she was still at school, and her most recent book ‘The Untameables’ is such a beautiful thing. Claire is an astonishing poet and writer, and like myself, a native of Bolton.


Thank you to Oliver for taking the time to answer our questions. Oliver was interviewed by our Trustee, Charlotte Lanigan.

Oliver James Lomax will be performing some of his poems on Manchester Lit & Phil’s Poetry Boat Cruise at the We Invented the Weekend festival, 15-16 June 2024. Visit the festival’s website for more information.


Message from our President – May 2024

Posted on: April 29th, 2024 by mlpEditor

May 2024


Exploring a future powered by AI

Welcome to the start of a new term.

I am looking forward to this term’s theme, Artificial Intelligence (AI). It’s a topic that is rarely out of the press and is often cast as a hero or villain, but that angle can limit our understanding of its potential. AI has already impacted all areas of society. We’ll be exploring some of these in the next few months.

We are kicking off this term with Dr Emily C Collins, who will be talking about Human Interactions and Implications for Ethical and Responsible RAI (Robotics and AI).


Partnership events

I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Percival Lecture by Professor Jade Munslow Ong. Her presentation style was engaging and powerful, allowing people new to Modernism to leave with a new understanding, and the more adroit to deepen and explore the movement further.  I would also like to thank everyone involved, both from the University of Salford and our own team, for all their hard work which resulted in a welcoming and perfectly executed event.

As you know from my previous posts, everyone is working hard to raise the profile of Manchester Lit & Phil. One of the projects in the pipeline is our involvement in the big, free festival, We Invented the Weekend. This new partnership is a great opportunity for us to find new audiences for our events. Look out for further updates on the talks we will be co-hosting with the University of Salford.


Working together to secure our future

During April, there has been a lot of activity to define several workstreams to prepare the Society for the future. These projects will run through May, they will look at other organisations, talk to members and then present their findings to the trustees in June. If required, the recommendation will be to go to an EGM / AGM.

We will be sharing further details about these projects with our membership soon via the member’s newsletter: Your Manchester Lit & Phil.


And finally, if you’re not yet a member but are interested in volunteering, we’d love to hear from you. Send an email to

Thanks for your continued support.

Peter Wright 



David Higginson, President of the Society 2009-2011

Posted on: April 25th, 2024 by mlpEditor

We were very sad to hear of the recent death of David Higginson. He passed away peacefully on 7 March, in hospital, after being unwell for the past few months. We only heard the news the day after his funeral (which was on 15 April) but I have spoken at length with his sister Margaret, who reported that it had been a very dignified service, which celebrated his long and full life.

David joined the Lit & Phil in 1989 and was a very regular attender, always asking at least one question at talks! He had a successful career as a lawyer in Manchester, and a wide range of interests. He served as President from 2009-2011.

Covid, then increasing frailty prevented him attending much over the last few years, but he maintained a lively interest in the Lit & Phil events. He will be much missed.


Dr Susan Hilton

22 April 2024

Humanising Trust in the Age of AI

Posted on: April 23rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

To human beings, trust is very personal, often domain specific, and influenced by lived experiences. Traditionally, trust has been focused around human to human relationships based upon a person’s integrity, honesty, dependability and the belief that a person will not cause harm. But what about Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence? How can we assess that? This topic which will be discussed in Dr Emily Collins’ Manchester Lit & Phil talk on 2nd May 2024, framed around trustworthy and responsible robotics.

The development of global ethical Artificial Intelligence (AI) principles and guidelines, followed by the explosion of generative AI in the public domain in 2021, has led to a scramble to legislate AI based around core ethical principles. The EU AI Act – the first comprehensive legalisation based on a risk-based approach – was formally adopted in March 2024.

At the heart of the UK’s pro-regulation approach, five cross-sectoral principles based on Safety, security and robustness; Appropriate transparency and explainability; Fairness; Accountability and governance; and Contestability and redress, were adopted. Currently, these principles are down to individual regulators to interpret – but what will this practically mean for a human within society, the wider public and marginalised communities in terms of their rights?

Human trust is at the heart of responsible and ethical AI in society. In March 2024, The UK Government published its guidance on AI Assurance which emphasises the importance of trust, defining the context of justified trust as “where a person or group trust the use of an AI system based on reliable evidence”. The guidance provides a toolkit for organisations for measuring, evaluating, and communicating AI Assurance supported by some practical guidance. Some progress in this area is certainly being made.

However, to the person on the street who may have little awareness of the use of AI in their everyday lives and how it impacts them, understanding the risks and benefits of AI elements of a particular product or service prior to using it, may be overwhelming, and potentially lead to an increase in the digital divide in society.

So how do we ensure that humans have the confidence and trust in AI and that it is accessible to everyone?

The Peoples Panel in Artificial Intelligence was a project first funded by The Alan Turing Institute in 2022, and has since been adopted by Manchester City Council as part of Doing Digital Together. The original Peoples Panel was first established from community volunteers within Salford and Stockport through a series of community AI roadshows designed to reach and engage with traditionally marginalized communities and develop a common language and understanding around AI.

Community volunteers undertook two days of training, practically exploring ethical AI principles and learning techniques to consequence scanning how AI and data was used. They then scrutinised researchers and business in a series of live panels around new and emerging AI products. Confidence was shown to increase, and volunteers became advocates of debating and discussing AI in their own communities.

A second project, PEAS in PODS, trained up researchers as Public Engagement Ambassadors (PEAs) across three universities on public engagement and co-production. The PEAs are currently emersed in three co-produced AI related projects at Back on Track (Manchester), Inspire (Stockport) and The Tatton (Ordsall) led by the communities themselves. One such project is currently co-developing a Peoples Charter for AI – focused on what assurances people want from those organisations that adopt AI.

There is hope for the future: peoples voices – especially those that are hard to reach – are being heard.

And a bill on the regulation of artificial intelligence is currently making its way through the House of Lords. It is significant as it specifically mentions the role of meaningful public engagement and states “AI and its applications should…… meet the needs of those from lower socio-economic groups, older people and disabled people”.

As humans are unique, how we build trust in AI is also unique. But first, we need a mutual language of understanding about AI for everyone.

Message from our President – April 2024

Posted on: April 11th, 2024 by mlpEditor

April 2024


I hope this update finds you well and, for those who had the chance, well-rested after the Easter break. For those ending Ramadan, I wish you Eid Mubarak.

I will begin and end my message with a call to action:


Get inspired. Get involved.

My first invitation is to anyone wanting to help shape the future of Manchester Lit & Phil, increase its impact on our city and prepare it for the next 100 years.

If you are already a member, please engage with the review process starting this month. The Trustees want to hear your views as we develop a five-year plan.

If you are not a member, please consider joining. Our members are the engine that drives our purpose, generates ideas, and provides most of our volunteers. If membership is not for you, please continue actively engaging with our events and encourage others to attend.


What’s On

Our event programme continues to explore a variety of subjects. An event that caught my attention in our recent program was Developing the Meadow as an Urban Cultural Form with James Hitchmough. It was a topic of broad interest and well received, with a strong attendance. Most pleasingly, over a third of the people attending were visitors. I hope many of them will return in the future.

I am very much looking forward to several events: Our Percival Lecture, which is highlighted in the April newsletter, and our events on Espionage and Black Holes. I look forward to attending these and hope to see you there.


Sharing your feedback

In early April, we hosted our first drop-in online event for members. The focus was an overview of  Manchester Lit & Phil, the charity’s current challenges, and how we plan to move forward. This is the first of a series of sessions, with the next on how we can increase awareness of our organisation and events. Those unable to attend can be informed by reading the follow-up communication.


And to close, another call to action: you can help raise the profile of  Manchester Lit & Phil. For those of you using social media, any or all of the following will really make a difference:

  • Share events you are going to attend
  • Post reviews of events you have attended
  • Follow us on any of the platforms below


X (Twitter)




I hope to see you at an event in the near future,

Peter Wright 


Message from our President – March 2024

Posted on: March 5th, 2024 by mlpEditor

March 2024


A reflection of where we are

As I write these updates, I often focus on the future, and how we can prepare and adapt the Lit & Phil to thrive in a changing world. That focus can often lead me to forget the good work that continues to go on and the progress we are already making.

I attended two online events in February, both of which reminded me why I was so keen to volunteer and help Manchester Lit & Phil: Dr Leon Barron, helping us understand the urban water cycle; and Mandy Baker, combining her passion for the planet and her photography to highlight the impact of plastic waste on our environment. Both events were balanced, fact-based, engaging and educational, with the subject matter being of broad interest.

In other areas, we have teams working on several exciting projects for 2024, and our recent partnership with The Wire, which has now published two articles, is increasing our website visits and the time people spend on the site – hopefully a precursor to an increase in event attendance. Our membership has also increased since the start of the year.

The Lit & Phil has so much to offer the population of Manchester. We still have a path of change ahead of us, but now we have celebrated our 243rd birthday I am confident that what we do from this point will allow us to hit the 250th anniversary in good health.


Moving forward

As I have mentioned previously, the next few months are focused on delivering our program but also defining the future direction of the society. Whilst I do not expect everyone in the Society to agree with what will be proposed, I do want to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, every member is informed and that a majority of our members back the changes.

Starting next week, we will issue a members-only newsletter to make everyone aware of the challenges we face and the options open to us. To allow dialogue, we will also be arranging virtual “drop-in sessions”, based on each topic to allow an open sharing of views and ideas.


A Lit & Phil by Manchester, for Manchester

You will have seen the call for new volunteers that was sent last week. This is the first of several requests we will be making for additional help. The roles mentioned in the last post are areas that need urgent attention.  The campaign was sent out to our entire mailing list as we want to widen our pool of active volunteers and hear from as many different voices as possible.

The value of cognitive diversity in driving new and innovative solutions has long been recognised. Due to our relatively small pool of active volunteers, several people currently have to fill multiple roles, which is a huge commitment on their part.

A ‘broader church’ approach will allow us to reduce the burden on individuals and will open opportunities for new ways of thinking.


First step on the journey

In mid-March, there will be a Trustee workshop to review and refresh our Mission, Vision and Strategic priorities. The outcome of this meeting will be communicated in the new members’ newsletter, and all members will have the chance to contribute towards the steps in the journey.

Whilst it’s true we have a long way to go to forge a Lit & Phil that truly serves Manchester, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s vital that we establish a solid foundation and shared ambition.

Please help us prepare for the future, please let us hear your voice and have your support.


Peter Wright 


Interview with Dr Cynthia Johnston

Posted on: March 4th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Q: The Medieval period is perceived by some as ‘the Dark Ages’, a period of economic, intellectual and cultural decline. Based on your research, would you say this is a misconception?

A: Yes, I would say that is a rather old-fashioned view, but I think it survives despite the evidence. The term ‘Dark Ages’ has a resonance of romanticism about it, as a period which was difficult to document due to the collapse of the communication networks established by the Roman Empire. We know now that trade routes and communication across cultures continued to flourish across the period. The influence of the Islamic world pervades the art and architecture of the late medieval period. We can see this influence in ceramics, textiles, architecture, medieval book illumination and especially in the ‘carpet’ stained glass windows of the great cathedrals.


Q: What is it about this period in history that has captivated you so much as to want to study and teach it?

A: It was the sound of the language of Middle English which captivated me as an MA student at New York University in the early 1980s.

“While I found Chaucer’s language very accessible via its close connection with the English that we speak today, it was the dialect of the Gawain poet from the North-West Midlands, that I found most beautiful and appealing.”


Q: You are a lecturer on the History of the Book MA at the University of London – could you give us an insight into what one might expect from your course? And which book do you most enjoy referencing in your lectures? (if you can choose one, that is)

A: The MA/MRes in the History of the Book in the Institute of English Studies is the oldest programme of its kind in the world. It studies the making, manufacturing, distribution and reading of books, and thus offers a unique way of understanding different literary, cultural, social, intellectual, and technological processes in history. The subject extends to include newspapers, magazines, chapbooks, ephemera, digital text, and all kinds of printed or written media. It also includes the manuscript book in all its forms from the pre-classical, classical, and medieval periods.

“It is VERY difficult to choose a favourite book as a teaching object but I would say that has to be the medieval psalter. These types of books show us so much about their owners, and often give us information about individual lives: marriages, births and deaths.”


Q: Many of our members and followers will be avid book collectors and enthusiasts. With the advancements in technology made over the last thirty years or so, should we be worried or excited about the future of books and the way we consume information?

A: That is a huge question, but I am very optimistic about the survival of the codex. In 2011, I chaired a conference entitled ‘The Future Perfect of the Book’ with my colleague Wim Van Mierlo. Many of the conference attendees were concerned that the rise of the digital book would spell the end of the book in physical form, and that book shops would become things of the past. That culture has proved robust.

“It doesn’t seem that we are ready to part company with the physical book anytime soon. Research on the cognitive differences between reading text online and reading print from a physical book seems to suggest that these are two distinct cognitive experiences that can happily co-exist.”


Thank you to Cynthia for taking the time to answer our questions.

Cynthia Johnston will be giving her talk – Getting Medieval with Stranger Things – at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on the 7th March 2024.

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up to our e-newsletter to receive exclusive content and all the latest Lit & Phil news

* indicates required