Heritage & Creativity

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Professor Roger Matthews’ research focuses on the origins of the earliest farmers in the Eastern Fertile Crescent of Iran and Iraq. This work puts him at the heart of discussions about how best to protect Iraq’s cultural heritage, which has long been threatened by conflicts in the region. Here he tells us more about his work and his invitation to speak at a UN Human Rights Council event earlier this month.

Jerwan Aqueduct, Inscribed Ashlar (© Land of Nineveh Archaeological Project)

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Should healthcare workers have their freedom of conscience enshrined in law? As medical technological advances gather pace, Professor David Oderberg says there’s never been a better time to support medical conscientious objectors, in a new post for The Conversation.

For most people, the term “conscientious objection” evokes images of Quakers and pacifists registering to avoid military service. Many countries have a long and honourable tradition of accommodating such conscientious objectors. It might not be about bombs and bullets, but healthcare professionals often find themselves fighting a conscience battle of their own.

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We’re Open – but should we be more open?

By Dr Phil Newton, Research Dean 

The University wants to open up all elements of research at Reading.

But open research is controversial, and there are many different views on it. To some, open research is the future and leads to better studies, more collaboration, and greater impact. To others, it risks giving away your best ideas without clear benefits.

That’s why we need your views now on Reading’s draft Vision for Open Research. You can have your say by completing a short online survey.

Find out more about our consultation or complete the survey now.

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Glastonbury Abbey has played an important part in British history for hundreds of years. Legend says that it is the burial place of King Arthur and it was regarded to be the site of the earliest church in Britain. Now, thanks to a unique archaeological research collaboration and digital reconstruction, we can see parts of the abbey as they appeared at its zenith in the Middle Ages. Here, Dr Gemma Watson, from the Department of Archaeology at Reading, reveals all.

The Anglo-Saxon Church in its modern setting: phase 3 c.1100 AD, © The Centre for the Study of Christianity & Culture, University of York

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The effect of clouds on global warming, a ‘light switch molecule’ to diagnose disease and the entanglement of malaria with colonialism were among the research topics that have won University of Reading academics prizes.

Left to right: Dr Ariane Kehlbacher (Food theme winner), Lord William Waldegrave of North Hill (Chancellor), Dr James Hall (Health theme winner), Dr Tim Vlandas (Prosperity and Resilience theme winner), Sir David Bell (Vice-Chancellor), Dr Paulo Ceppi (Environment theme winner), Professor Steve Mithen (Deputy Vice-Chancellor), and Dr Rohan Deb Roy (Heritage and Creativity theme winner).

The five academics, one from each research theme, were honoured with a Research Output Prize for Early Career Researchers at University Court, the showcase annual event for the University community, on 19 March.

Professor Steve Mithen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, said: “This year’s winners were drawn from a very strong field. All have made significant academic achievements at an early stage in their careers and I warmly congratulate them. Their achievements are testament not only to their talent and hard work, but also to the University of Reading as a place where research excellence is nurtured and supported.”

The winners from each theme were:

Food theme

Dr Ariane Kehlbacher, from Agri-Food Economics and Social Science, whose research showed that taxing foods based on the greenhouse gas emissions they produce would hit poorest households the hardest. That is because lower income households spend a larger share of their food budget on emission-intensive foods – such as meat – than their wealthier counterparts. Less well-off households also tend to buy cheaper products which means they would see a greater price hike on their weekly shop if emissions-based food taxes were to be introduced.

The judges described the paper as “a rigorous and methodologically novel analysis on a very topical subject relating to ‘polluter pays’ taxation policy” and “a very policy-relevant output”.

Full paper: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1673-6

 

Prosperity & Resilience theme

Dr Tim Vlandas, from Politics and International Relations, for an article exploring the idea that ageing leads to lower inflation. When societies age, the political power of ‘grey voters’ increases which puts pressure on political parties to pursue policies that lead to lower inflation. Countries with a larger share of elderly people therefore end to have lower inflation than those with younger populations, his paper argues. Judges were impressed by the “originality and significance” of the research question and praised the “impressive scope of the empirical research.”

Full paper:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0010414017710261

 

Environment theme

Dr Paulo Ceppi, from Meteorology, for a paper which explains why global warming is accelerating as time passes. Paulo’s research has shown that as rising CO2 levels warm the atmosphere, changes to the surface temperature of the sea are having a knock-on effect on the cloud cover over a large area of the Pacific Ocean, allowing more sunlight to be absorbed. The relationship between sea surface temperature and cloudiness is similar in both real-life observations and in models of climate change. This lends further confidence to models whose projections are used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Global Warming. Judges described the findings as “world leading” and “of international significance in climate science.”

Full paper: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1714308114

 

Health theme

Pharmacy researcher Dr James Hall has discovered how a light-emitting molecule can bind to DNA in five different ways, each with a different brightness, like a ‘dimmer switch’. This is a critical step towards developing molecules that can detect different DNA structures – such as those linked to different diseases. Deemed to offer “significant applications for future diagnostics” the judging panel also noted that the article had already been cited 10 times, despite only having been published recently, and was therefore already making an impact in the field.

Full paper: https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gkw753

 

Heritage & Creativity theme

Dr Rohan Deb Roy, from History, for ‘Malarial Subjects’ – a book exploring malaria within the context of British imperial rule of India and the entanglement of colonialism with mosquitoes, quinine and cinchona plants. Judged by the panel as “a work of exceptional originality and significance” the book explores connections between humans and non-humans, and science, medicine and empire.

Further detail: https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/malarial-subjects/00BEE3F5FAD80653C99B6674E2685D4D

 

More details on each of the research projects, including video of each of the winners will be published over the next few weeks on this blog.

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Sarah von Billerbeck, Fiona Ross, Teresa Tavassoli, Kim Watson, Clare Watt

The University of Reading secured nearly £10m of research awards in the second quarter of 2017/18, latest figures show.

Projects worth £9.8 million were given the go-ahead, with funding from UK research councils, government, industry and charities adding to the total.

The following are among those winning awards between November 2017 and January 2018:

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I hit a bit of a Beckett wall this month and came to understand why he is often called The Last Modernist – a view I have hitherto opposed. After a while the profound pessimism of his world view becomes quite hard to get around and even to see beyond. As a writer my own preoccupations are almost as far from Beckett’s as it’s possible to be.

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Dr Hella Eckardt, Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading, has just been named Archaeologist of the Year by Current Archaeology magazine. Part of her research is focused on uncovering evidence of how diverse the Roman Empire was, which in turn informs modern-day discussions about immigration. Here, Dr Eckardt discusses the scientific techniques used in her research and how the findings can be best communicated in schools.

Dr Ella Eckardt was awarded Archaeologist of the Year by Current Archaeology

There has been recent discussion about the importance of bringing the past to life for school children. One way to do this is to examine how archaeology might provide a different perspective on some major current debates, for example around migration.

A few years ago, I worked with my colleagues Gundula Müldner and Mary Lewis on around 150 burials from Roman Britain, trying to learn more about their geographical origin and cultural identities.

As an artefact specialist, I am quite used to identifying apparently exotic or unusual objects, but it was really fascinating to test whether the people buried with them were immigrants or not.

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On 6th February 2018, the UK celebrated 100 years since some women and all men were given the vote.  In the preceding months, Dr Jacqui Turner, Lecturer in Modern History and an expert on Nancy Astor, advised on a range of projects to mark the centenary in creative and unusual ways, both in Parliament and locally in Reading. Celebrations took place around the country, and in Reading, audiences experienced a public dance and debate, created  and performed by Reside Dance, that brought the story of #Vote100 to life. Here, Dr Turner tells us how her involvement in this collaborative project was one of the most challenging and inspirational experiences of her research career.

 

 

 

 
Images courtesy of Brenda Sandilands

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by Professor Peter Stoneley, Head of Department, English Literature, University of Reading

A poem about a man who murdered his wife isn’t an obvious choice for Valentine’s Day, but Oscar Wilde made it clear that his The Ballad of Reading Gaol was, in fact, about love:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word.

Written after his two years of imprisonment with hard labour from 1895 to 1897, and first published on February 13th 1898, Wilde’s poem focused on an execution by hanging that was carried out in Reading Prison during his own incarceration. Charles Thomas Wooldridge was a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards who, out of jealousy, stabbed his wife to death. Wooldridge thought his death sentence was right, and he did not seek clemency. He was hanged on 7 July 1896, and buried in an unmarked grave within the Prison walls.

Oscar Wilde’s ‘love poem’ was also a plea for prison reform

In the present climate, where attitudes and behaviour towards women are rightfully being challenged, presenting Wooldridge as a hero, or suggesting his actions were a “crime of passion”, seems abhorrent.  Wilde, though, draws Wooldridge with sympathy.  The trooper seems haunted by his crime, as he looks “with such a wistful eye/Upon that little tent of blue/Which prisoners call the sky”.

Further, Wilde chooses to explore the thought that all people fail their love in one way or another: “each man kills the thing he loves”.  The paradox of the poem is that Wooldridge becomes the hero of love because he, out of the intensity of his devotion, commits the greatest crime.

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