Adult Education Courses

I am currently offering a number social history courses for adults. These are designed to engage your interest much better than any school history lesson you may remember!
The courses currently take place online because of restrictions in place to protect against Covid-19. Please contact me for further information or refer to the website of WEA.

The Social History of 19th Century France: from the Restoration to the Belle Epoque

Design for Cora Pearl's costume for her appearance in Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld
Design for Cora Pearl’s costume for her appearance in Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld

Ever wondered about the historical events depicted in the musical Les Misérables?
Or whether there is any truth in films like Moulin Rouge!?
This course will reveal the history behind such fictional accounts.

Despite all the revolutions and rebellions, which seemed to be constantly breaking out in the 19th century, and the ignominious defeat in war against Prussia, France managed to produce the first photograph, Impressionism, the first cinema show, Carmen, Art Nouveau – and of course the cancan, a dance that evolved from humble origins at working-class dance-halls into an enduring symbol of the “naughty nineties”.

We also cover the dramatic reconstruction of Paris designed by Baron Haussmann, the notorious high-class courtesans, and the Dreyfus Affair. Illustrated with paintings, cartoons from satirical magazines, film clips, and musical extracts.

In Tune With the Times: Social History and Satire In Musicals

 look at history through operettas and musicalsThree courses providing an entertaining look at history through operettas and musicals – covering both the events depicted in them and the historical context in which they were written.

In Tune With The Times covers Show Boat‘s depictions of racial intolerance and segregation in the American South; the decadence of Second Empire France (Orpheus in the Underworld); Weimar Germany (Cabaret); Belle Epoque Paris and Vienna (The Merry Widow); the first American film musicals in the 1920s and 1930s, and how they came to be governed by the notorious “Production Code”; social commentary in stage musicals of the 1940s and 1950s, including West Side Story; the so-called “Sexual Revolution”, from the 1960s to the present day; and what today’s blockbusters, including Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera, can tell us about our own time.

Musicals: Strife, Low Life and High Society includes Fiddler on the Roof, set against a background of Russian persecution of Jewish families and how they struggled to maintain their traditions; the coming of sound films and the problems they created for silent film stars as seen in Singin’ in the Rain; how musicals have tackled industrial strife and hardship, particularly in Made in Dagenham, Billy Elliott and The Matchgirls; musicals and the underworld in Guys and Dolls and Chicago; and a comparison of Miss Saigon and Hair in their treatment of the Vietnam War and its effects.

Musicals: The Weird and the Wonderful looks at some of the unlikely subjects and unusual treatments of familiar themes that have provided the bases for musicals in more recent years. We’ll look at international politics in Chess, Evita and Call Me Madam; the B-movie science fiction and horror-influenced Rocky Horror Show and Sweeney Todd; fairy tales subverted in Frozen and Into The Woods; and the quirky side of Rodgers and Hammerstein – plus many more, including the ultimate bad-taste musical The Producers.

Illustrated with film clips and musical extracts, photos and cartoons from satirical magazines.

Behind the Iron Curtain

berlin wall
Part of the Berlin Wall still standing

The Cold War division of Europe seemed for many years to be a permanent situation. But in 1989, a series of remarkable events took place that left each of the formerly communist Eastern European countries moving towards multiparty democracy. In November that year, the East German authorities decided to dismantle the Berlin Wall, and so remove the most potent symbol of the so-called “Iron Curtain”.

This course looks at the history of the Warsaw Pact countries, often viewed in the West as a monolithic bloc that the Soviet Union had re-created in its own image. In fact, each of these countries had particular characteristics, individual issues and even different political systems that would always constitute weaknesses in the fortress that Josef Stalin’s government in Moscow had tried to establish. In the 1980s, the cracks became even more obvious and a number of factors, some of them involving tensions between countries in the bloc, led to the collapse of communism as a system of government in Eastern Europe.

With film clips, photos and art works.

Brushstrokes of History 

The Arnolfini portrait

Two courses looking at various aspects of social and political history through great paintings.

Brushstrokes of History includes the establishment of the first “capitalist” economy in Bruges, and how it attracted Italian merchants, like the one depicted in the Arnolfini portrait of Jan van Eyck (right); art before and after the Revolution in France; the far from glamorous aspects of war, as depicted by Goya and Picasso; the struggles of great women painters to establish themselves in what most people considered to be a man’s profession; and the achievements of Russian artists in the 20th century, despite political upheavals and ultimately persecution by the state.

Great Paintings in Times of Massive Social Upheavals covers the formation of the Dutch Republic after the Eighty Years War when artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals and Leyster were active; the success of Renaissance artists Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and many others despite the Italian Wars and shifting allegiances of the city states; and American art from the time of the Civil War through the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, through to the post-Second World War era.

Both these courses are illustrated with examples of paintings and historical images.

Contact David for further information on any of these courses or see the website of WEA. All the courses are currently online only because of restrictions on face-to-face classes because of Covid-19.

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