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Olive Schreiner’s “The Story of an African Farm” and the Question of Progress
Olive Schreiner (1855-1920), a South African novelist, anti-war campaigner, and women’s rights activist, came early to the study of the thing we call progress. As a teenager, she was given a copy of Herbert Spencer’s First Principles (1862), and it came to dominate her thoughts in early years, influencing not only her freethinking regarding religion, but also her philosophy of history and the progress of humankind.

This talk will investigate some astronomical aspects of the basis of Spencer’s First Principles, steeped as it was in a contested and religiously inflected theory of the origins of planets and stars. It will ask how Schreiner’s lifelong attention to the Southern African sky in her novels functioned as a place of questioning and critique, from a colonial standpoint, of one of the foundational theories of progress in the nineteenth century. Spencer’s ideas, Schreiner found, had no place at the edges of empire. Michael Scott, director of the Future of the Humanities Project, will provide opening and closing remarks, and Rev. Joseph Simmons, S.J., will moderate a Q&A session following the presentation.

May 17, 2022 11:00 AM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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