Articles on this Page
- 10/15/15--08:01: _Professor Robert Ma...
- 10/16/15--01:17: _Education that adds up
- 10/16/15--03:33: _British and Polish ...
- 10/16/15--05:57: _A voice for the und...
- 10/16/15--06:02: _The Sea-Pie and the...
- 10/16/15--09:40: _Towards a new allia...
- 10/19/15--03:13: _The 8th Cambridge F...
- 10/19/15--03:38: _New graphene based ...
- 10/19/15--06:00: _Not a drop to drink
- 10/19/15--06:55: _New microscopic ima...
- 10/20/15--00:00: _Knowing me, knowing...
- 10/20/15--02:17: _A new partnership i...
- 10/20/15--04:12: _Man with a Bouquet ...
- 10/20/15--08:24: _Cambridge confirms ...
- 10/21/15--03:31: _From Chinese milk t...
- 10/21/15--04:17: _… dot, dot, dot: ho...
- 10/21/15--06:05: _U is for Unicorn
- 10/22/15--01:08: _Play matters! New c...
- 10/22/15--03:30: _The astronomer and ...
- 10/22/15--07:28: _Outlaws, trolls and...
- 10/15/15--08:01: Professor Robert Mair appointed to House of Lords
- 10/16/15--01:17: Education that adds up
- 10/16/15--03:33: British and Polish University leaders reaffirm strong academic links
- 10/16/15--05:57: A voice for the undocumented
- 10/16/15--06:02: The Sea-Pie and the sad sailor
- 10/16/15--09:40: Towards a new alliance of global campuses
- 10/19/15--03:13: The 8th Cambridge Festival of Ideas launches
- Author Bidisha and award-winning journalist Emily Dugan will be in conversation about their new books on the lives of refugees and immigrants who have made it to the UK, the books go behind the headlines to reveal the personal dramas of ordinary men and women trying to make a new life in the UK.
- Professor John Macnicol will be discussing his new book (due out this week), which examines the effect of neoliberalism on the recent ageing and social policy agenda in the UK and the USA.The book outlines past theories of old age and examines pensions reform, the debate on life expectancy gains, the causes of retirement, the idea of intergenerational equity, the current debate on ageism/age discrimination and the likely human consequences of raising state pension ages.
- Paul Wallace, a leading commentator on the economics of the European Union, will also be talking about his new book, The Euro Experiment, which explains how and why the euro crisis happened, and the implications for the economic and political future of Europe.
- Professor Ulinka Rublack's new book, The Astronomer and the Witch: Johannes Kepler’s Defence of his Mother (due out this month), tells the shocking story of how the mother of the famous scientist Kepler was accused of witchcraft. In conversation with Juliet Mitchell, the author explores historical resistance to women as well as ways in which families have been implicated in mechanisms of power.
- 10/19/15--06:00: Not a drop to drink
- 10/19/15--06:55: New microscopic imaging technology reveals origins of leukaemia
- 10/20/15--00:00: Knowing me, knowing you
- 10/20/15--04:12: Man with a Bouquet of Plastic Flowers
- 10/20/15--08:24: Cambridge confirms its leading role in engagement with Africa
- Keynote Speakers: Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz (Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge) and Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa (Vice Governor of the National Bank of Rwanda)
- Date: 23rd October 2015
- Venue: St John's College (Palmerston Room, Fisher Building) in Cambridge
- There will be a wide range of short presentations about Cambridge's involvement in research capacity building in African institutions, and the numerous mutually-beneficial collaborative research and development projects that Cambridge and African researchers and students are involved in.
- 10/21/15--04:17: … dot, dot, dot: how the ellipsis made its mark
- 10/21/15--06:05: U is for Unicorn
- About PEDAL: The guiding focus of the centre’s work is to develop substantial and compelling research concerned with the role of play and playfulness in young children’s learning and development, and the potential of play-based approaches within educational contexts. The kinds of skills and accomplishments that are widely recognised as being vital components of 21st century educational provision, including critical thinking, problem-solving, interpersonal abilities, emotional resilience and creativity, have all been linked theoretically and empirically to playfulness and playful learning.
- About the LEGO Foundation: The LEGO Foundation shares the mission of the LEGO Group: to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. The Foundation is dedicated to building a future where learning through play empowers children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners. Its work is about re-defining play and re-imagining learning. In collaboration with thought leaders, influencers, educators and parents the LEGO Foundation aims to equip, inspire and activate champions for play: www.LEGOfoundation.com.
As a crossbencher, he will owe no allegiance to a political party and will maintain the ability to take part in legislative debates free of party considerations.
Robert Mair was appointed Professor of Geotechnical Engineering at Cambridge University in 1998 and was Master of Jesus College 2001-2011, where he remains a Fellow.
He is one of the founding Directors of the Geotechnical Consulting Group (GCG), an international consulting company based in London, started in 1983. He was appointed Chief Engineering Adviser to the Laing O’Rourke Group in 2011.
After graduating in 1971 from Cambridge University, where he read Engineering at Clare College, he worked continuously in industry until 1998, except for a three year period in the late 1970’s when he returned to Cambridge to work for his PhD on tunnelling in soft ground.
His early involvement with tunnels began at that time, when he undertook research for the UK Transport Research Laboratory on the subject of centrifuge modelling of tunnel construction in soft ground. He was awarded a PhD for this work in 1979.
Throughout his career he has specialised principally in underground construction, providing advice on numerous projects world-wide involving soft ground tunnelling, retaining structures, deep excavations and foundations. Recent international projects have included railway tunnels in the cities of Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Singpapore and Warsaw, and motorway tunnels in Turkey.
In the UK he has been closely involved with the design and construction of the Jubilee Line Extension for London Underground, and with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (now HS1) and Crossrail projects.
He was responsible for the introduction of compensation grouting in the UK as a novel technique for controlling settlement of structures during tunnel construction - on the Waterloo Escalator Tunnel Project. The technique was widely used on the Jubilee Line Extension Project for the protection of many historic buildings, including the Big Ben Clock Tower at the Palace of Westminster.
He has been a member of Expert Review Panels on major international underground construction projects, and is currently Co-Chair of the International Advisory Board for the Singapore Land Transport Authority, advising on design and construction aspects of all underground transport tunnels and deep excavations in Singapore.
Robert Mair was awarded the British Geotechnical Society Prize in 1980 for his work on tunnels, the Institution of Civil Engineers Geotechnical Research Medal in 1994 and their Gold Medal in 2004.
He has been a Board Member of the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering (ISSMGE), and for 10 years was Chairman of its Technical Committee (TC 28) on Underground Construction in Soft Ground.
He gave evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee on the Crossrail project in London and is a member of Crossrail’s Engineering Expert Panel.
He leads a major research group at Cambridge and is Principal Investigator for a recently awarded Innovation and Knowledge Centre on Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC), a group with the mission of turning research into commercial application to transform the future of infrastructure, funded by EPSRC/TSB and industry to a total value of £17m.
He chaired the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering Review of Shale Gas Extraction in the UK; the report was published in June 2012.
He is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (its Senior Vice-President 2008-2011), and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was awarded a CBE in the 2010 New Year's Honours list.
Professor Robert Mair CBE, Sir Kirby Laing Professor of Civil Engineering and Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Cambridge, has been appointed an independent crossbench peer in recognition of his world-renowned role as a civil engineer, and his extensive practical and academic expertise on infrastructure and construction.
It’s a numbers game. Three million households, seven million children, 30,000 volunteers, and a decade of assessing the basic reading and maths abilities of 3–16-year olds across India.
This is the size of the largest non-governmental survey of the state of Indian education ever conducted, and it’s a key source of information for communities and policymakers on children’s learning outcomes available in India today. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is all the more impressive given the deceptive simplicity and fundamental importance of the question it seeks to answer: how many children are learning the basics in mathematics and reading?
But the numbers have to be huge given what’s at stake. The education system in India is in crisis; in rural areas, fewer than one in five poor children of around 11 years of age have even the most basic of literacy and numeracy skills, although most have been in school for five years. And it’s a pattern echoed worldwide in what UNESCO has declared “a global learning crisis” – even after going to school, 250 million children globally cannot read, write or count.
“What’s the point in an education if children emerge after years in school without the skills they need?” says Professor Pauline Rose from Cambridge’s Faculty of Education, whose team collaborates with the organisation in India responsible for ASER. “The rhetoric about education used to be about giving children access to school but now it must also be about making sure they learn what they need to learn once they are there.”
Rose was previously Director of UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report. In 2014, the Report assembled the first evidence on the scale of the education crisis. “There was already a debate rumbling. It was becoming clear that increasing the number of children enrolling in school was not enough. But the report brought the evidence into one place. That number of 250 million children without basic skills slaps you in the face – you can’t ignore it. It’s also an entry point to understanding why we have got to this situation and what we can do about it.”
Rose leads Cambridge’s Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, which has highlighted some of the factors that limit children’s learning in India and Pakistan. Among them are an over-ambitious curriculum that leaves children behind and a lack of training and support for teachers, who may themselves be the product of a poor education.
Now the Centre has been awarded funding by the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to look at ways to improve the effectiveness of teaching quality in India and Pakistan.
“Education increases opportunities in life, it can pull people out of poverty, with better jobs and higher wages; for girls, education often results in delaying marriage and having fewer children, who as a result are healthier,” she explains. “Nationally, a young, educated workforce can transform the wealth of a country.”
India has made a significant investment in schooling over the past decade, achieving near universal enrolment in primary education. According to government figures, around 195 million children are currently in primary school. However, the question of how effective is the teaching within the classroom has largely been overlooked.
Over the past few months, Rose and Dr Ben Alcott have been using the ASER datasets, covering all of rural India, to identify the extent to which children are learning and who in particular is being left behind.
“Among the most disadvantaged girls, fewer than 10% are learning by the time they should have had five years in school,” says Rose. “Some aren’t learning because they’ve dropped out of school, others because of the poor quality of education. Governments, schools and teachers have tended to focus on the more advantaged, able children. But to close educational inequalities, they must focus on the disadvantaged, whether it’s by poverty, gender, caste or disability.”
Rose and Alcott suggest five key steps: encourage children to start school as young as possible; set the curriculum at the right pace for the majority of learners, not the minority of able learners; train teachers to teach the most disadvantaged learners; provide schools with appropriate textbooks in the right language; and hold schools and policy makers accountable for improving learning outcomes for those who would otherwise be left behind.
Of course, improving the quality of education requires a better understanding of what is actually going on in the classroom. In the newly funded ESRC–DFID programme, Rose, Professor Anna Vignoles and Dr Nidhi Singal are working with an independent education research group in India – Collaborative Research and Dissemination (CORD) – to create a new dataset that will follow children through their learning experience, from home to school.
Singal’s focus is on children with disabilities: “In many cases, children with disabilities are given access to mainstream school just for ‘socialisation purposes'– there’s an assumption that they are not there to learn.
“My reason for researching what happens to children with disabilities in school is not only to do with issues around social justice and human rights, but also because problems will be magnified for the most marginalised of the marginalised – if teaching can be more effective for this group then it can respond to the needs of all disadvantaged children.”
The research will assess children both in the household and in schools, testing their basic skills on a yearly basis. The aim is to identify what makes a difference to learning, and to understand the problems teachers face and the support they need.
“There’s a big debate on how the global Sustainable Development Goal of all children learning by 2030 can be achieved,” adds Rose. “This project will help understand what we need to do to make sure we are not failing children who are coming from some of the most disadvantaged of backgrounds.”
Will governments take notice? “I don’t think we as researchers can always go knocking on doors and say look at our evidence. But I do think that, through the networks that CORD and ASER have, this research can have an influence. These partnerships are really central to what we do: it’s no good us sitting here doing all this wonderful research if it’s not actually changing anything for children’s experiences on the ground.”
We are in the midst of a “global learning crisis” according to UNESCO, with too many children worldwide learning little or nothing at school. A new research programme focusing on India and Pakistan aims to understand what needs to be done to ensure that education adds up.
The strength, and the considerable untapped potential, of academic links between the University of Cambridge and Poland were in evidence during the recent visit of a group of senior Polish scientists and university leaders.
The Polish delegation, including Professor Marcin Palys, Rector of Warsaw University, and Professor Maciej Żylicz, President of the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP), were in Cambridge last month for a round table on UK-Poland scientific collaboration. They were welcomed by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, and by Dr Stanley Bill, Director of the University’s pilot initiative for Polish Studies.
Marking the first anniversary of the launch of the Polish Studies initiative, Dr Bill said: “The high level meeting of leaders from British and Polish institutions generated a very fruitful exchange of ideas for future cooperation in science and innovation. It was especially encouraging to see consensus on the importance of the humanities in this process. Research collaboration in any area is a form of cultural exchange, and requires mutual respect and understanding.”
He added: “The new initiative in Polish Studies in the Department of Slavonic Studies at Cambridge precisely aims to provide British students with knowledge of Poland's culture and language, while also educating the broader public through a series of special events. We believe that this work will form an important part of the process of building bridges between the UK and Poland across a range of areas.”
Commenting on the discussions about student mobility and researcher exchange, Professor Palys said: “The interest for collaboration in scientific projects is clearly rising.” He expressed his support for the work of the Polish Studies programme, which, he said, “will trigger more research in humanities and beyond”.
At the end of the visit, which was supported by the British Embassy in Warsaw, Professor Żylicz remarked: “Poland has huge potential, and already quite significant scientific achievements in many fields of science. The United Kingdom brings to the table a culture of excellence in scientific work. As we gradually get to know each other and start to work together our scientific efforts may bring outstanding results.”
The anniversary of the Polish Studies initiative has been marked with a 'fruitful exchange' of ideas.
Carlos Adolfo Gonzalez Sierra understands many of the issues faced by Dominican immigrants to the US because he has lived them. For years he had no legal status in the country and, despite working round the clock, very nearly missed out on higher education. It was through sheer hard work, a strong support system and the willingness to grab any opportunities that came his way that he has been able to complete his undergraduate studies and win a congressional fellowship at the US House of Representatives and a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, becoming the first Dominican citizen to do so.
He is one of 92 new Gates Cambridge Scholars from 28 countries who have started their postgraduate courses at the University of Cambridge this term. The Scholarship, funded by a $210 million donation to the University by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - the largest donation ever to a UK university - is open to international postgraduate students who are selected for their academic credentials as well as their leadership capacity. The Scholarship emphasises a commitment to improving the lives of others. This is something that Carlos' activism and academic research exemplifies.
He was born in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic. His family had a privileged lifestyle compared to the majority of people in the country. His father was a head civil engineer for a US company. They could afford a home, several cars, private school tuition, vacations to North America and even membership into the country club. His mother didn’t work and had help to look after Carlos and his two sisters.
That all changed suddenly when Carlos was eight years old. Carlos’ father was diagnosed with cancer and passed way soon after. “My father’s sudden death meant a complete shift in lifestyle for us,” he says.
Without a college education, his mother found it difficult to get a job. She went back to school and started her own business selling pastries. Carlos and his sisters were still enrolled in private school, but due to rising inflation his father’s pension was soon not enough. His mother decided to move to the US rather than risk her children’s education.
Moving to the US
The family moved to Reading, the town in Pennsylvania where Carlos’ uncle lived, and then resettled in Lancaster. Carlos remembers his first day at school. “I was excited because I saw my first day of school as the beginning of a more secure future for my family and me, but it worried me that I didn’t know English. I soon realised that I was far behind my classmates and I saw my hopes flash before my eyes. I felt lost,” he says.
Soon after he was transferred to another school and started to read children’s books which helped him with sentence structure and gave him confidence to keep improving. He says: “I witnessed how hard my mother had worked to get us to the US. I had no choice, but to try to make the most of the opportunities available to me. I owed her that much.”
The family had come to the US on tourist visas, which soon expired. After that they were undocumented which made access to things like work and healthcare difficult. His mother could only get jobs working in restaurants and cleaning offices. When Carlos was growing up he couldn’t tell anyone about his status for fear the family would be sent back to the Dominican Republic, although he did confide in a mentor because he had problems trying to get into university. Since June 2012, undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children have been temporarily allowed to live and work legally in the US.
Because of his undocumented status at the time, Carlos felt the only way he could make it to university was to be one of the top students at his school. He pushed himself, taking the most difficult classes and participating in several extracurricular activities. He was president of the Student Council and numerous other student organisations, volunteered in the community and wrestled on the school team. As he was finishing high school, he received a letter from QuestBridge, a programme aimed at preparing high-achieving, low-income students gain admission and full scholarships to top-tier colleges. Carlos applied to the programme and was invited to attend a college preparatory conference at Yale University. His teacher believed in his potential so much that he drove him the six hours to attend. “The conference showed me that, despite my immigration and financial circumstances, college was a possibility,” he says.
He applied to the eight colleges who were part of the partnership, but was rejected from all eight. No reason was given, but he believes it was because he was undocumented. “That was a very dark period for me,” he says. “I had sacrificed so much to learn English and catch up with my peers. I performed better than the vast majority my classmates in high school. I contributed to my school and my community. Yet society was telling me that all that effort didn’t matter because I didn’t have a 9-digit number? I felt betrayed.”
His mentor recommended that he go to a local community college and helped him get a place, but he had to pay twice as much tuition because he was treated as an international student. He managed to gain multiple scholarships from his school and his grandmother and mother contributed some money. He also had a job working in a store where he was paid $6 an hour for effectively running the store.
Despite working hard during his two years at community college, Carlos also got heavily involved in student life. He was head of the Student Government Association Executive Council, representing 25,000 students, reactivated the Latino student organisation and interned for Pennsylvania’s Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino affairs, the state’s leading advocacy organisation for its Latino residents.
After his first year he applied to transfer to Amherst College, which was one of the colleges looking to attract the best community college students in the country. He was put on the waiting list, but called the Dean to ask if he could be moved up. A month later he had a call, saying he had been accepted. “It was one of the happiest and most significant moments of my life,” he says.
When he got to campus, he worried he wasn’t prepared for the academic rigour of the College. “The first class I took was in a majestic red room. I couldn’t yet believe that I was in fact a student here. Many of my peers had attended elite public and private schools. I was intimidated at first," he says.
Carlos, who majored in Political Science and Interdisciplinary US Latino Studies, studied hard, but also took time for student activism. He chaired La Causa, an organisation which brings Latino students together to celebrate and debate their culture and provides advocacy and support. He worked on curriculum issues too and how to get more Latino perspectives on courses.
His undergraduate thesis detailed the prevalence of electoral clientelism - the exchange of goods and services for political support - by Dominican expatriates participating in Dominican national politics within the United States. He says: “Latin America is increasingly becoming a transnational region. There is a growing trend for Latin American diasporas to participate in the domestic politics of their countries of origin and, in some cases, even elect transnational representatives. I wondered whether this trend was a reflection of the growing power of the diaspora or an extension of clientelism.”
At the end of his course, he went on a study abroad trip to northern Brazil for four months and found the experience “eye-opening”. “I lived in a condominium with a wealthy family overlooking the beach in Fortaleza and less than five kilometres from where I was staying the reality was totally different,” he says. “There was no sewage system, the schools were terrible and there was frequent gang and drug-related violence. Entering that community felt like entering a different country.”
That experience and his thesis cemented his interest in studying the links between social inequality, political participation and representative governance. He wanted to gain an international perspective so he applied for a Humanity in Action Fellowship in Europe in the summer of 2014. He was placed in the Netherlands for five weeks.
After graduating, he was involved in organising and engaging voters in immigrant and low-income communities in Chicago, working on the Raise the Wage campaign in Illinois which targeted low-income workers.
After seeing things from a grassroots perspective, he wanted to gain some policy-making experience so he applied for a fellowship in the US Congress. For six months, he worked as a legislative assistant in the Office of Congressman Michael Honda in Washington, DC. His role focused on legislation around immigration and Latin American issues. He has also been working with newly arrived Cuban refugees to help them become economically self-sufficient as an Employment Specialist at Church World Service, one of the largest refugee resettlement organisations in the US. Over the summer he helped to organise the first state-wide conference of undocumented youth in Pennsylvania and led advocacy efforts for the Pennsylvania DREAM Act, a law that would increase access to higher education for undocumented students in the state.
At Cambridge, Carlos is studying for an MPhil in Latin American Studies and will take his undergraduate thesis one step further, focusing on understanding the reasons why people in the diaspora get involve in Dominican politics. He says: “Ultimately, I want to use my education and experience to help reduce poverty in the region and create opportunities for hard working people like my mother.”
Carlos Gonzalez Sierra is one of the new intake of Gates Cambridge Scholars, international postgraduates with a commitment to improving the lives of others.
A woman peeks from the curtain of a wagon, rich men parade on a bejewelled elephant and a pensive scholar clutches the tools of his trade: these paintings, no bigger than playing cards, adorn transparent sheets of mica and were bought in India as souvenirs by sailor Charles Augustus Whitehouse in 1842.
They were painted in India for the colonial tourist trade and are so rare and fragile that Dr Kevin Greenbank, archivist at the Centre of South Asian Studies, admits “I get the shakes when I handle these.”
“They represent an important period in Indian art – the Company School of painting – when Indian art developed perspective,” he adds. Some depict courtly scenes, while others appear to be sets of costumed characters or Indian pastimes and trades.
The collection has 69 mica paintings. Their vibrant images are remarkably intact despite the fragility of mica – a transparent mineral – which may have been used by the painters in order to imitate the European trend for painting on glass. There are also six paintings on pipal leaves.
Today, they are held in the archives of the Centre for South Asian Studies, which houses a unique collection of letters, diaries, photographs and films belonging to ordinary British people who documented their lives in India and South Asia.
“What I especially like about the mica paintings is they accompany a pair of diaries written by a sailor who bought them when he stopped in India on his was from Liverpool to India on the Brig Medina.”
Unlike many diaries that have become a source of historical information, Whitehouse’s are a deeply personal and highly idiosyncratic account – so much so that they were often written as if there was no-one else on board.
Entitled The Sea-Pie, the diaries are inscribed to his mother, and come with a caveat scrawled across the front “Here it comes something hot from the oven. Mind your eye or it may burn your fingers.”
Alongside his self-portrait, seascapes, a map of his route and a smattering of voyage details – “Potato cakes for tea” – Whitehouse begins to dwell on his lost sweetheart back home, stolen away, he says, by another man: “Hanging, drawing and quartering would be really too good for such an intruder.”
As the Brig continues to be becalmed, the pages fill with plaintive poetry “Love in a woman neer sinketh deep, Into the bosom she lets him creep… Love in a man is a far different thing, Forms more than roses it doth then bring.”
Eventually, many pages later, the sad sailor rallies, bringing his melancholic meanderings to an end with: “So I’ve blued and blued and bored and bored you until I work myself back into my usual good humour. Apres les pluit, les bonne temps. The storm is over and I feel much refreshed… after moping for a good half an hour I went below for a cigar.”
The Centre of South Asian Studies archive comprises a unique collection of photos, papers, films and oral histories covering many aspects of life in South Asia.
Inset images: paintings on mica (Centre of South Asian Studies Archive); Charles Augustus Whitehouse's self-portrait (Centre of South Asian Studies Archive).
The idiosyncratic diaries of one man’s voyage from Liverpool to India, and the exquisite painted souvenirs he bought there, are among the treasures to be found in the archives at the Centre of South Asian Studies.
In a joint statement released today, the Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, and the President of the National University of Singapore (NUS) described their objectives and aspirations:
On behalf of our institutions we, the undersigned, have agreed to take the first step towards the formation of a new alliance of global campuses that will, through collaborative research and educational programs, take on some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Over the coming months we intend to establish a governance structure and operating procedures for this unique multilateral partnership—the cornerstone of an alliance that we expect to expand, in terms of participation and programmatic scope, in the future.
We are motivated by our commitment to utilize our combined academic resources for the greater good in our home countries and around the world.
We believe that this new alliance will open the way for scholars and students at partner institutions to connect, collaborate and interact in ways that could not otherwise take place.
While there are certainly a number of multilateral and bilateral global partnerships already in existence—many of which our institutions already participate in---this endeavor is differentiated by its intention to place a commitment to address global problems at the center of its activities.
Among the research interests we have already identified, based on existing collaborations, are global public health, climate change, data science, and precision medicine.
In the coming months we look forward to engaging members of our respective faculties, as well as students, in order to solicit their ideas and input regarding the specifics of the alliance’s research and educational agendas.
In the short-term our goal and commitment is to reach agreement on a detailed memorandum of understanding by April, 2016.
Professor Nicholas Dirks,Chancellor
University of California, Berkeley
Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor
University of Cambridge
Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, President
National University of Singapore
According to Chancellor Dirks, the new alliance will be organisationally distinct from the Berkeley Global Campus that is slated for development on University-owned property along the Richmond Bay.
"At the same time, he says, there is the potential for a strong linkage between the two. “The Berkeley Global Campus is where we envision that much of the new alliance’s Berkeley-based activities will take place”, said Chancellor Dirks.
“We hope and believe that partners in the alliance will be interested in participating in activities at the Berkeley Global Campus, as will others from the academic, corporate, and nonprofit sectors.”
Welcoming the proposed alliance, Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Borysiewicz said, "Cambridge's mission is ‘to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence’.
"I believe this new initiative will help us fulfil that mission, working together in this new model of global engagement to tackle the complex problems that challenge humanity."
NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan also provided strong endorsement for the endeavor. “NUS has strong, existing collaborations with the University of California, Berkeley, as well as with the University of Cambridge, “ he said. “We are pleased to further intensify these relationships in the alliance of global campuses.
"We believe that this alliance would provide unique opportunities for our faculty and students to work together in ways that would accelerate multilateral and multinational linkages in the search for solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.
"The different but complementary expertise, perspectives and data that each partner can bring will be a key strength of this alliance. We also believe that the partnership will contribute to the overall growth of the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems in these vibrant hubs.”
The leaders of three of the world’s leading institutions of higher education have announced their intention to form a new global alliance to collaborate on research and graduate-level programmes.
The packed two-week programme brings together many of the world’s leading thinkers and experts to tackle a series of critical issues, from privacy and the impact of technology to immigration and censorship, inspired by the theme of power and resistance.
Headline speakers include Professors Lord Martin Rees, Dominic Lieven, David Runciman, John Macnicol and Rae Langton. They are joined by BBC’s Alan Yentob, author Peter Hitchens, photographers Toby Smith and Judith Aronson, journalists Ian Dunt and Emily Dugan, CEO of Index on Censorship Jodie Ginsberg, and musical innovators Asian Dub Foundation.
Social media and technology come under the spotlight, with events examining how revolutionary movements interact with technologies such as Facebook and Twitter; issues of privacy in today’s technology-dependent society – particularly relevant in view of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s recent revelations that security services can gain total access to user’s devices; and the advantages and disadvantages of computers that predict our personalities and interact with us intelligently, and the many ethical questions these topics raise.
Political issues including the future of Europe and immigration are also at the heart this year’s Festival. On the theme of the future of Europe is the debate Can Europe Keep the Peace? The speakers include historian Professor Robert Tombs; Montserrat Guibernau, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London and author of the forthcoming book Solidarity and Division in the EU; and Dr Chris Bickerton, a politics lecturer at the University of Cambridge and author of the award-winning book European Integration: From Nation-States to Member States.
Further political-themed events include Can Writers and Artists Ever Be Terrorists? a debate with Professor Anthony Glees, Director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at The University of Buckingham; Turkish artist and anti-censorship campaigner Pelin Basaran; Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship; and Dr Sara Silvestri who specialises in radicalisation. The question of whether national broadcasters can be truly independent at a time of war is considered in the debate War, Censorship and Propaganda, with Professor Christopher Andrew, Official Historian of MI5; Professor David Welch, director of the Centre for the Study of Propaganda and War at the University of Kent; Dr Peter Busch from King’s College London on the use of social media for propaganda purposes; and Caroline Wyatt, former defence correspondent at the BBC.
A key Festival highlight is the 24-hour event, Arena: night and day. For one day and one night Arena infiltrates Cambridge in a series of pop-up locations showing the likes of Bob Dylan, Francis Bacon, Sister Wendy, Harold Pinter, Bob Marley, T.S. Eliot and Luis Bunuel to name just a few. Following the filmic inundation of Cambridge, members of the team will discuss the secrets of the programme’s success and the future of public service broadcasting with Cambridge University film experts and the BBC’s Alan Yentob. The talk will consider new broadcasting formats and platforms, for instance online, and critical partnerships with universities and communities, seeking core interaction between the best research and best creatives.
Gender issues continue to be contentious and the Festival debates some of the current issues in a number of events including a panel discussion that explores the implications of trans identities for religious faith, with speaker Reverend Christina Beardsley. In addition, Dr Julia Long will take a look at the nature and prevalence of mainstream pornography, considering its impact and effects, and raising critical questions regarding feminist resistance within an increasingly pornified society.
Talks on several new books are a key highlight of this year’s Festival:
Established in 2008, Cambridge Festival of Ideas aims to fuel the public’s interest in arts, humanities and social sciences. The events, ranging from talks, debates and film screenings to exhibitions and comedy nights, are held in lecture halls, theatres, museums and galleries around Cambridge. Of the over 250 events at the Festival, most are free.
The Festival sponsors and partners are Cambridge University Press, St John’s College, Anglia Ruskin University, RAND Europe, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Cambridge Live, University of Cambridge Museums and Botanic Garden, Arts Council England, Cambridge Junction, British Science Association, Heritage Lottery Fund, Heffers, WOW Festival, Southbank Centre, Collusion, TTP Group, Goethe Institut, Index on Censorship and BBC Cambridgeshire.
Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2015 launches today with over 250 events exploring arts, society and culture.
A low-cost, high-speed method for printing graphene inks using a conventional roll-to-roll printing process, like that used to print newspapers and crisp packets, could open up a wide range of practical applications, including inexpensive printed electronics, intelligent packaging and disposable sensors.
Developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge in collaboration with Cambridge-based technology company Novalia, the method allows graphene and other electrically conducting materials to be added to conventional water-based inks and printed using typical commercial equipment, the first time that graphene has been used for printing on a large-scale commercial printing press at high speed.
Graphene is a two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms, just one atom thick. Its flexibility, optical transparency and electrical conductivity make it suitable for a wide range of applications, including printed electronics. Although numerous laboratory prototypes have been demonstrated around the world, widespread commercial use of graphene is yet to be realised.
“We are pleased to be the first to bring graphene inks close to real-world manufacturing. There are lots of companies that have produced graphene inks, but none of them has done it on a scale close to this,” said Dr Tawfique Hasan of the Cambridge Graphene Centre (CGC), who developed the method. “Being able to produce conductive inks that could effortlessly be used for printing at a commercial scale at a very high speed will open up all kinds of different applications for graphene and other similar materials.”
“This method will allow us to put electronic systems into entirely unexpected shapes,” said Chris Jones of Novalia. “It’s an incredibly flexible enabling technology.”
Hasan’s method, developed at the University’s Nanoscience Centre, works by suspending tiny particles of graphene in a ‘carrier’ solvent mixture, which is added to conductive water-based ink formulations. The ratio of the ingredients can be adjusted to control the liquid’s properties, allowing the carrier solvent to be easily mixed into a conventional conductive water-based ink to significantly reduce the resistance. The same method works for materials other than graphene, including metallic, semiconducting and insulating nanoparticles.
Currently, printed conductive patterns use a combination of poorly conducting carbon with other materials, most commonly silver, which is expensive. Silver-based inks cost £1000 or more per kilogram, whereas this new graphene ink formulation would be 25 times cheaper. Additionally, silver is not recyclable, while graphene and other carbon materials can easily be recycled. The new method uses cheap, non-toxic and environmentally friendly solvents that can be dried quickly at room temperature, reducing energy costs for ink curing. Once dry, the ‘electric ink’ is also waterproof and adheres to its substrate extremely well.
The graphene-based inks have been printed at a rate of more than 100 metres per minute, which is in line with commercial production rates for graphics printing, and far faster than earlier prototypes. Two years ago, Hasan and his colleagues produced a prototype of a transparent and flexible piano using graphene-based inks, which took between six and eight hours to make. Through the use of this new ink, more versatile devices on paper or plastic can be made at a rate of 300 per minute, at a very low cost. Novalia has also produced a printed DJ deck and an interactive poster, which functions as a drum kit using the same method.
Hasan and PhD students Guohua Hu, Richard Howe and Zongyin Yang of the Hybrid Nanomaterials Engineering group at CGC, in collaboration with Novalia, tested the method on a typical commercial printing press, which required no modifications in order to print with the graphene ink. In addition to the new applications the method will open up for graphene, it could also initiate entirely new business opportunities for commercial graphics printers, who could diversify into the electronics sector.
“The UK, and the Cambridge area in particular, has always been strong in the printing sector, but mostly for graphics printing and packaging,” said Hasan, a Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellow and a University Lecturer in the Engineering Department. “We hope to use this strong local expertise to expand our functional ink platform. In addition to cheaper printable electronics, this technology opens up potential application areas such as smart packaging and disposable sensors, which to date have largely been inaccessible due to cost.”
In the short to medium term, the researchers hope to use their method to make printed, disposable biosensors, energy harvesters and RFID tags.
The research was supported by grants from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's Impact Acceleration Account and a Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowship. The technology is being commercialised by Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm.
A low-cost, high-speed method for printing electronics using graphene and other conductive materials could open up a wide range of commercial applications.
Nainital is picture perfect: lying in a lush green valley in India’s ‘Lake District’, the town sits on a crescent-shaped lake, surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. Its picturesque location makes it a hugely popular destination for domestic and foreign visitors: each year, Nainital’s population increases fivefold due to the influx of tourists, placing huge strains on the town’s resources, including the water supply.
It’s not just tourists that are contributing to the strain, however. For years, Nainital has been plagued by illegal construction, which has been affecting its ability to supply water. The main lake in Nainital is connected to a smaller lake via an underground channel, and together they supply most of the town’s water. The smaller lake remains dry for just over half the year, but when it fills again during the monsoon, it becomes an important reserve reservoir for the main lake.
But despite a ruling from the Indian government banning development in the dry lake bed and the surrounding area, illegal construction has been relentless, to the point where the smaller lake can no longer store enough water to supply the main lake, and water levels in Nainital are under severe pressure.
“Not being able to supply water is a major liability for any government or local authority,” says Dr Bhaskar Vira of Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “What we’ve been doing is looking at the underpinning science, seeing what the political and social issues might be, and then working with the relevant people who can intervene and make a difference.”
Vira is leading a major research project that is examining the ways in which small towns in hill and mountain regions of South Asia depend on springs, streams and rivers for their supply of water. Vira and his colleagues from the Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies in Nepal and the Centre for Ecology Development and Research (CEDAR) in India are looking at six towns – four in India (including Nainital) and two in Nepal – to understand how they are coping with the ever-increasing demand for water. The project is part of the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme, which is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council and the UK’s Department for International Development.
India is a wet country, but almost all of the rain falls in about two and a half months during the annual monsoon. The problem in India is how to safely store and transport water so that it’s available 12 months a year, and distributed evenly throughout the country.
Small towns – those with populations below 100,000 – in the hill regions of India and Nepal have grown rapidly, with very little planning for infrastructure needs, more generally, and water supply, in particular. Across the region, almost half of the urban population in the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and in the hill regions of Nepal, live in small towns.
“Many of these towns are looking at what you’d call nature-based solutions – they don’t have the budget to pump water in from 200 miles away,” says Vira, who is working with Dr Eszter Kovacs on the project. “So they’re much more dependent on the water that’s available in their immediate vicinity, and they’re looking at ways they can harness the resources they do have.”
One of the approaches that the researchers are taking is to identify and protect what they call ‘critical water zones’ – places where the springs that ultimately supply many of these towns are recharged. For example, one of the towns (Rajgarh, in Himachal Pradesh) which the researchers are studying has its water source in the Churdhar Wildlife Sanctuary, which not only protects the wildlife, but also protects the water supply, as the trees absorb the water so it doesn’t run off. The ultimate benefit is a dual one, since the landscape is protected, but so is the water supply for the town.
“Water is a precious resource, and it’s very rare to find a water source in India that has no other existing users,” says Vira. “So there are always going to be trade-offs; there are always going to be winners and losers when it comes to water in India.” In Rajgarh, water that is being piped from 14 km away to the town is bypassing villages along the way, raising concerns about the water needs of the surrounding rural communities.
In Mussoorie, another popular Uttarakhand tourist town, the team is looking at the dhobi (washing) community, which for about 100 years has washed all of the laundry generated by the local hotels, schools and passing tourists by hand in the local stream. Today, the work of the dhobi is supplemented by washing machines and driers, but much of the washing is still done in the stream, and many people still rely on it for their livelihoods.
About 15 years ago, town authorities needed to increase their water capacity and approached the dhobi community to ‘share’ their water with the town, through the laying of new pipes and construction of a pumping station. Unsurprisingly, they were resistant to the idea. “Eventually, a compromise was reached so that some of the water was left behind for the dhobi to continue washing, but is it working? Was it a fair trade-off, for the town or the dhobi? These are the kinds of issues we’re looking at,” says Vira, who is Director of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute.
Back in Nainital, the researchers supported local activists who brought a case to the Uttarakhand high court to remove the illegal buildings. The Cambridge–CEDAR team also convened expert geologists and hydrologists who made recommendations about how the lake’s water-storing capacity could be restored, which in turn supported the legal case.
“Additionally, through our awareness campaign, we were able to galvanise the local population so they could see the risk that this illegal construction is posing to the community,” says Dr Vishal Singh from CEDAR, one of Vira’s collaborators, who recently spent two months in Cambridge on a Commonwealth Professional Fellowship. “This lake is so important for the region’s sustainability and, for years, construction was allowed to continue despite the fact that it was illegal.”
In mid-July, the high court ordered the formation of two committees: one to mark and demolish the illegal constructions, and another to determine which officials were liable for allowing the construction to happen in the first place.
Singh, who grew up in Nainital, says he’d like to see the dry lake bed returned to what it was when he was a child. “It should be cleaned up and preserved so children can play there in the dry season,” he says. “This lake is so important to Nainital’s identity – let’s preserve it.”
Inset image: Nainital, northern India, faces an ever-increasing demand for water (Ross Huggett).
A major research collaboration is looking at how small towns in the hills of India and Nepal are coping with increasing demand for water: who wins and who loses when resources get scarce?
The researchers studied tiny protein-producing factories, called ribosomes, isolated from cells. They capitalised on improvements made at the LMB to a high-powered imaging technique known as single particle cryo-electron microscopy.
The microscopes, capable of achieving detail near to the atomic level, enabled the team to link the molecular origins of a rare inherited leukaemia predisposition disorder, ‘Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome’ and a more common form of acute leukaemia to a common pathway involved in the construction of ribosomes.
Cryo-EM map showing the large ribosomal subunit (cyan), eIF6 (yellow) and the SBDS protein (magenta) that is deficient in the inherited leukaemia predisposition disorder Shwachman-Diamond syndrome. Credit: Alan Warren, University of Cambridge
The research, funded by the blood cancer charity Bloodwise and the Medical Research Council (MRC), is published online in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.
Ribosomes are the molecular machinery in cells that produce proteins by ‘translating’ the instructions contained in DNA via an intermediary messenger molecule. Errors in this process are known to play a part in the development of some bone marrow disorders and leukaemias. Until now scientists have been unable to study ribosomes at a high enough resolution to understand exactly what goes wrong.
Ribosomes are constructed in a series of discrete steps, like an assembly line. One of the final assembly steps involves the release of a key building block that allows the ribosome to become fully functional. The research team showed that a corrupted mechanism underlying this fundamental late step prevents proper assembly of the ribosome.
This provides an explanation for how cellular processes go awry in both Shwachman-Diamond syndrome and one in 10 cases of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. This form of leukaemia, which affects around 60 children and young teenagers a year in the UK, is harder to treat than the more common B-cell form.
The findings from the Cambridge scientists, who worked in collaboration with scientists at the University of Rennes in France, open up the possibility that a single drug designed to target this molecular fault could be developed to treat both diseases.
Professor Alan Warren, from the Cambridge Institute of Medical Research at the University of Cambridge, said: "We are starting to find that many forms of blood cancer can be traced back to defects in the basic housekeeping processes in our cells' maturation. Pioneering improvements to electron microscopes pave the way for the creation of a detailed map of the how these diseases develop, in a way that was never possible before."
Single particle cryo-electron microscopy preserves the ribosomes at sub-zero temperatures to allow the collection and amalgamation of multiple images of maturing ribosomes in different orientations to ultimately provide more detail.
The technique has been refined in the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology by the development of new ‘direct electron detectors’ to better sense the electrons, yielding images of unprecedented quality. Methods to correct for beam-induced sample movements and new classification methods that can separate out several different structures within a single sample have also been developed.
Dr Matt Kaiser, Head of Research at Bloodwise, said: “New insights into the biology of blood cancers and disorders that originate in the bone marrow have only been made possible by the latest advances in technology. While survival rates for childhood leukaemia have improved dramatically over the years, this particular form of leukaemia is harder to treat and still relies on toxic chemotherapy. These findings will offer hope that new, more targeted, treatments can be developed.”
The research received additional funding from a Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) Long term Fellowship, the SDS patient charity Ted’s Gang and the Cambridge NIHR Biomedical Research Centre.
Adapted from a press release by Bloodwise
Weis, F et al. Mechanism of eIF6 release from the nascent 60S ribosomal subunit. Nature Structural and Molecular Biology; 19 Oct 2015
Scientists at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research at the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology have taken advantage of revolutionary developments in microscopic imaging to reveal the origins of leukaemia.
Eighteen people take part in Alana Jelinek’s film Knowing. You hear their voices but you never see their faces. The camera records only their hands as they touch, turn, and sometimes pick up, a succession of objects placed on a white table. The smooth surface, sterile and cool, contrasts with the raw sense of nature locked into the things set out upon it. The juxtaposition is one of man-made and hand-made. Machines make polished perfection; hands make an uneven beauty that is richer still.
A bracelet plaited from grass, a wooden shield hewn with a stone tool, a fish trap woven from rattan, a string of beads made from tree resin. These humble things are the stars of Jelinek’s film; the stories wrapped up in them are theirs alone. The hands that touch make connections with shapes and materials; they create a patina of human wear and tear. As we watch, the fingers on the screen become our fingers – and, through our nerve endings, our antennae, we ask questions.
Who made these things, who has used them, where are these things now? And the hands we see – who do they belong to? The voices we hear: where are they from, do they belong to villagers, scholars, curators, or all three? The absence of faces hints at the disjuncture between people, places and things. What are things without people – what happens when things become museum objects, items to be labelled and catalogued?
Jelinek’s film will make its debut on 25 October as part of a celebration of the art and cultures of West Papua staged by Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The event ‘Knowing West Papua’ includes performances by Papuan musicians, a last chance to experience the exhibition 'Sounding Out the Morning Star: Music and West Papua', and talks about West Papua given by artists, musicians and Cambridge researchers.
Knowing is not a documentary. The film doesn’t set out to provide answers but, rather, to tease out some of the fragile stories told by material culture. Jelinek is neither anthropologist nor archaeologist; she’s an artist and self-taught film maker. She trained as a painter but her work came to be more about ideas than about creating images. For the past seven years, increasingly curious about the narratives that exist in objects, she has worked with museum collections.
The 48 minutes of Knowing have been edited down from 22 hours of filming in which a selection of objects was retrieved from the collection of the Volkenkunde in the Netherlands and those of a number of private individuals. The finished artwork is slow-paced and reflective.
“I wanted to bring together people who are variously connected with West Papua, people with different relationships to regimes, past and present, and to see how their knowledge of the objects varied because of these different cultural starting points. I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to talk about their own material culture and the material culture of others,” says Jelinek.
“Everyone chose objects from their own region to talk about. In the case of Dutch people, whose material culture is not collected by the ethnology museum, participants brought objects from a similar period to talk about.”
We’re accustomed to films that tell, instruct, inform. Knowing is both reticent and playful, even gently humorous. In between objects, the screen goes black while the voices continue; it’s frustrating to discover how carelessly you’ve looked at an object that’s now disappeared. In placing objects in front of people, Jelinek invites their thoughts, any quizzing is gentle. The voices we hear are hesitant and respectful, shy even, in identifying what is set before them.
“It’s decoration for the arms,” says a male voice as hands reach out to bracelets crafted from grass. “I am not allowed to put it on.” A female voice explains that her father gave her similar bracelets to wear when there was a fancy dress day at school in the Netherlands. “You go like us,” her father had said. At school people would ask what the children were. “What are you?” “I’m Little Red Riding Hood.” “What are you?” “I’m a Papuan.” In this little tale lies a wealth of meaning about identity.
Male hands wiggle into a fish trap and a man’s voice explains how fish swim in and can’t get out. “We were a poor family – everything we could eat was welcome.” In the communist times of the 1960s life was hard; a catapult, the voice explains, will kill birds and squirrels. In this roundabout way, Jelinek hints at the troubled history of West Papua, a territory with an indigenous population that has suffered terribly during waves of colonialism, most recently as part of Indonesia.
Knowing carefully credits by name all those who participated in making the film. Many have names unfamiliar and ‘exotic’ to Europeans. Among them is Benny Wenda, leader of the West Papua independence movement, who has lived in exile in the UK since escaping from prison in Indonesia in 2002. Wenda’s hands hold a multipurpose tool from the highlands: it will help to build a house, cultivate land, split wood – it can also be a weapon.
Weapons are made to treasure and to pass on as well as to use. A carved and decorated dagger is made from a human bone. The imagery incised into its surfaces tells stories about the Amsat, an indigenous culture infamously associated with head hunting and cannibalism. The dagger may even have been used to get brains out of the skulls of those killed through head hunting.
Today these objects are in a museum; each one carries a label which, in the hands of people touching them, seems like an affront. Some objects are made to display, some to hide; some are valuable, some are not. Many objects important to people are not represented in museum collections – they are too precious or too private. Museums tell only a fraction of human stories.
The session organised by Jelinek was the first time that Wenda had seen and handled the objects from West Papua held in the Volkenkunde. How do you feel, Jelinek asks, seeing these things? It upsets me, Wenda replies, but at the same time it is good that these precious things are kept safe. “This is our value, this is our spirit … but how are my people? This makes me cry – hard, hard cry. How are my people?” he says.
For details of ‘Knowing West Papua’ on 25 October 2105, and how to book (free) tickets, go to http://www.festivalofideas.cam.ac.uk/events/knowing-west-papua
Inset images: A penis sheath in the Volkenkunde collection stores in s'Gravenzande, Netherlands (Katharina Haslwanter); Gershon Kaigere and Peter Waal in the Volkenkunde collection stores in s'Gravenzande, Netherlands (Katharina Haslwanter).
What can museum collections tell us about people and their stories? On Sunday 25 October 2015, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology will host an event that asks profound questions about objects and identities with the focus on West Papua.
Having gained an entrance scholarship, Dr Mohamed A. El-Erian was an undergraduate student of economics at Queens’ between 1977 and 1980, receiving a first class honours degree, and is now an Honorary Fellow there. A leading figure in the economic and financial world, he is the chair of President Obama's Global Development Council, chief economic advisor at Allianz, and is the former CEO and Co-Chief Investment Officer of Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO).
The gift represents the culmination of a momentous collaboration between a Cambridge College and academic faculty.
In addition to funding studentships, research and a professorship, Jamie and Mohamed’s donation will help create The El-Erian Institute for Human Behaviour and Economic Policy. This unique partnership between them, Queens’ College and the Faculty of Economics has been under careful formulation for over a year.
The work of the Institute on economic policy issues will draw on Cambridge’s expertise in neuroscience and psychology as well as economics, finance and behavioural science. It will work closely with academics, practitioners and researchers so that economic policy is better informed by how people actually make decisions and respond – rather than by how theorists think they should.
The need for this type of work has never been greater. Prolonged global economic malaise, financial crises, growing inequalities and disappointing policy outcomes have demonstrated the importance of a better understanding of how decision making interacts with human behaviour, particularly in the presence of uncertainty, inter-connectiveness and insecurities. Driven by a multi-disciplinary approach, the work of the Institute offers the potential for improvements in our collective wellbeing and quality of life.
The donation will also provide for a Fellowship at Queens’ for the Chair of the El-Erian Institute, as well as linked PhD studentships at the College and an outreach fund.
The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, said: “I am delighted that Jamie and Mohamed have demonstrated such a strong commitment to the University of Cambridge.
“Philanthropy is critical if we are to fulfil our mission of contributing to society. The world’s problems are complex and urgent. This gift will help us support the students and create the understanding we need to build a resilient economy in the globalised era.”
Jamie and Mohamed said: “We are delighted to continue and expand our support of Cambridge, Queens’ and, more generally, the education and health sectors. Education has been a critical driver of our careers, and we are delighted that we can contribute to expanding access to high-quality learning and research, as well as its reach and impact.
Lord Eatwell, President of Queens’ College, said: “Mohamed El-Erian has shown unparalleled commitment to Queens', his College, and has stimulated the establishment of new college-university relationships- a new way forward for the collegiate university.”
Dr El-Erian is co-Chair of the campaign for the University and Colleges of Cambridge which will focus on enhancing the University’s beneficial impact on the world. Cambridge will be working with philanthropists to address major global problems, as it has done for the last 800 years. The £2 billion campaign was launched last weekend and the total amount raised so far now stands at £538 million.
Pictured l - r: Professor Sanjeev Goyal, Chair of the Faculty of Economics; Lord Eatwell, President, Queens' College; Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor; and (sittting) Dr Mohamend A. El-Erian
Following the launch of the campaign for the University and Colleges of Cambridge, the University of Cambridge and Queens' College have announced a $25 million gift from Jamie Walters and Mohamed A. El-Erian to support the work of Queens’ College and the University’s Faculty of Economics.
Bhupen Khakhar’s portrait of a man holding a bunch of roses belongs to the collection of the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi. The painting, titled Man with a Bouquet of Plastic Flowers, captures a keen sense of solitude: the figures and objects it portrays are defined by their separation. The man at its centre, dressed in a plain white shirt, looks straight at the viewer, his face shaded and mouth downcast. His crossed arms suggest a containment of emotion. Even the flowers, perhaps a gift, are clasped tight to his body.
Dr Devika Singh, Smuts Research Fellow at the Centre of South Asian Studies, is a specialist in Indian modern and contemporary art and architecture. Her recent research looks at Indian artists who worked post-independence and pays attention, among others, to those who, like Khakhar, attended the art school at the University of Baroda, an institution that sparked a flowering of new talent. These artists drew on a range of artistic currents and, in creating a language that was uniquely theirs, forged their names on an international stage.
Painted in 1976, Khakhar’s portrait of the man with the plastic flowers borrows elements of Indian popular culture and creates something that is quite startling in its juxtaposition of low and high art. “The man portrayed is anonymous but holds centre stage. The setting in which Khakhar places him is taken from so-called calendar prints which often feature famous politicians with scenes telling their life stories. Khakhar upends this visual convention,” says Singh. “The episodes in Khakhar’s painting are under-stated rather than dramatic. They speak of domestic intimacy but also of tension and loneliness. There’s an emptiness to the interiors and the small figures are shown as languid in a way that suggests that they’re disengaged from the outside world.”
The 1960s and 1970s marked a critical juncture in Indian art. After the first phase of post-independence nation-building, these decades prompted a crisis as the country wrestled with the multiple and often clashing influences that permeated society. As in other postcolonial states, Indian intellectuals began to reflect on the shortcomings of the first generation of Indian political leaders. In this context, the late 1960s saw the emergence of the Baroda school, a loosely-knit group named after the university’s Faculty of Arts, where the painter and teacher KG Subramanyan had a lasting influence.
Trained at Santiniketan’s Visva Bharati, the university set up by Rabindranath Tagore, Subramanyan was briefly imprisoned as a young man for his support of Gandhi’s anti-colonial struggle. He later went to work in New York on a Rockefeller fellowship before returning to India to resume his teaching at Baroda. During Subramanyan’s stay in the USA, the renowned American art critic Clement Greenberg visited his exhibition at Chemould Gallery. Greenberg was involved in a landmark exhibition organised by New York’s Museum of Modern Art titled ‘Two Decades of American Painting’ that came to India in 1967 and on whose heated reception Singh has written.
Singh says: “The late 1960s and 1970s was a fascinating period for Indian art which reflected the huge societal upheavals taking place. Irony and individualism seeped into the work of contemporary artists – both are apparent in Man with a Bouquet of Plastic Flowers. The politics of the time had a big impact whether it was the countercultural movements or the anti-Vietnam protests, and also took on specific garbs with the rise of the Maoist rebellion known as the Naxalite movement. In addition, the development of Indian art should also be conceived internationally. Indian artists travelled to the USA, UK and beyond, and western artists travelled to India. The result was a two-way exchange of ideas.”
Brought up in Bombay, Khakhar trained as an accountant before changing career and finding a voice as a painter. His relatively modest background, and most importantly his unique personality, meant that he was in touch with the vitality of popular culture. At the same time, he was engaged with the high art that was making waves on a global scale. In 1981 he came out as openly homosexual, one of the first well-known figures to do so. From then onwards until his death in 2003, his work spoke explicitly of his sexuality. He and his contemporaries challenged the status quo and found new ways to live and work in a country in which anti-pluralist currents have led to violence and self-censorship.
“Khakhar defies the frameworks that art historians and curators, like me, often use to place artists within a particular context. Some commentators have suggested that he’s a pop artist – but he’s much more. The strength of his work, and one of the reasons that it remains significant, is that it’s disruptive and provokes deep questions about society. For instance, he developed new ways of showing the body as a domestic and public object,” says Singh. “His pictures also draw influences from far and wide – from the naïve paintings of Henri Rousseau to Mughal and Italian Renaissance painting. The works of the 1970s debunk many nationalist myths, while his later works invite a consideration on the fragility of the human body.”
Friends and colleagues of Khakhar who went on to make their names, include Vivan Sundaram, Mrinalini Mukherjee and Nalini Malani. Their work addresses matters of political, communal and gender identity. Half a century on, these artists have been recognised outside India for their contribution to the unfolding story of 20th-century art. Malani’s work has long been exhibited internationally, including at Documenta in 2012. Yet, the work of Mukherjee, focus this year of a retrospective at Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art, deserves to be better known abroad.
In spring 2016, Tate Modern will hold a solo exhibition of Bhupen Khakhar’s work and Singh will contribute to its catalogue. In June she will co-convene a conference, at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and at Tate Modern, on the history of exhibitions of South Asian art in Britain. Khakhar, whose work was promoted in the UK from the 1980s, contributed to this dynamic history. Says Singh: “This was not a one-way traffic. Influences came not only from Britain to India but also from India to Britain. In the late 1960s and 1970s there were countless alliances between London’s left wing intellectuals and their international counterparts.
By virtue of her academic studies in Paris (Lycée Condorcet), Cambridge (King’s College and Trinity College) and London (Courtauld Institute), and her close connections with India, Singh has met and interviewed many artists and actors of the post-independence art world, some of whom are in their 80s and 90s. In many cases, she has been given access to their personal archives, art collections and correspondence.
Drawing on these experiences, she is writing a book on artistic creation in post-independence India for Reaktion Books. Her research also underpins an exhibition on the history of photography in India that she is co-curating at the Media Space of the Science Museum in London. The exhibition will be an unprecedented survey of photography in India from the arrival of the medium in India in the 1840s until today.
“Analysing the creative narrative of 20th-century India is a complex enterprise, as the work of artists is both transnational and deeply embedded in the national politics of the time,” she says. “But it’s certainly an extremely enriching project that attests to the vibrancy of artistic creation in India.”
Inset image: Dr Devika Singh.
Almost 40 years have passed since Bhupen Khakhar painted one of the most iconic paintings in the history of Indian modern art. Dr Devika Singh offers fresh insights into a generation of Indian artists whose work reflects the politics and social turmoil of a fascinating era.
The start of the 2015-2016 academic year has brought good news for the team of researchers and coordinators involved in the university-wide Cambridge-Africa Programme.
Over the past few weeks, funders of some of the Programme’s flagship initiatives to enhance African research capacity through mentorship and collaboration have pledged their continuing support, ensuring the continuity of efforts to develop capacity and leadership in African research.
The Carnegie Corporation of New York recently approved a renewal grant of US$1M for the Cambridge-Africa Partnership for Research Excellence (CAPREx). Over the next three years, the grant will fund 24 fellowships for early and mid-career scholars from the University of Ghana, Legon and Makerere University, Kampala. The fellowships will allow researchers, in all fields, to spend time at the University of Cambridge and contribute to the promotion of research excellence in their home institutions.
The CAPREx initiative was originally set up in 2012 with a US$1.2M gift from the Carnegie Corporation, and has since supported 30 postdoctoral fellowships with another 10 funded by the Newton Trust. An addiotional 12 fellowships for research administrators have also been supported.
Earlier this year, the Wellcome Trust and the Department for International Development (DfID) announced that, as part of the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS) Initiative, which will award £46M to encourage the creation of world-class research environments at African universities, they are renewing their support for MUII (now called MUII+), [P1] a capacity-building collaboration between Makerere University, the Uganda Virus Research Institute, LSHTM and Cambridge. As part of the DELTAS initiative, MUII+ will receive £4.6M over five years.
The DELTAS initiative also awarded £5.1M to the University of Ghana’s West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), in support of research projects involving the University of Cambridge’s Prof Mark Carrington.
This news comes in the wake of the announcement, over the summer, of a major gift of £4M over 10 years, by the ALBORADA Trust, to support Cambridge researchers who wish to initiate or enhance research projects in all disciplines involving partners at sub-Saharan African universities or research institutions.
“These announcements reaffirm what we’ve known for some time,” said Professor David Dunne, Director of the Cambridge-Africa Programme: “That Cambridge is the go-to institution to help build capacity for African researchers working in Africa, on African priorities. Our funders and sponsors have acknowledged this, and we are very grateful to them for that.”
Funding for capacity-building initiatives are renewed ahead of the University's second annual Cambridge-Africa Day.
It’s time to think small when it comes to identifying growth areas in the global economy.
For the past 15 years, since the BRIC acronym was coined for Brazil, Russia, India and China, the world’s biggest emerging economies have been the focus for discussion on growth opportunities outside of western developed markets. But with a slowdown in China and a credit downgrade for Brazil, it is getting harder to view the BRICs story as a simple, grand narrative of gilded opportunity for investors and businesses alike.
But these nations are not a busted flush; we just have to adjust our thinking. Real growth can be found in fast-expanding markets within those countries. It is a subject we have examined recently in a paper published in the Thunderbird International Business Review, seeking to understand these markets which transcend sectors as well as nations, and sometimes even confound conventional wisdom.
While BRICs was useful shorthand for showing that a few populous countries would reshape the global economy this century, this macroeconomic lure has in fact been a microeconomic disappointment for some big companies. Home Depot had an emblematic experience, entering China in 2006 and pulling out completely in 2012. It didn’t anticipate that the do-it-yourself culture of the US wouldn’t translate into a country with abundant and relatively cheap labourers.
It is a story that illustrates the difficulty in using a top-down approach when operating in emerging markets. So rather than only taking a bird’s-eye view of such populous countries, it is useful to also take a ground-up look at where highly specific opportunities lie in BRIC countries and beyond.
In China, one of these fast-expanding markets is milk production and consumption. More people have been paying close attention to their health and to the role that milk can play in their basic diet. Other factors have included an upgrade to the supply chain, a relaxation of the country’s one-child policy and the continued westernisation of China as companies such as Starbucks grow popular.
From 2000 to 2006 alone, China’s raw milk consumption nearly quadrupled, and the country is now the world’s third-largest producer behind the US and India as agricultural infrastructure has improved.
In India, fast-expanding markets include Western-style cheese, which saw sales growth of nearly 200% from 2008-2013; solar water heaters, with the area in square metres of instalments almost doubling between 2009 and 2011; and the chocolate industry may treble this year to more than $2 billion, as a rise in sugar prices has made traditional sweets more expensive.
Beyond BRICs, fast-expanding markets include mobile money transfers in Kenya and video game production in Turkey, developing games which conform to Islamic values.
And we can even branch out beyond the developing world too. There are opportunities for entrepreneurs, investors and businesses in the Vitamin D testing market in Italy, benefitting from an increasing lack of direct sun exposure; in organic food production in Spain, linked to a downturn in the property market; in food trucks in the US, which have grown at a double-digit annual rate in recent years; and ceramic teeth in Liechtenstein, an industry which expanded in the past five years at a compound annual growth rate of 9.5%.
While overall growth is useful to know, an unquestioned loyalty to macroeconomic data misses much of the equation and loses most of the intelligence that can drive astute investment decisions. That’s partly because macroeconomic analysis often takes a linear look at the future, and this can often prove wrong. If you were to look at the US population statistics in the early 1900s, one could reach the conclusion that the country would have been 80% Italian and Polish by 1930 if trends had followed a linear progression.
Pocketing the wealth
The central idea is that wealth can be found everywhere, even in countries that share gloomy macroeconomic data or prospects, like Bolivia, which is the country that has driven the quinoa revolution into the “ready to eat” industry in the US. With an annual growth rate of 26.5%, Bolivia has exploded its production of quinoa, to the benefits of the new dietary aspirations of Americans, who have integrated the super grain into the daily use of soups, salads and energy bars. This is a great example of an agricultural fast-expanding market, which stems from what many consider as the poorest economy in Latin America.
Sometimes, fast-emerging markets develop in unlikely settings. Italy has long had a reputation for high-quality food products and delicious wines, but in the midst of that, microbreweries are gaining a foothold. This is partly because the lack of a traditional beer culture in Italy means microbreweries can more readily experiment with flavours and ingredients. Another surprising expanding market in Italy: American-style bakery products such as chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes and donuts.
Some may scoff that craft beer in Italy or quinoa in Bolivia are pretty insignificant compared to major global industries such as automobiles or machine tools. But such a reaction risks blinding us to fresh insights that can lead to new pockets of excellence that, taken together, make a real difference to the world economy.
Khaled Soufani, Senior Faculty in Management Practice (Finance), University of Cambridge; Mark Esposito, Professor of Business & Economics at Grenoble Ecole de Management and Harvard Extension School, Harvard University, and Terence Tse, Associate Professor of Finance / Head of Competitiveness Studies at i7 Institute for Innovation and Competitiveness, ESCP Europe
Khaled Soufani (Cambridge Judge Business School), Mark Esposito (Grenoble Ecole de Management and Harvard University) and Terence Tse (i7 Institute for Innovation and Competitiveness, ESCP Europe) discuss fast-expanding markets in the world's biggest emerging economies.
Punctuation is fascinating to some … but a real turnoff to others. If you’re lukewarm about the distinction between dots and dashes, and the history of printers’ marks, then Ellipsis in English Literature: Signs of Omission (Cambridge University Press, 2015) might not immediately excite you. But do read on …
Ellipsisin English Literature looks at the history of the marks used to signify a pause or tailing off in speech. Its author, Dr Anne Toner, is not a grammarian in the conventional sense but an academic with a particular interest in how writers communicate with readers using the range of punctuation marks available to them.
Toner traces in scholarly, and often witty, detail the backstory of a contentious punctuation mark. Its origins lost in the vagaries of early manuscripts, and vilified as sloppy as it became common in printed books, the ellipsis was embraced by writers as diverse as Ben Jonson and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf. Its champions have ranged from Laurence Sterne to the creators of the Superman comics.
Ellipsis, in its various forms, signifies silence – a lapse or pause or textual omission of some kind. Toner’s focus is on printed text and on authors carefully selected for their pioneering use of punctuation. The earliest ellipsis in Toner’s case studies occurs in an edition of Terence’s Andria, a play translated into English in 1588 by Maurice Kyffin. The ellipsis in Andria takes the form not of dots but a series of short dashes or hyphens (sometimes three, sometimes four), also known as breaks.
In Kyffin’s translation of Terence, the ellipsis is used to mark interruption. An ellipsis is a neat way of conveying to the actor a lapse into silence. But an absence of words usually signals a heightening of emotion or action. The ellipsis acts therefore as a form of stage direction. As such, it has proved to be a powerful and extremely useful dramatic resource. In speaking aloud, pausing is, after all, a vital aspect of the delivery of meaning: a slight hesitation speaks volumes. As Toner puts it: “not saying something often says it better.”
The ellipsis took off fast – proof, surely, of its usefulness. Kyffin’s 1588 Andria contains just three examples. In a translation of the same play in 1627, there were 29. They appear in Shakespeare’s plays and in great abundance in Jonson’s. In 1634 a schoolmaster called John Barton wrote in The Art of Rhetorick that “eclipsis” is much used in playbooks “where they are noted thus ---”. They could register the most significant dramatic events. In the first folio edition of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I, to use Toner’s words, “Hotspur dies on a dash”, his last words cut short.
In early texts especially, it is not always easy to determine who exactly is responsible for marks of ellipsis, whether they originate with the author or in the printing house. The mark that was chosen would often have depended on what a printer had available. Dots also began to be used by the early 18th century for the same purposes, probably influenced by continental practice. It was only in the 19th century that the dot, dot, dot began to develop its own distinct connotations.
The ellipsis might have been useful and persistent, but not everyone approved of the incursions made by this little interloper. Some words, and some actions, are indescribable (better left to the imagination) or unprintable (too rude). For this last purpose, ellipsis marks became the tool of the censor. But authors can work censorship creatively for their own means. What can’t be said can be hinted at with an ellipsis and a well-placed ellipsis can itself convey something risqué, frisky or downright sordid.
But not only that, early on, different types of ellipsis were condemned as marks of lazy writing. The dash was slammed as over-casual and ill-disciplined – slapdash. In the 18th century, Jonathan Swift pointedly rhymed “dash” with “printed trash”, while Henry Fielding chose the name ‘Dash’ for the unlikeable grub-street writer in his play The Author’s Farce. Likewise in the 20th century, in an essay on punctuation marks, the philosopher Theodor Adorno associated series of dots with a commercialised form of writing. Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad used ellipsis points over 400 times in their relatively short novel The Inheritors, to mark unfinished sentences, as well as to create an atmosphere of the hazy, the vague and mysterious. The critics were savage. As recently as 1994, Umberto Eco decried the “ghastliness of these dots”.
The unorthodox nature of the ellipsis has posed problems for those who want language to be more governable by rules. In consequence, over the course of the 19th century, ellipsis marks began to be standardized in appearance and defined by usage. Lindley Murray’s extraordinarily successful English Grammar, first published in 1795, did much to promote the dash as a respectable mark of punctuation. Murray listed the mark alongside the primary marks of punctuation (following those heavy-weights, the period and colon), though continuing to warn against its improper use “by hasty and incoherent writers”.
Printers also preferred a uniform method of punctuating, not least to accommodate the rising rates of book production over the course of the 19th century. The creation of a printed text is a collaborative effort between writer, editor and publisher, printer and proof reader with the power of punctuation lying largely in the hands of the printing house. The journey that text makes from the author’s pen to the printed book in the reader’s hand makes it susceptible to multiple forces of intervention, particularly in matters of punctuation.
“Punctuation seems precariously exposed to non-authorial management in a way that word choices are not,” writes Toner. She continues: “Authors were encouraged to leave punctuation marks to printers because of their expertise in pointing [punctuating] or […] so that they could implement a house style […] Ellipsis points are especially vulnerable to alteration.”
Where manuscripts survive, we do have certainty about authorial intention and preference, though still complications can remain. Jane Austen, for example, made use of both dashes and series of dots when writing a number of her juvenile works which remained unpublished in her lifetime. In her printed novels, dots appear occasionally to signify incomplete sentences and interrupted dialogue. In spite of Austen's early employment of dots, it is hard to determine whether the few examples in her mature novels are hers.
Centuries before the first emoticons popped up on our screens, authors have responded to punctuation’s pictorial possibilities. Erasmus saw round brackets as crescent moons and named them lunulae. Asterisks are stars (visually and etymologically), and have been exploited as such, most notably in Sterne’s Tristram Shandy in which the eponymous hero loses his way as he tries to follow those starry marks. In the 17th century, ellipses are often known as ‘eclipses’ (singular, ‘eclipsis’) – heralding a brief darkness. Journalist and broadcaster Lynne Truss sees them as black holes.
Nebulous in some contexts, the ellipsis is prescriptive in others. Theodor Adorno saw repeated dots as impressionistic, a typographical shorthand for “an infinitude of thoughts and associations” beyond the communicative powers of the hack journalist. Samuel Beckett employed those same dots in his drama as unnervingly precise instructions for delivery. One actor working with Beckett understood them as musical rests and records counting the number of dots in an ellipsis as beats in time.
Perhaps few people imagine, as Adorno did, the semi-colon as a drooping moustache. But punctuation, and how we see and use it, as always, is in flux. There are winners, there are losers. Semi-colons are, in many forms of writing, an endangered species. The apostrophe is on the wane. Increasingly, commas are used in place of full stops.
The upstart ellipsis, once so racy and suggestive, remains constricted. We avoid using dots and dashes in formal writing but in our haste to communicate the moods of our thoughts, we just can’t resist them. What next for those ghastly little dots? Watch this space …
Inset images: Terence, Andria, translated by Maurice Kyffin: London, 1588 (The British Library Board, C.13.a.6 sig. Iiiiir); Joseph Conrad and Ford M. Hueffer, The Inheritors: an extravagant story: London, William Heinemann, 1901, p. 232 (Cambridge University Library).
We avoid them in formal writing but they pepper our emails … In 'Ellipsis in English Literature', Dr Anne Toner explores the history of dots, dashes and asterisks used to mark silence of some kind. The focus of the book – the first to look exclusively at the backstory of these marks – is communication.
At first glance, it might be a horse with wavy mane and swishing tail – but then you notice the long, twisted horn protruding from its forehead. Looking at this magnificent animal more closely, you see that its feet are most unlike horses’ hooves, cloven into digits almost like human feet.
No-one knows exactly what a unicorn looks like but the artist who decorated this maiolica plate (in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum: acc. no. C.86-1927) imagined a creature on a grand scale. The youthful rider, who sits astride a richly embroidered cloth, is dwarfed by the impressive size of his prancing steed.
The plate was originally part of a series, made in Italy in the early 16th century, depicting Caesar’s triumphal entry into Rome after the end of the second Punic War. The scene is taken from a set of woodcuts and the letter H marks its place in the narrative. The plates are thought to have been produced by a workshop in Cafaggiolo, not far from Florence.
The bold design is proof that unicorns have not always been the shy and gentle creatures that medieval bestiaries and 20th-century children’s literature would have us believe. In fact, they were a ferocious addition to the ranks of mythical beasts in classical texts. Pliny the Elder described the unicorn thus:
“… a very fierce animal called the monoceros which has the head of the stag, the feet of the elephant, and the tail of the boar, while the rest of the body is like that of the horse; it makes a deep lowing noise, and has a single black horn, which projects from the middle of its forehead.”
From these chimerical beginnings, the unicorn took a variety of directions in terms of both appearance and symbolism. It became an emblem for Christ in the Middle Ages and was often used in heraldry from the 15th century onwards. The lion and the unicorn are the symbols of the UK with the lion representing England and the unicorn Scotland.
The Fitzwilliam Museum collection abounds with unicorns. Some of the most beguiling appear in ‘books of hours’ and ‘bestiaries’. Freelance researcher, Robert Lloyd Parry, investigated just a few of them in the course of researching an exploration of signs and symbols in art for the Fitzwilliam’s website.
A Flemish Book of Hours, dating from 1526, shows the Annunciation. Mary sits in a walled garden (symbolic of her virginity) and a white unicorn rests its horn in her lap. God the Father peeps out of a burning bush behind her and, beyond the garden, Gabriel blows a hunting horn.
A 15th-century illuminated manuscript – a French translation of a 13th-century encyclopaedia – depicts a unicorn in the Garden of Eden before the Fall of Man. Lloyd Parry writes: “God the Father holds the right hands of Adam and Eve with angels and animals looking on. A stream emerges from the ground at God’s feet. The unicorn’s horn points towards its clear waters – a reference perhaps to its legendary abilities to purify water.“
A magical creature is likely to have magical powers: unicorn horn is associated with purity. Natalie Lawrence, a PhD candidate in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge, is researching early encounters with exotic creatures – including the opportunities they presented for traders and apothecaries.
Lawrence’s work offers fresh insights into how protective and curative powers were attributed to natural substances, at a time when there was widespread fear of poisoning. The 17th-century recipe for one anti-poison, ‘Banister’s Powder’, called for unicorn horn, ‘east bezoars’ and stags heart ‘bones’. Members of the nobility purchased tableware and cups with ‘unicorn horn’ bases to avoid being poisoned, and the Throne Chair of Denmark (constructed 1662-1671) is even made of ‘unicorn horn’.
Powdered medicinal ‘unicorn horn’ was usually walrus ivory, rhinoceros horn or narwhal tusk, sometimes called ‘sea unicorn’. The problem of distinguishing ‘true horn’ was commented on by the French doctor, Pierre Martin La Martinière (1634-1690), who described the difficulty of knowing ‘what Creature the right Unicorn… there being several Animals the Greeks call Monoceros, and the Latines Uni-Cornis’, from a variety of terrestrial quadrupeds and ‘serpents’, to the ‘sea-elephant’ (walrus).
Materials such as walrus ivory, when identified as such, could possess similar qualities to unicorn’s horn. One apothecary, a ‘Mr Alexander Woodson of Bristoll’, ‘a skilful Phisition’, had ‘one of these beasts teeth, which ‘he had made tryall of’ by ‘ministering medicine to his patients, and had found it as soveraigne against poyson as any Unicornes horne’.
The implicit links between unicorns and these other beasts did not diminish horns’ perceived medical powers. The Danish scholar Ole Worm (1588-1655) debunked the existence of the terrestrial unicorn in a public lecture using the skull of a narwhal, but he still attested to the horn's medical potency. Worm described experiments where poisoned animals had been revived by administration of powdered ‘sea unicorn’ horn.
By the early 18th century, ‘unicorn horns’ were much less prized in collections, losing some of their status as ‘rarities’, as high-volume importation into Europe flooded the market. But the appeal of the unicorn itself, especially incarnations such as the fleet-of-foot and mercurial creature of CS Lewis’s Narnia books, has never waned.
Perhaps this is because, most famously, they have always been extremely hard to catch.
Next in the Cambridge Animal Alphabet: V is for an animal that is responsible for up to 94,000 deaths a year, but is also being used to help develop treatments for diseases such as haemophilia, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, heart attack and stroke.
Have you missed the series so far? Catch up on Medium here.
Inset images: Detail from Salutations of the Virgin, from the Carew-Poyntz Book of Hours (Fitzwilliam Museum); Detail from Virgin reading in enclosed garden, Book of Hours, by Geert Grote (Fitzwilliam Museum); Unicorns from early modern natural histories by Topsell and Johnstone; Illustration of a narwhal skull from Ole Worm's book.
The Cambridge Animal Alphabet series celebrates Cambridge’s connections with animals through literature, art, science and society. Here, U is for Unicorn. Despite being notoriously difficult to catch, they feature on maiolica plates, in 15th century heraldry, and in early recipes for anti-poison.
The University of Cambridge and the LEGO Foundation will examine the role of playfulness in learning through a new centre and associated professorship.
The Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning (PEDAL) has been established with a £4 million grant from the LEGO Foundation which will also fund the leadership role of the LEGO Professorship of Play in Education, Development and Learning.
The move reflects the well-established links between the University, the Foundation and the wider LEGO family. The centre will examine the importance of play in education globally with an aim to produce research which supports excellence in education so that children are equipped with 21st Century skills like problem solving, team work and self-control.
PEDAL acting director Dr David Whitebread said: “Play opportunities for children living in modern urban environments are increasingly curtailed, within their homes, communities and schooling. At the same time, play remains a relatively under-researched area within developmental science, with many fundamental questions still unanswered. An invigorated research effort in this area will constitute a significant contribution to understandings about the importance of play and the development, internationally, of high quality education, particularly in the area of early childhood.”
CEO of the LEGO Foundation, Hanne Rasmussen said: “We welcome the University of Cambridge’s decision to establish the PEDAL Centre. At the LEGO Foundation, we are committed to promoting the important link between play and learning and to ensuring the value of play is understood and acted upon across society. With PEDAL, understanding the contribution that play makes to child development is recognised as a critical issue.”
The LEGO Foundation funding allows for the permanent endowment of a professorship and the cost of support and research staff for an initial three year period. During this period, the work of the centre, based at the University’s Faculty of Education, will be focused on three strands of research:
- Establishing a long term study of the features of home and school which promote children's playfulness, and the outcomes of early play experience for learning and emotional well-being
- Developing an understanding of the underlying brain processes involved in play, and how to measure playfulness
- Devising and evaluating play-based teaching approaches
Rasmussen adds: “Millions of children are receiving a sub-standard education which means that even though they attend school, they get left behind in the development of skills that are essential in the 21st century. Quality in learning means not just great test scores, but also building the skills that underpin learning throughout a lifetime. Our collaboration with the University of Cambridge is about investigating play-based quality learning so that we can put a stake in the ground for development of skills in the future of learning.”
The LEGO Foundation and University have a history of collaboration. A playful writing project called PLaNS is a recent example. The research involved looking at how writing in a playful way, using LEGO bricks, can help in the teaching environment.
“The early results of this collaboration are very positive and it is good to see that our work with the Foundation is already starting to yield results. Looking at how play works is increasingly important as international bodies like the United Nations and European Union have now begun to develop policies concerned with children’s right to play. What has been lacking is hard evidence to base their policies on and researching play is inherently tricky. We are looking forward to seeing the result of the research carried out at PEDAL,” said Dr Whitebread.
Three post-doctoral Research Associates are being appointed, each of whom will be assigned to one of the research strands. The grant also provides for studentships for two PhD students per year over the first three years.
Cambridge launched a £2 billion fundraising campaign on October 16th, also announcing that more than £530 million has been raised towards that total. The campaign for the University and Colleges of Cambridge will focus on the University’s impact on the world. Through it, Cambridge is working with philanthropists to address major global problems. The generous grant from the Lego Foundation is the latest example of this, joining gifts to support Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research, and to support engineering innovation and design.
Other examples of LEGO and University of Cambridge interactions include the use of LEGO bricks by the Department of Engineering which allows for a large degree of play, experimentation and freedom in its teaching and research programmes. In 2012 the University’s Fitzwilliam Museum, with the aid of an engineering student, used LEGO bricks to help save a delicate Egyptian mummy case.
Carousel image from homepage: Kids at play by Emilien Etienne.
University of Cambridge and the LEGO Foundation launch new research centre and professorship.
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) is one of the world’s most famous astronomers. He defended Copernicus’s sun-centred universe and discovered that planets move in ellipses. A planet, NASA mission and planet-hunting spacecraft are named after him.
Yet in recent years Kepler and his family have appeared as dubious, even murderous people. In 2004 for example, a team of American journalists alleged that Kepler systematically poisoned the man he succeeded at the court of Rudolf II in Prague: Tycho Brahe. He may well be the scientist with the worst reputation.
But the majority of slurs concern the astronomer’s mother, Katharina. Arthur Koestler’s famous history of astronomy, The Sleepwalkers, where Katharina features as a “hideous little woman” whose evil tongue and “suspect background” predestined her as victim of the witchcraze.
Then there’s John Banville’s prize-winning historical novel Kepler, which vividly portrays Katharina as a crude old woman who makes a dangerous business of healing by boiling potions in a black pot. She meets with old hags in a kitchen infested with cat smells. Outside in her garden lies a dead rat. Kepler desperately tries to hide his mother’s magical arts from his wife as they visit and Katharina searches for a bag filled with bat-wings. This horrendous mother is scary, disgusting, and probably a witch.
There is something behind these hints: the portrayals stem to the astonishing fact that 400 years ago, when her son was at the very height of his scientific career, Katharina Kepler was accused of witchcraft. It is because of this that it has become commonplace in Anglo-American writing to depict Kepler’s mother as a difficult, bizarre and half-crazed old crone.
But what is the real story? Kepler certainly must rank as one of the most influential scientists to come from a disadvantaged background. Whereas Galileo’s father was a noted scholar of music, Kepler’s was a soldier who kept running away from the family. His parents argued and the only brother close to him in age suffered from epilepsy. This made it difficult for the brother to attend school or learn a trade.
Johannes Kepler, by contrast, soon emerged as an extremely talented boy. He was picked up by one of the most advanced Lutheran scholarship systems in Germany at the time and lived in boarding schools. He once fought against a boy who insulted his father, and was in his teens when the father disappeared for good.
Kepler wrote bleak little characterisations of his parents and paternal family around the time that he finished university. He also wrote about himself as a flawed young man, obsessively interested in fame, worried about money, unable to communicate his ideas in a straightforward way. These pieces of writing have principally served as evidence who want to depict Kepler and his family as horrendous, even murderous.
Yet these writings need to be put into context. Kepler wrote them very early in his life, and he did so in order to analyse his horoscopes. The whole convention of astrology was to point to character problems, rather than to laud lovely people. Kepler was a deeply Christian man, and one of his most impressive characteristics is how optimistic he soon began to feel about the world he lived in, against his odds and despite looming war. He built his own family and deeply cared about his wife and children. Kepler was confident about the importance of his discoveries and productive, even though he was never offered a university position.
Then came the accusation against his mother. The proceedings which led to a criminal trial lasted six years. The Imperial mathematician formally took over his mother’s legal defence. No other public intellectual figure would have ever involved themselves in a similar role, but Kepler put his whole existence on hold, stored up his books, papers and instruments in boxes, moved his family to southern Germany and spent nearly a year trying to get his mother out of prison.
Local records for the small town in which Katharina Kepler lived are abundant. There is no evidence that she was brought up by an aunt who was burnt for witchcraft – this was one of the charges which her enemies invented. There is no evidence either that she made a living from healing – she simply mixed herbal drinks for herself and sometimes offered her help to others, like anyone else. A woman in her late 70s, Katharina Kepler withstood a trial and final imprisonment, during which she was chained to the floor for more than a year.
Kepler’s defence was a rhetorical masterpiece. He was able to dismantle the inconsistencies in the prosecution case, and show that the “magical” illnesses for which they blamed his mother could be explained using medical knowledge and common sense. In the autumn of 1621, Katharina was finally set free.
Johannes Kepler and his mother lived through one of the most epic tragedies in the age of the witch-craze. It’s high time to re-evaluate what kind of man Kepler was: he does not deserve to be the scientist with the worst reputation. And nor does his mother deserve to be portrayed as a witch.
The Astronomer And The Witch by Ulinka Rublack is published by Oxford University Press on October 22. Ulinka Rublack will be giving a talk about the book as part of the University's Festival of Ideas on Wednesday 28th October.
Ulinka Rublack, Professor of Early Modern European History, University of Cambridge.
Ulinka Rublack, Professor of Early Modern European History, discusses the reputation of astronomer Johannes Kepler and his mother Katharina, and the criminal trial for witchcraft that lasted six years.
“I’ve come to kill your monster!” exclaims Beowulf in the 2007 film version of the epic poem. But how do his suspicious Danish hosts know that this monstrously huge stranger is actually a hero searching for glory? And, by the same token, how do modern audiences with no prior knowledge of the Marvelverse know that the Incredible Hulk is a “good guy”? At least readers of the Icelandic sagas had an advantage: they were used to their heroes being monsters – at least part of the time.
Iceland’s medieval literature is rich in many regards: in Eddas and sagas, it tells us about early Scandinavia and its expanding world-view, ranging from the mythology of the North, the legends and heroes of the migration age, the Viking voyages and the settlement of Iceland all the way through to the coming of Christianity and the formation of kingdoms in Scandinavia.
It also tell us about monsters – for the literature of medieval Iceland is also rich in the paranormal. In mythology, gods and men fight against giants. In the sagas, humans battle the forces of disorder, the trolls and revenants – think a cross between a vampire and a zombie – that inhabit the wild mountains and highlands of Norway and Iceland. Or at least that is what, on the surface, appears to happen.
Trolls won’t always be trolls
Monstrosity, however, is never clear-cut. Because of their hybrid nature, monsters cannot easily be categorised – instead, they demand to be approached and read in a more nuanced way. Such a reading will soon lead to the realisation that not all monsters are created equal, that they do not all pose the same threat. For trolls are not always trolls.
In fact, the word “troll”, which we now understand to denote some kind of mountain-dwelling ogre, was used for a number of different kinds of figures: witches, the undead, berserkers, but also people who were larger or stronger or uglier than ordinary humans. Which leads us to the monstrous heroes of the medieval Icelandic family sagas, or Íslendingasögur.
Half monster, half hero
In these texts, we encounter characters that are both troll-like monster and human hero – that both threaten and defend society and that therefore draw our attention to the fact that the boundary between monstrosity and heroism is not only thin but also regularly crossed.
While some of the creatures that are referred to as “trolls” – especially revenants, but also witches and even berserkers – are unequivocally monstrous, the characters that occupy the most ambiguous position suspended between monstrosity and heroism are outlaws. These, however, are also the characters that have captured the Icelandic imagination the most: there are three sagas that scholars agree to be major outlaw stories, the sagas of Grettir Ásmundarson, Gísli Súrsson, and Hörðr Grímkelsson.
There are also some sagas that draw on similar narrative motifs to tell the story of men who are outlawed for at least parts of their lives, like the saga of the Sworn Brothers (Fóstbræðra saga) or the saga of the people of Kjalarnes (Kjalnesinga saga). All of these marginal heroes border not only on society, but also on that which one encounters when one leaves the social spaces behind: the monstrous.
This has less to do with their physical location in the “wild”, and more with the way they interact with society: when Hörðr goes raiding with his outlaw band, he becomes a threat to the local community. And such a threat to economic growth and social stability has to be removed. However, if these characters were only threatening, only monstrous, they would not have their own sagas. They are not only monsters: they are also heroes, defenders of the society they themselves threaten.
The story of Grettir “the Strong” Ásmundarson is a particularly interesting example of this. In the 19 years Grettir spends as an outlaw both in Norway and Iceland, he constantly moves back and forth between human society and isolation as a “monster”, never fully belonging to either. When he steals from the local farmers or simply sits on their property and refuses to let go, he becomes a monster in the eyes of society. But when he fights against trolls and revenants, performing tasks no one else would be able to perform, he becomes a guardian of the medieval Icelandic galaxy that consists of farms and sheep.
In this duality, Grettir and Hörðr and other strong, troll-like men, are not too dissimilar from the monstrous heroes of the present day. Bruce Banner has clear anger management issues, but when he transforms into the Hulk, his strength enables him to perform amazing feats of heroism in defence of society. But the dual nature of his character can also make him turn against his friends and allies, just as Hörðr turns against his family when he wants to burn his own sister in her house.
This fluid continuity between monstrosity and heroism has been explored extensively in medieval literature: Beowulf or the Táin Bó Cúailnge, (the Cattle Raid of Cooley) – just like the Icelandic sagas – have their fair share of monstrous heroes. But it keeps fascinating us even today.
Shows such as Heroes have added a new shade to this exploration in recent years. Currently, even the humanness of zombies is on the cultural agenda in Warm Bodies or iZombie. Let us hope that, as this exploration continues, as we become more aware of the continuity between the monstrous and the human, we will eventually realise that, often, “the other” is just another “self”.
The Avengers in the North, a talk by the author on the monstrous superheroes in the Viking Age, will be part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas.
Rebecca Merkelbach, Doctoral Candidate, University of Cambridge.
Rebecca Merkelbach (Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic) discusses the monstrous heroes of Scandinavian mythology and literature.