The Dalrymple Lecture Series: Lecture 1
Monday 18 November 2019, 06:30pm
Contact Dorothy Gormlie

We are pleased to announce that our 2019/2020 Dalrymple Lecture Series will be given by Professor Adam T. Smith, on the subject of The Civilization Machine.

This series of lectures is held over four consecutive evenings, starting on Monday, November 18th, 2019, and finishing on Thursday, November 21, 2019. Unlike our usual lecture programme, the Dalrymple Lecture Series are held in the Sir Charles Wilson Lecture Theatre on the corner of Gibson Street and University Avenue.

This lecture for Monday, November 18th, begins at 6:30pm. 

The Civilization Machine

Few intellectual turns have been more complete than the exile of the idea of civilization from the late 20th century historical imagination. What had been a bulwark of Whiggish historiography was relegated to the very margins of scholarly reflection, a tarnished, even archaic, term made ridiculous by the twinned shocks of world wars and decolonization. It has thus been quite surprising that the 21st century has brought with it the conceptual rehabilitation of civilization, both as a social formation and a chrononym for our historical moment. But while civilization appears to have regained some credibility as a descriptive term, it still lacks the analytic capacity needed to help us understand how it produces coherent large-scale communities and hence shapes the long-term histories of human societies. It lacks, in other words, a user manual that can define its conditions of assembly, its operation and maintenance, and how to troubleshoot failures.

In these lectures, Professor Smith will argue that civilization is not a state of being but a material apparatus, a complex machine that produces publics, human communities that understand themselves as coherent actors. This civilization machine thus not only informs our accounts of the past but also conditions our present and hence our possible futures. As human relationships with our material world have fostered increasing anxiety over the sustainability of civilization, it is imperative that we begin to gain a solid understanding of the logics shaping this powerful apparatus. The lectures take Bronze and Iron Age Caucasia as their primary focus as they move across the disciplinary terrain of philosophy, political science, anthropology, history, and archaeology.

Lecture One: Some Assembly Required: Origin Myths and the Making of a Public
Monday November 18th, 2019 – 6.30pm

The idea of civilization, a concept with deep roots in the Scottish Enlightenment, has received renewed attention in our era of global environmental, economic, and social crisis. And yet its’ recent resurrection has done little to address the concept’s inherited limitations as an aesthetic with little analytic power. This lecture introduces an analytic sense of civilization centered not on what it is but what it does. In particular, I am interested in three binary socio-cultural procedures vital to the construction of a public: being and not being, recognition and othering, seeing and unseeing.

Using the Early Bronze Age in the South Caucasus as a case study, this presentation introduces key features of the civilization machine, setting the scene both geographically and conceptually for the series.


There is no need to book tickets in advance for this event; attendance is free of charge and open to members and non-members of Glasgow Archaeological Society alike. If you are interested in becoming a member of the society and would like more information, please see our Membership page or contact our Membership Secretary via email.

Location Sir Charles Wilson Lecture Theatre on the corner of Gibson Street and University Ave

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