Co-Director Spotlight: Professor Patrick Zuk (Arts and Humanities)

Jan 23, 2023 | Meet the team, Transformations (Issue 8)

The Institute’s Co-Director for Arts and Humanities, Patrick Zuk, is based in the Russian Studies section of Durham’s School for Modern Languages and Cultures. A musicologist by training, much of his research has focussed on music and cultural life in Ireland and in Eastern Europe—topics reflecting his Irish-Polish background. His most recent monograph, Nikolay Myaskovsky: A Composer and His Times (The Boydell Press, 2021), was selected for an Outstanding Academic Publication award for 2022 by CHOICE, the publishing division of the American Libraries Association. This ground-breaking study is the first attempt at a comprehensive reassessment of a key figure in Russian-Soviet musical life that draws extensively on archival sources available since glasnost. In addition to offering a detailed critical account of Myaskovsky’s career and achievement, the book sheds extensive new light on the professional circumstances in which Soviet composers had to operate and challenges long-standing assumptions originating in Cold War-era scholarship.

Professor Zuk is currently working on an interdisciplinary study of musical representations of extreme experience, focussing on operas by Richard Wagner and Arnold Schoernberg—a project arising from his interest in the field of medical humanities. Future research plans include a monograph on historical envisionings of the figure of the composer in the Romantic and modernist periods, and a collaborative interdisciplinary project ‘Understanding Offence: Delimiting the (Un)sayable’, which is one of the three Major Projects sponsored by the IAS in 2023-24.

Understanding Offence’ will be co-led by his Durham colleague Professor Helen Fenwick (Law), a leading expert on human rights law and issues pertaining to freedom of expression. The project aroused a high level of interest across the University: the research team comprises 24 staff members from all four faculties, and will be augmented by six visiting IAS fellows with supplementary expertise. The chief project output will be an edited volume exploring offence as a social and cultural phenomenon—a key focus being the challenges inherent in attempting to devise serviceable normative definitions of offensive speech and behaviour capable of securing broad consent and underpinning legal and other regulatory frameworks in contemporary plural societies. The project will run in Epiphany 2024 and culminate in a three-day multidisciplinary conference.

The IAS has seen strong levels of engagement historically from researchers in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, and since his appointment as co-director, Professor Zuk has been pleased to see that this shows every sign of continuing. A second IAS project for 2023-24, Abusing Antiquity, is co-led by Dr Helen Roche from the History Department, and over the last year he has received numerous enquiries from faculty colleagues wishing to discuss ideas for other collaborative interdisciplinary initiatives. ‘It’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of the role’, Professor Zuk remarks. ‘It gives me a chance to find out about important intellectual issues that are coming to the fore in other disciplines, and I’m constantly surprised by the sheer range and variety of staff members’ interests. It’s a privilege for the co-directors to be able to assist colleagues to develop ideas, and hopefully they will become more closely involved with the Institute and avail of the intellectual, practical and financial support that we can offer’.


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