Dr. Katy Layton-Jones gave the department’s annual Reading Lecture on Wednesday, March 17. Many Colgate students and faculty know Katy as the instructor of History of the City of London, a course she teaches every spring to the London History and English study groups. So it was nice to be reminded that she’s a leading cultural historian, the author of two books and numerous articles, and an active historical consultant.
The title of her talk was “Trouble in Paradise: The Historical Roots of the Public Parks Crisis, 1750-2020.” She opened with a warning: “British public parks are in crisis.” She then explained that Britain’s parks, although greatly valued by the public and politicians, are underfunded and endangered. A decade of austerity has contributed to this crisis. But her talk also showed that many of today’s problems have deep historical roots.
Moving back in time, Katy described the ambitions and limitations of Britain’s city parks at the time of their founding. Parks revealed the tremendous energies of Victorian society, bringing together ambitious urban planners, generous benefactors, bold landscape architects, and sharp-eyed real estate developers. But the parks benefitted some social groups more than others, and the urban poor often found themselves on the outside looking in. The finances of many parks were always precarious.
Yet the parks survived. We need, she concluded, to stop taking them for granted and to secure their future existence. This will require continued historical research and tireless advocacy. Katy is involved in both. It was wonderful to learn about her research, and the History Study Groups is looking forward to seeing her In London in early 2022.
Written by Professor Nemes