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Rousseau 300: Nature, Self and State
Friday, 20 April 2012 from 18:30 to 20:00 (BST)
London, United Kingdom
A set of events commemorating J-J Rousseau’s tercentenary
Thursday 19th April - Saturday 21st April
2012 sees the tercentenary of the birth of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), one of the most influential, best known, but perhaps little understood European authors of all times. Champion of the Enlightenment and beacon of Romanticism, an ancestor of radical revolutionaries and totalitarian dictators alike, inventor of modern notions of the self and advocate of ancient republicanism: Rousseau has been cast in all these roles and many more. Under the title Rousseau 300: Nature, Self, and State, the UCL History Department has organised a series of events aimed at a comprehensive re-evaluation of Rousseau's enduring legacy after 300 years. These include an exhibition at the UCL Art Museum (9 January – 27 April 2012), an international conference (19-21 April 2012), and rare performances of an opera written and composed by Rousseau’s, Le Devin du Village (20 January and 20 April 2012).
An important (if neglected) part of Rousseau’s legacy was his role as a successful opera composer. His short opera Le Devin du Village was written in 1752 and became a major success, first at Fontainebleau and then on the stages of Paris and London (in a translation by Charles Burney). The opera travelled much of Europe and played an important role in eighteenth-century debates on operatic reform. Rousseau wrote both the libretto and the music for this opera. Conducted by Charles Peebles, UCLU Chamber Choir is producing two performances of the work, a concert performance on 20 January at 19:45 in the Jeremy Bentham Room and a semi-staged performance on 20 April at 18:30 in the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre. Brief synopsis: Colin (tenor) and Colette (soprano) are lovers, but suspect each other of being unfaithful. After seeking advice of a village soothsayer (baritone) they trust each other again and are happily married.
This set of events will end with a major international conference. It will bring together political theorists, historians, philosophers, musicologists, and literary scholars who will try to assess the relevance of Rousseau’s ideas in the political, literary, and cultural spheres. The conference will also trace the changing images of Rousseau from the eighteenth century to the present, highlighting the distinct ways in which his works were read by different generations in various locations and contexts.
Participants include several members of the UCL History Department, as well as colleagues from a wide range of other UCL departments and centres. Among the guests speakers are Marian Hobson (Queen Mary), Axel Honneth (Frankfurt/Columbia), Philip Pettit (Princeton), Quentin Skinner (Queen Mary), and Céline Spector (Bordeaux).
The full programme is available on the UCL History website.
The exhibition at the UCL Art Museum features rare items from UCL’s art and book collections, among them first editions of Rousseau’s works such as On the Social Contract (Du contrat social, 1762), frontispieces, and printed images. The display highlights Rousseau’s unique and interdisciplinary characteristics as a philosopher who not only wrote on politics, economics, and education, but also composed music and wrote best-selling novels. A significant part is dedicated to Rousseau’s engagement with the philosophical tradition (from Plato to Locke) and his own posthumous reception. The exhibition includes objects from UCL’s collections, the British Museum, and the Voltaire Foundation in Oxford.
This set of events, under the auspices of the UCL Centre for Transnational History, is generously supported by UCL Grand Challenges, the UCL European Institute, the Berendel Foundation, the French Embassy in London, the Swiss Embassy in London, the Fidelio Charitable Trust, and the Voltaire Foundation.