I found the recent Williams Project talk particularly captivating because it illustrated the importance of Mao Zedong’s communist career. Although previously, we have learnt about Mao only through his connection to Stalin in the cold war period, here we see that his disregard for ‘textbook communism’ has shaped the way China is governed today. Mao’s modern communist ideologies were extremely influential – so much so that when he died in 1976, it was felt across the globe. It was great to hear SOAS Senior Lecturer, Dr Laamann talk to us about a subject he has a passion for – and it will no doubt inspire us to do the same.
Sue and Patrick Cunningham are professional photojournalists and writers who have been supporters of the indigenous communities of Brazil for the past 20 years. They both do lots of work for the Indigenous People’s Cultural Support Trust which raises awareness about the issues affecting tropical forests and their indigenous habitats. They have been involved in the writing of many educational publications including “Brazil in The School” and “Out of The Amazon”, and Patrick has written for many magazines such as Geographical Magazine and BBC Wildlife.
Mr and Mrs Cunningham are extremely lovely people who excellently communicated their passion and and knowledge about the indigenous communities of Brazil. They spoke to us about their recent trip down the Xingu River on a boat powered by solar panels. They talked to us about the people who lived in these communities and how their lives are being affected by deforestation. They also talked to us about how the tribes don’t want much money, they are happy and content with making whatever they need. This is what amazed me so much, how we as a community are so obsessed by materialistic things while they are living very happily making whatever they need.
Read more and see photographs of their travels and work here.
A pop-up WP, for the VIth form only. Mr Maynes took us through a whole gamut of types of offensive humour, and, with admirable openness, tact and skill, engineered an intelligent, and at times impassioned, discussion about humour. Audio clips from comedians, with audience laughter, brought home the difficulty of finding something ‘funny’, but not wanting to laugh. Is it OK to share such jokes if no members of the target group are there, and if the teller knows no one will be offended? Or should one only tell jokes which one could tell to anyone?
The conversation continued over dinner, where several students expressed with relief that now for the first time they felt able to discuss things like gender and race in an official school setting.
Emily Miller, the Head of Learning and Partnerships at the Migration Museum Project, discussed whether Britain needs a migration museum. France, Germany, Portugal and many more countries have migration museums, yet Britain is not among this list, and Emily Miller’s talk focussed on why this needs to change. Migration is a pertinent and sometimes controversial issue, and the intention of setting up a migration museum is to tell personal and evocative stories of immigrants throughout history. It is easy for people to stereotype immigrants, but the point Emily was making is that everyone comes from somewhere, and everyone has a story which needs to be respected and tolerated, rather than faced with prejudice. The Syrian refugee crisis, unfortunately, is one of many throughout history – something that people often remain ignorant to unless they actively go out of their way to broaden their knowledge about the history of migration. What is most frightening is that attitudes to those seen as ‘other’ have changed so little over time. For example, in 1290, Edward I issued an edict which expelled all Jews from England, and as recent as 2016, people have been filmed on high streets in London claiming that they want immigrants to be shot. Education of people to eradicate these prejudices is vital, since a harmonious society cannot result from tensions based on something so small as background and fear of the unknown. The Migration Museum Project so far does not have a location for a physical building, but the need for plans to come to fruition in the future is a great one. For now, they are putting on events and exhibitions in places around London, such as a migration walk, and they have big hopes for the future – so watch that space.
Old Chigwellian Dr Tomáš Cvrcek, lecturer of Economics at UCL and admissions tutor for the innovative new degree History, Politics and Economics, treated the Williams Project to an in-depth look at the nature of modern-day relationships, and how one can take basic principles of economics (e.g. supply and demand, market equilibrium and making value judgements) and apply them to ‘the marriage market’. As the talk progressed, it became clear that one can choose to view the ‘dating’ scene with a rather clinical eye, choosing partners based upon a rigid list of preference and weighing up the opportunity cost of choosing someone else over another e.g. Person A may not end up with Person B because Person B places a higher value upon Person C, but may still be able to end up with Person D, who they value to a lesser extent but is the next best option due to the constraints of the market. However, Dr Cvrcek also concentrated on the various historical and cultural factors that affect how ‘the game’ is played – for instance, although we in the UK base the ‘rules of the game’ upon one-to-one relationships, certain cultures may base the ‘rules of the game’ around many-to-one relationships, for example when a husband has multiple wives. Historical factors considered included the nature of middle-upper class relationships in Victorian Britain (where suitable partners were chosen by the parents of the couple in question, hence personal preferences did not hold as much weight) and scenarios such as arranged relationships/marriages. By the end of the talk, a vast array of topics and scenarios had been covered, leaving the audience significantly more enlightened and informed.
tomas cvrcek and mr lord
the marriage game in action
On Tuesday the 22nd of September the Williams Project was visited by Keith Snow. He gave a very interesting talk about the development and influences behind Darwin’s theory of evolution, showing us how Charles Darwin himself was not the sole mind behind the theory of evolution. Darwin’s ideas both evolved over time and much was taken from many other people before him. Keith Snow discussed how Darwin took many of his ideas from his lesser-known grandfather Erasmus Darwin, as well as Thomas Malthus, whose ideas also inspired Darwin. Erasmus theorised that all life came from a common ancestor that branched off into all the species that we see today. Even without any time for questions in the library at the end it was a very enjoyed and interesting talk, and I’m sure that Keith Snow would be welcome back in the future.
This week’s Williams Project meeting saw Alex Wade of Birmingham City University give a wide-ranging talk on ‘The Happy Consciousness of Pac-Man’. The much-loved, chomping, yellow character was analysed not just as a game but as an influence and reflection of ’80s and modern society, whether it be in his RAVE-like habit of popping pills or in his consumerist desire to never stop eating. We’d like to thank Mr Wade for his excellent talk which enlightened us not just on video games but also gave us an insight into some of the wider aspects of our culture and technology.
Mr Wade started by warming up the audience with some ’80s jokes, before talking about ’80s culture and its parallelism to the game itself. He carefully explained the idea of Pac-Man, that you play as a small, yellow creature who must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts, all inside a maze from which there is no escape. As you get to higher and higher levels, the mazes become more complex and difficult to escape from. He spoke elegantly about the game’s popularity in the ’80s, and also about how it is perceived by some to be more well-suited to females than males, as the ghosts never die when they are eaten, but merely float back to the “ghost box”, unlike most modern video games in which the characters often die. He also kept the audience entertained with fun facts about the game – for example, he told us that the shape of the character Pac-Man was originally inspired by a pizza with one slice missing.
However, for me, the most impressive part of Mr Wade’s speech was the final part, in which he expanded on his ideas about Pac-Man’s link to capitalism. In a broad, sweeping gesture, he stated: “Pac-Man is all about eating.” And so, he went on to say, is life. Pac-Man must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts in order to live, so that it can eat more power pellets in order to eat more ghosts etc. In the same way, the population of a capitalist society are trapped in a cycle of consuming for the sake of consuming, buying more and more goods just to thrive in society. A cycle from which escape is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Of course, the hugely challenging question which this point causes us to ask is “is there a better alternative?” Would it be better to have a society with poor consumption (Communism) or one with excessive consumption?
A fascinating message delivered in a clear, confident manner, it is certain that all those who were present at Mr Wade’s talk will be thinking about it for a long time, and many thanks must go to the speaker for a thought-provoking session.
At a packed meeting in the Library this year’s winners gave presentations on their essays.
Stuart Innes (‘Have attitudes towards mental health really changed?’) gave a clear historical summary of how societies have responded to and attempted to treat mental illness, framed within a powerful argument for a mixture of approaches. He was insistent that a reductively “scientific”, drug-based, approach was not the answer, but that counselling and therapy had central roles: humans have evolved with the ability to share with others their feelings and thoughts, and we should use this as a strength.
Rachel Maton (‘Why did 16th– and 17th-century Europe experience widespread witchcraft hysteria, and a subsequent peak in witch-hunts and trials?’) discussed in detail the many different theories which have been proposed to explain why numbers of trials increased in an age of supposed rationalism. These ranged from scapegoating and feminism to the invention of the printing press. She concluded with a balanced evaluation, arguing that it was due to a number of factors coming together; she also downplayed the contribution of the feminist argument (that the suppression of witches was allied to an expression of male power): even in England a good quarter of all those condemned were male, and in Russia and Estonia the vast majority were men.
Xiaoxuan Liu (‘Einstein’s special theory of relativity: a general explanation for its formation’) gave a humorous and in-depth explanation of Einstein’s theory, using an alternative method for deriving E=mc^2 than the one she had used in her original essay. She argued that while many people find the dramatic effects of relativity (e.g. time dilation, changes in mass) the most appealing aspects, she preferred the raw beauty of its mathematics.
All three speakers were extremely impressive – they were clear, authoritative and engaging; all were, in short, easy to listen to, despite the (each for different reasons) challenging nature of what they were talking about. They could also deal with questions with confidence and charm.
After a splendid formal dinner Tim Morrison (OC and former Howard Essay Winner, now Head of Classics at Oundle School) introduced most of us to Thales, the first Greek philosopher, and as such the first recorded person in Western Europe to question for himself accepted explanations for how the world worked. Despite being perfectly able to use his intelligence to make money (one year he predicted a bumper olive crop and bought up all the presses), he thought it more interesting and important to study the heavens and think for himself about the world – just the sort of inspirational figure needed by this year’s LVI as they embark on their own Howard & Mitchell essays.