Sydney Ideas Open 2011


The Sydney Ideas Open program for 2011 has now finished. Review the program below and click on the links to download podcasts

22 March. Cities - Angkor and the debate on sustainable low-density urbanism

Ankgor Wat

Professor Roland Fletcher, Department of Archaeology, University of Sydney and Christophe Pottier, Ecole Française d'Extrème Orient

Societies of every known socio-economic system and magnitude have used low density settlements patterns from dispersed hunter-gatherer camps to the industrial megalopolis. Between the late 1st millennium BCE and the mid 2nd millennium CE three regions in the tropics in Mesoamerica, South Asia and South-East Asia produced vast, agrarian-based, low-density urban settlements. The largest, situated in modern Cambodia, was Angkor. In the 12th and 13th C CE the urban complex of Greater Angkor covered about 1000 sq km. By the start of the 17th C it was largely abandoned and the entire former metropolitan heartland of the Khmer Empire reverted to forest and scattered village communities in an eerie repetition of the end of the Classic Maya urban societies of Yucatan in the 9th and 10th C and great Buddhist cities of northern Sri Lanka in the 12th and 13th C. The demise of tropical low density urbanism was apparently associated with serious regional decline involving the impact of severe climatic instability, extensive land clearance and dependence on massive infrastructure. After the 16th C agrarian-based, low-density urbanism largely disappeared. Only in the 20th C, following industrialisation, has low density urbanism reappeared, spectacularly represented by the East Coast Megalopolis of the USA and the rapidly expanding desakota of southern and eastern Asia. How might we gauge the implications of the profoundly different past from the unknown future of sustainable urbanism?

A Sydney Humanities Salon co-presentation

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 18 min, 36Mb MP3)


10 May. The Politics of Surveillance Narratives: From creative visions to experiential reflections

Surveillance image

Dr Peter Marks, Department of English and Dr Gavin Smith, Department of Sociology and Social Policy

Surveillance constitutes one of contemporary society’s most pressing and perplexing concerns, but our responses to it and our understanding of it can be haphazard and ill-informed. Is it the stuff of Orwellian nightmare, or a necessary and enabling part of routine life, something without which modern civilization could barely function? This presentation provides both fictional and factual perspectives, opening up discussion on the past, present and future of surveillance. Peter Marks traces the creative representation of surveillance in literary and cinematic utopias and dystopias, exploring how these speculations offer illuminating ways of thinking about the political and moral questions and possibilities that surveillance compels us to confront. Gavin Smith considers the lived experience of surveillance as articulated by those workers entrenched in the everyday mechanics of surveillance operation. The banal and trying nature of this distinctive form of labour offers a layer of complexity to both fictional and non-fictional accounts of surveillance, and adds a politics of exploitation and alienation to conventional (simplistic) understandings of surveillance as consolidating either dystopic or utopic power.

A Sydney Humanities Salon co-presentation


23 May. Cities - Carthage, City of Memories

Image of Carthage

Dr Richard Miles, Department of Classics and Ancient History

In 146 BC, after three protracted and bloody wars, the city of Carthage was finally captured by the Roman legions. In an infamous act of ruthless brutality Carthage was razed to the ground and a curse placed against any future attempts to settle on the site of the city. Yet just a century and half later, the emperor Augustus re-built Carthage as the new capital of the Roman province of Africa. The extent to which the memory of Carthage as Rome’s greatest and most dangerous enemy continued to colour how this new Roman city was portrayed by Roman and Greek authors. As well as highlighting the ongoing influence of Carthage as an anti-type through which Romans writers could explore aspects of their political and cultural identities, such an approach also underlines the importance of physical landscapes as repositories of memory in Roman thought.

A Sydney Humanities Salon co-presentation

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 11 min, 32.6Mb MP3)


7 June. Cities- Athens: Gift of Athena

Athenian coins

Dr Alastair Blanshard, Department of Classics and Ancient History

The Greek historian Thucydides once tried to imagine a world where all memory of Athens had faded and only the ruins of the civilisation remained. What a grand impression future viewers would have of the city, he thought, and ... how wrong they would be.

In this session, we will explore the myths that we tell about Athens. It will examine the legacy of Athenian culture. In particular, we will focus on looking at the darker side of that legacy. We like to imagine the Athenians as devoted to freedom and the spirit of reason. Certainly there is much to praise about Athens, but the city could also be violent, irrational, xenophobic, misogynist, and brutally imperialist. This session is devoted to exploring both sides of the Athenian story.

A Sydney Humanities Salon co-presentation

Listen to the podcast (Running time 58 min, 26.8Mb MP3)


21 June. Cities - Rome: From caput mundi to mirror of princes and beyond

Roman Forum

Dr Paul Roche, Department of Classics and Ancient History

This lecture will trace both the urban development of the city of Rome and some of the ways ancient Romans thought about their city from the period of late republic (second century BC) to the early empire (first century AD). This was a period of radical change, which saw the physical transformation of the city from something of a diplomatic embarrassment to the glittering capital of a Mediterranean world empire (‘beggaring description and never again to be imitated by mortal men’ as a late eye-witness puts it).

This metamorphoses was accompanied by a shift in the way urban development itself was conceived, from a concept with limited horizons beyond the unit of the building itself to a more explicit concern with moving people through larger, consolidated units of urban space. Rome’s topography was intrinsic to her politics, culture, religion and self-definition; a theme tracked in this lecture is how the city offered itself as a metaphor or a mirror: of family (self-) esteem, of world empire, of the emperor’s image and his care for his people, and of the care for the individual human soul.

A Sydney Humanities Salon co-presentation.

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 18 mins, 35.7Mb MP3)