On savage shores, with Caroline Dodds Pennock | The Voltaire Lecture 2023

November 14th, 2023 19:30   --   21:00

We have long been taught to presume that modern global history began when the 'Old World' encountered the 'New', when Christopher Columbus 'discovered' America in 1492. But, as Caroline Dodds Pennock will demonstrate in The Voltaire Lecture 2023, for tens of thousands of Aztecs, Maya, Totonacs, Inuit and others – enslaved people, diplomats, explorers, servants, traders – the reverse was true: they discovered Europe.


For them, Europe comprised savage shores, a land of riches and marvels, yet perplexing for its brutal disparities of wealth and quality of life – and its baffling beliefs. The story of these Indigenous Americans abroad is a story of abduction, loss, cultural appropriation, and, as they saw it, of apocalypse – a story that has largely been absent from our collective imagination of the times.

Drawing on their surviving literature and poetry, and subtly layering European eyewitness accounts against the grain, Pennock will deliver a sweeping account of the Indigenous American presence in, and impact on, early modern Europe.

Chaired by Humanists UK President Dr Adam Rutherford.

About Caroline Dodds Pennock

Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock is Senior Lecturer in International History at the University of Sheffield and the only British Aztec historian. Her first book, Bonds of Blood: Gender, Lifecycle and Sacrifice in Aztec Culture won the Royal Historical Society's Gladstone Prize for 2008. On Savage Shores: How Indigenous Americans Discovered Europe was published in 2023 and was BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week.

She has appeared on TV programmes for broadcasters including the BBC, the Smithsonian Channel, and Netflix, and has acted as a named historical consultant for several TV projects, as well as writing for popular publications including Scientific American, BBC History, BBC World Histories, BBC Knowledge, and History Today.

About Adam Rutherford

Dr Adam Rutherford is a scientist, writer, broadcaster, and President of Humanists UK. A lecturer in Biology and Society at UCL, he has also 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 a number of books including A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, the Sunday Times-bestselling How to Argue With a Racist, and Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics, published in 2022. The children’s book Where Are You Really From? is expected September 2023.

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. The inaugural lecture took place in 1968 and was delivered by Theodore Besterman, biographer of Voltaire, who went on to fund the lecture series in his legacy.

In-person ticket: £16.00
[Late registration] In-person ticket: £20.00
Online ticket: £13.00


Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
London, WC1R 4RL
United Kingdom