This year's honorands at Encaenia

John Cairns

Honorary degrees awarded at Encaenia

Honorary degrees were conferred on six distinguished figures at the annual Encaenia ceremony on 24 June 2015.


Doctor of Letters, honoris causa

Professor Sir Richard Evans is Regius Professor of History emeritus and President of Wolfson College, Cambridge. He is best known for his work on the modern history of Germany and his three-volume history of the Third Reich, published between 2003 and 2008, has become an international best-seller. He was the principal expert witness for the defence in the unsuccessful libel action brought by David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books over allegations of Holocaust denial. Since 2000 he has served on the UK Spoliation Advisory Panel, adjudicating on claims from those who during the Nazi era were deprived of cultural objects now held in UK national collections.

Dame Hilary Mantel is a novelist, the author of fourteen books, including A Place of Greater Safety and Beyond Black. She is the first female novelist to be awarded the Man Booker Prize twice, which she won for her two most recent novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, which relate the career of Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith’s son who becomes Henry VIII’s most powerful minister. The Thomas Cromwell novels have been adapted for the theatre by the Royal Shakespeare Company and for television by the BBC. She is currently working on the final novel of the Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror And The Light. In 2014 she published a book of short stories, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Speaking after the ceremony Dame Hilary said of Oxford: ‘The research process, the scholarly process, is just as fascinating as the writing and everything that follows - I would do it for the love of it and I think in this atmosphere you feel that that sentiment is valued.’ Of the honorary degree she remarked: ‘It really does make you reflect ‘Oh I had a bit of luck in life!’

Professor Ruth Simmons was the President of Brown University from 2001 to 2012, and continues there as Professor of Comparative Literature and Africana Studies. Under her leadership, increased financial support and resources were made available to students at Brown, facilities were improved, a commitment to shared governance was renewed, and an emphasis was placed on diversity. Before moving to Brown she was President of Smith College, the largest women's college in the United States, where she launched a number of important initiatives, including the first engineering programme at a US women's college. Professor Simmons said ceremonies such as Encaenia offered the chance to celebrate the importance of universities and scholarship: 'In a world where university values are sometimes undermined and not always respected we like to celebrate people who understand the importance of universities and what universities mean to society.’

Doctor of Science, honoris causa

Professor Wallace Broecker has spent his career at Columbia University, latterly as Newberry Professor of Geology. He is also a scientist at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. His main research interest lies in defining the ocean's role in climate change. He was a pioneer in the use of radiocarbon and uranium series dating for mapping the Earth's past climate fluctuations, and was the first to recognise the role of the Ocean Conveyor Belt, which he named. The author or co-author of over 500 journal articles and 14 books, his text book Tracers in the Sea (1982), co-authored with Tsung-Hung Peng, influenced a generation of oceanographers and climate scientists. Professor Broecker received his honorary degree this year after being unable to attend the 2014 ceremony.

Professor Dame Ann Dowling was the University of Cambridge’s first female Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the first woman to head the Department of Engineering at that institution. Her research focuses on efficient, low emission combustion for aero and industrial gas turbines and low noise vehicles, especially aircraft and cars. Her publications range from problem-defining fundamental papers to descriptions of the technology behind successful practical applications. She has led major research collaborations into some of the big issues facing modern societies, such as the Energy Efficient Cities initiative and the Silent Aircraft Initiative. In 2014 she was appointed President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the first woman to hold that post.

Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub is Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London and Founder and Director of Research at the Harefield Heart Science Centre (Magdi Yacoub Institute), where he oversees over 60 scientists and students working in tissue engineering, myocardial regeneration, stem cell biology, end stage heart failure and transplant immunology. He established the largest heart and lung transplantation programme in the world, which has seen more than 2,500 transplant operations, and has pioneered novel surgical procedures for the treatment of many complex congenital heart conditions. He is also founder and president of the Chain of Hope charity, which treats children with cardiac conditions in war-torn and developing countries and sets up training and research programmes in local cardiac units.

Ms Jessye Norman, the soprano, concert and opera singer, was regrettably unable to attend Encaenia this year. It is anticipated that the honorary doctorate in music will now be conferred on her at Encaenia 2016.