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Submissions open for BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Dec 13, 2018.

The BBC National Short Story Award is one of the most prestigious prizes for a single short story, with the winning author receiving £15,000, and four further shortlisted authors £600 each. The stories are broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in an anthology.

The 2018 winner of the BBC National Short Story Award was Trinidadian writer Ingrid Persaud, who won for The Sweet Sop, her ‘tender and ebullient’ story about a father-son relationship. Persaud’s 2018 victory was announced during a live broadcast of BBC Radio 4’s Front Row from Cambridge University’s West Road Concert Hall, with the winner of the 2018 BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University also revealed, before a reception at Cambridge University Library.

Previous alumni include Lionel Shriver, Zadie Smith, Hilary Mantel, Jon McGregor and William Trevor.

This year marks the 14th year of the award with broadcaster Nikki Bedi chairing the judging panel for 2019. Nikki is a television and radio broadcaster who writes and presents The Arts Hour on BBC World Service and BBC Radio London. Her counterpart on the BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University (YWA) is BBC Radio 1 and CBBC’s Book Club presenter Katie Thistleton, who will chair the judging panel for the teenage award for the second time as it opens for submissions for the fifth year.

Bedi and Thistleton will be joined by an esteemed group of award-winning writers and artists on their respective panels. For the BBC National Short Story Award: novelist and writer of narrative non-fiction, Richard Beard; short story writer, novelist and youngest author to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Daisy Johnson; screenwriter, novelist and 2017 BBC National Short Story Award winner, Cynan Jones; and returning judge, Di Speirs, Books Editor at BBC Radio.

For the BBC Young Writers’ Award, Thistleton will lead former teacher and Betty Trask Award winner, Anthony Cartwright; Waterstones Prize and YA Bookseller Prize-winning writer, Patrice Lawrence; winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year children’s author, Kiran Millwood Hargrave; and writer, rapper and world-record breaking human beatboxer, Testament.

James Gazzard, Director of Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education, home to the Centre for Creative Writing, said: “Cambridge has produced great writers for many hundreds of years, and we look forward to discovering the new and diverse writers these awards give a voice to.

“This collaboration with the BBC and First Story contributes to the University’s and our Vice-Chancellor’s commitment of opening up Cambridge to all, to nurturing talent in new ways, while drawing on the unique teaching and academic environment that the University famously provides. We were delighted with the numbers of writers who decided to take part last year. The success of First Story’s Young Writer’s Festival on our Sidgwick Site – as well as our own Short Story Festival at Madingley Hall – proved that the form is not only alive and well, but thriving.”

Nikki Bedi, Chair of the 2019 BBC National Short Story Award Judging Panel, said “The short story is my favourite form of literature and there is nothing more delicious and perfect for me than devouring, digesting and loving a surprising and perfectly formed short story. From sneakily reading my parents’ copies of Roald Dahl’s dark works when I was far too young, I developed a taste for the form that has never left me.

"There are so many undiscovered voices and stories waiting to be told out there and we’ll be in the privileged position of receiving and reading them. I’m looking forward to works that transport me to new places, physically and culturally.”

The writers shortlisted for the BBC Young Writers’ Award have their stories broadcast on a special Radio 1’s Life Hacks Podcast, and published in an anthology. Entrants can access a virtual treasure trove for writing inspiration courtesy of Cambridge University Library’s specially curated digital archive. The winner of the 2018 Young Writers’ Award was 17-year-old Davina Bacon for her ‘compassionate’ and ‘intelligent’ story Under a Deep Blue Sky. The previous winners are Brennig Davies for Skinning, Lizzie Freestone for Ode to a Boy Musician and 2017 winner, Elizabeth Ryder for The Roses.

In addition, the BBC Student Critics’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University (SCA) launches today and calls for applications. 2018 saw 600 16–18-year-old students from 40 schools flex their critical muscles as they read, discussed and critiqued the five shortlisted NSSA stories. For 2019, this activity is being extended to encourage wider community link-ups between schools, colleges, libraries and bookshops around the UK.

Full Terms and Conditions for the NSSA and YWA are available with submissions accepted online at www.bbc.co.uk/nssa and www.bbc.co.uk/ywa from 9am (GMT), 13th December 2018. The Terms and Conditions for the BBC Student Critics’ Award can be found here. The deadline for receipt of entries for the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University is 9am (GMT) Monday, 11th March, 2019. The deadline for receipt of entries for the BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University is 9am (GMT), Monday, 25th March, 2019. The deadline for receipt of applications for the BBC Student Critics’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University is 9am (GMT), Monday, 1st April, 2019.

The shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University will be announced on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row at 7.15pm on Friday, 6th September, 2019. Readings of the shortlisted stories will broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from Monday 9th to Friday 13th September and interviews with the shortlisted writers will air from Friday, 6th September, 2019 on Front Row. The shortlist for the BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University will be announced on Radio 1’s Life Hacks from 4pm on Sunday, 22nd September, 2019.

The announcement of the winners of the BBC National Short Story Award and BBC Young Writers’ Award will be broadcast live from the Award ceremony in BBC Broadcasting House on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row from 7.15pm on Tuesday, 1st October, 2019.

 

Booker Prize shortlistee Daisy Johnson and beatboxer Testament have today been announced as judges of the BBC’s National Short Story Award and Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University and First Story – as submissions for the 2019 competitions open.

Cambridge has produced great writers for many hundreds of years, and we look forward to discovering the new and diverse writers these awards give a voice to.
James Gazzard
2018 winner Ingrid Persaud accepts her award at the West Road ceremony earlier this year.

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Yes

The Lost Words: inspiring children to find, love and protect nature

By lw355 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Nov 30, 2018.

First there was the finding that British primary school children were more at ease naming their favourite Pokémon character than they were at naming a hare, a deer or an oak tree.

Then there were the revisions to a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary: out went everyday nature words like acorn, bluebell and kingfisher, no longer used enough by children to merit inclusion; in came attachment, broadband, voice-mail, reflecting today’s tech-savvy child who is more at home on the internet than they are in the woods.

Fascinated and concerned by these changes, Dr Robert Macfarlane began to wonder about the relationship between childhood and the living world...

READ STORY HERE

The Lost Words is a book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris that summons the magic of nature to help children find, love and protect the natural world.

Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children…’
From 'The Lost Words'
"I am Raven"

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Yes

AI system may accelerate search for cancer discoveries

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Nov 27, 2018.

The system, called LION LBD and developed by computer scientists and cancer researchers at the University of Cambridge, has been designed to assist scientists in the search for cancer-related discoveries. It is the first literature-based discovery system aimed at supporting cancer research. The results are reported in the journal Bioinformatics.                            

Global cancer research attracts massive amounts of funding worldwide, and the scientific literature is now so huge that researchers are struggling to keep up with it: critical hypothesis-generating evidence is now often discovered long after it was published.

Cancer is a complex class of diseases that are not completely understood and are the second-leading cause of death worldwide. Cancer development involves changes in numerous chemical and biochemical molecules, reactions and pathways, and cancer research is being conducted across a wide variety of scientific fields, which have variability in the way that they describe similar concepts.

“As a cancer researcher, even if you knew what you were looking for, there are literally thousands of papers appearing every day,” said Professor Anna Korhonen, Co-Director of Cambridge’s Language Technology Lab who led the development of LION LBD in collaboration with Dr Masashi Narita at Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Professor Ulla Stenius at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. “LION LBD uses AI to help scientists keep up-to-date with published discoveries in their field, but could also help them make new discoveries by combining what is already known in the literature by making connections between sources that may appear to be unrelated.”

The ‘LBD’ in LION LBD stands for Literature-Based Discovery, a concept developed in the 1980s which seeks to make new discoveries by combing pieces of information from disconnected sources. The key idea behind the original version of LBD is that concepts that are never explicitly linked in the literature may be indirectly linked through intermediate concepts.

The design of the LION LBD system allows real-time search to discover indirect associations between entities in a database of tens of millions of publications while preserving the ability of users to explore each mention in its original context.

“For example, you may know that a cancer drug affects the behaviour of a certain pathway, but with LION LBD, you may find that a drug developed for a totally different disease affects the same pathway,” said Korhonen.

LION LBD is the first system developed specifically for the needs of cancer research. It has a particular focus on the molecular biology of cancer and uses state-of-the-art machine learning and natural language processing techniques, in order to detect references to the hallmarks of cancer in the text. Evaluations of the system have demonstrated its ability to identify undiscovered links and to rank relevant concepts highly among potential connections.

The system is built using open data, open source and open standards, and is available as an interactive web-based interface or a programmable API.

The researchers are currently working on extending the scope of LION-LBD to include further concepts and relations. They are also working closely with cancer researchers to help and improve the technology for end users.

The system was developed in collaboration with University of Cambridge Language Technology Lab, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and was funded by the Medical Research Council.

Reference:
Sampo Pyysalo et al. ‘LION LBD: a Literature-Based Discovery System for Cancer Biology.’ Bioinformatics (2018). DOI: 10.1093/bioinformatics/bty845

Searching through the mountains of published cancer research could be made easier for scientists, thanks to a new AI system. 

As a cancer researcher, even if you knew what you were looking for, there are literally thousands of papers appearing every day
Anna Korhonen
Skin cancer cells from a mouse show how cells attach at contact points

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Yes

Brexit and Trump voters more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, survey study shows

By fpjl2 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Nov 23, 2018.

The largest cross-national study ever conducted on conspiracy theories suggests that around a third of people in countries such as the UK and France think their governments are “hiding the truth” about immigration, and that voting for Brexit and Trump is associated with a wide range of conspiratorial beliefs – from science denial to takeover plots by Muslim migrants.

The research, conducted as part of the University of Cambridge’s Conspiracy & Democracy project, and based on survey work from the YouGov-Cambridge centre, covers nine countries – US, Britain*, Poland, Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Hungary – and will be presented at a public launch in Cambridge on Friday 23 November.

According to project researcher Dr Hugo Leal, anti-immigration conspiracy theories have been “gaining ground” since the refugee crisis first came to prominence in 2015. “The conspiratorial perception that governments are deliberately hiding the truth about levels of migration appears to be backed by a considerable portion of the population across much of Europe and the United States,” he said.

In Hungary, where controversial Prime Minister Viktor Orban is regularly accused of stoking anti-migrant sentiment, almost half of respondents (48%) believe their government is hiding the truth about immigration. Germany was the next highest (35%), with France (32%), Britain (30%) and Sweden (29%) also showing high percentages of this conspiracy among respondents, as well as a fifth (21%) of those in the United States.

Close to half of respondents who voted for Brexit (47%) and Trump (44%) believe their government is hiding the truth about immigration, compared with just 14% of Remain voters and 12% of Clinton voters.  

The researchers also set out to measure the extent of belief in a conspiracy theory known as ‘the great replacement’: the idea that Muslim immigration is part of a bigger plan to make Muslims the majority of a country’s population.

“Originally formulated in French far-right circles, the widespread belief in a supposedly outlandish nativist conspiracy theory known as the ‘great replacement’ is an important marker and predictor of the Trump and Brexit votes,” said Leal. Some 41% of Trump voters and 31% of Brexit voters subscribed to this theory, compared with 3% of Clinton voters and 6% of Remain voters.

Researchers also looked at a number of other popular conspiracy theories. Both Trump and Brexit voters were more likely to believe that climate change is a hoax, vaccines are harmful, and that a group of people “secretly control events and rule the world together”. “We found the existence of a conspiratorial worldview linking both electorates,” said Leal.

He describes the levels of science denial as an “alarming global trend”. In general, researchers found the idea that climate change is a hoax to be far more captivating for right-wing respondents, while scepticism about vaccines was less determined by “ideological affiliation”.

The view that “the truth about the harmful effects of vaccines is being deliberately hidden from the public” ranged from lows of 10% in Britain to a startling quarter of the population – some 26% – in France.      

The conspiracy belief that a secret cabal “control events and rule the world together” varies significantly between European countries such as Portugal (42%) and Sweden (12%). Dr Hugo Drochon, also a researcher on the Leverhulme Trust-funded Conspiracy & Democracy project, suggests this has "public policy implications, because there are structural issues at play here too”.

“More unequal countries with a lower quality of democracy tend to display higher levels of belief in the world cabal, which suggests that conspiracy beliefs can also be addressed at a more ‘macro’ level,” said Drochon.

The research team assessed the levels of “conspiracy scepticism” by looking at those who refuted every conspiratorial view in the study. Sweden had the healthiest levels of overall conspiracy scepticism, with 48% rejecting every conspiracy put to them. The UK also had a relatively strong 40% rejection of all conspiracies. Hungary had the lowest, with just 15% of people not taken in by any conspiracy theories.    

Half of both Remain and Clinton voters were conspiracy sceptics, while 29% of Brexit voters and just 16% of Trump voters rejected all conspiracy theories.  

The question of trust, and which professions the public see as trustworthy, was also investigated by researchers. Government and big business came out worst across all countries included in the study. Roughly three-quarters of respondents in Italy, Portugal, Poland, Hungary and Britain say they distrusted government ministers and company CEOs. Distrust of journalists, trade unionists, senior officials of the EU, and religious leaders are also high in all surveyed countries.

Trust in academics, however, was still relatively high, standing at 57% in the US and 64% in Britain. “We hope these findings can provide incentive for academics to reclaim a more active role in the public sphere, particularly when it comes to illuminating the differences between verifiable truths and demonstrable falsehoods,” said Hugo Leal.

Apart from academics, only family and friends escape the general climate of distrust, with trust reaching levels between 80% and 90% in all countries. Leal argues that this might help explain the credibility assigned to “friend mediated” online social networks.

In all surveyed countries apart from Germany, about half the respondents got their news from social media, with Facebook the preferred platform followed by YouTube. Getting news from social media was less likely to be associated with complete scepticism of conspiracy theories – much less likely in countries such as the US and Italy.

Researchers found that consuming news from YouTube in particular was associated with the adoption of particular conspiratorial views, such as anti-vaccine beliefs in the US and climate change denial in Britain.

“A telling takeaway of the study is that conspiracy theories are, nowadays, mainstream rather than marginal beliefs,” said Leal. “These findings provide important clues to understanding the popularity of populist and nationalist parties contesting elections across much of the western world."

The survey was conducted by YouGov during 13-23 August 2018, with a total sample size of 11,523 adults and results then weighted to be “representative of each market”.  

* Northern Ireland was not included in the survey.

Latest research reveals the extent to which conspiracy theories have become “mainstream rather than marginal beliefs” across much of Europe and the US.

These findings provide important clues to understanding the popularity of populist and nationalist parties
Hugo Leal
Donald Trump speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. Some 44% of Trump voters were found to believe their government is hiding the truth about immigration, according to researchers.

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How could multilingualism benefit India’s poorest schoolchildren?

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Nov 20, 2018.

The crowded and bustling streets of Delhi teem with life. Stop to listen and, above the din of rickshaws, taxis and buses, you’ll hear a multitude of languages, as more than 20 million men, women and children go about their daily lives.

Many were born and raised there, and many millions more have made India’s capital their home, having moved from surrounding neighbourhoods, cities and states or across the country, often in search of a better job, a better home and a better life.

Some arrive speaking fluent Hindi, the dominant language in Delhi (and the official language of government), but many arrive speaking any number of India’s 22 officially recognised languages, let alone the hundreds of regional and tribal languages in a country of more than 1.3 billion people.

Around 950 miles south of Delhi lies Hyderabad, where more than 70% of its seven million people speak Telugu. Meanwhile, in Bihar, in the northeast of India, Urdu has replaced Hindi as the dominant language across this poor and populous state of more than 100 million people.

What links Delhi, Hyderabad and Bihar is a four-year project, Multilingualism and multiliteracy: raising learning outcomes in challenging contexts in primary schools across India, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department for International Development. Led by Professor Ianthi Tsimpli, from the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, the project involves Dr Dénes Szucs from the Department of Psychology, plus researchers from the University of Reading and project partners in Karnataka, Hyderabad and New Delhi.

The overriding aim of the project is to find out why in a country where multilingualism is so common (more than 255 million people in India speak at least two languages, and nearly 90 million speak three or more languages), the benefits and advantages of speaking more than one language, observed in Europe for instance, do not apply to many of India’s schoolchildren.

For Tsimpli, the answers to this conundrum may lie within the dataset she and her colleagues are compiling with the help of more than 1,000 primary-age schoolchildren across Delhi, Hyderabad and Bihar.

“Each year across India, 600,000 children are tested, and year after year more than half of children in Standard 5 [ten-year-olds] cannot read a Standard 2 [seven-year-olds] task fluently, and nearly half of them could not solve a Standard 2 subtraction task,” says Tsimpli, who co-leads Cambridge Language Sciences, the University’s Interdisciplinary Research Centre that brings together researchers from different fields to tackle ‘grand challenges’ where language is a factor.

“Low literacy and numeracy limit other important capabilities, including critical thinking and problem solving. Low educational achievement can lead to many dropping out of school – a problem disproportionately affecting female students. And the gap between state schools and private schools increases every year.”

She and colleagues are looking at whether these low learning outcomes could be a by-product of an Indian school system whereby the language that children are taught in often differs from the language used at home.

“We are looking at eight to 11-year-old schoolchildren in rural and urban areas,” she explains. “Within those urban areas we make the distinction between boys and girls living in slum and non-slum areas.

“Many children are internal migrants who move from remote, rural areas to urban areas. They are so poor they have to live in slums and, as a result of migration, these children may speak languages that are different to the regional language.

“By looking at the mismatch between home and school languages, and by using tests and other socio-economic and educational variables, we try to find out whether these children are advantaged or disadvantaged in literacy, numeracy, mathematical reasoning, problem solving and cognitive skills.”

Two years into the four-year project, the team has discovered considerable variation in the provision of education across government schools in the three areas, with different teaching practices and standards.

Having tested all 1,000 children, they will now embark on retesting them, looking not only at test results, but also allowing for other variables such as the standard of schooling, the environment and the teaching practices themselves. It’s possible that one of the causes of low performance is the lack of pupil-centred teaching methods; instead, the teacher dominates and there is little room for independent learning.

Although the findings are at a preliminary stage, Tsimpli and her team have found that the medium of instruction used in schools, especially English, may hold back those children who have little familiarity with, or exposure to,the language before starting school and outside of school life.

“Most of the evidence from this and other projects shows that English instruction in very disadvantaged areas might not be the best way to start, at least in the first three years [Standards 1 to 3] of primary,” says Tsimpli.

“What we would recommend for everyone, not just low socio-economic status children, would be to start learning in the language they feel comfortable learning in. The medium of instruction should reflect the strengths of the child. When it does, that child will learn better. English can still be used, but perhaps not as the medium of instruction in primary schools. It could, for example, be one of the subjects that are being taught alongside other subjects, starting perhaps from the third year of primary school.

“We are not suggesting that English be withdrawn – that ship has sailed – but we perhaps have to think more about learner needs. There is perhaps too much uniformity in teaching and less tailoring to the children’s language abilities and needs.”

While the preliminary results show that there is no difference in general intelligence among boys and girls from slum versus urban poor backgrounds, a surprising finding has been that children from slum backgrounds in Delhi do not seem to lag behind other children from other urban poor backgrounds – and in some cases perform better (e.g. in numeracy and literacy tasks).

This unexpected finding may be down to the life experiences of children growing up in slums, where they are likely to mature faster and come into closer contact with the numeracy skills essential for day-to-day survival.

Tsimpli adds that, despite the project only being at its midpoint, it has already caught the attention of government ministers, including Delhi’s Minister for Education, who is keen to use their findings to inform and adjust school policy in India’s capital city and the wider state.

“Delhi may be keen to adopt root-and-branch reform if our findings support it,” explains Tsimpli. “They are as keen as us to understand how the challenging context of deprivation can be attenuated when focusing on the languages children learn and use while at school.

“Our findings don’t mean that you’re doomed if you’re poor. It may be that these low learning outcomes are because of the way education is provided in India, with a huge focus on Hindi and English as the mediums of instruction, to the potential detriment of children unfamiliar with those languages.

“Language is central to the way knowledge is transferred – so the medium of instruction is obviously hugely influential. We hope to be able to show that problem solving, numeracy and literacy can and do improve in children who are educated in a language of instruction that they know. The trick may be to bridge school skills with life skills and make use of the richness of a child’s life experience to help them learn in the most effective ways possible.”

Inset image: credit Ianthi Tsimpli.

Read more about our research on the topic of children in the University's research magazine; download a pdf; view on Issuu.

 

Multilingualism is the norm in India. But rather than enjoying the cognitive and learning advantages seen in multilingual children in the Global North, Indian children show low levels of learning basic school skills. Professor Ianthi Tsimpli is trying to disentangle the causes of this paradox.

The trick may be to bridge school skills with life skills and make use of the richness of a child’s life experience to help them learn in the most effective ways possible
Ianthi Tsimpli
One of the partner schools
Research partnership

Co-Investigators (India)
National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Karnataka (Prof. Suvarna Alladi); The English & Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad (Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay); Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (Prof. Minati Panda)

Co-Investigators (UK)
University of Cambridge (Dr Dénes Szucs); University of Reading (Prof. Theodore Marinis and Prof. Jeanine Treffers-Daller)

Project partners
British Council, India
Language and Learning Foundation (India)
Bilingualism Matters (UK)
Quest for Learning (UK)
The Communication Trust (UK)

Funding
ESRC Research Grant Number:  ES/N010345/1

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Yes

Black researchers shaping the future

By ta385 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Oct 10, 2018.

University of Cambridge researchers

As the UK marks Black History Month, researchers from across the University talk about their route to Cambridge, their inspiration and their motivation.

University of Cambridge researchers

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Yes

Cambridge ceremony reveals the winners of BBC Short Story and Young Writers’ Awards

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Oct 02, 2018.

Announced this evening during a live broadcast of  BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ from the University’s West Road Concert Hall, Persaud was presented with the £15,000 prize for a work described by judge and previous winner of the award, K J Orr as “tender and ebullient, heartbreaking and full of humour”.

Meanwhile, the winner of the 2018 BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University was also revealed, before a reception for all the winning and shortlisted writers at Cambridge University Library.

Davina Bacon from Cambridgeshire won with ‘Under a Deep Blue Sky’, a raw and emotionally powerful short story about a young African poacher and the brutal murder of a mother and baby elephant.

Chair of the National Short Story award judges and Editor of the TLS, Stig Abell said of Persaud’s work: “The judges were unanimous in their praise for a story which keeps a consistency of voice without smoothing over the reality of genuine conflict. The relationship between Victor and Reggie, estranged father and son, who find solace in chocolate, is an utterly convincing and memorable one, a clever inversion of normal parental process.”

Dr Sarah Dillon, University Lecturer in Cambridge’s Faculty of English said: “Many congratulations to Ingrid Persaud on winning, and with such a beautiful story. It was a pleasure to host the award ceremony at the University and to celebrate all the shortlisted writers amongst the stacks in the University Library.

“We hope that this is the beginning of an ongoing relationship between the writers and our students, especially those honing their craft at the University's Centre for Creative Writing."

Davina’s winning story was inspired by her early life living in Africa and her passion for the environment, Her story was praised by author and judge William Sutcliffe as a ‘superlative piece of writing by any measure, regardless of the age of the writer’ and by fellow judge and actress Carrie Hope Fletcher, for its ‘compassion and intelligence’.

Citing Michael Morpurgo as an influence on her writing style and having recently read a lot of post-colonial literature including Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Anthills of the Savannah, Davina Bacon’s winning story is inspired by her earlier years spent living in Malawi.

She said: “My story is based on Kasunga National Park where they have issues with poachers crossing the border from Zambia to kill elephants. The population has decreased rapidly and this is very worrying.”

‘Under a Deep Blue Sky’ available to read and listen to on the Radio 1 website, read by Don Gilet of the BBC Radio Drama Company. An interview with Davina will be available on the Life Hacks podcast from Sunday 7 October. Davina will also receive a personalised mentoring session with an author to enhance and further develop her writing skills.

Meanwhile, ‘The Sweet Sop’ is available to listen to at www.bbc.co.uk/nssa, read by Leemore Marrett Junior.

Added Dr Dillon: “Congratulations to Davina Bacon on winning the 2018 BBC Young Writers' Award with First Story and Cambridge University. To capture in just 1,000 words a character's present, past, and perilous future is a feat for any writer, let alone one 17 years of age. Stories like this show just how powerful this form can be - hitting you hard and fast, haunting you for long after.”

This is the fourth year of the BBC Young Writers’ Award which invites 14 – 18 year olds to submit stories of up to 1,000 words. The award was launched as part of the tenth anniversary celebrations of the BBC National Short Story Award and aims to inspire and encourage the next generation of writers.

All five shortlisted writers spent the day of the award ceremony at Cambridge University where they met Young Writers’ Award judge and fifth laureate na nÓg (Ireland's laureate for children's literature) Sarah Crossan for a writing workshop in Cambridge University Library.

They were also given a private tour of ‘Virginia Woolf: An exhibition inspired by her writings’ at the Fitzwilliam Museum before attending the live award ceremony.

Trinidadian writer Ingrid Persaud, has won the thirteenth BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University for ‘The Sweet Sop’, her first short story about a young Trinidadian man reunited with his absent father via the power of chocolate.

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Yes

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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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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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