Public Lectures - 2015 Archive

The Divided Brain in Western Culture (SIHN@UWS)

Iain McGilchrist

Dr Iain McGilchrist
Friday 20 November 2015

Dixson Room
State Library of New South Wales

Details of abstract to follow. Registrations for this event will be open shortly.

Click here for more information.

The Sydney Intellectual History Network @ UWS is delighted to bring to Sydney Dr Iain McGilchrist, internationally renowned British psychiatrist and scholar of the nexus between neuroscience and the history of ideas. Iain McGilchrist is the bestselling author of The Mastery and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and The Making of the Western World (Yale University Press, 2012) - a scientific study that simultaneously explores the unique features of humanistic inquiry in a biography of the brain in Western civilisation. In addition to being a comprehensive review of the science of left and right brain function, it is a meta-history of the rationalist and bureaucratic trends of Western thought and their effects on neurophysiology.To date it has sold over 60,000 copies worldwide and has been positively reviewed by the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The American Journal of Psychiatry, The British Medical Journal, The Sunday Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Financial Times, The Independent, The Observer, Contemporary Review, The Huffington Post and numerous other reputable international presses and journals. Iain McGilchrist is one of the leading pioneers of a new interdisciplinary perspective that crosses between the bio-medical sciences and the humanities. As such, his work appears to indicate a path toward transcendence of the tired dichotomies that are still often proposed between cultural and biological influences on human behaviour, expression and experience.

Beauty, Art and Life: Kant's Critique of Judgment

kant image

Dr Dalia Nassar
Tuesday 1 September 2015
6-7:30 pm

Law School Foyer
Level 2
Sydney Law School
University of Sydney

Kant’s final major work, the Critique of Judgment, was supposed to be the crowning achievement of his great critical project. As Kant explains in the Introduction, it is this work that unites his earlier ideas, and thus establishes the Kantian system. Yet, when one looks at the Critique of Judgment, one is immediately confounded by two facts: it is a book that is itself divided, and its two parts are difficult to relate to one another; and it is a book that concerns two themes that Kant (and many philosophers of his time) had emphatically avoided: beauty and life. Why did Kant think that the key to his system is to be found in beauty (natural and artistic), artistic genius and living beings? How, according to Kant, are beauty, art and life related? And what can we today learn from Kant’s understanding of their relation?

Dalia Nassar

Dalia Nassar is lecturer in philosophy at the University of Sydney. She is author of The Romantic Absolute: Being and Knowing in Early German Romantic Philosophy, 1795-1804 (Chicago, 2013), and editor of The Relevance of Romanticism: Essays on German Romantic Philosophy (OUP, 2014). She is currently writing on the philosophy of nature in the 18th and 19th centuries, and its potential to speak to contemporary environmental questions and concerns.

Key Texts
Sydney Ideas is pleased to work with the Sydney Intellectual History Network (SIHN) again this year to bring you a series of talks on Key Texts. Following on the tradition of the Key Thinkers and Key Concepts series presented by the University, Key Texts invites our leading academics to discuss a text that has influenced their way of thinking. By text, we conceive of this in the widest possible sense to include not only the written word in book form, but a work of art or a building, a legal case or decision, rituals and aural traditions, a medical or scientific model.

Furthering the aims of the Sydney Intellectual History Network to "initiate cross-disciplinary discourse in the pursuit of intellectual history" we start the series this year with dynamic speakers from the disciplines of history, philosophy, the history of science, and Italian Renaissance studies. Come along to be challenged and think again.

Reflections on Friedrich Schiller's On the Aesthetic Education of Man

On the Sailing Boat

Caspar David Friedrich, German, c. 1819, Oil on canvas, 36 x 27 in.

Professor Stephen Gaukroger
Tuesday 2 June 2015

Law School Common Room
Level 4
Sydney Law School
The University of Sydney

Civilization and science have been tied in together in the West since the eighteenth century, and both have suffered from the way in which they have come to be associated: science by its failure to meet ideals that it could never have met; civilization by the removal of the humanities and culture generally from its core, these becoming mere adjuncts or even leisure activities. The common view, if only implicit, is that human beings would not be human beings without language or consciousness for example, but they would still be human beings if they lacked any aesthetic life. This stands in direct contrast to late eighteenth and nineteenth century thought, in which an aesthetic model of the human being is central. At the apex of this tradition stands Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man of 1794.

Co-hosted with Sydney Ideas.

Stephen Gaukroger

Stephen Gaukroger is Professor of History of Philosophy and History of Science, and ARC Professorial Fellow at the University of Sydney. His research is centred on a long-term project on the emergence and consolidation of a scientific culture in the West in the modern era. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities, a Corresponding Member of l’Académie Internationale d’Histoire des Sciences, and in 2003 was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal for contributions to history of philosophy and history of science.

Picasso's Guernica: the painter and the painting; the event and the myth


Pablo Picasso, Spanish, 1937 oil on canvas 3.5 x 7.8 metres. Museo Nacional, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid

Associate Professor Judith Keene
Tuesday 19 May 2015

Law Foyer
Level 2
Sydney Law School
The University of Sydney

Picasso's Guernica, the quintessential image of the horrific consequences of modern warfare, was painted in a few hectic weeks after the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by the German Condor Legion during the Spanish civil war. Since then, the symbolic power of the painting has far surpassed its original meaning. This talk will examine Picasso’s painting, its political context and the powerful myths of its continuing message.

Co-hosted with Sydney Ideas.

Associate Professor Judith Keene

Judith Keene is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Sydney . She is a leader in European history with a research and teaching focus on the cultural history of twentieth century wars. Her research has included art and cinema associated with such conflicts and, in relation to them, the formation of individual and collective memory. She has published widely on the Spanish Civil War and World War II and is presently writing a history of memory and the Korean War.

The Image of Restoration Science: The Frontispiece to Thomas Sprat’s History of the Royal Society (1667)

History of the Royal Society

Professor Michael Hunter
Monday 13 April 2015

CCANESA Boardroom
Level 4, Madsen Building
Unversity of Sydney

Wenceslaus Hollar’s print celebrating Charles II as founder of the Royal Society, based on a design by John Evelyn, has been much reproduced but little studied. In fact, though published in 1667 as the frontispiece to Thomas Sprat’s History of the Royal Society, it had not originally been intended for that book but for an apologetic work by the Somerset virtuoso, John Beale, which proved abortive: I showed this in 1981 and I will recapitulate these findings in the course of my lecture. But I will also examine the image in its own right as a visual statement of the core values of the Royal Society in its early years, analysing its debt to earlier exemplars and considering the significance of its various components. It turns out that, through its design, Evelyn may have been trying to align the society as much with the legacy of Raphael as with that of Copernicus, while the scientific instruments that are profusely depicted provide evidence about the scientific and technological innovations with which the society wished to associate itself, from astronomy to chymistry and from meteorology to navigation – although some puzzles remain as to just what is and what is not included, and why. I will also investigate aspects of the print’s publishing history, and particularly the extent to which choice copies of it were produced, probably at the behest of Evelyn, which themselves illustrate how Baconianism and connoisseurship interconnected in the values of the society’s early Fellows.


Michael Hunter is Emeritus Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a Fellow of the British Academy. For many years his chief preoccupation was Robert Boyle: he is the principal editor of Boyle’s Works (with Edward B. Davis, 14 volumes, 1999-2000), Correspondence (with Antonio Clerucuzio and Lawrence M. Principe, 6 vols., 2001) and workdiaries (with Charles Littleton, available online at He is also the author of Boyle: Between God and Science (2009), which won both the Samuel Pepys Award and the Roy G. Neville Prize in 2011, while his Boyle Studies: Aspects of the Life and Thought of Robert Boyle will be published by Ashgate in 2015. His numerous other books deal with various aspects of seventeenth-century intellectual history, including the early Royal Society and its milieu. Currently, he is working on a full analysis of the frontispiece to Thomas Sprat’s History of the Royal Society (1667), a study which also reflects the concern with the visual culture of the period that led him to set up the website, British Printed Images to 1700 ( A further interest is in attitudes to magic in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, on which he has published various papers as well as The Occult Laboratory (2001), an edition of early accounts of second sight in Scotland.

Chinoiserie and Japonisme: Continuity or Rupture

East-West Dialogue

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, American, 1864, Oil on wood panel, 19.7 x 27 in.

Professor Petra Chu
Tuesday 10 March 2015

Law School LT 101
Sydney Law School
The University of Sydney

In traditional narratives of the Western engagement with Far-Eastern art, eighteenth-century Chinoiserie and nineteenth-century Japonism are seen as different episodes, separated not only by time but also by degree of intensity and understanding. Michael Sullivan, one of the originators of this narrative (The Meeting of Eastern and Western Art, 1973), contrast the “flirtation with the Orient” of Chinoiserie with the “real understanding of Oriental art” that, he argues, began during the last third of the nineteenth century with Japonisme and culminated in the twentieth century in the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kine. Chinoiserie had to degenerate and die, following Sullivan, before Japonisme could be born. For Sullivan’s narrative, I hope to substitute a more nuanced and complex one that underplays rupture but acknowledges that attitudes towards the Far East and Far-Eastern art evolved and changed in the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, based on, among other factors, political developments and changing international relations, altering possibilities of Asian travel; evolving patters of collecting; and the concept of the “period eye.”

Co-hosted with Sydney Ideas and the China Studies Centre.

Prof Chu

Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, Professor of Art History and Director of Graduate Studies in Museum Professions at Seton Hall University, is a renowned expert on nineteenth-century European art. She has published several books on Gustave Courbet and is author of the leading survey of nineteenth-century European art. She is visiting Australia as the recipient of an International Research Collaboration Award from the University of Sydney, and will be based in Sydney from 21 February and 21 March 2015, working with Professor Jennifer Milam on a project entitled ‘The Other Orient’.

Matisse and the Near East

Professor Petra Chu
Saturday 14 March 2015

National Gallery of Victoria

Co-sponsored by Sydney Intellectual History Network (SIHN).

In the course of his long career, the French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) repeatedly looked at non-Western art for inspiration. Japanese prints, Persian and Indian miniatures, Byzantine icons and mosaics, Chinese brush paintings and art theory, and textiles from across the world, all inspired him at one time or another. Among these varied exotic art forms, Far-Eastern art - Chinese and Japanese - played a unique part in the artist’s career, one coming at the beginning, the other at the end of his career. Both Chinese and Japanese art affected his approach to, and his thinking about, art. But while Japanese art shocked him into an entirely new way of thinking about the relation between representation and reality, Chinese art and, especially art theory, confirmed ideas about art that he had developed and nurtured in the course of fifty years.

Prof Chu

Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, Professor of Art History and Director of Graduate Studies in Museum Professions at Seton Hall University, is a renowned expert on nineteenth-century European art. She has published several books on Gustave Courbet and is author of the leading survey of nineteenth-century European art. She is visiting Australia as the recipient of an International Research Collaboration Award from the University of Sydney, and will be based in Sydney from 21 February and 21 March 2015, working with Professor Jennifer Milam on a project entitled ‘The Other Orient’.