The Library as Human

Can a library be human? Perhaps the first association might be in the books, manuscripts and articles we hold, for they allow us to connect with the wonders of humanity’s ideas. Maybe it is the reflection of our physical presence in that space, which projects our common humanity into the library.

According to the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, our mind actively engages with its perceived surroundings. What he wrote in his Poetics of Space (1957) could equally apply to the Senate House Library: ‘a house that has been experienced is not an inert box. Inhabited space transcends geometrical space.’ Thus our reflection and research with the books and manuscripts here represents an engagement of mind with space.

The symbol of this autumn’s exhibition Illumination-How the Visual Captures the Imagination is the depiction of man from Descartes’ Tractatus de homine, or ‘Treatise on Man’. Just as Descartes was looking for the organ that could be the seat of man’s creativity or imagination, the Illumination Series of events responds to the theme for the School of Advanced Study’s ‘Being Human Festival’: Hidden and revealed. Each event responds to that theme and examines a different facet of visual culture allowing us to further reflect on our presence and function in this Library space.

Here are some of the events curated in conjunction with the Being Human Festival for the Senate House Library Illumination Series. Tickets are available via the main Exhibition page just click on the poster of the event. Any questions can be sent to the curator, Colin J.P. Homiski.

12 Nov ( 17.00–18.00)


17 Nov  (12.00–13.00)

 19 Nov (17.00-18.00)

 20 Nov (12.00–13.00)

Colin J.P. Homiski (Senate House Library)


On the path to Illumination: a curatorial tour



Research Librarian and Exhibition Curator, Colin Homiski, will be giving a tour of the exhibition Illumination—How the Visual Captures the Imagination, providing insights into the diverse selection of materials on display. Learn about the inspiration behind the architecture of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao and Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, which is still being built in Barcelona today. He will reveal the connections between the writer Dante Alighieri, the Battle of Waterloo and the classic children’s story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Centuries will collide as Michelangelo’s classic statue of David is juxtaposed alongside a postmodern take by Banksy. The old and the new will be represented as viewers will be able to see the first images made with the microscope and telescope as well as works by contemporary designer Simon C Page and eco-artist Sarah Turner. Come find out about the power of the visual and how it gives flight to our imagination
12 Nov
18:00 – 19:00
Dr Cecilia Muratori (University of Warwick)


Talking bodies: Human Animals in the Renaissance (Seng Tee Lee Seminar Room)talking-bodies-1015

According to the Renaissance philosopher Giovan Battista della Porta (1535-1615), physiognomics is a ‘law or rule of nature’ (from the Greek words physis and gnome) which makes it possible to understand the character of a soul by looking at the shape of the body. Certain bodily features are interpreted as clear signs that the soul of that creature has a specific character. Comparisons between human and animals bodies are the main instrument of physiognomic investigations. For instance, Della Porta suggests that a human being with small ears is probably nasty and libidinous, because it resembles a monkey, which is an animal with small ears; a crooked nose, on the other hand, is a sign of magnanimity, because eagles have a crooked beak and show that disposition. Physiognomics claims to be able to lead us to understanding the ‘inside’ by studying the ‘outside’, and it does so by employing animal comparisons. Muratori’s talk investigates the background, philosophical foundation and legacy of the science of physiognomics with a special focus on Renaissance sources.The questions addressed are: What does the physiognomic method tell us about human and animal nature? Do animal-human comparisons actually imply that humans are animals? And what are the implications of using animal features to read the human body and to disclose the nature of the soul?
13 Nov
12:00 – 18:00
The Arcane and the Archive (Goldsmiths’ Reading Room)



Speakers include Joanne Anderson (Warburg Institute), Karen Attar (Senate House Library), Roy Booth (Royal Holloway), Stephen Clucas (Birkbeck), Guido Giglioni (Warburg Institute), Colin J.P. Homiski (Senate House Library), Aldo Miceli (Warburg Institute)
This one day symposium is a joint collaborative event between the Senate House Library and the Warburg Institute. It will explore facets of the world of the occult, by bringing together speakers, alongside physical materials from both libraries. The occult, by its very nature, is otherworldly and mysterious. As human beings are innately curious, the aim of the symposium is to reveal and unravel its secrets. As we begin to understand its mysteries, we understand a bit more about ourselves, our history, beliefs and common humanity.
The speakers present a wide span of topics from the early modern to the modern period to provoke the mind: from angels and demons to witchcraft, from the sounds of the supernatural to the forces challenging the laws of nature, the imagination and the art of memory. The symposium uses the physical collections as a lens to project light into the occult and the Hermetic. Attendees have a rare opportunity to see books and objects that are not often displayed to the general public.
17 Nov



Dr Gabriel Koureas (Birkbeck)


Male Body Terrors (Seng Tee Lee Seminar Room)




The heroic male body and associated ideals of masculinity has been challenged in recent years by the body of the male terrorist. However, this paper will argue that this recent phenomenon of male body terror can be found in other instances. One example that this talk will discuss is Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographic work and his depiction of gay male sexual encounters, which at the time provided a challenge to perceived ideas of masculinity. The talk juxtaposes the male body of the terrorist and gay man in order to discuss transgressions of masculinities.
19 Nov



Dr Martin Zaltz Austwick (UCL/Bartlett)


Visualising Data: Aesthetics and Analysis (Goldsmiths’ Reading Room)


Humankind is generating data about itself at an exponentiating rate, rapidly shedding its digital skin wherever it goes. Traditional statistics and computer science struggle to cope with this society-sized ‘Big Data’ – but luckily, we all have access to one of the fastest pattern-recognition tools ever created, and it sits behind our eyes. Martin Zaltz Austwick, lecturer in data visualization at the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis in UCL reveals the analytical power and aesthetic beauty of data visualization, revealing the ways in which the human becomes the virtual, and the virtual becomes the visual – and the physical.
20 Nov



Dr Richard Simpson (Institute of Classical Studies, SAS)


Visionary Building (Seng Tee Lee Seminar Room)


Richard Simpson explores the visual aspirations which have informed buildings from Charles Holden’s Senate House to Frank Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton, opened in 2014. How are our expectations of buildings formed by a range of visual witnesses, and how can we all take part in shaping the radically changing built world in which we live?

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