Key Texts 2014

Presented with the Sydney Intellectual History Network

Sydney Ideas is pleased to work with the Sydney Intellectual History Network (SIHN) this year to bring you a new series of talks on Key Texts. Following 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, economics, music and architecture. Come along to be challenged and think again.

The 2014 Key Texts series is now finished. If you have missed Professor Barbara Caine's and Professor Tony Aspromourgos' lecture you can now listen to the podcasts. The Key Texts series will continue in 2015; more information coming up soon.


28 July - Nelson Mandela and Long Walk to Freedom: the making of a text

Long Walk to Freedom cover

Nelson Mandela's bestselling autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, is a compelling story of struggle, pain and ultimately triumph. But it is also a complex text that was long in the making. As Mandela makes clear, it was a collaborative work from the start, suggested to him and carefully critiqued by friends and fellow prisoners on Robben Island, copied, hidden and smuggled out of prison by others and completed once he was free with the aid of Richard Stengel, later to become managing editor of Time magazine - and probably the most talented ghost writer of all time!

Recently Mandela's original 1970s manuscript has been made accessible, showing just how indebted the final work is to Stengel, not just in softening some of his political views, but also in humanising him. This lecture will explore the making of Long Walk to Freedom and raise questions both about how it fits in to a longer history of autobiography and about different ways in which one can read it.

Professor Barbara Caine AM is Professor of History and Head of the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry at the University of Sydney. She has written extensively on biography and History in relation to Britain and South Africa. Her most recent work is Biography and History (2010) and she is currently writing a history of autobiography.

Listen to the podcast here

18 August - Reflections on Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations

Wealth of Nations Cover

In this lecture, Professor Tony Aspromourgos from the School of Economics provided an overview of Adam Smith, and the scope and content of his famous book Wealth of Nations. This was followed by five reflections on the significance and meaning of Smith’s thought in relation to: his originality; the character of social science; Smith’s economic theory today; the question of inequality; and policy in relation to theory.

Professor Tony Aspromourgos has published The Science of Wealth: Adam Smith and the Framing of Political Economy (2009). He is also Co-editor of History of Economics Review and Secretary of the European Society for the History of Economic Thought.

Listen to the podcast here

15 September - The Rhetoric of Bach’s St Matthew Passion: Text and performance

St Matthew Passion manuscript

Music has always had an ambivalent place in intellectual history. Can music really convey ideas, or is it just a pleasantly emotive context for words, which convey real meaning? What kinds of knowledge can be embodied in music, and how do its meanings change over time? In this talk I will explore some of these issues through one of the key texts of western art music, J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion, exploring how it was understood in Bach’s time, and when transposed to the very different context of colonial Sydney.

Alan Maddox is Senior Lecturer in Musicology at Sydney Conservatorium of Music. His research focuses on rhetoric in early modern Italian vocal music, and on Australian colonial music. He is an Associate Investigator with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, musicologist to the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, and in a previous life worked as a singer with Opera Australia.

13 October - Sensuality and the Subterranean: Jean-Jacques Lequeu’s Maison Gothique (1777-1814) during the late Enlightenment

Maison Gothique

As one of the French utopian designers of the late Enlightenment, Lequeu is regarded by many architectural historians as having an enigmatic inventory of unbuilt work. He envisioned Grecian-Egyptian temples, Masonic grottoes, and neoclassical tombs and civic monuments. Enhanced by his training as a draughtsman, his studies of human anatomy verged on the edge of explicit prurience. This lecture surveys some of his fanciful imagery in relation to the intellectual discourses surrounding the subterranean, focusing on how myth and occult knowledge came to define his ideas of architecture and the body.

Dr Jennifer Ferng is Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Sydney. She received her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and serves as co-editor of Architectural Theory Review. Her research examines eighteenth-century European architecture and art in the context of the geological sciences.

27 October - Reading the New Testament: The book and its significance

New Testament

It would be an understatement to say that the whole of the Western culture revolves around the New Testament. Both as a point of reference and a point of departure, the New Testament has shaped all forms of thinking from politics to aesthetics, from sociology to psychology and of course from religion to spirituality. No aspect of social, intellectual and creative life has been unaffected by the New Testament over the last eighteen centuries. Furthermore despite its ruthless critique, the New Testament still retains a remarkable ability to renew its own interpretation, remain constantly relevant and be embraced by philosophers, researchers and politicians, Christians, lapsed Christians and atheists alike. The lecture explores the continuing significance of the foundational book of Christianity under the light of modern scholarship and the perspectives of recent discussions.

Professor Vrasidas Karalis has published extensively on Greek language, Byzantine literature and Christian tradition, as well as on the New Testament. He is currently working on a translation of two of Paul’s letters, with special emphasis on Paul’s psychological and existential anthropology.