GLOKNOS: Annual Lecture Series 2020-21

Centre for Global Knowledge Studies

(University of Cambridge |

(for bookings and Zoom links, please contact Samantha Peel:

15 April | Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer
Strauss in Beijing

The popularity of the political philosopher Leo Strauss among a group of Chinese public-facing academics has been noted with bemusement in the West. This lecture takes a deeper look at just why it had to be Strauss. Part of the answer is that his relationship to antiquity resonated with a China no longer seeking to imitate the West; another part lies in his reading of Plato. The Chinese Straussians claim that their readings of western texts are not ideological because Strauss’s views cannot be boiled down to an ‘ism’, but of course their use of Strauss’s methodologies and political views would suggest otherwise. In keeping so high a public profile, however, these neo-Straussians undermine the very tensions they claim to expose, suggesting that the overarching rationale for their writings is pro-Xi nationalism.

13 May | Karen Sayer
The View from the Land, 1947-1981: ‘Modernity’ in British Agriculture, Farm, Nation and Community

The rural landscape was perceived to be an important part of the nation’s cultural heritage after the Second World War. Studies within environmental history, social and cultural geography, landscape studies, literary and cultural studies are beginning to address the ways in which that landscape was/was not fitted for modern life during the period of post Second World War Reconstruction, and its potential value as an amenity preserved within the new National Parks and through wildlife conservation. But, less attention has been paid to date to the agricultural land sitting between the reservoirs and power stations, and over which motorways travelled and pylons passed in order to secure the new National Grid, as an equal and present part of rural modernity.

This paper will focus on ‘the well farmed functional landscape’ of arable acres (ADAS leaflet, Winter 1979), that were tasked after the Agriculture Act of 1947 with the project of increasing food production. Looking at publications from MAFF and ADAS, and the specialist farming press of the period (e.g. Farmer’s Weekly) – an archival holdings, if feasible – it will be argued that reconciliation between conservation and production was sought via what was represented as “modern” framing shaped by the same modern national identity seen in urban and commercial life, and celebrated at events such as the Festival of Britain. With a shortage of landscape architects, or provision of a standardised landscape evaluation map, ADAS field staff, for example, were required to evaluate local agricultural proposals through their own individual ‘simple human responses’ to the landscape, emotional, sensory, multifaceted and subjective. Yet, they were directed to see the functional aspects of farming expressed within new farm buildings – the health and welfare of livestock, efficiency of labour and ease of management – as expressions of ‘applied discipline’ of a type ‘the eye detects and appreciates’. This, with occasional briefs to recognise the modernity of the demands of farming for sites and buildings suited to contemporary agricultural techniques and machinery as an aesthetic in its own right, and attempts to propose preferred Colour Finishes with visual appeal for farm buildings, led the agricultural advisory literature to find visual satisfaction in the modern as expressed through function. By the time of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, we see this aesthetic expressed via policy and practice, and attempts to harmonise vernacular structures, modern farming, wild life and the amenities of a countryside celebrated as the epitome of natural ’England’. Yet, it will be argued, the conceptualisation of ‘the well farmed functional landscape’ as inherently ‘modern’ also belonged to a much older aesthetic tradition and established appreciation of an agri-cultural landscape well-managed and well-farmed dating back to the period of the Agricultural Revolution grounded in arable practice, an expression of harmony through perfected planning and management of the Land and control of Nature.

27 May | Patricia Owen
Women’s International Thought: Toward a New Canon?

[Abstract coming soon.]

2 June | Tahu Kukutai
Indigenous Data Sovereignty

Data is the 21st century’s most valuable resource. Aotearoa New Zealand is a world leader in linking administrative data, and an early adopter of data-driven policy-making but has yet to develop innovative models of data governance and ethics, value creation and benefit-sharing. Many of the assumptions underpinning Aotearoa NZ’s data ecosystems rest on Anglo-European legal concepts (e.g. individual privacy, consent and ownership) which translate poorly into the big and open data environment. What is needed is a radically different way of conceptualising rights that relate to massive quantities of data. Indigenous data sovereignty (IDSov) marks an important departure from current theory and practice. At the heart of IDSov is the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples and nations to control the collection, ownership, and application of data about their people, territories, lifeways and natural resources. This talk provides an overview of recent developments in IDSov with a specific focus on the research and activism of domestic IDSov networks and the Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA).

9 June | Sonja Brentjes
Ali Al-Sharafi’s Oeuvre as Something Other Than Simply Local or Global

In this talk, Sonja will present two atlases and a world map by ‘Ali al-Sharafi, a man born in Sfax and perhaps died in Qayrawan, both towns today belonging to Tunisia. He is famous among experts for his cartographic works but badly understood. The limited accuracy of the data he provided and the imprecise execution of the technical aspects of his maps made him for some a third-grade scholar at best. Others lamented his ignorance of presentations of the New World. A third group pointed to his explicit references to the Malik school of law as his religious and legal home. But the persona that ‘Ali al-Sharafi constructed in his three works is much more complex. The methods and tools that he used are fascinating, even if not completely comprehensible. His usage of classical sources of Arabic geography and mapmaking, Majorcan and Italian sea charts and atlases, formats and ornamentations of North African Qur’ans and Iberian Hebrew bibles, calligraphic patterns of Muslim tombstones of Sfax and many more cultural objects shows him as a versatile master of the multi-cultural world of the early modern Mediterranean.

16 June 2021 | Karen C Pinto
Islamicate Territorial Imaginations: From the Earth to the Moon and Beyond

[Abstract coming soon.]

17 June 2021 | Kalwant Bhopal
Title TBC

[Abstract coming soon.]

23 June 2021 | Laleh Khalili
Salvage, Service, or Militancy: Missions, unions, and states in maritime Arab world

[Abstract coming soon.]

9 July 2021 | Sarah de Rijcke
Title TBC

[Abstract coming soon.]

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