A History of LSE Events

Muhammed Ali speaking in the Old Theatre in 1971

To the public, the LSE is known best for being a hotbed of socialism, a springboard for investment bankers and accountants, and holding public lectures.

Whether or not these perceptions have any validity, the LSE’s events are a source of pride for the School, and an opportunity to market itself as an international centre of debate. 

Most events at LSE are organised and hosted by the School’s Public Lecture Programme (PLP), but an LSE spokesperson acknowledges that “many more events take place at the School outside the PLP including those hosted by Students’ Union societies.”

In the 2018/19 academic year so far, 32,000 people have attended PLP-run LSE events, with many more opting to listen to the subsequent podcasts: in 2018, these received six million downloads. On Soundcloud the LSE has 263,000 followers and on Youtube 126,000 subscribers. 

Angus Reilly, a second-year Government and History student and event steward, told The Beaver that the LSE’s events remind him why he chose to study here: “I’ve seen prime ministers, senators, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners. Those aren’t opportunities you would get at any other university”. 

Delving further back into the LSE’s history shows that speakers have attracted audiences without these too. Nelson Mandela spoke at the LSE in 2000, and in 2012, Bill Gates and the Dalai Lama visited and spoke at public lectures. 

Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian nationalist movement, spoke in the Old Theatre in 1931 when he was visiting to attend the Second Round Table Conference on the Indian constitution. It is said in the Clare Market Review that the LSE’s contemporary Indian Society may have had influence in inviting him to speak, as well as Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This was Gandhi’s final visit to Britain. 

Muhammed Ali spoke in 1971, also in the Old Theatre (above), when he was visiting for his European boxing tour. The Beaver reported on how he answered questions regarding his key opponent at the time, Frazier, as well as his religious beliefs, US integration and political stances. The Beaver writes that “he handled each [political question] with the easy familiarity born of long experience.” 

With these experiences, the public seek to entertain, investigate and challenge themselves.

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