statue2I walk past this statue perhaps once every week. Written on it is “To the men of Cambridgeshire, the Isle of Ely, the borough and University of Cambridge who served in the Great War 1914-1919 and in the World War 1939-1945”
‘The Great War’ refers to World War 1 and ‘the World War’ refers to World War 2. It stands still there with the Botanical Garden to its west, the train station to its east, the city centre to the north and the education department to the south. There isn’t a little girl on the monument…neither does it drain blood or constantly have fighter jets flying above it… but often when I walk past it, it’s those things that come to mind: the blood spilt, the people who live now because of heroism during the wars then, how scary it must have been to have bombs falling from the sky then, and how scary it must be now for those who are living through wars around the world today. There are War memorials all over the UK. It’s a bit difficult to be here and not appreciate how significant a period in history it was for Britain. It’s difficult to think of it as distant. I’ve read of the Wars and watched films about them. I know that they were horrid, but being here somehow makes that history seem much more real.
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From Downing to Homerton

homerton_downing22.jpgA large part of my first year in Cambridge was focused around Downing College (above). I went there for lunch very often and worked next door to it at the Downing Site. Now though, I’m based next door to Homerton college (below) and have a few classes there as well. Having spent quite some time now walking past both buildings, buildings that I found very beautiful the first time I saw them, I’ve come to realise that when looking at them in recent times, some of that initial magic has been lost. I miss the feeling of seeing them and feeling joy and awe. I want it back. I want to be able to look at old buildings, that I’ve seen numerous times, with fresh eyes. I want to be able to soak in new, simple, beautiful experiences from my walks throughout the week.

So, I’ve devised a plan based on an amazing feeling I had after drawing a church from a photo reference earlier this month. After drawing the church, drawing its lines, shapes, circles, worn out brick in sketch, I walked past it again a few days later. Walking past it that time though felt different… I felt that ‘magic’ again. I looked at it and thought, ‘I remember drawing that line’, ‘Oooh, yeah, I remember studying that circle around the glass’, ‘It looks so magnificent and intricate’, and I gained an appreciation of the effort put into designing and building the church, the beauty of it, that I had never experienced before. Suddenly, that church that I’d walked past and seen so many times before looked new again… there were so many features on it that I’d never paid attention to before when looking directly at it… and I got the urge to walk up to it, take a picture of an even smaller portion of her architecture, and then study it bit by bit.

I was so surprised by how happy the church made me feel that I suddenly wanted, with a renewed vigour, to draw areas all over that I had walked past multiple times and had gotten bored of. So, I thought, yup, let’s try to draw places more… but not just draw, but to put different filters on them in photograph and try to see them in a new light. I think that it’s working. I’m enjoying being a ‘baby’ again and seeing things afresh. 🙂

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hatch backs

On German national identity

  I remember when, in November 2013, I attended a lecture here at Cambridge University. The topic of Nazism and German history came up briefly in a class about Psychometrics. I can’t recall why the topic came up, but the posture of two German girls in class changed when it did. If I recall correctly, one of them bent their heads, and the other shifted and sunk a bit in her seat. I wondered to myself if the reaction was conscious. I wondered if they knew how their body language changed when the topic came up–how they appeared visibly uncomfortable. I felt a bit sad that they seemed to feel pain—why else would they move from being upright to sunken? Still though, I recognized that discomfort is often a necessary process to endure when confronting the pains of the past, making changes, and reaching to the state of mind where we’re convinced that some history isn’t worth being repeated. After class, I spoke to some friends about what I’d observed, and wondered openly about how some Germans might feel whenever discussions of that era resurface. My mind also shot back to a slideshow I’d prepared two years earlier, in 2011. The slideshow was part of a presentation I was making as part of a film course I was taking. We were tasked with discussing cinema and national identity, and I explored German, Indian and Caribbean (Bahamian) national identities. 

The picture is one of my slides. I’d watched the film Der Untergang and tried to understand it, analyze it, to get a sense of Nazism and its link to German nationalism both in the past and the present. I’d searched and read from articles, commentary and papers to gain a sense of the effect of Nazism on German identity, and I came away from the exercise perhaps with a bit more empathy for the process that a young German person might have to go through in coming to healthy terms with their identity as ‘German’ despite the horrors committed by their ancestors. I imagined that it’s not always a beautiful or emotionally easy process. I imagine that there is some latent sense of shame, discomfort and guilt, and I imagined that whilst young Germans aren’t responsible for the sins of their forefathers, it remains part of their history… something which has shaped Germany and Germans today, and something which they’d have to work through, and perhaps with, as they come to an understanding of why certain things are the way they are and why certain ideologies should be avoided, both for themselves as Germans, and for those who are not. The experience of reviewing that film opened my eyes, and maybe my heart, to human experiences that I’m not sure I’d ever considered before… and when I sat in that class in 2013, and I saw those two girls shift, it added a layer of reality to what previously were just words on a slide and thoughts in my mind. (How does it feel?)

I’ve since met a few German people… folks that I’d count as friends, and it has occurred to me on various occasions to ask them what they feel whenever the Holocaust, Nazism and German national identity is discussed. I wanted to ask what they feel about expressing German patriotism to foreigners. However, I’ve never quite felt it an appropriate topic to broach, or at least I really just don’t know how to ask the question. Sometimes readings don’t present as clear an understanding as simply talking to someone does, and indeed my main reading was quite old, perhaps outdated. Part of me feels that perhaps many young Germans really don’t carry any sense of shame concerning their national identity and guilt concerning their history, even if they appreciate how evil the Holocaust was…. But then again, part of me does feel that perhaps many of them do. Both sides of those experiences (identity pride or identity shame) are understandable… perhaps they’re also both real and true. 

[Quote in the slide from Brüning, N., Krumrey, H., Opitz, O., & Stock W. (2001)]

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Update: A snout moth


A few months ago I posted pictures on Facebook (scroll to the end to see), and video on Instagram of this peculiar looking moth. Perhaps it doesn’t look that strange in the grand scheme of natural things, because it actually looks like something very familiar: a leaf. Still though, it’s not often that one mistakes a moth for a torn leaf…. It’s not often that a moth’s proboscis looks like a dried, barky stem flowing from wings that mimic lush vegetation. So, as typical as leaves are, the moth is fascinating, and so I posted, and posted, and posted on it six months ago. I posted so many images of it that I felt obligated to announce that my last post was ‘my last post’ so that no-one would have to worry anymore about mothy news feeds. Unfortunately for moth haters though, the previous post is losing its title of ‘last’, as in ‘final’, because once more, I have moth news: an update!
Try as I did 6 months ago, I didn’t find out the name of the moth or any type of information on it. However, this morning I had a breakthrough moment. Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Cambridge, who specializes in butterflies and the like, Chris Jiggins, responded to my email where I asked him about the moth. He didn’t know exactly what species of moth it was, but he did know the family. He told me that it’s a type of snout moth of the Pyralidae family, and said it looked like an amazing little insect. He also linked me to some information on snout moths and I started reading a bit about them and searching to see if I could find the exact species of snout it was. I had no luck, but on another wonderful note, another zooologist from Cambridge, Dr. Henry Disney, responded to an email I had sent him concerning my moth problem. He told me that he specializes in flies though, and so couldn’t really help, but he suggested that I contact someone from the Natural History Museum in London to see if they could help me out. This brings me to the third email I sent out, to a Pyralidae family specialist of the Natural History Museum, but based in Denmark. He hasn’t yet responded, but I really hope that he does. It would be wonderful to finally be able to find out the name and the story of my (ka)leafy snout moth. 🙂
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Can Social Media work for me?

fb update
I went to an event by the Social Media Knowledge Exchange(SMKE) called “Can Social Media work for me?” The SMKE is a project focused on helping postgrad students to share their work via social media. I thought it would be interesting to hear what they had to say. They largely seemed to prefer Twitter for getting their work, opinions and research out, but I’m very much a Facebook kinda girl. Either way, the guy talking in this picture, Barney Brown, is the Head of Digital Communication at Cambridge University. He has the responsibility of managing the University of Cambridge’s social media pages. So, when you search up “University of Cambridge’ on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like, the person behind the posts is often him. Lots of interesting and informative things were said by all the speakers, such as that pretty pictures of Cambridge seem to be the most popular thing with followers of the University of Cambridge​ on social media— getting tons of likes, often times much more so than news and research from the Uni—so they keep on snapping pictures and uploading them. I know it’s not a surprising thing that pretty pictures get the most attention, but I think I just found it kinda weird hearing the person who posts as ‘University of Cambridge’ talk as a person rather than as an institution. I felt this weird, stupid sense of ‘You’re the ‘University of Cambridge’ and you’re not a building or some abstract collective or institution, you’re a person! People make systems run, systems don’t just do things independent of us’ Either way, they realised that people also zoned out of Cam Uni videos that they posted when they put the Cambridge logo at the start, and so they decided to take the logo out at the beginning and get to the content of the videos at once.
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