humanities

  • English

  • History

  • Geography

  • Philosophy & Religion

 

Geography:

Recommendations

  • Into the Canyon- national geographic film. Two journalists seek to traverse the Grand Canyon learning about how it was formed and its future of it. Very beautifully cinematography.
     

  • Encounters at the End of the World- documentary. Filmmaker Werner Herzog travels to Antarctica where he encountered a beautiful, desolated and untouched landscape and a group of unique people who risk their lives to study it. 
     

  • Prisoners of geography- book. The quintessential book on geopolitics. Exploring the human conflicts that arise due to geographical formations.
     

  • The Shepard’s life by James Reebok- book. A short pastoral novel about life in the Lake District.
     

  • Tom Misch- Geography. Not really to do with geography but a good album with geography as the title. 
     

  • Impossible- film. About a tsunami and has Tom Holland in it.
     

  • San Andreas- film. Following a massive earthquake, a man and his estranged wife try to find and save their daughter before another disaster strikes.
     

  • Hotel Rwanda- film. About the historical Rwandan border dispute.
     

  • Seaspiricy- documentary. The environmental impact of fishing. 
     

  • My octopus teacher- film. Deeply moving film about a naturalist and his relationship with an octopus. 

Polar Landscapes

The polar regions of our earth are regions of the planet that surround geographical poles, lying within the polar circles. They are characterized by bitter winds, very little precipitation, and winter temperatures that can reach as low as -40 or even -60 degrees Celsius.

 

These seemingly inhabitable conditions are home to a mass amount of biodiversity, specialised and evolved to survive the harsh conditions of the polar biome. Millions of people live in the Arctic - the northernmost part of the earth. For thousands of years it has been home to indigenous tribes, for example, Sammi in circumpolar areas of Finland or even the Inuit in Canada and Greenland, and the Yu'pik, Iñupiat, and Athabascan in Alaska, are just a few of the groups that are native to the Arctic. It Is inhabited by the Arctic fox, whose fur changes according to the season, white in winter to blend in with the snow and brown upon the arrival of summer. It is also home to the walrus, the only living species in the ‘genus Odobenus’, which can stay underwater for up to 30 minutes. Other species include narwhals, musk ox and the snowy owl. The Arctic consists of the Atlantic Ocean and parts of Alaska, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. 

 

Although currently a seemingly peaceful environment, it may prove to be the source of key geopolitical tension in the future due to the copious supply of rare minerals, oil and gas found in some of the 19 geological basins. In 2007, a proactive move was made by Russia who launched a naval manoeuvre to plant a Russian flag at the base of the North Pole, an overt claim to extend its influence into disputed territory. The Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater ridge of continental crust, is already brewing as a geopolitical hotspot. The territory is claimed by Russia, meaning they can exploit raw materials beyond their previous EEZ, with another statement made that it is an extension of the Eurasian continent. Scientist are also trying to prove that it is an extension of Greenland and not of Canadas Ellesmere islands, even in 2014 Denmark made a claim.

 

Antarctica on the other hand has no permanent residents. In 1959 a treaty was created to ensure that ‘Antarctica shall continue for ever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes’ and ‘Acknowledging the substantial contributions to scientific knowledge resulting from international cooperation in scientific investigation in Antarctica’. Science is really meaningful in Antarctica as unlike many other areas of the world it remains relatively untouched and unexplored. Therefore, all the scientific experiments conducted there are of huge global importance such as issues concerning climate change, ozone depletion and sea-level rise, and can’t be conducted elsewhere effectively. A huge benefit of the Antarctic is its ability to measure climate change. This is because information concerning the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and temperatures can be derived from ice cores. This is known as proxy data and greatly aids our understanding of climate change.

 

The Antarctic is also critical for the survival of our species. This is because Antarctica is covered by snow and ice, with very reflective surfaces, meaning most of the sunlight hitting Antarctica is reflected out and little heat is absorbed. However, as temperatures warm and more ice melts, more heat will be absorbed subsequently melting more ice. This vicious positive feedback cycle is known as the Albedo effect. This is where it is important to recognise that even Antarctica is starting to feel the devastating effects of climate change. The arctic peninsula has warmed 5x the mean rate of global warming causing the distribution of penguin colonies to alter, a decline in Antarctic krill and many glaciers retreating and ice shelves collapsing. Even with the current state of geopolitics, one hopes that the climate crisis will face a concerted, coherent response from all countries, committed to stop the ruin of the invaluable polar regions.

By Florence & Maddy (Geography subject reps.)

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Cultural Geography and its Impact on the World

Cultural geography is an important element of geography and is commonly referred to as human geography. It is the study of culture all around the world, where it originates and how it diffuses through the migration of people. Dating back to ancient geographers such as Ptolemy, cultural geography acted as an alternative to environmental determinism. Environmental determinism argues that ‘both general features and regional variations of human cultures and societies are determined by the physical and biological forms that make up the earth's many natural landscapes.’ In other words, humans are impacted and affected by the environment they live in. Geographers see cultures developing from the landscape they are in whilst simultaneously shaping the environment. This very interaction, the effect one has on the other, creates the cultural landscape.

 

It is interesting to look at how cultural landscapes link to the physical environment. The ‘Man-Land Tradition’ studies the effect of the landscape on humans and vice versa. For example, in metropolitan areas, it argues that people are less culturally tied to the environment compared to those situated in rural areas. While cultural geography is still practised, it was challenged in the 1980s by new thinking. This led to a broader ‘cultural turn’. Cultural geographers began to involve social theories such as humanism and structuralism. The important change was that culture was identified as a dynamic process that actively builds society.

 

Culture is an intricate and unique part of our world, reflecting different aspects of communities and thus it should be protected and preserved. Over the last couple of decades, countries have started to become more integrated and interdependent, this has had a significant impact on culture itself, its movement and its diversity.  Western ideology has spread throughout the world. Although this started in the 15th century through explorers, continuing in the 17th century due to imperialists, this has accelerated in the 21st century through globalisation. Consequently, this has had negative impacts on other cultures as it can be argued that it has led to cultural erosion. This involves loss of language, traditional food, music, clothes and social relations. This is because large companies bring new services and products into a country that often reflect and impose western ideals, replacing traditional services and products. Previously a Korowai tribe in Papua, Indonesia, consisting of 3000 people lived with no contact with the outside world. They were primarily hunter-gatherers who fished in the Becking River. However, in 1974 they were introduced to the outside world via an expedition led by Peter Van Arsdale which meant life dramatically changed for them. The Barcelona football kit became ubiquitous replacing the traditional loincloth, and their conventional lifestyle was abandoned for sedentary village life. So here in lies an issue, in the ever-increasing world we live in, bonded by economic ties and the migration of people, how should we protect and preserve culture.

By Florence & Maddy (Geography subject reps.)

 

Philosophy and Religion:

Recommendations

Books: 

  • Peter Vardy: The Puzzle of Ethics 

  • Plato’s ‘ The Symposium’ 

  • Plato’s ‘ The Republic’ 

  • ‘ Problems of Philosophy’ by Bertrand Russell 

  • ‘ Utilitarianism’ or ‘ On Liberty’ by J. S. Mill 

  • Think by Simon Blackburn 

  • Meditations by Descartes

  • The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan

  • The Philosopher Queens by Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting

 

 

Podcasts: 

  • Philosophy Bites 

  • The Reith  Lectures

  • Moral Maze- BBC radio 4

 

My favourite book:

 

Think was the first philosophy book recommended to me and reading it encouraged me to learn more about the field of philosophy.  This book didn’t shy away from big questions about truth, knowledge, free will and existence. In this book, Blackburn goes through some of the most important and renowned philosophers including Descartes, Hume and Kant. It is no secret that traditionally philosophy books can be written in old fashioned and dense language that can be hard to decipher, but Blackburn breaks down these ideas into terms that are much easier to understand. It is the perfect introduction to philosophy and made me question the world around me and all my views.

 

Quote from Blackburn in Think: ‘How you think about what you are doing affects how you do it, or whether you do it at all’. 

The Origins of Christmas?

With over 2.1 billion Christians in our world today, there is no question that Christmas is a big deal. It is not only a huge hallmark in the religious calendar but now has also been secularised and is celebrated by non-Christians too. In this article, the history and origins of one of the most fascinating holidays will be explored.

 

Historical records suggest that a man named Jesus was crucified in either AD 30 or 33. His birth may have been celebrated by early apostles, but it was not necessarily on the 25th of December. In fact, Christmas does not even appear on the list of festivals given by the early Christian writers, Irenaeus and Tertullian. During this time the pagan tradition of celebrating birthdays was criticised by leaders in the Christian faith such as Origen and Arnobious who wrote around 300 years after Jesus’s birth.

 

Christmas appeared soon after under the authority of Pope Julius I who set the 25th of December as the official birthdate of Jesus and initially termed it ‘The Nativity Feast’. It is actually still celebrated as ‘Nativity Feast’ in many Eastern traditions but later became known otherwise in the Western Church. The Chronograph of 354 records that a Christmas celebration took place in Rome in 336, eight days before the calends of January and arguably this was the first on record.

 

 The reason for the initial celebration of Christmas on the 25th is rooted in paganism (a term used by early Christians for those who practice polytheism or non-Abrahamic religions). The Saturnalia festive, celebrated on the 25th of December was the date of the winter solstice in the Roman calendar and was very important to pagans. In the 17th century, Isaac Newton, who coincidentally was born on December 25, argued that the date of Christmas may have been selected to correspond with the solstice.  Christmas was embraced by many and by the Middle Ages Christianity had mostly replaced paganism which only has approximately 18 million followers today. Paganism, however, had a surprisingly large role to play in the Christmas we know today. Wassailing was a pagan tradition that included people going from door to door singing, it is now a Christmas tradition too and has evolved into modern-day carolling. We also see Christmas trees wherever we look around during the holiday season, but these trees have been used by pagans and Christians alike to celebrate winter festivals such as the winter solstice for many years.   

 

On the other hand, another reason that the day the 25th of December could have been chosen is to do with the ‘calculation hypotheses. The Calculation hypothesis suggests that an earlier holiday held on March 25th was associated with the incarnation. Christmas was then calculated as nine months later. The Calculation hypothesis was proposed by French writer Louis Duchesne in 1889.

 

Regardless of how Christmas arose, it would still take time for it to find its place as one of the biggest yearly celebrations. While Christmas was central to the medieval calendar there have been many occasions in which it faced opposition. During the Arian controversy of the fourth century, the holiday declined for a while but regained prominence after 800 when Charlemagne was crowned emperor. Despite facing many other hiccups along the way including it being banned temporarily in England during the Puritan era, it was restored as a holiday in 1660 and was declared a federal holiday in the United States in 1870. The fascinating history of Christmas and the traditions that have impacted it have made it what it is today, a holiday celebrated by billions across the globe.

Written by Ahaana (Philosophy & Religion subject rep.)

Is Plato as important as we make him out to be?

 

Whenever someone thinks of philosophy, there is no doubt that Plato springs to mind. He is often referred to as the founder of Western philosophy, political thinking and classics.  Alfred North Whitehead once said that ‘the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato’. He has contributed indirectly to religion, presented a solution to universals and has discussed lengthily on education. Nonetheless, it could be said that Plato’s work is full of flaws undermined by issues associated with his political philosophy including his extreme views on subjects such as democracy and his model of the ideal state. In this article, I will consider what has made Plato so famous and whether he deserves to retain the title of the ‘Father of Philosophy’.

 

Whether we like the theory or not, it is evident that Plato’s theory of forms is central to thinking today. He argued through his allegory of the cave that the physical world is not actually the ‘real world’ which is unchanging and eternal. The real world is the world of abstract and immaterial ideas known as forms that we can only discover through our reason. Knowledge of the Forms is what constitutes real knowledge or what Socrates describes as ‘the good’. Until we achieve this realisation, our perception of the world is a shadow of the truth like the shadows in the cave. What we perceive around us is a shadow of the truth – demonstrated by the shadows seen in the cave in Book VII of the Republic. Plato’s Forms is a fascinating theory but full of holes. The form of knowledge, for example, would not work as it is universally accepted that knowledge comes from experience. This is one of many issues raised about the Forms but demonstrates that they are not flawless.

 

While Plato’s forms are full of criticism, any scholar would know that they were of critical importance in the development of both metaphysics and epistemology. Plato made numerous other contributions to philosophical thought and his thoughts on the soul have provided a groundwork for any subsequent work on this topic. In the ‘Republic’ Plato considered morality, justice and the good life. In the ‘Symposium’ he considered love or eros. He has contributed to and often founded many domains in philosophy.

 

Plato has not only been influential to metaphysics, but arguably he was one of the first known people to have delved into political philosophy and have paved the way for many to come. His description of the ideal state considered themes such as hierarchy, authority and equality. He suggested that society should be split up into three categories of citizens: artisans, auxiliaries and philosopher kings.  He disregards ideas such as private property and money and instead argues for the community over the influential. Many have praised Plato for arguing that in this state, women who are guardians should receive the same education as their male counterparts, an idea that may seem normal to us now, but led to shock at the time.

 

 His ‘ideal state’, however, is far from ideal. His society edged on one without any concept of individual rights or autonomy. Plato rejected any form of democracy and tried to replace this concept with philosopher kings. While we may now hold the Madisonian view that democracy is meant to protect minorities, this is certainly not what Plato thought. He believed that democracy was the rule of the uneducated public which would lead to populism. He may not have been wrong about a rise in populism that occurs as a result of democracy, as seen in our modern world today with figures such as Trump or Putin, but he did not regard the advantages or offer a sound alternative. He was criticised for his replacement of democracy by his student Aristotle who argued that a king would have a disadvantage if they were a philosopher. Furthermore, Plato’s state has been criticised for acting as a model for totalitarianism. Voltaire described it as a ‘benevolent dictatorship’ and Karl Popper went even further to say that Plato’s state applies to modern-day fascism. He was an influence to radical thinkers such as Hegel and maybe even Karl Marx who has been attributed to a rise in extremism in Europe in the past 200 years.  Popper and another modern thinker H.S Crossman argued that Plato created a dystopia, not an ideal state and that he would have approved of the means of modern-day totalitarian leaders for the achievement of their ends.

 

Thus, given all his contributions and controversies what is Plato’s legacy? Plato was far from perfect; his views were often radical and in our modern society would often be frowned upon. His views on individual rights and autonomy are full of criticism.  It cannot be doubted, however, that Plato is one of the most influential philosophers of our time, for better or for worse. Nearly every great philosopher from Kant to Nietzche to Locke has taken something from Plato’s work.  His thoughts on the state have encouraged further work in this field which was taken up by Hobbes who developed the social contract theory. Plato has not only contributed to philosophy but science and mathematics. The Austrian mathematician Kurt used Plato’s forms to argue that the existence of independent mathematical forms is linked to mathematical concepts. Plato may not have been the moral man we make him out to be, but I don’t doubt that his ideas have and will impact the past, present and future.

Written by Ahaana (Philosophy & Religion subject rep.)

History

Recommendations

 

Fun History Resources:

 

  • You’re Dead To Me – BBC4 Podcast

    • Super fun podcast for all kinds of history lovers (even history haters)

    • Always has a comedian as well as a historian for each episode

 

  • The Rest Is History – Podcast

    • Podcast for more intense history lovers

    • Historians Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook discussed really interesting topics 

 

  • The Whisperers – Book by Orlando Figes

    • Drawing on a huge range of sources - letters, memoirs, conversations - Figes tells the story of how Russians tried to endure life under Stalin. 

    • Easy to read, very informative, and whilst often heartbreaking, an important story.

 

  • The History of Magic: From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present – Book by Chris Gosden

    • Gosden is an Oxford professor of archaeology and writes a phenomenal account of the history of magic

    • The perfect book to discover a relatively niche historical subject

This is Sparta

When we think about the culture of ancient Greece we often think of Athens, but Ancient Greece was in fact a tapestry of thousands of individual city-states who were incredibly different. One of the more famous of these states was Sparta, located in the south-eastern Peloponnese region of ancient Greece. Sparta has become more familiar in recent years due to its frequent portrayal in pop culture, most notably the (awful) movie 300. Despite the shocking inaccuracies of many of these depictions, the overall suggestion of Sparta as a city centred around war and filled with highly skilled warriors is seemingly accurate. In around 650 BCE, Sparta rose to become the dominant military land power in Ancient Greece, they are certainly most famous for their part in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE and for their role as the principal enemy of Athens during the Peloponnesian War from 431 to 404 BCE. Sparta’s discipline and culture likely played a large part in their impressive level of military success and fame. The perfect example of this was the Spartan education system, from age 7 boys were put into a continual military training academy which they did not emerge from until they were 30. In this way, Spartans were fine-tuned, crucially, not as people who would follow orders without question, but instead self-disciplined, elite warriors who privileged the community above themselves or any other individuals. In addition, a male spartan citizen was banned by law from occupying any other profession than a soldier. Due to this law, to keep the society functioning, Sparta invaded and conquered neighbouring territories, subjugating the population. The spartan society subsequently consisted of three main groups: the Spartans, who were full citizens; the Helots who were serfs/slaves and the engine room of Sparta; and finally, the Perioikoi (meaning people who live about the place), who were neither slaves nor citizens and worked as craftsmen and traders, building weapons for the Spartans; enabling them to spend the majority of their time training and fighting.

 

Another vital section of Spartan society was of course its women, who had significantly more freedoms in comparison, for instance, to the women of Athens (who were effectively shut inside the whole time!). Spartan women were educated, were active and physical, did not get forced into marriage and motherhood at the earliest chance but instead married at the same time as the men – at around 18 –, and were given considerable power and influence when men were absent during times of war. Women were also valued highly for their ability to promote male martial success, the importance of this is illustrated in Spartan gravestones. When one died in Sparta, a man only had their name put on a gravestone if he had died in battle, and a woman, if she had died in childbirth. This clearly expresses the values of Spartan society: glory through battle or glory through the continuation of the Spartan race. One particularly amusing source is the collection, “sayings of Spartan women” by Plutarch, which details, for example, a mother telling her son who was being tried for an offence, “My child, either rid yourself of the charges or rid yourself of life”. Plutarch even describes Spartan mothers killing their sons on return from battle if they had been cowardly and fleed (Girl boss moment?). These sayings suggest Spartan women had a vast amount of agency for the time and were strong, determined, and opinionated people in their own right.

 

A vital aspect to consider when studying Spartan history is that we know almost nothing of the Spartans from their own hand, most of our knowledge in fact comes from people outside of the city-state. Consequentially the image of Sparta as a place of immense military prowess and warriors was readily accepted, until archaeologists began digging in Sparta, adding more depth to their history. Now the “Spartan mirage” is often discussed by scholars, who tend to question the disparity between the Spartans’ own preferred portrayal, versus perhaps what the reality was truly like on the inside (it seems that glamorising one’s existence in the eyes of others, despite this contrasting reality, is not a new concept unique to social media!).

Written by Ariya (History subject rep.)