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Peter F

Earlier this week, the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais was cleared by the French authorities.

Earlier this year, Oxford historian Professor Peter Frankopan visited the camp as part of a team of cricket-loving writers called Authors CC.

While he was there, he played cricket with young refugees from Afghanistan who lived in the Jungle.

In an article for the Financial Times, and below, he describes the experience:

‘As we arrive, a group of smiling Sudanese teenagers approach us, one of them wearing an “I Love London” sweatshirt. They recognise the stumps and bats we have brought with us and say that, while they have watched several games, they could not make head or tail of the rules.

It is the Afghans we want, they tell us, pointing us towards the Youth Club, where the young have activities laid on for them by other refugees, who have taken on the responsibility of looking after each other.

Immediately we are surrounded by boys who take turns swishing the bats around to get a sense of their weight and balance before demonstrating the sort of textbook forward defensive drives that would have connoisseurs of the game cooing in admiration.

We head out across the wasteland towards the steep incline leading up to the motorway that leads to the Channel tunnel, which is protected by three-metre-high fences. We set out the stumps on a worn road, and the Afghans huddle around to agree on where a marker should be placed to indicate when a wide ball has been bowled. It is an example of how seriously they take the idea of fair play.

Two dozen or so have caught wind of the unscheduled match about to take place and come to join in. They are divided into two teams by captains that the Afghans appoint among themselves, with members of Authors CC split up to balance. They used to talk about day-night one-day internationals as pyjama cricket, because of the bright colours the teams wore.

Here is the real thing: players dressed in a motley collection of T-shirts (including an Italian football shirt), poorly fitting trousers and — in the case of the opening bowlers, who were about as fast as any I’ve ever faced — flip-flops. As the game gets going, the captains repeatedly break off to consult on whether the ball has crossed the (notional) boundary line, and to double-check the score — being kept all the while by a 16-year-old umpire, who tells me as I go to bat that we require 10 off the last over (this time, I do manage to hit what we need).

I speak with my new teammates about their journeys across Iran and Turkey, about how they had been treated in Europe. Above all, I ask why they want to come to the UK. “Because England is fair and open,” one of them tells me; “because of the education”, “because the English are good people — like you, my friend”, come the replies.

It makes me think. On October 14, 1914, Britain allowed in 16,000 Belgian refugees, feeding, looking after and resettling them. In other words, nearly twice the population of the Jungle in a single day. Those were different times, of course, and the UK was on a different trajectory than it is today.

But I was stumped when I was asked why we would not at least allow the children to come to our country. “We are trying to work it out,” I said, rather unconvincingly. “I hope we will see you soon,” one young chap said as we left; “I will get you out next time.” He does not appear to have been one of the 14 unaccompanied minors allowed in this week; but I will be ready if and when he makes it.'


A new joint project between the Oxford e-Research Centre and Oxford University Museums will develop multisensory tools to help enable blind or partially sighted people (BPSP) to engage in a more accessible and meaningful way with the collections in Oxford University's museums.

The project, which began in September 2016, is working with local BPSP communities to help develop the tools.

With about two million people registered blind or partially sighted in the UK, this project could greatly improve the museum experience for a lot of people.

‘I get really frustrated when I go to a museum and there’s no way to experience it,’ says Mrs Pamphilon, who runs a social group for visually impaired people in Oxfordshire. ‘Having things you can touch and feel just opens up a new world.’

To tackle this issue, museums internationally are experimenting with solutions to improve BPSP access to 2D and fragile 3D art (for example a recent exhibition in Spain's Prado Museum which invited blind and partially sighted people to touch specially-created copies of works by masters such as El Greco and Francisco Goya).

The 18 month collaboration, funded by the University's IT Innovation Fund (now IT Innovation Challenges), aims to further develop the touch tile approach, using techniques such as 3D printing to improve the touch elements of the tile, and using cheap and simple technology such as Raspberry Pi to deliver pre-recorded audio descriptions.

This should decrease the cost to museums of giving BPSP an experience more akin to that of the majority of museum visitors, and therefore increase availability and accessibility for BPS visitors.

The aim is to allow BPSP visitors to engage with both 2D and 3D artworks intuitively, dipping in and out and being able to select the part of the audio description they are interested in (rather than being restricted to a fixed linear recording).

Susan Griffiths, Community Engagement Officer at Oxford University Museums, says, "Our aim is to create a tool that can allow blind and partially sighted people to independently engage with some of the world famous visual arts held by the Oxford University Museums, in particular the Ashmolean.’

Strand one of the project, led by the Museums with support from Dr Torø Graven (Department of Experimental Psychology), will focus on understanding the tactile sensations that can be used to assist BPSP to experience the tiles (e.g. line fineness, texture of lines and surfaces, shape of features such as curves and angles, use of colour for partially sighted people), what kind of audio description should accompany the tiles and how it should be activated. The team will research existing approaches being taken by other museums, arts organisations, companies and BPS groups, with whom the Museums already have strong links.

The R&D strand, to be led by Iain Emsley, Research Associate at the e-Research Centre, will determine how best to develop cheap and efficient methods of creating touch tiles that can provide the tactile sensations identified in strand one. It will also develop practical and replicable approaches to integrating audio delivery into the touch tiles.

Thirdly, the project team will select works of art from the Ashmolean's Western Art collection to prototype and user-test the technology. Learnings from this will be used to fine tune the user experience and gain a deeper understanding of the impact of this technology on the BPSP experience of visual art. At the end of the prototyping phase an installation of the touch tiles in the Ashmolean Museum will allow testing and evaluation with BPSP visitors in a real-world environment.


A new podcast about women who have played an important but neglected role in Oxford’s history has been launched.

The podcast series, called ‘Women in Oxford’s History’ (WiOH), has been developed by two doctoral students at Oxford University and funded by the University’s AHRC-TORCH Graduate Fund.

Olivia Robinson of the History Faculty and Alison Moulds of the English Faculty have made six podcasts, which can be downloaded here for free.

In a guest post for Arts Blog, the presenters explain the idea behind the podcasts and what they hope it achieves:

"The history of Oxford is often told through the experiences of eminent men drawn from the aristocracy, the Church and academia, while the stories of ordinary women’s contributions to the city and the University remain neglected. The blue plaque scheme exists to recognise the lives of eminent people connected to the city, but less than a quarter of Oxford’s plaques commemorate women. The WiOH podcast project aims to redress this balance by highlighting the role women have played in Oxford’s history. We hope to inspire others to investigate women’s impact on their own communities and cities.

The project consists of six podcasts on women whose contributions to either ‘town or gown’ life have been overlooked. These showcase individuals whose lives are not widely known and whose names may be unfamiliar to many. These are not the Margaret Thatchers and Ada Lovelaces of the world, but are nonetheless women who have made important contributions to the city and university over the centuries, and who we feel deserve wider recognition.

The podcasts have been designed to appeal to a broad audience and people of all ages and backgrounds. We hope that they will attract interest beyond the University, from local schools and community groups and from international visitors.  They might be listened to by a Year 11 student on her way to school, a young professional who listens to podcasts while running, or a retired American tourist planning to explore the city.

Our contributors are postgraduate students at Oxford University in the fields of Anthropology, Creative Writing, Economic, Social and Local History. They have been busy producing narrative accounts of individual women whom they’ve chosen for their connection to, and impact on, Oxford. In several cases, the advanced search facility at the Online Dictionary of National Biography was used to identify suitable women to research in more depth, and the subjects include women with interests in social work, race relations, women’s education and museum collections.

The research produced by our contributors has then been adapted into scripts suitable for audio recordings and the podcasts also feature relaxed interviews with our contributors to find out more about their research. Each podcast lasts less than 15 minutes and is available to download via the University’s podcast series on iTunes. A website accompanies the series on which we’ve shared the podcast scripts along with extra research resources and links."

Further updates on the project can be found on its Twitter page.


As the US presidential election campaign reaches it final few weeks, the potential impact of overseas voters on key battleground states has been highlighted by a new report from the Rothermere American Institute (RAI) at the University of Oxford.

America’s Overseas Voters: 2016’s Forgotten Constituency? considers the states in which overseas voters stand to have the biggest impact. It identifies that winning a majority of overseas voters – often amounting to just a few thousand votes – could be enough for the candidates to snatch certain swing states.

The Trump campaign has suffered significant setbacks over the last two weeks, and the resulting decline in domestic support could mean that overseas voters provide the extra push needed for Hillary Clinton to secure Iowa, Arizona and Georgia.

But – as the recent Brexit vote and UK general election have shown – pollsters’ predictions can be significantly wrong. If Trump’s real support-base in Ohio, Nevada and North Carolina is close to where it appeared to be earlier in October, then Trump could take these states if he is able to command a sufficiently large majority of overseas voters.

Dr Halbert Jones, Director of the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford, and co author of the report said: “Our analysis shows that, based on recent polls, Trump might need a majority of just 5,600 among Ohio’s overseas voters to win the state, and a majority of just 7,100 among overseas voters to win Nevada.

“But if the national vote swings further behind Clinton, the overseas vote could mean she takes the presidency with a rout rather than a slim victory – helping the Democrats to snatch prizes like Georgia, Iowa and Arizona.”

The report examines the characteristics of the overseas voting population, drawing on data on absentee ballot requestsfrom the state of North Carolina. This analysis concludes that while Americans casting their votes from abroad are a diverse group, in at least one key swing state they are, as a group, disproportionately Democratic, urban, and white. The ways in which the profile of the overseas population differs from that of the electorate at large has potentially significant implications in a very close election.

It also analyses a recent US Government study suggesting that more than 2.6 million potential US voters live overseas, though this may well be a significant underestimation. US Government data highlights key populations of overseas US voters in Canada (661,000), Britain (306,000), France (159,000) and Israel (133,000), with other populations of more than 100,000 in Japan and Australia.

The population of potential US voters in Mexico is contested – with a US Government study suggesting just 65,000, while the 2010 Mexican census suggests a figure closer to 200,000. However sources agree that there is a huge number of US-born children living in Mexico - this means that the country is set to play an increasingly important role in US elections in the future.

Dr Patrick Andelic, Research Associate at the RAI, and co author of the report, said:  “Canada, Britain, France and Israel all play a substantial role in US elections now. While current polling places Clinton in a commanding lead, the volatile nature of the race so far means that anything can still happen - and if Britain’s recent general election and Brexit result have shown us anything, it’s that one shouldn’t call a winner until the votes have all been counted. Overseas voters proved crucial to George W Bush’s victory in 2000, and they may make a critical difference in 2016. Political parties ignore this hidden constituency at their peril.”

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature yesterday.

Many pundits hailed this as a vindication for Christopher Ricks, a former Professor of Poetry at the University, who has studied Bob Dylan’s lyrics for many years.

In The Times, Anne Treneman said that he “has laid the groundwork for a better understanding of Dylan’s literary significance”.

Some people reacted to the news by questioning whether a ‘singer’ should be eligible for the Nobel Prize for Literature. But Professor Seamus Perry, Chair of the English Faculty at Oxford University, disagrees.

‘Dylan winning the Nobel was always the thing that you thought should happen in a reasonable world but still seemed quite unimaginable in this one,’ he says.

‘He is, more than any other, the poet of our times, as Tennyson was of his, representative and yet wholly individual, humane, angry, funny, and tender by turn; really, wholly himself, one of the greats."

The announcement was a surprise because the bookmakers’ favourite to win had been Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o. His writing was the subject of the MPhil thesis of Professor Elleke Boehmer, who is now Director of The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH).

‘Ngugi is an undisputed giant of the African novel and African theatre, who has always seen literature as a powerful weapon in the struggle for greater justice and freedom,’ she says.

‘His ideas on how we 'decolonize' minds and cultures and use books as weapons of struggle, have proved hugely influential, not least today, with the ongoing discussion of decolonizing the curriculum in the US, UK and South Africa.’

But Professor Boehmer agrees that Dylan is a worthy winner – and not just because she saw him in concert in Amsterdam last year!

‘Though it would have been special for Ngugi to win, at this time of Black Lives Matter, I'm really thrilled about this gong for Bob,’ she says.

‘He created the anthems, the love songs, and the anti-love songs that defined the post-1968 generation and still resonate today. He is the subtlest rhyme artist -- captures unspoken meanings in the modulations of his rhyme.’

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