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Simon Armitage lecture

Simon Armitage gave his first lecture as Professor of Poetry to a packed audience at the Examination Schools yesterday evening (Tuesday 24 November).

A full audio recording of the lecture is now available.

Professor Armitage opened with an account of 'the parable of the solicitor and the poet', in which a poet pays a solicitor for legal advice. The solicitor then asked the poet to review some poetry he had written - and did not offer to pay the poet.

Simon Armitage headshotBy Marc West


A day of events to discuss the significance of the dodo took place last Wednesday (18 November).

'The Oxford Dodo: Culture at the Crossroads' was organised by Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH). It formed part of the national festival of the humanities, Being Human.

It has been covered in more detail in a previous Arts Blog post.

On the day, the winners of a creative writing competition for schoolchildren were announced. More than 170 budding writers between the ages of 7 and 14 entered the contest, coming from 36 schools across the UK. 

The competition was judged by children’s author Jasper Fforde, the Story Museum's Co-Director Kim Pickin, the University of Oxford's Knowledge Exchange Champion Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, the Museum of Natural History’s Scott Billings and Hannah Chinnery at Blackwell's.

The winners in the 7-10 age category were:
First place: Rhianna Gorman (age 10, Richard Durning's Endowed Primary School, Lancashire)
Second place: Joel Atkinson (age 9, Pencaitland Primary School, East Lothian)
Joint third place: Frances Watt (age 8, St Aloysius Primary School, Oxford)  and Mimi Burrell (age 10, St Andrew's Church of England Primary School, Headington)

The winners in the 11-14 age category were:
First place: Hebe Robertson (age 11, Combe Primary School, Witney)
Second place: Evie Manton (age 11, Oxford Spires Academy)
Third place: Simi Tame (age 12, Perse Upper School Cambridge)

We are delighted to publish the winning entries below. Are you sitting comfortably?

The Last Dodo

By Hebe Robertson, 11, Combe Primary School in Oxfordshire

This is the story of my life, death and the bit afterwards.

The burning summer sun glared on my somewhat unattractive feathers. I was a good old Dodo, to my kind I was known as Dod, I lived on the tropical island of Mauritius. I still reminisce: the days of sunshine, the cool breeze and the gentle lapping of the waves on the white-sand beach. I remember the laughs we had, the parties and the many times I got a feather up my nose. Those were the days.

Then they came, in their indestructible, floating things, they came with sticks that shot death from their handles… They came, wave upon wave, brandishing their weapons. They hunted us down. One by one we were shot and killed. Cousin Frank, Auntie Melina- even my sister, Alice.

I hid in the jungle, shedding silent tears for my loved ones. Already pushing 30, I sat on my ruined nest. I sat and I waited. I, Dod was not going to be hunted like common game; I was going to be remembered as a hero: The Last Dodo.

It was a long night, that night. I, as quiet as a mouse, crept aboard their huge boat and found a box. I pecked my way in with my hemispherical beak and nestled inside. I sniffed.

It was full of my friend’s feathers! I sneezed like a foghorn! Believe it or not- feathers make me sneeze! My noise alerted one enormous man who strode through the open door, opened my box and pulled out his death-stick…

“STOP!” yelled another man, seeing what was happening. He came over to me, stroked my feet. He stared at me: a beaked, clawed, feathered stowaway. He smiled. “I’m a naturalist, don’t be afraid. I’m not going to hurt you,” he said to me. I was allowed to stay on the boat and then, eventually, we began the long journey home.

It took many days and nights. One day, I was woken with a jolt; a bell roared at me to wake up, to rise and shine, but I couldn’t. All the travelling was so unnatural for a dodo that, on arrival, I was scared stiff. After 3 toilsome weeks on a ship: England.

That was over 300 years ago. After that voyage, I lived with that naturalist for 20 years, until I was finally admitted into the glorious kingdom of Dodily, the Dodo God. My life sadly ends here, at the ripe old age of 50, but my legacy lives on.

The naturalist kept me in a glass case in his house and I was passed down through the generations until 1873. That year, the Natural History Museum was built. Exhibits poured in.  After a while, the Museum was completely full but the staff there managed to make room for one more: me. 

You are welcome to see my bones on show. When you see me, remember my story: The story of The Last Dodo.


Dodo Island

By Rhianna Gorman, Age 10, Richard Durning's Endowed Primary School in Lancashire

Emerging from the mist, I stalked around a tree, my feathers puffed out to protect me from the cold. Leisurely, I walked past a group of tall ferns. All was quiet.

Without warning, a noise I had never heard before gradually got louder. It sounded like the noise meant something, not just a call. The noise increased, I saw a group of giants, but not at all like me. They walked around on something called legs, (as I found out later) and had no feathers on their bodies.

Walking up to them, I could sense something wasn't right. We weren't safe. Then it struck me. I had seen creatures look like this before, thin and pale. They, the things, were hungry. For us, the dodo. Running as fast as I could, I caught a glimpse of an island that I had never seen before. As I reached the shore, I saw my friends staring at it too.

Dragging ourselves desperately, we half-flapped (I knew these wings would come in useful one day), half-swam across to the island. The 'things' were baffled. They couldn't understand where we were heading.

What I now know, which I didn't then, is that our magical island is invisible to the human eye. Over the years, our island drifted further away from the place where the humans live. A full group of us still thrive there now, although we have learnt to live in hiding.

Perhaps one day we will have the courage to leave our island, but whenever we consider it, we hear news of wars and conflicts from migrating birds. That puts us right off. I don't think humans will ever learn to be sensible, and stop killing animals off, like they nearly did to us.

Turns out, that humans think us dodos are dead. That they killed us off. Well, to be frank, they nearly did, they killed thousands of us. All those poor dodos that didn't see or notice the 'hungry' look, and approached rather than fled the humans.

And it's not just us dodos that have been saved by the magic of the island. It has been there to rescue the survivors of many other near extinctions. Today we share our island with great auks and passenger pigeons. We all know how lucky we are to be here and have learnt to be more careful.

I've heard that today's humans aren't so bad after all. They're sad we're no longer there with them. Thinking about it, I'm not sure they will kill many more things, some of them are actually trying to save threatened species.

That doesn't stop them killing other humans though! One day we will probably be discovered. Goodness knows what will happen. Who knows, they might actually help us. But that's unlikely....

The other winning and shortlisted entries can be read on the TORCH website.


Today marks 70 years since the first of the Nuremberg trials began. 

Dr Jan Lemnitzer, historian at Pembroke College, Oxford University, researches how modern international law was created in the 19th century, how it came to be applied across the globe, and what that meant for international politics.

Here, he writes about the legacy of the Nuremberg trials:

On November 20 1945 the first of the Nuremberg trials began in the main court building of the Bavarian town of Nuremberg with the indictment of 22 of the most senior Nazis that had been captured alive.

Here in the dock were the architects and enforcers of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime’s countless other crimes – among them were Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe and the Nazi rearmament effort; Hans Frank, who had treated Poland like his personal fiefdom and acquired the nickname “the Butcher of Kracow”; Hans Sauckel, who had organised the Nazi slave labour programme.

The trials are widely celebrated as a triumph of law over evil and marking an important turning point in legal history because dealing with the crimes of the Nazis paved the way for justice in the international community in general and the creation of the International Criminal Court in particular. It is this version of the story which has inspired the city of Nuremberg, which also hosted the infamous Nazi party rallies in the 1930s, to launch a new academy to promote the “Nuremberg principles”.

But while Nuremberg is celebrated today, the legal reality is not as clear-cut. As leading international criminal lawyer William Schabas remembers, “when I studied law, in the early 1980s, the Nuremberg Trial was more a curiosity than a model”.

The trials were also plagued by allegations of being little more than victor’s justice. These were made not only by Germans but also by American and British lawyers who felt it was a legal travesty. The judges and prosecutors were not neutral, but came from the four victorious powers – which led to such oddities as a Soviet prosecutor citing the Hitler-Stalin pact as evidence of German aggression against Poland, or a Soviet judge with ample experience of running Stalinist show trials trying to persuade his colleagues that the massacre against Polish officers in Katyn (who had been shot by the Soviets) should be added to the tally of German war crimes.

But the hypocrisy was not exclusive to the Soviet side: the London Charter of August 8 1945 which established the tribunal explicitly limited its remit to war crimes committed by the Axis powers. The tribunal also applied the so-called tu quoque principle which holds that any illegal act was justified if it had also been committed by the enemy (the Latin phrase means “you, too”).

Leading Nazis, Hermann Göring, Karl Dönitz, and Rudolf Hess at Nuremberg. United States Army Signal Corps photographer via Harvard Law Library

No Nazi was charged with terror bombardment since the use of strategic bombardment against civilians had been a pillar of the British and US war efforts. And when US admiral Chester W. Nimitz testified that the US Navy had conducted a campaign of unrestrained submarine warfare against the Japanese from the day after Pearl Harbor, the relevant charges against Admiral Karl Doenitz were quietly dropped.

Wisely, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia dismissed tu quoque as fundamentally flawed.

So why celebrate this trial?

One reason to celebrate Nuremberg is the simple fact that it happened at all. Until just before the end of the war, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin favoured summary executions of thousands of leading Nazis as the appropriate form of retribution. An outcry among the US public once these plans were leaked was a major factor in laying the road to Nuremberg.

Instead of mass shootings, an old idea from the First World War was revived. The Versailles treaty had compelled Germany to hand over Kaiser Wilhelm II and hundreds of senior officers to an international tribunal to be tried for war crimes. But the Kaiser fled to the Netherlands and the German government refused to hand over any officers or politicians. This time, however, Germany was completely occupied and was unable to resist, so the trials went ahead.

Flawed or not, the Nuremberg tribunal could not have met a more deserving collection of defendants – and it gave them a largely fair trial. Next to 12 death sentences and seven lengthy prison terms, the judgements included three acquittals – one of them for Hans Fritzsche, who had been the regime’s public voice on radio but was not personally involved in planning war crimes.

Crucially, the Nuremberg trials established an irrefutable and detailed record of the Nazi regime’s crimes such as the holocaust at precisely the time when many Germans were eager to forget or claim complete ignorance.

The legacy: important but inconvenient

Today, the most relevant legacy are the “Nuremberg principles”. Confirmed in a UN General Assembly resolution in 1948, they firmly established that individuals can be punished for crimes under international law. Perpetrators could no longer hide behind domestic legislation or the argument that they were merely carrying out orders.

The Nuremberg trials also influenced the Genocide Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva conventions on the laws of war, all signed shortly after the war.

The strongest impact should have been on the development of international criminal law, but this was largely frozen out by the Cold War. With the re-emergence of international tribunals investigating war crimes and genocide in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s, the legacy of Nuremberg proved a powerful argument for establishing the International Criminal Court in 1998.

The Rome Statute includes many principles developed in 1945, so the United States as the main proponent of the Nuremberg trials could take great pride in its impact, were it not for the fact that successive US administrations have fought tooth and nail against the ICC’s insistence that international criminal law might one day be applied against US citizens. So, 70 years later, Nuremberg’s legacy continues to be inconvenient.

This article first appeared in The Conversation.

Ashmolean Roman

Ashmolean to hold Roman-themed day

Matt Pickles | 19 Nov 2015

This Sunday (22 November) the Ashmolean will host a free, fun-filled day of events and activities in which visitors will explore what it was like to be alive in Roman times, discover how the Romans remembered their dead and see newly installed displays in the museum's Roman Gallery.

Remembering The Romans features a programme of immersive performances, interactive workshops and lively talks for all ages, including Roman storytelling; ancient object handling; costumed performances; readings of ancient inscriptions; expert tours and talks; and drop-in Roman craft sessions.

The Ashmolean Latin Inscriptions Project , which involves academics from the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents in Oxford's Faculty of Classics, the Ashmolean Museum Warwick University, will also share their recent findings based on research, using the Ashmolean's remarkable Roman permanent collection to introduce visitors to their latest studies into Roman life, death and commemoration.

Other events include 'living history' specialist Tanya Bentham looking at the different clothes worn during the Roman Empire in a Roman Fashion Show and drop-in craft activities where visitors can carve their own inscriptions, test their code-cracking skills on real Latin inscriptions and handle Roman artefacts.

Professor Alison Cooley, Head of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick, and Helen Ackers of Oxford University's School of Archaeology, will be giving an expert tours of the Roman collections, looking at the lives of those depicted in Roman tombstones.

The event will run from 11am to 4pm.

The Ashmolean Latin Inscriptions Project (AshLI) is a three-year project to catalogue and share Roman stories from the Ashmolean Museum.

For more information on AshLI, read their project blog or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

Alchemical Tree

A tree being planted on Oxford University’s Radcliffe Observatory Quarter would not normally be considered news.

But an interesting piece of public art, which was unveiled by Oxford's Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Hamilton on Friday, is worth a mention.

The Alchemical Tree was designed by artist Simon Periton and is the first piece of art to go on the University’s Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ).

The ROQ is the largest development carried out by the University in living memory. When all the buildings on the site are finished, it is intended that the ROQ will open up the area between Woodstock Road and Walton Street.

There is already a publicly-accessible path across the site and members of the public are encouraged to look at the architecture of buildings such as the Mathematical Institute and the Blavatnik School of Government and visit the café in the Mathematical Institute.

The public artworks represent yet another reason to visit the Quarter.

Simon Periton was appointed as site-wide artist for the ROQ in 2012 and holds an Artist’s Fellowship for the site. The public art strategy for the ROQ is curated by Modus Operandi.  TORCH | The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities has been involved in the development of the strategy.

Here is how Modus Operandi describe the tree:

'The Alchemical Tree was inspired by historical images of such trees, symbolising growth, transformation, interdisciplinary collaboration and a quest for knowledge. Periton’s Alchemical Tree – cast from an ash tree in Norfolk – features a golden crown hooked around the trunk, below a series of scrolled banners amongst the tree’s branches and inscribed with texts suggested by departments based within the ROQ.

'The crown references an illustration from Salomon Trismosin’s manuscript Splendor Solis (a famous treatise on alchemy from the 16th century), and represents the successful attainment of a higher state, a realisation of perfection.'


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