In a guest post for Arts Blog, Katrin Kohl, Professor of German Literature and Lead Researcher on the Creative Multilingualism research project, writes about recent calls for all British citizens to be able to speak English.
Should we be for or against British citizens having to be able to speak English? What makes a British artist sing in Cornish when she could be communicating so much more usefully in English – not only the lingua franca of England and the British Isles, but a language that's now spoken and sung across the world? Why is the Irish language such a politicised issue when some claim that there are now more Polish than Irish speakers in Northern Ireland? And where do users of sign language fit into these debates?
The fact is this: the UK has always been, and will remain, multilingual. And this is no more incompatible with everyone being able to speak English in the UK than it would be in India. Many people switch between different languages every day, and we all, at the very least, keep different linguistic registers in play as we move between different spheres and groups of people at home, at work or at school.
Louise Casey recently asserted that the UK should set a date for everyone to speak English. She's surely not wrong when she argues that additional funding should be provided for fostering English language skills, or that building linguistic bridges between communities can promote integration. But integration isn't helped by imposing a single language top-down or assuming that diversity is best eradicated. Languages are neither confined to what is useful nor just about what the majority speaks – we need look no further than the establishment of Welsh as an official language of the UK to appreciate this fact.
Languages are about lives, as the production of Gwenno Saunders' Cornish album shows us. While her linguistic heritage may be unique (with a Cornish poet and a Welsh language activist as parents), she's not alone in being able to draw on diverse languages as a personal treasure trove. All across the UK, people cherish the languages that are part of their heritage or that they have come into contact with in other, often very individual ways. Communities pass on their languages in religious practice, supplementary schools and cultural events, and individuals make something linguistically new from cross-cultural marriages and culturally diverse school environments. A language is a special emotional resource, a voice within which embodies memories of conversations with loved (and hated) ones past and present.
This personal, emotional dimension of languages has been sidelined in the way foreign languages have come to be taught in the UK – if the value of knowing a language is reduced to its practical function, it becomes unclear why we should bother with the hard graft of learning a new language when we can make ourselves understood in English. By the same token, it then seems sufficient to promote English as the sole passport to global success, whatever other languages children might already be familiar with. Many children are made to feel ashamed of knowing another language, and some schools indeed prohibit their speaking anything other than English on the assumption that they are thereby doing the children a favour – English is imposed as part of a lifelong school uniform.
Fortunately, many schools instead embrace the multilingualism of their students, enable them to take qualifications in their home languages, and allow them to discover their own linguistic resources in creative writing that extends beyond linguistic boundaries. Creative Multilingualism has been working with Oxford Spires Academy and with Haggerston School in Hackney to find out how children respond to exploring new language spaces. Modern foreign languages can be taught as part of that process and in interaction with it. This fosters a spirit of community that isn't confined to a single language, but characterised by shared variety and enhanced understanding of the potential that linguistic diversity holds for us all: each language is a subtly different window on to the world and a different link with other groups of people. As a preparation for life in an increasingly global world, this is hard to beat.
The UK rightly takes pride in its exuberantly diverse creative talent, but there's currently little appreciation of the ways in which languages enrich the country's creative identity. The UK music scene isn't just culturally and ethnically tremendously diverse, but linguistically too. Take Punch Records, a company set up to work with emerging Black British and British Asian artists who have grown up in urban contexts where varieties of English routinely mingle with other languages. The Slanguages exhibition project serves to showcase hip-hop, grime and rap as multilingual forms with a political edge. Birmingham school playgrounds have here served as seedbeds for adventurous modes of communication that offer exciting scope for developing new rhythms, speech forms and gestural language.
The UK's extraordinarily varied linguistic heritage is an invaluable national resource. At a time when the country wants to project itself as being more than Little Britain, and more than a country on the edge of Europe, it makes sense to value all those languages that have entered the UK over the decades, centuries and indeed millennia. Each of them has left its audible traces in the population, and together they open up a multitude of living pathways to other parts of the world. We might as well celebrate our flourishing abundance of languages – they're certainly not likely to go away.
1) Eating too many bananas makes you grow more body hair by increasing levels of potassium.
2) Maggots are used in hospitals to clean infected wounds.
3) Excessive cycling can cause permanent damage to the muscles in the face.
Look at the statements above. One refers to current medical thinking, one is an idea from the past, and one has been made up entirely. But which is which (answers below)?
These are just some of the weird and wonderful statements put to people who play Mind-Boggling Medical History, a game developed by Oxford's Dr Sally Frampton and colleagues, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Mind-Boggling Medical History is an educational game designed to challenge preconceptions about history and show how ideas in medicine change for a variety of reasons. From floating kidneys and wandering wombs to transplanted heads and dogs that detect diseases, the game challenges players to look at a series of statements and decide which concern current medical practice, which are based on historical ideas or practices no longer used, and which have been, well, made up.
Players can choose from a number of rounds related to different medical themes, including sex and reproduction, animals, mind, and treatment. A physical card pack is available to those working in education, nursing, public engagement and museums, and an online version is freely available to all.
The game draws on the interdisciplinary work of the Constructing Scientific Communities project, led by Professor Sally Shuttleworth of Oxford’s Faculty of English, which explores the concept of citizen science in the 19th and 21st centuries.
Dr Frampton said: 'Mind-Boggling Medical History originated as a public engagement activity for museum events. Because it had such a positive reception, we decided to apply for Arts and Humanities Research Council funding to help develop the game into a more sophisticated learning resource designed to aid critical thinking.
'The game is aimed at school students, nursing and medical undergraduate students, and museum visitors. Our collaboration with the Royal College of Nursing has been a really important part of the project and has helped us explore how the game might be used by healthcare students to get them thinking about the ways medical knowledge and scientific evidence change over time.
'Through the game we have tried to build on the objective of the Constructing Scientific Communities project of enhancing understanding of public engagement with medicine and science. We hope it will also show how historical facts and theories can be used to prompt questions about current understandings of medicine and science.'
Answers: (1) Fictional; (2) Present; (3) Past.
The scheme gives researchers with a passion for communication a platform to share their ideas with a wider audience via BBC Radio 3 and other outlets.
Representing Oxford this year are theologian Dr Dafydd Mills Daniel and English scholar Dr Lisa Mullen. They are the latest in a total of ten Oxford academics who have been selected as New Generation Thinkers since the first cohort was announced in 2011.
Dr Daniel is researching Sir Isaac Newton the committed Christian and alchemist, while Dr Mullen is working on a monograph looking at the work of George Orwell through the lens of his complex medical history, examining how his experience of being a patient influenced his political thought and use of language.
Dr Daniel is the McDonald Departmental Lecturer in Christian Ethics in Oxford's Faculty of Theology and Religion, as well as a theology lecturer at Jesus College. He said: 'I was absolutely thrilled to have been chosen as one of this year's New Generation Thinkers. To go to the BBC and to talk to producers and representatives from the AHRC about making arts and humanities programmes was an incredible experience.
'I am particularly keen to highlight what it means to study theology. Theology is a number of things, and one of those things is the opportunity to study a range of subjects, from languages, ancient texts and the rich tapestry of diverse religious traditions, to ethics, philosophy of religion, and the history of ideas.
'As a New Generation Thinker, my research concerns Sir Isaac Newton. Not Newton the rational man of science, who is often regarded as the founder of the secular age, but Newton the committed Christian, who was also an alchemist – staying up all night in his laboratory attempting to discover the philosopher's stone, which would turn ordinary metal into gold. I find the interplay between Newton the scientist, alchemist and theologian a compelling subject for research in itself. It also crosses over into wider areas of my academic work, which concern the history and development of such ethical and philosophical concepts as "reason" and "conscience" from the 17th and 18th centuries into the modern day.'
Dr Mullen, the Steven Isenberg Junior Research Fellow at Worcester College, said: 'It's a huge honour to be chosen, and I can't wait to get started. Communicating ideas is a key part of being an effective researcher, and the feedback and advice I've already had from people at the BBC and the AHRC has been really useful.
'Like most academics, I’m always happy to talk about my particular area of research and why I find it fascinating, but the New Generation Thinkers award is an opportunity to plug into all kinds of different cultural conversations, and to think about how my work intersects with broader questions and debates. Questions about language, knowledge, power, the value of literature – these are all things that really got Orwell going, and they are just as urgent now as they were in the first half of the 20th century.'
The ten New Generation Thinkers for 2018 were selected after a nationwide search for the best academic ideas with the potential to be shared through the media. The winners will now have the opportunity to make programmes for BBC Radio 3 and other outlets, as well as contributing to wider media through the AHRC. In addition, the scheme partners with BBC Four, where some of the selected academics will be given the opportunity to present a programme for TV.
Alan Davey, Controller of BBC Radio 3, said: 'Radio 3's mission is to connect our audiences with pioneering music and culture, and since its launch in 2010, the New Generation Thinkers has been a central part of this. The scheme has supported and nurtured some extraordinary academic talent, giving the broadcasters of tomorrow a platform through which to present their fascinating and thought-provoking research to our listeners, and I can't wait to hear what ideas these ten exciting thinkers will bring to us in the coming year.'
Professor Andrew Thompson, Chief Executive of the AHRC, said: 'This scheme is all about helping the next generation of academics to find new and wider audiences for their research by giving them a platform to share their ideas and allowing them to have the space to challenge our thinking. The New Generation Thinkers scheme is also one of the AHRC's major vehicles for engaging the public with the inspiring research taking place across the UK. More than ever we need the new insights and knowledge that come from arts and humanities researchers to help us navigate through the complexities of our globalised world and address the moral and ethical challenges of today and tomorrow.'
Written by Mark Mann, Innovation Lead for Humanities and Social Sciences, and Gregg Bayes-Brown, Communications Manager, Oxford University Innovation. First published on the Oxford University Innovation blog.
Since its inception, tech transfer – or university innovation – has been a field dominated by the STEM sciences.
There are a number of good reasons for this. First and foremost is the level of support it requires for a physical or life sciences-based spinout company to go from incorporation to market. Compared with a regular startup company, which can take anywhere between a couple of months to three to five years before it's making money, the development cycle for a spinout can be up to ten years and beyond.
There's also patenting, which is typically focused on technological innovation – a core activity of a university innovation office such as Oxford University Innovation (OUI). While there's nothing set in stone about how to catalyse innovative ideas, the general rule of thumb will involve patenting the ideas OUI deals with first before developing them further. While this works fine for areas such as engineering or drug discovery, it's a different story for ideas from humanities and social sciences (SSH).
OUI has made some inroads to challenging this STEM bias and supporting the wider University, punctuated by the OUI Incubator. Since its inception in 2011, the OUI Incubator has helped incorporate nearly 30 startups, over half of which emerged from social sciences. And yet, for academics in SSH wishing to pursue spinouts, university innovation has been largely off limits.
OUI is responding to increasing demand for innovation support from the SSH community and is developing a number of different products to support academics looking to create greater impact from their ideas.
First is the social enterprise, or social venture, model. Sitting in the overlap between a charity and a for-profit company, social enterprises come in a few different flavours. The general idea is that all profits from the company are considered 'evergreen' – that is, they are continually funnelled back into the company to create sustainable growth. While these companies do remain profit-making organisations, the focus isn't 'for-profit', but 'for-impact'.
We feel that the social ventures model is more in line with SSH's ethical, moral and impact-driven motivations for engaging with innovation. Consequently, OUI is conducting research into social enterprise programmes at peer institutions, it has taken on staff focused on SSH, and it is currently leading discussions with the wider university to design and deploy Oxford's social enterprise offer.
Most importantly, OUI is busy developing strategies and initiatives that ensure the successful launch, growth and sustainability of social enterprise. At present, OUI-backed spinouts have a survival rate (that is, they are still in business or have successfully sold after their initial three years) of 87%, compared with a national average of 54%. Bringing the same level of high-quality support our spinout body benefits from to social enterprise will be mission critical for OUI.
We're yet to formally roll out the social enterprise offer but already have over 20 projects in our pipeline from word of mouth alone. In fact, there's actually a race on between SSH and the Medical Sciences Division to see which will be our first, sOPHIa from SSH or LIFE (Life-saving Instructions For Emergencies) from tropical medicine.
LIFE is using mobile and virtual reality to medically train people in developing countries and was the first beneficiary of another key vehicle for SSH-related innovation at Oxford: OxReach. A crowdfunding platform developed by OUI in partnership with the University's Development Office, OxReach has now raised around £200,000 for four projects by harnessing Oxford's extensive network for support. The latest, Greater Change, is looking to rethink how we help the homeless. The Greater Change team successfully raised £33,000 in December and is currently using the funds to develop an app that facilitates secure, cashless donations to the homeless.
We've also been busy getting SSH ideas out into the wider world through what we know best: spinouts. We completed InkPath, a Humanities Division spinout offering career support for academics, in 2017, and we'll be announcing our first Social Sciences spinout in 15 years in the coming weeks.
This is just the beginning. The work innovators in SSH have done so far, and what we're hoping to achieve together with SSH in the future, will be the focus of our next Oxford Innovation Society meeting later this month. In the long term, we're hoping that our work with SSH will open up a new chapter in university innovation.
On 27 February 1854, the acclaimed composer Robert Schumann attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge into the Rhine. Although he was rescued by boatmen and brought home, he afterwards insisted on being placed in an asylum for his own and his family's good. He would spend the last two years of his life there, before dying of pneumonia at the age of 46.
For several years beforehand, he had been plagued by auditory hallucinations, erratic moods and depressive episodes — which historians speculate might have been the result of anything from bipolar disorder to syphilis or mercury poisoning. Despite these symptoms, he still experienced fits of creative energy, producing several pieces in this time, including the Maria Stuart songs and Lenau Lieder. Because of their radically different style to his earlier works, these have often been taken as a symptom of a tragic creative decline, the work of a man whose judgement was fatally impaired by the ravages of his illness.
But according to Laura Tunbridge, Professor in Oxford's Faculty of Music and Henfrey Fellow and Tutor at St Catherine's College, there is no reason to assume that. She says we might have been overly influenced by the work of his first biographers, as well as of his wife Clara and his younger colleagues Johannes Brahms and Joseph Joachim, who edited and compiled his work after his death. All of them wanted to conceal what they felt was a shameful detail about the great man's life, and, as a result, some of the later pieces have tended to be erased from discussion of his life's work.
Professor Tunbridge says: 'In the mid-19th century, there was a huge social stigma about mental illness. And so his family and his friends and his colleagues didn't particularly want people to know. And you can see that in the way the first biographers write about him — they assume that mental illness is going to have a detrimental effect.'
In fact, you often see a new period of experimentation in other composers' late works. There are many reasons why a composer might change their style which have nothing to do with their mental state. Professor Tunbridge thinks that the necessity to write for a more popular audience, to support an ever-growing family, as well as the influence of a younger generation of composers represented by Joachim and Brahms, probably had just as much of an impact on Schumann’s new musical direction. People have also tended to underestimate these works simply because they are written in a simpler, less ostentatious style.
Professor Tunbridge adds: 'Some composers — say, Beethoven — at the end of their career write these late works and people think they're amazing and radical and new and experimental. But with Schumann there's a sort of idea that his creative powers fall off and that they're not so significant. So I'm trying to figure out whether that's really the case or whether that's because of all the assumptions people make.'
As part of a Knowledge Exchange Fellowship with TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) last year, Professor Tunbridge worked with Oxford Lieder to produce a series of podcasts, Unlocking Late Schumann, exploring Schumann's later works in conversation with performers and critics, to prompt reassessment of his work.
The collaboration also organised performances of these works for the annual Oxford Lieder Festival. Professor Tunbridge says that having these works performed is a crucial component to rescuing them from their critical obscurity: 'You can be a historian and say all these things about how wonderful these works are, but unless someone's actually going to sing them, it doesn't make any difference.'
She has also been thinking about how recitals can present works in ways that engage the audience and involve them in interpreting the pieces they are hearing, rather than simply giving them a programme note telling them what the music is 'about'. This resulted in some exciting and innovative programming, including a recital where Schumann's work was performed alongside some experimental modern composers who have been inspired by him.
Alongside the podcast, which can reach a wider audience than the demographic who usually attend classical music festivals, this represents a new approach to interpreting and appreciating Schumann. Professor Tunbridge hopes this can encourage appreciation of the composer's work, without preconceived notions getting in the way: 'As academics, we do all this educational work to try and explain things. But actually do we need that much historical context or do we need to encourage people to listen in a fresh way, without preconceptions?'
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