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?
- Watch a short film on Melissa Calaresu’s ‘Feast and Fast‘ exhibition featured in this episode.
- Read an academic introduction to food culture in Europe from 1500-1800 by Melissa Calaresu.
- Read more of Melissa Calaresu’s research on the Neopolitan food experiences of Welsh painter Thomas Jones.
- Melissa Calaresy is Neil McKendrick Lecturer in History at Gonville and Caius College and Affiliated Lecturer at the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge.
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?
- Hear Marcus Tomalin talking more about Artificial Intelligence and Social Change.
- Read Marcus Tomalin’s journal article on Quarantining Online Hate Speech, discussed in this episode.
- Marcus Tomalin is Senior Research Associate with the Giving Voice to Digital Democracies Research Project at CRASSH.
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?
- Dr Inanna Hamati-Ataya is Principal Research Associate and Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded project ARTEFACT as of March 2018, and founding director of the Centre for Global Knowledge Studies (gloknos), since September 2017. She is the founding editor of the book series Global Epistemics at Rowman & Littlefield International.
- Read a Q&A about the ARTEFACT and gloknos.
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.
- Simon Goldhill is Professor of Greek Literature and Culture at the Faculty of Classics and a Fellow of King’s College Cambridge.
- Discover the identity of the 2021/22 winner of the Nine Dots Prize mentioned in this episode.
- Find an open access copy of the first Nine Dots Prize book, Stand Out Of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance In The Attention Economy, by James Williams.
- Find an open access copy of the second Nine Dots Prize book, Bread, Cement, Cactus: A Memoir of Belonging and Dislocation, by Annie Zaidi.
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?
- Bronwen Everill’s book Not Made By Slaves: Ethical Capitalism in the Age of Abolition is available in all good bookshops.
- Hear Bronwen Everill talking further about the Zong massacre on BBC Radio 4 – In Our Time, The Zong Massacre.
- Read Bronwen Everill’s blog article about buying ethically, and its limitations ‘Shopping for Racial Justice‘ and her research during her CRASSH fellowship: a journal article in History of Science on Freetown, Sierra Leone, as a ship-building and repair hub in the nineteenth century and an African Economic History working paper on measuring the standard of living in nineteenth-century Freetown
- The plaque to Anna Maria Vassa, discussed at the beginning of this episode, can be found at St Andrew’s Church, Chesterton, Cambridge.
- See also St Andrew’s Church, Chesterton’s Wikipedia entry which discusses the plaque.
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?
- Niamh Mulcahy’s book, Class and Inequality in the Time of Finance: Subject to Terms and Conditions, discussed in this episode is available for pre-order:
- Niamh Mulcahy talks more about her research project at CRASSH in this blog post.
- Read Niamh Mulcahy’s recent research paper on financialisation and social behaviour, as discussed in this episode.
- Read more news about Lucy Cavendish College’s ongoing to broaden access to Cambridge: ‘The Wolfson Foundation awards Lucy Cavendish College up to £200,000 towards the cost of new accommodation and learning spaces‘ and ‘Work to start on Lucy’s new Passivhaus development‘.
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?
- Follow Emma Claussen on Twitter via @eclaussen.
- Emma Claussen’s new book Politics and ‘Politiques’ in Sixteenth-Century France, discussed in this episode, is available from all good bookshops
- Read a recent article from Emma Claussen on politics and the Early Modern ‘politician’: The politician is the malformed monster of our coexistence | Psyche Ideas
- Other poets included in Emma Claussen’s current work on ‘What makes life worth living in Early Modern France?’ are Louise Labé and Pierre de Ronsard.
- For more examples of cultural history approached through research on keywords and concepts, such as ‘languishing’, Emma Claussen recommends the group Early Modern Keywords at Durham University.
- Read the articles on the modern, viral, phenomenon of languishing from the New York Times and The Guardian discussed in this episode: ‘There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing’ and ‘We’ve learnt so much this year – and not just how to languish‘.
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?
- Follow Anna Alexandrova and the Expertise Under Pressure team on Twitter via @ExpertiseUnder
- Anna’s writings can be found on her PhilPeople profile and her webpage. Her 2017 book A Philosophy for the Science of Well-being is now available in paperback.
- You can find out about her ongoing work on responsible science of wellbeing by following the Bennett Institute for Public Policy @BennettInst.
- Some recent articles include Wellbeing and Pluralism, Happiness Economics as Technocracy and Mental Health Without Wellbeing.
- And read more about national poverty charity Turn2Us and the co-production research work mentioned in this episode.
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.
- Find out more about the Women’s Art Collection, the location for this episode.
- The Watching Dance project is an excellent resource for understanding principles such as kinesis and kinaesthetic empathy as discussed in this episode.
- Dance of the Muses offers danced reconstructions of Ancient Greek choral poetry.
- At Cambridge, the Baby Rhythm Project of the Centre for Neuroscience in Education is elucidating the central role of rhythm in language acquisition in babies.
- Charlotte Lee’s 2017 article Movement and embodiment in Klopstock and Goethe explores the relationship between poetry and movement.
- Her first book, also discussed in this episode, is a study of Goethe’s last works and can be found here.
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?
- Find further examples of Trish’s journalism.
- When Trish misses Lagos, and the energy of the Soro Soke generation, she listens to this track by Wizkid (the most steamed Nigerian artist of all time).
- Two albums that represent the sounds of contemporary Nigeria, both released in 2020, are WizKid’s ‘Made in Lagos’ and Burna Boy’s ‘Twice as Tall’.
- More information on the publication announcement for Trish’s book on the Soro Soke generation in Africa, appearing in May 2022, can be found on the Nine Dots Prize website.
- Read a recent UNICEF study on what it feels like to be young in today’s world.
- Read a discussion on Africa’s ‘youthquake’.
- Listen to the story of how Jesus College, Cambridge, returned a Benin bronze to Nigeria.
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.
- The CRASSH website includes Q&As on Steven’s two recent books; one with Imke van Heerden in June 2019, on the strangeness of ‘the species that styles itself sapiens’, as discussed in his book The Madness of Knowledge, and the other, with Judith Weik in October 2019 on the nastiness of the idea of agency and the associated ‘lexicon of the illimitable’ in Giving Way: Thoughts on Unappreciated Dispositions.
- He discusses his writing and especially his more recent work, in the podcast Critical Attitudes, a conversation with Nathan Waddell in March 2021.
- Thaumodynamics: Making a Living in Great Expectations, the Hilda Hulme Lecture, given for the Institute of English Studies, London, in June 2021.
- Ceremonics is a brief prospectus for the sequence of books he has been writing since 2019 on social performativities. The sequence includes Giving Way: Thoughts on Unappreciated Dispositions (2019); A History of Asking (2022) and Seriously, Though (2022). Essays on crisis-behaviour, desperation styles, anger-management, wishing-rituals and faith-operations form part of this ongoing enquiry.
- More of Steven Connor’s essays, broadcasts and works-in-progress can be read, heard or watched on his website stevenconnor.com.