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Image of Peter Frankopan with his new book

Earth Transformed: The Untold History

ϲʿ recently hosted a Coleridge Society discussion with (1990, History) to discuss his new book about the place of the natural environment in global history. It was hosted by the Convenor of the Society, Mr John Cornwell (Fellow Commoner Emeritus), who asked a broad range of questions from the place of public history in the university to the consequences of an ecological reading for our understanding of the Black Death.

The Literary and Philosophical Society was founded in Easter Term 1888, changing its name to the Coleridge Literary and Philosophical Society in Lent Term 1889, since the common room in which it held its meetings was believed to have been constructed out of the rooms that had formerly been occupied by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The Society hosts several interdisciplinary discussions per year across literature, history, political theory, theology, and philosophy.

Professor Frankopan, who is Professor of Global History at Oxford, published  to general acclaim in 2023. It follows his best-known work , published in 2015, in providing an expansive and insightful historical narrative that cuts across many disciplines of the modern university. The book focuses on the place of ecology in world history to reassess the significant role played by natural phenomena (eruptions, earthquakes, climate, etc) in notable historical events.

The discussion ranged across the experience of composing public history, the relationship between academic and public writing, the interpretive consequences of an ecological method, and the implications of the book’s argument for our understanding of current events. Mr Cornwell ended the conversation by asking why the founder of the Yuan Dynasty of 13th-cenury China, Kubla Khan, on whom Coleridge composed a poetic fragment, did not feature in The Earth Transformed: Professor Frankopan explained that, despite Coleridge’s high opinion of the man who did ‘a stately pleasure-dome decree’, he was not quite as exciting a figure as Coleridge thought.

The discussion was followed by audience questions, allowing members of the College to probe Professor Frankopan on subjects such as university funding, pedagogical methods and environmental humanities. Many attendees stayed behind to talk individually with Professor Frankopan and meet other members of the College.

It was an intellectually stimulating and provoking discussion that demonstrated the high calibre of the Coleridge Society’s programming.

The College is most grateful to Professor Peter Frankopan, Mr John Cornwell and the Intellectual Forum for making this event possible.