Wiles Lectures 2018

The invited speaker for the Wiles 2018 is Profesor Alison Bashford, Research Professor of History at the University of New South Wales, Australia. 

Alison Bashford, FBA, FAHA, is an historian of global science currently based at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, where she is Director of the New Earth Histories Research Program. She was Vere Harmsworth Professor of History at Cambridge, and Whitlam and Fraser Professor at Harvard University, in the Department of History of Science. Her books have explored the complex relationships between world history, environmental history, and the history of science, with a recent focus on population. Her two most recent monographs are: The New Worlds of Thomas Robert Malthus (Princeton, 2016, with Joyce E. Chaplin) and Global Population: History, Geopolitics and Life on Earth (Columbia, 2014). Alison Bashford has a second interest in maritime history, serving as Trustee of Royal Museums Greenwich, recently co-editing Oceanic Histories (Cambridge, 2017) and Quarantine: Local and Global Histories (Palgrave 2016).


The Wiles 2018 will run from Wednesday 16th May through to Saturday 19th May 2018. All lectures will be in the Emeleus Lecture Theatre, Lanyon Building.


‘Trustees of Evolution: The Huxleys from Empire to World, c.1825-1975’

The 2018 Wiles Lectures explore how life and earth sciences contributed to global modernity over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, through the work of Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895) and his grandson Julian Sorrell Huxley (1887–1975). They were ‘trustees of evolution’, a phrase that Julian Huxley used to describe humankind as a whole, but which historian of global science, Alison Bashford, uses to describe the Huxleys themselves.  The Lectures aim to interrogate the great questions of modernity that first Thomas and then Julian Huxley raised and researched: about the changing nature of time; the connections and distinctions between human history and natural history; the impact of minds on bodies and bodies on minds; the relationship between the deep past and the distant future of humankind. They pondered the same momentous problems but in very different contexts; the grandfather in the imperial nineteenth century and the grandson in the international twentieth century. The span of their vital dates thus permits unique analysis of complex and often elusive ideas about nature, culture, and difference in pre-, high-, and post-Darwinian worlds, and in a global context for scientific thought that shifted from high imperialism to high internationalism.

Alison Bashford’s four Lectures are organised by scale: Cosmos, Species, Humans, Minds. From the largest cosmology to the smallest interior of the soul, the Huxleys’ intellectual domain reached across multiple phenomena, yet always sought connection and unity. Their questions are surely still our own, even if their answers were different.

Lecture 1 Cosmos (Wed. 16 May at 5pm)

Introducing the relationship between the Huxleys, global science, and modernity, this lecture suggests that we approach them as cosmologists. They were philosophers of the universe, and, thus, in a way, of modern universalism. It explores the curious connection between ‘the universe’ and ‘universals’; between cosmology and an emerging ecology; between radically changing ideas about the beginning of life, the beginning of history, and human futures.

Lecture 2 Species (Thurs. 17 May at 5pm)

Trustees of evolution, the Huxleys were key communicators of the species question to nineteenth and twentieth century worlds: animals of all genera were their core business. This lecture considers the Huxleys through recent scholarship from animal studies, including analysis of what Julian Huxley always called ‘the uniqueness of man’ that made humans the permanent custodians of other animals, from natural history specimens to the London zoo to African wildlife.

Lecture 3 Humans (Fri. 18 May at 5pm)

This lecture tracks ideas about human unity and difference that exercised the Huxleys, an intellectual history that folded together biology and anthropology, nature and culture, race and ethnicity, reproductive sex and behaviour, what later came to be called gender. This lecture reworks the quintessentially modern history of ‘equality’, through the Huxleys’ journey from the mid nineteenth-century ‘Man Family’ to the mid twentieth-century ‘Family of Man’.

Lecture 4 Minds (Sat. 19 May 1t 11am)

The Huxleys were deeply engaged with the mysterious relationship between bodies and minds. They were also a family profoundly afflicted by mental illness, only matched by their collective capacity to think about it. At very different moments in the history of psychology, they were intrigued by, and deeply considered, various states of consciousness and unconsciousness, including hypnsosis, mesmerism, and anaesthesia. This lecture will explore the Huxleys’ interest in evolutionary psychology, psycho-pharmacology, and para-psychology. Bringing cosmos and selves together, they connected human consciousness and global evolutionary futures.