Theories of Catastrophe


'Catastrophe', the prospect of the end of the world and the possible extinction of mankind have been omnipresent on our horizons ever since the nineteenth century.

This day school aims to examine our modern fascination with disaster by analyzing various forms of this catastrophic imaginary from the Victorian, fin de siècle and contemporary periods. Over the course of this survey, we shall study seminal texts including Mary Shelley's The Last Man (1826), Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West (1918), Walter Benjamin's 'Theses on the Philosophy of History' (1942), Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition (1958) and Theodor Adorno’s writings, as well as more contemporary material relating to the prospect of nuclear, climactic and biological catastrophes. These works will help us understand how these thinkers grappled with the most difficult prospect of all: the end of reason and meaning itself.

Programme details

9.15am: Registration

9.30am: The Figure of the Last Men in Victorian Literature

11.00am: Coffee/tea

11.30am: Fin de Siècle and early 20th century narratives of Decline and Degeneration

1.00pm: Lunch

2.00pm: History as permanent Catastrophe in the mid-20th century

3.30pm: Coffee/tea

4.00pm: Imagining nuclear, climactic and biological Catastrophes

5.30pm: Discussion Session

6.15pm: Course ends


Description Costs
Tuition - in-person attendance £80.00
Tuition - virtual attendance £80.00
Baguette £5.50


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Ms Audrey Borowski


Tutor in Politics and Philosophy at the University of Oxford.

Dr Doug Bamford


Tutor in Philosophy and Political Economy, OUDCE


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.


Accommodation is not included in the price, but if you wish to stay with us the night before the course, then plesae contact our Residential Centre.

Accommodation in Rewley House - all bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.  Please contact our Residential Centre on +44 (0) 1865 270362 or email for details of availability and discounted prices.

IT requirements

You can opt to attend this hybrid teaching event either online (via a livestream) or in person at Rewley House, Oxford. You will be given the option of how you wish to attend during the enrolment process. You can only pick one option. If your preferred attendance format is fully booked, you can email us to be put on the waiting list.

For those joining us online

The University of Oxford uses Microsoft Teams for our learning environment. If you’re attending online, you’ll be able to see and hear the speakers, and to submit questions via the Teams interface. Joining instructions will be sent out prior to the start date. We recommend that you join the session at least 10-15 minutes prior to the start time – just as you might arrive a bit early at our lecture theatre for an in-person event.

If you have not used the Microsoft Teams app before, once you click the joining link you will be invited to download it (this is free). Once you have downloaded the app, please test before the start of your course. If you are using a laptop or desktop computer, you will also be offered the option of connecting using a web browser. If you connect via a web browser, Chrome is recommended.

Please note that this course will not be recorded.