Oxford Muse

Theodore Zeldin’s _Intimate History of Humanity_ is a book I adored — and then prompty gave away, so that I have only the faintest memory of _why_ I adored it. Zeldin is an Oxford lecturer on French history, and his book was a wide-ranging attempt to map the history of human emotions. [perhaps it has something in common with more academic attempts to track the “[mood music of history](http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n15/hobs01_.html)” — but Zeldin’s book, being aimed at the general reader, could draw connections and inferences in a style impossible within the academy].

Anyway, I recently looked online to see what he’s been up to lately, and was delighted to see he’s turned his life towards a program implicit in what he’d been writing. That is, attempting not just to bring people together, but to provide them with the tools to understand one another. He’s given it institutional cover under the name of the [Oxford Muse Foundation](http://www.oxfordmuse.com/), aiming to develop “less superficial conversations between individuals, families, work colleagues and communities”. It’s thus placing itself at that oddly-crowded nexus between primary-school teachers, political organizers, psychiatrists, couchsurfers and business consultants. Whether it’s really a good thing — well, that depends largely on execution. The things they’ve done so far — having people write descriptions of one another’s lives, and providing ‘menus’ of conversation topics as icebreakers — sound like decent, if hardly revolutionary, ideas. But, success or failure, I’m glad to see it happen — certainly it’s better than writing more books on French history.

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