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Sex and the Somme

Ben Stevens H P Stevens26 June 2014

As the First World War centenary commemorations continue apace, there is a risk that inconvenient truths about the war will be quietly airbrushed from the official record.

One particular area that some may like to ignore is the use of brothels by British troops or ‘Tommies’ while in France and Belgium.

UCL Media Services © University College London

UCL Media Services © University College London

Dr Clare Makepeace (UCL History) made it the focus of her lecture ‘Sex and the Somme’ on 18 June, which was the first in a new series of First World War –themed Lunch Hour Lectures on Tour at the Guardian’s London offices.

She began by explaining how when the Tommies set off, each one was dispatched with a message from Lord Kitchener folded into their pay books. In it, he reminded them that the honour of the British Army depended on their conduct and warned them to “be on guard against excesses” especially “temptations both in wine and women” and to “avoid any intimacy”. (more…)

How to have visions and influence people

uclektm18 March 2014

“My central enquiry is how people in different social groups use persuasion to achieve what they want, and what this suggests about different people.”

It could be the opening of a new age psychology book, but it’s actually the basis of Dr Antonio Sennis’s (UCL History) research into the Middle Ages, amiably shared with us in a 13 March Lunch Hour Lecture, titled “Medieval Languages of Persuasion”.

So, what exactly can we learn about medieval Italian society based on the methods people used to influence each other?

The Abbey of Farfa today

The Abbey of Farfa today

A world of persuasion
Dr Sennis illustrated some of the key features of persuasion in this period through a topical example.

At UCL, we are persuaded to attend the Lunch Hour Lectures through a relatively gentle advertising campaign involving some unobtrusive posters and emails.

Perhaps we might feel somewhat dumber for our non-attendance, but the campaign seems underpinned by the kind of do-as-you-like liberalism that we expect from our democracy. Right? (more…)

Should we experiment with the climate?

Oli Usher13 March 2014

The SPICE experiment (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The SPICE experiment
(credit: Wikimedia Commons)

For a lecture which focused largely on Heath Robinson-esque contraptions made of hosepipes and helium balloons, Jack Stilgoe’s public lecture on climate experimentation (11 March) featured surprisingly frequent references to Frankenstein. For one with a question mark in its title, it had surprisingly few answers. Neither of these is a bad thing.

Stilgoe sets the scene with a story about four friends holidaying together by Lake Geneva. The summer’s a total washout, and the friends spend their time writing and talking instead of hiking and walking. But these aren’t just any old friends, and this isn’t any old summer.

It’s 1816, a volcanic eruption in Indonesia has dimmed the sun, and Mary Godwin – soon to be Mary Shelley – has just written what will eventually be published as Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.

Mary Shelley’s classic story is a widely used parable in sociology of science and technology: the theme of what happens when you create a new technology you can’t (or won’t) control is such a fundamental issue in the field. In the case of climate engineering, Stilgoe says, the parable is particularly apt since the power of the technology is so huge and the questions of how to govern it are so intractable.

So how could we control the climate?

(more…)

Gender equality in Latin America: creating policy environments that achieve success

zclef7812 March 2014

“The message of gender equality still resonates over a century after it was first proposed by the revolutionary Clara Zetkin.”

One of the opening statements of Professor Maxine Molyneux’s Lunch Hour Lecture reminded us that with International Women’s Day on 8 March, it was the perfect time to consider what has been achieved by the UN Millennium Development Goal to “promote gender equality and empower women” since the year 2000.

Brazilian woman

Brazilian woman holding ‘equal?’ sign

Few people in the UK have heard of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and only about a third of the audience today.

This was a good proportion according to Professor Molyneux (Institute of the Americas), despite our very own David Cameron co-chairing the UN panel responsible for the post-2015 agenda for development goals – a fact that amused some members of the audience (perhaps thinking of recent criticisms about the all-male Tory front bench).

But with the democratic representation of women in the UK at only 22% compared with Latin America’s average of 25%, and our mediocre ranking of 26 on the Gender Inequality Index, perhaps we should be paying a bit more attention.

(more…)