Charles Eliot Norton Lectures #3

DATE - 1971

In 1970 Charles was appointed the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University. The Norton chair is traditionally held by an individual who has made a significant contribution to literature, music, or the fine arts. The individual is asked to deliver a series of lectures at Harvard, which are open to the university community. The announced topic of Charles’s lectures was “Problems Relation to Visual Communication and the Visual Environment.” He delivered six lectures over a six-month period (October 1970 to April 1971), first at the Loeb Drama Center and then at the Harvard Theater, where the lectures were moved to accommodate the large crowds who came to hear Charles Speak.

Additional Information

In the third lecture, delivered on January 14, 1971, Charles discussed the positive aspects of dealing with constraints in solving problems. Lecture #3, in Charles’s own words, was “almost parenthetic.” He showed a group of films, clips of films, and the slide shows Sets and Timgad, as examples of what he referred to as “packets” of information. The films he chose were De Gaulle Sketch, Symmetry, from Mathematica Peepshows, Introduction to Feedback, IBM at the Fair, the “dinner party” sequence from “The Fabulous Fifties.” Charles used each film or segment to demonstrate a single idea and to advocate the production of such “information packets” for teachers to draw upon. Charles also talked about a proposal he submitted to MIT that was directed at aesthetically broadening and enriching students’ academic and professional lives.

Timgad is a slide show of images of the ruins of the ancient North African city Timgad. The images run as a visual counterpoint to the soundtrack, in which the narrators read an exchange of letters concerning civic problems between the Roman emperor Trajan and the philosopher Pliny the Younger, who was appointed governor of Timgad in A.D. 100. Their problems were similar to those we face today: how to fund public works and services. The show was assembled specifically for the Norton Lectures.

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