Jon Williamson to debate at Oxford

Jon Williamson, Professor of Reasoning, Inference and Scientific Method in the Department of Philosophy, will engage in a debate at the University of Oxford on Monday 27 March 2017, entitled ‘Are Mechanisms Required to Establish Treatment Effects?’

An enduring debate in the history of medicine exists between people who believe that we need to know how a treatment works in order to know that it works and those who believe that careful observation is enough. Celus (25 BC-50 CE) reported differences between ‘Empirics’ (who held that careful observations are enough), and ‘Dogmatics’ (who insisted that we need to understand the underlying causes and mechanisms). Centuries later, Roger Bacon (c.1266 CE) de-emphasised the role of understanding mechanisms and causes, while Descartes (1596 CE-1650 CE) believed that things in the world – including humans – are machines so we need to understand mechanisms to diagnose and treat patients.

More recently, a ‘new mechanical philosophy’ has emerged, with some philosophers of science arguing that unless we have evidence of a mechanism that a treatment works, we do not know whether it works. This philosophical view is opposed to a view commonly held by proponents of Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM) who point out many historical cases ranging from lemons to cure scurvy to aspirin for reducing cancer incidence where we have no idea what the mechanism is yet we believe we know the treatments work.

To be sure, proponents of mechanisms are not against careful observations, they just don’t believe these are enough. Likewise, proponents of EBM do not deny that there are mechanisms or that they can be important, they just don’t think mechanistic evidence is required.

In an epic attempt to resolve this long-standing debate, Jon will argue that we do need to have evidence of mechanisms in order to prove treatments work, while Dr Jeremy Howick (University of Oxford) will argue that, while evidence of mechanisms can be useful, they are not required to establish that a treatment works. The session will be moderated by Professor Jeffrey Aronson (University of Oxford).

This is a free event and members of the public are welcome. To book, please see the page here:

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Peter Read on Guillaume Apollinaire

Peter Read, Professor of Modern French Literature and Visual Arts in the Department of Modern Languages, will be giving a guest lecture entitled ‘Dans la fabrique du poète: manuscrits et épreuves de Guillaume Apollinaire’ [‘In the Poet’s Workshop: Manuscripts and Proofs of Guillaume Apollinaire’] at the University of Turin on 5 April 2017.

The illustrated lecture will explore the constantly expanding collection of personal notes, jottings and manuscript drafts established by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). Peter will show how Apollinaire used this archive as a reservoir of ideas, verses, turns-of-phrase and vocabulary which he could include in new compositions, mingling writings from past and present to create new spaces of chronological and spatial simultaneity.

The lecture will also address the material reality of the poet’s archive, in which texts are drafted on headed notepaper from banks, cafés, newspapers and magazines, on the backs of international news-agency bulletins, on torn sheets of used wrapping paper, in cheap exercise books and in diaries printed in English, French and Russian.  These everyday materials participate in Apollinaire’s development of a modernist aesthetic that channels the cosmopolitan diversity of life in Paris and expresses a global consciousness, attuned to transcontinental travel and new communication technologies.

For more details about the University of Turin, please see:


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Routledge interviews Simon Kirchin

Academic publisher Routledge has published an online interview with Dr Simon Kirchin, Reader in Philosophy and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, about his latest book, Reading Parfit: On What Matters (Routledge, 2017).

Derek Parfit (1942-2017) was a British philosopher who specialised in identity, rationality and ethics, and who sadly died on 1 January this year. His work On What Matters was published in two volumes in 2011, and Simon’s book is a response to this.

The interview, structured into ten questions, begins by asking Simon about the first line of On What Matters – [‘We are the animals that can both understand and respond to reasons.’] – and also gets him to explain and enthuse about Parfit’s philosophical work.

Simon sums up the hope Parfit can offer to readers: ‘what one can learn from reading – or even dipping into – On What Matters is that whilst philosophy, and moral philosophy, can tackle some very deep and fundamental questions, it can also be done simply and straightforwardly.’

The full interview is available online here:

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PhD student on the relationship between theatre and illness

Lesley Gray, a third-year PhD student in the Department of Comparative Literature, will be presenting a paper at the ‘Doctor, Doctor’ symposium, which will explore global and historical perspectives on the doctor-patient relationship, at the University of Oxford on Friday 24 March 2017.

Lesley’s paper is entitled ‘Theatre or Therapy? Twenty-four Hours in the “Kingdom of the Sick”’. She will examine the effectiveness of theatre in tackling our response to serious illnesses, and will ask whether productions like A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer – a 2016 musical that was staged at the National Theatre – can influence our attitudes and behaviours.

The theme of medicine tangentially occurs in Lesley’s own PhD research, with her thesis currently titled ‘What’s the Fascination? An Interdisciplinary Study of Mesmerism and the Dynamics of Power’.

For more details, please visit the symposium website:

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Ellen Swift on Roman artefacts and society

Dr Ellen Swift, Reader in Archaeology in the Department of Classical & Archaeological Studies, has published a new book entitled Roman Artefacts and Society: Design, Behaviour and Experience (Oxford University Press, 2017), with research for the book supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship.

Dr Swift uses design theory, previously neglected in Roman archaeology, to investigate Roman artefacts in a new way, making a significant contribution to both Roman social history, and our understanding of the relationships that exist between artefacts and people. Based on extensive data collection and the close study of artefacts from museum collections and archives both in the UK and elsewhere, the book examines the relationship between artefacts and everyday behaviour and experience. The concept of ‘affordances’ -features of an artefact that make possible, and incline users towards, particular uses for functional artefacts – is an important one for the approach taken. This concept is carefully evaluated by considering affordances in relation to other sources of evidence such as use-wear, archaeological context, the end-products resulting from artefact use, and experimental reconstruction. Artefact types explored in the case studies include locks and keys, pens, shears, glass vessels, dice, boxes, and finger-rings, using material mainly drawn from the north-western Roman provinces, with some material also from Roman Egypt.

The book then considers how we can use artefacts to understand particular aspects of Roman behaviour and experience, including discrepant experiences according to factors such as age, social position, and left- or right-handedness, which are fostered through artefact design. The relationship between production and users of artefacts is also explored, investigating what particular production methods make possible in terms of user experience, and also examining production constraints that have unintended consequences for users.

For full details, please see the publisher’s page at:

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Two new linguistics papers published in Phonetica

Professor Amalia Arvaniti and Dr Tamara Rathcke from the Department of English Language & Linguistics have both authored papers in the latest issue of journal Phonetica, Volume 73, No. 3-4.

Phonetica is an interdisciplinary journal for the research and theory of phonetics. The latest issue, dated February 2017, is a special issue dedicated to ‘Slavic Perspectives on Prosody’ (the study of stress, tone, intonation and rhythm in speech).

In the issue, Professor Amalia Arvaniti has co-authored, along with Dr Marzena Żygis (Centre for General Linguistics and Humboldt University, Berlin) and Dr Marek Jaskuła (West Pomeranian University of Technology, Szczecin, Poland), a paper entitled ‘The Phonetics and Phonology of the Polish Calling Melodies’. The intonation of two Polish melodies (short segments of speech) were investigated: the routine call, used to call someone for an everyday reason, and the urgent call, which conveys disapproval of the addressee’s actions. The paper presents results on the phonetic realisation and abstract (phonological) representation of the two melodies, discusses how they fit into the intonation system of Polish, and addresses the repercussions of these findings for cross-linguistic theories of intonation. The article is open access, and so available to all:

Dr Tamara Rathcke has authored a paper entitled ‘How Truncating Are “Truncating Languages”? Evidence from Russian and German’. Russian and German have previously been described as ‘truncating’, or cutting off pitch targets at the end of short phrases. However, supporting evidence is rare and limited to only a few pitch categories. Tamara’s paper reports a study conducted to document pitch adjustments to variable linguistic materials, short and long words. The results show that speakers of both languages do not utilise truncation exclusively; on the contrary, they employ several strategies, including compression and temporal re-alignment, as well as truncation, to produce the target pitch categories in words of varied length.

To access the table of contents for the issue, which include links to the full abstracts, please see the journal’s webpage here:




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Photos from student Cuba trip now available

Earlier in the year, 19 students from our undergraduate Hispanic Studies programmes, alongside students from the School of Music and Fine Art (SMFA), travelled to Cuba for just over a week following a successful bid to the Faculty of Humanities Internationalisation Fund.

The students were able to immerse themselves in a Spanish-language culture and gain a first-hand look at the country. Following the trip, a website has been set up to host photographs from the excursion, with over 400 images available.

The website is now live, and can be viewed at:


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Film screening of ‘Yage is Our Life’

Dr William Rowlandson, Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies in the Department of Modern Languages, is to introduce a Centre for American Studies screening of the film Yage is Our Life (2017) and chair a Q&A session with the filmmaker Lesley Vela, on Thursday 9 March from 4-6pm in Eliot Lecture Theatre 2.

Yage is Our Life is a film about the indigenous people of Putumayo, Colombia, their relationship with Yage and their perceptions on the commercialisation of their traditional medicine.

Indigenous groups living in the Putumayo region of southern Colombia have been using Yage (Ayahuasca) for the health, social cohesion and spiritual guidance of their communities for centuries. Yage is rich in the potent psychedelic substance DMT and for these indigenous groups it is sacred, allowing them access to ancient wisdom and the spirits of nature. In their ceremonies the Taitas, or traditional doctors, use Yage to treat their patients for physical and emotional illnesses and as a guide for making decisions.

Over the past 500 years the ancestral territories of Putumayo have been gradually eroded and these communities are at risk of further loss of land and traditions. In recent years Yage, or Ayahuasca, has become increasingly well-known in Western society. Many people travel each year to the Amazon to experience its effects and many scientific studies are being undertaken into its medicinal properties. As a result of this growing interest there have been numerous cases of people posing as Taitas and offering Yage ceremonies for large sums of money both in Colombia as well as internationally.

This film voices the concerns of indigenous leaders through a series of interviews where they discuss the importance of Yage as a living tradition in their communities, the threat of its commercialisation, and the pressures exerted on their homelands by the industrialised world.​

This event is open to all and you can view the trailer at:




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Call for papers: ELLSoc conference

The English Language & Linguistics Society (ELLSoc) at Kent Union will be hosting a student conference on Saturday 8 April 2017, with invited speakers Professor April McMahon (University of Kent) and Dr Lauren Gawne (School of Oriental and African Studies, London), to be held in the Peter Browne Room at Darwin College.

April McMahon is Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education and Professor of English Language & Linguistics, she will be presenting on her linguistics research. Lauren Gawne runs the generalist linguistic website Superlinguo. Her research focuses on gesture and evidentiality, and she will be talking about why and how we need linguistics communicated to the general public.

Abstracts are currently invited for presentations of 15 minutes in length, following by a five-minute Q&A. All areas of linguistics will be appropriate, including psycholinguistics, philosophy of language, stylistics, syntax, morphology, phonetics, phonology, language acquisition, sociolinguistics, etc.

Abstracts should be 300-500 words to give as a brief understanding of your topic. Applications for posters can be done in the same way but remember to click poster instead of presentation on the form, accessible here.

The deadline for submission is 11pm on Friday 17 March 2017. If you have any questions, please email Lizzy Aumônier at:

ELLSoc at Kent is open to students with a common interest in language, whether students of English Language & Linguistics, or those who simply find words and meaning wonderful. The society hosts discussions over libations, guest speakers, and plenty of socials.

You can find more about the society on their Facebook page here:

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Writing fiction employability event

As part of the Humanities for Hire employability events the School of European Culture and Languages is hosting a ‘Writing Fiction and Getting Published’ event on Thursday 9 March 2017 from 5-6pm in the Gulbenkian cinema.

A panel of staff, students and alumni who have recently published novels will talk about their books, the process of writing and how they got published. There will then be an opportunity for a Q&A session.

Dr Anna Katharina Schaffner, Reader in Comparative Literature and Medical Humanities in the Department of Comparative Literature will talk about her debut novel, The Truth about Julia (Allen & Unwin, 2016).

Lesley Gray, a PhD Student in the Department of Comparative Literature, who also works in publishing will discuss her novel The King’s Jockey (Solis Press, 2013).

Christian Moretti, Alumni from the Department of Comparative Literature, will discuss his two novels published in Italian, L’Attesa delle Isole [The Wait of the Islands], (Edizioni Croce, 2016) and Che Morte non vi Separi [Till Death Don’t Do Us Part] (Europa Edizioni, 2015).

The event will be followed by a wine reception in the Colyer Ferguson foyer and a chance to meet the authors.

All are welcome. Please book for this event at Staff and alumni should email to book.


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