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Arts at Oxford
Blog about news in arts, humanities and culture at Oxford University
Stuart Gillespie | 06 Jun 13 | 0 comments
An online bibliography designed to comprehensively document the study of ancient Egypt has just passed 100,000 items.
The Online Egyptological Bibliography (OEB) was started in Oxford in January 2009 as the successor to the Annual Egyptological Bibliography.
Based in the Griffith Institute within the Faculty of Oriental Studies, the project brings together almost two centuries' worth of academic publications in Egyptology from across the globe.
John Baines, Professor of Egyptology at Oxford University, explained: 'The bibliography began in Holland in 1947 as an international undertaking. We took over at the beginning of 2009 after it became clear the project could no longer be supported in Holland.'
The move was made possible by a grant from the John Fell Fund, with a further grant of more than $600,000 from the Mellon Foundation allowing the project to incorporate the Germany-based Aigyptos database.
'When we took it on, the bibliography consisted of about 43,000 items and had only gone online in full form about 18 months before,' said Professor Baines. 'We then added a second bibliography of material published from 1822. That is a symbolic and important date in Egyptology because it is the year hieroglyphs were deciphered.'
With around two thirds of the Aigyptos database integrated into the OEB, the total number of items now stands at over 100,000. The bibliography updates daily and already has more than 250 entries for 2013.
Professor Baines added: 'The OEB covers all aspects of Egyptology, from linguistics to scientific archaeology. I don't know any other subject that is covered so fully. All academic publications in Egyptology in any language are added, and it's not limited to the main periodicals.
'The big change we made when we took on the project was to take the bibliography entirely online, which means it is much more convenient and can be edited from anywhere in the world. It used to take three or four years for an item to be added – now it happens instantly.'
The OEB is a joint project with the universities of Munich and Heidelberg, under the umbrella of the International Association of Egyptologists. It complements the Griffith Institute's previously-existing Topological Bibliography, which gathers together items published about specific locations or objects.
Image, courtesy of the Griffith Institute, shows a scene from the Middle Kingdom tomb of Bakt III at Beni Hasan, Egypt, painted by Percy Brown.(Full story)
Matt Pickles | 30 May 13 | 0 comments
The cultural role of the consort in the period 1500-1800 will be studied in a new project led by an Oxford University academic.
Professor Helen Watanabe O'Kelly of Oxford University's Faculty of Medieval and Modern languages will lead the project, called 'Marrying Cultures: Queens Consort and European Identities, 1500-1800', in collaboration with experts in Germany, Poland and Sweden.
Professor Watanabe O’Kelly says: ‘European culture as we know it today is the product of a series of intensive interactions between different territories, going back many centuries. These interactions often came about because the monarch took a wife from a different European territory, who then brought her culture, her language and her religion with her to her new home. She often introduced new literary, theatrical and musical forms, espoused new philosophical and scientific ideas, popularised new fashions in clothes and food.'
She adds: 'Though it has become usual during the last 40 or 50 years for the heir to the throne to marry someone from his or her own country and, even more recently, to marry for love, this is not the case in the early modern period. In that period, the marriage of a king or prince was designed to cement a political alliance, combine two territories or seal a peace treaty, so the bride was by definition a princess from a foreign territory.
'These young women had only one inescapable duty, which was to produce an heir, but they were often patrons of artists and musicians, owned considerable book collections, and brought painters and architects with them from their home territories.'
The project will examine a number of case studies of how foreign consorts shaped the culture of their new country. Professor Watanabe O’Kelly explains: 'The Portuguese princess Catarina of Braganza brought Bombay and Tangiers to Britain in her dowry in 1662 and reportedly introduced tea-drinking, but she also patronised Italian artists and maintained her Catholic faith, founding a Franciscan monastery and a convent.
'The Polish princess Katarzyna Jagiellonka brought the Italian culture she had learned from her mother to Finland and later to Sweden in the 16th century. The beautiful palace of Drottningholm in Stockholm was built by Hedwig Eleonora of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp, Queen and Dowager Queen of Sweden between 1656 and 1715, and its famous theatre was built by another foreign consort, Luise Ulrike of Prussia, in 1766.'
She adds: 'When Maria Amalia of Saxony became the first Bourbon Queen of Naples in 1738, her links to Dresden bore fruit in the founding of the porcelain factory of Capodimonte and the development of music in Naples. She was also involved in the design of three enormous palaces with her husband Charles VII, and took a keen interest in the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum.'
The project received one of only 18 three-year grants awarded by HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) for a study into the role of the foreign consort as agent of cultural transfer.
Matt Pickles | 29 May 13 | 0 comments
An Oxford University medievalist has been named a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker.
Dr Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, an early career fellow in Oxford’s Faculty of English Language and Literature, was chosen by BBC producers after a rigorous selection process to find bright, engaging early-career academics with the potential to turn their research ideas into compelling programmes.
The New Generation Thinkers scheme, which is run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, gives winners the chance to work with radio and TV producers to develop their ideas into programmes for broadcast.
Dr Barraclough, who specialises in Old Norse-Icelandic literature and is writing a book on the sagas (to be published with Oxford University Press), says: 'I am delighted to have been chosen as one of the Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers. I have spent much of my academic life in the company of Norse saga heroes with names such as such as Erik Bloodaxe, Thorfinn Skull-Splitter, Ragnar Hairy-Breeches and Eysteinn Fart (although I'm yet to find an Old Norse manuscript containing the saga of Noggin the Nog).
'I am looking forward to bringing this vibrant, fascinating world to as wide an audience as possible.' Dr Barraclough has carried out research in Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland, as well as parts of the British Isles settled by the Vikings such as Orkney. This summer, she will be returning to Greenland to explore what was once the Norse 'Western Settlement', sailing the deserted fjords and camping by ruined medieval farmsteads before travelling up the coast to Disko Bay, where the Norsemen had their northern hunting grounds.
Dr Barraclough is based at The Queen's College, where she teaches Old and Middle English, and is currently learning Danish to help her research. Not only does this help her to cope better when on research trips but, she says, 'it gives me an excuse to watch The Killing and Borgen 'for research purposes'.'(Full story)
Matt Pickles | 15 May 13 | 0 comments
Oxford University’s Museums have joined forces to organise three free late night events this Friday.
The Ashmolean Museum, Museum of the History of Science, and Pitt Rivers Museum will stay open late on Friday 17 May as part of Museums at Night.
The Ashmolean Museum has planned an evening programme called 'Dodos and dark lanterns' from 6-10pm. Curators will lead tours of the collections while children can try out craft activities and a discovery trail.
The Museum will be full of events, activities and games to transport visitors back to the era in which it was founded. Dr Jon Whitely, senior curator of European art, will give a lecture on the history of the Ashmolean.
The Museum of the History of Science will put on a Creatures of the Night event from 6-11pm, based around the 'Natural Histories' exhibition which has been co-curated with the Museum of Natural History. Tours of the exhibition will run all evening and visitors will see nocturnal creatures ranging from fluorescent scorpions to vampires.
The Pitt Rivers Museum will turn the lights down for its Music and Light event from 7-10pm, providing its visitors with torches to navigate the collections. A cash bar will be available and entry will be by the south entrance off South Parks Road as the Museum of Natural History is closed this year.
Visitors who make it to all three events and collect stamps to prove it will receive a souvenir and the chance to enter a prize draw.
Matt Pickles | 10 May 13 | 0 comments
The legendary 'Hanging Garden of Babylon' has since ancient times been recognised as one of the Seven Wonders of the World – but no trace of it has ever been found.
After 20 years of research, Dr Stephanie Dalley may have discovered why.
Dr Dalley, an honorary research fellow at Somerville College and part of the Oriental Institute at Oxford University, believes the garden was actually created at Nineveh, 300 miles from Babylon, in the early seventh century BC. She argues that it was built by the Assyrians in the north of Mesopotamia – modern-day Iraq - at the instigation of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib.
One piece of evidence is a record of description by Sennacherib of an ‘unrivalled palace’ and a ‘wonder for all peoples’. He describes the marvel of a water-raising screw made using a new method of casting bronze.
A recent excavation near Nineveh found traces of an aqueduct with the inscription: 'Sennacherib king of the world ... Over a great distance I had a watercourse directed to the environs of Nineveh'.
Dr Dalley also believes the landscapes of Babylon and Nineveh support her conclusion - the flat countryside around Babylon would have made it impossible to deliver water to the raised gardens as described in classical sources.
Dr Dalley suggests that after Assyria conquered Babylon in 689BC, the Assyrian capital Nineveh may have been seen as the ‘New Babylon’, which could have created the confusion. Earlier research showed that after Sennacherib conquered Babylon, he renamed all the gates of Nineveh after the names used for Babylon’s city gates.
Moreover, Dr Dalley believes the Hanging Garden may in fact have been depicted in a bas-relief from Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh, which shows trees growing on a roofed colonnade as described in classical accounts of the 'Babylon' gardens (see image below).
It has taken many years to find the evidence to demonstrate that the gardens and associated system of aqueducts and canals were built by Sennacherib at Nineveh and not by Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon,' Dr Dalley says.
'For the first time it can be shown that the Hanging Gardens really did exist.'
The Mystery Of The Hanging Garden Of Babylon by Stephanie Dalley is published by Oxford University Press this month.
Julia Paolitto | 03 May 13 | 0 comments
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun
All felled, felled, are all felled
These are the opening lines of Binsey Poplars, written by late Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1879 after the felling of some trees along the Thames.
Manley Hopkins was an undergraduate at Oxford University while he wrote the poem and the trees were replanted after the poem was first published in 1918.
The Bodleian Library has this week acquired draft manuscripts of the poem at auction – the most significant of the poet’s draft manuscripts to come on the market in 40 years. The manuscripts join the four other drafts owned by the Bodleian, meaning that the library now owns all known manuscripts of the poem.
Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library, says: 'The various revisions in the draft, particularly when studied alongside the other drafts, gives us a remarkable insight into how the poet crafts his passionate lament on man’s disregard for the sanctity of nature. It’s an enduringly relevant poem that everyone should know.'
The acquisition was made possible by strong financial support from a number of individuals and funding bodies, including the Friends of the Bodleian, the Friends of the National Libraries and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund.
The manuscript will be displayed on Thursday May 9 in a free exhibition at the Bodleian Library.
Matt Pickles | 30 Apr 13 | 0 comments
Leading figures in the arts world will speak in Oxford as Humanitas Visiting Professors this term.
Over the next two months, lectures, workshops and symposiums will be given by Visiting Professors in Interfaith Studies, Comparative European Literature, Contemporary Art, Museums, Galleries & Libraries, Historiography, Classical Music and Music Education, and Opera Studies.
Poet Don Paterson will give his first lecture as Visiting Professor of Comparative European Literature at St Anne's College at 5.30pm this evening, while Professor Abdou Filali-Ansary will talk about 'Liberal Islam' at Lady Margaret Hall at 5pm today as Visiting Professor of Interfaith Studies.
Other highlights of the term include a lecture and symposium by world-renowned pianist Imogen Cooper on 13 and 14 May, and a discussion of 'experience versus numbers' in museums by artist William Kentridge on 6 May.
Humanitas Visiting Professors are some of the most prominent figures in their respective fields - just last week British film director Michael Winterbottom gave a public lecture and a workshop in his role as Humanitas Visiting Professor of Film and Television - just days after the release of his latest film, The Look of Love.
Humanitas is a series of Visiting Professorships at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge intended to bring leading practitioners and scholars to both universities to address major themes in the arts, social sciences and humanities.
Created by Lord Weidenfeld, the Programme is managed and funded by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue with the support of a series of generous benefactors and administered by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities in Oxford.
Matt Pickles | 24 Apr 13 | 0 comments
Anyone skimming the BBC News Online website over breakfast could be forgiven for heading straight back to bed after reading about research into the possible causes of human extinction by Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute.
The Future of Humanity Institute is part of the Philosophy Faculty and the Oxford Martin School, and its work has unsurprisingly met with considerable interest – the story was one of the most read on the BBC website today, while an article in Aeon earlier this year attracted a long debate in the comments section beneath.
The Institute looks into existential risks, which Dr Bostrom defines as 'those that threaten the entire future of humanity'. This refers not to issues like pandemics and natural disasters, which could be calamitous but from which Dr Bostrom believes humanity would be likely to survive.
But it is experiments in areas such as synthetic biology, nanotechnology and machine intelligence which cause Dr Bostrom to worry.
He says the 'fatal indifference' machines with artificial general intelligence might have to human life should be considered by research in the field, and Institute conference held a conference on this issue in December.
'Our species is introducing entirely new kinds of existential risk - threats we have no track record of surviving,' he says. 'Our longevity as a species therefore offers no strong prior grounds for confident optimism.'
The Future of Humanity Institute hopes its warnings about existential risks will reach the ears of decisionmakers across the world and says that the issue is not being taken seriously enough at present.
'While millions of pounds are pumped into researching artificial intelligence (AI) and bringing the possibilities of AI closer to reality than ever before, relatively little thought has gone into the ethical and safety implications of AI,' says Dr Stuart Armstrong of the Faculty of Philosophy.
Dr Bostrom’s 2002 paper on existential risk and his recent paper called ‘Existential Risk Prevention as Global Priority’ can be read here.
Matt Pickles | 23 Apr 13 | 0 comments
The Bodleian Libraries are marking Shakespeare’s birthday today (23 April) by publishing online the digitized copy of the First Folio, the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays.
The Bodleian’s copy of the First Folio is a rarity because it has not been rebound or restored in almost four centuries since it was first received by the library in 1623.
As it is a library copy rather than a book in a private collection, we can see the tastes of early readers by observing where their hands have worn the pages. Romeo and Juliet has extensive wear and tear, whereas King John is in virtually pristine condition.
The Folio can now be viewed for free online, thanks to hundreds of individual donations from around the world received after a public appeal launched in August 2012. £20,000 was raised to digitize the 1,000-page volume - £20 per page.
Supporters of the campaign included actress Vanessa Redgrave, actors Stephen Fry and Tom Hiddleston, Founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company Sir Peter Hall and current Artistic Director Greg Doran, theatre producer Thelma Holt, TLS editor Sir Peter Stothard, and Shakespeare scholar Professor Jonathan Bate from the University of Oxford.
Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodley's Librarian said: 'We are grateful for the numerous gifts which were sent from around the world in support of our efforts to digitise the Bodleian copy of the First Folio. These are a testimony that Shakespeare’s plays transcend cultures and are loved by everyone.
'We hope that by publishing this special volume online , we will be able to continue Bodleian’s mission of making its treasures accessible to scholars and general public alike.'
This online resource is available worldwide and accessible free of charge for anyone – from schoolchildren and scholars, to actors and directors – to enjoy exploring its pages.
Accompanied by articles and blogs from academics, specialists, theatre professionals and members of the public alike, the website will become a dynamic forum to celebrate Shakespeare and prepare for Oxford’s celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016.
The volume left the library in the 1660s and was returned after the exceptional response to a public fundraising campaign to buy it at the turn of the 20th century, showing the strong national affection felt both for Shakespeare and for the Bodleian’s role in protecting and championing our national cultural heritage. The copy can be viewed online free of charge here.
Matt Pickles | 03 Apr 13 | 0 comments
In November last year the number of applications available to Apple users passed the one million mark. Two of those apps are exciting new ideas pioneered by humanities academics: Shakespeare's Sonnets and Candide.
Shakespeare's Sonnets is an app containing texts of Shakespeare's sonnets, commentary and annotations by experts, and audio and video performances of the sonnets.
The text of the sonnets is taken from Oxford University’s Katherine Duncan-Jones' edition of 'Shakespeare's Sonnets'. She and another Oxford English academic, Professor Henry Woudhuysen, contribute to a series of video commentaries on the texts.
'The app complements old technology and gives you something rather different,' says Professor Woudhuysen, who is Rector of Lincoln College. 'It allows the user to read the Sonnets, consult explanatory notes on them, see and hear them performed, and listen to experts talking about them.'
But Professor Woudhuysen insists the process is not all that different from that of editing a book. 'As with a book, the app depends on the quality of what you put in,' he explains.
The same textual decisions have to be taken about what you include in the electronic text of an app, so it is crucial that experts in the field are involved in app development. For example, the quarto and Folio versions of Lear are different, but if you were to include both, as well as multiple other versions which might exist, the app would become confusing and lose its appeal.'
The Voltaire Foundation has also played a part in setting up an app, joining forces with Orange and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France to produce a digitally enhanced version of Voltaire's Candide.
The app allows the user to read a new critical version of the text alongside the original, handwritten manuscript.
'The values of Voltaire are today’s values, and the comedy of this text is timeless,' says Professor Nicholas Cronk, director of the Voltaire Foundation. 'Our new app is an accessible and joyful invitation to read a masterpiece of world literature.'
Professor Cronk hopes the app will be used as an educational tools for schools. He says: 'We have developed a feature called 'the garden' which allows teachers to create their own notebook and invite students to contribute. The books appear in the garden as knowledge trees, which grow as the reader enriches them.'