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Doctor Manjula’s Prescription – A History of British Sign Language

Ashley Cowburn11 July 2013

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An early manuscript illustrating finger sign

When Thomas Tillsye and Ursula Russell married in Leicester in February 1575, Thomas made his wedding vows in sign. Unknowingly, they were presented with a timeless wedding present – their marriage became the first recorded description of sign use in British history.

In 2003, British Sign Language (BSL) was recognised by the British government as a full and independent language.

Today, there are an estimated 50,000 – 70,000 people in Britain who use BSL as their preferred language. And, like most sign language communities, BSL is a minority language. Deaf communities within Britain have experienced centuries of discrimination in their fight for recognition.

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Dickens’s London, what’s changed since the 19th century?

Katherine Aitchison20 March 2012

This year marks 200 years since the birth of Charles Dickens. So, in the time since he was writing, how much has London really changed?

This was the topic up for discussion at a panel debate hosted by the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction  on 15 March.

The panel consisted of UCL Quain Professor of English, Rosemary Ashton; UCL Emeritus Professor of Climate Modelling, Julian Hunt and Professor Jerry White (Birkbeck) who has written a number of books describing London through the ages. Each of the panel had their own take on Dickens’s work and how it relates to the changing face of London in the years since his birth.

Professor Ashton kicked off the evening by discussing the London of the 19th century and the relationship between Dickens and Edwin Chadwick (a social reformer who placed huge emphasis on the importance of public health). As far as public health goes, it is clear that London has changed substantially since Dickens was writing; although the poverty he was so concerned about is still visible in some areas, the days of multiple families crowding into one room are long gone.

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The mystery of Master Humphrey

Ruth Howells14 February 2012

In a month where you seem not to be able to switch on the television or open a newspaper without encountering something to do with Charles Dickens, this Lunch Hour Lecture fell on 7 February, the very day marking the bicentenary of the great Victorian novelist’s birth.

The lecture, by Dr Matthew Beaumont (UCL English Language & Literature), fell a little off the beaten track in terms of Dickens scholarship. It focused on a peculiar and often overlooked character from perhaps one of Dickens’ less well-known and well-loved novels, The Old Curiosity Shop.

Dr Beaumont said that the novel has been neglected in scholarly terms because of its notorious sentimentality. Referring to the scenes describing the death of the saintly child Nell, Oscar Wilde famously said that, “You’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.”

People who have studied The Old Curiosity Shop tend to focus on the character of Quilp in the novel – the sinister, violent villain of the piece.

As Quilp is one of Dicken’s “great grotesques”, Dr Beaumont admitted that it is tempting to focus on him. The more genial Master Humphrey is a less overtly sinister presence in a novel teeming with the creepy and menacing, so easy to overlook.

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