Oxford Arts Blog

Social media, the Ebola epidemic, and World War I are just some of the things that have influenced British children's creativity and use of language over the last year, according a report published today by Oxford University Press (OUP).

OUP's analysis of 120,000 short stories that children submitted to the BBC's 500 WORDS competition 2015 revealed a wealth of fascinating insights into the lives of British children and the imaginative ways in which they use English.

Hashtag – and the symbol used to represent it '#' – is unmistakeably the 'Children's Word of the Year', due to its significant shift in usage by children writing in this year's competition.

The symbol is entering children's vocabulary in a new way, as they have extended the use from a simple prefix or a search term on Twitter, to a device for adding a comment in their stories.

The rise of mobile technology and social media is the predominant theme for 2015. Of the top 20 words which have significantly increased in use during the past 12 months, over half are inspired by youngsters' understanding and use of social media – youtube, Zoella, snapchat, selfie, vlog, blog, Instagram, emoji, and Whatsapp.

Young authors also demonstrate a keen interest in the world around them. International current affairs, particularly the more harrowing situations, are reflected in their stories. Ukraine, Syria, Malaysia Airlines, and peacekeepers all feature. However, one global event dominates over all others – the Ebola crisis in countries such as Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Events to mark the centenary of World War I have clearly had a big impact on children. Many historical and contemporary stories hone in on specific events surrounding the Great War, such as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and, for this year, the sinking of the Lusitania (1915).

500 WORDS is the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show's short story writing competition for children aged 13 and under. Children were invited to compose an original work of fiction, using no more than 500 words. 

OUP's analysis of the submissions was powered by the Oxford Children's Corpus – a large electronic database of real and authentic children’s language – the only one of its kind in the world. It is used by lexicographers and linguists as part of OUP's on-going language research and dictionary compilation programme.

Vineeta Gupta, Head of Children's Dictionaries at Oxford University Press said: 'Language is constantly changing and adapting. Children are true innovators and are using the language of social media to produce some incredibly creative writing. What impresses me most is how children will blend, borrow, and invent words to powerful effect and so enrich their stories.'

Martin Parr, the renowned documentary photographer, visited the Oxford University Museum of Natural History recently to mark its nomination for The Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2015.

One of his images (above) shows children in a primary school workshop getting their hands on a real dinosaur egg.

He was taken around the exhibits by Scott Billings, public engagement officer at the Museum. A photographer himself, Scott snapped a photograph-of-Martin-Parr-taking-a-photograph (above).

He says: 'Having a Magnum photographer visit the Museum for a photoshoot isn’t something that happens every day, so it was a real privilege to take Martin Parr around the building – in the public areas and behind the scenes – and watch the types of things that caught his eye.

'I am a keen photographer myself, with an interest in the history of photography as an art form. I have a few books of Martin Parr’s work, so it was especially exciting to not only meet Martin and watch him work, but also to photograph the process myself too.

'Anyone familiar with Martin Parr's work will know that his speciality is picking out the behaviours, styles and environments that describe not how we would necessarily like to see ourselves but how we are.

'Subjecting the Museum to the same scrutiny was a little daunting, but Martin captured a combination of images, some with his typical forensic observation and others sympathetic to the beauty of the building and its collections.'

The Art Fund is currently running a photography competition for each of the six nominated museums, asking people to send in their best photograph of one of the museums. Martin Parr will help shortlist six photographers – one for each museum – and then a public vote will decide the winner.

Amateur photographers (or even just smartphone owners!) can upload their photo by Sunday 31 May or Tweet or Instagram it with the hashtag #motyphoto and tag @morethanadodo.

Martin Parr at work

As the final votes are counted and the UK's latest parliament begins to take shape, Oxford University historian Dr Jonathan Healey looks back at 750 years of parliamentary history to pick out what he calls 'the five worst parliaments of all time'.

This is a guest post for Arts Blog. You can see more of Dr Healey's blogs on The Social Historian.

The Bad Parliament, 1377

Doing just what it says on the tin, the Bad Parliament will go down as one of the few assemblies in history that was actually pro corruption.

Disturbed by the damage done by the sanctimonious ‘Good Parliament’ to the garden duck-house industry, the ‘Bad’ decided it befitted the Palace of Westminster to reward courtiers for all kinds of peculatory pilferings. Then, realising there were at least three small buboes in England that they hadn’t yet pissed off, they pulled one of those classic anger-harvesting manoeuvres out of the bag, and imposed a poll tax.

Peasants revolted, nobles were chased out of their mansions quicker than you can say ‘Ed Miliband’, and Richard II had his first serious go at throwing away his crown.

The Merciless Parliament, 1388

Things got even worse with the Merciless Parliament of 1388.

Ruled with sinister glee by the so-called Lords Appellant, the Merciless Parliament was created (one suspects) by forcing a nest of wasps to mate with Katie Hopkins, and cramming their multiple spawn together into a poorly ventilated  Wetherspoons toilet.

It made life for its enemies about as much fun as being Eric Pickles’ ham sandwich. Anyone who dared support King Richard II against the Malevolent Appellants found Parliament quickly getting medieval on their ass. Its brutal punishments included hanging, drawing, quartering, beheading, and exile to Ireland.

Fortunately, the people of Kent suddenly noticed they hadn’t rebelled for at least seven years, and went on a well-timed rampage. This forced parliament to concentrate on raising troops rather than lowering life-expectancies, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Until…

The Parliament of Bats, 1426

Called to sit in Leicester because it was obviously much more civilised than London, the ‘Parliament of Bats’ came at a time when the nobility’s antics were starting to make Game of Thrones look like an episode of Peppa Pig.

Fearing violence (and improper parliamentary language), the government made the not-unreasonable suggestion that MPs should leave their swords and bows-and-arrows at home rather than bringing them to debates. To the Furcoat Mafia, though, this was just another case of health-and-safety gone mad, so they fired a jet of meady piss in the face of the new rules: arming themselves with a terrifying array of clubs and bats, and turning up anyway.

Worryingly, this fractious Parliament was presided over by a four-year-old (as opposed to someone just acting like one), so it’s nothing short of miraculous that more people didn’t end up under car parks.

The Rump Parliament, 1648-53

Created after a purge , the Rump Parliament is named for its size, though the name’s also an accurate description of what it sat on for four years.

Having, in fairness, significantly reduced the amount of extant Charles I in 1649, the Rump then proceeded to do nothing. Repeatedly.

So addled was the Rump that its MPs spent around eight of their four years arguing about the meaning of the word ‘encumbrance’. No-one pointed out that they could’ve solved the debate by getting a mirror and just looking at themselves. Its only successes came when it started a war with the Dutch out of sheer boredom, and in its brave attempt at bringing the gospel to Wales (though sadly this didn’t have anything to do with gospel music).

Fortunately, Oliver Cromwell was on hand to liven things up. On 20 April 1653, he burst into the house, called a couple of MPs whoremongers, and took away all their baubles. He then brought in a new parliament comprised of religious lunatics and lawyers, though for some reason this didn’t work very well either.

The First Protectorate Parliament. 1654-55

The First Protectorate Parliament followed on from this, and should’ve been brilliant.

Its MPs were only supposed to be those of ‘known integrity’ and of ‘good conversation’. But sadly their rule didn’t live up to their repartee, and they quickly knuckled down to some quality whingeing.

Even after Cromwell barged in (again), and threw a weapons-grade wobbly, they continued in their heroic efforts to be about as useful as a barbed-wire codpiece.

Such was their refusal to do anything vaguely like work that the Lord Protector decided to dissolve them after five lunar months rather than the five calendar ones in the constitution (a UKIP history curriculum would no doubt claim this as a case of his ‘giving in to Islam’).

It meant that Cromwell had now purged Parliament once (arguably twice), and dissolved it prematurely twice (arguably three times).

Naturally his statue now stands outside the modern-day House of Commons.

A new exhibition at the Museum of History of Science will tell the story of a promising English physicist killed during the First World War.

Henry 'Harry' Moseley was an exceptionally promising young English physicist in the years immediately before World War I. His work on the X-ray spectra of the elements provided a new foundation for the Periodic Table and contributed to the development of the nuclear model of the atom.

Yet Moseley’s life and career were cut short. He was killed in 1915, aged 27, in action at Gallipoli, Turkey.

With support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the Museum of the History of Science is staging a centenary exhibition, 'Dear Harry…' – Henry Moseley: A Scientist Lost to War. This marks Moseley's great contribution to science and reveals the impact of his death on the international scientific community and its relationship with government and the armed forces.

The exhibition opens on 14 May and runs until 18 October 2015.

Using entries from Moseley's mother’s diary, Moseley's original scientific apparatus from the Museum's collections, and his own personal correspondence, the exhibition presents an intimate biographical portrait set against the wider stage of international scientific discovery and World War I.

Through his research and experiments in Oxford and Manchester – where he worked with 'father of nuclear physics' Ernest Rutherford – Moseley made significant and lasting impacts in both physics and chemistry.

Had he lived, the young Moseley was tipped to have been a prime candidate for one of the 1916 Nobel Prizes. Instead, as Isaac Asimov wrote, "in view of what [Moseley] might still have accomplished ... his death might well have been the most costly single death of the War to mankind generally".

The international scientific community was fleetingly re-united in its condemnation of the loss of such a scientific talent, and Moseley’s death led to wider changes in the way that science, scientific research, and scientists were used in war.

Thanks to the HLF’s Our Heritage grant award, the 'Dear Harry…' project will conserve apparatus and archives in the Museum’s collections, permit a subsequent permanent redisplay of this important material, and deliver a broad programme of public events, education work, and digital resources.

The funding has also allowed the Museum to partner with the Royal Engineers Museum, Library and Archive, the Royal Signals Museum, the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford, and Trinity College, Oxford, where Moseley studied. Rarely-seen artefacts from each of these collections will be featured in the exhibition.

'Dear Harry…' has been timed to allow many of the key dates in Moseley's preparations for Gallipoli, and ultimately his death in August 1915, to be presented exactly 100 years later.

A 'live blog', both online and in-gallery, will pick out this centenary anniversary using extracts from archive material to present the events and thoughts of Moseley 100 years to the day.

Oxford wins the Boat Race...of 1863

Matt Pickles | 13 Apr 2015

This weekend the Thames hosted an historic Boat Race, with the women's crew racing on the same course as the men for the first time. Professor Sally Shuttleworth, a historian at Oxford, leads 'Diseases of Modern Life', a project which explores the medical, literary and cultural responses in the Victorian age to the perceived problems of stress and overwork.

In a guest post for Arts Blog, Professor Shuttleworth compares yesterday's Boat Race to the race of 1863.

With the crowds, the launches, and the world's media watching, the Oxford and Cambridge boat race seems a fairly riotous occasion. Such disruption as we see, however, including Trenton Oldfield's protest in 2012, is as nothing compared to the experience in the mid-nineteenth century.

In 1863, the medical reformer Dr Benjamin Ward Richardson depicted the scenes on the banks of the Thames on the day of the boat race, with maniac equestrians charging through the crowds, cannons firing and blowing off fingers, and even noses: ‘Women screaming from balconies and windows: children falling from garden-walls, or rolling into the stream to be fished out by dogs, half drowned or dead’.

On the river itself, following the rowing boats, were ‘heavy, black, roaring, filibustering steamers, calling themselves “Citizens,” and so weighted with human yelling craft that one side is in the water and the helmsman thinks it a consolation that it could not possibly be a worse fate to go over altogether’.

How sedate we seem now, with our mildly drunken crowds, and carefully managed flotilla of launches, carrying media-men, and a few lucky university members. No lost fingers or noses, no half-drowned children; no black steamers freighted with yelling hordes.

Even the finish, with our excited television announcers proclaiming the results to the world, seems tame by comparison with the Victorian experience: ‘Pandemonium let loose, in such a burst of human throat, cannon throat, steam throat, as charges the very clouds with thunder, and telegraphs to Hercules the news that “Oxford has won”’.

This is the age of the telegraph, but Richardson depicts a wonderful mix of modes of communication: horses instantly dash off in all directions carrying the news, whilst the air is filled with pigeons, ‘ticketed “Oxford has won”’, flying away at sixty miles an hour, and that instrument of modernity, the telegraph, ‘dins every station in the kingdom’ with the news of Oxford’s victory.

Richardson's own interest in this scene of mayhem lies not so much in the spectacle itself, as in its implications for health. The above descriptions come from an article in the newly-founded Social Science Review on the consequences of physical overwork.

The Victorians, as many historians have noted, were deeply concerned about the possibilities of over-pressure on the brain from new modes of work, but less attention has been paid to their concerns with its physical correlate, over-pressure on the body.

Richardson is in favour of exercise, but in moderation. He warns of the dangers of the ‘competitive animal physics’ exhibited in the boat race. His verdict on the triumphant crew is alarming: there is not one 'who will not die so many years sooner by so much effort performed beyond his natural power'. Although extreme in its rhetoric, his argument chimes with current popular and medical concerns about excessive exercise.

In an interesting parallel with contemporary tales of individuals who move from sedentary lifestyles to over-active gym memberships, with fatal results, Richardson recounts the story of men who have ‘waxed fat’ and have joined the Volunteer force (the equivalent of our Territorial Army) "to work themselves down”, and have instead destroyed their health, and worse.

In opposition to the tenets of muscular Christianity, and the supreme faith placed in physical exercise and drill as training for the imperial mission, Richardson suggests that the Volunteer system, 'instead of imparting national strength, … is elaborating national weakness, by enforcing in excess exertion which, in moderation, would be most useful'.

Over the next decades, the Oxford and Cambridge boat race became the focus of repeated medical investigations in an attempt to determine whether placing such a strain on the body did indeed injure health.

Richardson, founder and President of the National Cycling Society, was strongly in favour of exercise, but retained a healthy scepticism towards the benefits derived from the boat race itself: 'Two boats holding crews half naked, said crews tugging might and main to gain a ridiculous staff, opposite and belonging to a “public” house.'

Would he have been surprised to learn that the tradition (with minor modifications) continues unabated to this day?

Diseases of Modern Life: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives is a five year research project, led by Professor Sally Shuttleworth, and funded by the European Research Council.

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