Principal’s Lecture Series: Professor Lisa Jardine

PLS - Jardine-7

By Niamh Hanrahan

Professor Lisa Jardine CBE is an internationally renowned scholar and, fittingly for College’s 160th anniversary Principal’s lecture, an ex CLC girl. Currently Professor of Renaissance Studies at UCL, Professor Jardine also directs their postdoctoral Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Humanities. She balances these responsibilities with her role as Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Professor Jardine founded The Centre for Editing Lives and Letters in 2002, which develops archive-based research projects of relevance to the period 1500-1800 and writes and reviews for many major national newspapers and magazines, regularly appearing on arts, history and current affairs programmes for television and radio. She is a regular writer and presenter of ‘A Point of View’ on Sundays on BBC Radio Four.

With her lecture titled ‘Pioneering without a map’, Professor Jardine began her talk by showing the audience a photograph of herself as a little girl with her father, using this to illustrate that although ‘inspiring women look as if they have it all mapped out’, it is only in retrospect that the path taken looks clear- she had no ‘map’ when she was growing up. She then exemplified her point further by discussing the chemist Dorothy Hodgkin, reading a list of her achievements to demonstrate how in review her life looks like one clear path, when really it was probably her aspirations rather than a concrete plan that pushed her forward. By mentioning inspiring women such as Dorothy Hodgkin, Mary Beard, and even Mary Poppins, Professor Jardine showed the need for female heroes in one’s life, using stories of her mentor Professor Natalie Zemon Davis  and the mathematician Mary Cartwright to prove how they can make us strive to achieve more and understand what we are capable of.

She discussed her own lack of a map, describing how her life had been full of uncertain goals, failures and was really a rollercoaster- when she came to sit entrance exams for CLC, she could not do any of the maths paper, only completing one question, the area of grass around a swimming pool, yet went onto study maths at Cambridge. Professor Jardine urged girls to ‘never deny your background’, as she has had more knocks in her life than one would think possible of someone successful, and that your failures and disadvantages can become what makes you successful.  She spoke of her belief in carpe diem, as she was and is surrounded by people supportive of her ambition and how she views the world as unexpectedly kind. Finally, Professor Jardine spoke of a ‘pioneering woman’ as one who can come in all shapes and sizes, who not only nurtures her own ambition, but that of the future generations after her.

The floor was then opened up, with Guild members and girls asking some stimulating questions, such as what Professor Jardine’s biggest setback as a woman was (to which she answered that she doesn’t view setbacks as setbacks, but rather as future promises) and what those who don’t yet have a mentor should look for- you should keep your eyes open.

Thanks to everyone who made the lecture such a fascinating morning, and especially to Professor Lisa Jardine for exploring her view of pioneering woman ‘without a map’.

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