Was Englishman John Ruskin a genius of the 19th century or one of its greatest troublemakers? Professor Emeritus of Sociology James Spates P’00, P’09 has been asked to convene a conference at The Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., on Dec. 13-14 to help untangle this mystery.
“John Ruskin: 19th-Century Visionary, 21st-Century Inspiration,” featuring a dozen international experts on the great Victorian, will include a presentation by Spates titled “Why Ruskin? A Radical and Humane Visionary.” The conference marks the end of a year-long celebration of the 200th anniversary of Ruskin’s birth, a year that has included major events in London and Oxford in the UK and at Harvard, Yale and the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, N.Y., among others.
Ruskin (1819-1900) was the most famous art and architecture critic of the Victorian era and one of the world’s first environmentalists, deploring the devastation and pollution caused by the Industrial Revolution. It was, however, his criticism of “the inhumanities created by capitalism,” says Spates, “that got him into trouble” with the business moguls of his time.
“Our contemporary lack of awareness of Ruskin and his significance are lamentable,” says Spates, noting that “his works of social criticism brim over with a series of recommendations which, if we ever took them seriously, would make all of our lives remarkably happier and healthier.”
Spates has been researching and writing on Ruskin for nearly a quarter century. He was first introduced to Ruskin by Professor Emerita of English Claudette Columbus during a semester co-teaching “London in the Nineteenth Century.” Since then, he has lectured widely and published numerous articles and essays on Ruskin’s life and work.
“This greatly underappreciated 19th century master is long overdue for a resurrection,” says Spates.
The conference includes speakers from the University of Liverpool, Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, the University of California, Berkeley, and more. “They are the cream of the Ruskin crop,” says Spates. “We’d be delighted to have any HWS grads in the Los Angeles area join us.” Visit The Huntington website for more information.