Wednesday 1 November 2017

Royal Scottish Academy exhibition: Ages of Wonder: Scotland’s Art, 1540 to Now

Work by John Duncan titled, Ivory, Apes and Peacocks
 Royal Scottish Academy building on The Mound, Edinburgh
 4th November 2017 - 7th January 2018

Dr Tom Normand, Senior Lecturer in the School of Art History, has been involved in the production and curation of the exhibition ‘Ages of Wonder: Scotland’s Art, 1540 to Now’.

Featuring over 400 objects many of which
have rarely been seen in public

A thematic review of the various collections held by the academy, the exhibition has been some three years in the planning. It promises to be a major review of the Scottish art world featuring over 400 objects many of which have rarely been seen in public. The exhibition will include over 450 works by over 270 artists and architects, from the masterpiece ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ painted by Jacopo Bassano of 1540, to recent Diploma Works by Callum Innes and Alison Watt, and works commissioned for and during the exhibition by Calum Colvin, Kenny Hunter and Richard Murphy

To complement the exhibition Dr Normand has edited a book of original essays on the academy and its history. This publication, featuring new essays from academics, scholars, curators and artists, will be a significant contribution to scholarship on Scotland’s visual culture. Dr Normand is an Honorary Member of the Royal Scottish Academy.

For further details:

Exhibition supported by: Museums Galleries Scotland, The Morton Charitable Trust, The Pilgrim Trust
Sponsored by: Lyon & Turnbull

In addition:

The RSA Sir William Gillies Bequest Lecture 2017 
Friday, 3 November 2017 15:00 to 16:30pm 
Hawthornden Lecture Theatre
The Mound
Tickets free but must be booked BOOK HERE 

This symposium will be a rare opportunity to hear a discussion by the Presidents of all four British national academies: the Royal Scottish Academy, the Royal Academy in London, the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin and the Royal Ulster Academy in Belfast, on collecting and how this is reflected within the various institutions.

Joining the discussion will be David R. Brigham, President of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, to which the RSA’s second President, John Watson Gordon, was awarded Honorary Membership and which is the oldest academy in America.

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Tuesday 31 October 2017

Thinking 3D: three-dimensionality and its impact on the arts and sciences

Thinking 3D is
  • an interdisciplinary exploration of the concept of three-dimensionality and its impact on the arts and sciences; 
  • an innovative project which puts the minds of the 21st century in touch with those of early practitioners exploring three-dimensionality; 
  • a year-long series of exhibitions, events, public talks, gallery shows, and academic symposia intended to incite dialogue between artists, art and book historians, mathematicians, astronomers, geometers, earth scientists, botanists, chemists, etc. 

The project is centred on the development of the techniques used to communicate three-dimensional forms in two-dimensional media.

The representation of truthful three-dimensional forms during the Renaissance became a skill to practice, and its successful completion was considered a virtuoso display of talent. As reliable two-dimensional illustrations of three-dimensional subjects became more prevalent it also impacted the way that disciplines developed: architecture could be communicated much more clearly, mathematical concepts and astronomical observations could be quickly relayed, observations of the natural world moved towards a more realistic method of depiction.

Thinking 3D will put the 21st century mind in touch with the legacy of some of the greatest artists and thinkers (Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Andreas Vesalius, Johannes Hevelius, John Aubrey, William Hunter, etc.) through the medium of books, manuscripts, prints and drawings, offering a cluster of exhibitions and events, which will tell the story of the communication of three-dimensionality and the impact that the developments of related techniques had on artists and draughtsman throughout time and across space.

This theme is of great relevance today, as amateur and professional designers are constantly thinking about how to communicate three-dimensional forms in traditional media or by using computer software and 3D printing.

This a pan-Oxford season of events with the heart of the project constituted by a main exhibition at the Treasury of the Bodleian Libraries (in the Weston Library). It will be surrounded by a group of satellite exhibitions and supported by a series of conferences, talks and workshops. Exhibitions across the University and city will display books, manuscripts, prints and drawings from various local collections, loans from other institutions, reproductions of works of art which will enhance the understanding of the concept, and original pieces commissioned to contemporary designers and artists who will take direct inspiration from the items on show.

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Wednesday 11 October 2017

Biology Professor wins Book Award

This month, Professor Kevin Laland in the School of Biology was awarded the British Psychological Society’s best academic book award for 2017 for his monograph, Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony:How Culture Made the Human Mind.

Drawing on his own groundbreaking research, Professor Laland’s book traces our rise from scavenger apes in prehistory to modern humans able to design iPhones, dance the tango, and send astronauts into space. The book describes how our species’ extraordinary capacity for cultural production, from the arts and language to science and technology, evolved from its animal roots. According to Laland, our culture is not only a magnificent end product of the evolutionary process, but was also a key driving force behind it. The truly unique characteristics of our species – our intelligence, language, teaching, and cooperation – are not adaptive responses to predators, disease or other external factors: rather, humans are creatures of their own making.

Professor Laland presented his book to huge crowds at this year’s Hay Book Festival. In a whistle-stop tour through three decades of research, Laland describes how investigations of animal behavior – from painting elephants to dancing cockatoos – sheds light on human origins. Animals imitate, innovate, and have remarkable traditions of their own. New scientific findings suggest that such learned and socially transmitted activities amongst our ancestors shaped our intellects through accelerating cycles of evolutionary feedback. Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony tells the story of the key advances, the false leads, and the scientific breakthroughs that led to a new understanding of how culture transformed human evolution, to generate a species unlike all others.

Monday 9 October 2017

TheoArtistry Poets Scheme

StAnza, Scotland's International Poetry Festival

Deadline: 31 October 2017 at 17:00

Poets are invited to apply for this workshop and collaboration opportunity and the chance to spend time in sessions including creative workshops with ITIA to produce a new poem during StAnza 2018.

This project offers poets the opportunity to work with Michael Symmons Roberts, Sir James MacMillan and researchers from ITIA (the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts) on a new poem during StAnza 2018.

Poets are invited to apply for the TheoArtistry Poets’ Scheme, a collaboration between StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, and ITIA, both based in St Andrews, Fife.

As part of the TheoArtistry Composers’ Scheme, six composers have already collaborated with researchers in ITIA and Sir James MacMillan to produce new musical settings of Scriptural texts. On the eve of StAnza’s 2018 festival, there will be the launch concert of the CD recording ‘Annunciations’ which includes these six new works for choir.

Poets are now invited to apply for the TheoArtistry Poets’ Scheme. The six poets selected will have the chance to spend Tuesday 6th March in St Andrews in sessions including creative workshops with ITIA researchers, the poet Michael Symmons Roberts, and the composer Sir James MacMillan. On Sunday 11th March, each poet will have the chance to present their draft poem at a StAnza event. The poets will each give permission for the final version of their poem to be included in a book produced by ITIA.

Poets on the scheme will be teamed up with an ITIA theologian partner, who will provide a package of resources on the Scriptural passage prior to the Tuesday workshop, follow up on the poet’s own interests in person and/or via skype, and provide a creative sounding board during the scheme.

Poets interested in taking part in this innovative project should email by 31st October with a brief 80 word CV, a sample poem, and a short statement of how you think this scheme could develop you as a poet (250 words).

For further information, please contact (Eleanor Livingstone), or visit 

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Encountering Africa: Henri Gaden's Life and Photography in Colonial French West Africa, 1894-1939

Reproduced with the permission of the
Archives nationales d'outre-mer, Aix-en-Provence, France
Henri Gaden was a French Colonial officer, who lived in West Africa for 45 years. An ethnographer, linguist and gifted photographer, Gaden captured on camera a rich variety of encounters with Africa – from landscapes, architecture and trade to military campaigns and colonial life at numerous outposts. He also documented everyday village life, local music, dance and ritual. Gaden’s striking photographic images, exhibited for the first time at MUSA, provide rare insights into French West Africa in colonial times and the remarkable people he met.

Exhibition at MUSA
5 October 2017–25 February 2018
7a The Scores, St Andrews, KY16 9AR

Monday 15 May 2017

East Side Story: Historical Pollution and Neighbourhood Sorting

The East Sides of cities such as London, Vancouver, New York and Paris have historically been the poorest. Some, but not all, have gentrified more recently, and this gentrification has been at the centre of media attention. These observations uncover two questions. Why were these neighbourhoods poor to begin with, and why did some gentrify while others did not? Research conducted by Stephan Heblich (University of Bristol), Alex Trew of the School of Economics & Finance (University of St Andrews) and Yanos Zylberberg (University of Bristol) ( suggests that this observation is the most visible consequence of the historically unequal distribution of air pollutants across neighborhoods. During the Industrial Revolution, many areas of Manchester, for example, were covered with layers of soot. Black stains on the pavements and buildings of areas such as Victoria Station or Ancoats in North-East Manchester remained until very recently. With the wrong weather, some areas could be submerged under dark, thick smog. This environmental disamenity made them unpleasant places to live and, in response, those who could afford moved to the neighbourhoods spared by the pollution. This sorting resulted in an unequal distribution of social classes across the city. Since the prevailing winds (The Westerlies) in London, Vancouver, New York, Paris or Manchester blow from the West to the East, the most visible component of such process ended up being the observed West-East differential in neighbourhood composition.

The authors examined nearly 5,000 industrial chimneys in 70 English cities in 1880 and use an atmospheric dispersion model to recreate the spatial distribution of pollution. The exercise was possible because of the fastidiousness of Victorian cartographers. These pioneering map-makers marked each building with landmarks such as factory chimneys. In addition, Victorian census-takers conducted detailed population studies over the nineteenth century.

There is a strong connection between the presence of air pollution and the share of low-skilled workers at the end of the nineteenth century. Such a correlation was absent before coal became the major energy source at the beginning of the century. The observed effect is substantial: the difference between being in the 10% and 90% most polluted neighbourhoods of Manchester was a difference of about 20 percentage points in the share of low-skilled workers. Most interestingly, the relationship between the presence of historic pollution and the share of low skilled workers in 2011 turns out to be quantitatively comparable to the one observed at the end of the nineteenth century. The previous result leaves one question unanswered. How could sorting caused by 1880 pollution be visible nowadays almost 100 years after the 1926 Smoke Abatement Act and 50 years after the Clean Air Acts (which quickly and considerably reduced the extent of coal-based pollution within cities)?

Available podcast:
The Guardian article (15 May 2017): Blowing in the wind: why do so many cities have poor east ends?

Friday 24 March 2017

David Mitchell Conference 2017

This one-day international conference to be held on Saturday 3rd June 2017 brings together 20 speakers from ten countries to discuss the works of author David Mitchell. This sold-out event will also include a visit to Special Collections to see the new collection of his rare works held there, as well as a talk from the author himself.

Bringing together those researching, teaching and studying the author's work, the conference is open to academics, students and interested non-specialist parties alike.

The conference is organised by Rose Harris-Birtill of the School of English and has been made possible through the generous support of the School of English, GRADskills Postgraduate Conference fund and Student Project Fund. Rose will also be guest editing the associated publication following the conference, a special edition of the journal, C21 Literature. See for full information.

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