London always comes alive when the weather gets warm and sunny, and this is making me excited for my upcoming Summer School course, ‘London and the British City: Past and Present.’ The sunshine and long Spring days lend themselves to walking around this historic city, and each walk reveals a new layer and a myriad of surprises, even on streets that are familiar. Students on the upcoming course will be encouraged to find their own surprises and hidden corners of London to claim as their own, as so many have done in the past. They will walk the streets of kings and queens, Dickens, Wilde, and Shakespeare. London has long had the ability to bemuse and inspire; to perplex and also trouble. London challenges and sometimes makes one uncomfortable, with history and a loud, sometimes jarring contemporary city existing side by side. Each walk through London is rife with contradiction and paradox: Ferraris and Ferragamo next to homeless sleepers; pollution next to pristine parks; glassy, new spaces of the modern economy next to shabby, forgotten landscapes and pubs. A bus full of 50 people, each from a different country, speaking a different language. Unable to communicate, perhaps, but Londoners, each one. Such is the wonder, and complexity, of modern London.
Spring is also a great time to venture beyond London and explore Britain’s Green and Pleasant Land. When one leaves London, it can be like leaving one planet and entering another. There are towns and villages little-changed since the industrial revolution, left behind by contemporary life. There are inventive vibrant provincial cities like Manchester and Leeds, able to reinvent themselves, while just miles away stand abandoned mills and ghostly smokestaks. Beyond the Borders lies the land of Scotland, at once crucial to Britain’s modern and historical identity and yet immediately different, facing a crucial juncture as voters there prepare to determine whether (yes) to become independent, or (no) to remain in the Union with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
What an exciting summer, then, for students to come to King’s College London and learn about British cities and the role they play, have played, and must play in the world. London will be, in Shakespeare’s world, a stage – and all of its inhabitants like players, for students to observe and (for a short time), become a part of.
I look forward to welcoming students to London and with them, beginning our three week exploration.
London and the British City: Past and Present (Leading, Inventing and Reinventing).