Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

RSNSW/SMSA Joint Lecture Series: Is the Enlightenment dead? Lecture 2

Robert Clancy  “The freedom to use your own intelligence:
  the Enlightenment and the growth of the
  Australian nation”

  Emeritus Professor Robert Clancy AM FRSN
  School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy
  University of Newcastle

Monday 6 November 2017
Mitchell Theatre, Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts, 280 Pitt St., Sydney

In this second lecture of the Enlightenment series Emeritus Professor Robert Clancy asks us to consider the fact that in little more than a century, a gaol established in Sydney Cove with 1000 souls joined the international stage as an independent Federated nation of in excess of three million – an unprecedented event in the history of man! This presentation explores the theme that the convict settlement was the ‘perfect storm’ to test the idea that the Enlightenment with its roots in late Middle Age Europe, and finding its expression in the Laws of Newton and the logic of Locke, created a confidence and capacity for humanity to achieve a new potential. Professor Clancy will first discuss the influence of the dominant contemporary ideas in science as introduced by James Cook and Joseph Banks and how this plays out in a young Australia in its impact on patterns of scientific development. Second, the self-belief and ‘have a go’ mentality reflected John Locke’s optimistic view of men and women forced to face and control extraordinary challenges not just to survive, but to create a new and independent society, based on science and the goodness of man. The question today is “have we lost that spirit of the Enlightenment to reactive conservatism?”

Emeritus Professor Robert Clancy has had a distinguished career as a clinical immunologist. He was awarded an AM for his services to immunology, as well as to cartography through his collection of early maps of Australia. He was Foundation Chair of Pathology at the University of Newcastle and the Director of the Hunter Immunology Unit.

Professor Clancy is a expert on medical history, with a particular focus on the history of infectious disease and immunology, including the impact of plague. He led the ASAEurope: the History of Medicine and Pharmacy tour in 2006, 2011, 2013 and 2015 and has developed a ‘History of Medicine’ course through the College of Physicians. Another area of expertise is cartography and he has written two books on the mapping of Australia and Antarctica (The Mapping of Terra Australis and So Came They South).

This series of five talks, co-hosted by the Royal Society of NSW and the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts, brings together the two oldest institutions in NSW dedicated to education, the discussion of ideas, and discovery. The series is expected to initiate a period of interactive events and activities to the mutual benefit of both societies. The lectures will be presented by an outstanding group of experts in the field, with the topics chosen to represent a broad overview of the Enlightenment from its beginnings as the public recognised and discussed the meanings of change from a long period of mythology and dogma, to grasping reality and what that meant to them and their lives, to its impact on our society today.

The Enlightenment was founded on reasoned discourse and scientific enquiry, connecting with the idea of human equality and the rights of the individual. It was a powerful influence through disruptive revolutions in the 18th century on European and American societies. But what influence did it have on our Australian society, and the institutions entrusted to inform the population of new ideas and discovery? On a more concerning note, to what extent is Nobel Lauriet Joseph Stiglitz correct correct in his view that “Global deflation is reversing international progress through rejection of the principles of the Enlightenment”.

These five Lectures will capture the beginnings of the Enlightenment, its immediate impact on colonial Australia, and two portals of the Enlightenment and their adaptation to changes around them over 200 years. The series will conclude with an interactive Sophistry, taking the theme of the series, and discussing this in the context of contemporary Australian life.

Other lectures in the series:
Lecture 1: “Samuel Pepys, His library and the Enlightenment” by Susannah Fullerton OAM FRSN, author, lecturer and literary tour leader, 4 September 2017
Lecture 3: “Learning, adaptation and the Enlightenment: the museum” by Kim Mckay AO, Executive Director and CEO, the Australian Museum, 1 February 2018
Lecture 4: “Learning, adaptation and the Enlightenment: the library” by Paul Brunton OAM FAHA, Emeritus Curator, New South Wales State Library, 1 March 2018
Lecture 5: Sophistry – “Global deflation : The Enlightenment has failed!” by Scientia Professor George Paxinos AO FRSN, 5 April 2018

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