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Past Events

Great Books lecture
The Letters and Poems of John Keats
Lecturer: Alan Hudson
Venue: Churchill Room, London House, Goodenough College, Mecklenburgh Square, London WC1N 2AB
Date: April 23, 2013
Time: 7pm
Tickets: £10 / £7.50 IoI associates / £5 concessions – unwaged, students and OAPs
Booking: Standard IoI Associate Concession
IoI Associates pay the concession rate - to join the IoI click here

The Institute of Ideas Great Books lectures: exploring ideas through the canon - a new initiative from The Academy, the IoI’s educational project.

At the first Great Books lecture of 2013, Alan Hudson, member of the Sociology department of the University of Oxford, a fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford and of the Royal Society of Arts, will deliver a public lecture on 'The Letters and Poems of John Keats'. The lecture will be followed by a moderated discussion. Do join us for this, the first lecture of this year's series, and for a drink afterwards.


Keats, The Complete Poems

Keats, Selected Letters

For Kindle:

Keats Poems Published in 1820

Letters of John Keats to His Family and Friends

Why Great Books lectures?

Familiarity with a canon of essential literary works historically formed the backbone of what “education” meant. But if scholars of the past could once claim to have read most of what was considered worth reading, in today’s era of the internet, information overload and the explosion of writing and publishing on and offline, the task for any one person in prioritizing what texts are important to read is daunting to say the least.

One valuable resource would be the educational model of the Great Books syllabus, the study of a canon of seminal texts that constitutes the foundation of Western civilisation. However, in today’s atmosphere of ‘presentism’, and estrangement from the intellectual legacy of the past, Great Books are often portrayed as arcane, elitist and irrelevant. Attitudes to knowledge have become ever more instrumentalised and technocratic – so exploring the history and philosophy of those ideas that have animated the human condition can seem at odds with contemporary demands for everything to have practical outcomes.

What is more, often the very idea of canonicity is perceived as elitist and overly judgmental. In such a climate, there is a danger of us forsaking exposure to the best that’s known or thought through Great Books. This makes it all the more vital to popularize the canonical approach. Taking inspiration from the Liberal Arts tradition of Great Books syllabi, the Institute of Ideas will hold lectures a year, with the aim of discussing the works of some of humanity’s greatest minds: ancient and modern. Each lecture will take on a Great Book, and explore its core ideas, followed by a discussion of the text. We aim to start a Great Conversation, in which we can nurture in common some of the most crucial ideas and works that make up our intellectual heritage.

Which books will be discussed? We will build up a list over the coming years. There have always been arguments about what should rightfully belong on such a lofty list of 150 or so canonical texts. We have our own list, compiled by IoI colleagues, but this is by no means comprehensive or definitive. There is always room for improvement and amendment; indeed we might emulate Thomas Jefferson, who frequently composed great books lists for his friends and correspondents. The main point is once the notion of a canon is accepted, the list can be flexible, always capable of stretching its limits beyond “dead white men”, while recognizing their key place on any list. Established standards are of course open to change. Lack of standards leaves us with change just for the sake of it. Our aim is to try and establish standards fit for tomorrow.