Rethinking the Senses (Public Engagement Case Study – Dr Merle Fairhurst)

To mark the launch of our call for applications for the first SAS/Senate House Library ‘Public Engagement Innovators Scheme’, we asked some staff from across the School about their experiences of public engagement and how it has influenced their research and professional practice. In this second post Dr Merle Fairhurst, research fellow in the Institute of Philosophy, answers our questions about her experiences engaging the public with research on the AHRC Rethinking the Senses project. Could you tell us a little bit about who you are and the research that you do/your role in SAS? As a research fellow on the AHRC Rethinking the Senses project at the Centre for the Study of the Senses (Institute of Philosophy), my central function is to use psychological and neuroimaging techniques to explore how we perceive the world through our various senses. I am particularly interested in the ways different streams of sensory information – say the sight and sound associated with someone speaking to you – are combined to create a unified experience. My work is complemented by dialogue and interaction with philosophers as we work together to investigate the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of multi-sensory perception. What public engagement activities have you been involved with in the School? The AHRC grant offers the chance and indeed promotes the sharing of our work with the general public and as such, we are always grateful for an opportunity to tell people about how our senses work together as well as highlight the philosophical relevance of empirical research. Our recent events have included talks in various venues, with two very exciting sessions as part of...

Hail fellow well met! Frédérique Woerther shares her experiences

Every year the School of Advanced Study (SAS) welcomes more than 800 research fellows and associates, this year Frédérique Woerther, an international expert in ancient Greek rhetorical theories and their Medieval Arabic interpretations, was one of them. By Frédérique Woerther The visiting fellowship and the chance to spend a month at the School of Advanced Study’s Warburg Institute, represented many opportunities for me. Not only would I meet with colleagues from universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Warwick, Leeds and University College London, and to present my work to specialists in my field – Ancient Greek Rhetorical theories; Arabic commentaries on Aristotle – it meant being able to exchange ideas with, and receive criticism from some of the best academics in the world who reside and work in Great Britain. I was certain the benefit from their feedback would be invaluable when I go back to France to continue my research work at the National Centre for Scientific Research, the country’s largest government-run research organisation. Also the Warburg Institute offers resources for my research that are simply not available elsewhere and that might fundamentally alter the direction of my research. Moreover, for my research interests, the resources provided by the Institute for Classical Studies (IClS) library are second to none. This was particularly welcome, as I would like to start a new project in Ancient Greek Rhetoric and the IClS library, with its close collaboration with the Societies for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies and Roman Studies , is one of the best! During the Fellowship I was invited to deliver a series of public lectures on the latest developments in the...

My Time as an S.T. Lee Visiting Professorial Fellow

Earlier this year Dr. Lawrence A. Joseph, constitutional law expert and now President of Grenada’s Senate, joined the School of Advanced Study as ST Lee Visiting Fellow. In this guest post Dr. Joseph tells us more about himself and his time with us. Could you tell us a little about yourself? I am a barrister at law having been called to the bar of England and Wales by way of Lincoln’s Inn, Inns of Court School of Law in 1977. I returned to my homeland Grenada in 1978 engaged in private practice and was appointed a magistrate for the years 1979 to 1984. I was elected as President of the Grenada Senate for the years 1984 to 1988 and subsequently held several ministerial port folios including that of Attorney General and Minister for Legal Affairs. I was Speaker of the House of Representatives for the years 2003 to 2008 and again was elected President of the Senate for the second time in 2013. I am still President of the Senate. In 2006 as an external student, I obtained a Master of Laws (LLM) Degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of London. In 2009 I successfully completed a course in Legislative Drafting from the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London and in 2012 I successfully defended my thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree in Law from the said Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.   You were the S. T. Lee Visiting Fellow between the 4th of March and 7th April 2014, why did you decide to take up this fellowship and what did...

The History of Oxford University Press

Last year the three volume set of the History of Oxford University Press was published under the general editorship of Simon Eliot. The books span five centuries of printing and publishing including highlights such as the foundation of the Oxford English Dictionary and its expansion in the twentieth-century into the largest university press in the world. We sat down with Professor Simon Eliot from the Institute of English Studies (IES) who also edited the second volume in the series and asked him to share with us a few things that he learnt in the process. We have made quite a few important discoveries, and there has been an accumulation of evidence that has required us to revise various aspects of the earlier histories, but the things which reverberate for me are not necessarily the most grand or remarkable discoveries. Instead it is sometimes the more modest or marginal that stick in the memory. Let me give you just a few examples. As early as 1694 the Press was being used internationally as a point of reference: in that year the printer at the University of Dorpat (now Tartu, in Estonia), complained about the modest size of his new premises. His arguments were rebutted by a scholar who recalled visiting Oxford where printing was confined to a single basement. What was good enough for a press that, in the scholar’s own words, was ‘known all over the world’ was certainly good enough for Dorpat. From Volume II we learn that the Press did not get the return that it was hoping for from its first large-scale set of text books...

‘I want to make the argument for poetry in our lives, whatever our discipline, whoever we are’; Reflecting on the Launch of Prospering Wisely

On Wednesday 12th of February I went had breakfast at the House of Lords. Unfortunately, I can’t pretend that this is how I generally start my Wednesdays. I was invited to these grand surroundings on business, specifically to attend the launch of a new website and publication from the British Academy: Prospering Wisely: How the humanities and social sciences can enrich our lives. Given that my current research and other professional activities are concerned with precisely this question, I was curious to see what arguments would be presented at the launch. As its title suggests, the focus of Prospering Wisely is on the role that the humanities and social sciences play in determining how we (collectively and individually) understand notions of ‘prosperity’ itself. It seeks to ask how we might marshal our collective wisdom to reconceptualise this concept in terms beyond the purely economic and material, which make room for different understandings of happiness, wellbeing, and ‘living well’. Launching the publication, Professor Lord Nicholas Stern (himself an economist and president of the British Academy) emphasised the crucial importance of maintaining independence within academia, and of allowing space within the humanities and social sciences for critical voices to ‘speak truth to power’. These sentiments were echoed by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, who outlined a number of concerns about the state of investment in the humanities and social sciences and the commercialisation of higher education. Pointing to the ever-increasing financial burden of graduate study, and to the ever increasing instrumentalisation of study linked to an (often non-existent) ‘real job’ at the end of a three year course, she argued that study...

‘Tim Jenison is like Miss Marples or Hercule Poirot’: SAS interviews Colin Blakemore

Back in January it was announced that a film to which Colin Blakemore, Professor of Neuroscience and Philosophy in the School of Advanced Study, had contributed was nominated for a BAFTA as well as being shortlisted for an Oscar nomination. We caught up with him earlier this week to chat about, science, art and how exactly our very own eyes can conceal the truth. Firstly I have to ask how a film covering both science and a Dutch renaissance master came to fruition. The subject areas seem rather removed from one another: how does this documentary marry the two? It is indeed an unlikely story – about a successful Texan software engineer, Tim Jenison, with no training at all in painting, trying to simulate the techniques of Johannes Vermeer, arguably the greatest painter of the Dutch Renaissance. The movie show Tim’s extraordinary dedication to the heretical idea that some of the most admired artists of the Renaissance might have got a helping hand from optical devices (the camera obscura, curved mirrors and lenses). Of course, this isn’t Tim’s own hypothesis. It was promoted 15 years ago by the physicist Charles Falco and the artist David Hockney, most prominently in Hockney’s book Secret Knowledge. Indeed, Philip Steadman, a Professor in the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL, in his 2001 book Vermeer’s Camera, argued, from a detailed comparison between the size and shape of Vermeer’s studio, the dimensions of Vermeer’s canvases and the geometry of his compositions, that he might have painted from an image projected inside a camera obscura constructed in that room. But Tim Jenison wanted to go...

Colin Blakemore investigates the nature of visual perception in BAFTA-nominated film

Professor Colin Blakemore’s work branches out into a plethora of disciplines delving into the mechanisms of the brain, thought and perception, in his role as Professor of Neuroscience and Philosophy in the School of Advanced Study. As a renowned neuroscientist with a particular interest in visual perception, he was delighted recently to contribute to the BAFTA-nominated documentary Tim’s Vermeer. Professor Blakemore was part of the team responsible for this documentary, which explores the symbiotic relationship between art and science. This multi-disciplinary approach is a theme with which Professor Blakemore is familiar, having fused science and the humanities in his role as director of the Institute of Philosophy’s Centre for the Study of the Senses. He is Principal Investigator for a large grant, Rethinking the Senses, under the Science in Culture Theme of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which involves not only collaboration between philosophers and scientists, but also work with artists, designers, galleries, and chefs – including Heston Blumenthal. This latest cinematic endeavour was conceived by Penn Jillette, half of the American Illusionist duo, Penn & Teller, and it was directed by Penn & Teller, and Farley Ziegler. The film follows Tim Jenison, an inquisitive inventor and software specialist who was a pioneer in desktop video techniques. In the film Jenison dreams of painting like 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. However, he has never studied painting. With this novice skill set as a starting point, Tim embarks on his mission to copy the magic of Vermeer’s masterpiece, The Music Lesson. Through the exploration of lighting, lenses and mirrors, the team explore the radical notion that the special...

Institute of Modern Languages Research launches: An interview with Nicholas Harrison

The Institute of Germanic Studies & Romance Studies has now re-launched as the Institute of Modern Languages Research, continuing its mission to promote and facilitate research in Modern Languages in the UK. We have been interviewing experts in the field to learn more about where modern languages research is heading, and what role the Institute will have. Nicholas Harrison is Professor of French and Postcolonial Studies at King’s college London. First of all thank you Nicholas for agreeing to talk with us. Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself? I’m in the French department at King’s College London. My interests are fairly eclectic but a lot of my research and teaching are linked to colonial Algeria. I’m particularly interested at the moment in colonial education.   Why do you think that the study of modern languages is so important?   In the press, a lot of the rhetoric about why languages are important (which is tied to rhetoric about how they are at threat), is about gaining competitive advantages in an international marketplace. That’s not the side of language study I’m interested in, and I suspect that rhetoric is counterproductive when it comes to encouraging people to study languages at school. My interests are more in culture, and the way particular cultures, and world views, are carried in particular languages – which could mean literary language, or film, or French.   You spoke at the IMLR launch under the heading of ‘postcolonialism; translation and the transnational’.  Could you tell us a bit more about what you talked about? I talked about the ways in which something like ‘transnationalism’, or ‘world...

The Human Mind Project Interviews: Paul Fletcher

The Human Mind Project launched on 12 December 2013 with a public evening panel session held at Senate House, London. The project seeks to co-ordinate an international effort to define the major intellectual challenges in understanding the nature and significance of the human mind. Central to its success is collaboration across conventional disciplinary boundaries. In the lead up to the launch event the School of Advanced Study have conducted a series of short interviews with the initial project team to learn more about what they hope to achieve.  This interview is with Paul Fletcher, a psychiatrist from the University of Cambridge.   First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your area of research? I am a psychiatrist. I try to understand and help people who suffer from psychotic illness. Psychosis refers to a loss of touch with reality. People with psychosis hold and defend strange and often frightening beliefs (referred to as delusions) and they perceive things (perhaps visions or voices – often referred to as hallucinations) that cannot be accounted for objectively. My research is based on two core beliefs: a.            It is mistaken to consider the symptoms of psychotic illness in isolation. We should acknowledge that perception and belief are not separate – every perceptual experience is an act of belief and is heavily based on what one already knows. This has long been known in physiology but seems often to be missing in psychological models of delusions and hallucinations. b.            Perception/belief in the healthy state almost always diverges from objective reality. The brain is a very deceitful organ, doing much of its...