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    As thousands of people head overseas for their holidays, many will be packing guidebooks listing the best bars, beaches and beauty spots.  Far fewer will be squeezing foreign language phrase books into their bags. The British are complacent when it comes to acquiring other languages: we simply assume that most people we encounter in tourist centres will speak English. And it’s true: many of them do.

    This was not the case four centuries ago when the Grand Tour was an educational rite of passage and an increasing number of entrepreneurs began to forge trade links across Europe and beyond. In the 16th and 17th century English was a minority language, a mere upstart in comparison with Latin (taught at school and considered a vital accomplishment among the elite classes) and French (the language of culture and refinement, as well as of diplomacy and commerce). A grasp of Italian too became desirable – as a language of courtly poetry and behaviour at Elizabeth’s court, a language of trade throughout the Mediterranean, and the language of opera, which seized the English fashionable imagination in the early 18th century.

    A flourishing industry grew up to fill a gap in the market and in a digital Anglo-centric world these publications tell us much more about the past than simply how to buy a horse or rent a room at an inn in French. Phrase books and travel guides from the 16th and 17th centuries reveal much about the preoccupations of the time and, in the varied dialogues and phrases they offered, reflect the needs of different groups of learners, be they tourists keen to visit the art collections of Italy or the salons of Paris, merchants seeking to make deals in Dutch marketplaces, or spies intent on learning the secrets of continental powers.

    John Gallagher, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge, is fascinated by the ways in which these early phrase books are structured in terms of essential phase and vocabulary, and by the nature of the encounters they seek to make possible – from sober prayers  to catalogues of raucous insult – ”I neuer thought that thou were otherwise, or an other manner of man then thou art: that is, a patch, a knaue, a naughtie one, a lyar, a ruffian, a deceauer, a wild one, a rope-cracker, a scolion, troublesome, a little foole, a wretch, wicked”. His close reading of this unique corpus of texts draws on his understanding of the social, economic and political history of the period he covers, which saw an explosion in travel and interest in the world beyond Britain.

    “I’m also interested in what it means to be competent in a language and how that has shifted with time. It’s about getting away from binaries between being fluent or not fluent – you can get by in a country with just a smattering of a language. It’s this smattering – what it includes and what it ignores – that is so revealing about human encounters, since it shows how different people developed different kinds of competence depending on what they wanted language to do for them,” said Gallagher. “At its most fundamental it’s a matter of exploring the question of why we need foreign-language competence, and what it does for us.”

    Gallagher studies collections of phrasebooks held in archives of libraries such as the British Library and Cambridge University Library, as well as the letters, notebooks, diaries, and memoirs of travellers and language-learners. The volumes he works on range from the late 15th century to the beginning of the 18th. Typically, the elite group of wealthy young men who undertook the Grand Tour as part of their education would have travelled with a small library of books that would help them with both practicalities (where to stay and where to procure good horses to get them to their next stopping point) and what to see (they observed modern political developments as well as the marvels of the classical civilisations). These privileged young men didn’t travel alone; they were accompanied by tutors whose job it was to keep their charges within their budgets and out of trouble, as well as supervising their education.

    Latin was commonly learnt at grammar schools and from private tutors, if they could be afforded, while French too was widely taught. Some children from affluent families were sent to small establishments in French-speaking towns to bring their competence up to scratch. The Loire valley was reputed to be an area where the best French was spoken and many English travellers spent a sojourn at Blois, Orléans or Saumur – places that were helpfully close to friendly Protestant populations as well as offering access to the best French accents.

    Just as today, some learners flourished while others failed miserably.  Writers mocked those English-speakers who returned from time spent abroad having learnt only a few words of the tongue they were supposed to have acquired. The language teacher and satirist John Eliot urged learners “not to doe as many of our English doe commonly, who will begin one language to day, and another to morrow: then after they have learned a Comm’portez vous? in French: a Come state?  in Italian, and a Beso las manos: in Spanish, they thinke themselues braue men by and by, and such fellowes as are worthie to be sent in ambassage to the great Turke.” These young Englishmen, inordinately proud of their smattering of a few languages, were ripe for parody.

    While some language manuals were published anonymously, many were written by teachers who used their books as a way of advertising their own services. “When you look into the background of those who compile phrase books, you find that they often sit between two or more cultures – for example, they might be second generation immigrants who retain a strong sense of what it is like to try to communicate in another language and within another culture,” said Gallagher.

    Most of Gallagher’s research is into phrasebooks produced for English-speakers travelling overseas, but he also looks at language teaching texts written for refugees arriving to settle in England, such as the texts written by and for the French Protestants who were forced to flee their country during Louis XIV’s programme of persecution. These manuals show how newly-arrived immigrants adjusted not just to the English language but to English customs which seemed bizarre to incomers.

    He said: “One text, written to serve the wave of over 10,000 German-speaking migrants who arrived in London in 1709, emphasised the pitiable language they would need in order to ingratiate themselves in their host nation, with one German saying to another ‘let us ... be Industrious in whatever Place or Station, God & Her Majesty will be pleased to put us. And to behave our selves quietly & submissively to all People, and remember that we are strangers, and here upon Charity’.”

    Gallagher’s interest in language-learning literature started well before he embarked on an   undergraduate degree in French and History at Trinity College, Dublin. “When I was 12, I picked up a phrasebook in a Spanish hotel lobby and was hooked. I’ve always loved speaking other languages, and this strange kind of text is one that’s held my fascination for years.”

    Earlier this year John Gallagher was recently named one of ten New Generation Thinkers for 2013/14 by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts & Humanities Research Council. Over the coming year, he will be working with BBC producers to contribute to Night Waves and to put together programme ideas, as well as speaking at the BBC Free Thinking Festival at The Sage, Gateshead in October.

    With Dr Richard Blakemore, he is a co-founder and presenter of the Cambridge PhDcasts, a project undertaken with Cambridge’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), which puts PhD students in front of the camera to give interviews about their academic research. The first season of PhDcasts can be viewed at http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/page/1185/camphdcasts.htm and filming has just been completed on a second season, due to appear online weekly from October.

    “Our new PhDcasts showcase research from arts and social sciences faculties across Cambridge, taking us from the archaeology of the ancient Indus civilisation to the literature of modern-day South Africa, via Samuel Beckett, 13th-century musical manuscripts, the ethics and politics of human egg donation, and dog-training programmes in modern prisons,” said Gallagher. “We’re really excited to have started something that allows PhD students to bring cutting-edge research to a wide audience, and introduces people to the joys – and the complexities – of postgraduate work.” 

    You can follow John on Twitter @earlymodernjohn.

    For more information about this story contact Alex Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge amb206@admin.cam.ac.uk 01223 761673

    Inset images reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library

    Will you be speaking Greek, Turkish or Spanish on holiday this summer – or will you rely on the locals having a workable grasp of English? In his research, PhD candidate John Gallagher looks at the history of that unique form of literature - the foreign language phrase book. 

    thou art... a patch, a knaue, a naughtie one, a lyar, a ruffian, a deceauer, a wild one, a rope-cracker, a scolion, troublesome, a little foole, a wretch, wicked
    Choice of insults from an early modern phrase book
    Title page of Colloquia et dictionariolum octo linguarum (Amsterdam, 1631), a pocket-sized phrasebook containing material in eight languages.

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.

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    Organic solar cells, a new class of solar cell that mimics the natural process of plant photosynthesis, could revolutionise renewable energy - but currently lack the efficiency to compete with the more costly commercial silicon cells.

    At the moment, organic solar cells can achieve as much as 12 per cent efficiency in turning light into electricity, compared with 20 to 25 per cent for silicon-based cells.

    Now, researchers have discovered that manipulating the 'spin' of electrons in these solar cells dramatically improves their performance, providing a vital breakthrough in the pursuit of cheap, high performing solar power technologies.

    The study, by researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Washington, is published today in the journal Nature, and comes just days after scientists called on governments around the world to focus on solar energy with the same drive that put a man on the moon, calling for a "new Apollo mission to harness the sun's power".

    Organic solar cells replicate photosynthesis using large, carbon-based molecules to harvest sunlight instead of the inorganic semiconductors used in commercial, silicon-based solar cells. These organic cells can be very thin, light and highly flexible, as well as printed from inks similar to newspapers - allowing for much faster and cheaper production processes than current solar cells.

    But consistency has been a major issue. Scientists have, until now, struggled to understand why some of the molecules worked unexpectedly well, while others perform indifferently.

    Researchers from Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory developed sensitive laser-based techniques to track the motion and interaction of electrons in these cells. To their surprise, the team found that the performance differences between materials could be attributed to the quantum property of 'spin'.

    'Spin' is a property of particles related to their angular momentum, with electrons coming in two flavours, 'spin-up' or 'spin-down'. Electrons in solar cells can be lost through a process called 'recombination', where electrons lose their energy - or "excitation" state - and fall back into an empty state known as the "hole".

    Researchers found that by arranging the electrons 'spin' in a specific way, they can block the energy collapse from 'recombination' and increase current from the cell.

    "This discovery is very exciting, as we can now harness spin physics to improve solar cells, something we had previously not thought possible. We should see new materials and solar cells that make use of this very soon" said Dr. Akshay Rao, a Research Fellow at the Cavendish Laboratory and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, who lead the study with colleagues Philip Chow and Dr. Simon Gélinas.

    The Cambridge team believe that design concepts coming out of this work could help to close the gap between organic and silicon solar cells, bringing the large-scale deployment of solar cells closer to reality. In addition, some of these design concepts could also be applied to Organic Light Emitting diodes, a new and rapidly growing display technology, allowing for more efficient displays in cell phones and TVs.

    The work on solar cells at Cambridge forms part of a broader initiative to harness high tech knowledge in the physics sciences to tackle global challenges such as climate change and renewable energy. This initiative is backed by both the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and, in Cambridge, the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability. The work at the University of Washington was supported by the US National Science Foundation and the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

    Latest research paves way for inexpensive, high performance cells

    We should see new materials and solar cells that make use of this very soon
    Akshay Rao
    The laser set-up in the lab that led to the research results

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.

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    Organic solar cells, a new class of solar cell that mimics the natural process of plant photosynthesis, could revolutionise renewable energy - but currently lack the efficiency to compete with the more costly commercial silicon cells.

    At the moment, organic solar cells can achieve as much as 12 per cent efficiency in turning light into electricity, compared with 20 to 25 per cent for silicon-based cells.

    Now, researchers have discovered that manipulating the 'spin' of electrons in these solar cells dramatically improves their performance, providing a vital breakthrough in the pursuit of cheap, high performing solar power technologies.

    The study, by researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Washington, is published today in the journal Nature, and comes just days after scientists called on governments around the world to focus on solar energy with the same drive that put a man on the moon, calling for a "new Apollo mission to harness the sun's power".

    Organic solar cells replicate photosynthesis using large, carbon-based molecules to harvest sunlight instead of the inorganic semiconductors used in commercial, silicon-based solar cells. These organic cells can be very thin, light and highly flexible, as well as printed from inks similar to newspapers - allowing for much faster and cheaper production processes than current solar cells.

    But consistency has been a major issue. Scientists have, until now, struggled to understand why some of the molecules worked unexpectedly well, while others perform indifferently.

    Researchers from Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory developed sensitive laser-based techniques to track the motion and interaction of electrons in these cells. To their surprise, the team found that the performance differences between materials could be attributed to the quantum property of 'spin'.

    'Spin' is a property of particles related to their angular momentum, with electrons coming in two flavours, 'spin-up' or 'spin-down'. Electrons in solar cells can be lost through a process called 'recombination', where electrons lose their energy - or "excitation" state - and fall back into an empty state known as the "hole".

    Researchers found that by arranging the electrons 'spin' in a specific way, they can block the energy collapse from 'recombination' and increase current from the cell.

    "This discovery is very exciting, as we can now harness spin physics to improve solar cells, something we had previously not thought possible. We should see new materials and solar cells that make use of this very soon" said Dr. Akshay Rao, a Research Fellow at the Cavendish Laboratory and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, who lead the study with colleagues Philip Chow and Dr. Simon Gélinas.

    The Cambridge team believe that design concepts coming out of this work could help to close the gap between organic and silicon solar cells, bringing the large-scale deployment of solar cells closer to reality. In addition, some of these design concepts could also be applied to Organic Light Emitting diodes, a new and rapidly growing display technology, allowing for more efficient displays in cell phones and TVs.

    The work on solar cells at Cambridge forms part of a broader initiative to harness high tech knowledge in the physics sciences to tackle global challenges such as climate change and renewable energy. This initiative is backed by both the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and, in Cambridge, the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability. The work at the University of Washington was supported by the US National Science Foundation and the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

    Latest research paves way for inexpensive, high performance cells

    We should see new materials and solar cells that make use of this very soon
    Akshay Rao
    The laser set-up in the lab that led to the research results

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.

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    John and Molly met on the street in Cambridge. To be more precise, they met on Mill Road, close to Saint Barnabas Church, a couple of months ago. At first, Molly thought that John was not particularly interested in her; he very much kept to himself (and his habit). She nevertheless started calling him. Every single morning, he had a missed call on his phone. Very regularly, they would bump into each other at one or other of the Cambridge begging spots and talk.

    Now in retrospect, the two claim that it must have been the star signs that were decisive for their mutual attraction; John and Molly both happen to be Leo. I guess it was more than that. It was a shared understanding of their circumstances, a shared attitude towards life and even more so a shared fate. A mutual recognition of how it is to live on the street. 

    The world of beggars is understood by mainstream Brits as a criminal sphere, the epitome of an underground world crowded by drug users and prostitutes, by the lowest kind of street people, by those unwilling to work, unwilling to behave as ‘normal’ citizens. Is this the world that John and Molly are living in, the world that accommodates their love affair? Or is their reality – the little stints and spaces of privacy, the moments of intimacy and togetherness they have created for themselves – actually rather different and more complex?

    As a student of economics, first in Germany and then in the UK, I took part in countless seminars in which poverty was reduced to numbers, statistics, abstract trends. This dehumanising of poverty was one of the reasons that I changed subjects to sociology and finally to anthropology. The financial crisis confronted me with the impotence of economics and, living in East London, I saw its impact first hand. I found myself talking to people who live in poverty every day, who have been coping with it for years.

    What first got me thinking about, and talking to, beggars was my interest in different uses of money. As I entered the community of beggars in Shoreditch, I found myself immersed in a world of very different relationships and living patterns – that turned out to be not so dissimilar at all.

    These similarities are what I now observe in Cambridge’s homeless. There certainly are differences between the life of an office worker and John. It is true, John does have a habit. He started taking drugs when he was about 15 and developed all kinds of likings before he ended up with ‘brown’ – what they call heroin on the street. The little bags that the ‘H’ comes in have kept him busy now for about 28 years. He has gone through a Methadone cure, was denied Subitex, and quickly came back to the ‘real shit’. Often, he does not even care whether people see him injecting. Public toilets, churchyards, hallways, hidden entrances: scoring happens everywhere.

    Molly, on the other hand, has three children none of whom live with her at the moment. One marriage, two fathers and an age gap of eight years separate the youngest, an 18-month-old daughter, from the oldest son. Molly became homeless only recently after having capitulated again to her alcohol problem.

    But life for John and Molly is not ‘flat’, it is not stereotypical. It does not even come close to the descriptions that we are used to reading in newspapers, which focus on the sensational side of homelessness and begging. Recent reports from Cambridge looking for this sensationalism in homelessness have included a man sleeping in St John’s College Library and homeless groups overnighting in a city graveyard. Again, this is one side of it, yes, but the culture of sensationalism often misses the other – in this case more human – part of it. The beggars I’ve encountered during my research in Cambridge and London are excluded; they are going through phases of drug-addiction, but why reduce them to that?

    What I’ve learned by going out, talking and living with people on the streets is that this – drugs, violence, theft – is only one side of ‘their coin’. John for instance is, in fact, not simply lazy. He was working for almost two decades doing tree surgery before he fell out of one of his ‘patients’ five years ago. Molly has been off the bottle for years in between stints of heavy drinking – her relapses have always been overcome and this is the first time she is actually sleeping on the street. John’s and Molly’s stories are complex and not easily subsumed under the glib phrase ‘drug addicts’.

    Beggars are human too in their desire for relationships. John and Molly found each other on the street, they live together on the street, and they love together on the street. As good as they can, they try to carve out their little space of privacy as often as possible. Even though in some moments of absolute addiction, shame is overcome by the unyielding will to score, this is mostly different when it comes to their togetherness. John and Molly don’t like to have sex in an alleyway. Only rarely they are forced to resort to these emergency spaces. At other times, they use a friend’s place for their intimacies.

    It’s not only sexuality that binds these two together; it is also sharing in a much wider sense. John and Molly share thoughts and opinions, attitudes and – yes – feelings for each other. Some academics support the one sided view arguing that love is not possible on the street – and that, as the philosopher Thomas Hobbes claimed long ago, the reality is that “life is nasty, brutish and short”. John’s life might rotate around drugs, money and police officers, but he is a loving being, too. How do beggars have time for romance, you ask? Not only does love exist, it is even the form of romantic love that is not limited to a material pooling of resources – to get by more easily – it can result in a long-term relationship of mutual support and care.

    I know three couples in London who have been together for over a year, in one case more than two years. These couples go together through sicknesses and periods in prison, they encourage and help each other to stop drugging. They do often take drugs together, beg together, and might also cheat on each other – but how different is this from a ‘normal’ marriage? It is ups and downs.

    ‘Don’t give to beggars – you might be killing with kindness’, a recent campaign in East London reads. Critics might claim, that similarly to the material gift, a narrative that tries to ‘normalise’ begging, depict ‘them’ as a common part of our society, makes it harder for the street people to become ‘better’. It helps them to stay where they are. I claim that what commentators might understand as the literal whitewashing of a whole bunch of people that in their (ie the commentators’) reality pollutes the streets with drug paraphernalia and excrements has to be taken seriously. We need to be aware of the multi-dimensionality of begging and beggars, of people on the street in general.

    Last week I was sitting with John and Molly on the pavement leading to Cambridge railway station when it began to rain. Watching them smile at each other, in the romantic way that only newly-made couples have, made me realise that not only can beggars love each other, but that we should also try to love them. 

    For more information about this story contact Alex Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge, amb206@admin.cam.ac.uk 01223 761673

     

    While his peers studied global banking systems, PhD candidate Johannes Lenhard became fascinated by the economics of life on the street.  Speaking to beggars, he saw the powerful humanity that binds people together. He urges us to learn to love the people we so often edit out of our lives. 

    Beggars are human too in their desire for relationships. John and Molly found each other on the street, live together on the street, love together on the street.
    Johannes Lenhard
    Homeless Couple, San Francisco, 2010

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    Autism affects different parts of the brain in females with autism than males with autism, a new study reveals. The research is published today in the journal Brain as an open-access article.

    Scientists at the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge used magnetic resonance imaging to examine whether autism affects the brain of males and females in a similar or different way. They found that the anatomy of the brain of someone with autism substantially depends on whether an individual is male or female, with brain areas that were atypical in adult females with autism being similar to areas that differ between typically developing males and females. This was not seen in men with autism.

    “One of our new findings is that females with autism show neuroanatomical ‘masculinization’,” said Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, senior author of the paper. “This may implicate physiological mechanisms that drive sexual dimorphism, such as prenatal sex hormones and sex-linked genetic mechanisms.”

    Autism affects 1% of the general population and is more prevalent in males. Most studies have therefore focused on male-dominant samples. As a result, our understanding of the neurobiology of autism is male-biased.

    “This is one of the largest brain imaging studies of sex/gender differences yet conducted in autism. Females with autism have long been under-recognized and probably misunderstood,” said Dr Meng-Chuan Lai, who led the research project. “The findings suggest that we should not blindly assume that everything found in males with autism applies to females. This is an important example of the diversity within the ‘spectrum’.”

    Dr Michael Lombardo, who co-led the study, added that although autism manifests itself in many different ways, grouping by gender may help provide a better understanding of this condition. 

    He said: “Autism as a whole is complex and vastly diverse, or heterogeneous, and this new study indicates that there are ways to subgroup the autism spectrum, such as whether an individual is male or female. Reducing heterogeneity via subgrouping will allow research to make significant progress towards understanding the mechanisms that cause autism.”

    If you are a journalist and would like more information about this story, please contact: Genevieve Maul, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge. Email: Genevieve.Maul@admin.cam.ac.uk; Tel: 01223 765542.

    New research sheds light on previously under-researched area of study – females with autism.

    The findings suggest that we should not blindly assume that everything found in males with autism applies to females.
    Dr Meng-Chuan Lai

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  • 08/09/13--02:45: The skinny on cocaine
  • Chronic cocaine use may reduce the body’s ability to store fat, new research from the University of Cambridge suggests.

    The scientists found that cocaine use may cause profound metabolic changes which can result in dramatic weight gain during recovery, a distressing phenomenon that can lead to relapse. It was previously widely believed that cocaine suppresses the appetite and that the problematic weight gain during rehabilitation was a result of patients substituting food for drugs.

    Dr Karen Ersche, from the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge, said: “Our findings challenge the widely held assumptions that cocaine use leads to weight loss through appetite suppression. Rather, they suggest a profound metabolic alteration that needs to be taken into account during treatment.

    “Notable weight gain following cocaine abstinence is not only a source of major personal suffering but also has profound implications for health and recovery. Intervention at a sufficiently early stage could have the potential to prevent weight gain during recovery, thereby reducing personal suffering and improving the chances of recovery.”

    Led by Dr Ersche, the researchers scanned over sixty men to evaluate body composition, diets and eating behaviours. Half of the men in the sample had a dependency on cocaine while the other half had no personal or family history of drug abuse. They also measured the volunteers’ leptin, a hormone which plays an important role in regulating appetite and energy use.

    The researchers discovered that cocaine users expressed a preference for fatty foods and carbohydrates and also had patterns of uncontrolled eating. Yet, despite cocaine users’ fatty diets they often experienced weight loss, and their body fat was significantly reduced compared to the control group. Levels of the hormone leptin were also low in cocaine users and were associated with the duration of the user’s stimulant use. A decrease in plasma leptin together with a high fat diet suggests an impaired energy balance, which typically leads to weight gain rather than weight loss.

    The results suggest that overeating in regular users of cocaine pre-dates the recovery process, this effect being disguised by a lack of weight gain. As a result, when cocaine users in recovery discontinue using cocaine but continue consuming their high fat diets - now without the effects of cocaine on their metabolism - they gain weight.

    Dr Ersche said: “We were surprised how little body fat the cocaine users had in light of their reported consumption of fatty food. It seems that regular cocaine abuse directly interferes with metabolic processes and thereby reduces body fat. This imbalance between fat intake and fat storage may also explain why these individuals gain so much weight when they stop using cocaine.

    “For most people weight gain is unpleasant but for people in recovery, who can gain several stones, this weight gain goes far beyond an aesthetic concern but involves both psychological and physiological problems. The stress caused by this conspicuous body change can also contribute to relapse. It is therefore important that we better understand the effects of cocaine on eating behaviour and body weight to best support drug users on their road to recovery.”

    Professor Hugh Perry, chair of the Neurosciences and Mental Health Board at the Medical Research Council who funded the study, said “Credible scientific studies like this one, which help to dispel misconceptions and address common preconceptions with reliable data, can only benefit individuals in the longer term. This research has clear implications for our understanding of how the body processes fat during chronic cocaine dependency and also how the body adjusts during withdrawal and recovery from dependency.”

    The research was published in the journal Appetite.

    Dr Ersche and her team will next investigate more closely the underlying factors contributing to the marked weight gain in abstinent cocaine-dependent individuals to develop interventions to better support drug users in recovery.

    This work was funded by the Medical Research Council and received institutional funds from the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute (BCNI), which is jointly funded by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

    New research suggests chronic cocaine use causes profound metabolic changes, reducing the body’s ability to store fat.

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    The nation's ten favourite pieces of British art were selected from a longlist and will now go on display on thousands of poster and billboard sites across the UK from August 12-25.

    A projected audience of 90% of the UK’s adult population will enjoy the top ten and 47 other beautiful artworks instead of advertising for two weeks this summer.

    Cities, towns and villages in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will see poster sites ranging from billboards to bus stops transformed into artworks across high streets, major roads, tube, train and metro stations, supermarkets, shopping malls, office buildings, cinemas, health clubs and bars. 2,000 London buses and 1,000 black cabs will transport the artworks around the city.

    The top ten artworks range from Wallis’ Five Ships – Mount’s Bay, to outstanding 19th century paintings like Waterhouse's The Lady of Shalott and Millais' Ophelia.

    Turner's The Fighting Temeraire, L. S. Lowry’s Going to the Match and the sculptural installation, Cold Dark Matter, by Cornelia Parker also made the top ten.

    Using image-recognition and augmented reality technology via blippar, each physical poster will be interactive, enabling the public to point their phones at the art to access instantaneous information about each piece, visit the collection, and socially share their favourites. Prints of many of the artworks can also be bought through the site via project partner, Easyart, with all profits going to the artist and Art Everywhere. 

    The project is supported by many leading artists including Damien Hirst who said: “Art is for everyone, and everyone who has access to it will benefit from it. This project is amazing and gives the public a voice and an opportunity to choose what they want to see on their streets“

    Art Everywhere is a collaborative project between Richard Reed, (co-founder of Innocent Drinks), the Art Fund, Tate, and the poster industry. Reed initiated the idea for Art Everywhere. His passion for the arts led to the idea of having a public celebration across Britain. He said: “This is a joyful project with no agenda other than to flood our streets with art and celebrate the creative talents and legacy of the UK.”

    The top ten works are: 1. The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, 2. Ophelia by John Everett Millais, 3. Head V1 by Francis Bacon, 4. Gassed by John Singer Sargent, 5. Man’s Head (Self Portrait I) by Lucian Freud, 6. The Fighting Temeraire by JMW Turner, 7. Five Ships – Mount’s Bay by Alfred Wallis, 8. Going to the Match by L.S. Lowry, 9. Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Battersea Bridge by James Whistler, 10. Cold Dark Matter by Cornelia Parker.

    A painting by Alfred Wallis from the collection at Kettle’s Yard has been chosen as one of the UK’s top ten artworks and will be displayed on billboards around the country as part of a vast exhibition.

    Art is for everyone, and everyone who has access to it will benefit from it.
    Damien Hirst
    Five ships - Mount's Bay

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    In a quiet Bulawayo suburb I sit with Sarah, a middle-aged mother of four adult children, whose eyes keep darting around the room following her two-year-old granddaughter. She is a middle class Ndebele woman who has lived in Bulawayo her entire life. In Zimbabwe, ‘middle class’ means a house with no hot water, frequent power and water cuts, and freezing winters where, in homes with no heating or insulation, night-time temperatures frequently dip to 5°C indoors.

    We have spent the afternoon catching up over plates of chicken and beans, while the little girl tires herself out running circles around the table. After lunch, while I help Sarah clean the dishes, she looks me in the eye and says frankly: “You are my child. Do you understand?” I nod – she’s said this before many times.

    I first met this family over a year ago when I stayed with them for five weeks. I’d encountered their son in the UK where he was studying, and after an informal invitation to visit, I decided to step on a plane and take the chance to learn more about this fascinating country.

    This year I’m back as a Social Anthropology student for another five weeks with the plan of researching the responses of individuals – particularly young people – to the crisis (or rather crises). Political and economic turmoil resulted in the collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar in 2009 after a five-year period of uncontrollable hyperinflation. Eventually the government allowed the US dollar to become legal tender, and things are, tentatively, picking up. But 89-year-old president Robert Mugabe clings onto power.

    Fixing her eyes on mine, Sarah goes on in a quieter voice: “Nobody wanted him to win, but we knew he would win. We hear all sorts of rumours. We don’t know what’s true. But he won, he always does.”

    I was surprised by this remark. I’ve heard young Zimbabweans discuss Mugabe, often jokingly, nearly always with apathy. Older people haven’t discussed politics with me before, and I’ve felt it inappropriate to ask. So it came as a surprise that she brought this up so willingly, only three days after the elections. “We just want peace. I thank God that there has been no trouble. I don’t really care about the result as long as there is peace. That is the most important thing.”

    Sarah repeats this point, in one way or another, many times. When her account moves back to the 1980s, she describes echoed stories of red-bereted soldiers throwing the bodies of murdered villagers down a mineshaft. This incident, known colloquially as ‘Gukurahundi’, is etched painfully into the memory of the Ndebele, the minority ethnic group. It means “to clear out the chaff’ in Shona, the language of the majority ethnic group.

    Sarah holds Mugabe responsible for this massacre, as do most Ndebele who still feel deprived of any form of apology. This terrible episode began as ethnic infighting within the rival liberation movements – Zanu, now reincarnated as Mugabe’s party Zanu-PF, and Zapu, the Ndebele party founded by Joshua Nkomo. Mugabe’s 5th Brigade were tasked with ‘clearing out’ Nkomo supporters, but in popular memory (and likely in reality) the brunt of violence was inflicted upon Ndebele civilians. Sarah’s expression, moving from disgust to sadness, confirms this. “There is still pain,” she says, her eyes refusing to move from staring at the carpet.

    Mugabe’s violence has taken many forms. Older Ndebele clearly still remember the brutality that was inflicted upon their people in the past. Sarah explains that this month’s elections have been fine because it is safe to visit the rural areas. This is a reference to the fact that much of the bloodshed in Zimbabwe has been hidden from prying eyes – mostly inflicted by vigilante mobs in out of the way, poverty-stricken villages. This time around, the elections seemed to have spared the rural areas of much of the violence of previous years.

    Contemporary Zimbabwe doesn’t show the scars of violence to the ordinary visitor. It is a remarkably peaceful country, given the common media depictions we encounter in the West. Most of the talk today is of money – and the financial scars are very visible. The road into Bulawayo is lined with empty and often crumbling factories. Most Zimbabweans saw their life savings wiped out as the Zimbabwe dollar became worthless. The years 2008 and 2009 are etched into popular memory, with constant reference to the results of hyperinflation. Zimbabweans are, however, hopeful for their economic future, but the ruins of industry are testament to the work that will have to be done.

    Though the worst atrocities are now in the past, Sarah tells me that she would only have a conversation like this in a private home. She explains: “We all talk like this, but we’re not careless. We talk in people’s houses and that is safe.” She even suggests that speaking publicly could put one in danger of being arrested – but adds that this is only really a concern for those actively involved in politics. From the way that younger people speak freely about Mugabe – some positively, others less so – I would be surprised if there is a serious threat of arrest for criticising Mugabe if you are an ordinary Zimbabwean. It seems that some older people remember the days when these fears were very real.

    The power of memory is thrown into stark relief in Zimbabwe. Discrepancies between the attitudes of young and old people towards the past (and the future) suggest this. There is hope among young people who lived through economic collapse; few have witnessed bloodshed if they live in urban areas. But most are politically apathetic, which makes me curious as an anthropologist. Faith in the future seems to be placed in the private sector, and in the entrepreneurial activities of private individuals. Having seen their government powerless in the face of an out-of-control economy, Zimbabweans were forced to rely on their own survival instinct. The informal and illegal economy boomed from 2003-2009. There is now hope that this energy and resourcefulness can be channelled into economic growth and raising living standards.

    Sarah’s thankfulness relates to the economic upturn in Zimbabwe. This shouldn’t be overstated: within the last decade or so the economy shrank dramatically, sometimes by as much as 17.5 per cent in a single year, but since the introduction of the US dollar there has at least been stability. Economic stability has created is another kind of peace – peace of mind. Continuous uncertainty affects everyone, and for many – even the middle classes – putting food on the table became a daily worry. Supermarket shelves were literally bare for months. Today supermarkets are well stocked, albeit with few international brands available and little consumer choice. Prices remain surprisingly high.

    The overarching narrative within Zimbabwe of these recent elections is, broadly speaking, that they were peaceful. There is a general scepticism among Zimbabweans of the possibility of politicians solving the country’s problems. For ordinary people, as long as the peace and stability of recent years can be maintained, the elections will have been a success of sorts. But few see the elections as providing any answers or directions.”

    Later, Sarah expresses some of her hopes. “I just want freedom. It is only God who can deprive me of my freedom – the government should not be able to. I want to drive without roadblocks. I want to be free to live my life.” Again, this sentiment suggests she wants little to do with politics. Politics has the power to deprive one of freedom – it is better if politicians can learn to intervene less. She hopes that those in power are learning to get along better, without violence.

    That evening, Sarah’s husband Andrew returns from work at a local college. His thoughts on the election are more lighthearted. “It’s a matter of who cheats more! Zanu-PF have a lot of practice, so I am not surprised they have won,” he says while chuckling. He produces copies of the government and opposition papers, The Chronicle and Daily News, and comments cynically that on every point they have contradictory reports surrounding the election – neither supply any accurate information. Pointing at The Chronicle, he chuckles with raised eyebrows: “Pure Mugabe propaganda! My God.”

    In Bulawayo, things seem pretty calm tonight. And that is a relief for many who have lived through decades of upheaval and change, even if, as Andrew remarked, the results are “not quite as we’d hoped… Oh well”.

    To protect the identity of the family in this report, Rowan Jones is a pseudonym. Other names have also been changed.

    For more information about this story, contact Alex Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge, amb206@admin.cam.ac.uk 01223 761673
     

    Last week’s Zimbabwean elections saw Robert Mugabe return for a seventh presidential term. Anthropology student Rowan Jones reports on the views of some ordinary Zimbabweans in the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo.

    Nobody wanted him to win, but we knew he would win. We hear all sorts of rumours. We don’t know what’s true. But he won, he always does.
    A Zimbabwean talks to Rowan Jones
    Traders in Bulawayo, August 2013

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    Now in its 140th year, the Institute offers part-time and flexible study leading to University of Cambridge undergraduate-level awards: Certificates, Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas. Though some are now fully booked, places remain on several courses, including the Undergraduate Certificate in Astronomy. Students on this course are given access to planetarium software and time at the University's Institute of Astronomy for its evening sessions.

    A combination of  weekend classes, the study of maps and documents, and first-hand investigation on field trips, will enable students to explore Landscape History and Archaeology or Garden History through either Part I or Part II, respectively, of the Undergraduate Certificate in Historic Environment.

    New to the programme this year is the Undergraduate Certificate in Philosophy, which provides an introduction to metaphysics, logic and the philosophy of language, and ethics. Students will explore some of the classic philosophical questions, such as the nature of reality, how we should treat one another, what it is possible to know, and what it takes to be a person.

    Also new is the Undergraduate Certificate in Evolutionary Biology. This gives students a chance to study the theory of evolution through the unique collections held at the University, and would be a natural selection for any Charles Darwin enthusiast.

    The course includes practical classes that allow students to carry out their own data collection and practise simple data-processing skills. Where possible, the practical classes make use of local Cambridge resources such as the University Botanic Garden and the Department of Zoology. For more information, log on to the website where course director Dr Ed Turner gives an online taster session.

    Other subjects on offer in October include Archaeology, Coaching, English Literature, History of Art, International Development, Local History and the Study of Religion.

    The Institute of Continuing Education has about 5,000 student enrolments per year, running a full programme of short and part-time courses for the general public, courses for professional development, as well as running the University's International Summer Schools. It is based at Madingley Hall, a 16th-century country house on the outskirts of Cambridge.

    The Institute plays a major part in the University's commitment to widening its accessibility, community engagement and lifelong learning, and offers a generous range of bursaries to its students.

    For more information visit: http://www.ice.cam.ac.uk/awards

    From the science of space, to the history of formal gardens, the Institute of Continuing Education has courses to suit a wide range of interests, and the good news is that there are still places available for studies beginning in October 2013.

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  • 08/12/13--02:05: Dear digital diary…
  • A “life-logging” tool which tracks users’ behaviour through their smartphones and computers, then combines this to form an intricate, digital depiction of their day-to-day lives, has been devised by researchers.

    The academics behind the software, called “Storica”, say that their creation will enable people to capture moments they might otherwise forget, and at the same time monitor the influences which are having the biggest impact on their lives.

    The researchers - Dirk Trossen, at the University of Cambridge, and Dana Pavel, at the University of Essex – are now planning to commercialize Storica with the help of the crowd-funding website, Kickstarter. Their aim is to refine the software and release it in time for people to start recording their lives over Christmas.

    “Life-logging” is an increasingly popular concept, which capitalises on the fact that many smartphones have sensors which can record facets of peoples’ behaviour – such as where they are, how fast they are moving, or how noisy their immediate environment is. In addition, fitness sensors can now be attached to phones, monitoring the owner’s exercise and sleep patterns.

    Until now, however, most lifelogging apps have monitored specific aspects of people’s lives, such as their fitness, food intake, or mood. Storica will attempt to create a more complete picture, then play that back to users in fine detail, via a mind-boggling array of visual depictions.

    The prototype gathers most of its information automatically, both from sensors in the user’s smartphone, and from their desktop computer. The user can, however, make their own annotations, adding details about what they are doing and how they feel, as well as images, videos and sound recordings.

    All of this data is kept on the Storica platform, which becomes a personal digital diary. Memorable moments, such as experiences on a holiday, can be turned into digital stories, highlighting events during the day using multimedia. The software can also create timelines, maps, and tagclouds, allowing people to retrieve an abundance of data about what they have been doing in more detail.

    “On a simple level, it’s often hard to remember what you were up to last week, let alone last year, and Storica will enable you to recall that,” Trossen, who is based at the University of Cambridge Computer Lab, said.

    “At a more profound level, however, the software can also record information about what prompts certain behaviours, or when we are at our most stressed out, or relaxed. Over time, it should enable users to improve their awareness of the factors which are shaping their lives, enabling them to analyse their lifestyles and hopefully improve them for the better.”

    Storica utilises an Android app called AIRS, which was released by Trossen and Pavel in 2011 and has so far had 12,000 downloads. When used on a smartphone, it can automatically capture information about where a person is, how light it is, the atmospheric pressure, who they are with, who they are calling or messaging, and how much they are using social media.

    On a desktop computer, Storica gathers extra information as well – such as which applications are opened most often, and which web pages users have visited. At all times, however, users are in control of choosing what they want Storica to monitor, and what activity they would prefer the application to ignore.

    Despite the privacy implications of such comprehensive data-gathering, none of the information that Storica records leaves the control of the end user, e.g., through saving on commercial servers. Instead, it is all saved to the user’s own devices (mobile and/or desktop), and remains exclusively their property, not that of the researchers.

    The digital stories which Storica creates, as well as the detailed data visualisations are, however, fully shareable on social media as short movies or images. In addition, the software is group-usable, so that a number of people can contribute to a single digital diary at once. For example, on a holiday, every member of a family could record their own experiences and photographs, then, through Storica, play the collective experience of everyone who was there back as a single digital story.

    Trossen and Pavel are now hoping, through Kickstarter, to raise £50,000 to expand the system by, for example, improving the synchronisation of the data recordings, refining the system’s overall look, and integrating some newly-released fitness devices. If successful, they will then aim to release the first commercial version of Storica in time for Christmas, so that people can record their winter holiday experiences.

    “Unlike comparable systems, this isn’t just about logging your life – it’s about giving you the tools to better understand what makes your life the way it is,” Trossen added. “We want to empower people with complete evidence about their lifestyles, while at the same time preserving the fun of recollecting memorable moments.”

    To find out more about Storica, and contribute to the Kickstarter appeal, click here.

    For more information about this story, please contact Tom Kirk, Tel: 01223 332300, thomas.kirk@admin.cam.ac.uk

    A powerful life-logging tool which captures and stores memorable moments in people’s lives is being developed by two researchers who argue that it could improve public well-being.

    We want to empower people with complete evidence about their lifestyles.
    Dirk Trossen
    Storica allows users to revisit any aspect of their lives in extreme detail, producing digital stories and an array of graphs and data which may help people to find out more about what is influencing their feelings and behaviour.

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    Researchers have discovered how genetic mutations linked to Parkinson’s disease might play a key role in the death of brain cells, potentially paving the way for the development of more effective drug treatments.

    In the new study, published in Nature Neuroscience, a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge, UCL, and the University of Sheffield showed how defects in the Parkinson’s gene Fbxo7 cause problems with ‘mitaphagy’ – an essential process through which our bodies are able to get rid of damaged cells.

    Mitochondria are the ‘energy powerhouses’ of cells. Their function is vital in nerve cells which require a great deal of energy in order to function and survive. Dysfunctional mitochondria are potentially very harmful and, normally, cells dispose of the damaged mitchondria by self-eating them, a process called mitophagy.

    Most of what we know about the mitophagy process comes from the study of the familial forms of Parkinson’s, one of the most common diseases of the brain. Over the last three years, two genes associated with familial Parkinson’s disease, PINK1 and Parkin, have been reported to play a role in mitophagy.

    This new study shows just how central the role of mitophagy is and how mutations in Fbxo7 are also linked with the disease and interfere with the PINK1-Parkin pathway. In people with Parkinson’s, genetic mutations cause defects in mitophagy, leading to a build-up of dysfunctional mitochondria. This is likely to explain, at least partially, the death of brain cells in Parkinson’s patients with these mutations.

    One of the lead authors, Dr Heike Laman from the University of Cambridge, said: "This research focuses the attention of the PD community on the importance of the proper maintenance of mitochondria for the health of neurons. We are really only at the very beginning of this work, but perhaps we can use this information to enable earlier diagnosis for Parkinson’s disease patients or design therapies aimed at supporting mitochondrial health."

    Co-author Dr Helene Plun-Favreau from the UCL Institute of Neurology, said: “These findings suggest that treatment strategies that target mitophagy might be developed to benefit patients with Parkinson's disease in the future.”

    Dr Plun-Favreau added: “What makes the study so robust is the confirmation of defective mitophagy in a number of different Parkinson’s models, including cells of patients who carry a mutation in the Fbxo7 gene.”

    Professor Nicholas Wood, Neuroscience programme director for the NIHR University College London Hospitals BRC, said: “It is very exciting to see how detailed biological work of this type can highlight a single pathway that contributes to Parkinson’s disease. This presents the opportunity of more rationale drug design for many forms of parkinsonism.”

    Professor Hugh Perry, chair of the Neurosciences and Mental Health Board at the Medical Research Council who part-funded the study, said: “This study raises interesting questions about precisely how brain cells die in a Parkinson’s patient: the process which is key to understanding the disease’s progression.  The more we understand about the basic molecular events which contribute to the onset and progression of Parkinson’s disease, the better placed we will be to develop treatments to stop it in its tracks.”

    The work was funded by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and The NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University College London.

    Story adapted from UCL press release.

    Mutations might play a key role in the death of brain cells.

    We are really only at the very beginning of this work, but perhaps we can use this information to enable earlier diagnosis for Parkinson’s disease patients or design therapies aimed at supporting mitochondrial health.
    Dr Heike Laman

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    The Summer School joins the STEP Easter School for offer-holders as part of the extensive programme of support the University provides for aspiring mathematicians preparing to take the STEP exams.

    In order to ensure that this support is available as widely as possible, new on-line resources have also been published by NRICH, part of the University's Millennium Mathematics Project. These are open to any student and freely accessible on the NRICH website. Both the STEP Prep summer school and the development of the free online STEP programme have been funded by a philanthropic grant from the Citi Foundation.

    Led by Alison Kiddle from the NRICH project, with staff and students from the Faculty of Mathematics, students explored new tools and techniques for solving maths problems, received advice on applying to Cambridge, and were given tips on their STEP preparation by current maths undergraduates. There was also time for exploring the city and ten pin bowling.

    Nathusha from Ealing enjoyed the social side of the summer school as much as the maths. “For me it was an opportunity to see how life would be if I chose a university away from home, and to experience Cambridge, and to meet other students from state schools like us. It has been a great opportunity.”

    “I wanted to develop my understanding of what I need to do to successfully get through STEP – it’s very different,” explained James Couch from Plymouth.

    The students worked in small groups with a mentor throughout the Summer School: “It was a good way to instantly see what you can and can’t do,” James added.

    "Unlike an A level exam where students answer every question, students have to choose which questions to answer in STEP,” course leader Alison explained.

    “The best way to prepare for this is to see and try lots of different questions, to develop the skill of quickly evaluating which problems are the most tractable for a student's own mathematical style.

    “By starting their preparation early and using our online materials, these students have the chance to experience a wide variety of mathematical problems which will prepare them not just for STEP but also for their mathematical futures, whether in Cambridge or elsewhere."

    Second year maths student Kweku worked as a mentor on the Summer School. “The problems the students have been tackling here have been harder than STEP questions.  I hope that they will now understand that STEP questions will be hard but not unattainable.”

    The University has used STEP for over twenty years as a key part of conditional offers for Mathematics because its research has found that STEP is a better predictor of success in the Mathematical Tripos than A-levels alone.

    Although STEP questions are less standard and less structured than A-Level problems, they are based on material that is common to the core of A Level Mathematics, and therefore require no further knowledge, only the confidence to apply maths skills in new and unusual ways.

    “The STEP Prep Summer School is part of our innovative early intervention strategy,” explains Julia Hawkins, Deputy Director of the Millennium Maths Project.

    “We particularly wanted to provide online resources open to all maths students. This new section of the NRICH website is specifically geared to self-study preparation for STEP. New modules, each a mix of advice and activities, will be released fortnightly over the coming year.”

    “We hope that, by encouraging and supporting students to start STEP preparation early, this programme will have a real impact on their chances of success.”

    40 students from non-selective state schools have spent a week in Cambridge on a summer school designed to develop their ability to tackle challenging mathematical problems in preparation for sitting the STEP exam.

    We hope that, by encouraging and supporting students to start STEP preparation early, this programme will have a real impact on their chances of success.
    Julia Hawkins, Deputy Director, Millennium Maths Project.
    STEP Students and Alison Kiddle

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  • 08/13/13--04:00: All about Cambridge
  • Now in its sixth year, the Open Cambridge programme has more to offer than ever with talks and tours of some of the city’s most famous sites as well as some of its best kept secrets.  Organiser Sue Long said: “Open Cambridge is now part of the calendar for many people interested in learning more about the city they live or work in.  Each year we hope to welcome new groups.”

    Booking for Open Cambridge’s more than 56 events will open on Monday 19 August and, as in previous years, it’s likely that places for tours and talks with limited numbers will book up fast. “Do book quickly if there’s something you really want to do or see,” said Ms Long. “But we do ask that people let us know if they find they can’t come to an event they’ve booked as then we can give that place to someone on our waiting list.”

    All events are free, many are family friendly, and if you are unsure of your schedule that weekend a good number are run on an informal drop-in basis – including a chance to visit the Whipple Library of History and Philosophy of Science in one of the city’s oldest streets and Cambridge American Cemetery just outside the city perimeter. 

    On the programme for the first time are: a chance to visit the mosque in Mawson Road for guided tours and Q&A sessions; the opportunity to meet Peter Hein, Head Butler at Peterhouse;  an invitation to explore the brand new University of Cambridge Sports Centre, a facility designed by world famous practice, Arup Associates; and a cycling tour of Cambridge following a 16th century map.

    A dip into the archives is always fascinating. On 13 September a talk at the Central Library will give visitors an introduction into the many treasures of the Cambridgeshire Collection, which include a copy of a Cambridge newspaper that dates from the US Declaration of Independence and the first map of Cambridge from 1574. There will also be a chance to look behind the scenes at the Collection’s store which houses 90,000 books and journals as well as 4.5 million photos.

    King’s College Library is celebrating the anniversaries of three pioneers of the arts - Jane Austen, EM Forster and Benjamin Britten – with an exhibition of related objects chosen from its special collections.  Other college libraries open to the public include: Queens’ College Old Library, Christ’s College Library, Lucy Cavendish Library, and the Parker Library at Corpus Christi.

    Open to visitors on pre-booked tours is that brooding powerhouse of learning, Cambridge University Library.  Designed by Giles Gilbert Scott in the 1930s, it continues to expand to house its growing collections which are used by scholars from around the world.

    History forms a central strand of the Open Cambridge, whether it’s the unfolding story of shopping or the emergence of a new technology.  A tour of Cambridge University Press Museum will take visitors back to the early days of printing through displays that include a bible printed in 1638 and a selection of specialist tools. Director of Cambridge University Press, Kevin Taylor is giving a talk on the history of the Press.

    The grand finale of the Open Cambridge weekend is the Bridge the Gap charity walk which takes participants on a five-mile route around Cambridge, visiting nine colleges and the Polar Museum on the way. Last year the family-friendly and wheelchair-accessible walk raised £45,000 for Arthur Rank House and Press Relief.  This year’s target is £50,000.

    For full details of the programme and to make booking go to www.cam.ac.uk/opencambridge or phone 01223 766766

    For more information about this story contact Alex Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge, amb206@admin.cam.ac.uk 01223 761673
     

    A weekend of discovery will unfold in Cambridge from 13 to 15 September as a host of places open their doors to the public for Open Cambridge, an initiative that celebrates the riches to be explored on our doorstep. 

    Open Cambridge is now part of the calendar for many people interested in learning more about the city they live or work in.
    Sue Long, Open Cambridge
    Pembroke College, Cambridge

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    I’ve recently finished teaching a five week course on the creative and critical afterlife of Wuthering Heights. We looked at various responses to Emily Brontë’s novel, from the commercial (MTV’s film version which recasts Heathcliff as a blond rock star, oh dear) to the brilliantly eccentric (the still-classic Kate Bush song). I’ve taught this subject before, but this was the first time I’ve conducted a course entirely online, never meeting my students face-to-face. My students had the advantage over me as they could see my short video lectures whereas I had only a small photograph and their postings by which to get to know them.

    Academic colleagues sometimes express uncertainty about how teaching online works and I’ll admit to some anxiety about how it would feel to teach students I’d never meet in person. A lecturer friend of mine says he can only imagine teaching students when he can “see the whites of their eyes” and it’s certainly true that any teacher of any subject will know how they respond to their students’ body-language; how one picks up the eager lean forward, or little flicker of comprehension or disagreement, a politely-concealed yawn or exasperated eye-roll as you speak too fast or snigger too long at your own joke.

    As well as this kind of physical noticing, eye contact feels important in the classroom. You can prompt someone to speak by staring hard at them, or instigate a cheerful argument by glancing at a student whose opinion you suspect differs from that of the person speaking.

    My old school friend Hannah Thompson, a Cambridge alumna who now teaches French Literature at Royal Holloway, writes a wonderful blog about her research into cultural and literary representations of blindness which also charts her own experiences as a partially-blind lecturer. In an article about her research and teaching practice, Hannah describes how she has recently changed her approach in the classroom as she has become less able to make eye contact with class members or recognise faces.

    Rather than relying on the connection of eye contact, Hannah encourages her students to forget raising their hands or waiting for the conductor/teacher to bring them in, and to call out their responses and answers instead. Her students were nervous at first, but she describes how, gradually, some of the usual formalities and restrictions of the seminar room began to fall away. The students’ understanding of their teacher’s disability and her inspirational mastery and exploration of it, provoked all sorts of interesting responses to their subject of study and to their experience of studying it together.

    The situation in an online seminar room is different to Hannah’s classroom, of course. I can’t see my students’ response to my talks or questions, but I can’t hear them either. It is possible to set up online seminars where students communicate with audio rather than typing or ‘live’ lectures where students can type in real-time questions, but many of my students were in different time zones, dropping in from Japan or the US (and, heavens, Northampton) so we normally didn’t have even that vague sense of each other’s physical presence to aid our communication. Instead, we got to know each other through initial introductions in the orientation week, where students worked out how and where they could talk to me and to each other, and then relied on the space of online forums to discuss the week’s reading.

    Much of the recent discussion about online courses has concerned the growth of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) where the emphasis is on massiveness and accessibility. At ICE, our model is the more cosy-sounding ‘SOCCs’ (Small Online Closed Courses), which are taught to closed groups with a limited number of students. Our SOCCs are organic, hand-knitted experiences, carefully designed to fit busy feet and based on the artisanal pedagogic approach for which Cambridge is known: small group-teaching, led by a tutor, encouraging wide-reading and independent thinking.

    Unlike most MOOCs, your SOCC tutor will talk back to you when you post a comment or want to argue a point. And like undergraduate modules that develop from year to year, our courses are also protean in their content because they are research-inspired. My ICE colleague Ed Turner recently taught part of his online course in Conservation from the jungles of Sumatra where he was conducting research; my own course was punctuated by a visit to the no less exotic University of Leeds for a conference on creative responses to the work of the Brontës, so I came back to my students with my head full of Lisa Sheppy’s ‘Empty Dress’ and discussions of the Japanese version of Wuthering Heights.

    One recent commentator on the MOOCs/SOCCs issue says that the mobility and flexibility of online courses are best suited to vocational subjects designed to respond to an ever-changing employment landscape, and not for traditional academic topics which move more slowly. Adam Kotsko says: “A course on The Odyssey could remain relatively unchanged for a long time, but that’s not the kind of thing that people are generally looking for with online ed.” Why ever not? That ‘kind of thing’ (the Humanities in general, or just old stuff?) isn’t inert knowledge. Our readings and understanding of The Odyssey, or Wuthering Heights or Ancient Rome change with every year, every new adaptation, or archaeological find, or critical move, or, indeed, with every new group of students who come together to travel with Odysseus, Heathcliff or the Romans.

    I also don’t accept that Humanities courses which might rely on traditional techniques of slow and close reading can’t be taught via speedy digital technologies. And, in truth, the online class I was teaching had something rather beautifully old-fashioned about it even in its shiny new medium; as we post and respond to each other, we’re engaging in the communication common to letter-writers over the centuries. Writers, readers, editors, and groups of literary critics have always sent their thoughts over many miles: admiring, caustic, critical, devoted, fannish or furious, and, above all, focused, letters of discussion and comment. Digital letter-writing has its own advantages. There’s a spell-check for a start. Online, in-class discussions are more carefully constructed than emails, longer than tweets, and can use the little windows of hyperlinks which drop interlocuters into related areas of discussion alongside the main topic: I can place a link in a sentence to something that my reader can dive off to read before they come back to finish my sentence.

    In a letter to his patron Henry Wotton, John Donne wrote in praise of the power of words to overcome distance:
    “…more than kisses, letters mingle souls,
    For thus, friends absent speak.”

    There are many joys in the weekly encounters of our Certificate and Diploma classes at Madingley, or the yearly visits of our Summer School students who arrive in Cambridge with the swifts, but as Donne suggests, there are other ways to ‘mingle souls’, and although we can’t promise kisses, we think our SOCCs will warm you up.

    MOOCs – or massive open online courses – have been touted a cure for the education sector’s ills by some, but merely the latest symptom of it by others. ICE’s Jenny Bavidge discusses the challenges of online teaching and her experience of ICE’s SOCCs (small online closed courses).

    I’ll admit to some anxiety about how it would feel to teach students I’d never meet in person.
    Jenny Bavidge
    Jenny pictured at Madingley Hall

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    A woman holds her two children standing in front of their house, reduced to rubble after an earthquake. They wear no coats, one child has no shoes and there is snow on the ground. Residents in the block of flats behind - where the woman’s husband works as housekeeper - have just moved back into renovated apartments, while the family in the picture have yet to receive any state help.

    Taken by Marlene Schäfers in the city of Van in eastern Turkey, this photograph is just one example of how social anthropologists often return from their fieldwork with compelling and deeply moving glimpses of life in very different parts of the world. Following a competition in the Division of Social anthropology, this image - along with dozens of others like it - is now being shared online for the first time.

    The aim is to celebrate the diverse range of research carried out by students. Current PhD candidates are conducting research in Russia, Bengal, Bhutan, Vietnam, Turkey and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as in the UK.

    The very nature of research carried out by Social Anthropologists lends itself to visually stunning results. In order to study how people live – what they make, do, think and the organisation of their social relationships, societies and cultures – it is necessary to record this in a visual as well as written or audio form.

    As a result we see an ethnographic picture of lives lived in places many of us will never experience for ourselves. While tales of people and cultures involved in the students’ research are both fascinating and poignant, photographs can complete the story and bring it alive for the reader.

    For the competition, PhD students were asked to submit three photographs, along with a short narrative on their research. The judging panel, comprising of senior faculty members from the department, felt the overall standard of the competition was “impressive” with almost all of the images being of “exhibition quality”. However, because of the high standard the judges felt that “two entries of equal merit stood out above the others” and were therefore awarded joint first prize.

    The first of these is Jonathan Taee. His research takes place in Bhutan where, since the 1960’s, the government has attempted to emerge as a modern nation state. As part of this process, it has encouraged development of the Ministry of Health to provide a range of institutionalised health services to the Bhutanese population.

    In efforts to merge modern development whilst maintaining and preserving cultural identity, patients are offered two diagnostic and treatment paths.  Firstly, biomedical hospitals, providing standard ‘western’ medicine, and secondly the National Traditional Medicine Hospital that offers Sowa-Rigpa, a practice based on the medical texts commonly attributed to the Buddha.

    As well as both these forms of medicine being offered nationwide, patients may also seek out alternative options - such as ritual healers, shamans and bone-setters - and commonly use a combination of state and alternative healthcare providers, resulting in a complex healing process.

    Jonathan’s photographs span the cultural and social aspects of his research. We see a woman receiving modern medical assistance following an incident of domestic violence, but also a man hunting for Cordyceps – a fungus of enormous value in traditional Chinese medicine – and a gloriously colourful display of Mongar Dzong Tshechu, a historical folk dance performed at a festival in Eastern Bhutan.

    “I spent a year living in Thimphu, Mongar and other locations conducting ethnographic research with patients, practitioners and their families to explore health-seeking narratives, examining how, when, where and why patients are using the available assortment of practices, and what effects this medical pluralism may have on their experiences of sickness and amelioration,” said Jonathan.

    "The photographs captured a few of my most memorable moments in the field that are deeply connected to my ethnographic work. I am very appreciative that I can share these moments with a wider audience.”

    Also in joint first place was John Fahy, whose fieldwork has taken place in the Nadia district of West Bengal, close to the Bangladesh border.

    The spiritual headquarters of The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in Mayapur, 130km north of Kolkata, is home to the Vaishnavas, a diverse spectrum of members of a religious tradition from all over the world. The Vaishnavas are unified by the shared purpose of worshipping and serving the Hindu god Krishna. They also share a deep reverence for the 16th century saint, Sri Chaitanya Mahaphrabu who they consider to be a full incarnation of Lord Krishna, but disagree on some essential doctrinal and practical issues.

    The focus of John’s research is to seek understanding of the channels through which conviction and belief are forged in a temple environment where people’s views differ considerably. “I aim to investigate the various ‘ways of knowing’ in the temple, as are negotiated between the social and the self through everyday interactions in Mayapur,” he said.

    Taken from the town of Mayapur and from further afield Kolkata, John’s pictures record the social activities of people who live according to Gaudiya Vaishnava teachings. Local Mayapur women take oxen to bathe in the Ganges; a crowded ferry boat travels from Mayapur to Nabadwip; and in a Kolkata market, a man sells vegetables with his family in tow.

    Photography is becoming increasingly central to how academia tells the world about research. For social anthropologists, these images are not just part of the story they want to tell, but a possible clue to the behaviour of that most complex and unpredictable of species - us.

    A student photography competition showcases some of the stunning visuals that result from modern Social Anthropology research

    The photographs captured a few of my most memorable moments in the field that are deeply connected to my ethnographic work
    Jonathan Taee
    Hunting Cordyceps in Bhutan

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    Any students who have completed an MPhil at Cambridge this year and intend to continue to a PhD, also at Cambridge, commencing in October 2013, must consider whether they are required to return to their home country in order to apply for an extension to their visa. 

    The Home Office states:

    “If you are applying to continue your studies in the UK, your new course must start within 28 days of the expiry of your permission to say (sic) or, if you have overstayed, within 28 days of when that period of overstaying began.”                                                                                                                                                                                                 (Tier 4 of the Points Based System- Policy Guidance, Version 07/13)

    Therefore, if your current immigration permission expires on 30 August, for example, you are not eligible to apply for a new Tier 4 visa from inside the UK. If you apply from inside the UK, your application will be refused. This information was previously provided to you by the University in the “Information Notes for new graduates and continuers applying for a Tier 4 visa 2012-13”.

    Continuing students requiring a new visa for 2013 may need to apply from their home country.

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    Aid is an emotive issue. The disparity between nations, and groups within them, are the outcome of a myriad of factors – political and cultural as well as environmental. The act of giving (and receiving) is charged with meaning and skews the relationships, and balance of power, between those who have and those who don’t. The world produces enough food for everyone: shortages of staples are the result of market structures and a failure in distribution. These are complex challenges to address at a time when the global population is growing and climate change is bringing added problems.

    We asked three people to answer our questions. Dr Emma Mawdsley is a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge. She is author From Recipients to Donors, an analysis of the 'rising powers' as providers of development assistance. Adam Pain holds positions at the School of International Development, University of East Anglia, and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala. He has worked in the Himalayas since 1991 as a policy advisor (Bhutan) and researcher (Nepal). Since 2001, he has been collaborating with a research institute in Afghanistan, studying rural economies. In partnership with Afghan colleagues, he has set up a carpet company working with Turkmen women on fair trade principles. Anne Radl is programmes manager at the Humanitarian Centre, an international development network with strong links to Cambridge University. Her background is in community and network building to tackle social inequalities and injustice, particularly in health. She has worked with vulnerable groups in the US and South America.

      Is there a moral imperative for the rich to help the poor?
    Emma Mawdsley Yes, I believe so - there are moral compunctions that bring together 'distant strangers', as well as those in need closer to home. That said, while foreign aid certainly has its place, it is generally not the most politically progressive or effective way of reducing poverty. But in any case, I don't think we have to rely on moral arguments for aid or other transfers from rich to poor: there is plenty of evidence that everyone - rich and poor - benefits from less poverty and greater equality. Self-interest should be enough to push us towards a more just distribution of resources, through fair taxation systems, for example.

    Adam Pain Moral and pragmatic arguments can be used to justify aid: both can make a compelling and principled case. Addressing inequalities of access to basic entitlements and rights is an issue of justice; ensuring greater equality is self-interested. However, the moral imperative is commonly subverted by aid practice and the pragmatic one by hubris. We had thought, for example in Afghanistan, that by bureaucratic means we could rapidly transform societies; the evidence has shown that we cannot.

    Anne Radl Moral arguments can be tricky: whose morality are we talking about? When you look into the anthropology and history of aid, you find that the ‘moral imperative to help the poor’—especially the poor outside of your family, community and country—is not universal. I often get asked if we have a moral imperative to end poverty in Britain before we send aid overseas. Sometimes when we invoke moral arguments, we are trying to reach people on a level deeper than the intellect, to inspire them to act. There are different ways to get people to think about—and feel—our shared humanity and consider a more equitable distribution of resources.   We need to be flexible in the language and arguments we use.

      What are the goals we should be working towards?
    EM Absolute poverty is a scourge, and completely unnecessary in a world in which we currently produce enough food and have enough resources to ensure that everyone could have access to the basics of a good life. But it is rising inequality - nationally and globally - that is just as pernicious and destabilising, as well as manifestly unjust. Our goals should be eradicating poverty, addressing rising inequality, and getting serious about tackling climate change: a huge political challenge, of course.

    AP As a mobilising force, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), agreed by the UN and its partners, are as good as any and address some of the dimensions of inequality. However, greater attention needs to be given to the right to food security at a time tightening world food supplies and under conditions of increased risk associated both with climate change and markets. A major food security crisis in Nepal 2009 was attributed to a collision of crises due to climate change, a global food price spike, trade restrictions by India and a relative decline in domestic food production.

    AR With the MDGs expiring in 2015, we have an opportunity to shape new goals to bring about fundamental changes to the social, economic, environmental and governance systems that underlie so many of the inequalities in our world. No matter what goals we agree on (and there are some righteous ones proposed, like ending extreme poverty once and for all), we will not achieve them if we are not thinking about how we are working towards them. We need more spaces that overcome barriers between disciplines, sectors and countries and help us understand each other’s perspectives and priorities. It’s crucial that ‘we’ includes communities living in poverty.

      Does current practice in aid and development need rethinking?
    EM Current aid orthodoxies are in a period of complete upheaval right now. The 'poverty reduction' message of the last 15 years, and the focus on the 'soft wiring' of development (anti-corruption, education, social wellbeing, neoliberal policies) is being rapidly displaced by a return to the older aid orthodoxy of security, foreign policy priorities, modernisation, infrastructure and growth, led by the private sector. Whether this will achieve inclusive or ecologically sustainable development is a troubling question. Whether we're talking about the UK or Uganda, there is a critical distinction between 'economic growth' and 'development'.

    AP Yes is the short answer. Having closely followed aid and reconstruction practice in Afghanistan over the last decade, which has been more of a case of ‘do as we say and not as we did’, it’s clear that the liberal model of state building is bankrupt. We have been inept in seeking to transplant it and it does not work. The rise of development as business and the attempts to practice institutional ‘mono-cropping’ with stylised western models – for example imposing a universalised model of good governance – has to be resisted.

    AR Yes, we need to be rethinking—and remembering, and evaluating and learning. Recent work by CAFOD and Participate (Compass 2015) has stressed the importance of including poor communities in the consultation on what goals should replace the MDGs. Participatory methods that position the poor as key stakeholders in development are wonderful—and  development workers have been using them for years, with a lot of success. But there is a danger that concepts and methods, even ones that work, ebb in and out of fashion. We need to keep talking to one another, sharing ideas and resources, challenging one another, and holding each other, ourselves and our organisations accountable for maximising our impact.

      Is military aid or intervention justified when civilian lives are at risk?
    EM The original formulation of the UN initiative known as 'Responsibility to Protect' (R2P) was quite sensible - military solutions are justified only if all other possibilities are exhausted or impossible, and if the benefits will outweigh the costs. This demands a steady case-by-case assessment. Unfortunately, the R2P principles have been grossly abused by the USA and its allies and, in practice, interventions have often shown spectacular ignorance - Afghanistan says it all. Hubris and hypocrisy have thoroughly tainted R2P.

    AP In principle, yes - but the ‘mission creep’ (the expansion of a project beyond its original goals) that has been seen in Afghanistan and in other countries where military intervention linked to securitisation has become intertwined with development practice has been deeply corrupting. Keep military intervention solely for the protection of lives and nothing more.

    AR I think most people would say that, when there is no other recourse, military aid and intervention are justifiable to protect civilian lives and stop gross abuses of human rights. But we need to reduce the number of situations in which there is no other recourse than military action. There’s a need to dedicate a lot more resources and media attention to the on-going efforts to prevent, and recover from, violent conflict and human rights abuses. In April, when the UN passed a historic Arms Trade Treaty, it barely hit the news. We also need to empower women, and other marginalised groups, to be part of the peace-building and negotiation process. Reducing inequality and injustice is the best prevention for conflict.

      How are the politics of aid shifting?
    EM Many Gulf and 'Third World' countries have been development partners/aid donors for decades, but have been widely (and mistakenly) overlooked or seen as insignificant. Their growing share of the global economy and rising political power has led to revolutionary shifts in the politics of aid. The 'rising powers' are now starting to have a much greater voice in global development institutions and agencies, and shifting mainstream development norms and practices. This brings opportunities and challenges, for sure, but the overall direction is positive for growth, to some extent for 'development', but big questions remain over human rights and sustainability.

    AP The politics are shifting in two ways. For conventional donors, aid is becoming much more strategically aligned with narrowly perceived self-interested political - witness US support to Pakistan - and business interests. The rise of non-western aid donors (such as China) who carry no particular moral baggage, combined with the faltering of western economies, is likely to lead to a decreasing ability of western donors to influence or drive governance or social processes.

    AR We are slowly shifting away from the politics of ‘aid’ altogether. More and more, rather than talking about donors and recipients, we’re talking about partnership and two-way learning. Throughout the world, there is a growing realisation that we cannot achieve economic or environmental sustainability without addressing social inequality, the worst manifestation of which is extreme poverty. Even in cases when poverty alleviation is not a moral aim in itself, it will need to be on the local, national and international agendas to enable sustainable development.

    Inset image: Air Drop of Humanitarian Aid Delivery to Port au Prince, Haiti by Beverly and Pack via Flickr
    Homepage banner image: Delivering food by helicopter for WFP after the Haiti earthquake, March 2010 by UK Department for International Development
     

    We live in an unequal world: each year billions of dollars are directed at reducing some of the gaps between rich and poor, and bringing basic healthcare and education to those without these life-enhancing resources. But at grassroots level international aid often fails to make a real difference. Where are we going wrong?

    Throughout the world, there is a growing realisation that we cannot achieve economic or environmental sustainability without addressing social inequality, the worst manifestation of which is extreme poverty
    Anne Radl
    UN Peacekeepers Distribute Water and Food in Haiti

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    These and many more historical questions will be debated at this year’s Cambridge Festival of Ideas, which is bursting with over 200 events for people of all ages. Those taking part include Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, artist Quentin Blake, author MJ Hyland, Frank Field MP, columnist Owen Jones, George the Poet, teen writer Anthony McGowan, comedian James Mullinger and academics ranging from David Reynolds and Noreena Hertz to Mary Beard, Anthony Giddens and Richard Evans.

    The University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas, which runs from 23rd October to 3rd November, celebrates the very best of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Events are held in lecture halls, theatres, museums and galleries around Cambridge and entry to most is free.

    The theme of the Festival is Frontiers and one session, led by Professor David Reynolds, will focus on the history and legacy of border conflicts in areas such as the Balkans and South Asia. It takes place on 2nd November from 3-4.30pm.

    Other historical debates and talks include:

    • Professor Anthony Giddens, former director of the London School of Economics, on how we can find a way through the maze of unprecedented dangers and possibilities faced in the 21st century when prior history cannot provide us with a guide. Professor Giddens is currently writing a book on this subject. 26th October, 2-3pm
    • Professors Sir Richard Evans, David Runciman and John Naughton on how far conspiracy theories undermine trust in government and shape history, using examples from 9/11 to the rise of Holocaust denial. The three lead a new Leverhulme-funded interdisciplinary, collaborative project on conspiracy theories at the University of Cambridge. 23rd October, 5-6.30pm.
    • Professor Jonathan Haslam on the history of Russia’s Secret Services from the Revolution to the Fall of the Wall: the Military Intelligence, the codes and ciphers and the KGB. Professor Haslam’s forthcoming book on the history of 20th century Soviet intelligence will be the first on the history of all the Soviet intelligence organisations. 28th October, 6-7pm.
    • Dr Michael Collins on how imperial powers used federations to shape the process of decolonisation after 1945. The East African Federation will be a particular focus of his talk. 29th October, 5.45-7.15pm.
    • Professor Simon Keynes on the extent to which shire boundaries, dykes, rivers, roads and treaty-lines in Anglo-Saxon England functioned as frontiers and how Viking influenced English. 29th October, 5-6pm.
    • Archaeologist Dr Cameron Petrie on living in the borderlands of Pakistan from the Neolithic to the spread of Islam. 25th October, 5-6.30pm.

    There are also historical events for children, including a Pre-history Day, a talk by classics author Caroline Lawrence and a Horrible Histories session with an actor from the series.

    Malavika Anderson, the Festival of Ideas Coordinator, said: “The Festival of Ideas has grown significantly over the last few years, in terms of both the number as well as the diversity of events on offer.

    “We were delighted to have welcomed over 14,000 visitors at the Festival in 2012 and look forward to welcoming even more over 12 days this autumn. The theme this year – Frontiers – explores how borders, boundaries and margins are being either challenged or reinforced around the world – has inspired the development of some truly exciting events.”

    The University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas is sponsored by Barclays, Cambridge University Press and Anglia Ruskin University. Anglia Ruskin also organises over a dozen of the events during the Festival.

    Event partners include Heffers Classics Festival, University of Cambridge Museums RAND Europe, the Goethe-Institut London and the Junction. The Festival's hospitality partner is Cambridge City Hotel and its media partner is BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

    The full Festival programme will be published on 2nd September. For more information please visit: www.cam.ac.uk/festivalofideas.

     

    How have conspiracy theories influenced history? Can history teach us anything about the enormous challenges faced in the 21st century? How did intellectual repression and technological backwardness imperil the efficiency of Soviet intelligence during Stalin’s rule?

    Wall segments - Berlin Wall

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    The panel of experts includes Anna Vignoles, Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge; Professor Emeritus John MacBeath, Projects Director for the Centre for Commonwealth Education; the philosopher Professor John Gray; Professor Mary James, President of the British Educational Research Association; Times Education Supplement's behaviour guru Tom Bennett; and Alison Peacock, Cambridge Primary Review Network Coordinator.

    They will reflect links between policy and research evidence about education, what research shows to be desirable education interventions and whether these are affordable.

    This year's Cambridge Festival of Ideas is bursting with over 200 events for people of all ages. Those taking part include Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, artist Quentin Blake, author MJ Hyland, Frank Field MP, columnist Owen Jones, George the Poet, teen writer Anthony McGowan, comedian James Mullinger and academics ranging from David Reynolds and Noreena Hertz to Mary Beard, Anthony Giddens and Richard Evans.

    The Festival, which runs from 23rd October to 3rd November, was the first public engagement initiative by a UK university to bring together the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Events are held in lecture halls, theatres, museums and galleries around Cambridge and entry to most is free.

    Other education debates and talks at the Festival include:

    • Professor Vignoles on how we can ensure that money is not wasted in schools and the public sector and the importance of evaluating policy and practice
    • The ethics of smart drugs - a panel debate including leading neuroscientist Professor Barbara Sahakian
    • Latest research into the benefits and challenges of bilingual education
    • Research by Professor John MacBeath on the Children's University, a growing international initiative which provides learning activities for children outside school hours and links schools up with universities
    • Bright Club - Researchers become comedians for just one night. Comedians Iszi Lawrence and AF Harrold will be joined by researchers Stephen Harrison, Katherine McDonald, Ashley Wilson, Rachel Tookey and Nora Ni Loiderain
    • Tom Bennett talks about the damage that bad science can have on the classroom and what the academic and teaching communities can do about it.

    Malavika Anderson, the Festival of Ideas Coordinator, said: "The Festival of Ideas has grown significantly over the last few years, in terms of both the number as well as the diversity of events on offer.

    “We were delighted to have welcomed over 14,000 visitors at the Festival in 2012 and look forward to welcoming even more over 12 days this autumn. The theme this year – Frontiers – explores how borders, boundaries and margins are being either challenged or reinforced around the world – has inspired the development of some truly exciting events."

    The University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas is sponsored by Barclays, Cambridge University Press and Anglia Ruskin University.  Anglia Ruskin also organises over a dozen of the events during the Festival. Event partners include Heffers Classics Festival, University of Cambridge Museums RAND Europe, the Goethe-Institut London and the Junction. The Festival's hospitality partner is Cambridge City Hotel and its media partner is BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

    The full Festival programme will be published on 2nd September. For more information, please visit: www.cam.ac.uk/festivalofideas.

     

    A distinguished panel of education experts will discuss whether those who make education policy pay enough attention to research about what works as part of a series of education events at this year's Cambridge Festival of Ideas.

    Classroom

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    My first day in Harare is a blur of opulence and finery at the city’s only five star hotel, Meikles, which sits proudly on its own private road defended by armed guards. This is the kind of lifestyle that the ruling elite enjoy, and it seems miles away from the Zimbabwe that I have become familiar with.

    I’m here to attend a conference as part of my research, but as the meeting draws to a close I’m somewhat relieved to escape the rows of crisp white tables, lunch buffets, and circular chitchat to see the city as it ‘really’ is. I leave, dashing out into the roaring traffic to meet a friend of my grandfather’s, who is sitting in his shiny development agency pick-up truck.

    Andreas has been living and working here for 30 years. He responds rather wearily to my initial question: “When did you first come to Zimbabwe?” “I came here in 1982, just after Independence. But it’s my home now. I have lived here longer than I did in Europe. I’m part of the country.’

    He introduces me to his secretary, Mosie, who is smiling broadly from the back seat. She cackles with laughter at most of what is said between us, and she’s particularly amused when Andreas jumps a red light. No-one else on the road seems to notice his transgression.

    As our first few minutes of conversation lurch about, Mosie keeps bursting out the word ‘Mbare’ from the back seat. At first I’m not sure what her interjections mean. ‘Mbare. Please, Mbare!’ Andreas turns to face her and says: “You want to take her to Mbare? I’m not sure if she will want to go.” He faces me. “How do you feel about visiting Mbare? It’s our biggest township.”

    I agree, curious to see the city’s other side. Mosie’s enthusiasm is palpable. As we approach the township, Andreas explains that it’s famous for its vast market. “You can buy anything there, including the parts they stole from your car the night before!”

    We jump out, and quickly we’re immersed in the chaos of the market. Andreas is right – everything is here, often in the most bizarre combinations. Someone sells workman’s overalls alongside net curtains, another stall displays barbed wire alongside laundry powder - and a third proffers tomatoes along with mobile phone cases.

    In the market, it’s not so evident that this country faced such acute economic crisis only a few years ago. In fact, its bustling nature is probably testament to the slump in the formal economy. Back then supermarkets were completely empty, and street-traders met the demand for goods, seizing the chance to develop the black market. By late 2008, the so-called ‘informal economy’ was the dominant means of exchange for most people, and Mbare has flourished ever since.

    As we wind through the endless corridors created by the tight-knit shacks of market-sellers, I notice lots of people wearing lime green t-shirts with the words, ‘Indigenize, Empower, Develop, Employ’, across the back. A single word is emblazoned on the front: ‘Revive’. At first this puzzles me, but I realise later that it’s a Zanu-PF slogan. Mugabe is often quoted saying exactly these words.

    Listening to Mugabe’s speeches is a bewildering experience. They’re full of the rhetoric of ‘indigenization,’ the process that seeks to make black Zimbabweans the dominant economic stakeholders in the country. He’s been repeating these statements for at least 15 years. This policy led to the expulsion of most foreign investors from the country and was used to justify the ‘invasions’ of white-owned farms that began around 2000.

    Mugabe continues to blame (not entirely without reason) economic sanctions and the ‘imperialist’ policies of Western governments, primarily those based in London and Washington, for the country’s financial plight.

    To the outsider, it seems that a multitude of other factors initiated the country’s downward spiral: the government’s expensive involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 1990s; the unbudgeted and continuing handouts to war veterans; the annihilation of the commercial farming sector caused by farm invasions; and the government’s reckless printing of more and more and more currency to cover its mushrooming costs.

    These factors never appear in any of Zanu-PF’s official statements; it continues to blame the scheming West for attempting to destroy the defiant nationalist government. In Mugabe’s first post-election broadcast on Monday, he exclaimed: “We are delivering democracy on a platter. We say take it or leave it.”

    There’s a madness and mania to this kind of language that somehow seems to work. If you don’t buy it, this rhetoric simply goes straight over your head; to you and me, Mugabe’s speeches appear to have the hallmarks of insanity. But the crucial part is that if you relate to this language, every utterance is deeply meaningful and painfully truthful.

    As we come to the edge of the market, Mosie invites me to her family home. We are approaching what seem to be large, post-war housing blocks, the kind not unfamiliar in the UK.

    But as we enter the first corridor, the stench of rotting food and human waste is almost overwhelming. The floors are covered in puddles of stagnant water that reflect the long, unlit walkway. We climb up to the fifth floor; I notice that the roof the floor above, which is the top storey, has mostly fallen in.

    Mosie’s family house is just one room, like every other residence in this building. A curtain divides the room in half, separating the living space from the sleeping area. A sofa and two well-worn armchairs occupy most of the space. Six people sit on these; all of them live here. The opposite wall is piled almost to the ceiling with cooking equipment, food, brooms and various other indicators of human life. It’s hot, and it smells bad. The air is heavy and humid.

    A space is made for me on the sofa, and I’m offered a biscuit, which I gratefully accept. Everyone speaks a smattering of English, and conversation is initiated with the rather direct: “Do you believe in God?” I answer in the affirmative, which is the only real option if I am to stay here any longer, and I notice the Christian pop music playing in the background. The chorus repeats: “Jesus is my candle and salvation.”

    There are numerous Christian denominations in Zimbabwe, many of them unknown to most people in the UK. When people ask me what denomination I am, and I answer Anglican, they always want to know what type of Anglican. I explain that there are fewer types of churches in the UK, and that I attend my parish church. Mosie’s older brother replies: “Ah yes. In Zimbabwe we have many, many churches!”

    I’m curious about this, so ask him why he thinks there are so many. He answers as if it is obvious: “Because God uses poverty as a weapon to get people to church.” I look down at my hands, suddenly uncomfortable and aware of my comparative wealth. I hear Mosie’s mother say the word “dollar”, which Mosie snaps back at, but I know she wants to ask me for money.

    When I leave half an hour later, uncertain about what’s the right thing to do, I produce $10 from my purse. The adult family members beam at me, and take it in turns to shake my hand. Mosie’s mother even starts to cry, but Mosie is quick to tell her off. Their response is overwhelming and conflicting. I know my $10 will do nothing to alleviate their poverty – by next week it will be gone. Even more so, it will do nothing change the fact that Mbare exists. I feel sad, confused and out of place.

    As we leave, Mosie’s father leads me down the stairs. Mugabe’s face grins from the back of his shirt, a reminder of the 2008 presidential election. I hear later Zanu-PF have just won the Mbare constituency. This place seems riddled with contradiction and uncertainty. I don’t know if I can tie together all the threads that hang loose around Mbare, Harare, and Zimbabwe. There doesn’t seem to be any easy way to fit together all the pieces that I’ve seen of the puzzle.

    The elections that took place two weeks ago were somehow rigged; that much is clear. International consensus is now that they were ‘free but not fair’ (whatever that really means). One hears a lot about ‘irregularities’ and ‘assisted voting’ in the papers, but no-one is entirely clear on how the election was won.

    It is crucial to understand, however, that not every vote for Mugabe was achieved by beating people senseless or stuffing the ballot boxes. He has, amazingly, retained (and even regained) a firm support base, and there are many who delight in his frenzied monologues. Although we are now over 30 years from independence, race still plays a crucial dynamic in Zimbabwean politics, and it is this that Mugabe continues to seize upon with so much success.

    Mbare residents have many reasons to abhor him: their neighbourhood has suffered particularly brutal onslaughts. June 2005 saw the infamous government ‘Operation Murambatsvina’ that literally bulldozed small enterprises, like the homemade stalls of Mbare township, and crushed most of the places where these sellers had operated. It was an attempt to control by destroying even the smallest industry that had clung on through the years of degeneration. It’s generally thought that Zanu-PF was paranoid that the opposition, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was winning support here. ‘Operation Murambatsvina’, which translates as ‘operation to drive out rubbish’, was an attempt to crush support for MDC by destroying people's livelihoods.

    Despite this, the only election posters I see here are for Zanu-PF. Many people wear t-shirts emblazoned with Mugabe’s image, just like Mosie’s father. This is not somewhere I would readily bring up politics, but it’s clear that there is support. It seems likely that Mugabe retains people’s support on the basis of his racial and anti-colonial rhetoric, which evidently retains a deep and powerful appeal for many.

    The ‘indigenization’ programme has garnered a lot of support from the poorest Zimbabweans. The world, viewed from another angle, makes sense that way. The painful irony for me is that Mugabe now occupies the same position of privilege and ‘oppressor’ as those he has spent his entire life condemning.

    That evening as Andreas and I drive back to his house, it occurs to me that Zimbabwe is once again a one-party state. Having gone through a tentative few years of the Government of National Unity, in which MDC shared power with Zanu-PF, the dominant party has now regained control. Morgan Tsvangari has lost (or rather, failed to win) three consecutive elections – and his political career is effectively over.

    MDC’s inclusion in government gave Zanu-PF another scapegoat – Tsvangari. MDC continues to be accused of being a puppet of the West. The problems of the last five years were simply deflected by Zanu-PF onto their rivals. This is what Mugabe meant when he said on Monday: “We found we were dining with and sharing our bed with thieves. We will never give thieves the power to rule.”

    There has been much talk of a ‘second liberation’ for the people of Zimbabwe, now that MDC has been defeated. This may sound like the hyperbole of a madman, but there are thousands, if not millions, who remain loyal to a man that his put his country through so much. Understanding that Mugabe still has support, even from those who have clearly suffered under his rule, is critical to understanding Zimbabwe. Loyalty to him is still widespread, especially so among the poorest. For 30 years he has successfully cast himself as the revolutionary war hero who liberated his country from oppression, and it seems to still be working.

    To protect the identity of the family in this report, Rowan Jones is a pseudonym. Other names have also been changed.

    For more information about this story, contact Alex Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge, amb206@admin.cam.ac.uk 01223 761673

    All images credit: Rowan Jones
     

    In the township of Mbare, anthropology student Rowan Jones finds a complex picture of poverty and propaganda - plus a baffling level of support for Mugabe. In her second report from this troubled nation, she digs into recent political history to make sense of what she encounters. 

    “We are delivering democracy on a platter. We say take it or leave it.”
    Mugabe gives his first post-election broadcast
    The communal area between Mbare housing blocks. Inside the one-roomed homes there are no toilets or sanitation facilities, so washing and laundry happen in communal areas. Many families prefer to cook on open fires, which occupy empty ground between block

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.

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