In a way, Professor Danny Dorling's Inaugural Lecture on 3 February marked two new beginnings: Obviously, it was his first lecture as Halford Mackinder Professor at the School of Geography, but also the first in our new series of Annual Lectures - one out of two recurring events in our events programme for alumni.
All our former students were invited to celebrate this special event for the School with us, and 80 came to hear Danny Dorling as well as meet fellow alumni at the following drinks reception. A smaller group even stayed on to have supper in a nearby restaurant and continue conversations.
Meeting alumni is like opening one treasure trove after the other - here are just two alumni stories which somehow frame the event and locate it between the School's past and future:
No. 3 in our series of alumni postcards (left) shows a map Danny Dorling referred to in his lecture. Drawn by him in 1990, it is a cartogram of the results of the 1987 general elections in which every parliamentary constituency is represented by a face. The colour of the face shows which parties gained the most votes. Where house prices were higher the faces were drawn wider. Where industry was younger the eyes were drawn larger. If more people than usual voted the nose grew bigger and if unemployment was low the smile curved upwards more.
"You could not know it at the time but in some ways it was also a picture of what was to come, which areas were to gain the most and where would lose out."
Ed House (1976, Jesus College)
Among the 80 alumni who joined us at the Exam School, we had a very special guest: Edward House, the son of the School's very first Halford Mackinder Professor John W House, who gave his Inaugural Lecture at the Exam Schools on 21 October 1975, and died on 1 February 1984 - almost exactly 30 years to the day of Danny Dorling's lecture.
John William House (1919-1964) came to Oxford in the late 1930s to study Geography, and returned in 1975, after having been a lecturer at Durham and a professor at Newcastle University, to join the School as its first Halford Mackinder Professor of Human Geography. His main areas of interest were Regional and Political Geography, with major publications on Regional Geographies of the UK, France, the North East of England and the USA, all with the emphasis on regional disparities and the public policy action areas required to reduce inequalities.
In his Inaugural, he spoke about "The Geographer in a turbulent age" focussing on regional disparities in the UK, and how these might be affected by the then recent UK membership of the European Union - an interesting corollary with Professor Dorling's subject matter.
Ed House was actually there on this day and remembers:
"The lecture was in some ways remarkably similar to Professor Dorling's with exactly the same formal procedures, a similar sized audience and also in the Examination Schools. It was a year before I came up to Oxford and I remember being somewhat overawed by The Examination Schools, the formality of the occasion and the learned atmosphere. I know my father was extremely nervous on the day. Overall I think the lecture was well relevant to the times and well received."
Ed very kindly agreed to answer a few questions for us:
What did you think about coming back for Danny Dorling's Inaugural? Did you notice that things have changed at Oxford, or how your own perspective has changed?
I was pleased to be invited back for Professor Dorling's lecture and to feel that although Oxford, Geography and of course, society in general, have all moved on, there is still a strong theme of continuity in all of them. Many traditions have remained the same, but the subject and department have moved with the times to continue to explore the geographical issues relevant to today. Indeed, for myself particularly, the subject of Professor Dorling's lecture, 'Inequality', was a reminder of just how relevant Geography is to the pressing issues facing society today.
Which thoughts did you take away with you from "Geography, Inequality and Oxford"?
I thought that the lecture was extremely relevant and in many ways, hard hitting. It was interesting to see how such a sensitive political topic could be viewed from a geographical perspective, but did leave me pondering where the boundary between politics and geography lies in a case like this. It was great to see that Oxford Geography is at the forefront of such a momentous topic.
What was your impression of Oxford Geography today?
I also attended a recent alumni event for Geographers at Jesus College, where there were lectures from past students (now Professors!) and current tutorial staff. Adding this experience to that of the Inaugural Lecture, I have formed a strong impression of a more dynamic and more directly relevant department. I was interested to visit the departmental website and study the list of members of staff. During my time at Oxford, I think that there were only two Professors, Jean Gottman and my father, whereas now the list was endless. I suspect this reflects the importance and relevance of the work being carried on in the School and hopefully points the way to an exciting future.
Judy Gleen (2004, St Hilda's College)
Judy Gleen, Geography student from 2004-2007 and now Head of Geography at Cheney School in Oxford, came with 10 of her year 12 geography pupils, following Professor Danny Dorling's invitation who went to Cheney himself. With this gesture Danny wanted to thank the school for its encouragement during his own time there: "I'm very grateful to Cheney for how the teachers inspired me to study geography, maths and economics and to think that I could go on to take these subjects at University."
From left to right: Alice Krige, Isabella Lee, Phoebe Porter, Roisin Anderson, Marco Norris Keiller, Evie Christopher, Daniel Field, Natalie May, Georgia Morris, Moran Nafaa.
The young audience were particularly taken by Danny's imaginative use of maps, and by the focus on their own city Oxford.
"I never knew maps could be so fascinating!" (Eleanor Sherington)
"I never thought I could learn so much from a smiley face!" (Phoebe Porter)
"I would have never thought about Oxford from that angle!" (Evie Christopher)
Teacher Judy Gleen couldn't have been more pleased with the results of this field trip to the Exam Schools:
"The opportunity for students to hear about real geography in a context familiar to them, away from their exams and in such an inspiring venue, is both rare and invaluable. Students were engaged and enthralled and the discipline of geography gained dozens more fans! Professor Dorling managed in an hour to do what we strive all year: instill a passion and excitement for the subject."