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Mary Beard | Unlocking the Cases: Museums and the Anxiety of History

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Opening Remarks by Stanford President Richard Saller

The 2024 Presidential Lecture in the Humanities and Arts presents Mary Beard, Professor Emerita at the University of Cambridge, and one of Britain’s best-known Classicists.

This lecture focuses on current debates and uncertainties about museums: who and what they represent, and how the history of power and exploitation (or the democratic sharing of knowledge) is inscribed within them. It will explore how we (whoever "we" is) simultaneously reject the values of the so-called Enlightenment museum, while increasingly investing in "museum culture" (does everything have a museum of itself?) And it will ask whether we ask too much of museums, or too little—and whether we will see more museums over the next century or fewer. Is the reign of the museum over, or merely changing? The theme will be introduced by an early-20th-century cartoon entitled "The Boy who Breathed on the Glass in the British Museum," a chilling narrative of a boy who breaks the museum's rules.

Mary Beard has written numerous books, including Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town, best-selling SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, Women & Power: A Manifesto; Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations; and Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern.

Beard is a regular broadcaster and media commentator and has written and presented television documentaries on history and culture, as well as the highly acclaimed series Meet the Romans and Rome: Empire without Limit. She is Classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement, contributes regularly to the New York Review of Books, and writes an engaging blog, A Don’s Life.

Her scholarship has been recognized on both sides of the Atlantic: by the British Academy, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, among others. She was made a Dame in 2018 for services to Classical scholarship, is a trustee of the British Museum, and has also been awarded the prestigious Getty Medal.

Beard’s most recent book, Emperor of Rome, was published in October 2023.


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