Am I Normal? | The Voltaire Lecture 2022, with Dr Sarah Chaney

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December 1st, 2022 19:30   --   21:00

Before the nineteenth century, the term normal was rarely ever associated with human behaviour. Normal was a term used in maths: people weren't normal – triangles were.

But from the 1830s, this branch of science – the study of the 'normal' – really took off across Europe and North America, with a proliferation of IQ tests, sex studies, a census of hallucinations – even a UK beauty map (which concluded the women in Aberdeen were 'the most repellent'). In this lecture, Sarah will tell the surprising history of how the very notion of the normal came about, how it shaped us all, often while entrenching oppressive values.

Sarah will look at why we're still asking the internet: Do I have a normal body? Is my sex life normal? Are my kids normal? And along the way, she will challenge why we ever thought it might be a desirable thing to be.

About Dr Sarah Chaney

Dr Sarah Chaney is an honorary research fellow at the Queen Mary Centre for the History of the Emotions. She spent her teens and twenties furiously rebelling against the mainstream, while secretly longing to be normal. It wasn’t until she passed 30 that she (mostly) stopped worrying about this mythical ideal. Alongside her research work she runs the public exhibitions and events programme at the Royal College of Nursing. Her most recent book Am I Normal?: The 200-Year Search for Normal People (And Why They Don't Exist) was published in July 2022. She has also written on the history of self-injury, Psyche on the Skin (2017).

About Dr Adam Rutherford

Dr Adam Rutherford is a scientist, writer, and broadcaster. He’s a Lecturer in Biology and Society at UCL, and has written and presented award-winning series and programmes for the BBC, including Radio 4’s Start the Week, Inside Science, and The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry with Dr Hannah Fry. He’s written an indefinable number of books including A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, the very humanist Book of Humans, the Sunday Times bestselling How to Argue With a Racist, and, most recently, Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics, published in February.

About the Voltaire Lecture series

The Voltaire Lecture explores ‘any aspect of scientific or philosophical thought or human activity as affected by or with particular reference to humanism’. The Voltaire medallist has made a significant contribution in one of these fields. 

The lecture and medal are named for the philosopher Voltaire and the Voltaire Lectures Fund was originally established by the legacy of Theodore Besterman, biographer of Voltaire.

Online ticket: £8.00