Heritage & Creativity

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90 years ago this week, Nancy Astor, Britain’s first female MP, held a garden party at Cliveden House to celebrate the passing of the Act of Parliament that granted equal voting rights for men and women. Rachel Newton has been delving into the University’s Astor archive and tells us what she’s discovered.

This summer, I have a research internship working with Dr Jacqui Turner on the undergraduate research opportunities programme (UROP) within the Department of History and in collaboration with Special Collections here at the University of Reading.

We are preparing a digital exhibition curating archive material to tell the story of the political career and legacy of Nancy Astor, the first sitting female MP in Britain. While I was researching, I came across some fascinating documents relating to a garden party that Astor held at her riverside country home, Cliveden House, almost exactly 90 years ago.

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The NHS turns 70 this year, giving us the chance to appreciate the fact it is there to turn to whenever we get ill. But what did people do before the NHS and the luxury of modern medicine? University of Reading historian Dr Hannah Newton reveals her findings from studying diaries and letters written by Early Modern families who faced serious diseases armed with little more than their faith.

Cancer survival has doubled over the last 40 years, and death rates from stroke have halved since 1990. These positive trends are reflected in the upsurge of survivor stories in social media, where individuals broadcast their experiences of illness and recovery, and describe how the close shave with death has changed their outlook on life. ‘I don’t let little things get on top of me as much anymore’, reflects Keith Hubbard, a musician from Merseyside, 14 years after treatment for prostate cancer.

Misery to Mirth, by Dr Hannah Newton, was published in June 2018

We might assume that this is a recent phenomenon. In more distant times, when epidemics were rife and medicines ineffective, it would seem likely that death was the only possible disease outcome. However, a foray into the diaries and letters of seventeenth-century patients and their families reveals a happier history. My new book, Misery to Mirth, shows that getting better was a widely reported occurrence at this time, and one which gave rise to emotionally-charged outpourings comparable to those produced today.

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Research that is helping to save children’s lives in rural India, protecting endangered species in Africa, and opening children’s eyes to science in the UK are among those shortlisted for the University of Reading’s Research Engagement and Impact Awards 2018.

Two of last year’s Impact and Engagement Award finalists, Dr Teresa Murjas and Dr Kate Allen.

The awards, which are in their second year, aim to recognise staff at the University of Reading who have achieved extraordinary things by interacting with people in the real world to drive better understanding of research and bring about change.

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Wind turbines in the Seychelles – picture: IEA

Researchers working across national borders feature prominently in the latest group of University of Reading academics to be awarded research funding.

In total, £12.5 million of funds were awarded during the third quarter of 2017-18, to 80 projects across all five research themes at Reading: Environment, Food, Health, Heritage & Creativity and Prosperity & Resilience.

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In a new post for The Conversation, John Preston looks at how the work of 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was shaped by his love for a young mathematician, who died in an air crash a century ago.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (Wikimedia commons

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Academics have a duty to speak to the media, especially in tragic and complex cases, argues Tom Sheldon, Senior Press Manager at the Science Media Centre.

“How many more Charlies and Alfies must be paraded in front of us before we realise that keeping quiet only makes things worse?”

In July 2017 the story of Charlie Gard, a baby with incurable mitochondrial disease, played out across the media. By April 2018 we all knew the name Alfie Evans, another little boy with another untreatable condition. In both cases the medical teams and the courts agreed nothing could be done.  Both children have since died. There’s nothing enjoyable or satisfying about these stories. They are profoundly sad.

Nine months after Charlie Gard, and the rest of us watched as Alfie’s Army demonstrated outside Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and his parents were locked in bitter dispute with the medical team. For a second time, a battle over the life of a child none of us knew had become major news, and the need for expert voices to be heard in the media and by the public was as strong as ever. Yet with a few notable exceptions, the rest of the medical profession once again failed to show up, allowing misinformation around Alfie Evans to take hold. Nine months after Charlie Gard, and we have dismally failed to learn any lessons.

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Last month the moment I’d been putting off finally arrived and it was time to write. How is it that the blank page upon which something influenced by time spent in Beckett’s archive is to be written, seems even more horrifyingly blank than usual? Read the rest of this entry »

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By Adam Koszary, Museums and Special Collections Services

The tweet sent from The MERL account that went viral

look at this absolute unit.

Our tweet from the Museum of Rural English Life account was a simple enough command. It accompanied a black and white photo of an Exmoor Horn aged ram found in the archives of the museum, located on the University of Reading’s London Road campus.

But this tweet had a satisfying pay-off. One day on, our Twitter followers had increased by more than 50% – 16,000 and counting – and the tweet itself had surpassed 68,000 likes and 20,000 retweets.

This is not normal for The MERL twitter account, in case you haven’t guessed.

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It’s almost 50 years since the BBC’s landmark Civilisation television series, which brought ancient worlds into the front rooms of millions. To mark the anniversary, Reading researchers recently spoke to BBC Berkshire about some unique local objects with a link to past civilisations across the globe.

Built to last

Professor Mike Fulford spoke about the wall which surrounds the ruins of the Roman town of Silchester, near Reading, and some of the building material artefacts found at the archaeological site.

“The wall dates from the late 3rd Century. It’s about a mile and a half all the way around. It’s a massive construction with a 10 foot thick base. In some places it’s still several metres high and you can see the materials it’s constructed from. The flint came from the chalk a few miles away and there are courses of stone slabs which help to bind the whole wall together.

Just think of the amount of work that was required to bring this together – the cart loads of flint being dragged along the roads, these stones coming from as far as 30 or 40 miles away, from Faringdon, up towards the Cotswolds. But it’s survived these 2000 years as a reminder of what the Romans contributed to this country in terms of the building technology and new ideas.”

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