Here you can find recordings of all the previous online events
We were proud to offer alumni the chance to explore the world through our Oxford Journeys travel programme for over 20 years. The travel programme was put on hold from the end of 2022 but we continue to offer our regular online Armchair Travel events to the alumni community. Oxford alumni are still very welcome to travel on any of the trips which are featured in the Armchair Travel series and details of the tour operators can be found here.
Armchair travel: A Tibetan Kingdom within a Kingdom
The northern borderlands of Nepal are home to a dozen or so culturally Tibetan enclaves. One of these is the former kingdom of Mustang, also called Lo, which was founded in the fourteenth century.
Mustang was absorbed into the emerging nation of Nepal in the eighteenth century, but thanks to good relations with the new Gorka rulers in Kathmandu it was allowed to retain its own king as well as a measure of political autonomy. The royalty and aristocracy of Mustang were devout Buddhists who sponsored the building and decoration of magnificent temples, monasteries and convents, most of which have survived to this day. Beneath this conspicuous and thriving Tibetan Buddhist culture, however, are traces of far more ancient belief systems. Mustang is home to the oldest surviving community of the ancient Bön religion anywhere in the Himalayas, preserving rituals that long predate the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet; and going back even further, to the beginning of the first millennium BCE, are hundreds of spectacular labyrinthine cave complexes that were once home to a mysterious troglodyte civilisation.
Beginning with an overview of some of the region’s most outstanding examples of art and architecture, Professor Charles Ramble will take you on a journey through some of the lesser-known pathways in the cultural legacy of this extraordinary mountain kingdom.
Armchair travel: Korea and Japan over Two Millennia
Korea and Japan are at the other end of Eurasia from Britain and are connected in shared histories much like the British Isles and the European continent.
In this special talk for the Armchair Travel series, Professor Jay Lewis, Associate Professor at Oxford University, will take the long view over two millennia and consider migration, kingship and statecraft, Buddhism, warfare, Confucianism, trade, colonialism, and modernity, to better understand the similarities and the unique aspects of both.
Japan and Korea were on parallel tracks until about 1200. Both were coping with life as peripheries to the Chinese mainland. From about 1200, they diverged significantly thereafter to create the modern nations and cultures that we know today.
Armchair travel: In the Footsteps of the Gods: Naples and The Amalfi Coast
It is not hard to explain why the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast have exerted a particular fascination since antiquity. The Romans discovered both Greek culture and the pleasures of “otium”, the absence of business, in this area. Naples is perhaps the only European city with an unbroken history of metropolitan life since Greek times. More recently the natural beauty of the Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri has attracted visitors from all over the world.
At the same time, the medieval history and monuments in places like Amalfi and Ravello show the depth of the cultural heritage of this area beyond the picture postcard motifs.
In this lecture, Dr Alex Koller attempts an overview of the culture and history of a region long considered the climax and finale of the Grand Tour.
Armchair travel: Crete - the 'Big Island': 9,000+ years of history
Crete is a remarkable island! 260km west to east, 60km north to south at its broadest point and only 12km at its narrowest, it is the largest Greek island and is often called simply ‘the big island’, το μεγάλο νησί. It can also boast over 9,000 years of human history, to which various adjectives have been attached: Minoan, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Venetian, Ottoman. Part of the Greek state only since 1913, it was home to the earliest attested written form of the Greek language, in the Linear B script, one of at least five writing systems used on the island to record an even larger number of languages.
In this illustrated talk, Professor John Bennet (Camb, 1976) will attempt to bring some order to this dizzying complexity and offer an outline ‘history’ of the island, with an emphasis on the outstanding remains from the Bronze Age, where his specialism lies. Certain watershed moments stand out: c. 7,000 BC (the first documented permanent human settlement, but not the first evidence of humans on the island), c. 2,000 BC (the construction of the first distinctive structures known as ‘palaces’), c. 1,600 BC (eruption of Thera/Santorini), 69 BC (Roman conquest), AD 827/8 (Arab conquest), AD 961 (Byzantine reconquest), AD 1204 (4th Crusade and Venetian conquest), AD 1669 (Ottoman conquest), AD 1913 (incorporation in the Greek state).
Within this historical framework, Professor Bennet will emphasise some key themes in Crete’s history: the sea as isolator and connector; diversity and unity; continuity vs. discontinuity; the balance between East and West; ultimately what has often been called Crete’s ‘exceptionalism’.
Armchair travel: Building two nations - The architecture and landscapes of Georgia and Armenia
The lands of the Transcaucasus, encompassing Georgia and Armenia, have rarely been at peace. Nonetheless, in one of the most remarkable testaments to human creativity, both countries have succeeded in producing a unique legacy in which landscape, architecture, history and culture are inextricably linked. Dr Koller will show how the region’s great monuments and their spectacular settings have become an expression of both the national consciousness and spirit of the peoples of Georgia and Armenia.
Armenia is a land of stone but also a land of faith. The country has produced such a variety of building forms that some scholars see it as the source of European medieval architecture. Conversely, in Georgia the diversity of the landscape is expressed in sites as varied as troglodyte towns, tower dwellings, early Christian basilicas and hybrid Russo-Ottoman town houses.
It is no coincidence that some of the most breath-taking views of Georgia and Armenia are an almost ethereal mix of landscape and architecture. But beyond this beauty, these sites share histories of danger and persecution; maybe a last refuge after a foreign invasion or even a place for the confinement of the Apostles. At this mountainous crossroads of cultures, the highest architectural and artistic aspirations go hand in hand with the human tragedy of suffering and banishment. What does this unique interaction tell us about the peoples of Georgia and Armenia today?
Armchair travel: Moorish architecture
In Al-Andalus, the Islamic kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula that lasted nearly 800 years, the ruling Muslims created some of the most spectacularly beautiful architecture ever seen in Western Europe. In 1492 the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabel, brought this kingdom to an end, when they completed the Christian reconquest of Spain. This was the same year that they sent Columbus on his historic journey, triggering the Golden Age of Spain, and the distinctive style of Spanish art which then followed.
The talk will cover three of the most iconic examples of Moorish architecture – the Great Mosque of Cordoba, the Alcazar of Seville and the Alhambra of Granada.
Armchair travel: Discover the how, where and why of the aurora
If you are lucky enough to see a display of the Northern Lights in a clear dark sky, it's an experience never to be forgotten. Sometimes seen as wide ribbons or billowing curtains stretching across the sky, or sparkling and flashing swirls above your head, this is a phenomenon that has entranced and fascinated observers for thousands of years.
In this highly illustrated talk Dr Carolin Crawford (Camb) will discuss the how, where and why of the aurora, and the variety of shapes and structures they can form. She'll explain how their occurrence is intimately related to the Sun's activity and the Earth's magnetic field - leading to the charged particles of the Solar wind exciting atoms and molecules in our atmosphere to release light as these stunning displays. This talk is organised by Hurtigruten who will be arranging the alumni tour to Norway with Dr Crawford.
Armchair travel: The vanishing kingdoms of the Himalayas
The Himalayas are the highest mountains on Earth and one of the most spectacular, dotted with sacred peaks, ancient monasteries and cliff-hanging temples. This lecture will focus on the art and culture of the Buddhist areas that lie along this mountain chain, the spiritual domain of Tibetan culture and religion stretching 2000 miles from Ladakh in the west to Bhutan in the east. Most of these areas were at one time kingdoms or principalities, but today the only Buddhist kingdom that remains is Bhutan. What shaped and inspired the culture of these different areas - Ladakh, Zanskar, Lahoul, Spiti, Nepal, Mustang, Sikkim and Bhutan; and what if any are the cultural characteristics that distinguish one area from another? And will Bhutan be able to survive as a kingdom? This broad ranging lecture will be given by Himalayan Cultural historian Zara Fleming, who has travelled extensively in the region following her first visit in 1973. Since 2006, Zara has accompanied over ten journeys for the alumni to the Himalayas.
This talk is part of the Oxford and Cambridge Universities Alumni Travel Programme and is organised by Distant Horizons who will be arranging the alumni tour to Bhutan with Zara.
Armchair travel: The origins of dinosaurs
Our September Armchair Travel event will delve into the latest evidence for the origins of dinosaurs, in what is now South America. Professor Paul Barrett will discuss how dinosaurs became some of the most successful land animals of all time and plot their evolutionary journey from starting as small, rare animals living in the shadows of many other early reptiles in what is now Argentina and Brazil, to going on to dominate the Earth.
Professor Barrett is the Natural History Museum's senior dinosaur specialist and a world-leading expert on the evolution and biology of dinosaurs and other extinct reptiles. He has previously held the position of Departmental Lecturer in the Department of Zoology at Oxford and is a frequent contributor to dinosaur-related news in the media, most recently on Channel 5's World of Wonder series. Professor Barrett will also be accompanying next year's alumni trip to Argentina
Armchair travel: What does architecture tell us about the Russians?
For July’s Armchair Travel event, we are delighted to welcome Professor Alexei Leporc, Curator of Western European Art at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Alexei was previously Professor of 15th to 20th century West European Art and Architecture at St Petersburg European University, and is a regular and popular face on our annual St Petersburg alumni tour.
Alexei will explore Russian architecture against a social, artistic, economic and political panorama, questioning whether architectural heritage plots a nation's history or shapes its culture and examining the relationship between national character and national architecture. He will even ask whether the age old canonical forms such as onion domes, hipped roofs and non-stop ornamentation are actually Russian.
Armchair travel: Lost cities of Ancient Caria
This month’s Armchair Travel event will take us to the Carian and Lycian coasts of western Turkey. Beyond the glorious crystal blue waters, this area boasts an extraordinary tapestry of traces of past civilisations. Professor Richard Hunter will introduce this part of the Mediterranean, focussing on two themes in particular: Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus) as a city of writing and myth, and Knidos, where Praxiteles' famous' statue of the naked Aphrodite attracted both visitors and a rich body of legend.
Professor Hunter has been Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Cambridge since 2001. His research interests include Hellenistic and Roman poetry, ancient literary criticism and Greek literature and religion.
Armchair travel: Kipling - How the writer found his voice
Join Dr Sarah Shaw for our next instalment of the Armchair Travel series as she looks at how the influences of Kipling’s own childhood, and his passion for Indian culture and life contributed to the formation of his great children’s classics. The talk will explore how his encounters with animals and the natural environment in India, his longstanding love for the country’s oral story traditions, as well as the sounds of the jungle and his Ayah’s soothing voice offered great inspiration for his tales about Mowgli, Shere Khan and Baloo.
Dr Sarah Shaw is a Faculty Member at the Oriental Institute at the University of Oxford and an Honorary Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. One of her key research interests is Indian and Asian influences on British nineteenth century writers.
Armchair travel: A Himalayan adventure - Nepal's rocks and temples
Nepal is home not only to the spectacular mountains and rock formations of the Himalayas, but also to a complex mix of Hindu and Buddhist cultures going back 2,000 years or more. Our very own Professor David Gellner, Professor of Social Anthropology, and Professor Mike Searle, Professor of Earth Sciences, are teaming up to give an anthropological and geological perspective of Nepal ahead of their alumni tour there later this year.
David will introduce the rich Hindu-Buddhist civilization of the Kathmandu Valley and the fascinating Tibetan Buddhist kingdom of Mustang. Mike will then dive into the geological history of the Himalayas, in particular the spectacular geology of the Annapurna Range and Kali Gandaki gorge.
Armchair travel: Central Balkans - past and present
This armchair travel instalment takes us to the Central Balkans where we will explore its complex but fascinating history and cultures. Nirvana Romell is a native of Dalmatia and is a lecturer in Balkan art and history. She has accompanied many alumni tours over the years and will be the trip scholar on our trip to North Macedonia in the autumn.
Nirvana’s talk will focus on ex-Yugoslavia and Albania, explaining the socio-historical background of numerous political divisions. It will also introduce some of the key monuments of this melting pot of Slavic, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, Ottoman, Habsburg and other heritages, where art and culture serve as a bridge in national and political divisions.
This event is being run and organised by Distant Horizons, who have been organising alumni tours for us for over 20 years.
Armchair travel: Fire and fury in Iceland
Join Cambridge’s Professor Robert (Bob) White as he explains how the geologically youthful Iceland has grown above the plate tectonic rift between North America and Europe in the centre of the Atlantic Ocean by successive paroxysms of often violent, and always spectacular volcanic eruptions. Bob is Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge and is a Fellow of the Royal Society. He will be accompanying a tour to Iceland later this year as part of the Oxford Journeys travel programme.
In 2014, Bob and his team were fortunate to capture the largest eruption in Iceland since 1775 by tracking the molten rock as it travelled laterally for 50 km underground at a depth of 6 km before erupting in central Iceland. He will describe his work in one of the remotest areas on earth tracking the molten rock, with videos of the eruption and advancing lava flows taken from within touching distance. A preview of Bob’s work can be viewed here.
Armchair travel: Curious physicists
Join Professor Roger Davies, Philip Wetton Professor of Astrophysics & Director of the Hintze Centre for Astrophysical Surveys, as he explains how the 2020 recipients of the Nobel Prize for Physics showed that black holes were predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and how they were able to demonstrate the existence of such a super-massive black hole at the heart of our own galaxy. This talk coincided with a total solar eclipse crossing Chile and Argentina.
This event was hosted by the tour operator Last Frontiers who is organising the 2021 Astronomy & Wine tour to Argentina which will be accompained by Professor Davies.
Armchair travel: Curious naturalists
Professor Nick Davies (Camb) takes us on a journey to some of the biodiversity hotspots of South and Central America, wild and wonderful places with amazing wildlife. He explains how the curiosity and evolutionary ideas of early naturalists are still an inspiration for travellers and scientists today.
This event was hosted by the tour operator Last Frontiers who is organising the 2022 Wildlife of Peru tour which will be accompanied by Professor Nick Davies.