Leicester VC to reflect on Century of Change in Lit&Phil lecture

University of Leicester Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nishan Canagarajah, has spoken of the ‘tremendous honour’ at being invited to deliver a prestigious public lecture to the body which helped establish the University more than a Century ago.

Professor Canagarajah will give the Leicester Literary and Philosophical (Lit&Phil) Society’s annual F.L. Attenborough Lecture via Zoom on Monday 21 February 2022 (7.30pm to 9.00pm). He said: “Leicester’s Lit&Phil Society is inexorably linked to the University’s founding story, and we are proud to continue our close connection to this day as we celebrate our Centenary.

“It truly is a tremendous honour to have been asked to deliver this lecture – not only because of our long-standing association with the Society, but also because the F.L. Attenborough Lecture is named after a key individual from our earliest years.

“When I first joined this University as President and Vice-Chancellor in 2019, I spoke of the privilege and responsibility which comes with leading this distinguished institution. That same feeling will be at the forefront of my find when I take to the virtual lectern for the Lit&Phil.”

It is thanks to discussions among Leicester’s Lit&Phil Society that the University of Leicester exists today.

A University College in Leicester was an idea which had been brewing among the city’s leading figures for a generation, first proposed in 1880 by the Reverend Joseph Wood in his Presidential address. Since then, members – doctors, lawyers, teachers, ministers and business leaders – had often discussed the idea, but it was only when Dr Astley Clarke took over the Presidency in 1912 that serious work began on developing what would become the University of Leicester.

After the Armistice of the First World War, a public fundraising campaign took off in earnest, spurred on by a determination to create a ‘living memorial’ to those who had given their lives. By January 1920, just 14 months after Dr Astley Clarke’s first donation of £500, the total stood at £100,000, including numerous donations by grieving friends and relatives of the war wounded and those killed during the conflict.

The University College’s first Principal was Society member (later Society President from 1924 to 1925) Dr R.F. Rattray, with the F.L. Attenborough Lecture named for the University College’s second Principal, who took office in 1932. Frederick Attenborough, father of Sir David and Richard, Lord Attenborough, led the University through the Second World War and served in his role as Principal until 1951.

Many University buildings and rooms are named after former Society Presidents Astley Clarke, Percy Gee, Bennett, Gimson and Rattray because of their role in the University’s history.

The first inaugural F.L. Attenborough Lecture was delivered in 2021 by Frederick Attenborough’s grandson, Michael Attenborough CBE.

Professor Canagarajah continued: “Michael’s heartfelt lecture in 2021 on the role of arts in education was a passionate and timely reminder of a University’s role in doing public good.

“Whether through the arts, world-changing research, or other public engagement opportunities, that is exactly what we are proud to deliver as a University by working in collaboration with the people of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.

“I hope that guests at this year’s lecture will be equally inspired by my reflections on celebrating a Century of our institution.”

The Leicester Lit&Phil Society’s F.L. Attenborough Lecture is free to attend in 2022, though donations to the Society are welcome. Guests are encouraged to register their place via Eventbrite for the virtual event.

The University of Leicester is also proud to collaborate with the Lit&Phil Society for the biennial Harry Hardy Peach Lectures, held on campus. Harry Peach was both a Lit&Phil President (1920-21) and a University founder, and the lectures were established by the Harry Hardy Peach Memorial Fund following his death in 1936.

For more information on the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society, visit leicesterlitandphil.org.uk.