Rewley House Lecture Series

Free public lectures open to all

The Rewley House Lecture Series is an opportunity to experience the extraordinarily diverse research interests of academics from across and beyond the Department, and to participate in multidisciplinary debate.

A recording of our most recent lecture can be found below. To stay informed of when future events are announced, sign up to our mailing list.

Hilary term 2023 lecture

A repression of things past

Reflections on the memory of pandemics in the wake of covid

Our Hilary term 2023 lecture took place on Thursday 16 March. If you missed this event, or wish to enjoy it again, a recording can be found below.

Lecture overview

We are now entering the fourth year of an ongoing pandemic and COVID-19 continues to dominate headlines alongside wars, elections, and sporting events. And perhaps it should. As of the beginning of 2023, we have witnessed the deaths of almost seven million individuals across the globe to this new disease and its complications.

In often vain attempts to put this extraordinary loss in perspective, many invoke the memory of similar epidemics from the past. This methodologically problematic search oftentimes turns up just enough evidence of confusion, pain, and grief in past societies so that we might recognize some of our own experiences. Rarely do they satisfy our expectation of proportionality. This inconsistency raises difficult questions for historians. Must we presume that events of high lethality do not always leave proportionately discernible and long-lasting impacts on the societies they afflicted? While stories of the Black Death, smallpox, and consumption still haunt our collective imagination, why do the memories of other equally terrifying afflictions seem so conspicuously absent? It appears that among most epidemics – even those associated with particularly high levels of mortality – the historical record lies empty of such evidence.

Dr Nicholas E. Bonneau will explore several past pandemics, from the Plague of Justinian to the Great Influenza of 1918, and the unexpected 'forgetting' which seems to have followed them. Exploring this strange reality may enable us to consider better what lies ahead for our own society and how (and whether) we might choose to record our own experiences of death and survival.

About the speaker

Nicholas Bonneau is a historian of science, medicine, environment, and death, interested particularly in the demographic, emotional, and cultural legacies of epidemics in the territory of the modern United States. He earned his PhD in History at the University of Notre Dame and has been a visiting lecturer at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for the past two years. He is now a visiting scholar at Franklin and Marshall College, where he has taught courses in the history of public health and the history of science.

Dr. Bonneau has received fellowships from a wide variety of institutions, including the National Science Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania, the American Antiquarian Society, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and the Congregational Library and Archives. He was the 2016–17 Carpenter Fellow in Early American Religious Studies at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and remains a Research Associate at the University of Pennsylvania and consulting scholar at the Mütter Research Institute of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. He is also a practitioner in the field of public history and his most recent project, “Spit Spreads Death: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918–19 in Philadelphia,” (October 2019 through 2024 at the Mütter Museum) earned his team the American Association for State and Local History’s 2020 Award for Excellence and Leadership in History (AASLH). Dr. Bonneau currently serves as Principal Historian of the Arch Street Project.

Graduate School | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

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Join Dr Daniel Wilson as he explores the role that data science has played in the COVID-19 pandemic response. Free lecture, part of the Rewley House Lecture Series.

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Join Dr Philip Davies as he explores what it means for governments to be ‘evidence-based’ and for political decision makers to be ‘following the science’.

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