Lecture Series

Four outstanding thinkers, all Newnham alumnae or Fellows, all of them shaping public discourse in their area of research – and often far beyond.

Friday 19 February 2021 - ‘THE TWO CULTURES REVISITED’ - Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser (NC 1983)

“We need to capture the benefits of disagreement”

Prof Dame Ottoline Leyser re-opens one of the 20th century’s major intellectual debates, placing it in the context of our own turbulent times.

In 1959, the novelist and physicist C.P. Snow delivered his famous Rede Lecture ‘The Two Cultures’. He expressed concerns about the divide between the arts and humanities and the sciences, arguing that it prevented society from tackling global problems such as poverty. Three years later, literary critic F. R. Leavis gave a scathing response. The resulting controversy shaped British intellectual life of the 20th century.

Ottoline Leyser argues that a broader education, Snow’s proposed solution, “will do little to change our propensity to erect unhelpful divisions, whether that is inside academia or outside.” Instead, she proposes “We do need culture change, but we need a change to a culture that values difference and promotes diversity. We need to capture the benefits of disagreement, and diverse experience and expertise to build better solutions.”

Prof Dame Ottoline Leyser FRS (NC 1983)

Ottoline Leyser is one of the UK’s leading scientists. She is chief executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the UK’s largest public funder of research and innovation with a combined budget of more than £8bn per year.

Her own research focuses on developmental biology, and she is Regius Professor of Botany at the University of Cambridge. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 2017 was appointed DBE for services to plant science, science in society and equality and diversity in science.

Ottoline Leyser has a long-term interest in inclusiveness in science, particularly for parents in science. Her projects have included the Royal Society publication ‘Mothers in Science: 64 ways to have it all’ in 2008, revisited in 2017 as ‘Parent – Carer – Scientist’.

“Diversity is fundamental to a healthy research culture,” she says. “Scientists expect to be challenged by different ideas and alternative ways of thinking. If everyone in the room thinks the same way, then alternative views will struggle to emerge and to provide that essential role of challenge.”

This lecture is now available to watch on demand here:

Friday 30 April 2021 - Philosopher and Professorial Fellow Rae Langton FBA

Professor Rae Langton FBA is a philosopher who addresses contemporary social issues such as hate speech, animal ethics and pornography. She holds the same chair as our co-founder Henry Sidgwick, as Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy, Cambridge University, and is a Professorial Fellow at Newnham College. For more information please click here.

Friday 22 October 2021 - Economic historian, Professor Jane Humphries CBE (NC 1967)

Professor Jane Humphries CBE (NC 1967) is an economic historian who developed innovative research techniques to uncover the forgotten history of working-class men and women in the Industrial Revolution. She is now Professor Emerita of Economic History, All Souls College, Oxford. For more information please click here.

Friday 25 February 2022 - Classicist and Professorial Fellow Dame Mary Beard (NC 1973)

Professor Dame Mary Beard (NC 1973) is known to us all for her work on the popular understanding of the classics. She has brought her deep knowledge of classical culture to bear on today’s biggest questions, engaging with politics, contemporary culture and feminist issues. She is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge. Booking link to come.