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Oxford Arts Blog


Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, John Singer Sargent. American artists have produced some of the most popular works of art in galleries across the world.

But to date the subject has been 'largely absent' from Oxford’s research and teaching programmes, according to the Head of the History of Art Department.

'Oxford is arguably the most important centre for the study of American history, politics, and culture outside North America,’ says Professor Geraldine A. Johnson. ‘Until now, however, American art has largely been absent from the University’s research and teaching programmes.'

This is due to change with the establishment of two one-year Visiting Professorships for scholars of American art.

In 2016/17 and 2017/18 the visiting professors will help to establish American art from the colonial period onwards as a new field of study for Oxford Master's students in Art History, introduce the visual arts of the United States to undergraduate students in History and Art History, and provide new global perspectives on American art to scholars and curators in Oxford and beyond.

'The Terra Foundation for American Art Visiting Professorships at the University of Oxford will allow the study of the visual culture of the United States to become a key component of Oxford’s world-class American studies agenda,' says Professor Johnson.

'We also hope that these posts will allow new initiatives to be developed in collaboration with the University’s museums and collections.'

The visiting professorships have been established by the Terra Foundation for American Art, which describes its mission as 'fostering exploration, understanding, and enjoyment of the visual arts of the United States for national and international audiences'.

JMW Turner's 'The High Street, Oxford' (1810)

The Ashmolean Museum has raised the money needed to acquire an iconic painting of Oxford’s High Street by JMW Turner.

The Museum launched a public appeal in June to acquire the painting of 1810 called The High Street, Oxford.

The painting was offered to the nation in lieu of inheritance tax, meaning the Museum needed to raise only £860,000 to acquire it. Grants of £550,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £220,000 from the Art Fund and £30,000 from the Friends and Patrons of the Ashmolean meant that £60,000 was required. Local people and museum visitors exceeded this target in only four weeks.

'The Museum has been overwhelmed by public support,' says Dr Alexander Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean.

'With well over 800 people contributing to the appeal, it is clear that the local community, as well as visitors to the Museum from across the world, feel that this picture, the greatest painting of the city ever made, must remain on show in a public museum in Oxford.'

The Museum plans to lend the painting to regional museums so as many people as possible will be able to see it. The painting will also be at the heart of a new series of educational activities for schools and young people, and it will be part of the Museum’s Nineteenth Century Gallery which will be refurbished and reopened in early 2016.

Daniel Horacio Agostini

The Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University are to receive a £1m grant for policy and technical research into the development of machine intelligence. 

The grant is from the Future of Life Institute in Boston, USA, and has been funded by the Open Philanthropy Project and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and Space X.  

This grant will allow Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute, part of the Oxford Martin School and Faculty of Philosophy at the University, to become the world’s largest research institute working on technical and policy responses to the long-term prospect of smarter-than-human artificial intelligence.

This growth follows the Institute Director Professor Nick Bostrom's bestselling book “Superintelligence”, which was endorsed by both Elon Musk and Bill Gates.  

Professor Bostrom said: 'There has much talk recently about the future of AI.  Elon - characteristically - decided to actually do something about it. 

'This grant will enable Oxford to expand its research in this area, forming the largest group in the world of computer scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, and policy analysts working together to ensure to that advances in machine intelligence will benefit all of society.'

The funding is part of an international grant programme dedicated to “keeping AI robust and beneficial”, which today awarded nearly $7m. The programme had nearly 300 applicants this round, which were subject to a thorough academic review process. The joint Oxford-Cambridge research centre will be the programme’s largest grant. Three other Oxford-based projects also received funding.   
Andrew Snyder-Beattie of the Future of Humanity Institute said: 'The joint centre between Oxford and Cambridge universities will allow a team of computer scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, and policy analysts to collaborate and help ensure that advances in machine intelligence will benefit all of society.'

English grammar

Can the rules of grammar ever be finalised?

Clemency Pleming | 29 Jun 2015

Teachers, linguists and academics will discuss the state of the English language at a one-day symposium today.

The symposium, called English Grammar Day, has been organised by Oxford University and UCL, and takes place at the British Library.

Professor Charlotte Brewer of the Faculty of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, who co-organised the event, said: "The National Curriculum now tests schoolchildren on English grammar, but sometimes these tests are at odds with how people actually speak. Part of the reason we organised this event is to support teachers as they implement the National Curriculum."

Changes in the English language have been criticised for hundreds of years, and certain features are often singled out as a sign of declining education, social standards or politeness.

"Language change is absolutely natural, as any linguist will tell you," said Professor Brewer. "But people often feel acute anxiety about these changes. For example, in the 1930s, the word 'finalise' was hotly debated on both sides of the Atlantic. Nowadays we would consider it standard English. Grammarians and lexicographers have to keep pace with this rate of change, by maintaining corpuses of English as it is really used."

Professor Brewer will give a talk called Monarchs and minnows vs. broadband and bungee jumping: what is the job of a children’s dictionary?, in which she will discuss recent research from Oxford University Press that shows how children's vocabulary has changed over the years, reflecting new technology and pop culture phenomena.

"It's good news that children innovate with language in this way," said Professor Brewer. "People's anxiety about language change often seems to reflect a generation gap: they're worried that children won't learn to 'speak properly'.

"But the test of speaking properly is if we're communicating what we want to communicate, which might mean speaking in one way with your friends, and another way with your parents or teachers. And all children learn to do this.

"Everybody uses language which identifies you as part of a social group, and everyone 'code-switches' in this way. Dictionaries and grammar books aim to describe the English language as it is used, rather than prescribing a particular way that it ought to be used."

PM AMerkel

The Oxford German Network Fest took place in the Divinity School of the Bodleian Library yesterday evening (23 June).

Author Michael Morpurgo spoke at the event and awarded prizes to schoolchildren, undergraduates and postgraduates for their entries in the Oxford German Olympiad competitions.

Over 60 schoolchildren from Year 5 upwards attended to collect their prizes for poems, stories, raps, cartoons and films in German. One prize sponsored by the Wiener Library was awarded to undergraduates who translated a letter about the Dresden bombings into English and commented on it, while another was awarded to postgraduates for a book proposal which was judged by the publisher Camden House, who sponsored the prize.

The event's organiser, Professor Katrin Kohl of the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford University, says she started the Oxford German Network to promote the teaching of German in schools and universities. The Oxford German Olympiad is now an annual competition attracting entries from across the UK.

'The teaching of German has really been suffering in schools, and indeed there is a crisis in modern languages teaching across the UK,' she says. 'The aim of the Oxford German Olympiad is to extend children’s experience of what modern languages is about, particularly showing them the cultural dimension of languages, which is neglected in the school syllabus.

'Since 2000 more than 40 university departments of modern languages have closed because there are simply not enough good applicants.'

Professor Kohl says the effects of the decline in modern languages teaching are already being felt in Britain. 'There is a shortage of linguists at all levels and in all sectors,' she says. 'Britain is under-represented in Brussels and diplomatic circles more generally because of a lack of language skills. This creates a security risk because there are not enough linguists to supply the necessary expertise.

'We are also losing the skills that language learning gives people who work in international business. You can do most of the work in English but when it comes to grass roots work, you need to be able to speak the language of the people you are dealing with.'

The Oxford German Network is the first university-led cultural network. Prizes were donated by Deutsche Bahn and the German Youth Hostel Association, business software company SAP AG, the Wiener Library, Camden House, OUP, Blackwell UK Ltd, and Penguin Books.


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