Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

Rosie Finlinson (PhD Slavonic Studies 2015) and Millie Papworth (PhD Italian 2015) describe their very successful Writing Women in History Symposium, Reaching Through Time: Approaches to Women’s History Today.

On Friday 16 March 2018, as part of Women’s History Month, Fitzwilliam College hosted a day-long symposium on women’s history today, followed by a concert of music by female composers throughout the ages. The symposium was organised by the Writing Women in History reading group, which was set up by a team of PhD students from MML and AsNAC and funded by the AHRC. Our aim was to bring together graduate students and academics from a range of disciplines to provoke discussion about contemporary methodological approaches to women’s history and the ways in which academic study of women has broader social impact. Dr Lucy Delap, historian of modern Britain at Murray Edwards College, opened the day with a talk entitled ‘Rethinking feminism through global history’. She underscored the need to reconceptualise the existing historical narrative to allow for a more diverse, inclusive, less white and Western feminist discourse which acknowledges and incorporates feminist movements across the globe.

After coffee, we reconvened for our first panel, ‘Alternative Sources to Women’s History’. This panel brought together speakers from the history of architecture, history of art and history of literature on a range of topics from the slave trade to womb fumigation. Despite the diversity of the subject matter, these papers spoke to each other amazingly well and sparked a really interesting discussion on the ethical implications of showcasing the contributions of female figures in the past. We then retired for a well-deserved lunch break, and enjoyed a delicious and generous spread from Fitz.

In the afternoon we had a panel on ‘Methodologies and Sources for Women’s History’ which again brought together three speakers from diverse disciplines who sought to revise accepted assumptions about women in their field by bringing to light previously unstudied source material. We learnt about unmarried mothers in 18th-century England, and considered how we might redefine ideas about labour to incorporate the invisible forms of work done by women in 18th-century north west England and in the early modern European court. Our second keynote, Sarah Dunant, an award-winning historical novelist, wrapped up the day by bringing out the ‘story’ in ‘history’ with a fascinating insight into her own approach to Renaissance sources in her novel-writing. Hearing about how she seeks to make history relevant to her audience made way for a discussion about our own motives in our academic work, and about how academic work can and should have impact in the public domain.

After our stimulating discussion, we emerged into a sunny spring evening and walked through gardens filled with daffodils to the Crypt, where we continued to unfold and debate (politely!) the ideas and themes of the day. Refreshed, we joined the audience of Fitz members and other students who had gathered in the Chapel for the evening’s concert ‘A Celebration of Women Composers’. A stellar programme assembled by Anna Wagner (conference organiser) and Catherine Groom (Director of Music at Fitz) saw musicians from Cambridge and the Royal Academy, London, perform a selection of pieces by female composers who have by and large escaped the history books and concert halls. We travelled from the convents of Modena, Italy (with Sulpitia Cesis (1577 – ?) and her Motetti spirituali) to the concert halls of Paris and St Petersburg (with Pauline Viardot (1821-1910) and her Zwölf Gedichte), taking in en route the Imperial Court of Austria (with Maria Martines, (1744-1812) and Scelta d’arie) and prohibition-era Chicago (Florence Prince, 1887-1953). A moving cello lament (Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, b.1939) caused a few damp eyes, before a sparky ending with a selection of Shakespearean sonnets set to music (by Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)) left us all uplifted for the evening. It was real pleasure to see both conference attendees and the wider audience enjoying together such a variety of underappreciated, but glorious, pieces of music. The full programme can be found here.

The musicians, conference organisers and speakers went on to enjoy the conference dinner, another opportunity to discuss the day’s revelations and insights over wine and pizza, and plan an initiative or two in the future. The interdisciplinary, international nature of the symposium allowed for a huge range of exciting conversations, and it was very fruitful for all involved. We found the setting, moving between the intimate lecture theatre and the sun-drenched common room, particularly conducive to reflection then discussion, fuelled of course by the excellent lunch from Fitz catering. We are hugely thankful to Fitzwilliam (alongside our other funders, the School of Arts and Humanities, the Italianist, and the AHRC) for their financial, organisational and even moral support! We could not have had a better setting for a wonderful day.

Symposium poster

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest post is by Anna Mareschal (Arabic and Spanish 2016), who attended the ‘In Conversation with the Master’ event on working with urban refugees on 9 November 2017.

On Thursday 9 November, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend one of the many talks in the ‘In Conversation with the Master’ series organised by Nicky a few times each term. Each discussion is framed around the speciality of one or more guest speakers, and in these informal conversations input from the audience is encouraged, which makes the discussions all the more exciting. This time we were joined by Özgecan Atasoy, a Fitz alumna (MPhil Modern Society & Global Transformations 2014), who now works for the UNHCR in Turkey. The current refugee crisis is a massively important issue in politics and in our social conscience, and key to Cambridge life both as a city and as a university. Thanks to a variety of different perspectives and modes of intervention in the audience, we had a chance to think critically about different scales of intervention.

As one of the approximately 300 people directly employed by the UNHCR in Turkey, Özgecan Atasoy is the Senior Field Assistant for cash-based interventions; her job includes working with refugees to determine how they can get access to money in order to begin to rebuild their lives, and, at the very least, restore their dignity by gaining economic independence. This was a fantastic way for people with an interest in refugee rights to find out more about the systems within the UNHCR, how it works with different NGOs to allocate funds, and how it creates detailed files on all registered persons of concern. We got to find out how small-scale, local UNHCR interventions interact with each other and with different projects across the world.

We do not usually hear about cash-based interventions in discussions about refugee aid in Greece and Turkey. Atasoy’s role is to determine what funding refugees receive when they either get referred or come asking for help themselves. As you would expect, questions were raised about how funds are allocated, and the risk of corruption. For Özgecan, cash-based interventions are more humane and dignified than material assistance as they are flexible, encourage integration, help develop the local economy, the associated risks can be better mitigated and are well worth the benefit.

Like so many of the different factors of the refugee crisis, one of the main questions left unanswered is the end game, the goal of these projects working with refugees. Each organisation deals with a specific part of the problem whereas the end goal would be for such organisations to no longer be needed. Atasoy insisted that cash assistance, much like living in Turkey is, for many refugees, a transitional, temporary, solution that needs to be supported by more durable projects. This is, as Özgecan said, is where the UNHCR comes in: it can only act on a limited scale, with specific issues; our job is to reflect and act on the place of refugees in our countries and our societies.

The variety of questions both from Nicky and from the audience led us to think about our role as citizens in regards to this situation. There is not a comprehensive or quick solution to the refugee crisis; our job is to do what we can with the capacities that we have in the position we are in. For me, this discussion was enlightening in terms of thinking about the structures of monetary aid all over the world, and our limited yet not negligible power to act on social issues.

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest post is by Sabine Dunstan (Land Economy 2015), who attended the ‘In Conversation with the Master’ event on affordable housing on 2 November 2017.

Yesterday I attended one of the several ‘In Conversation with the Master’ events Nicky hosts throughout the academic year. In case you are unaware, the format of these events involves welcoming guests into College to converse with Nicky about a topic which relates to their field of expertise and professional experience. However, for audience members, the event is much more than this; participation is actively encouraged in the form of both questions and challenges to arguments presented, making it a really dynamic and interesting event. If mingling (or, dare I say, networking) is your thing, then there is also the chance to meet the guests following the debate and get those burning questions answered over supper which, by the way, was divine.

This week, the title of the event was ‘Affording Housing in Cambridge, London and Manchester’, with Matthew Gardiner and Jonathan Rose as guest speakers. Whilst Jonathan is based locally as the Master Planner for North West Cambridge, Matthew kindly travelled down from Trafford, where he is the Chief Executive of a Housing Association. Matthew studied Geography at Fitz and, as a Northerner myself, it was great to meet a College alumnus who has made the venture back up to make a real difference where action is needed.

Whilst such events tend to be more conversational than more formal lectures (a welcome break from the usual academic structure), both Jonathan and Matthew had gone to the trouble of preparing a slideshow presentation to help illustrate some of the projects they are currently working on. Jonathan explored the development of Eddington in North West Cambridge which has been made possible by the release of greenbelt land and has been developed as a partnership between the city itself and the University of Cambridge. Meanwhile, Matthew talked us through the Old Trafford Masterplan and the importance of a holistic approach in tackling housing problems through examples such as the creation of a new health and wellbeing centre at the heart of the area. Both of these case studies set the scene of the current climate in the UK housing market, allowing even those who had no economic background to engage with the topic. It transpired quickly that, even with these fantastic examples of development, the demand for housing far outstrips supply, thus rendering it unaffordable to huge sections of the market.

During their case studies, Nicky was keen to establish definitions of key terms such as affordability and what a home actually was, which in turn led to discussion, raised by an audience member, about whether in fact housing was a right or a commodity. This sparked contributions across the audience and, whilst settling on an overall consensus that it was in fact a combination of the two, it was not without exploration of the very concept of human rights and the role that the state does and/or should play in what is essentially one of the most attractive private investments.

The overall theme of the discussion was the sheer complexity of the housing market. We touched on the importance of density, constraints to the supply of housing both in the form of institutional and political constraints and also within the housebuilding industry itself and explored the role of development in addressing this. There was a general consensus from the speakers that devolution and the election of City Mayors, whilst certainly a step in the right direction, is not sufficient and that there are still huge steps to take in tackling the problem.

As much as I would love to be able to report otherwise, we did not, unfortunately, manage to solve the Housing Crisis. Nor did we find a way for me to be able to continue to afford to live in this beautiful city after I, as a finalist, leave Fitz later this year. However, what we did achieve was a thoroughly enjoyable evening engaging with a topic which is absolutely crucial to keep discussing. Thank you, once again, to Matthew, Jonathan and, of course, Nicky for making it possible. And, if you haven’t yet been to an event, make sure you come along to the next!

In Conversation with the Master - Affording Housing in Cambridge, London and Manchester | 2 November 2017, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

In Conversation with the Master – Affording Housing in Cambridge, London and Manchester | 2 November 2017, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge (Credit: John Cleaver)

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest post is by Christopher Padfield (Engineering 1968), who attended the launch of Fitzwilliam alumnus Sir Peter Bazalgette’s new book “The Empathy Instinct” at the British Library in London on 25 January 2017.

There’s a lot of gloom at present about what looks increasingly like the re-emergence of the extreme right wing in politics, feeding, as always, on resentments within the population about the way the pie is shared.  How terrifying that these resentments have had reason to grow to the point that citizens succumb to the temptations of deeply rooted evolutionary instincts towards xenophobia, racism, nationalism, protectionism.

In the last decades, differentiation between rich and poor has grown apace; the privileged among the baby-boomer generation having creamed off the fat of the land both relatively (widening the gulf in income, wealth and education, life-expectancy and social mobility) and absolutely (our planet’s ecology and natural systems now face an existential challenge without parallel).

So blind have been our leading figures to the extremity of these inequalities, real and moral, that few of them have seen the possibility that those who feel ‘left behind’ might fight back at the polls; that they might start walking from their impoverished or war-torn countries to nirvanas of apparent plenty.

What a treat, then, to attend a lecture and book-launch hosted by the British Library and organised by the Royal Society of Arts, where Sir Peter Bazalgette talked with passion, humour and animation, about a theme (“The Empathetic Citizen”) the Arts Council has been developing under Peter’s Chairmanship, the purpose of which is to play a proportional part in rectifying the imbalance at the core of our system.

Peter, as he is still known in Fitzwilliam, where he matriculated in Law in 1973, is now an Honorary Fellow, and is deeply loved as one of our most wonderfully delightful alumni, seems to be known universally in the Arts world as Baz. He has come to the end of his 4-year term as Chairman of the Arts Council, and is recognised as having played a leading role in a renaissance in the self-confidence and the resources of the Arts community in Britain to ‘make a difference’.

The title of his book is “The Empathy Instinct: how to create a more civil society”. His argument, that empathy can be developed throughout life, and specifically through engagement with the arts, is set in the context that, on one reading, the ills sketched out above testify to an empathy deficit in our society. The Arts Council have been working to find ways in which this hypothesis can be confirmed and acted out, across the country and throughout our over-stratified society. I have certainly come across theatrical and musical initiatives both in prisons, and in the community, led by ex-offenders, which appear to change lives.

His book is now on sale and reads well. The reception he received at the launch was testimony to a huge force for good and a great vision for the arts in Britain. Thank goodness there seems to be a vibrant pool of talent to take over that leadership role, because without it, and not only in the arts establishment specifically, the tendency seems to be to reduce to the lowest common denominator – for our education system to retreat to the furnishing of work-related skills, for example.

Bravo, Sir Peter Bazalgette and his many like-minded colleagues, who invest so very much of their lives in maintaining the vibrancy of aesthetic aspects of our culture, and above all, extending this into regions where people feel left behind.

Christopher Padfield (married Nicky in 1979 and) worked in sustainable development in Africa and Asia until 1988 when they came back to Cambridge to re-balance their professional opportunities.  He set up and directed the Cambridge Programme for Industry (now the Institute for Sustainability Leadership) and then a decade later the University’s Corporate Liaison Office, all the while doubling as a Fellow, Director of Studies in Engineering and a 16-year stint as Graduate Tutor at Trinity Hall.  Retired from both University and College, he now spends some of his time monitoring a prison, HMP Bedford, where the heat has been on of late


Read Peter Bazalgette’s lecture at the British Library here >>

Biographical notes:

Sir Peter Bazalgette








Peter Bazalgette was Chair of Arts Council England from 2013-2017. He also chaired the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation. He was educated at Dulwich College and read Law at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge but escaped the law to spend most of his career working in television. He devised some of the biggest entertainment shows in recent TV history, such as Ready Steady Cook and Changing Rooms, and brought Big Brother to the UK. He now chairs ITV. His previous books include Billion Dollar Game and The Food Revolution (co-authored). In 2011 he was knighted for services to broadcasting.

The Empath Instinct cover isbn9781473648128











Publisher’s description:

Empathy is the power of understanding others, imaginatively entering into their feelings. It is a fundamental human attribute, without which mutually co-operative societies cannot function. In a revolutionary development, we now know who has it, who lacks it and why. Via the MRI scanner we are mapping the human brain. This is a new frontier that reveals a host of beneficial ideas for childcare, teens challenged by the internet, the justice system, decent healthcare, tackling racism and resolving conflicts.

In this wide-ranging and accessible book full of entertaining stories that are underlined by the latest scientific research, Peter Bazalgette also mounts a passionate defence of arts and popular culture as a means of bridging the empathy gap.

As the world’s population expands, consuming the planet’s finite resources, as people haunted by poverty and war are on the move and as digital communications infinitely complicate our social interactions, we find our patience and our sympathy constantly challenged. Here is the antidote.

Culminating in a passionate manifesto on empathy, The Empathy Instinct is what makes us human and what can make us better humans.

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This ‘guest’ blog, originally published on ‘The Conversation’, is written by Jake Phillips, Sheffield Hallam University; Loraine Gelsthorpe, University of Cambridge, and Nicola Padfield, University of Cambridge.

Getting released from prison or police custody can be a huge shock to those who have been incarcerated. Our new research gives an indication of just how vulnerable these people can be. We found that over a seven-year period, 400 people died of a suspected suicide within 48 hours of leaving police detention.

The number of people dying in prisons and in police custody has been increasing for several years. There is, rightly, a statutory obligation for every death that occurs within a state institution to be investigated by an independent body. So each death in a prison is investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), while the equivalent in police stations are investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

But for people who die shortly after release from police or prison custody, their deaths are not subject to statutory investigation and are too often invisible.

A dangerous transition

Our research, published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, looked into non-natural deaths of people who have been released from police detention or prison custody. We found that the data on these deaths is contingent upon the relevant institutions (prisons, police or probation) finding out about the death in the first place – and this can be difficult.

We examined two sets of data: IPCC data on suspected suicides that occurred within 48 hours of release from police detention and data from the National Offender Management Service on deaths of people under probation supervision, which includes those released from prison. We also conducted interviews with 15 custody sergeants – police officers who are responsible for the welfare of a detainee while in a police station – prison officers and others such as representatives of police and crime commissioners (PCCs) and Public Health England.

The IPCC data suggest that 400 people died between 2009 and 2016 of a suspected suicide within 48 hours of release, although this number declined between the years 2014-15 and 2015-16, as the graph below shows. People who had been detained on suspicion of sex offences accounted for 32% of the 400 total suspected suicides.

We also examined a selection of 41 investigations and summaries of investigations into apparent post-release suicides that were provided to us by the IPCC. Half of these people had pre-existing mental health conditions. These referrals also pointed to inadequate risk assessment, record keeping and onward referral to relevant community-based care providers such as mental health or drug treatment providers.

We then looked at deaths that had occurred within 28 days of release from prison. Despite some issues with the accuracy and completeness of the data, we identified 66 people between 2010 and 2015 who had died from non-natural causes within 28 days of leaving prison. The numbers are small and so it is difficult to draw wider conclusions, but we found that 44 of those 66 died from a drug-related death. Of the 66, 35 had served a sentence for an acquisitive offence such as theft, shoplifting or robbery, offences which are commonly associated with drug use.

We also analysed investigations conducted between 2010 and 2015 by the PPO into deaths that occurred in approved premises, also known as bail hostels, within 28 days of release from custody. These investigations seek to understand what, if anything, could have been done to prevent the death. This highlighted problems with supporting drug-using offenders, a lack of confidence among staff and a failure to create a smooth transition from prison into the community.

Staff under strain

These analyses only tell part of the story. Our discussions with custody officers painted a complex picture. They argued that they were getting better at identifying people in custody with mental health conditions but that their ability to deal with them effectively was restricted by factors beyond their control such as a lack of appropriate treatment for people after leaving their care and an inadequate number of beds in mental health hospitals. They told us that the risk assessment tool they use for identifying such people was not fit for purpose because it did not go into enough detail and that they would benefit from additional mental health training. They were also strongly in favour of the responsibility for healthcare commissioning in police stations being handed to the NHS, rather than PCCs, a proposal which was dropped in December 2015.

The story from prison staff was similar, but they also talked about the use of new psychoactive substances and the negative effects these substances are having on mental health and safety in the prison.

Problems also exist when it comes to the provision of community-based care after people are released. These include cuts to community mental health services and drug services, as well as recent changes to the probation service, which have seen 70% of the service outsourced to the private sector. Such reforms have made communication between prisons and probation providers more difficult. These budget cuts and public sector reforms are having a serious impact on the ability of criminal justice agencies to deal with these issues and prevent any future deaths.

There needs to be an improvement in the way in which data on non-natural deaths is collected. Deaths post-detention should also be subject to similar levels of investigation as those that occur in police custody and prison. It would be naive to suggest that all deaths of people leaving state detention can be investigated, but there is scope for more oversight from both the IPCC and PPO, at least while they are adjusting to life back in the community. At the same time, the government must maintain investment in mental health and drug services to help prevent those most vulnerable when they are released from detention from taking their own life.

The Conversation

Jake Phillips, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University; Loraine Gelsthorpe, Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice, Deputy Director, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, and Nicola Padfield, Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice; Master, Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

On 8 November, the night of the American election, and just a few months after the UK voted to leave the EU, Fitzwilliam held an ‘In Conversation with the Master’ event entitled ‘The challenges of immigration’. On the panel were Liz Barratt (History 1984), partner at the law firm Bindmans, and David Chirico (Trinity College, MML 1990), Barrister at 1 Pump Court Chambers.

This guest blog is by Conor Monighan (English 2014)

In both the American election and the EU referendum, immigration has been a key issue. Yet despite this focus, both democratic exercises have paradoxically lacked a proper debate about immigration.

Liz Barratt suggested this was because the practical realities have been lost under the emotion of the political campaigns. As she pointed out, the UK already has a points based system for non-EEA (European Economic Area) migrants. For both panellists, there was a contradictory attitude towards immigration within the UK. Whilst we expect the world to accept our teenagers embarking on their Gap Years, and give free healthcare for our ‘expats’ in Spain (a term which simply means immigrants for Liz), the UK is unhappy to reciprocate with other nations.

We are content for capital to come in freely via foreign direct investment (FDI), but not for people to enter as they wish. Both panellists would support the latter, advocating an abolition to border controls. This was reflected in David Chirico’s comment that “the ultimate aim must be to enable people to exercise their right to stand where they want to on the planet”.

David and Liz view their work as representing people who have fallen out of the system or who are victimised by it. For example, if the rules change so that an individual can’t stay as long as they had planned, David and Liz might be able to help. But new legislation is tightening up immigration rules every year, with an increasing responsibility on institutions like universities, banks and landlords to check the immigration status of those they employ or rent to. The automatic right of appeal has been removed, and it has been made deliberately difficult to comply with our immigration rules.

Political cunning has been deftly employed in order to harden public attitude towards immigration, according to the panellists. Famously the Human Rights Act was ridiculed by Theresa May at the 2011 Conservative Party Conference, when she claimed that one illegal immigrant was allowed to stay because of his cat. Similar tactics are being used within the court room as well. At first, only individuals who had committed an offence were removed from the UK and could appeal via video link. But now that courts have become used to the idea, even those who haven’t committed a crime are automatically deported before being allowed to appeal.

Wider changes to the legal system have left individuals open to abuse, because cuts to legal aid mean those who are struggling to be represented become targets for charlatan ‘lawyers’ who offer inadequate legal advice. This is not just a problem for people seeking to come into the UK, but also for British people. For those who form relationships with people who aren’t from the UK, only to have their loved ones removed by the authorities, the increasingly stringent rules become brutally clear. In Liz Barratt’s words, the authorities “have nebulous powers that people aren’t aware of”.

David Chirico

David Chirico

Liz Barratt

Liz Barratt

Nicky Padfield

Nicky Padfield, Master

Both panellists stressed the limits of what they can achieve as lawyers. Whilst they cannot significantly change lives ruined by war, they can help make those lives a little better. As David Chirico said, “you can’t require gratitude”.  He also pointed out that it’s also not usually appropriate to use individual cases to campaign against the injustices of the system, because to do so puts unfair pressure on clients. Working within the immigration rules can therefore be immensely frustrating, and attempting to change it from within is near impossible.

Perhaps most disturbing is that the political attitude towards immigration has been hardening across all political parties for quite some time. The dismissal of Charles Clarke by Tony Blair marked a watershed moment in British politics, at which expressing a desire to increase immigration was made impossible. In the EU referendum, this was demonstrated by the Remain campaign’s inability to find a position to combat the anti-immigration movement.

The event showed me that a discussion about immigration has yet to be properly begun.



Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

On Saturday 5th November 2016, Vamba Sherif visited Fitzwilliam to discuss his book ‘Land of My Fathers’ as part of the ongoing ‘In Conversation with the Master’ series.

This guest blog is by Dabi Olu-Odugbemi (Law 2016).

At the time of the launch, I was halfway through the book and already so captivated by it that I was eager to meet the author himself and pick his brains about his motivation for writing the book. Vamba turned out to be a really intriguing man with a fascinating story. As a young boy, he had lived a privileged life, growing up with a love for books that later sparked his desire to write. Although born in Liberia, he and his family moved to Kuwait when he was still very young and became entangled in the first Gulf War, forcing them to seek asylum in the Netherlands. While studying law there, Vamba decided to try his hand at writing, and the result of this experimentation was ‘Land of My Fathers’, a novel about war and friendship that resonates with the country of Liberia to this day.

Land of my Fathers

Land of My Fathers

‘Land of My Fathers’ centres around three main characters from completely different backgrounds who end up becoming inextricably linked by their desire for peace in a land consumed by the chaos of war. The novel begins with the story of Edward Richards, a man originally born into slavery, who travels to Liberia in the hopes of creating a home for himself and his lover, as well as spreading the gospel to the local tribes. In Liberia, he meets Halay, a remarkable man with a penchant for peace so strong that he is willing to sacrifice his life to ensure that is protected. Halay’s sacrifice is supposed to be an ultimate one that will ensure Liberians never suffer the famines and deaths that come from war; yet a century later, Halay’s and Edward’s descendants find themselves caught up in a war that threatens to destroy everything.

Vamba explained that his inspiration stemmed from the desire to understand why a country could possibly want to wage war on itself. After hearing Vamba’s story, however, it is very difficult not to draw parallels between the novel’s characters and Vamba himself. There is a key theme concerning the prevention of war that resonates through the entire book and it is clear that this comes from Vamba himself. Vamba also discussed the links between members of his family and characters in the novel, for example, Vamba’s brother read the novel and felt as though Edward’s story was his story.


Nicky Padfield and Vamba Sherif credit Alex Cicale -1

Master, Nicky Padfield talking to Vamba Sherif











The book itself ended on an open-ended note, and that left me asking myself a number of questions. I contemplated the post-colonial nature of various African countries as well as the effect that the slave trade had on them. It left me wondering whether the cracks in the foundations of countries such as Liberia can ever fully be mended or whether such countries simply have to start anew. Finally, it made me consider that aspect of human nature that seeks to block out or fight that which it cannot relate to because it is different. Throughout the novel, I was struck by the tensions between the various groups of characters and how many of their problems stemmed from the fact that they did not try to understand each other, but instead sought to impose their way of life on each other. How much easier things would be if there was more tolerance and appreciation of others, in place of animosity and violence.


Land of my Fathers’ was first published in Dutch in 1999, and was published in English in November 2016 by Hope Road Publishing.

Publisher’s description
The proud Republic of Liberia was founded in the nineteenth century with the triumphant return of freed slaves from America to Africa. Once back “home,” however, these Americo-Liberians had to integrate into the resident tribes—who did not necessarily want or welcome them. Against a background of French and British colonialists busily carving up Mother Africa, while local tribes were still unashamedly trading in slaves, the vulnerable newcomers felt trapped and out of place. Where men should have stood shoulder to shoulder, they turned on each other instead.

Dabi Olu-Odugbemi is a first year Law student at Fitzwilliam College.

Dabi Olu-Odugbemi

Dabi Olu-Odugbemi








Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest post is by Professor David Thompson, Life Fellow of Fitzwilliam and Emeritus Professor of Modern Church History.

Fitzwilliam became a College by Royal Charter in 1966, though it had existed since 1869. In a piece delivered during the 50th anniversary service in Chapel on 8 July, Professor David Thompson reflects on the history of the Chapel.

I was invited to offer a short reflection this evening on the Jubilee of the College’s Charter, being reasonably confident that it will survive until the actual anniversary in September!  At the time we were all delighted that the Charter received the royal seal a week ahead of our neighbour, Churchill, which had always been regarded as setting the pace for the ‘new colleges’ in mid-1960s Cambridge. And that was right because Fitzwilliam was not in that sense ‘a new college’; we already had almost a century of history and tradition behind us.

We are long way now from the original expectation in 1869 that all students should attend public worship regularly and report termly on their attendance. After services in St Michael’s Church and later in a side chapel of King’s, by the end of the nineteenth century there was a strong feeling among both Anglican and Nonconformist undergraduates that there should be permanent provision in Fitzwilliam House; and the Library was converted for this purpose in 1913. The fact that it was ‘full to overflowing’ with 25 shows that it was clearly inadequate for Sunday services. In fact, until Fitzwilliam moved to its present site in 1963, there was no place in the House large enough for even half the undergraduates to gather. The boom years of the 1950s (religiously speaking – there are just over seventy people in a photograph of the 1960 chapel congregation in John Cleaver’s History) saw a return to St Michael’s for three years, and then the regular use of Ridley Hall chapel on Sunday evenings.

It is therefore significant that when the first new college buildings were opened, provision was made for a ‘temporary chapel’, in the sure and certain hope that a permanent building would be eventually constructed.  Initially this was an ex-RAF prefabricated building of asphalt-impregnated fibreboard set in a sea of mud just the other side of the archway into what became New Court.  (I always thought of it as two portakabins joined together.)  It was a striking contrast to Bodley’s brick Gothic of Queens’ new chapel (1889-91) from which I had come.

1963 Chapel

The temporary Chapel in 1963











It was striking in other ways. On this site our three buildings or rooms have either been square or, like this, a circle and a square. This is more of a community space than a hierarchical one – and it has always encouraged worship ‘in the round’, as this space was designed to do. The striking feature of the traditions established in the late 1950s and early 1960s by a succession of three charismatic chaplains of different kinds was that of a community open to other Christians and to new ideas. It had already been the practice of Cambridge College chapels since 1948 to admit Christians of all denominations to communion, so there was no change there – except that scarcely anyone anywhere else in the country was doing it. Fitzwilliam also had a Roman Catholic member of the Chapel Committee from 1961, i.e. before the Second Vatican Council began; and as liturgical experiment was permitted in the Church of England, a new order of worship for Holy Communion was devised by members of the College and used regularly. The visit to the Taizé Community (which I remember for the overnight train journey from Paris to Maçon and a glass of red wine at 6.00 am) introduced us to Gelineau psalms and a new spirituality, very different from the Taizé services we still have today.

Chapel at sunset

The Chapel, designed by Richard MacCormac in 1991.

All this is a reminder that, like any church, the College Chapel is a gathering of people before it is a building. I like to think that this chapel tells us something about the kind of Christian, or even religious, presence we have always sought for the College. I say ‘we’ with some caution, because it has not been a vision shared by all. The Statute ‘Of divine worship and the Chaplain’ was contentious (or so I understand – Research Fellows were spared the labours of the new Fellowship in drafting them), and it was the openness of the provisions that was ultimately decisive, providing the first Cambridge statute that opened the office of chaplain to (Protestant) non-Anglicans. In the fullness of time both David Horrell and Simon Perry benefited from that. Furthermore the generosity of old members in supporting the endowment of the College Chaplaincy in the first decade of this century spared the Governing Body the agony of continuing discussion of the principle.

I will not comment on the contributions of particular chaplains, even though there is much I could say. We have been fortunate in all of them, in so many different ways. We were one of the first colleges to appoint a woman chaplain; and even before the introduction of co-residence here, we developed a relationship with New Hall (now Murray Edwards), leading to several marriages. In the end Murray Edwards never built the chapel originally intended; and now a Japanese benefaction has taken over the site reserved for it.

Finally, the chaplains of Fitzwilliam were some of the first in Cambridge to develop a ministry to the College Assistant Staff – something that became increasingly necessary as more and more of the population are detached from any regular contact with a Christian church or minister. Indeed it has gone further: this building has been used from time to time by Muslim members of the College for prayer, and the discreet symbolism of Richard MacCormac’s design makes it a very useful meditative space, even for the Women Fellows’ yoga.  In short, there is a sense that the chapel has become the heart of the total college community: former students have married here, and had their children baptized here; there have been vigils at times of national crisis, and services after sudden student deaths; and former Fellows have had funerals and memorial services here. One thing we do not do is to admit new Fellows to their fellowships here, as many colleges do. As a characteristic representative of late twentieth-century attitudes, I still believe that to be right: indeed as the first Fellow to be admitted after the Charter (when I moved from a research fellowship to a teaching fellowship) Dr Grave asked me whether he should do so in Latin or English. ‘English’ I replied, and he did. But I must have given the wrong answer, since he admitted no-one else in English for the rest of his Mastership!


David Thompson is a Life Fellow of Fitzwilliam and Emeritus Professor of Modern Church History.

David Thompson was elected to a Research Fellowship in 1965, was the first holder of the Leathersellers Fellowship (1966-70) and then a teaching Fellow linked to his posts within the Faculty of Divinity from 1970. As well as being (successively) Praelector, Tutor, Director of Studies and Bursar, he served on the General Board (1988-92) and University Council (1994-2000).  He was also a member of the Churches Committee of the Historic Buildings Council, a School Governor, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church (1996-97) and a QAA assessor in Scotland and England. He became a Life Fellow on retirement in 2009, and was the College Archivist from October 2009 to October 2014.

More information about the Chapel here>>



Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog
Posted by on 14 July 2016 · Tags: , , · · comment »

This guest post is by Dr John Cleaver: Life Fellow, Archivist, and editor of ‘Fitzwilliam: the first 150 years of a Cambridge College’.

Remember 1 July 2016, a day on which so much was written and said about the centenary of the Battle of the Somme?  It’s a fortnight ago, so probably you have forgotten it already, particularly if you are preoccupied with the depressing events of the present day – but the men who took part did not have the luxury to forget: from a hundred years ago today, the battle still had about another seventeen weeks to run.

Ten Fitzwilliam men died in the Battle of the Somme – the first exactly a century ago on 14 July 1916, towards the end of the relatively active phase of the battle.  The other nine died in the area over the following four months, as the battle degenerated into an exercise in attrition.

The battle of the Somme put to a very substantial test the New Army introduced by Kitchener. Its establishment had been a remarkable experiment.  The mass army was improvised rapidly and, although there had been significant improvements to both Regular and Territorial forces in the period after the Boer War, there was rather little provision for expansion and a very small cadre of trained men as a basis.  Tactics reflected the limited competence that was expected from the recruits.

An illustration of the poor understanding of training requirements is given in a letter in May 1915 from a Fitzwilliam man, Second Lieutenant William Carter, to William Fiddian Reddaway – the Censor of Non-Collegiate Students, the principal officer of Fitzwilliam Hall – claiming of his rather basically trained recruits that

as discipline is now becoming more and more pronounced, by the time we have finished our musketry course we shall be just about ready for service in any part of the world.

It speaks volumes for the men that they still show considerable keenness in their work, when consideration is made for the fact that their training has been hindered by lack of equipment and material.  The routine here is rather monotonous but it is now and then varied by a few ceremonial parades.

Such provision, which was all that was practicable, could not meet the requirements for men who were to tackle well-prepared defensive positions.  The emphasis in training was to instil discipline rather than intelligent competence and, consistent with that, the new recruits spent a high proportion of their training time on close-order drill.  This was a particular failing of the British army, and contrasted strongly with what could be achieved in the German army (which had based its pre-war system on much higher quality conscript recruits: before the war the British army had recruited predominantly from the unemployed, and had to reject a high proportion as they failed to meet even basic physical standards).  The disregard for initiative was consistent with the belief that orders simply needed to be passed down and followed by the lower ranks, such control in turn necessitating a higher proportion of junior officers and non-commissioned officers to men than in the German army, and resulting in inactivity or severely-degraded performance when officers and NCOs were incapacitated.  Indeed, this did not apply solely to the management of private soldiers; at all levels amongst the officers there was an inflexible emphasis on top-down command without delegation of responsibility for decision-making, and grossly inadequate provision for the feedback either of long-term practical experience or of urgent information.

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme: its 56 engraved stone panels bear a total of 72,246 names.

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme: its 56 engraved stone panels bear a total of 72,246 names.

William Carter – by that time Lieutenant Carter – was to be the first Fitzwilliam man to be killed in the battle of the Somme, on 14 July 1916.  He died without identifiable trace and, like so many others, is commemorated on Sir Edwin Lutyens’ great arch at Thiepval, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

The south-east section of the British sector on the Somme, showing the German trench system.  Mametz Wood and Bazentin-le-Petit Wood are at top centre.  Note the map scale: in peacetime, from Fricourt to Bazentin-le-Petit Wood via Contalmaison is a gentle half-hour stroll.

The south-east section of the British sector on the Somme, showing the German trench system. Mametz Wood and Bazentin-le-Petit Wood are at top centre. Note the map scale: in peacetime, from Fricourt to Bazentin-le-Petit Wood via Contalmaison is a gentle half-hour stroll.

Temporary Lieutenant Frederic Scott wrote to Reddaway with an account of other action on 14 July.  A week previously, on 8 July, he had

moved up to Contalmaison where we completed the capture of that place by surrounding and demolishing three houses at its northern end, capturing about 100 of the Prussian Guard.

After four days consolidating and holding on there, we were withdrawn to Fricourt , where our Brigade was concentrated.  There we were told that to us had been given the honour of making the first attack on the German second-line system.  The 13th was spent in preparing for our attack by carrying up bombs and ammunition to the northern edge of Mametz Wood, from which we were to debouch and attack.  Our task was to take Bazentin-le-Petit Wood and village, and hold a line north of them.

We attacked at dawn on the 14th, ‘France’s Day’, and by 8:00 am we had captured the wood, with five lines of trenches in it, every tree acting as a staple for barbed wire, and by 8:50 we had taken the village (and 600 prisoners) and reached our objective.  We had the supreme satisfaction of seeing the cavalry come through us into the open, and then we resisted five massed counter-attacks, in which the Huns suffered enormously.

I was hit about noon and left the fighting line about 4:00 pm, when we had lost about 75% of our strength.  However, our line held strong, until the night of the 15th when the remnant of the Leicestershire Brigade was relieved.  It was a great fight – hand to hand, mostly, and the enemy fought desperately. ‘Bazentin, c’est la gloire anglaise’ say the French, and my wound seems a trivial price to pay for the honour of having a hand in it.

Actually, his action was recognised more tangibly.  He was awarded a Military Cross, and the citation read

For conspicuous gallantry during an attack.  Although badly shaken by a bursting shell, he collected thirty men and dug himself in in a forward position, holding it under heavy fire for a day and night.  He was wounded, but refused attention until he had withdrawn his party.

Scott survived the Somme, but was to die in May 1918.

Overall, the Somme offensive achieved an advance of about 13 km on a 30 km front, with more than a quarter of that area captured in the first two-week period.

In the later attritional phase nine more Fitzwilliam men were to die – identifiable remains of four of them were never recovered so, like Carter, they are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial:  Allan Alford, Cyril Allison, George Stout, and John Swallow.  The bodies of the other five men – Alec Boucher, Bernard Downman, Oswald Elliott, Eric Player, and William Shaw – were recovered and buried in various cemeteries in the area.

Captain Eric Player and Second Lieutenant Oswald Elliott are both buried at Bécourt Military Cemetery, 2½ km east of Albert.

Captain Eric Player and Second Lieutenant Oswald Elliott are both buried at Bécourt Military Cemetery, 2½km east of Albert.

The Somme deaths between July and November 1916 represent about a quarter of the Fitzwilliam deaths in the Great War.  During the war a total of forty-four men died, out of about 300 from the Hall who served abroad – about 230 of them as combatants, and about 13 as members of the Royal Army Medical Corps. There were also about 46 chaplains, and about 14 provided welfare for troops through the YMCA.

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This blog is in two parts: the first by Adam Drew (Geography 2013), Fitzwilliam College Cricket Captain 2016, and the second by Andrew Powell, Fitzwilliam’s Bursar. The Cricket Varsity match takes place at Lords on Friday 1 July. Tickets on the gate.

Part 1:  Cricket Cuppers Champions 2016

As a second-string Fitzwilliam side were roundly thumped on an overcast April afternoon in a friendly against a Magdalene team devoid of proper cricketing attire, I did not instinctively think this was a cuppers winning team in the making. Let me start by telling you what cuppers is. Cuppers are intercollegiate sporting competitions. Each sport holds a cuppers competition each year, which is open to all colleges. Back in April, I didn’t really think we’d win. The cricket season is horribly short, and we have to fit in things like exams. The Master tells the story of when Hon Fellow Sir Dennis Byron (Law 1962) came to Fitz as a young man from St Lucia, he couldn’t believe that he wouldn’t be playing cricket in October…  It may not be a year round sport, but cuppers is a prize which every College wants to win – to be the best…

There are huge challenges for a College cricket team. There are weekly essays to fit in, and some of the team are playing or training with the University team (the Blues) whilst others have represented the Crusaders – the University second team.

But we focused – and two weeks later we had a replay against Magdalene. This time it was a serious ‘cuppers’ match and this time we had a near-to-full strength side. We won comfortably by 80 runs.

Our other group match was against Clare Hall who boasted an Australian first-grade cricketer. Our 10-wicket win saw us qualify for the quarter-finals and we were now dreaming of a day at Fenner’s, the glorious University cricket pitch. Our quarter-final was a home tie against Emmanuel. Our semi-final was once again at home, our wonderful pitch in Oxford Road, close to College, this time against Robinson.

During pre-season our Blues wicketkeeper Patrick Tice (Theology 2013) had informed me that one of three colleges could win cuppers: Fitzwilliam, Robinson or Girton. Girton had secured a semi-final tie against Jesus so we knew we would likely have to beat both favoured teams to win cuppers. First, Robinson.  Henry Warne (HSPS 2013) bowled perhaps the spell of his life to soak up the runs, remove their star batsman, and ultimately win us the match. However, just as the match appeared won, Henry delivered a no-ball off what should have been the last ball of the innings which was dispatched for six meaning Robinson could still win the match with another six. Thankfully Henry kept his composure and we won by five runs. We now had the chance to win cuppers for the first time since 1972. We had our day at Fenner’s.

Wednesday 8 June was a glorious, hot and sunny day. A crowd of perhaps 100 – weighted in Fitzwilliam’s favour – turned up for what was a match for the ages. I won the toss and had no hesitation in batting first. By the half-way stage of our innings things were far from ideal. On what appeared a glorious batting track we had scored at barely a run-a-ball for the loss of two wickets including Patrick Tice. The next 10 overs saw the birth of a new Fitzwilliam batting hero, however, as fresher Tom Corner (Natural Sciences 2015) played what must be one of the greatest cuppers-final innings to score 81 and, with a quick-fire cameo from Oli Taylor (History 2015), push the innings score to 167 which was widely felt to be just above par.

We started brilliantly restricting Girton in the early overs with Sam Strong (Geography 2009) – representing Fitzwilliam for the seventh year – picking up a crucial early wicket. Can he make his PhD extend another year?! Girton’s captain counterattacked with a rapid innings of 49 until being brilliantly caught on the second attempt by Dan Mehlig (Engineering 2013) at Cover. And so it continued until we eventually squeezed out a 3-run victory to end a nail-biting contest. The 44-year wait was over. Fitzwilliam were champions. It felt fantastic.

Cricket is a funny old game. I love it because it is an individual game within a team sport. It can turn in a moment and conjures up such a wide range of emotions throughout just a few hours. Also, it’s played in the sunshine (most of the time)! And I can’t quite express the pleasure of winning cuppers. It feels a bit like finishing my degree – not obtaining the grade but actually finishing that final exam knowing you’ve done all you can and (hopefully) having achieved everything you’ve been working towards for the past year.

And now a couple of members of the College team will be playing in the Varsity match at Lords over the coming weeks. I’ll be attending: will you?

Part 2:  A view from the boundary – and beyond

I am the proudest Senior Treasurer in Fitzwilliam this year. The first in 44 years to win Cricket Cuppers! I am taking as much credit as I can, from the provision of the kit, to the pre-season friendly against my old club in which the College made the village team look like internationals, to the staff & Fellows against the students game in which we just gave the College enough of a run out to make the difference in the semi-final against Robinson!

Seriously it was a privilege just to be associated with this great achievement. I managed to get to one of the group games (opposition bowled out for 19, mostly extras), and the latter part of the semi-final, against Robinson at Oxford Road. This was not a team dependent on one or two stars and a bunch of journeyman: from where I saw it, it was a whole team effort. Sure we had our stars – every team needs them – but whenever someone failed, someone else stepped up to fill the gap. We batted deep, bowled long and fielded like demons. Every one was a hero. On the field we looked a well organised outfit. The captain was in charge looking as though he had a plan for all situations and the team followed instinctively. The new ‘Baggy Red’ caps (now surely destined to be more popular than Manchester United football shirts) reinforced the impression of a strong and focused team, inspired confidence in the supporters and fear in the opposition; somehow you never felt they were going to break even though every game was a tight one.

And yet they never made it easy; who but Fitz could contrive to make a cliffhanger out of a situation in which the opposition needed 14 to win off the last ball (semi-final against Robinson)?

Of course this squad is not a flash in the pan. I’m sure they would be first to acknowledge the efforts of those captains over the last three years who have brought Fitz cricket back from the brink. I’m especially pleased for Sam Strong who has played for Fitz for seven years, and done two stints as captain and really pulled us through some difficult times.

Those of us who failed to get to the final had to make do with various methods of communication. At the Past v Present match on Saturday, I heard tales of alumni following the match via Twitter feeds in the office. Back in the College, we had to make do with unreliable text messages. The final message before contact was lost was “Girton 88 for 12 – looking a bit better”. We didn’t even know whether this was the first or second innings, so we were very confused for the rest of the afternoon! When the news came of the eventual victory by three runs, the Fellows were gathering in the Upper Hall for a meeting of the Governing Body. Others will tell the tale of the game, but the JCR President had the pleasure of informing the Governing Body of this historic achievement which drew a round of applause (another first?).

Four years ago we were proud to host the 1972 cuppers winning team holding their 40th anniversary back in College. We look forward to the return of the 2016 champions, and watch out for Fitz Cricket 2060!

Top row from left to right - Tahawar Hussain (12th man); Patrick Tice; Rory Sale; Sam Strong; Oli Taylor; Joe Painter; Dan Mehlig - bottom row from left to right - Tom Corner; Nikhil Patel (vice-captain); Adam Drew (captain); Henry Warne; Christian Moffat.

Top row from left to right – Tahawar Hussain (12th man); Patrick Tice; Rory Sale; Sam Strong; Oli Taylor; Joe Painter; Dan Mehlig – bottom row from left to right – Tom Corner; Nikhil Patel (vice-captain); Adam Drew (captain); Henry Warne; Christian Moffat.