Fascinating Lower Sixth Thinking Big talks explore literature, photography, history and horse racing

Fascinating Lower Sixth Thinking Big talks explore literature, photography, history and horse racing

21 March 2023

This term, Lower Sixth Formers Alya, Daisy, Immy and Liv have taken students and staff on interesting journeys outside of the curriculum with fascinating Thinking Big talks. The eclectic mix of topics they expounded on – Hurrem Sultana; Victorian photography; equine doping; and the dangers of romanticising literature – exemplify Woldingham students’ wide-ranging interests and their enthusiasm to share these with others.

Alya was keen to put a spotlight on a woman she feels isn’t as well-known as she should be: Hurrem Sultana - “the woman who won the sultan’s heart”. Hurrem’s story (part documented, part legend, as Alya carefully spelt out) of being kidnapped into slavery from her home in what is today Ukraine to becoming concubine to the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman and initiating the era known as the Sultanate of Women, where the wives and mothers of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire wielded an unheard of amount of influence, was fascinating. As was learning that Alya’s interest in the subject stemmed from researching her own name.

Daisy also took her audience back in time, if not quite so far, with her talk on Victorian – and a little bit of Edwardian – photography. She began by showing a well-known Photoshopped photo of Khloe Kardashian and then one of a Norwegian woman taken in 1889, where Daisy showed how ink had been scratched away to make her waist look smaller. Daisy discovered this happened a lot in Victorian and Edwardian times – explaining that in this way people’s relationship with photography was similar to ours today. Daisy took us through other very interesting aspects of Victorian photography, some quite different to today, such as the practice of commissioning photos of a loved one immediately after death, often with other family members. To most of us this might appear rather morbid, for them a precious memory.

Immy’s talk focused on the present-day issue of “Equine doping in horse racing”.  Keen to raise awareness of a practice she believes is treating horses as “disposable money-making machines”, Immy gave detailed examples of various substances used to gain advantage in horse racing and the detrimental impact they can have on horses. She also ran through an undercover investigation by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) into a US-based trainer, which resulted in a fine and some regulatory changes. However, Immy’s conclusion was that “there is a very long way to go before trainers and vets universally put the welfare of the horse before their own greed.”

The final talk of term was Liv’s look at “The dangers of romanticising literature”. Liv first defined what she means by romanticism, which is “to talk or think about something in a way that makes it seem better than it truly is”. She then related this to literature by looking at the issues around romanticising the sometimes problematic lives of aesthetic characters and the author without acknowledging negative aspects. She also explained the potential dangers of young people romanticising abusive relationships within literature. Liv used two of her favourite books – Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath as well as BookTok – to explore her theme, suggesting that there is value to be gained by being aware of a book and author’s context and talking about a book’s content rather than simply dwelling on it in your mind.  

All four talks elicited plenty of questions from their interested audiences and we are already looking forward to discovering what Thinking Big will have to offer in the summer term.

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