In November 2013, I participated in a conference entitled Corporate Sustainability and Eco-innovations at which academics, mainly from developing countries from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), presented their views and research on the subject.

All the presentations were very interesting and intellectually stimulating but one concept struck me in particular. Professor Gregor Radonjič from the University of Maribor evaluated the consequences of using carbon emissions as an indicator of overall sustainability and general environmental impact. As a society, we very often associate the level of emissions of this greenhouse gas with overall environmental impact of goods, services, institutions, actions or projects. I am not suggesting that this is a measure widely accepted by academics, but the media and the wider population seem to be far more willing to use this shortcut as a proxy for assessing sustainability.

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Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest post is by Dr Kasia Boddy. If you enjoy reading it, try Kasia’s wonderful history of the geranium or her social history of boxing.

No one is quite sure when Robert Burns first uttered his ‘Address to a Haggis‘ (given here with a translation for Sassenachs). Some claim he extemporised during Sunday lunch at the cabinet maker John Morrison’s house in Mauchline in Ayrshire; others that he wrote it specially for smarter dinner on Edinburgh’s Castlehill, hosted by a merchant friend called Andrew Bruce. In any case, ‘To a Haggis’ was the first of Burns’s poems to be published in an Edinburgh paper, the Caledonian Mercury, on the 20th December 1786.

The origins of haggis itself are even more obscure. ‘Hagese’ is mentioned in a fifteenth-century poem from Lancashire, and a recipe from 1615 talks about ‘Haggas or Haggus’. Clarissa Dickinson Wright, who has written a whole book on the subject, claims Scandinavian influence (the Old Norse haggw; the Old Icelandic hoggva). Others suggest it was a gift of the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France, thus hachis. Everyone, it seemed, like that mix of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, combined with onion, oatmeal, suet, and spices and (traditionally) encased in the animal’s stomach. But party food it wasn’t and to offer the haggis an ode was a fine joke. Burns may have been making fun of the tendency of ‘Auld Scotland’ to romanticise and over-praise its native products. That’s perhaps why the haggis is personified as a great Highland (Jacobite?) chieftan.  But he also seems to be suggesting that we shouldn’t ‘look down’ on humble things. Why couldn’t a poet offer an address to offal or, to recall some other Burns poems, to mice or lice? (Not that the images of the haggis’s ‘hurdies’ (or buttocks), or the whiskey-like ‘amber’ liquid that is distilled through its ‘pores’, are all that heroic, never mind appetising.)

The first Burns Supper was held on July 21,1801 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of poet’s death. The company were, like Burns himself, largely Freemasons and the event was such a success that it was decided to establish an annual gathering  – on his birthday, 25th January.  Numerous clubs and societies were formed throughout the nineteenth century and in 1885, the Burns Foundation was established ‘to strengthen and consolidate’ their links ‘by universal affiliation’. It’s still going strong.

Scottish poets have struggled to escape the shadow of Burns or, more particularly, what the socialist internationalist Hugh MacDiarmid termed ‘Scottish Nationalism and the Burns Cult’. For MacDiarmid, Burns clubs and suppers epitomised the kind of kitsch that held Scotland hostage in a Brigadoon-like neverland of tartan provincialism. For MacDiarmid Burns should have been celebrated for creating poetry out of working-class Scots dialect but instead he’d become an inspiration to ‘maudlin sentimentalism and cheap jocosity’. In his 1925 masterpiece, ‘A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle’, MacDiarmid evokes a Burns supper and concludes wryly that ‘ten to wan the piper is a cockney’.  Eighty years later, Edwin Morgan, reminding his readers that ‘all art is in one sense illusion’, pointed out that ‘You can’t smoke Magritte’s pipe. You can’t eat Burns’s haggis, even though it’s “Warm-reekin, rich!”’

But invented or not, benign or not, the tradition of a Burns birthday party is more popular than ever. Instead like a haggis rolling down a hill – if you don’t believe me, check out RollingHaggis.com  –  the supper has evolved and adapted to new times and places. Vancouver’s Gung Haggis Fat Choy Festival celebrates Burns Night and the Chinese New Year in the form of haggis and shrimp won ton (coming next year at Fitzwilliam?) while Scottish-Slovenian fellowship flourishes in dinners celebrating Burns alongside France Prešeren.

If a ‘sonsie’ haggis remains ‘worthy o’ a grace’, so too does Burns, an eighteenth-century radical whose internationalism entailed much more than fusion cuisine. He wrote hundreds of poems and songs, and alongside the handful of well-known comic and love poems can be found biting satires and visionary political verses.

So when you next have a wee dram, think of Burns writing enthusiastically of the American revolution –

See gathering thousands, while I sing
A broken chain exulting bring
And dash it in a tyrant’s face.

(‘Ode [for General Washington’s Birthday]’, 1794)

– or of Martin Luther King talking in 1966 of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ – a line from Burns’s dirge ‘Man was made to mourn’, reprised by Barack Obama in 2008. Or think of the fugitive slave Frederick Douglass, touring Britain and Ireland in 1846, to promote the abolitionist cause and to secure funds to purchase his freedom. An ‘enthusiastic admirer’ of Burns, Douglass visited the poet’s birthplace in Alloway, near Ayr, and later, back in America, addressed the poet’s ‘Immortal Memory’ at a Burns Supper in Rochester, NY. ‘If any think me out of place on this occasion,’ he declared, ‘I beg the blame may be laid at the door of him who taught me that “a man’s a man for a’ that”’.

Then let us pray that come it may
(As come it will for a’ that)
That Sense and Worth o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That man to man the world o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

(‘For A’ That’, 1795)

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

Posted in Master's blog

Last week saw Fitzwilliam College celebrate Robert Burns’ birthday in a way that seems to be becoming a tradition – Formal Hall, complete with piper, and this time followed by a Ceilidh, organised by the Music Society. It was a happy coincidence that this was the first occasion on which our acting Chaplain, Helen Arnold, said grace in College – since she is a bona fide Scot. And then Harry Leitch (Medicine 2003; and on Twitter as HGLeitch) read the ‘Address to a Haggis’, which left many of us in the full dining hall somewhat bemused – to be frank, we needed help to understand the poem, let alone understanding ‘why’. But the purpose of the event was more an excuse to enjoy a convivial meal than a real celebration of the life and work of Robert Burns. It was a real pleasure for me to sit next to Harry, whose Fitzwilliam career has been astonishing – as I will set out in this blog.

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Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

Posted in Master's blog

One of the joys of the “Cambridge experience” is that our Colleges allow us to build bridges between disciplines, and bridges between undergraduate and leading academics. These “bridges” are of course invaluable. Whether we reach out adequately beyond our own community is another question.

A fascinating insight into the value of interdisciplinary research was provided this week by the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz. He gave the first of this year’s Darwin Lectures, which are on the theme of plagues. His lecture, entitled “Plagues and Medicine”, explored human reactions to plagues, and not the hard science, although he built his career as a Professor of Medicine. Read more…

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

Posted in Master's blog

Helen Bettinson (History 1982; Development Director) and I have just returned from a week split between Hong Kong, Singapore and the skies. We met many amazing, and some amazingly generous, alumni. Both as Master, and as a lawyer, I took particular pride in the individual achievements of the Fitz lawyers who have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the success of these two small but highly successful jurisdictions.

What were the high points? One was seeing Earl Deng (Law 2002) appearing before the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong in a complex case challenging a Government policy which forbids even those mandated (officially recognised) refugees and screened-in torture claimants who have been in Hong Kong for a prolonged period of time from taking up employment. The individual appellants came from Burundi, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Their stories are compelling: the Pakistani national, for example, has been in Hong Kong more than ten years, having arrived with his family to escape religious persecution and was mandated as a refugee by the UNHR in 2002. Each had been released into the country on recognizance, but they have not been permitted to work as they await resettlement in another country. Their challenges had been unsuccessful in the lower courts. A useful reminder that both the drafting and the application of fair immigration laws pose moral and legal challenges around the world, and not just in the UK. Read more…

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

“To rove about, musing, that is to say loitering, is, for a philosopher, a good way of spending time.” – Victor Hugo

Many Fitzwilliam graduate students will tell you of the importance of musing. Be it in the dining hall, hidden amongst the bookshelves of the library, or in the social spaces of the College, graduate students are often to be found engaging in academic dialogue with each other. It might be the biologist attempting to explain gene-splicing to the modern historian, or the geography student vigorously defending his research from the critique of a group of engineers. And, against the backdrop of looming deadlines and financial pressures, they seem to enjoy this simple act of musing. As Victor Hugo correctly identified in the quotation above, part of the art and skill of nurturing an inquisitive mind is the ability to loiter amongst like-minded individuals and simply enjoy the act of thinking.

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Bhaskar Vira

About Bhaskar Vira

Bhaskar Vira is a Fellow in Geography, specialising in Environment and Development, and is Graduate Tutor.

Posted in Master's blog

I am delighted to be launching Fitzwilliam College blogs, a new online space for the members of our community. We’re launching with two blogs, a Master’s blog and a Graduate Student blog, with different aims and for different audiences.

The Master’s blog gives me the opportunity to share my own experience of the richness of life in the College with readers, whether they are current students or potential applicants, interested friends or alumni keen to hear about life and work here. I’ll be inviting guest contributions too. My own academic field is criminal justice, so my thoughts, interests and concerns about this will feature from time to time.

The Graduate student blog is a multi-user blog, more research-focused, providing a platform to showcase the latest academic work in many fields, presented in a style that is accessible to non-specialists. Expect posts from Fitzwilliam students and Fellows. Fitzwilliam College encourages the sharing of ideas, and we welcome visitors to join the conversation.

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.