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Pembroke undergraduates reflect on their participation on 'Into Silence', Dr Suzan Kalayci and Professor Kate McCloughlin's sold out series

6th June 2019

Guests were invited Into Silence at the Pitt Rivers Museum, the third instalment of Dr Suzan Meryem Rosita Kalayci, Pembroke Junior Research Fellow in History, and Professor Kate McLoughlin’s sold out series, Into Silence.

The evening event held in late May asked guests to consider the relationship between silence and touch, guided by a reflective talk on Professor Santanu Das’ exploration of Don McCullin’s photographs and how the image of human contact can soften the silence of photographs.

Following this, guests experienced the ethereal music of the Theremin, played by Lydia Kavina, which challenges the notion that an instrument needs to be touched in order for it to produce sound. Instead, the Theremin works by sending out two high frequencies, which, to the human ear are silent. The sound that is produced once one’s hands manipulate the frequencies is altogether strange, soothing and celestial.

Pembroke students, Ben Jacob, Sophie Lewis and Freya Hanley volunteered along with other Oxford students, providing guests with a private tour through the Pitt Rivers, exploring objects that are silenced, literally, culturally and metaphorically. The most poignant example of silence, was through the medium of musical instruments, most ironically, the Talking Drum, a vessel that was used for communication through music that mimicked the rhythmic tones of the human voice. The drum now sits amongst others in a glass cabinet.

Our undergraduates commented:

‘I found out about the event directly from Meryem. We met at a history formal and remember chatting for the entirety of the meal. We shared thoughts on a variety of topics: activism, gender and identity - how we reconcile all that Oxford is as an institution, with all that we are as women in academia (that is, women with quite a lot to say!). In relation to my subjects, my involvement with the event has made me consider anew our engagement with the archive as historians; how this may be problematic but also, how within silences, marginalised voices may come to the fore.’ Sophie Lewis, (BA History and English 2018)

‘Sophie invited me to be a part of the event and as I'm doing work on postcolonial studies in the Victorian and Modern era, I thought it sounded really interesting. I always visited the Pitt Rivers when I was a kid and found it fascinating and creepy. Researching further into the histories of the objects and their respective journeys to the museum made my stance far more critical.  It also reinforced how reliant we are on the text attached to these objects in the museum (through labels and signs), and made me realise how a 'neutral' text can shield some pretty dark secrets. It's important that the Pitt Rivers are starting conversations between themselves and the cultures the objects belong to. I hope that our tour will contribute to that conversation.’ Freya Hanley (BA English Language and Literature, 2018)

‘I’d developed an interest in silences through my courses, in particular thinking about what gets left out on Oxford history courses, and the reasons for this. The event strengthened my commitment to looking outside of my courses for the ways in which the university performs acts of silencing, as well as a way of engaging critically with the Pitt Rivers, a space which is too often decontextualised in university spaces.’ Ben Jacobs (BA History and English, 2018)

The event was followed by a relaxed drinks reception with traditional mezze food prepared by the Syrian Sisters.

Freya Hanley, Sophie Lewis, Ben Jacob
Freya Hanley, Sophie Lewis, Ben Jacob
Dr Suzan Kalayci and Prof Kate McCloughlin
Dr Suzan Kalayci and Prof Kate McCloughlin
The Pitt Rivers Museum
The Pitt Rivers Museum
The 'Talking Drum'
The 'Talking Drum'
Thereminst, Lydia Kavina
Thereminst, Lydia Kavina