Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel

Embed this content in your HTML


Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Channel Catalog

older | 1 | .... | 23 | 24 | (Page 25) | 26 | 27 | .... | 141 | newer

    0 0

    Angela Hewitt has described Bach’s music as “universally loved… Something in it speaks to all of humanity”. As Humanitas Visiting Professor of Chamber Music 2014, she will give a lecture-recital on 24 April, conduct a masterclass for talented student performers on 25 April, and take part in a public symposium on 28 April.

    These three events are free to attend and open to all, subject to seating availability at West Road Concert Hall. They will be followed by a concluding concert on 29 April, at which Ms Hewitt will perform The Art of Fugue. This concert does require booking in advance. Tickets cost £20 (£5 for students), and are available from the Corn Exchange.

    ‘Interpreting Bach on the Piano’ is the title of the lecture-recital on 23 April. Professor John Rink of the Faculty of Music, said: “Deciphering the manuscripts left by past composers forces us to take imaginative leaps. Even the most accomplished performers can struggle to fathom the meaning of musical notation, and the fact that instruments have changed so much over time makes the task all the more difficult. In the case of Bach, interpreting the music as well as the historical evidence surrounding it is far from straightforward.”

    He added: “Angela Hewitt is one of the foremost performers of Bach today, and we are thrilled that she will be sharing her unique artistic insights here at Cambridge.”

    On 24 April, Ms Hewitt will conduct a masterclass with some of the University’s most talented student performers, playing solo and chamber repertoire by Beethoven, Franck and Liszt.

    “We are all incredibly excited to work with Angela Hewitt, a musician of the highest calibre,” said Ghislaine McMullin, a second-year student of History at St John’s College who will playing Beethoven as part of a trio. “We have spent all term learning the Beethoven, and we look forward to her thoughts about, and insights into, our performance.” For information about the six participating students and the works they will be playing, see here

    On 28 April, Angela Hewitt will discuss The Art of Fugue in a symposium with renowned Bach specialist, Professor John Butt of the University of Glasgow. This intense work is regarded by some as too austere for the concert-hall. There is speculation as to whether such a rigorous theoretical exercise in fugal writing was intended for performance and if it was meant to be performed on a keyboard instrument. The final fugue (or ‘contrapunctus’), in which Bach embedded the letters of his name within one of the interwoven themes, is unfinished and, in musical terms, unresolved: Bach died while in the process of writing it.

    On 29 April, a Cambridge audience will have a rare opportunity to find out why Angela Hewitt wrote in the Guardian in 2012 that she hoped music-lovers around the world would share her ‘sense of wonder’ at the ‘simultaneous intimacy and grandeur’ of the work, and why pianist Glenn Gould said, of the final, unfinished contrapunctus: “There’s never been anything more beautiful in all of music.”

    This is the third year of the Humanitas Chamber Music series, which has brought stellar musicians to Cambridge. The first holder of this Visiting Professorship was Alfred Brendel, in 2011. Robert Levin followed in 2013, and a video clip of him improvising Mozart at West Road Concert Hall has had over 105,000 hits on YouTube.

    Hosted in Cambridge by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), Humanitas is a series of Visiting Professorships at Cambridge and Oxford intended to bring leading practitioners and scholars to both universities to address major themes in the arts, social sciences and humanities. The programme was created by Lord Weidenfeld, and is funded by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue with the support of generous benefactors. The Humanitas Chamber Music series is made possible by the generous support of Mr Lawrence Saper.

    One of the world’s leading pianists, Angela Hewitt, is coming to Cambridge later this month to tackle Bach’s The Art of Fugue, a composition so challenging that it is rarely performed. She will also give a masterclass for students and take part in a public symposium.

    We are all incredibly excited to work with Angela Hewitt, a musician of the highest calibre.
    Ghislaine McMullin, student, St John’s College
    Angela Hewitt

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    Archives unlock doors to the past. For the past seven years historian Dr John-Paul Ghobrial has been in pursuit of an extraordinary traveller called Elias of Babylon. Elias lived in the 17th century and journeyed from his birthplace in Mosul (Iraq) across Europe and as far as Peru and Mexico. Ghobrial’s research on the trail of Elias has taken him to archives in Europe, the Middle East and South America, as he has pieced together the clues left behind by Elias during his global adventuring. 

    Ghobrial, a specialist in the early modern period at Oxford University, is among the speakers addressing an international audience at a conference later this week (9-10 April 2014) at the British Academy. 'Transforming Information: Record Keeping in the Early Modern World' will look at the ways in which our understanding of the past has been shaped by archives. Ghobrial will talk about Eastern Christians who, like Elias, started new lives in Europe in the 17th century.  Many used their linguistic talents to work as archivists and copyists of Middle Eastern manuscripts.

    Convened by three Cambridge University historians, the two-day event will focus on an era that saw an explosion in record keeping as a result of a growth in literacy, burgeoning bureaucracy and advances in technology.  In many respects, there are parallels between this transformation and the information revolution taking place today as a result of digitisation.

    Speakers from Europe and the USA will share their expertise in fields as diverse as French feudal records, information gathering in early modern Japan, and the use and misuse of papers at the epicentre of the Spanish empire.  The sessions will consider from multiple viewpoints how, and just as importantly why, the archives that underpin much of historical research came into being. 

    Professor Alexandra Walsham, who is organising the conference with colleagues Dr Kate Peters and Liesbeth Corens, said: “When we examine an archive today in a library or online, we are seeing it stripped of the context that is so important to its meaning and significance. The creation, organisation, preservation and destruction of archives are never neutral or impartial activities: they reflects a society’s fundamental preoccupations and priorities.

    She continued: “The conference will look at the major surge in record-keeping in the early modern world against the backdrop of wider technological, intellectual, political, religious and economic developments. It should not be assumed that an archive provides unmediated access to the past; rather record keeping practices fundamentally shape - and skew - our vision of history.”

    We asked ten of the conference participants to answer some key questions about archives with particular reference to the period 1500 to 1800.

    1. What constitutes an archive in the early modern period?

    Filippo de Vivo (Birkbeck, University of London) replies:

    Today, we think of archives as repositories of sources for the use of modern historians. But they originated as working tools of organisations (large or small) that produced large amounts of documents in the course of their activities. In the early modern period, many institutions showed an increasing awareness of the importance of preserving those records as information (about something: for example, population size) or proof (of, and often against, something: for example, territorial boundaries). Far from neutral collections, they were instruments of conflict.

    As for their aspect and arrangement, think of cabinets, with chests and drawers – the word archive comes from the Latin arca, for box – but bags were also common. They were stacked at the back of offices with secretaries writing at their desks, and they increasingly occupied separate rooms; replete with documents bound or simply bundled together, they stretched back decades and even centuries. Some were neat and tidy, as indicated by this picture of the Venetian chancery – but others must have been decidedly messier, and we know that many different kinds of people went to archives to find out about legal precedents, fiscal duties, property rights, and so on: archives were full with people as much as papers.

    Image: Cancelloria Superiore, Venice

    2. How is our understanding of history shaped by archives?

    Jesse Spohnholz (Washington State University) responds:

    In the early 19th century archives began to acquire a privileged status among the new academic historians; they were seen to offer the most direct access to voices from past centuries. For all the opportunities that archives offer, they structure and limit our understanding of the past. Consider the decision of what records to keep and what to set aside. From the Middle Ages, archives were established by political or religious institutions, whose officials aimed to preserve the authority of those institutions. Thus evidence in archives is not simply descriptive of the past, but prescriptive of how a people understood their present and wanted later generations to understand the past. One result is a privileging of male voices with the result that religion and politics look more male-dominated to us today than they may have been.

    Similarly, because state and church officials recorded and preserved records of their activities from their own perspective, historians have sometimes overemphasized the importance of centralised states and official churches in the pre-modern era, or have treated as marginal those people who those officials wanted to treat as marginal (so-called heretics or rebels). The actions of pre-modern record keepers have sometimes led historians to focus too much attention on kings, princes, magistrates, and clergy, and too little on the people who ignored, flaunted, deceived or skirted the attention of those institutions. By their very nature, archives align themselves with a side in past conflicts; and when historians use archives as representations of the past without considering the voices they intentionally excluded, they often inadvertently do much the same thing.

    Image: 18th-century inventory from a Dutch archive (Jesse Spohnholz)

    3. How are archives created?

    Arnold Hunt (British Library) writes:

    Archives grow and develop over time. They are the creation, not of a single person, but of a long succession of clerks, secretaries, archivists and curators who have reshaped and reorganised them. As a curator myself, I’m intrigued by the ways that the physical organisation of archives can affect – and sometimes obstruct – their use by historians. As the old saying goes: where do you hide a leaf? In a forest. Where do you hide a document? In an archive.

    The archives held at the British Library have often been rearranged in the course of cataloguing. Sometimes this is inevitable.  If an archive arrives in a suitcase, two cardboard boxes and a carrier bag, what do you do? You have to create some sort of order out of chaos. But by imposing ‘order’ on the archive we also impose meaning and interpretation. Until quite recently we used to organise correspondence according to a system that reflected (probably unconsciously) the British class structure: ‘Royal Correspondence’ (the royal family), ‘Special Correspondence’ (the great and the good), and ‘General Correspondence’ (everybody else). Nowadays we organise it by ‘fonds’ and ‘sub-fonds’, but in 100 years’ time I daresay this system will seem equally quaint and arbitrary and our successors will wonder why we adopted it.

    I’ve been trying to reconstruct some of the ways that early modern archives were originally organised – not an easy task, when the contents of the archives have been shuffled and reshuffled over the centuries. Secretaries played a crucial role in the making and storing of written records, but they are often shadowy figures whose intermediary role is only visible to us in the notes or ‘endorsements’ that they scribbled on the backs of letters as they filed them away. I want to bring these ‘invisible technicians’ to the centre of attention.

    Image: Johann Amos Comenius, Orbis sensualium pictus quadrilinguis (Cambridge University Library)

    4. Why were some records kept and others lost – and what can we learn from the gaps, silences and absences? 

    Kate Peters (Cambridge University) answers:

    Most records were kept for the administrative purposes of the creating institution; the majority recorded transactions that either confirmed or exercised authority, or transferred resources. State records, and their keepers, therefore played an important role in the projection and maintenance of political power. My research explores this in the context of the political upheavals of the English civil wars.

    The collapsing authority of the Stuart monarchy is evident in the desperate attempts of Thomas Wilson, keeper of the State Paper Office, to control what was in his record office, and who could see it. Records considered ‘disadvantageous’ to the king were destroyed or locked away. Parliamentary regimes in their turn asserted their authority through record-keeping, establishing statutory provision to access the king’s papers, and prohibiting the removal of records from London because it would be prejudicial to the estates of his subjects. Records of the hated prerogative courts were destroyed.  Parliamentary ordinances established registers of all estates and monies seized; by 1649, Levellers were calling for county record offices. Over the course of the English revolution state record keeping was transformed from a system by which the king’s authority was maintained, to one by which the rights of subjects, and later citizens, were asserted. 

    Record-keeping was a deeply political act: decisions about what was kept and what was destroyed can tell us a great deal about changing notions of legitimacy and political participation. 

    Image: Warrant from John Bradshaw, regicide and President of the Council of State in the republican regime asking for royalist papers to be sent to the State Paper Office ‘for publique use’ (National Archives)

    5. What can we learn about (and from) the organisation of archives?

    Kiri Paramore (Leiden University) writes:

    How an archive is organised helps us understand when, how, and by whom it was used. My research focuses on the Confucian knowledge systems of early-modern Japan. Confucian discourse and correspondence at that time linked senior shogunal officials with the outside world, but also with simple village teachers. So writings of shogunal retainers, for instance, regularly turn up in forgotten archives of private figures of little status in peripheral areas. After kicking in the door of an old rice store (kura) housing a rich, forgotten private archive in northern Japan last year, the first thing a colleague did was to take photographs of how that room had looked (and been organised) when it was sealed 200 years ago. This helps to understand how, and by whom, the archive had been used.

    Every archive has its own story.Archives of states are particularly interesting. For instance, the fact that military intelligence records are kept with anthropological or ethnological materials in academic archives of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868) indicates how that regime used such material. Short commentaries in vernacular language attached to each foreign (Chinese, Manchu, Dutch) document suggest this archive was created for the less educated but hereditarily more senior liege lords who were making real decisions about foreign relations.

    How different thematic folios were organised gives us an insight into the perceptions of the original compiler, but also of his state employer, and about issues of academic practice, civilisational categorisation (whether a country or culture was seen as ‘civilised’, ‘barbarian’ or something in between), and the use of information during this time of rapid global transformation.

    Image: A typical Tokugawa period ‘kura’ for rice storage (Kiri Paramore)

    6. What archives are you using in your current research?

    Jennifer Bishop (Cambridge University) responds:

    I am currently working with the records of the London Goldsmiths’ Company. The Company kept extensive records that cover every aspect of corporate life in the early modern period, from the regulation of trade and the assessment of skill, to the arbitration of personal disputes between goldsmiths and their friends, colleagues, and neighbours. The Company court minutes provide a rich source of information about the everyday activities and interactions of goldsmiths at all levels of the Company hierarchy. This detailed information allows us to reconstruct the personal and professional ties that bound company members together, and gave them a sense of communal and occupational identity, in the early modern period.

    These Goldsmiths’ records were written by the Company clerk, who was also responsible for their safekeeping: the court books were kept locked in a chest in the clerk’s room in Company Hall, and nobody could access them without his permission. The clerk occupied a unique position in the Company, both participating in and commenting on the practices and rituals of corporate life. These records may therefore be read not only as documentary evidence of official business, but as creative texts that reflect the personal concerns and habits of the clerks who wrote them. As such, the Company records highlight important intersections between the literary, social, and corporate spheres of early modern London.

    Image: Goldsmiths' Company court minutes book (October 1557) (Goldsmiths' Company)

    7. What particular challenges do archives present to you as a researcher?

    Liesbeth Corens (Cambridge University) writes:

    One of the main challenges (but also delights) about research in archives is that they were and are precious to people. The sense of responsibility to protect the memory of past communities and individuals has motivated the creation, selection, and censoring of record collections across the centuries. This makes analysing an archive and its development revealing, as the motivations behind archives give us insights into the preoccupations of past communities. But sometimes the records are of such value – emotionally and materially – that access to them is restricted.

    In my research on English Catholics, I often handle documents which are to me interesting glimpses of past communities but for many Catholics are sacred relics and part of devotional cultures. These written relics are an explicit illustration of a much wider process in which records have significance other than mere records of past actions. These sensitivities have shaped what has been passed down across generations and how it is understood. Keepers protect both the materiality and interpretation of the records in their care: the fragility of records sometimes means they are not open for research or some elements of ancestors’ less virtuous past are not shown very easily. The negotiations between protecting and analysing the past are fascinating to study and a challenging but rewarding exercise.

    Image: Thomas Braithwaite of Ambleside Making His Will, 1607 (Lakeland Arts Trust)

    8. What is the relationship between private and public record-keeping?

    Heather Wolfe (Folger Shakespeare Library) comments:

    There are lots of similarities between how public records and private evidences and personal papers were stored in early modern England, in terms of bags, boxes, chests, bundles, files, drawers, and labels. Archival principles of arrangement didn't exist - antiquarians and others complained about how disorganized and dirty and mouse-eaten the public records were, and then other people went in and tried to clean them up and make sense of them, and then other people borrowed them and neglected to return them, and then other people got frustrated and tried to have them returned, to no avail! Clerks and keepers were torn between keeping up with the vast amount of documentation being produced on a daily basis by a wide range of bureaucratic entities, and dealing with an overwhelming backlog - the same challenge that faces archivists today.

    The private papers, or muniments, of England's landed gentry, were typically easier to keep under control. Property deeds were arranged by county, and each property might be "defended" with centuries'-worth of deeds, in case ownership was ever contested. Bills and receipts were often bundled together, and large account books and pedigrees maintained and saved. Different families saved other kinds of personal documents in a range of ways.

    Some people saved their correspondence and personal papers, for example, or copied their letters into letter books and discarded the originals, while others burned or recycled them. Unless you came from a family with a long history in a single home with a "muniment" room, the chances of your papers surviving were pretty slim.

    Image: Bundles of archives from a private collection (Heather Wolfe)

    9. How can we best facilitate access to archives?

    Valerie Johnson (National Archives) suggests:

    Access to archives is a complex thing. When digitisation started coming in, it was widely seen as 'democratising the archive', and obviously, if something is digitised and available online, it massively increases access for those who might live hundreds or even thousands of miles away.  But what happens if that digitised document is in medieval Latin? Digitising it doesn't improve 'access' at all for most people:  they can't read the handwriting and even if they could, they can't understand the language.

    So some things that look like an easy fix, aren't.  And though digitisation is great for standard series like the census, putting material online can take the document out of context. Good cataloguing is in my opinion hugely important in opening up for others the potential treasure that might lie waiting to be uncovered within an archive.  And access to the physical archive remains important - most people still get a huge thrill from having the original record in their own hands, feeling that there is nothing to beat the touch (and sometimes the smell) of the real thing.

    But access to archives can only happen if there are archives to access - so the best way to facilitate access to archives is to value archivists, and their work.

    Image: Magna Carta (National Archives)

    10. What has been your most memorable or frustrating ‘archive moment’?

    Mary Laven (Cambridge University) reports:

    My most frustrating archive moment occurred after the publication of my first book: Virgins of Venice: Enclosed Lives and Broken Vows in the Renaissance Convent. I wanted to embark on a new project in an unfamiliar Italian city, and so I decided to spend a month in Parma in Northern Italy looking at what appeared from the archive catalogue to be an extensive collection of early modern criminal records. On day one I was told that these records were invisibili (literally invisible, or unseeable, though I think this was an archivist's euphemism for 'mislaid'). Resolution: never again shall I broach a new archive without corresponding first with the staff.

    More positively, I reckon my most memorable archive moment is about to happen. Yesterday I flew to central Italy with eight colleagues. We’re working on an ERC-funded collaborative project based in Cambridge: 'Domestic Devotions: The Place of Piety in the Renaissance Italian Home'. Our intention is to make a collective assault on the archives of the Marche. For the first time in my life this means that I'll be working alongside colleagues in a shared endeavour. Any problems with the palaeography? I'll ask one of the post-docs. Unsure what that devotional object was used for? My PhD student will know for sure. It's going to be bliss.

    Image:  Mary Laven and colleague examining documents in Macerata, Italy (Abigail Brundin)

    The early modern period (1500-1800) saw a surge in the keeping of records. A conference later this week (9-10 April 2014) at the British Academy will look at the origins of the archives that shape our understanding of history.  We asked ten of the speakers to tackle some fundamental questions.

    Record-keeping was a deeply political act: decisions about what was kept and what was destroyed can tell us a great deal about changing notions of legitimacy and political participation.
    Kate Peters
    Notarial document with the name of Elias in the left-hand margin, Archivo Histórico Provincial de Cádiz

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    Now, researchers at Cambridge, York, Newcastle and Imperial College London have developed a system allowing neurophysiologists to share raw data with each other, something they hope will generate new discoveries in the field. The results are published in the journal GigaScience.

    The first type of data they collected and standardised are recordings of so called ‘retinal waves’. During early development, retinal neurons generate signals that rapidly spread across from one cell to another, much like a Mexican wave in a football stadium.  These patterns of activity are thought to help forge the neural connections from the eye to the brain.

    To record retinal waves, scientists use multielectrode arrays (tiny electrical devices). In this research, the team took 366 recordings from 12 different studies published between 1993 and 2014, converted them all to HDF5 – a standard open source format – and published them in a web-based ‘virtual laboratory’ called CARMEN.

    According to lead author Dr Stephen Eglen from the Cambridge Computational Biology Institute: “Unlike other fields such as genomics, there hasn’t been much public data sharing in neuroscience, which could be because the data are heterogeneous and hard to annotate, or because researchers are reluctant to share data with a competitor.”

    But Eglen believes there is much to be gained by a more cooperative approach. “There are two main benefits to sharing,” he said. “As well as leading to other collaborations and more interesting research, it also means that other people can check what you’ve done, which leads to more robust research. And if the taxpayer funds research, then I think it’s important for those results to be publicly available.”

    CARMEN was a pilot project funded by the EPSRC, and is now supported by the BBSRC.


    From the way we learn, to how our memories are made and stored, the workings of our brains depend on connections forged between billions of neurons, yet much about how our nervous system develops remains a mystery.

    There are two main benefits to sharing. As well as leading to other collaborations and more interesting research, it also means that other people can check what you’ve done, which leads to more robust research.
    Dr Stephen Eglen
    Eye 9

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

    License type: 
    News type: 

    0 0

    The workplace of the 21st century is marked by fast change and diversity.  Baby boomers, generations X and Y all working together under one roof.  Or under no roof, thanks to new technologies. In the Western world, women’s increasing levels of human capital and participation in the workforce has moved the plight of gender equality to a new level: upwards for women who try to climb the corporate ladder and sideways for men who try to carve more time with their families. Yet, for the few couples breaking away from conventional gender roles an even more complex picture seems to be emerging.

    During my recent study into the gendered process of leadership selection a new model – still rare but with distinctive characteristics – emerged as worthy of scrutiny: that in which the woman was in a high-flying position at whereas her male partner took over the role of primary carer in the family.

    Despite recent moves towards more flexible and unconventional arrangements, rather than leading to more equality, workplace cultures and intimate relationships are still deeply embedded in traditional gendered schemas. These are as much at the foundation of the man as leader bias, which blocks women’s ascendance through the corporate ladder, as they are to men’s attempts to take a more participative role at home:

    “When I speak to my colleagues at work it never ceases to amaze me how clueless they are about the complexity of running a household. Things are getting better with the younger generations, you see much more cooperation. But among my peer group attitudes have not changed much.  Men especially. […] They probably talk behind my back, although they would not dare to say anything to my face.  But I can see how they look down at Mark for having put his career on hold when mine was taking off. Almost as if he was a loser. […]  If I were a man, I am not sure I could have done that. It’s easier for women. (Female executive director, 45-55 years of age)

    Describing their life trajectories as “unchartered waters”, couples deviating from traditional gender roles find themselves at the margins. Limited legal support still makes it harder for men to take the step towards being an equal carer. The shared parental leave being introduced in the UK in 2015 is a step in the direction of normalising gender balance. 

    Out-dated corporate policies and cultures still stigmatise those who do not demonstrate full commitment (measured in availability); men seeking flexible work arrangements are seen in even harsher terms than their female counterparts. Outside of work, isolation marks men’s experiences, in the shape of older family members’ lack of acceptance, (ex-)work colleagues’ silent contempt, or stay-at-home mothers’ veiled suspicion at school gates or playgrounds. Home life is none the easier. Women feel divided between guilt for their absence and ambiguity towards their partner.

    The latter varies from an over-elaboration of the importance and complexity of their partners’ job (often accompanied by a depreciation of their own) to a difficulty to deal with a position of perceived emasculation in their or others’ eyes. Whereas less vocal of the difficulties faced, men who were staying at home did nonetheless remark how “the world was lagging behind”.

    Defying convention requires a series of intricate negotiations at an intimate level. What on the surface appears to be a balanced and progressive relationship often rests on a thin veneer of equality. Being gender a-prototypical is as difficult for a woman struggling to be seen as “board material” as for a man out in the playground with his children. For the professional-managerial classes legitimation of the self derives almost solely from the public sphere.

    Whereas the challenge for women is to successfully combine career, the management of family life and the care of the self, the margin for manoeuvre for men leaves little scope for a full life outside of their work personas. Even if at first sight taking part in family life might mark men as progressive, the presupposition nonetheless is that they should be, first and foremost, successful in their careers. The price for not doing gender adequately is not to be trusted or respected, as well as, implicitly, have their masculinity questioned.

    In a final analysis, despite all the rhetoric about work-life balance, the pull towards the public sphere is disproportionally higher than towards family life. For this social group, the implicit assumption is of a family with two husbands: two incomes, paid work coming before private time, as well as the outsourcing of logistical and often emotional needs of their family.

    Couples who deviate from expected gender roles pay a high price both in terms of individual identity and in managing their intimate lives. At the forefront of social change, these couples are pushing boundaries and exploring new frontiers. Much rests on the work of social researchers to help them chart this new territory.

    In a paper prepared for the workshop “Gender, Equality and Intimacy: (Un)comfortable Bedfellows?”  at the Institute of Education today – Cambridge scholar Monica Wirz explores how couples, whose gender roles have been reversed, deal with work-life balance, equality, intimacy and their sense of identity.

    The implicit assumption is of a family with two husbands: two incomes, paid work coming before private time.
    Monica Wirz
    Rarely Seen in the US of A

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    The research, led by Dr Luke Clark from the University of Cambridge, was published on April 7 2014 in the journal PNAS.

    During gambling games, people often misperceive their chances of winning due to a number of errors of thinking called cognitive distortions. For example, ‘near-misses’ seem to encourage further play, even though they are no different from any other loss. In a random sequence like tossing a coin, a run of one event (heads) makes people think the other outcome (tails) is due next; this is known as the ‘gambler’s fallacy’.

    There is increasing evidence that problem gamblers are particularly prone to these erroneous beliefs. In this study, the researchers examined the neurological basis of these beliefs in patients with injuries to different parts of the brain.

    “While neuroimaging studies can tell us a great deal about the brain’s response to complex events, it’s only by studying patients with brain injury that we can see if a brain region is actually needed to perform a given task,” said Dr Clark.

    For the study, the researchers gave patients with injuries to specific parts of the brain (the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, or the insula) two different gambling tasks: a slot machine game that delivered wins and ‘near-misses’ (like a cherry one position from the jackpot line), and a roulette game involving red or black predictions, to elicit the gambler’s fallacy. For the control groups, they also had patients with injuries to other parts of the brain as well as healthy participants undergo the gambling tasks.

    All of the groups with the exception of the patients with insula damage reported a heightened motivation to play following near-misses in the slot machine game, and also fell prey to the gambler’s fallacy in the roulette game.

    Clark added: “Based on these results, we believe that the insula could be hyperactive in problem gamblers, making them more susceptible to these errors of thinking. Future treatments for gambling addiction could seek to reduce this hyperactivity, either by drugs or by psychological techniques like mindfulness therapies.”

    Gambling is a widespread activity: 73% of people in the UK report some gambling involvement in the past year* and around 50% play games other than the National Lottery. For a small proportion of players (around 1-5%), their gambling becomes excessive, resulting in features seen in addiction. Problem gambling is associated with both debt and family difficulties as well as other mental health problems like depression.

    *2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey

    New research reveals that brain damage affecting the insula – an area with a key role in emotions – disrupts errors of thinking linked to gambling addiction.

    Based on these results, we believe that the insula could be hyperactive in problem gamblers, making them more susceptible to errors of thinking.
    Dr Luke Clark
    Rapid Riffle Shuffle in a Poker Game

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    Human bones are remarkably plastic and respond surprisingly quickly to change. Put under stress through physical exertion – such as long-distance walking or running – bones gain in strength as the fibres are added or redistributed according to where strains are highest.  The ability of bone to adapt to loading is shown by analysis of the skeletons of modern athletes, whose bones show remarkably rapid adaptation to both the intensity and direction of strains.

    Because the structure of human bones can inform us about the lifestyles of the individuals they belong to, they can provide valuable clues for biological anthropologists looking at past cultures. Research by Alison Macintosh, a PhD candidate in Cambridge University’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, shows that after the emergence of agriculture in Central Europe from around 5300 BC, the bones of those living in the fertile soils of the Danube river valley became progressively less strong, pointing to a decline in mobility and loading.

    Macintosh will present some of her results at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Calgary, Alberta on 8-12 April, 2014. She will show that mobility and lower limb loading in male agriculturalists declined progressively and consistently through time and were more significantly affected by culture change in Central Europe than they were in females.

    Work published by biological anthropologist Dr Colin Shaw (also Cambridge University) has enabled Macintosh to interpret this male decline in relation to Cambridge University students. Using Shaw’s study of bone rigidity among modern Cambridge University undergraduates, Macintosh suggests that male mobility among earliest farmers (around 7,300 years ago) was, on average, at a level near that of today’s student cross-country runners. Within just over 3,000 years, average mobility had dropped to the level of those students rated as sedentary, after which the decline slowed.

    “Long-term biomechanical analyses of bones following the transition to farming in Central Europe haven’t been carried out. But elsewhere in the world they show regional variability in trends. Sometimes mobility increases, sometimes it declines, depending on culture and environmental context. After the transition to farming, cultural change was prolonged and its pace was rapid. My research in Central Europe explores whether –  and how –  this long term pressure continued to drive adaptation in bones,” said Macintosh.

    Archaeological evidence has shown that the gradual intensification of agriculture was accompanied by rising production and complexity of metal goods, technological innovation and the extension of trade and exchange networks. “These developments are likely to have brought about changes in divisions of labour by sex and socioeconomic organisation as men and women began to specialise in certain tasks and activities – such as metalworking, pottery, crop production, tending and rearing livestock,” said Macintosh.

    “I’m interested in how the skeleton adapted to people's specific behaviours during life, and how this adaptation can be used to reconstruct long-term changes in behaviour and mobility patterns with cultural diversification, technological innovation, and increasingly more complex and stratified societies since the advent of farming.”

    As a means of tracking changes in the structure of bones over time, Macintosh laser-scanned skeletons found in cemeteries across Central Europe, concentrating in particular on an analysis of engineering-based cross-sectional geometric properties as measures of the loading imposed on the lower limb bones during life. Her research took her to Germany, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic and Serbia. The earliest skeletons she examined date from around 5300 BC and the most recent from around 850 AD – a time span of 6,150 years.      

    Using a portable desktop 3D laser surface scanner to scan femora and tibiae, she found that male tibiae became less rigid and that bones in both males and females became less strengthened to loads in one direction more than another, such as front-to-back in walking. These findings all indicate a drop in mobility. In other words, it is likely that the people to whom the skeletons belonged became, over generations, less intensely active and probably covered less distance, or carried out less physically demanding tasks, than those who had lived before them.

    “Both sexes exhibited a decline in anteroposterior, or front-to-back, strengthening of the femur and tibia through time, while the ability of male tibiae to resist bending, twisting, and compression declined as well,” said Macintosh.

    “My results suggest that, following the transition to agriculture in Central Europe, males were more affected than females by cultural and technological changes that reduced the need for long-distance travel or heavy physical work. This also means that, as people began to specialise in tasks other than just farming and food production, such as metalworking, fewer people were regularly doing tasks that were very strenuous on their legs."

    Although there was some evidence for declining mobility in females as well, trends were inconsistent through time in most properties. Macintosh believes that this variation may indicate that women in these early farming cultures were performing a great variety of tasks – multi-tasking, in fact – or at least undertaking fewer tasks necessitating significant lower limb loading. There is evidence from two of the earliest cemeteries studied that females were using their teeth in processing activities to carry out tasks unlikely to have loaded their lower limbs much.

    Interesting comparisons can be made between the archaeological evidence from Central European skeletons dating from around 7,300-1,150 years ago and data from modern farming populations elsewhere in the world.

    A study by Panter-Brick in 1996 found that relative workload (as exhibited by time allocation and energy expenditure) between males and females in modern farming populations is much more variable than in foraging groups. As in early Central European farming communities, higher physical activity is recorded among males than females in Indian and Nepalese farming communities, but females have a higher relative workload than males in farming communities in the Upper Volta and the Gambia.

    “This variability in the sexual division of labour in living agro-pastoralist groups shows the importance of context, ecology, and various cultural factors on sex differences in physical activity. So it is important when studying long-term trends in behavioural change between the sexes that the geographic region is kept small, to help control for some of this variability,” said Macintosh.   

    Female skeletons showed a major change in femoral bending and torsional rigidity from the Bronze Age into the Iron Age – between about 1450 BC and 850 BC in the samples studied – when women had the strongest femora of all the females examined in the study. This could be because the Iron Age sample included skeletons of Hungarian Scythians, a group for whom large animal husbandry, horsemanship and archery were particularly important. Scythian females are thought to have performed heavy physical work and were known to participate in at combat.

    “However, if this high Iron Age female bone strength in the femur was due to high mobility, it would also probably be visible in the tibia as well, which it was not. In that case, it could be something other than mobility that is driving this Iron Age female bone strength, possibly a difference in body size or genetics,” said Macintosh.

    Because the skeleton holds a record of the loading it experiences during life, it can provide important clues as to the behaviour of past people through prolonged cultural change. Overall, in the first 6,150 years of farming in Central Europe, the prosperity generated by intensive agriculture drove socioeconomic change and allowed for people to specialise in tasks other than food production.

    Macintosh said: "In Central Europe, adaptations in human leg bones spanning this time frame show that it was initially men who were performing the majority of high-mobility tasks, probably associated with tending crops and livestock. But with task specialisation, as more and more people began doing a wider variety of crafts and behaviours, fewer people needed to be highly mobile, and with technological innovation, physically strenuous tasks were likely made easier. The overall result is a reduction in mobility of the population as a whole, accompanied by a reduction in the strength of the lower limb bones."

    Inset images: Cambridge University cross-country runners (Cambridge University Hare & Hounds); 3D model of an Early Neolithic femur; Bronze Age infant urn burial from Ostojićevo, National Museum of Kikinda in Serbia; wheatfield in modern day Kikinda, northern Serbia (all Alison Macintosh)


    Research into lower limb bones shows that our early farming ancestors in Central Europe became less active as their tasks diversified and technology improved. At a conference today, Cambridge University anthropologist Alison Macintosh will show that this drop in mobility was particularly marked in men. 

    My results suggest that, following the transition to agriculture in Central Europe, males were more affected than females by cultural and technological changes.
    Alison Macintosh
    Early Neolithic 35-40 year old male from Vedrovice, Czech Republic

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    They include the first Scholars from Afghanistan, Madagascar, Indonesia, Macedonia and Dominica.

    Competition for the Scholarships is fierce. The 55 successful candidates were selected from a total pool of 3,647 applicants on the basis of their intellectual ability, leadership capacity, academic fit with Cambridge, and their commitment to improving the lives of others. Departments in Cambridge nominated candidates for the Scholarships and, of these, 111 were interviewed in Cambridge in late March (in person, by Skype or by telephone) by four panels of interviewers drawn from across the Schools in the University. Thirty five of these were for one-year courses and 76 for PhDs. Sixty-eight of the applicants were female, compared to 43 male applicants.

    The new Scholars include Herimanitra Patrick Rafidimanantsoa who will become the first Gates Cambridge Scholar from Madagascar. He will study for an MPhil in Conservation Leadership and is interested in empowering local communities to sustainably manage their natural forest resources in Madagascar. He has worked as an environment manager for a cashew company and is currently volunteering at the University of Bangor, Wales where he has translated the 'p4ges' website into French and given Malagasy lessons to lecturers and post-docs - funding himself by working at a local supermarket.

    Abdul Hai Sofizada is the first Gates Cambridge Scholar from Afghanistan. He will do an MPhil in Public Policy. He has worked at UNESCO and the UNHCR and is currently Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank where he manages a US$40m investment by the World Bank and others in the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund which funds basic and higher education. He is keen to develop Afghan institutions to allow them better to provide service delivery, particularly in education, and to address equitable access to education for women and minorities.

    Sabrina Anjara is the first Gates Cambridge Scholar born in Indonesia. She read Psychology and Asian Studies at the University of Melboure and did her MSc at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London. It focused on the quality of life and social connectivity of foreign domestic workers in Singapore and became the basis for advocacy work for better work-life conditions for foreign workers. She has been working as a psychologist at the Ministry of Social and Family Development in Singapore and her PhD is part of a global WHO QualityRights Programme, looking at how to make a sustainable shift in attitudes and practices towards mental health and to promote the rights of people with mental ill health in Indonesia.

    Afrodita Nikolova from Macedonia is an award-winning poet, teacher and creative writing workshop facilitator for socially marginalised youth and university students who co-founded a literary magazine "Sh", offering a creative outlet for youth and writers. She is keen to work towards dispelling the elitist perception of poetry. From the Aromanian minority in Macedonia, Afrodita's PhD will focus on the role of arts-based intervention in transforming marginal youth's identities in Macedonia.

    Jerrelle Joseph, the first Gates Cambridge Scholar from Dominica, will pursue a PhD in Chemistry which will focus on the use of atomistic modelling to investigate variable pathogens such as influenza and HIV. Rapid mutations of these viruses pose a huge problem for vaccination. The aim of Jerelle's research is to predict the structures of these pathogens, to link this to their antigenic properties and eventually to apply this to the development of viable vaccines for these viruses.

    The 55 new Scholars span a broad range of countries, from Macedonia to Colombia. Seven are from Australia, six from Canada, six from South Africa, five from Germany, two each from China, India, Italy, France, the Netherlands, the US and New Zealand.

    This year's new Scholars include the youngest immigration judge in Paris, human rights campaigners, founders of NGOs, a journalist and a national coordinator for a global AIDS campaign.  The subjects their research covers range from building a replacement heart valve for children, cancer, diabetes, global tax havens, self-harm, online education and moral judgement.

    The 55 Scholars chosen in the International selection round will join 40 new American Gates Cambridge Scholars who were selected after interviews in the USA in February. Twenty nine are women and 26 are men.

    Professor Barry Everitt, Provost (CEO) of the Gates Cambridge Trust, said: "We are delighted to have awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarships to 55 outstanding individuals from such a wide spread of countries and backgrounds. The Scholars are truly remarkable and inspiring individuals and showed at interview that they fit the mission of the Scholarship by their commitment to using their academic skills and leadership capacity to improve the lives of others. We look forward to welcoming all 95 new Scholars to Cambridge in October and to seeing their future impact as Gates Cambridge Alumni".

    More biographical details of individual Scholars are available at

    Fifty-five of the world's most academically brilliant and socially committed young people from 27 countries have been selected as Gates Cambridge Scholars and will begin their postgraduate courses at the University of Cambridge this October.

    The Scholars are truly remarkable and inspiring individuals and showed at interview that they fit the mission of the Scholarship by their commitment to using their academic skills and leadership capacity to improve the lives of others.
    Professor Barry Everitt, Provost of the Gates Cambridge Trust
    Gates Cambridge Scholars 2014

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    Girton prides itself on its history of innovation and inclusivity. Founded as Britain’s first residential college for women offering an education at degree level, the College was also the first of Cambridge’s women’s colleges to admit men.  The new programme takes the College’s existing links with Camden schools to a new level.

    “We are twinned with Camden through the university’s Area Links scheme,” explains Admissions Tutor Dr Stuart Davis. “While we have been working in the borough for many years, we wanted to find a new way of working with Camden’s schools, one which would help to build a supportive peer group for the students and help them to encourage each other to realise their ambitions.

    “This innovative programme is open to every sixth form in Camden and we have been delighted to see so many students join us.”

    The Camden students could choose from 16 different masterclass subjects. “We try to make it as inspiring academically as we can,” explained Laura Parkin, Schools Liaison Assistant for Girton College. “One of the most important things is that they meet real students and especially ones in their subject area. They have told us it is great to speak to someone who has been through it before.”

    Tom Newman was one of the Girton students giving up his time to help with the visit. “I come from a state school and so I wanted to encourage pupils from state schools to apply to Cambridge,” he said. “I was the only person at my school to get a place. I know from experience part of the struggle is simply having the confidence to apply in the first place.

    “This is about me doing anything I can to lend a hand and give something back. They were brilliant today,” Tom added.

    According to Dr Sandra Fulton, Senior Tutor and former Admissions Tutor at Girton College, the programme aims to develop students’ confidence in their academic abilities, and also to give them an insight into university life.

    “It is important for the students to come away from the masterclasses realising that they are good, and good at this level of education.”

    “Even eating in the college cafeteria is an important part of their experience here,” she said, “seeing what a student’s life is like and feeling they could belong here.”

    Fowsiya Nur, 17, from Haverstock School in Camden, found that the masterclasses challenged her preconceptions about Cambridge. "It was really great. I found out what studying in Cambridge was really like, ”she said.

    ”I had a typical stereotype towards Cambridge , however I realised that this wasn't entirely true. Finding out about the interviewing system and the master class in medicine was incredibly helpful.

    “Thank you to Girton college and all those involved in organising this trip today,” Fowisa added.

    Robert Rickard, 14-19 Co-ordinator for Camden Council and one of the organisers of the new scheme, said “Today has been quite moving. For me to hear a student say “I too could belong here” or “It has confirmed I want to study maths” is what these days are about.

    “We have students here from almost every 6th form in Camden. It was great to get such strong buy-in from schools in the first year of the programme.”

    Girton College welcomed Camden Sixth Formers to two masterclass days in March, part of a new programme jointly organised by the College and Camden Council to encourage and equip the North London students to aim high in their university choices.

    For me to hear a student say “I too could belong here” or “It has confirmed I want to study maths” is what these days are about.
    Robert Rickard, 14-19 Co-ordinator for Camden Council

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    They have traditionally been seen as the preserve of society’s wealthy elite, characterised by snobbery, exclusivity and the sort of attention to etiquette taught in finishing schools.

    According to a new study, however, Britain’s top restaurants have jettisoned their pretentious image and are attracting a wider range of diners than ever before – revolutionising the way the nation thinks about food in the process.

    The conclusions are among those in a new book, The Cultivation Of Taste, which is the most comprehensive analysis of fine dining in Britain published since the sector first started to develop in earnest in the 1980s and 90s.

    Written by the Cambridge academic, Professor Christel Lane, it aims to provide a picture of the top end of the restaurant industry, examining how and why it emerged from the austere dining scene of the post-war era, and what its impact on British culture and taste has been.

    The research was based on detailed interviews with some of the country’s most celebrated chefs – among them Marcus Wareing, Brett Graham and Ruth Rogers - as well as diners at their restaurants. Lane also conducted a detailed analysis of the production models which underpin their Michelin-starred eateries, examining how the food is sourced, and how top chefs survive in such a high-pressure setting. 

    Perhaps the most surprising finding which emerges, however, concerns how much British haute cuisine has changed over the past 30 years. Although its restaurants are frequently derided by critics as pompous and exclusive, Lane found that the clichés about fine dining are now more myth than reality.

    Service is no longer over-formal, the menus have long-since ceased to be written only in French, and dress codes usually amount to little more than a ban on shorts and flip-flops. More tellingly, the clientele, far from super-rich, tend to comprise a far wider sample of the population. Many are now middle-class professionals who equate eating at a top restaurant to buying a ticket to a rock festival or the opera – in other words, an experience worth paying for.

    The book argues that this has helped to transform British food culture – even for people who would never set foot in a Michelin-starred restaurant. Thanks partly to their celebrity status, the ideas of many of these chefs have found their way into cookery books and TV programmes, not to mention the menus of other restaurants as well, making large swathes of British society more discerning about what it eats.

    Lane, who is a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, and Emeritus Professor of Economic Sociology, said: “Part of the motivation for the study was the need for a better understanding of the industry. Michelin-starred chefs are not posh and the culture of their restaurants is no longer elitist. Britain still suffers from an inverted snobbery about the whole thing.”

    “The way we choose to eat, and how we cook, has changed dramatically in recent decades. That has to be driven by something, and top level restaurants are what’s driving it. To some extent they have become taste-makers for the nation, and have made us much more concerned about the provenance of the food on our plates.”

    Lane’s research started as a comparative study of haute cuisine in Britain and her native Germany – both relative latecomers to the fine dining scene. As well as interviewing top chefs and their diners, she analysed the mechanics of 40 top restaurants, including leading British establishments such as the River Café, The Yorke Arms, The Ledbury, and Restaurant Sat Bains.

    She found that their reputation as elitist was an exaggeration at best. Overall, the research pointed to the “democratisation” of fine dining. Most of the chefs were from humble backgrounds and resented the idea of excessive formality in their restaurants. Nor were they obsessed with luxury foods; many have become influential leaders of nationwide movements for resurrecting humble vegetables and cuts of meat, and for the local sourcing of ingredients.

    Meanwhile, lunchtime deals, pre-theatre dinners and wider societal shifts have helped to transform the social mix of people now eating at fine-dining establishments. As one chef told Lane, “The wealthy are not the majority. Forty per cent are corporate, sixty per cent are individuals; mainly foodies.”

    The study argues that this has had a trickle-down effect for wider British culture. Helped not least by the media profile and celebrity status of many of the chefs in question, consumers are increasingly aware of the ethical and cultural standards which underpin the menus of top restaurants, such as the need to source fresh, local and seasonal produce; and to protect rare plant and animal breeds.

    In addition, high-end restaurants, by demanding these standards, have helped to evolve the market for small-scale producers and suppliers, counteracting the negative effects of large-scale, industrialised food production.

    Despite this, Lane still acknowledges that the transformation of taste is far from complete. At the time of the study (2010 – 12), about 20% of the nation’s meals still came from plastic microwaveable containers.

    As she also points out, however, our eating preferences started from a low base. In 1974, when Michelin stars were first introduced to Britain’s limited post-war restaurant scene, there were 24 starred restaurants. Now there are 162 – a process which Lane describes as “astonishing catch-up”, but one which has developed at a slower rate than comparable nations such as Germany.

    In part, the study suggests the evolution has been hindered by a shortage of proper training, tough working and economic conditions, and lingering inverted snobbery over what it represents. There is still no national curriculum for training chefs; instead, students are put through what Lane calls a “diverse and haphazard” education system. The result, she argues, is a skills gap which has led to over-reliance on foreign staff in many of the restaurants studied.

    The working environment of a top restaurant also remains stressful and psychologically intimidating. The pressure of the kitchen can have a devastating effect – many chefs suffer burnout, nervous breakdowns and even die prematurely as a result. For those starting out, pay is low and the hours are long, which means the turnover of labour remains high.

    Such limitations have restricted the expansion of Britain’s fine dining sector despite its recent transformation. Lane’s study also found that in 2012, 33% of all Michelin-starred restaurants were in London, with none in Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds. “Britain is more acceptant of high standards in food and more people seek it out, but that does not apply to everyone,” she added. “The new culture of fine dining has not yet penetrated the country as a whole.”

    The Cultivation Of Taste is published by Oxford University Press. For further information please click here

    For further information about this story, please contact: Tom Kirk, 

    Frequently derided as stuck-up and exclusive, haute cuisine has dropped its posh image and is appealing to a wider range of customers than ever before, transforming the way we think about food in the process, according to new research.

    Michelin-starred chefs are not posh and the culture of their restaurants is no longer elitist. Britain still suffers from an inverted snobbery about the whole thing
    Christel Lane
    Ca Flambe!

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

    License type: 
    News type: 

    0 0
  • 04/10/14--02:20: Cambridge heads for Hay
  • The Cambridge Series has been running for six years at the prestigious Festival and is part of the University’s commitment to public engagement. The Festival runs from 22nd May to 1st June and is now open for bookings.

    This year's line-up includes Sir John Gurdon who was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the discovery that mature cells can be converted to stem cells. He will talk about his pioneering work on cloning.

    Other speakers include Dr Ha-Joon Chang on economics, classicist Professor Paul Cartledge on after Thermopylae, Dame Barbara Stocking, former chief executive of Oxfam GB and president of Murray Edwards College, on the challenges for women in the workplace, Professor Chris Dobson and Dr Mary Dobson on Alzheimer's and other plagues, economist Professor Noreena Hertz on smart thinking and Professor Robert Mair on tunnelling into the future of our cities.

    Professor Richard Evans, president of Wolfson College, will talk about the history of conspiracy theories, Dr John Swenson-Wright from the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies will ask if North Korea is the perennial crisis state and Dr Robin Hesketh from the Department of Biochemistry will attempt to demystify cancer.

    Several of the talks will take the form of a conversation: Professor Simon Blackburn will debate the uses and abuses of self love with journalist Rosie Boycott; novelist and playwright Biyi Bandele, a former Judith E. Wilson Fellow at Churchill College, will be in conversation with Dr Malachi McIntosh from the Department of English about migrant writing; Professor Henrietta Moore,  William Wyse Chair of Social Anthropology, will talk about the future of civil activism with Ricken Patel, founding President of Avaaz, the world's largest online activist community; and psychologist Dr Terri Apter will debate how women follow, resist and play with the stereotypes that define them with author and alumna Zoe Strimpel.

    Other Cambridge academics speaking at Hay are Professor Stefan Collini discussing higher education’s two cultures - the humanities and science - and historian Professor David Reynolds.

    Peter Florence, director of the Hay Festival, said: "Cambridge University nurtures and challenges the world's greatest minds, and offers the deepest understanding of the most intractable problems and the most thrilling opportunities. And for one week a year they bring that thinking to a field in Wales and share it with everyone. That's a wonderful gift."

    Nicola Buckley, head of public engagement at the University of Cambridge, said: “The Cambridge series is a wonderful way to share fascinating research from the University with the public. The Hay Festival draws an international cross-section of people, from policy makers to prospective university students. We have found that Hay audiences are highly interested in the diversity of Cambridge speakers, and ask some great questions. We look forward to another fantastic series of speakers, with talks and debates covering so many areas of research and key ideas emerging from Cambridge, relevant to key issues faced globally today."

    The full line-up can be found here

    For tickets, go to:

    A host of Cambridge academics, including Nobel Laureate Sir John Gurdon, will be speaking on subjects ranging from stem cell technology and Alzheimer’s to the future of North Korea and the history of conspiracy theories at this year’s Hay Festival.

    Cambridge University nurtures and challenges the world's greatest minds, and offers the deepest understanding of the most intractable problems and the most thrilling opportunities
    Peter Florence, Director of Hay Festival
    Night shot at Hay Festival

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    Last year “Cambridge in Numbers” won the IVCA Gold Award for Best Post Production.

    This year “My Cambridge” took two IVCA Bronze Awards, for Best Film and Best Photography.

    “My Cambridge” features three current Cambridge students, who share their stories in their own words.

    Engineering student Bryn Pickering came to Cambridge from Bethesda, North Wales. At Cambridge, he has worked as a mentor and a student ambassador in order to inspire and encourage other state school students to apply.

    Asked why he volunteered for the film, Bryn said “I am passionate about widening participation in Cambridge. I hope that sharing my experience will give students an insight into what it’s really like applying and then being at Cambridge, so that they’ll be ready to look more into the possibility of Cambridge as a University choice.”

    Another of the students in the film, Heather McKay, from Ayrshire, told student newspaper Varsity, “As I’m from a state school myself, and had very few contacts to help me through my own application process, I thought it sounded like a project that was right up my street.”

    Commenting on the awards, James Brown, Production Manager at Contra, the digital agency commissioned by the University to create the film, said "It has been a real pleasure working alongside the University throughout this project.

    “Eventia IVCA currently host the largest corporate communications awards ceremony in Europe, so we were delighted not only to have been nominated in two of the toughest categories, but to leave with awards.

    “We're delighted that Cambridge were thrilled with the double-award winning film.”

    Rachel Lister, Head of Student Recruitment and Information for the University of Cambridge, and Jess Bond, Schools & Colleges Liaison Officer, collected the awards on behalf of the University.

    Rachel said: “Our students are our best ambassadors. They give up their time to share their stories with young people from their home towns, their old schools, and from similar backgrounds to their own, encouraging them to see beyond the stereotypes.

    “’My Cambridge’ features just three of these stories. We hope that prospective students who watch this film will go on to find out more about Cambridge and make their own minds up about whether to make us one of their university choices.”

    “The film has received very positive feedback and we are delighted that “My Cambridge” has been recognised by the IVCA.”

    • Watch "My Cambridge"here.

    “My Cambridge,” one of the University’s series of films promoting the unique features of undergraduate life at the collegiate University, has won two IVCA Bronze Awards.

    Our students are our best ambassadors.
    Rachel Lister, Head of Student Recruitment and Information.

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    Prostate cancer cells

    Scientists from the University of Cambridge compared the staging and grading of cancer in over 800 men before and after they had surgery to remove their prostate. They found that of the 415 men whose prostate cancer was classified as slow growing and confined to just the prostate after an initial biopsy, half (209) had cancer which was more aggressive than originally thought when assessed again after surgery and almost a third (131) had cancer that had spread beyond the prostate.

    Greg Shaw, a urological surgeon and one of the study authors based at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said: “Our results show that the severity of up to half of men’s prostate cancers may be underestimated when relying on tests before they have surgery.

    “This highlights the urgent need for better tests to define how aggressive a prostate cancer is from the outset, building on diagnostic tests like MRI scans and new biopsy techniques which help to more accurately define the extent of the prostate cancer. This would then enable us to counsel patients with more certainty whether the prostate cancer identified is suitable for active surveillance or not.

    “Whilst active surveillance would seem to be a safe approach for some men, nearly a third will end up needing surgery or radiotherapy within five years.”

    Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK with around 41,700 new cases diagnosed every year. Last year there were around 10,800 deaths in the UK from prostate cancer. The severity of prostate cancers is assessed using biopsy, MRI and PSA tests.

    Professor Malcolm Mason, Cancer Research UK’s prostate cancer expert, said: “Despite the limitations that this study shows, all evidence so far points to active surveillance being safe provided men are carefully selected. But we need better methods of assigning a grade and stage so that no man has to unnecessarily undergo treatment, while at the same time making sure we detect and treat the cancers that really need it.”

    Copy adapted from an original press release from Cancer Research UK.

    Shaw GL et al. Identification of pathologically insignificant prostate cancer is not accurate in unscreened men (2014) British Journal of Cancer

    A study published in the British Journal of Cancer suggests that tests to grade and stage prostate cancer underestimated the severity of the disease in half of men whose cancers had been classified as ‘slow growing’.

    This highlights the urgent need for better tests to define how aggressive a prostate cancer is from the outset
    Greg Shaw
    Prostate cancer cells

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    The Royal Mint announced last month that in 2017 it will introduce a new £1 coin, said to be the "most secure coin in the world". The reason behind the decision, which could cost businesses as much as £20 million, is the surge in counterfeiting. It is estimated that around 3% of £1 coins are fakes with an estimated 45 million forgeries in circulation.

    Four and a half centuries ago, Elizabeth I made the reform of currency one of her government’s top priorities. Invested as queen in 1558, she inherited a coinage which was fraught with problems. Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, had authorised a series of debasements which meant that in the space of just seven years the silver content of English coins was reduced by more than 80%. Counterfeiting was rife, with contemporary reports claiming that a great multitude of "noythy [naughty] money" was in circulation.

    Research by Jennifer Bishop, a PhD candidate in Cambridge University’s History Faculty, looks at 16th-century perceptions of coinage on an everyday level: on the street and in the market place where the bulk of transactions took place at a time when prices were rising and good monies were scarce.

    Bishop’s exploration of the Elizabethan coinage is part of a wider study of metallurgical and monetary matters in mid-16th century England. She explained: “What interests me is how these topics were understood and discussed by ordinary people. My sources range from the official texts of royal proclamations and legislation to the uncontrolled circulation of rumours and gossip. Together, these sources show how popular perceptions of the coinage affected government policy and vice versa.”

    A good coinage was important because it provided the basic standard on which most transactions and reckonings were calculated in 16th century England. Over and above that, the status of the country’s coinage reflected its reputation on the international stage and the authority and competence of its government. Debasement of the coins in circulation wreaked havoc in the marketplace: at one time the shilling, the original value of which was 12d, was worth half its value at 6d and at its lowest point traded for just 2¼d. 

    For ordinary people, fluctuating values had serious consequences. Prices rose because sellers anticipated a drop in value and adjusted their prices accordingly. The reputation of English coins was so badly damaged that on occasion they were refused as currency and coins of lower denomination – such as base shillings and groats – were increasingly shunned.

    “Many contemporary commentators identified the debasement of the coinage as a root cause of England’s economic problems, and they also went much further linking it to widespread social disorder, disruption and popular unrest – and the corruption of English towns and local government – with coinage being deeply symbolic of the health and prosperity of the nation,” said Bishop.

    Asked to comment about debasement, the Lord and Council of Ireland wrote to the Privy Council in January 1552: “We do consider that the baseness [of the coinage] cawseth ynyuersall darthe, encreaseth ydlenes, decayeth nobylitie (one of the pryncypall kayes of a common welthe) and bryngeth magistrates in contempt and hatred of the people, whereof muste nedes growe disobedience.”

    The restoration of “good monies” was seen as a panacea for the country’s ills, and recoinage became one of the chief aims of Elizabeth I’s regime. As well as putting an end to debasement, the government set out to tackle counterfeiting. Royal proclamations warned that “counterfeit and false moneys” were being produced “in great and notable sums” and circulated throughout the realm by “divers evil people”. Currency crimes ranged from counterfeiting to clipping, melting, washing and trafficking in coin. Collectively these illicit practices were known as coining.

    Today all UK coinage is made by the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, South Wales. In the mid-16th century, there were as many as eight Royal mints licensed to strike coins. Outside the mints, counterfeiting was widespread and practised by all manner of “naughty persons”. Records noting the occupations of arrested counterfeiters (punishment for those found guilty of the most severe crimes was hanging) reveal that the came from a wide range of social groups – from gentlemen to servants.

    “Counterfeiters included goldsmiths and metalworkers. Some counterfeit coins were so skilfully made that they were hard to spot, especially when the official coins in circulation were of such poor quality. Records in the State Papers show that one arrested counterfeiter, James Powell was so confident in his coining abilities that he offered to make tools and instruments for use by the royal mint,” said Bishop.

    Measures introduced to tackle coining included the directive in 1556 that no one should accept any coins without first weighing them. Coins found to be false were to be defaced or cut into two to render them unusable. Examples of coins cut in this way are held by the Fitzwilliam Museum.

    The coins worst affected by debasement were shillings, otherwise known as testons, which posed the greatest challenge in restoring public faith in the coinage. Because some testons in circulation were baser (containing less silver) than others, it was decided that they would be given two different rates: the “worse” sort of testons valued at half the “better” sort. The base testons bore a distinguishing mark – fleur de lis, rose, lion or harp. Just as today the Bank of England offers tips on how to check the validity of the £1 coin in your pocket, and what to look for in forgeries, so the Elizabethan government issued visual aids to help people identify the base coins.

    Confusion about which coins were better and which worse led to the regime taking a further measure in 1560. Stamping irons were sent out to the mayors of towns: better testons were to be stamped with a portcullis and worse ones with a greyhound, with the process taking place in public for all to observe. “This show of openness was important because during the debasement period there had been rumours about the dishonesty of mints officials who were suspected of manipulating the coinage for their own benefit,” said Bishop.

    It was thought that many of the counterfeit coins had been forged overseas and smuggled into England; several proclamations warned against “conningge” foreign coiners and “strangers dwelling in foreign parts”. On the other hand, overseas craftsmen (from Germany and the Low Countries) were much in demand for their superior metallugical skills. When Elizabeth decided to reform the coinage in 1560, she hired a team of German coiners to come to London and work in the royal mint. Their presence was resented by a number of English mint workers and refiners who complained that “straungers” were being unfairly favoured.

    A French-made machine for minting coins, which would replace the old method of manual minting, was resisted by English coiners who feared the loss of their jobs.

    Elizabeth I’s efforts to restore the good reputation of English coinage, and lift it clear of associations of decay and corruption, were not altogether successful. But a majestic gloss was put on recoinage as one of the greatest achievements of her reign. In 1563 James Pilkington, Bishop of Durham, declared that Elizabeth had succeeded in “restoringe vs a fine coin from so base”. The chronicler Raphael Holinshed wrote that “our most gracious Queene, and souereign Princes did finish the matter wholly, vtterly abolishing the vse of copper Coine, and conuerting the same into fine Syluer.”

    A royal proclamation announced that the Queen had achieved the “victory and conquest of this hideous monster of the base moneys.” A commemorative medal was struck to make the recoinage, with a portrait of Elizabeth on the obverse.

    Bishop said: “Today the new £1 coins are described as cutting edge and it is claimed that their production represents a giant leap into the future. But the government’s attempts to prevent counterfeiting and boost confidence in the national currency are nothing new.  The latest coins might be technologically advanced but the problems and discussions surrounding them have their roots firmly in the past."

    Inset images: Edward VI teston stamped with a seated greyhound countermark (Spink & Son); a 'bad' teston deliberately cut in two (Fitzwilliam Museum); pictures of the base testons showing their distinguishing marks (The summarie of certaine reasons, 1560).


    In 2017 a new £1 coin will appear in our pockets with a design extremely difficult to forge. In the mid-16th century, Elizabeth I’s government came up with a series of measures to deter “divers evil persons” from damaging the reputation of English coinage and, with it, the good name of the nation. 

    We do consider that the baseness [of the coinage] cawseth ynyuersall darthe, encreaseth ydlenes, decayeth nobylitie (one of the pryncypall kayes of a common welthe) and bryngeth magistrates in contempt and hatred of the people.
    Lord and Council of Ireland, 1552
    Holinshed's Chronicles 1557

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    Professor Dobson is working to uncover the molecular processes that underlie a number of extremely devastating illnesses – among them Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and type II diabetes. In particular, his research is focused on a phenomenon whereby otherwise normal proteins sometimes “misfold” and trigger chain reactions in the body that ultimately cause the diseases. Such understanding may form the basis of future therapies based on rational design of innovative types of drugs. 

    Professor Dobson said: “It is clear that illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes are a consequence of the aberrant behaviour of our own proteins. And this behaviour is undoubtedly linked to the dramatic and rapid changes in lifestyles and lifespans of many people living in the modern world.”

    “Understanding the principles behind these diseases is critical to avert the consequences for the future of their continued proliferation. And history tells us that breakthroughs in our knowledge of the origin and the reason for the progression of any disease is an essential precursor to the development of effective strategies for their prevention and treatment.”

    See more here

    The Heineken Prize is among the most prestigious in the scientific community, and a recognition of lifetime achievement which is widely regarded as second only to a Nobel Prize. The award recognises Professor Dobson's achievements in helping to identify the root causes of so-called “modern” disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    The Day in the Life challenge is one of the ways the HE Partnership programme is working with Cambridgeshire and Peterborough schools to break down barriers about going to university.

    The St Neots-based students visited both universities, met and interviewed current undergraduates, and kept a photo diary to record their findings. Matt Diston from the University of Cambridge, and Rachael Cole from Anglia Ruskin, were on hand to answer questions and guide the explorers.

    Later in the term the students will present their “Day in The Life” report to the Academy’s Year 9 in a special assembly.

    Connor Post, Project Manager for the team which explored studying and learning, said “I’ll be telling Year 9 about the difference between learning in a school environment and learning in a university environment.

    “My sister was confident about going to uni but she didn’t know what to expect in her classes, so I’m going to explain about that.

    “She studies sports science, she’s going to the Alps as part of her course and she’s got the RAF and the Army inviting her to work for them as a PT instructor.  She wouldn’t have done that if she hadn’t gone to university.

    “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no disadvantage in going to uni. It’s a great opportunity.  I can’t wait,” he added.

    Robert Willard was also on the Studying and Learning team. “Trips are the best way to learn about things,” Robert said. “You experience it for yourself rather than hearing about it from someone else.

    “Everybody has their own opinion about university – this trip has helped us go in and get our own opinions.”

    For Jemma Hunt, the day exploring undergraduate accommodation and social life was her first experience of university.

    “I haven’t decided yet whether I want to go to university or get a job,” Jemma said. “I would be worried about not knowing anyone, or feeling on my own, but the students have told us about Freshers’ Week and how that helps you meet people and make friends.”

    Beth Williamson, Assistant Director of Key Stage 3, said “We’ve been working with Matt for about a year now. The HE Partnership programme helps us to open our students’ minds and raise their aspirations. They are all clever enough to go to university.

    “Working with each other and with Matt and Rachel on The Day in the Life project has been a great confidence booster for these students, and has developed their understanding about university.

    Alicia Presland was in charge of evaluation. She interviewed her colleagues to find out whether the day had changed anyone’s mind about university.

    “We learnt that university is about your own independence,” she said. “Other people don’t tell you when to do your work – you do it when you feel it is right. We also found out a lot about where students live, and the different types of studying and learning at university.

    “The day at the universities made us all think deeply about the experience of going,” Alicia concluded.

    “The day has changed the way we look at university to a more positive approach. Over 80% of both groups came back knowing that they definitely want to go to university.”

    • HE Partnership was established in 2012 in order to continue some of the most effective work that had previously been delivered through Aimhigher. The initiative aims to raise aspirations amongst students in schools across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.   The Partnership itself is between the University of Cambridge, other higher education institutions (from both within and outside the region), and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough schools.

    Two teams from Ernulf Academy’s Year 10 were given the task of discovering what life is like for students at Anglia Ruskin and Cambridge University.

    Everybody has their own opinion about university – this trip has helped us go in and get our own opinions.
    Robert Willard, Ernulf Academy student.

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    A team, led by Cambridge’s Professor Martin Millett and Professor Simon Keay (Southampton), has been conducting a survey of an area of land lying between Ostia and another Roman port called Portus – both about thirty miles from Rome. The work has been undertaken as part of the Southampton led ‘Portus Project’, in collaboration with the British School at Rome and the Soprintendenza Speciale per I Beni Archeologici di Roma.

    Millett said: "The results of our work completely transform our understanding of one of the key cities of the Roman Empire. The enormous scale of the newly discovered warehouses will require a rethinking about the scale of commerce passing through the port. The results also illustrate yet again the power of contemporary survey methods in providing important new evidence about even very well-known archaeological sites."

    Previously, scholars thought that the Tiber formed the northern edge of Ostia, but this new research, using geophysical survey techniques to examine the site, has shown that Ostia’s city wall also continued on the other side of the river.  The researchers have shown this newly discovered area enclosed three huge, previously unknown warehouses – the largest of which was the size of a football pitch.

    Director of the Portus Project, Professor Simon Keay, said: “Our research not only increases the known area of the ancient city, but it also shows that the Tiber bisected Ostia, rather than defining its northern side.The presence of the warehouses along the northern bank of the river provides us with further evidence for the commercial activities that took place there in the first two centuries.”

    The researchers have been using an established technique known as magnetometry, which involves systematically and rapidly scanning the landscape with small handheld instruments in order to identify localised magnetic anomalies relating to buried ancient structures.  These are then mapped out with specialised computer software, providing images similar to aerial photographs, which can be interpreted by archaeologists.

    In antiquity, the landscape in this recent study was known as the Isola Sacra and was surrounded by a major canal to the north, the river Tiber to the east and south, and the Tyrrhenian sea to the west.  At the southernmost side of the Isola Sacra, the geophysical survey revealed very clear evidence for the town wall of Roman Ostia, interspersed by large towers several metres thick, and running east to west for about half a kilometre.  In an area close by, known to archaeologists as the Trastevere Ostiense, the team also found very clear evidence for at least four major buildings.

    Professor Keay added:  “Three of these buildings were probably warehouses that are similar in layout to those that have been previously excavated at Ostia itself, however the newly discovered buildings seem to be much larger.  In addition, there is a massive 142 metre by 110 metre fourth building – composed of rows of columns running from north to south, but whose function is unknown.

    “Our results are of major importance for our understanding of Roman Ostia and the discoveries will lead to a major re-think of the topography of one of the iconic Roman cities in the Mediterranean.”

    For more information about the Portus Project, visit

    Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously estimated.

    The results of our work completely transform our understanding of one of the key cities of the Roman Empire.
    Martin Millett
    The roman port of Ostia

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    A new study has found that India’s shocking rates of suicide are highest in areas with the most debt-ridden farmers who are clinging to tiny smallholdings – less than one hectare – and trying to grow ‘cash crops’, such as cotton and coffee, that are highly susceptible to global price fluctuations.

    The research supports a range of previous case studies that point to a crisis in key areas of India’s agriculture sector following the ‘liberalisation’ of the nation’s economy during the 1990s. Researchers say that policy intervention to stabilise the price of cash crops and relieve indebted farmers may help stem the tide of suicide that has swept the Indian countryside.    

    This latest work follows on from a recent Lancet study by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), which showed Indian suicide rates to be among the highest in the world – with suicide the second leading cause of death among young adults in India.

    In 2010, 187,000 Indians killed themselves – one fifth of all global suicides.

    However, while the Lancet study revealed suicide rates in rural areas to be almost double those of urban areas, and the most common method of suicide to be deliberately ingesting pesticide, the LSHTM authors did not believe they had enough evidence to show suicide rates are higher in farmers.  

    Suicide rates vary sharply across the different Indian states. Building on the LSHTM study, researchers from Cambridge and UCL analysed suicide figures of 18 Indian states – as well as national crime and census statistics and surveying done by the Ministry of Agriculture – to create data models that investigated whether case studies of “farmer suicide” that concentrate on a few suicide hotspots could be generalised across India. 

    The team, from the Cambridge University’s Department of Sociology and University College London’s Department of Political Science, say they have found significant causal links showing that the huge variation in suicide rates between Indian states can largely be accounted for by suicides among farmers and agricultural workers.

    Farmers at highest risk have three characteristics: those that grow cash crops such as coffee and cotton; those with ‘marginal’ farms of less than one hectare; and those with debts of 300 Rupees or more. Indian states in which these characteristics are most prevalent had the highest suicide rates. In fact, these characteristics account for almost 75% of the variability in state-level suicides.

    The researchers say the results of their statistical analysis support many case studies and reports from the field and suggest there is a suicide epidemic in marginalised areas of Indian agriculture that are at the mercy of global economics. The study is recently published online in the journal Globalisation and Health.  

    “Many believe that the opening of markets and scaling back of state support following the liberalisation of the Indian economy led to an ‘agrarian crisis’ in rural India – which has resulted in these shocking numbers of suicide among Indian agricultural workers,” said lead author Jonathan Kennedy.  

    “Small scale farmers who cultivate capital-intensive cash crops – which are subject to massive price fluctuations – are particularly vulnerable to accruing debts they can’t repay. Many male farmers – who are traditionally responsible for a household’s economic well-being – resort to suicide because they can’t support their families.”

    The researchers found that suicide rates tend to be higher in states with greater economic disparity – the more unequal the state, the more people kill themselves – but inequality as a predictor of suicide rates paled in comparison with cash crops and marginalised, indebted farmers.

    The state of Kerala – one of the most developed in India – has the highest male suicide rate in India. If Kerala were a country, it would have the highest suicide rate in the world.    

    Areas such as Gujarat, in which cash crops are mainly cultivated on large-scale farms, have low suicide rates. This is because wealthy cash crop farmers have the resources to weather difficult economic periods, says Kennedy, without falling into debt and ruin.

    Another outlier is West Bengal, which has high numbers of smallholders but an average suicide rate: but this is an area in which the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – who have an “unrivalled commitment” to improving the lot of poor farmers – have had a strong political influence over the past four decades.   

    The researchers say their study points to a vicious cycle of Indian smallholders forced into debt due to market fluctuations. While 300 rupees – the debt figure analysed in the study – only amounts to $5, the government defines a mere 25 rupees as an adequate daily income in rural India.

    The shame and stress of no longer being able to provide for their families has resulted in hundreds of thousands of male farmers, and in many cases their wives too, taking their own lives by drinking the modern pesticides designed to provide them with bountiful harvests – a truly horrific end as the chemicals cause swift muscle and breathing paralysis.

    Added Kennedy: “The liberalisation of the Indian economy is most often associated with near-double digit growth, the rise of India as an economic powerhouse, and the emergence of wealthy urban middle classes. But it is often forgotten that over 833 million people – almost 70% of the Indian population – still live in rural areas.

    “A large proportion of these rural inhabitants have not benefited from the economic growth of the past twenty years. In fact, liberalisation has brought about a crisis in the agricultural sector that has pushed many small-scale cash crops farmers into debt and in some cases to suicide.”

    Latest statistical research finds strong causal links between areas with the most suicides and areas where impoverished farmers are trying to grow crops that suffer from wild price fluctuations due to India’s relatively recent shift to free market economics.

    It is often forgotten that over 833 million people – almost 70% of the Indian population – still live in rural areas
    Jonathan Kennedy
    Agriculture is the backbone of India

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

    License type: 
    News type: 

    0 0

    In the first half of the 19th century science was not a profession but a vocation. Today, for many, it is both. Jim Secord is best known in Cambridge and beyond for his role as Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, and as Director of the Darwin Correspondence Project which makes available online and in print the full texts of Charles Darwin’s letters.  

    Secord has devoted much of his academic life to investigating the early 19th century as a critical juncture in the narrative of science. His latest book, Visions of Science: Books and readers at the dawn of the Victorian age, looks at the intellectual life of Britain in the 1830s when a number of notably brave individuals were beginning to question ever more insistently the established political, religious and social order.

    Visions of Science explores the extraordinary and lasting impact of scientific books first published in the decade that began with the opening of the first railway, connecting Manchester to Liverpool. In an accessible style, and with a scholarly grasp of his protagonists, Secord examines seven works which recast the way that science was understood, setting their trajectories within a cultural and social context still dominated by a strongly Christian viewpoint.

    Humphry Davy, remembered as inventor of the Davy lamp, wrote Consolations in Travel, a voyage of discovery through the history of humanity in the format of a dialogue between the narrator and a spirit called the Genius. Creator of what has been described as the world’s first computer, Charles Babbage is author of Reflections of the Decline of Science in England, which shocked readers with its picture of an unthinking society failing to support scientific endeavour.

    In his Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy, John Herschel struck out against publishing convention with a book that was cheaply produced and flimsily bound. As a believer in the transformative power of education, Herschel’s text addressed his readers as fellow practitioners, encouraging them to study nature for themselves.

    Mary Somerville’s On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences sought to bring together for the public the common bonds within the sciences at a time when the different disciplines were developing boundaries.  In Principles of Geology, Charles Lyell laid the foundations for the modern study of the Earth. Charles Darwin wrote: “The great merit of the Principles was that it altered the whole tone of one’s mind and therefore that, when seeing a thing never seen by Lyell, one yet saw it partially through his eyes.” Lyell, however, never fully accepted Darwin’s theory of evolution.

     Lawyer and lecturer George Combe used his book, Constitution of Man, first produced as a limited edition and then as the first in a series of inexpensive “People’s Editions”, to apply scientific methods to tackle questions about the human mind that had been asked for thousands of years by applying scientific methods. Combe was an ardent proponent of phrenology, a way of seeing the brain divided into different ‘organs’, each one responsible for an aspect of behaviour. Long since discredited as quackery, phrenology made significant inroads by challenging accepted thinking about the relationship between mind and body.

    Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus is a delightfully wicked and knowing satire of the learned (and earnest) reflections published in the early 19th century. Carlyle’s satire proposed in suitably high-flown prose a scientific analysis of clothes as the outward and most visible signs of character. Sartor Resartus both amused and infuriated readers; many were simply baffled by its complexity and the apparent absurdity of its narrative. Its significance lay in its power to make readers think much more critically and see sciences as something dynamic rather than mechanic. The geologist Joseph Beete Jukes declared that Carlyle had driven a “good broad harpoon deep into the sweltering side of the floating carcass of Humbug”.

    Secord describes the context in which these books engaged with fundamental questions about the world around them and the potential it offered. With the invention of the steam engine, the limitless possibilities of machines were opening up. The year 2000, as imagined in a lithograph published in Everybody’s Album & Caricature Magazine, featured an aerostation, moveable houses and perpetual motion. New institutions emerged, including the gloriously named (and widely ridiculed) Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Cheap paper, machine printing and penny libraries gave increasing numbers of ordinary working people access to books.

    But the onward march of democratisation in reading was not universally welcomed.  Learned societies set up to make books more freely available were mocked by the Tories as Whig (Liberal) follies. The public, shaken by the violent revolutions that had occurred across the English Channel, were alarmed by universal literacy as a concept.  A rigid class structure, rotten boroughs and a suffrage system that limited voting to just 400,000 people from a population of 14 million meant that the reins of power were firmly gripped by the privileged few.

    In 1830 universal votes for women were almost a century into the future, and girls’ education was limited. The daunting odds stacked against women scientists makes Secord’s account of the achievements of Mary Somerville in mathematics and the wider sciences even more compelling. Her name honoured by Oxford’s first college for women, Somerville was encouraged in her study of maths by her family, though her mother feared a passion for abstract maths might lead to madness, and by her second husband who, as a wedding gift, encouraged her to buy a selection of advanced and costly mathematical books.  These books are now in the library of Girton College.

    Towards the end of her life, Somerville recalled the power and potential that these books represented: “I was thirty-three years of age when I bought this excellent little library. I could hardly believe that I possessed such a treasure when I looked back upon the day that I first saw the mysterious word ‘Algebra’.”

    In his epilogue to Visions of Science Secord notes that it is hard to recapture the intense enthusiasm felt for the new literature of science in the early industrial age. The example he gives to fill that gap is touching: on seeing the first number of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge’s Penny Magazine in the window of a shop, farmboy James Croll bought a copy and embarked on a lifetime of study. Croll used the magazine to read widely on astronomy and natural philosophy, becoming a leading authority on cosmology while working as a caretaker.

    Secord will be talking about Visions of Science in Heffers Bookshop, Cambridge, tonight (Thursday 17 April 2014). Doors open 6.30pm. Tickets from:

    Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age by James A. Secord is published by Oxford University Press. 

    Inset images: The first passenger carriage in Europe, 1830, George Stephenson´s steam locomotive, Liverpool and Manchester Railway; Difference Engine No.1 (Partial Model) Charles Babbage. Science Museum, London; Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, October 27, 1832. Published in London by Charles Knight; Mary Somerville, 1884. All images: Wikimedia Creative Commons.

    In his latest book, Professor Jim Secord explores seven scientific books that made a lasting historical impact. Visions of Science concentrates on the 1830s, an era that witnessed an often passionate clash of viewpoints.  Secord will be talking about his book in Heffers bookshop tonight (17 April 2014).

    The great merit of the Principles of Geology was that it altered the whole tone of one’s mind and therefore that, when seeing a thing never seen by Lyell, one yet saw it partially through his eyes.
    Charles Darwin
    'The March of Intellect', etching c.1828. Robert Seymour ('Shortshanks')

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    New research on two supermarket chains, one UK and one US, shows that a range of flexible employment practices – extending far beyond just zero-hour contracts – cause widespread anxiety, stress and ‘depressed mental states’ in workers as a result of financial and social uncertainty, and can block worker access to education as well as much-needed additional income.

    The findings are included in a report submitted to the government consultation on zero hour contracts at the request of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

    The report’s authors, from the University’s Department of Sociology, say the UK government should widen the net in reviewing damaging employment practices, arguing that employees be granted the right to make statutory claims to work additional core hours and have a say in the scheduling of their hours.  

    “Zero hour contracts are the tip of the iceberg; just one small manifestation of this much wider problem in our workplaces,” said Dr Brendan Burchell, Head of Department and co-author on the report, compiled with his PhD candidate Alex Wood.

    “Workplace flexibility is thought of as helping employees, but it has become completely subverted across much of the service sector to suit the employer – and huge numbers of workers are suffering as a consequence.

    “So-called ‘flexi-contracts’, whether that’s zero, eight or ten hours – none of which can provide a living – allow low-level management unaccountable power to dictate workers’ hours and consequent income to a damaging extent that is open to incompetency and abuse.”

    The research – based on interviews with UK and US supermarket workers and union officials, as well as months of shop-floor observation – found that strategies such as extreme part-time contracts, key-time contacts and frequent labour matching, as well as ‘at will’ zero-hours employment, are all experienced as a form of job insecurity that causes untold stress for thousands of employees and their families.

    Extreme part-time contracts guarantee such low hours of work that many workers must work overtime as a matter of necessity. Labour matching involves management rearranging shifts to meet predicted future shopping demand.

    With key-time contracts, workers are given limited core hours and asked to state additional times they can work. Managers can demand they work any hours falling during these times with just 24 hours’ notice.

    Previously, these contracts were reserved for roles where matching demand was most critical – such as fulfilling online orders. The UK supermarket’s policy is now that all new stores aim for 45 per cent of staff to be on ‘key-time’.

    As one UK worker interviewed by the researchers put it: “I’ve got two kids and a mortgage and I’m gonna be out of a job because I can’t do these hours”. Another said: “They put a lot of stress on people… I used to be in tears”.

    It’s not just financial insecurities, psychological well-being and blocks to additional earning that impact workers, say researchers. These contracts also reduce access to education and training programmes, and mean that those with children and other caring responsibilities are often forced to put the burden on others with very little notice. Burchell describes the problem as a “combination of individual and social impact”. 

    In the report, the authors note that even informal employee input into work schedules has been shown to significantly reduce negative consequences of unpredictable working hours. They write that there is a need for the policy debate surrounding zero hours contracts to be better informed by evidence.  

    Previous research cited by the government doesn’t make the important distinction between high and low wage workers on zero hours contracts, say the researchers. For example, many consultants work on a zero hour basis. 

    “It is the invidious way that vulnerable people at the low end of the labour market – such as in supermarket retail – are forced to live their lives that requires scrutiny,” said Wood

    “High unemployment and tough economic times, combined with ever-increasing flexible working practices that favour corporations, is creating a culture of servitude – trapping people in vicious cycles of instability, stress and a struggle to make ends meet.

    “The policies the government is looking at completely misunderstand the nature and scale of the problem.” 

    While California is an ‘At Will Employment’ State, meaning that all the US supermarket workers are on de-facto zero hour contracts, the UK supermarket does not make use of zero hour contracts. However, the researchers say that through a combination of extreme part-time and key-time contracts it achieves similar worker flexibility.

    They found that all these employment strategies contribute to employee anxieties as workers try to juggle these demands with social and family responsibilities – as well as the enduring financial worry if next week’s hours drop.

    During fieldwork, Wood interviewed a number of current UK and US employees on flexi-contracts.

    One UK worker said: “Nobody can possibly survive on three and a half hours’ pay a week. And then it boils down to you’ve got your three and a half hours plus you’ve got flexed-time which they will give you if they need you.

    “But once your face doesn’t fit you don’t get any more hours and you might as well stay on the dole really.”

    Burchell adds that some employers use these contracts because they have genuinely unpredictable staffing needs – such as salad production that is weather dependent. But in the case of supermarkets, employers are using flexi-contracts because they are convenient for management, and the impact on the lives of workers isn’t being considered.

    “There is plenty of guidance for managers about good practice for health and safety, for example, but almost nothing about scheduling worker hours – and there could and should be,” he said.

    “Much of the misery caused is probably through incompetent scheduling, and management not realising the way they are controlling workers’ lives. If employees have a right to request more predictable hours enshrined in legislation that the management would have to justify refusing, it would at least help redress the balance slightly.”

    New report shows that zero hour contracts are only one of a wide number of flexible employment practices that are abused by managers - leading to financial insecurity, anxiety and stress in the workforce. Researchers say the Government consultation was too narrow and call for legislation requiring employers to defend scheduling decisions.

    So-called ‘flexi-contracts’, whether that’s zero, eight or ten hours – none of which can provide a living – allow low-level management unaccountable power to dictate workers’ hours
    Brendan Burchell
    The consumer society is happy (for a while)

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

    News type: 

    0 0

    The property – known as auxeticity – is one which may have application as wide-ranging as soundproofing, super-absorbent sponges and bulletproof vests.

    Most materials when stretched will contract. For example, if one pulls on an elastic band, the elastic itself will get thinner. The opposite is also true: squeeze a material and it will expand – for example, if one squeezes a tennis ball between both hands, the circumference around the ball gets larger. However, material scientists have begun to explore auxeticity, an unusual property which has the opposite effect – squeeze it and it will contract, stretch it and it will expand. This means that auxetic materials act as excellent shock absorbers or sponges, a fact that is being explored for various uses.

    Until now, auxeticity has only been demonstrated in manmade materials and very rarely in nature, such as some species of sponge. But today, in a paper published in the journal Nature Materials, a team of University of Cambridge researchers including biologists, engineers and physicists, report having observed auxeticity in the nuclei of embryonic stem cells, master cells within the body which can turn into any other type of cell.

    Dr Kevin Chalut from the Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, who led the study, says: “This is a pretty bizarre finding and very unexpected. When the stem cell is in the process of transforming into a particular type of cell, its nucleus takes on an auxetic property, allowing it to ‘sponge up’ essential materials from its surrounding. This property has not, to my knowledge, been seen before at a cellular level and is highly unusual in the natural world.”

    The auxetic properties only appear in the stem cell’s nucleus when it is in the transition stage, changing from an embryonic, non-specific stem cell into a differentiated, tissue-specific cell, such as a heart tissue cell. Dr Chalut and colleagues treated the transitioning cell’s cytoplasm, the fluid surrounding the nucleus, with a coloured dye and found that when they stretched the nucleus, it absorbed the dye, suggesting that it had expanded to become porous. It is possible that it does so to absorb molecules from the cytoplasm or environment which would help the cell differentiate.

    Auxetic materials are of great interest to material scientists and engineers and this new discovery may provide clues to different methods of manufacture. The vast majority of known auxetic materials are highly ordered, such as the auxetic honeycomb. However, some examples of disordered auxetic materials are known – for example, if one pulls both ends of a scrunched up ball of paper, the circumference around the ball expands. The nucleus of the transitional stem cell is likewise disordered.

    “There is clearly a lot we can learn from nature,” adds Dr Chalut. “We are already seeing auxeticity explored for its super-absorption properties, but despite great technological effort, auxetic materials are still rare and there is still much to discover about them in order to manufacture them better. To overcome this, materials scientists can do what has become de rigueur in their discipline: they can learn from nature. Studying how auxeticity has evolved in nature will guide research into new ways to produce auxetic materials, which might have many diverse applications in our everyday life.”

    Funding for the study was mainly provided by the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.

    Stem cells – the body’s master cells – demonstrate a bizarre property never before seen at a cellular level, according to a study published today from scientists at the University of Cambridge.

    This property has not, to my knowledge, been seen before at a cellular level and is highly unusual in the natural world
    Kevin Chalut
    Paper ball

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

    License type: 
    News type: 

older | 1 | .... | 23 | 24 | (Page 25) | 26 | 27 | .... | 141 | newer