POSTPONED! LCE Annual Lecture 2020: Stefan Collini - Beauty and the footnote: the place of “literature” as an academic discipline

This year’s LCE Annual Lecture will be held by Stefan Collini.

Photo of Coliini

The study of literature in modern languages has become an established, even central, part of the university curriculum over the past century or more. But in some ways literature has been an awkward recruit in an institution that has understood its role largely in terms of the accumulation and transmission of impersonal empirically-grounded knowledge. From its beginnings as an academic discipline, the study of literature has been derided as ‘merely subjective’ and ‘too impressionistic’, criticisms that have been extended in our time to include representing it as a ‘soft’ or ‘useless’ subject, irrelevant to the needs of the labour market. This lecture examines some of the justifications that have been put forward to justify the inclusion of literary study in the curriculum, and especially on the tensions between the cognitive and aesthetic claims made on its behalf. It addresses such issues as the imaginative enlargement of human sympathies, the idea of a ‘national literature’, the emphasis on ‘personal response’, and relations between scholarly and lay literary cultures.


Stefan Collini is Professor Emeritus of Intellectual History and English Literature at Cambridge University, and a Fellow of the British Academy. He is the author of, among other books, Public Moralists (1991), Matthew Arnold: a Critical Portrait (1994), English Pasts: Essays in History and Culture (1999), Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain (2006), Common Reading: Critics, Historians, Publics (2008), Common Writing: Literary Culture and Public Debate (2016), and, most recently, The Nostalgic Imagination: History in English Criticism (2019). He is also a frequent contributor to The London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Nation, and other publications. In addition, he has contributed to international debates about higher education, principally through his 2012 book What Are Universities For? and its sequel Speaking of Universities (2017).  

Published Jan. 27, 2020 5:29 PM - Last modified July 13, 2020 10:40 AM