This event has now finished.
  • Date and time: Friday 12 June 2020, 6pm to 7pm
  • Location: Online event
  • Audience: Open to alumni, staff, students, the public
  • Admission: Free admission, booking required

Event details

Missed this event? Watch the conversation on Youtube.

Our conversation will explore how stories, things and thinking can bring comfort in times of stress.

Franziska Kohlt asks why many of us have felt drawn to the comfort of childhood classics –often unjustly dismissed as ‘escapism’. She explores how books like Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, or The Water-Babies, were written in times of epidemics, illness and crisis, and how these works can be valuable emotional tools to carry us through crisis.   

Penny Spikins asks why in times of crisis we turn to programmes like The Repair Shop to find some sense of comfort, and why cherished possessions seem to help when we feel stressed or isolated. She explores where our tendency to attach to things came from in our evolutionary past and how finding attachments to objects can compensate for missing human relationships at times of stress or isolation.

Tim Radford’s contribution comes from his recent book, The Consolation of Physics. It is both a conversation with the past and a celebration of the shared scientific tradition of generosity and co-operation that has taken human understanding, mediated by international experiment, to the edge of the solar system, to the origins of Universe and to cataclysmic star-death in distant galaxies.

Our conversation is chaired by Tom McLeish, the University of York’s first Professor of Natural Philosophy and author of The Poetry and Music of Science.

Missed this event? Watch the conversation on Youtube. 


About the speakers

Dr Franziska Kohlt is a Research Associate with the University of York’s Department of Sociology and Editor of The Lewis Carroll Review. She is a researcher in the History of Science, and Fantastic Literature, and an active science communicator with an interest in the socio-psychological history of what narratives make science communication effective. She has explored a broad variety of topics, from insects to AI, in journal articles and exhibitions, and regularly appears on international media as an expert on Lewis Carroll.

Tim Radford is a freelance journalist. He was born in New Zealand, and has spent most of his life in weekly, evening and daily newspapers. He retired as science editor of the Guardian in 2005 and is now one of the founding editors of

Dr Penny Spikins, Senior Lecturer in the Archaeology of Human Origins at the University of York, is a Palaeolithic archaeologist with a particular interest in the evolution of human emotions. Her research has covered the human origins of our sense of compassion, gratitude and tolerance, and has been published in many journal papers as well as a recent book How Compassion Made Us Human. She is currently completing a new book Hidden Depths: The Palaeolithic Origins of our Most Human Emotions.

Tom McLeish FRS is Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Department of Physics and also in the Centre for Medieval Studies and the Humanities Research Centre at the University of York. He has won awards in the UK, USA and EU for his interdisciplinary research in ‘soft matter and biological physics’, and also works across science and humanities on medieval science, theology, sociology, and philosophy of science. The author of The Poetry and Music of Science, he regularly appears on BBC radio.

Book sales

You can buy copies of many of our speakers’ books from Fox Lane Books, a local independent bookseller and Festival partner.  In some cases, author signed bookplates are available too.