On Monday February 11, the Classics Students Association (CSA) and History Students Association (HSA) hosted a speaker series entitled “Love in The Time Of…” in honour of Valentine’s Day. The annual series featured three history professors giving short lectures on love stories throughout time.
“I think people learn a lot of interesting new things by attending, and they do it for the love of learning,” said the President of the CSA, Neha Rahman. “A lot of the time people attend to come see a professor they already like, and then in the course of watching the other speakers they might find someone whose class they want to take, or someone’s research that intrigues them and that they want to explore further.”
The first talk was given by Dr. Brahm Kleinman, a history lecturer who did his undergrad at McGill and recently returned after obtaining his PhD from Princeton, and was entitled “In Praise of Turia: A Roman Love Story in Times of Civil War.” Kleinman discussed an ancient Roman funerary inscription from around 8 B.C. called the “Laudatio Turiae,” in which a husband laments the death of his wife (who has been named Turia by modern scholars, as her true name has been lost to time), who saved her husband from proscription (being sentenced to death or banished) by the Roman Empire. The inscription refutes the roles that women that were thought to have held at the time, and instead treats Turia as the hero of her own story.
The second lecture, given by professor Jason Opal, the History Department Chair, was the story of two slaves living on Andrew Jackson’s plantation in the late 18th century and early 19th century United States. The couple, George and Bette, shared many similarities with the relationship of their owners, Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel. George ran away to freedom, leaving Bette behind, much like Andrew Jackson left Sarah behind as he was often away accruing political power. Although Rachel and Bette were both separated from their significant others, it was clear that Bette’s suffering was not acknowledged by those around her. “People love who they love,” said Professor Opal, “but they do not do so equally in the eyes of the law… but they do their best to make do.”
The last lecture was perhaps not about love at all, but rather a story about a man who Dr. Don Nerbas, Associate Professor and Chair in Canadian-Scottish Studies, calls “uniquely unlovable”: Herbert Holt. Holt was a civil engineer and a corporate mogul during Canada’s “gilded age.” He ended up becoming the President of the Royal Bank of Canada and is an example of the effects of capitalism on cultural notions of love. His marriage to Jessie Paton was likely one of pure transactional agreement; without romance or passion. Later in life, he was shot at by the president of the Montreal Stock Exchange. Though he survived, he later attempted suicide, though he was unsuccessful. When he eventually passed away, his death was announced at a Montreal baseball game, where the audience applauded, likely due to his blaming of the suffering of the Great Depression on the poor, many of whom were likely in the stands.
Although perhaps not the same love stories people often hear, many students, both members of the department and others, enjoyed these unique retellings. The CSA and HSA hold another joint speaker series in October for Halloween and encouraged anyone who is interested to attend. The speaker series in October features spooky stories throughout history.
“The CSA and HSA both really love this event,” commented Rahman, “We always have so much fun, and we really appreciate our professors for donating their time to this, and I think they also have a lot of fun because of the stimulating discussion and questions that follow the talks. Overall, if you’ve never attended one of these, they happen every semester like clockwork and it’s always a worthwhile experience!”