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Funding announced for almost 400 new doctoral places in arts and humanities

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Aug 15, 2018.

The Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP is a consortium of the three universities for doctoral training and funding in the Humanities. The DTP is underpinned by world-class research and training environments, supported by strategic partnerships with the BBC World Service, the National Trust and British Telecom, and is national and international in mindset, and determined to take a leading role in shaping the future of doctoral training in the UK.

The AHRC is the UK’s largest funder of postgraduate training in the arts and humanities, and plays an essential role in supporting the next generation of highly capable researchers. By working together, the AHRC, the Open University, and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are able to commit to investing in this partnership over its lifetime.

Professor David Rechter, incoming Director of the Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP, said: “I am pleased by the success of our bid, and look forward to recruiting our first cohort of students next year. Supported by our partners the National Trust, the BBC World Service and British Telecom, the Open-Oxford-Cambridge DTP will offer students a wealth of opportunities to pursue research and engage in training, and to learn from each other as part of a large multi-disciplinary group. These opportunities will equip our DTP students with the research expertise and skills that will allow them to go on to wide range of careers in academia and beyond.”

Professor Martin Millett, Head of the School of Arts and Humanities at Cambridge, said: “The success of this bid is excellent news. The unique collaboration between Oxford, Cambridge and the Open University opens up exciting new prospects for the next generation of doctoral research students in the Arts and Humanities.”

Professor Edward Harcourt, the AHRC’s Director of Research, Strategy and Innovation, said: “The AHRC is delighted to announce its renewed commitment to the Doctoral Training Partnerships model. Our support for the next generation of arts and humanities researchers is critical to securing the future of the UK arts and humanities sector, which accounts for nearly a third of all UK academic staff, is renowned the world over for its outstanding quality, and which plays a vital part in our higher education ecosystem as a whole. 

“We were extremely pleased with the response to our call, which saw high-quality applications from across the UK from a variety of diverse and innovative consortia, each with a clear strategy and vision for the future support of their doctoral students.”

Professor Kevin Hetherington, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Academic Strategy), The Open University, said: “The Open University is delighted that the AHRC has chosen to recognise the commitment to innovation and diversity inherent in the Open-Oxford-Cambridge DTP, and looks forward to participating fully in the delivery of an exciting training programme for our PhD students.”

Professor Karen O’Brien, Head of the Humanities Division, University of Oxford, said: “This is good news and an endorsement of our collective commitment to developing the next generation of Humanities scholars. We are looking forward to working with the Open University, Cambridge, the AHRC and our strategic partners to deliver a truly exciting opportunity to our consortium students.”

Stephen Cassidy, Chief Researcher, System Science, BT Labs, said: “As a communication company deeply rooted in the interaction between people, communities and businesses, BT sees great benefit in being part of this DTP. Interaction with the students and academics will extend our understanding of ethical, legal and social ramifications of the possible directions the industry as a whole could (and is) embarking on. These are issues of international scale, and we are pleased to link with the DTP and to provide further links with our research collaborations around the UK and the globe.”

Jamie Angus, Director, BBC World Service Group, said: “The objectives of the Consortium and the Doctoral Training partnership fit very well with the BBC World Service’s objectives; The BBC World Service Group provides independent impartial journalism to nearly 350 million people around the world each week, across cultural, linguistic and national boundaries.  We look forward to working with world-class doctoral students in the Humanities drawing on their research skills and subject expertise, as well as making the most of the huge range of languages studied at Oxford, Cambridge and the OU. Working together we will play our part so that the Consortium can provide DTP-funded students with skills and experience they need to communicate their ideas beyond academia so that they may be better able to reach a wider audience.”

Nino Strachey, Head of Research and Specialist Advice at the National Trust, said: “The National Trust is delighted at the success of the bid and excited to work with students and staff from these internationally recognised universities and partners. With a long history of hosting and co-supervising PhDs, we look forward to offering opportunities for students to gain experience of the heritage sector and to work with Europe’s largest conservation charity.”  

Information on how to apply for scholarships via the Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership for entry in 2019/20 will be available from www.oocdtp.ac.uk from 1 September 2018.

 

The Open University, the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge are pleased to announce the success of their bid for funding for the Open-Oxford-Cambridge Arts and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Training Partnership, which will create nearly 400 new doctoral places in the arts and humanities.

The unique collaboration between Oxford, Cambridge and the Open University opens up exciting new prospects for the next generation of doctoral research students in the Arts and Humanities
Martin Millett
Faculty of English on the University's Sidgwick Site, home to many of the faculties and departments from the School of Arts and Humanities.

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Yes

Muslims leaving prison talk about the layers of their lives

By amb206 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Aug 15, 2018.

Dr Ryan Williams has become accustomed to uncomfortable moments. His research into the lived experiences of people in the criminal justice system (CJS) has taken him into high-security prisons to interview people convicted of serious crimes, and to East London to speak to recently released prisoners. All his interviewees were Muslim.

He describes this area of study as highly problematic: “I was working with people who often feel doubly marginalised – as individuals with a criminal record and seeking to rebuild their lives, and as Muslims living in British society and having to fight against stereotypes. You run the risk of bringing genuine harm to people by failing to reflect their complex life realities.”

Williams is based at Cambridge’s Centre of Islamic Studies and at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. An interest in Islam and society took him into a domain usually studied by criminologists. His interviews explored the journeys, values and struggles of people caught up in the CJS. They took place in prisons (including segregation units), probation offices, cafés, mosques and ‘chicken shops’.

In 2017, an independent review by the Rt Hon David Lammy put race equality in the spotlight by highlighting a rise in the proportion of BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) young offenders in custody: from 25% in 2006 to 41% in 2016. Lammy stated that his “review clearly shows BAME individuals still face bias – including overt discrimination – in parts of the justice system”.

The same review drew attention to the over-representation of Muslims in the CJS. Between 2002 and 2016, the proportion of Muslims in the prison population doubled.

“The higher up the CJS you go, the greater the proportion of people identifying as Muslim,” says Williams. “More than 40% of the prisoners in the high-security prison that I was working in were Muslim.”

While the over-representation of Muslims in the CJS forms the backdrop to Williams’ research, his work looks not at the causes of crime but at the experiences of offenders as they serve their sentences and reflect on their lives. “By asking questions around belonging and how people can lead a good life, we begin to see what might help them in the future,” he says.

Rapport with participants was key. He says: “In effect, they interviewed me to ensure that I wouldn’t reinforce a ‘one-dimensional’ view of them as Muslims.”

As one interviewee remarked: “There’s more to life than the little bits that you read in the paper.” The interviewee had observed other people taking an interest in Muslims in prison: “They’re all asking the same questions” about discrimination and radicalisation, and “[I’m] just standing there thinking, like, ‘is that all you want to know?”’

Through his interviews, Williams came to learn how difficult it is for people to put their finger on inequality and discrimination. It was often indirect, found in everyday examples like (says one interviewee) being refused a toilet roll by a member of staff but seeing a white prisoner acquire one with ease. For white Muslim converts, there was a sense that being a Muslim was incompatible with being British – they were seen as ‘traitors’ to their country, reinforcing the view that Islam is a ‘foreign’ religion.

For one interviewee, the rise of Islamophobia was both tragic and laughable. He observed: “It’s really sad. People are scared of Muslims now and it makes me laugh because I think to myself, ‘Hang on a minute, what are you scared of?’” He also pointed out: “Everybody knows a Muslim. You probably work with one. You might live next door to one. Your neighbour’s cool. Your work colleague’s cool.”

Since 9/11, and more so in the wake of recent attacks in London, the term Muslim has become linked with negative associations.

“‘Muslim’ is a badge applied to offenders in a way that masks other aspects of their identity – for example their roles as sons, brothers and fathers. For much of the popular media, it’s a blunt term that hints heavily at terrorism,” says Williams.

Through guided conversations, Williams encouraged his interviewees to talk about the things that meant most to them, sharing their feelings about family, community and society. He explains: “Broadly speaking, my work is about people’s lives as a moral journey – one marked by mistakes and struggle – and how this connects to belonging and citizenship in an everyday sense.”

The project was sparked by a conversation that Williams had four years ago with a Muslim offender of Pakistani heritage who’d been brought up in the UK. “He said that he felt so discriminated against that he felt he couldn’t live here any longer. To me, that was shocking,” says Williams.

“It made me wonder how the CJS might serve to help people feel like citizens and rebuild their lives. What if we brought the end goal of citizenship into view, rather than focusing exclusively on risk to the public? How would this change how people see themselves and how others see them?”

Williams’ interviews revealed that, for many, learning to be a good Muslim was also tied with being a better citizen, and each had their own way of going about this. “For one person, day-to-day practices of prayer kept them away from crime. For another, for whom crime was less of a struggle, practising zakat (charity) by providing aid to the Grenfell Tower survivors enabled him to fulfil a need to contribute to society,” he says.

He interviewed 44 Muslim men, sometimes interviewing them more than once, and triangulated his data with conversations with prison and probation staff.

 “My approach was experiential-based – qualitative rather than quantitative. I didn’t have a set of boxes to fill in with numbers. I used one standard survey tool from research on desistance from crime, but I found it removed richness and detail from people’s complex stories. Participants welcomed the chance to reflect more deeply on their lives.”

An individual’s faith journey, argues Williams, cannot be separated from the complex reality they find themselves in. Faith is always interpreted and filtered through our experiences and can help to construe a positive view of what it means to live a life worth living. As one participant observed: “I want to actually do some things now, like goodness, like volunteering, helping people out, helping the vulnerable… God loves that.”

Williams says that as a fellow human being he empathises with this improvised desire to find meaning in life by doing good in the world. He says: “The most profound thing to emerge from my conversations is that leading a good life is hard – and harder for some than for others.”

In April 2018, Williams organised a workshop ‘Supporting Muslim Service Users in Community and Probation Contexts’ for frontline staff and volunteers. Probation officer Mohammed Mansour Nassirudeen, who attended the workshop, said: “We need Ryan and researchers like him to give us the bigger picture. I believe this would help bring about desired outcomes for service users from BAME backgrounds, which is long overdue.”

Adds Williams: “My contribution is simply to get people to think about the issues in a different way, to facilitate discussion drawing on people’s own strengths and expertise, and then see where it takes us.”

In July 2018, Williams won a Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Award for his work.

Ryan's research has been incorporated into: guidelines on countering prison radicalisation, adopted by the European Commission in 2017; the evidence base for the Lammy Review on equality and implementing its recommendations; a course on the Good Life Good Society, adopted in 2016 in a high security prison. Read Ryan's This Cambridge Life interview here. 

The workshop ‘Supporting Muslim Service Users in Community and Probation Contexts’ was funded by the Arts and Humanities Impact Fund, and supported by the School of Arts and Humanities and the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

The Lammy Review in 2017 drew attention to inequalities among black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system. It also flagged the over-representation of Muslims in prisons. Research by Dr Ryan Williams explores the sensitivities around this topic.

The higher up the criminal justice system you go, the greater the proportion of people identifying as Muslim
Ryan Williams

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Yes

Epic issues: epic poetry from the dawn of modernity

By Anonymous from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Aug 02, 2018.

Maybe it was the language, architecture, codified legal system, regulated economy, military discipline – or maybe it really was public safety and aqueducts. Whatever the Romans did for us, their reputation as a civilising force who brought order to the western world has, in the public imagination, stood the test of time remarkably well. It is especially strong for an Empire that has been battered by close historical scrutiny for almost 2,000 years. 

The reputation, of course, has more than a grain of truth to it – but the real story is also more complex. Not only did the Empire frequently endure assorted forms of severely uncultured political disarray, but for the kaleidoscope of peoples under its dominion, Roman rule was a varied experience that often represented an unsettling rupture with the past. As Professor Mary Beard put it in her book SPQR: “there is no single story of Rome, especially when the Roman world had expanded far outside Italy.” 

So perhaps another way to characterise the Roman Empire is as one of cultures colliding – a swirling melting pot of ideas and beliefs from which concepts that would define western civilisation took form. This is certainly closer to the view of Tim Whitmarsh, the A. G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge, who is the principal investigator on a project that has examined Greek epic poetry during this period.

“This is perhaps the most important period for thinking about where European culture comes from,” says Whitmarsh. “We really are at the dawn of modernity. To tell the story of an Empire which remains the model for so many forms of international power is to tell the story of what we became, and what we are.”

His interest in the Greek experience stems partly from the fact that few cultures under Roman rule can have felt more keenly the fissure it wrought between present and past. In political terms, Ancient Greek history arguably climaxed with the empires established in the aftermath of the conquests of Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE). In the period when this poetry was written, from the first to the sixth centuries CE, the Greek world had been annexed by the Romans.

Yet the relationship between the two cultures was ambiguous. Greek-speaking peoples were subordinate in one sense, but their language continued to dominate the eastern Empire – increasingly so as it became a separate entity centred on Byzantium, as Christianity emerged and as the Latin-speaking west declined. Greek remained the primary medium of cultural transmission through which these changes were expressed. Greek communities therefore found themselves linked closely to their past, while also coming to terms with a fast-metamorphosing future.

Epic poetry, which many associate with Homer’s tales of heroic adventure, seems an odd choice of lens through which to examine the transformation. Whitmarsh thinks its purpose has been misunderstood.

“In the modern West, we often get Greek epic wrong by thinking about it as a repository for ripping yarns,” he says. “Actually, it was central to their sense of how the world operated. This wasn’t a world of scripture; it wasn’t primarily one of the written word at all. The vitality of the spoken word, in the very distinctive hexametrical pattern of the poems, was the single way they had of indicating authoritative utterance.”

It is perhaps the most important tool available for understanding how the Greeks navigated their loss of autonomy under the Romans and during the subsequent rise of Christianity. In recent years, such questions have provoked a surge of interest in Greek literature during that time, but epic poetry itself has largely been overlooked, perhaps because it involved large, complex texts around which it is difficult to construct a narrative.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Whitmarsh and his collaborators set out to systematically analyse the poetry and its cultural history for the first time. “We would argue it’s the greatest gap in ancient cultural studies – one of the last uncharted territories of Greek literature,” he adds.

The final outputs will include books and an edited collection of the poems themselves, but the team started simply by establishing “what was out there”. Astonishingly, they uncovered evidence of about a thousand texts. Some remain only as names, others exist in fragments; yet more are vast epics that survive intact. Together, they show how the Greeks were rethinking their identity, both in the context of the time, and that of their own past and its cultural legacy.

A case in point is Quintus of Smyrna, author of the Posthomerica – a deceptive title since chronologically it fills the gap between Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, even though it was written later. Quintus’ style was almost uber-Homeric, elaborately crafted to create an almost seamless connection with the past. Yet there is evidence that, having done so, he also deliberately disrupted it. “His use of similes is quite outrageous by Homer’s standards, for example,” Whitmarsh says. The reason could be Quintus’ painful awareness of a tension between the Homeric past and his own present. Conflicted identity is a theme that connects many poems of the period. The poet Oppian, for instance, who wrote an epic on fish and fishing, provides us with an excellent example of how his generation was seeking to reconceive Greek selfhood in the shadow of Rome.

The work ostensibly praises the Emperor as master over land and sea – a very Roman formula. Oppian then sabotages his own proclamation by questioning whether anyone truly can command the sea’s depths, a feat that must surely be a journey of the intellect and imagination. Having acknowledged the Emperor’s political power, he was, in effect, implying that the Greeks were perhaps greater masters of knowledge. 

The researchers expected to find that this tension gave way to a clearer, moralistic tone, with the rise of Christianity. Instead, they found it persisted. Nonnus of Panopolis, for example, wrote 21 books paraphrasing the Gospel of St John, but not, it would seem, from pure devotion, since he also wrote 48 freewheeling stories about the Greek god Dionysus. Collectively, this vast assemblage evokes parallels between the two, not least because resurrection themes emerge from both. Nonnus also made much of the son of God’s knack for turning water into wine – a subject that similarly links him to Dionysus, god of winemaking.

Beyond Greek identity itself, the poetry hints at shifting ideas about knowledge and human nature. Oppian’s poetic guide to fishing, for instance, is in fact much more. “I suspect most fishermen and fisherwomen know how to catch fish without reading a Greek epic poem,” Whitmarsh observes. In fact, the poem was as much about deliberately stretching the language conventionally used to describe aquaculture, and through it blurring the boundaries between the human and non-human worlds.

Far from just telling stories, then, these epic poems show how, in an era of deeply conflicted identities, Greek communities tried to reorganise their sense of themselves and their place in the world, and give this sense a basis for future generations. Thanks to Whitmarsh and his team, they can now be read, as they were meant to be, on such terms. 

“The poetry represents a cultural statement from the time, but it is also trying to be timeless,” he adds. “Each poem was trying to say something about its topic for eternity. The fact that we are still reading them today, and finding new things to say about them, is a token of their success.”

Inset image: Wine jar made in Athens around 535 BC. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Epic poems telling of cultures colliding, deeply conflicted identities and a fast-changing world were written by the Greeks under Roman rule in the first to the sixth centuries CE. Now, the first comprehensive study of these vast, complex texts is casting new light on the era that saw the dawn of Western modernity.  

Each poem was trying to say something about its topic for eternity. The fact that we are still reading them today, and finding new things to say about them, is a token of their success
Tim Whitmarsh
Achilles killing Penthesilea, as described in the epic poem Posthomerica written by Quintus of Smyrna in the 3rd century CE; detail from a wine jar made in Athens around 535 BC

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Yes

Bridging the divide: philosophy meets science

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Jul 12, 2018.

The Templeton World Charity Foundation Project, spearheaded by Professor Sarah Coakley, the Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, saw three postdoctoral researchers placed into science labs around the University with the aim of addressing the ever-widening gap between those working in the fields of science and those working in fields of philosophy and theology.

For three years, Daniel De Haan, Natalja Deng and Peter Woodford worked side-by-side with colleagues from the Department of Experimental Psychology, the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) and the Department of Zoology respectively – taking part in cutting-edge research, and being mentored by world-leading thinkers in their subject fields.

It is hoped that the huge success of this project – which saw unusually deep philosophical engagement with working scientists – will be a catalyst for similar experiments both in Cambridge and beyond.

Professor Coakley said: “Top level, path-breaking science can often go on in universities without any connections to the history and philosophy of science which is coming at the same material from a different direction. The philosophical questions are enormously pressing so we were delighted that some truly leading scientists at Cambridge were open to the possibility of having our three young researchers embedded with them.”

Dr Peter Woodford, who worked both in Cambridge’s Zoology labs and in the field in Africa to look at cooperation among meerkats, what makes them behaves the way they do, and how we as humans understand the value of selflessness, altruism and the care of others.

He said: “It was obviously a unique experience for any philosopher to have, seeing what animals are doing in their natural environment and asking why animals do what they do – that’s a central question of philosophy as well as science. The value of pursuing these big questions is to understand what we believe and why we believe it in a better way.”

Dr Natalja Deng, who worked on the cosmology strand of the project, alongside colleagues in DAMPT, said: “What does it mean to ask if God exists? And what does it mean to say that the universe had a beginning? If you ask yourself questions like this, you are doing philosophy.

“In order to do that, you need to talk to both theologians and physicists. They may not be used to talking to one another, but that’s all the more reason to bring them together in conversation. We were an experiment for this.”

Dr De Haan looked at the connections between cognitive neuroscience, psychology and philosophy for his strand of the project. As with his other Templeton colleagues, Daniel received formal training in his chosen subject areas to ensure they were up to date with the latest research and scientific developments in that particular field.

He said: “It was enormously helpful to spend time seeing what the day-to-day routines are, working in a lab and attending lectures. The people in my lab were open to the idea of having someone around from a different background and a different perspective.

“Academics in the humanities as well as the sciences are beginning to appreciate some of the difficulties arising from the extreme degrees of specialisation – where we are losing the ability to talk to each other.”

Added Coakley: “I’m more happy than I could have hoped. This was a unique experiment in how to create a new generation of scholars to learn this agility early in their careers and we have shown that if it’s possible in one of the top universities in the world for scientific and mathematical endeavour, it should be possible in other places, too.”

A unique three-year project to bridge the divide between science and philosophy – which embedded early-career philosophers into some of Cambridge’s ground-breaking scientific research clusters – is the subject of a new film released today.

Academics in the humanities as well as the sciences are beginning to appreciate some of the difficulties arising from the extreme degrees of specialisation – where we are losing the ability to talk to each other.
Daniel De Haan

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Yes

Vice-Chancellor’s awards showcase Cambridge researchers' public engagement and societal impact

By Anonymous from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Jul 09, 2018.

Hundreds of post-war peace settlements were trawled through by a team at Cambridge’s Lauterpacht Centre for International Law to build this innovative research tool. Outputs from the work have been used to assist mediators engaged with some of the world's most violent and tragic conflicts.

The announcement was made at a prize ceremony held at the Old Schools on 9 July, during which a number of other awards were also presented to Cambridge researchers for projects that have made significant contributions to society – including work on prisons, pandemics, and pollution.

Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, says: “This award scheme, now in its third year, received nearly a hundred nominations from all areas of research within the University, which were of an extremely high calibre across the board.”

“Impact is at the heart of the University’s mission. Engaging the public is crucial to helping our University deliver on its mission, and to be a good citizen in our city and community. Institutions such as ours have a vital role to play in restoring trust and faith in expertise and ways of knowing.”

Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards

The Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards were established to recognise and reward those whose research has led to excellent impact beyond academia, whether on the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life. Each winner receives a prize of £1,000 and a trophy, with the overall winner – Prof Marc Weller from the Faculty of Law – receiving £2,000.

This year’s winners are:

Overall winner: Marc Weller (Faculty of Law)

Making and sustaining international peace

Drawing on a ten-year research programme addressing self-determination and ethnic conflicts, the Legal Tools of Peace-making project presents, for the first time, the vast practice revealed through peace agreements on an issue-by issue basis, making it instantly accessible to practitioners and academics.

The project, led by Weller, uses this repository to derive realistic settlement options for use in actual peace-negotiations, and making these available to the United Nations, the African Union, the EU and other mediating agencies. The work has had immediate impact on on-going, high-level peace negotiations in the inter-ethnic negotiations in Myanmar, the UN-led negotiations on Syria, discussions on Catalonia, the independence of Kosovo, Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia and several others.   

Marko Hyvönen (Department of Biochemistry)

Production of growth factors for stem cell research

‘Growth factors’ are proteins that regulate many aspects of cellular function – including proliferation. These complex proteins are essential for stem cell research, to differentiate stem cells into the specific cell types found in our bodies.  

Hyvönen and colleagues have used their expertise as structural biologists to develop methods to efficiently produce growth factors in extremely high quality: reducing cost to the stem cell community locally, and facilitating world-class research. They have spun out a company to supply these proteins for researchers around the globe and secured an Innovate UK grant for the company.  

Ryan Williams (Centre of Islamic Studies)

Re-imagining Citizenship

Williams’ research on Islam and society works on the borderlines of religious studies and criminology, challenging practitioners and policy-makers to think holistically about social inclusion and the role of religion in contemporary society.

His research has been incorporated into: guidelines on countering prison radicalisation, adopted by the European Commission in 2017; the evidence base for the Lammy Review on equality and implementing its recommendations; a course on the Good Life Good Society, adopted in 2016 in a high security prison. Read Ryan's This Cambridge Life here. 

Florin Udrea (Department of Engineering)

Cambridge CMOS Sensors

Sensors that sniff the air can warn us of pollution in city streets, offices and homes. Breathe on these sensors and they can check our health. But they are normally big, heavy and drain batteries quickly.

Florin Udrea and his team set out to create environmental micro-sensors that are ultra-efficient and small enough for smart phones, watches and air purifiers in smart homes. Their spin-off, Cambridge CMOS Sensors, was acquired by AMS in 2016, which is now shipping products.

Julia Gog (Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics)

Harnessing mathematics to help control influenza

Predicting the evolution of the seasonal human influenza virus to better inform vaccination selection is critical to controlling the spread of influenza each year. Moreover, a rarer global outbreak pandemic would have severe consequences on loss of life and the economy, and is viewed by the UK government as a major threat to the UK due to both its high likelihood and severity of outcome.

Julia Gog worked with data gathered through the BBC’s Pandemic project to produce mathematical modelling that helps predict how UK populations move and interact, and consequently how and where a virus would spread.  

Tim Cox (Department of Medicine)

Innovative Treatments for Lysosomal diseases

Niemann-Pick C, Tay-Sachs, Sandhoff and Gaucher diseases are genetic lysosomal diseases that affect several organs, including the brain, resulting in painful symptoms, neurological complications and early death. Tim Cox is a leading UK clinical investigator for Lysosomal diseases, exploring the rebalancing of excess production of the toxic sphingolipids, which cause these diseases.

His work has developed effective treatments that have been introduced into the clinic, improving patient outcomes. This research has also identified a definitive correction of the cruel children’s condition, Tay-Sachs disease, through gene transfer. After successful preclinical work, a University spin-out, Cambridge Gene Therapy, is accelerating the clinical programme for this disease.

Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards

The Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards were set up to recognise and reward those who undertake quality engagement with research. Each winner receives a £1000 personal prize and a trophy. This year’s winners are:

Sophie Seita (Faculty of English)

Seita produced a collaborative multi-media creative project that combined experimental performances, lecture performances, poetry, publications, and installations; both emerging from and feeding back into research. Presented as star-gazing conversations with a number of Enlightenment writings in English, French, and German, from tragedies, melodramas, philosophical treatises to proto-romantic romances of the period, the work investigates which aspects of the Enlightenment still speak to us today, and was performed at the University’s Festival of Ideas.

Anna Spathis and Stephen Barclay (Department of Public Health and Primary Care)

Fatigue, an extreme tiredness that affects the mind as well as the body, is the single most common and distressing symptom experienced by teenagers and young adults with cancer. Spathis and Barclay worked with these young patients to co-design a treatment for fatigue that meets their unique needs. Read Anna and Stephen discuss how public involvement contributed to the research outcomes here. 

Charlotte Payne (Department of Zoology)

Working together with farmers and scientists at every stage, Payne developed a participatory research project on the sustainable use of edible caterpillars in southwestern Burkina Faso, and has explained the methods, aims and results to a variety of public audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Read Charlotte discussing edible insects on the BBC here.

Ragnhild Dale (Scott Polar Research Institute)

Dale was a researcher and assistant dirtector on a three-day staging of a mock trial version of the ground-breaking lawsuit where Norwegian environmental organisations Greenpeace and Nature and Youth are suing the Norwegian Government for allegedly allowing unconstitutional oil exploration in the Barents Sea. The project inviting expert witnesses from academia, industry and NGOs to testify in our production in Kirkenes, bringing the drama of the trial directly to the people who live and work in the north. 

The first major repository of legal practices for mediators and conflict parties to draw on when negotiating peace has won the top prize in this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards at the University of Cambridge.

Impact is at the heart of the University’s mission
Stephen Toope

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Yes

Cambridge academics recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours 2018

By ts657 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Jun 08, 2018.

The Queen

Professor Mary Beard was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) while Master of St John's College, Professor Christopher Dobson, was awarded a Knights Bachelor and Dr Richard Henderson, Emeritus Fellow of Darwin College and Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College, was recognised with a Companion of Honour.

Three other Newnham College alumnae joined Professor Beard in becoming Dames in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2018, announced today - actor Emma Thompson, civil servant and diversity champion Sue Owen, and local government CEO Stella Manzie.

They join a range of women honoured for women at the forefront of their professions or who have championed women’s rights to coincide with the 100th anniversary year of women’s suffrage.

Dame Mary has been recognised for her services to the study of Classical Civilisation.

She said: “I am absolutely 100% delighted – especially to realise that Classical Civilisation is still taken seriously enough to be recognised in this way.

"That said, I expect a good few jokes about pantomime dames!” 

Beard’s work on classical civilisation has been matched by her engaging TV work and an inspiration teaching that together have brought the classics to hundreds of thousands of people world-wide – and to hundreds of students at Cambridge University.

Her latest work, Women and Power, investigates the roots of the silencing of women in the Classical period, taking it forward into the present day.

But she will be remembered by generations of undergraduates, not as the famous figure on the television screens, or even the fearless debater of Twitter, but as their supervisor.

Newnham classics student Charlie Pemberton said: “It was Mary who encouraged me to apply to Cambridge and indeed Newnham in the first place: we had emailed a bit when I was in sixth form, before she met me at a Newnham Classics Open Day."

“As a supervisor, she is incredibly fair: she gives praise when it is due, but isn’t afraid to tell you when you’ve been a numpty (to put it lightly...!). Her warning never to take a source at face value - to do some digging to discover what it’s really getting at - proved invaluable in my exams.

"She didn’t just teach us the material, but how to handle or think with the material - and she makes the material so accessible and memorable. There is something so special about Newnham Classics, and I think Mary has come to symbolise that.”

Beard is herself an alumna of Newnham College, Cambridge, where she first studied Classics in 1973. She returned as a Fellow in 1984, at the time the only female lecturer in the Classics Faculty. She became Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge in 2004. 

Dame Carol Black, Principal of Newnham College, says: “This is well-deserved recognition of the outstanding contribution that Mary has made to the study of Classics and the promotion of public understanding of classical civilisation, a further accolade in Newnham’s highly-distinguished tradition in Classics.”  

The Master of St John’s was honoured with a knighthood in recognition of his ground-breaking research into Alzheimer’s disease

Professor Christopher Dobson has been was awarded a Knights Bachelor in the Queen's Birthday Honours 2018 to commemorate his illustrious scientific career.

Sir Christopher was recognised for his contributions to Science and Higher Education.

Sir Christopher is one of the world’s leading scientists working at the interface of the physical and biological sciences. Among other high-profile scientific achievements, in 2013 he co-founded the £50 million Cambridge Centre for Misfolding Diseases (CMD).

Scientists at the Centre focus on analysing the origins of neurodegenerative conditions - such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases - which occur because of ‘misfolded’ protein molecules. The experimental work by Sir Christopher and his inter-disciplinary research team has led to remarkable breakthroughs in the field.

Sir Christopher said he was astonished to have been made a knight and dedicated the honour to his students and scientific colleagues.

He said: “I am truly humbled to receive this remarkable honour. It would not have been possible without the brilliance and dedication of my students and scientific colleagues over many years, whose commitment to improving the lives of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions is deeply impressive.”

“It also recognises the commitment of the University of Cambridge, and the UK Higher Education sector in general, to educating to the highest possible standards the most able and deserving students on whose shoulders the future of the world depends.”

Sir Christopher was educated at the University of Oxford and became an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University before he returned to Oxford as Professor of Chemistry.

In 2001 he moved from Oxford to the University of Cambridge when he was appointed as the John Humphrey Plummer Professor of Chemical and Structural Biology and elected a Fellow of St John’s College. He became Master of St John’s College in 2007.

Sir Christopher said: “I cannot express strongly enough how much I have valued the inspiration, encouragement, support and friendship that I have received at St John’s from students, staff, Fellows and alumni, and how important the intellectual and cultural environment that exists in this truly remarkable College has been for my scientific activities.”

Professor Tuomas Knowles, a co-founder of CMD and a Fellow of St John’s, said: “Sir Christopher's landmark discoveries over the past 30 years have truly transformed our understanding of misfolding diseases.

“His work has had enormous influence throughout the physical, biological and medical sciences, establishing new connections, and generating wide-reaching implications for molecular medicine. It is wonderful that such an eminent scientist and influential and inspiring leader has been recognised with this honour.”

Sir Christopher also paid tribute to his friends and family for their “unstinting support”.

He added: “On a personal note, I want to thank my friends, family and colleagues, and especially my wife, Mary, and children, Richard and William, for their fantastic encouragement throughout my life and career.”

Nobel prize winner and pioneer of electron microscopy Dr Richard Henderson was awarded the Companion of Honour. 

Dr Henderson, an Emeritus Fellow of Darwin College and alumnus of Corpus Christi College where he is an Honorary Fellow, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2017 for his work developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution.

He achieved a quantum leap in imaging techniques when his work allowing atomic structure determinations of many proteins that were previously impossible to obtain, provided important insights into biological functions and mechanisms that will enhance the study of diseases such as neurodegenerative and infections diseases and cancer.

Dr Henderson said: “It is a great honour to join such a distinguished group of people from all walks of life. My scientific mentors Max Perutz and César Milstein were earlier Companions of Honour, so it is a great delight to me to be able to continue in this tradition.”

Professor Mary Fowler, Master of Darwin College, said: "I am delighted that Darwin College Fellow Richard Henderson has been appointed a Companion of Honour - this and his Nobel Prize are richly deserved indeed. Richard's skill and his immense dedication benefit us all, bringing hope for much needed treatments for a wide range of diseases."

Many more alumni were honoured, with a CBE for television presenter and author Bamber Gascoigne (Magdalene) and knighthoods for historian and broadcaster Professor Simon Schama (Christ's) and Government barrister James Eadie (Magdalene). Dr Darrin Disley (Trinity Hall) was honoured with an OBE for services to business, enterprise and health while fellow Trinity Hall alumnus David Eyton was honoured with a CBE for services to engineering and energy.

Honorary Magdalene Fellow Sir Christopher Greenwood was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE) while Professor Jane Marshall (Murray Edwards) was given an Order of the British Empire for services to Education in Health Sciences. Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College, Professor Chris Husbands (Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University) received a knighthood for services to higher education.

Thomas Adès (King's), received a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to music. Professor Nicholas Marston, Vice-Provost and Director of Studies in Music at King's College, said: "It is excellent to see artistic creativity in the UK being recognised in this fashion.

"King’s College can boast a remarkable line of composers across many generations; among contemporary figures, Tom Adès stands together with Judith Weir and George Benjamin as one of our many distinguished alumni whose musical and creative talents not only bring lustre to the College but – more importantly –  enrich the lives of many people in this country and around the world.

"We congratulate him very warmly."

Leaders in fields from classics to Alzheimer’s research are recognised today in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

I am absolutely 100% delighted – especially to realise that Classical Civilisation is still taken seriously enough to be recognised in this way. That said, I expect a good few jokes about pantomime dames!
Professor Mary Beard

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Cambridge and LMU announce plans for strategic partnership

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on May 29, 2018.

At the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding

The University of Cambridge and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) put pen to paper on a memorandum of understanding that will see the two institutions forge ever-closer links in education and research across a broad range of disciplines in the Sciences, Humanities and Medicine.

Senior leaders from Cambridge and LMU – which boast nearly 150 Nobel Laureates between them – came together over two days in Cambridge for meetings led by both the President of LMU, Professor Bernd Huber, and Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope.

At the conclusion of the visit, officials from Cambridge and LMU signed the memorandum of understanding, which indicates the desire to develop a joint programme of strategic importance to both institutions. A full programme will be formulated by the end of the year, with a formal launch expected to take place in early 2019.

It is intended that the partnership will include joint research activities, the exchange of academic staff, postdoctoral and PhD candidates, as well as masters and undergraduate students, joint teaching initiatives, and training for the next generation of scholars. The partnership will be cross-disciplinary, covering broad areas in the Humanities and Cultural Studies, Law, Economics and Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, as well as Medicine, and will develop over the course of an initial five-year funding period. 

Professor Chris Young, Head Elect of the School of Arts and Humanities, and Cambridge’s academic lead for the strategic partnership, said: “The LMU is Germany's leading university in Germany's leading city.

“Its outstanding scholarship and rich network of associated institutes and industrial partnerships make it the perfect bridge to Bavaria, Germany and Europe. There are already myriad collaborations between colleagues at both universities, and this exciting new partnership will intensify and augment these for years to come.”

Professor Thomas Ackermann, Dean of the Faculty of Law and LMU’s Director for the strategic partnership, said: “The University of Cambridge is one of the world’s leading institutions in education, learning, and research. The strategic partnership between our universities will pave the way towards a new level of cooperation. Together with my colleague, Chris Young, we will explore an interesting array of activities to ensure the program will be a great success for both universities.”

Cambridge Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, said: “No single institution can provide, on its own, the answers to the great challenges of these turbulent times. Collaboration and openness to the world are essential to achieving our academic and civic missions. Our partnership with LMU, one of Europe’s finest universities, creates exciting opportunities to work together to address tough issues and provide our students with a richer education.”

“The strategic partnership with the University of Cambridge, one of the leading universities in Europe and the world, will bring an exciting stimulus to research and learning at LMU,” said LMU President Professor Bernd Huber. “Our new partnership ensures that collaboration and exchange which are vital for academic innovation can continue to be pursued regardless of Brexit.” 

Two of Europe’s leading research universities have announced the first step towards plans for a unique ‘strategic partnership’ – underlining the vital and ongoing relationship between British universities and their peer institutions across the EU in a post-Brexit landscape.

Collaboration and openness to the world are essential to achieving our academic and civic missions.
Stephen Toope

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Yes

The menace of monolingualism

By mjg209 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on May 18, 2018.

Is monolingualism harming us, both as individuals and as a society? Wendy Ayres-Bennett, Professor of French Philology and Linguistics, is leading a major interdisciplinary research project which looks at the value of languages for everything from health and well-being to social cohesion, diplomacy and conflict resolution.

The MEITS project (Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies) is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council's Open World Research Initiative and seeks to transform the health of the discipline of Modern Languages in the UK, attitudes towards multilingualism and language policy at home and abroad. The motivation for the project comes from an awareness that language learning in the UK is in a very difficult state. “There is a sense that modern languages are in crisis,” says Professor Ayres-Bennett, “and that traditional motivations to get people studying languages are not working. We need exciting new reasons to learn languages and to demonstrate the value of speaking more than one language.”

The project, which finishes in 2020, involves around 30 non-academic partners including schools and voluntary groups and has six interlocking research strands which investigate how the insights gained from stepping outside a single language, culture and mode of thought are vital to individuals and societies.

Professor Ayres-Bennett will speak about three areas of the research in a talk at the Hay Festival for the Cambridge Series, now in its 10th year. The first involves health and builds on research which shows that if you are bilingual dementia onset is on average delayed by up to five years compared to people who are monolingual, and that stroke victims who are bilingual recover cognitively twice as well as monolingual ones. What is more exciting, says Professor Ayres-Bennett, is that even those who learn a language later in life can enjoy certain cognitive benefits. One experiment conducted as part of the project involved a group who learnt Gaelic intensively for a week and were monitored to see if there was any impact on their cognitive abilities. The results were positive. “The kind of mental gymnastics that learning a language involves is good for us and for our ageing society. They help us to stay mentally active a bit longer,” says Professor Ayres-Bennett. “It’s a benefit that is little known, but learning a language is better than any drug currently available for delaying dementia.”

A second area she will speak about is how languages can bring people together and create greater social cohesion. Language is at the heart of some of the current political problems in Northern Ireland, with Irish tending to be viewed with suspicion by the Protestant-Unionist-Loyalist (PUL) community. The MEITS project has been working with two charities in Northern Ireland to enhance understanding between the Catholic and Protestant communities. It has been teaching former paramilitaries and future PUL leaders basic Irish. Professor Ayres-Bennett says: “The Irish language doesn’t have to be associated with sectarianism; the aim is to normalise it and show how it is part of everyone’s culture. In addition, demonstrating the origins of Irish place names can show that Irish is part of PUL heritage as well.”

The third area she will touch on involves the work the project is doing with a number of schools in London and East Anglia to change attitudes to languages. It is comparing language learning for children who are monolingual and started learning a language at school with those who have English as an additional language. The students are being tracked over a two-year period. “We want children to value the languages they speak and schools to think consciously about what it means to be multilingual and to see children with more than one language as a resource rather than an inconvenience,” says Professor Ayres-Bennett. She mentions one Polish student who placed himself near the monolingual end of a scale which asked children to consider how multilingual they were because he was just starting to learn French. “He didn’t value his ability to speak Polish. We need to get away from the hierarchy of good and bad languages,” she states. She adds that looking at multilingualism in a positive way improves social cohesion in the classroom as well as potentially improving students’ motivation for learning and their proficiency.

The MEITS project’s findings will be widely disseminated with the aim of raising awareness of all the different areas of policy which language learning affects. “Language is so central to who we are, to our identities, that it has to have a higher profile across all government departments,” says Professor Ayres-Bennett.

Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett will speak at the Hay Festival about her research into the health and social benefits of multilingualism.

The kind of mental gymnastics that learning a language involves is good for us and for our ageing society. They help us to stay mentally active a bit longer.
Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett

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Yes

‘The greatest director in the world right now’ begins residency at Centre for Film and Screen

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on May 04, 2018.

Lucrecia Martel comes to the Centre as this year’s Filmmaker in Residence from 5-20 May, following in the footsteps of Gianfranco Rosi (2017) and Joanna Hogg (2016).

A retrospective of her feature films — the first to be held in the UK—has been jointly organised between the Centre for Film and Screen and the Arts Picturehouse. Martel will be present following each screening for conversation and Q&A. 

Martel, who lives and works in Argentina, is one of international cinema’s major stylists. Her provocative films treat questions of family, childhood, sexuality, belonging, nation, class, historical memory, and colonialism. In a cinema that is both sensually immersive and politically attuned, Martel looks at the world in a way that acknowledges mystery and prompts criticism.

Dr John David Rhodes, Director of the Centre for Film and Screen said: “The residencies offer our students, staff and our community both inside and outside the University the opportunity to engage with serious filmmakers of the highest order, all of them crucially important figures in the unfolding history of contemporary cinema.

“The residencies also offer the filmmakers the opportunity to develop and reconsider their practices in the context of the vibrant scholarly and intellectual ecology that is unique to Cambridge.”

Described by Vogue as ‘the greatest director in the world right now’, Martel is the director of four acclaimed films and a number of award-winning shorts. After almost a decade after her last full-length feature film, Martel returned as director of the critically-lauded Zama in 2017.

Based on the 1956 novel by Antonio Di Benedetto, the film is a period drama relating the story of a 17th century Spanish officer, separated from his wife and family, and awaiting a transfer from a remote area of Paraguay to Buenos Aires.

Shining a light on colonialism and class dynamics, the film won almost universal acclaim from film critics in South America, and was chosen as Argentina’s nomination for Best Foreign Film at the 2018 Academy Awards.

Martel will be resident at the University’s Centre for Film and Screen for more than two weeks, during which she will be offering a sequence of seminars on her filmmaking practice.

 

Symposium

18 May, 10am-4pm, McCrum Lecture Theatre, Corpus Christi College.

Speakers: Lucy Bollington (Cambridge), Catherine Grant (Birkbeck), Rosalind Galt (KCL), Debbie Martin (UCL). 

Full details - TBC

 

Screenings

The screenings will all be held at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse

Tuesday 8 May at 6pm - The Swamp (La Ciénaga)

Thursday 10 May ay 6pm - The Holy Girl (La niña santa)

Tuesday 15 May at 6:30pm - The Headless Woman (La mujer sin cabeza)

Thursday 17 May at 6pm - Zama

 

One of Argentina’s and Latin America’s pre-eminent filmmakers begins a 16-day residency at Cambridge’s Centre for Film and Screen from tomorrow (May 5).

Lucrecia is a crucially important figure in the unfolding history of contemporary cinema.
John David Rhodes

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Yes

Blood and bodies: the messy meanings of a life-giving substance

By amb206 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on May 03, 2018.

What is blood? Today we understand this precious fluid as essential to life. In medieval and early modern Europe, definitions of blood were almost too numerous to locate. Blood was simultaneously the red fluid in human veins, a humour governing temperament, a waste product, a cause of corruption, a source of life and a medical cure.

In 1628, William Harvey, physician to James I and alumnus of Gonville & Caius College, made a discovery that changed the course of medicine and science. As the result of careful observation, he deduced that blood circulated around the body. Harvey’s discovery not only changed the way blood was thought to relate to the heart but revolutionised early science by demanding that human physiology be examined through empirical observation rather than philosophical discourse.

This turning point, and its profound repercussions for ideas about blood, is one of many strands explored in Blood Matters: Studies of European Literature and Thought,. A collection of essays, edited by Bonnie Lander Johnson (English Faculty, Cambridge University) and Eleanor Decamp, it examines blood from a variety of literary, historical and philosophical perspectives.

“The strength of the collection is that, in a series of themed headings, it brings together scholarship on blood to bridge the conventional boundaries between disciplines,” says Lander Johnson. “The volume includes historical perspectives on practical uses of blood such as phlebotomy, butchery, alchemy and birth. Through literary approaches, it also examines metaphoric understandings of blood as wine, social class, sexual identity, family, and the self.”

Contributors include several Cambridge academics. Hester Lees-Jeffries (English Faculty) writes about bloodstains in Shakespeare (most notable, of course, in Macbeth) and early modern textile culture. Heather Webb (Modern and Medieval Languages) looks at medieval understandings of blood as a spirit that existed outside the body, binding people and communities together. Joe Moshenska (English Faculty) examines the classical literary trope of trees that bleed when their branches are broken.

“The idea for the book came from my previous  work on chastity. I was struck that early modern writing about the body is all about fluids, especially blood. Blood was perceived as the vehicle for humours, the essence of being and the spirit – and something that could flow between people,” says Lander Johnson.

“I became fascinated by the fact that we use this word all the time but we have no real sense of what we mean. Our predecessors used it even more frequently and yet there was no scholarship that could help me to begin to understand how many things blood meant for them. A conference at Oxford in 2014 brought together a group of people working in related fields. The book reflects the excitement of those three days.”

Definitions of blood in Western European medical writing during the period covered by the book are changeable and conflicting. “The period’s many figurative uses of ‘blood’ are even more difficult to pin down. The term appeared in almost every sphere of life and thought and ran through discourses as significant as divine right theory, doctrinal and liturgical controversy, political reform, and family and institutional organisation,” says Lander Johnson.

“Blood, of course, was at the centre of the religious schism that split 16th-century society.  The doctrinal dispute over transubstantiation caused ongoing disagreements over the degree to which the bread and wine taken during Mass were materially altered into the body and blood of Christ or merely symbolic.”

The role of blood in sex and reproduction meant that it was routinely described as a force capable of both generation and corruption. Menstrual blood is a case in point. Menstruation was seen as a vital and purifying process, part of a natural cycle essential to human life. But menstrual blood and menstruating women were also thought to be corrupting.

In Shakespeare’s plays, blood makes many appearances, both spoken and staged, from bleeding wounds to the rebellious ‘high’ blood of youth. Lander Johnson examines Romeo and Juliet’s love affair in the light of early modern beliefs about weaning and sexual appetites.

“Writing about birth and infancy reveals that early moderns were as anxious about their children’s health as we are but for them the pressing questions were: should I breastfeed my baby myself or give it to a wet nurse? How and when should I wean it to food? What sort of food?” she says.

“The wrong decision at this early stage of life could have a fatal outcome and was thought to not only form the child’s blood in either a healthy or corrupted state but also to shape the child’s moral appetites for the rest of their lives.”

Blood is synonymous with family and, in elite circles, with dynasty. Contributor Katharine Craik (Oxford Brookes University) explores character and social class through references to blood in Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V. In these plays about warfare and the relationships between royalty and common men, blood is often a substance that eliminates the differences between soldiers who die together in arms, their blood mingling in the dirt of the battlefield.

“Frequently these same descriptions turn into assertions of an essential difference between aristocratic and vulgar bloods,” says Lander Johnson. “Shakespeare is particularly inventive at building character through distinctions of this kind.”

In contrast, Ben Parsons (Leicester University) looks at blood and adolescence in the context of the medieval classroom where ‘too much blood’ was understood to cause wild and unruly behaviour. Medieval pedagogues were concerned about how the ‘full blood’ of students ought to be managed through the kind of material they were asked to read and when, the sort of food they ate while learning, and the style of punishment administered to those who were inattentive.

Blood Matters makes a valuable contribution to the history of the body and its place in literature and popular thought. It draws together scholarship that offers insight into both theory and practice during a period that saw the beginnings of empiricism and an overturning of the folklore that governed early medicine.

Today's scientists understand blood as a liquid comprising components essential to good health. But English remains a language peppered with references to blood that hint at our conflicted relationship with a liquid vital to human life.

A collection of essays explores understandings of a vital bodily fluid in the period 1400-1700. Its contributors offer insight into both theory and practice during a period that saw the start of empiricism and an overturning of the folklore that governed early medicine.

The book brings together scholarship on blood to bridge the conventional boundaries between disciplines.
Bonnie Lander Johnson
Detail from William Harvey's De motu cordis (experiment confirming direction of blood flow)

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Yes