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Professorial Inaugural Lectures

Professors in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures have set out their research visions in their inaugural lectures.

Cat Davies, Professor of Language Development (LCS)

'How many languages do you speak? Contributions of linguistics to psychology, language intervention, covid recovery, and early years education policy'

Inaugural Lecture given 8 February 2023

In this lecture Professor Davies reviews the contribution of linguistics to diverse fields including cognitive and developmental psychology, early years education, speech and language therapy, and its role in reducing socioeconomic inequalities. Using interdisciplinary approaches, and by attempting to integrate theoretical perspectives, methodologies, and data, She shows how she has sought to bring the clearest and most compelling findings to those who can put them to practical use.

She focusses on two main areas: experimental pragmatics, which has provided many of the methods and techniques for her work; and early language development, which has (among other applications) allowed her to publicly highlight the impact of COVID-19 on the youngest members of society. With thanks to a host of wonderful collaborators, practitioners, mentors, students, and several hundred toddlers and their families, Professor Davies presents some of the highlights and lessons learned from my research career to date.

Emma Cayley, Professor of Medieval French and Head of School (LCS)

'Every Hand an Adventure: Making Meaning in Medieval Manuscripts'

Inaugural Lecture given 11 May 2023

This inaugural lecture sets out to make sense of the unfinished or damaged copies of French literary texts and compilations that have come down to us from the Middle Ages and beyond. Through the lens of game and play, Professor Cayley offers a reading of such serendipitous textual survivors across the material context of their incredible journeys in manuscript books, rolls, fragments, and early printed copies. She also reflects on the significance of medieval texts, and how pioneering digital methods are revealing new meanings and insights, generating yet more possibilities for interpreting these incredible artefacts.

Emma Stafford

Professor of Greek Culture (School of Languages, Cultures and Societies)

‘Embodying values, telling stories: ancient Greek culture and its legacy’

Inaugural lecture given 6 December 2022

In this lecture Professor Stafford looked back over 30 years’ study of ancient Greek culture and its post-classical reception.  Her approach has always drawn on a wide variety of textual and visual media, with careful consideration of the relationship between word and image, in an attempt to get at the experience of the woman, child, resident-alien and slave in the street – as well as that of the elite citizen man.  Emma's interests fall into two major areas: the expression of social values and other intangible concepts in human (usually female) form, particularly the concept/goddess Nemesis; and the transmission of Greek myth, especially the myriad stories associated with the hero Herakles (Hercules to the Romans).  This lecture aimed to show that both areas, while well worth studying for their intrinsic interest, have had a pervasive influence on later cultures, and are still in evidence today.  A third area of interest, in ancient Greek sexuality, is particular to its time and place, but still has something to contribute to modern debates.

Adriaan Van Klinken

Professor of Religion and African Studies (School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science)
‘Reimagining Christianity and Sexual Diversity in Africa’

Inaugural lecture given 28 October 2021

The inaugural lecture is loosely based on his 2021 published book co-authored with Professor Ezra Chitando, Reimagining Christianity and Sexual Diversity in Africa. The lecture explores how African thinkers, writers, activists, and artists contribute to the re-imagination of sexuality and Christianity in contemporary Africa, and how they debunk monolithic narratives of "African homophobia" and "religious homophobia", thus opening up queer African futures.

Shane Doyle

Professor of African History (School of History)
‘The Family in African History’

Inaugural lecture given December 2019

In recent years politicians across Africa have increasingly focused on family values and familial breakdown. Yet many researchers have questioned the validity or unity of the family as an analytical concept within African Societies. This lecture will tells the long history of the family, in order to explain both its growing political relevance and the enduring questions it raises for scholars. From the era of slavery, through the colonial crises around marriage and childhood, to the postcolonial challenges brought by HIV and rapid population growth, the family has been shaped by political and social conflict, even as its precision definition has been repeatedly challenged.

Rachel Muers

Professor of  Theology (School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science)
‘Theology in the Fabric of a Secular University: Of Friends and Professors’

Inaugural lecture given in December 2019

In the lecture Professor Muers offers a theological account of why the secular university matters, and how theology works within it.

Yvonne Tasker

Professor of Media and Communication (School of Media and Communication)
‘Invisible Women? Analysing Gender and Media’

Inaugural lecture given October 2019

Bodies matter, and women's bodies are particularly charged sites of meaning in popular media cultures. Images of women populate media culture but work by female film and TV producers is often unacknowledged. In what manner is women's visibility in the media legible or permissible? Neither binary nor straightforward, this lecture argues that gender is a vital frame for media history and analysis.

Johanna Stiebert

Professor of Hebrew Bible (School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science)
‘Why I Love Studying the Bible even though (and because) It's Perverse’

Inaugural lecture given in October 2019

In this inaugural lecture Professor Stiebert discusses her chequered and international career learning and teaching about Hebrew language and biblical studies. Her lecture focuses especially on biblical texts that surprised her - not least on account of their graphic nature. Her concluding remarks focus on the responsibilities of professors and on academic integrity.

Christopher Anderson

Professor of Media and Communication (School of Media and Communication)
‘Who cares about journalism? Facts and the aestheticized public in an irrational era’

Inaugural Lecture given in October 2018.

What is the point of journalism in our digital, irrational age?
As a profession devoted to the pursuit of facts, does journalism have a purpose amidst the torrent of seemingly irrational political events?
And how should we as scholars and journalists working both inside and outside universities attempt to study the news?
In this public lecture, Professor C.W. Anderson explored the relationship between the digital transformation of journalism and democratic life.
He discussed journalistic authority, the history of data journalism and the emerging aesthetics of the digital public sphere.

Duncan Wheeler

Chair of Spanish Studies (School of Languages, Cultures and Societies)
‘A Young Democracy? Youth and the Spanish Transition’

Inaugural Lecture given in October 2018.

Following General Franco’s death, Spain embarked on a journey to become a fully-fledged democracy. This was facilitated by the relative youth of the Spanish population, many of whom had no direct memories of the Civil War. In 1982, the leadership of the Spanish Socialist Party, amongst the youngest of any major European party, rode into government with the slogan ‘Por el cambio’. In many respects a golden age for young Spaniards, they were also frequently victim to unemployment and drug addiction, two of the major challenges to face the population in the 1980s. In this lecture, I explore how and why a greater sensitivity to demographics and generational affiliations might nuance understandings of Spain’s young democracy.

Simon Hall

Professor of Modern History (School of History)
‘Leonard Matlovich: Gay Rights Hero?’

Inaugural Lecture given February 2018.

In 1975 Leonard Matlovich, a decorated Vietnam Veteran and Air Force Sergeant, came out publicly in order to challenge the U.S. military’s blanket ban on gay service personnel. Championed enthusiastically by influential figures in the gay rights movement, the Matlovich campaign caused profound discomfort to many LGBT activists who had energetically opposed the Vietnam War, and seen gay liberation as part of a wider struggle to challenge U.S. imperialism and militarism, and radically re-make American society.
This lecture will considered Matlovich’s contribution to the struggle for LGBT equality, and reflected on what his emergence as a ‘gay rights hero’ tells us about the wider movement.

Matthew Treherne

Professor of Italian Literature (School of Languages, Cultures and Societies)
‘“Pilgrims here, as you are”: thinking with Dante, now’

Inaugural Lecture given November 2017.At the opening of Dante’s Purgatorio, as they find themselves on the shore of Mount Purgatory, Dante and Virgil are approached by a group of newly arrived, bewildered souls, who ask them for directions. Virgil responds that, though the souls might believe they have knowledge of the place, “Noi siam peregrin come voi siete” [we are pilgrims here, as you are] (Purg. II, 63). In this lecture Professor Treherne took this moment as a starting point to think, with Dante, through some of the central questions which occupy him in his Commedia: on knowledge, vernacular language, and what it means to recognise and flourish with other human beings. He showed that Dante, read with proper attention to his historical context, can continue to speak to us in rich ways today.

Cécile De Cat

Professor of Linguistics (School of Languages, Cultures and Societies)
‘Adjusting our expectations of bilingual children’

Inaugural Lecture given November 2017.

For most of the last century, bilingual children in primary school were relatively rare. In recent decades the school environment has changed enormously. Now a quarter of all children attending primary school are bilingual. The consequences of this profound change to the educational environment are not known, either in terms of the demands it places on school resources, or on how bilinguals can be assessed fairly when they lag in English proficiency.
In this lecture, Professor De Cat looked at a recent Yorkshire-based study of 5-7 year olds that collected some of the evidence we need to start answering questions about the role and performance of bilingual children in British classrooms today. We need to understand the size and nature of the gap (in English proficiency) between bilingual and monolingual children in order to address specific educational needs. Can we predict the size of that gap from the amount of experience in the home language? Are different aspects of English proficiency affected in the same way? Does bilingualism confer a cognitive advantage, as has been claimed in the media?

Stephanie Dennison

Professor of Brazilian Studies (School of Languages, Cultures and Societies)
'Women and Film Culture in contemporary Brazil'

Inaugural Lecture given in November 2017.

Professor Dennison’s talk took as its focus the shifting modes of women's filmmaking and film production in Brazil in the 21st century. These shifts were traced against the backdrop of first of all the Workers Party-related agenda of greater engagement with so-called women's issues, and the kind of narratives that have been produced by the "Workers Party Project". Professor Dennison considered the recent (post 2016) filmmaking scene. As Eliane Brum has argued, the impeachment of Brazil's first female president Dilma Rousseff demonstrated that Brazil is undergoing a major crisis of identity. To address this question professor Dennison explored the extent to which this this crisis played out in recent films by or dealing primarily with women. The work of a number of filmmakers, including Maria Augusta Ramos, Anna Muylaert and Kleber Mendonça Filho were used as examples throughout the lecture.

Emilia Jamroziak

Professor of Medieval Religious History (School of History; Director of the Institute for Medieval Studies)
'The Present Mirrored in the Past: Why Interpreting Medieval Monasticism Matters'

Inaugural Lecture given December 2016.

This lecture explored how, since the 19th century, the history of European Latin monasticism has been interpreted by historians, archaeologists and art historians in a way that reflected the changing concerns of contemporary society. Professor Jamroziak also explained how her own current work on late medieval Cistercian monasticism attempts to move away from the past paradigm and show how monastic history continues to reflect the present and its concerns.

Manuel Barcia Paz

Professor of Latin American History (School of History)
'Slave Rebellions or Actions of War? Understanding West African Armed Resistance in Bahia and Cuba, 1807-1844'

Inaugural Lecture given March 2016.

In his lecture, Manuel examined how a series of historical events that occurred in West Africa from the mid-1790s - including Afonja's rebellion, the Owu wars, the Fulani-led jihad, and the migrations to Egbaland - had an impact upon life in cities and plantations in Bahia, Brazil and western Cuba during the first half of the nineteenth century. Why did these two geographical areas serve as the theatre for the uprising of the Nagos, the Lucumis, and other West African men and women? To understand why these two areas followed such similar social patterns it is essential to look across the Atlantic and to centre the focus on the African side of the story. The lecture also raised the broader issue of how American, Latin American and Caribbean historians can make a better use of African history and historical sources to illuminate their subjects of study.