Enjoy listening to this recap of our recent podcast series Thouthlines, which ran throughout CRASSH’s 20th anniversary in 2021.

Thoughtlines is a podcast series from CRASSH – the place where people gather to ask the big questions on who we are and why we live the way we do. In Thoughtlines we join that conversation and connect the dots in twelve different research journeys, from decoding the politics of your digital assistant to how consumer power helped end the slave trade. Wide-ranging, accessible, surprising and also deeply personal, Thoughtlines brings you the best of academic thinking outside the box.

Produced in association with Carl Homer, director of Cambridge-based production company Cambridge TV, and presented by broadcast journalist Catherine Galloway.

Episode 1: Melissa Calaresu – We are what we eat

In this episode, presenter and broadcast journalist Catherine Galloway talks food with cultural historian Dr Melissa Calaresu. The need to nourish ourselves is an eternal, daily preoccupation for all of us, but what we eat, and why, is an altogether meatier subject. Food is pleasure, performance, politics and even panic. Which fruit was a full-blown fashion craze in the 1600s? What did an undergraduate Isaac Newton feel guilty about buying? And why are our own early food memories so powerful?

Episode 2: Marcus Tomalin – We are what we code

In this episode, presenter and broadcast journalist Catherine Galloway talks tech with Digital Democracy expert Dr Marcus Tomalin.

Can our computing systems be better and do better?  How can we – everyday users and professional coders – spot the hidden biases and fleeting programming decisions that make a lasting difference in ‘real’ life?

And can we even imagine what we’ll be asking Alexa ten years from now?

Episode 3: Martin Millett – We are what we dig

In this episode, presenter and broadcast journalist Catherine Galloway talks to archaeologist Professor Martin Millett about the ground-breaking changes in how we search, and respond to, the landscape of the past.

We hear what happens when sound artists and radar technicians start really listening to the earth beneath our feet. What it means – on both sides – to be part of an Empire. And why nothing really beats the academic excitement of getting your hands dirty.

  • Find out more about Professor Millett’s radar discoveries in Falerii Novi in Italy, mentioned in this episode.
  • Find out more about Professor Millett’s Roman town project in Aldborough, England.
  • Martin Millett is Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology at the Faculty of Classics and a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College Cambridge.

Episode 4: Inanna Hamati-Ataya – We are what we know

In this episode we talk wisdom, forgetting, and what we all have in common, with Dr Inanna Hamati-Ataya, the Founding Director of the Centre for Global Knowledge Studies at CRASSH.

What do the things we share, across all human history, tell us about who we really are? What are we missing? Why does the way we farm our planet need a re-think? And what on earth does the humble potato have to do with it all?

Episode 5: Simon Goldhill – We are what we connect

In this episode, presenter and broadcast journalist Catherine Galloway talks youth, ageing, research time, and timelessness with Professor Simon Goldhill, a former director of CRASSH, and Professor of Greek Literature and Culture at the Faculty of Classics.

We also spend time considering the life-changing power of the moment. As chair of the Nine Dots Prize Board, Professor Goldhill makes the phone call to the winner of this lucrative and prestigious biennial international essay competition, telling the astonished recipient that their ‘out of the box’ thinking has netted them $100,000, a publishing contract with Cambridge University Press, and the chance to come to CRASSH for a term to work on turning their essay answer into a book. The latest recipient was announced this month, and we’ve got the scoop on the idea that won.

Episode 6: Bronwen Everill – We are what we buy

In this episode we join the dots on the global story of abolition with Dr Bronwen Everill, 1973 lecturer in History at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Why was the Cambridge connection so central to those campaigning to end the slave trade in Britain? What did these abolitionists have in common with those in West Africa and in the United States? What was the product that both drove slavery and helped early ethical consumers do their bit for the abolitionist cause? And how do we acknowledge the different types of ‘labour’ that make an academic life possible today?

Episode 7: Niamh Mulcahy – We are what we spend

In this episode, we talk inequality, life chances, and the daily struggle to balance household budgets with Dr Niamh Mulcahy, economic sociologist at CRASSH and Alice Tong Sze Fellow at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.

The financial crash of 2008, followed by the UK government’s decade of austerity, and the Covid-19 pandemic has left millions of people in Britain facing a very uncertain future and holding increasingly unmanageable levels of personal debt.

What set us on such a precarious path? How can we return to what Dr Mulcahy terms “steadiness”? And how is her college addressing these challenges in its own backyard?

Episode 8: Emma Claussen – We are what we feel

In this episode we take a long look at what the New York Times believes might be “the dominant emotion of 2021”. But what is languishing? And did we really just invent it?

Dr Emma Claussen, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in French at the University of Cambridge and research associate at Peterhouse College, thinks we certainly did not, and that writers and thinkers have been battling with how to ‘beat the blah’ (or at least learn to live with it) for centuries.

So, what can voices from the Early Modern period tell us about living a ‘good’ life in uncertain times? How do the acts of reading and writing help us deal with loss, distance and disappointment? And what do you do when your meticulously documented research term suddenly becomes a media buzzword?

Episode 9: Anna Alexandrova – We are what we question

In this episode, we ask an expert on expertise what she knows for sure.

Dr Anna Alexandrova is a Reader in the Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, and the principal investigator for the Expertise Under Pressure project at CRASSH.

Her latest research is co-authored with people currently in severe financial hardship, and combines their insights and lived experiences with conventional academic approaches to articulate a more authentic, democratic understanding of what it means to truly ‘flourish’ – work which could have significant impact on the government’s current wellbeing agenda.

At a moment when expertise, globally, is under extreme pressure how can we make space for different ways of knowing? Is it reasonable to expect cast-iron certainty from our public experts? And what did Dr Alexandrova learn as a teenager that has shaped her whole career?

Episode 10: Charlotte Lee – We are what we read

In this episode we discover how words move us. Literally.

Dr Charlotte Lee is a Senior Lecturer in German at the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge, but just lately she’s stepped beyond her academic boundaries to ask everyone from neuroscientists, to dancers, to tiny children, more about the transporting power of poetry.

Working in three languages, and across disciplines, her current research tries to discover how writers make us physically feel things that we only read about, and how our brain dances along to textual rhythms even when our bodies remain sitting still in a library chair.

From the Ancient Greeks to nursery rhymes to hip hop, literature is always moving to the beat. But we’re only just discovering where it could take us.

Episode 11: Trish Lorenz – We are what we disrupt

In this episode we answer a $100,000 question.

Writer and journalist Trish Lorenz won the global essay competition, The Nine Dots Prize, by turning anxiety about the world’s ageing population on its head and celebrating the game-changing power of Africa’s ‘youthquake’.

Part of the prize is the chance to spend a term at CRASSH, and turn that initial 3,000 word entry into a book published by Cambridge University Press. But Trish took the long way round from her home in Berlin – arriving in Cambridge via Lagos and Abuja where she found and interviewed the young Africans who best represent the energy, the ingenuity, and the infectious generosity that she wanted to highlight.

The ‘Soro Soke’ generation in Nigeria, and beyond, are outspoken, urban, tech savvy, globally connected, and unlike any demographic that has come before. So what happens when we start tuning in to what they have to say?

Episode 12: Steven Connor – We are what we do

In this final episode of the CRASSH 20th anniversary year, we ask the centre’s Director, and Grace 2 Professor of English at Cambridge, Steven Connor, whether what we do for a living can ever, or should ever, be anything other than drudgery?Thousands of column inches in the past year have been devoted to ‘The Great Resignation’, or ‘The Big Quit’ – a mass rebellion by millions of disgruntled employees worldwide who decided their current work just isn’t working for them any longer.  Employment, then, is yet another thing to be re-worked by the COVID-19 pandemic, but less examined is why we even do it in the first place.Connor’s latest research project, the culmination of a 40-year academic career, aims to unpack our deeply, and sometimes unconsciously, held beliefs about what we ‘do’.He himself is never less than fully and happily occupied, but also shares his thoughts on what could, and should, constitute ‘serious’ academic work in the Humanities. And it starts by allowing ourselves to admit that, despite our very best efforts to conceal it, we are having an awful lot of fun.



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