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Northumbria Public Lecture Series: Professor Julian Wright

Northumbria University


Professor Julian Wright, Professor of History and Head of Department (Humanities), Arts, Design and Social Sciences

This lecture will now take place in Lecture Theatre 003, Business and Law Building on City Campus East

Refreshments will be available from 6pm

‘This year, next year, sometime’: recreating the present in the era of the Second World War

Reflecting on what it means to lose the past and the future was a common experience in the era of the Second World War. The middle years of the European twentieth century jolted people out of well-established patterns of daily life and the temporal rhythms they had known, forcing them to rethink the flow of time in the present; at its most extreme, in the concentration camps or under siege and threat of starvation, physiological changes were experienced that affected the mental horizon of individuals and their capacity to order their lives according to ‘normal’ temporal rhythms.    

The research agenda set out in this lecture suggests three points of departure for future work. First, these altered experiences of time cast a stark light on modern Western culture. The promise of the unknown future opening promisingly to the confident, aspirational individual, was put on hold for millions in the 1930s and 1940s. By listening to middle-ranking Europeans who gave voice to their temporal struggle, historians can test deeper assumptions about how time is understood in modern Europe and ask new questions about the myth of modernity.

Second, this project contrasts writers who captured the struggle to rebuild a ‘normal’ sense of temporal existence, such as the Russian writer Lydia Ginzburg or the English diarist Nella Last, with the writings and artworks of people who constructed alternative temporal models (from the music of Olivier Messiaen to westerners encountering non-European cultures). The contrast between different senses of time allows us to ask how far temporal rhythms connected people during war.

Finally, this agenda places the experience of time at the heart of the cultural and emotional turn in history. It asserts that the psychological and emotional content of letters, diaries, memoirs and other descriptions of an individual’s own life-time gives us the basis for writing history that is more concrete, personal, even familial, and ultimately more humane.

About the Speaker

Julian Wright joined Northumbria University as Professor of History and Head of Humanities in 2017, after thirteen years teaching at Durham University and, prior to that, a Junior Research Fellowship at Christ Church, Oxford. His interests are in culture, politics and ideas of modern France and he has been co-editor of the journal French History since 2009. He works with an interdisciplinary network of scholars who are interested in changing experiences and concepts of time in modern Europe.

Professor Wright is also involved in music within the wider region as Musical Director of the Durham Singers.

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Event Details

Northumbria University
Lecture Theatre 003, Business and Law Building
City Campus East
Newcastle upon Tyne



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