Provost Celebration of International Research Development


On Tuesday 31st October, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost of the University of Bristol, Professor Judith Squires, hosted a celebration for University staff involved in international research collaboration activities. Among the attendees were the International Research Development Team and academic staff who have hosted international visiting researchers, as well as colleagues from Bristol University Press (BUP) who champion and support international co-authored publications and the authors, editors and board members who have supported BUP’s mission and contributed to its success and development.

During a set of speeches, Professor Squires thanked attendees for contributing to the University’s international research activities, and introduced the International Research Development Manager Dr Lauren Winch who provided a summary of Bristol’s International Research Development portfolio. Some highlights from her speech are included below.

Judith Squires standing at the front of the room, giving a speech.     People at the event, mingling and talking in smaller groups.

A brief history of the International Research Development schemes

The International Research Development portfolio of schemes has at its heart an ambition to build a global community of scholars and to enhance the University of Bristol’s international reputation for research excellence and innovation. The portfolio’s flagship scheme, the Bristol Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professorships, has its roots way back in the 1970s and has seen various iterations over time whilst remaining true to its core purpose of supporting world-leading, curiosity-driven research. Until relatively recently this scheme sat within the Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS). However, following a review in 2019 the IAS was discontinued and this portfolio of activities was re-established as part of the Research Development International team in the Division of Research, Enterprise and Innovation (DREI).

The portfolio is currently managed by Dr Lauren Winch with support from Sarah Watts (secondment cover for the substantive Research Development Officer, Samantha Barlow). It also benefits from the guidance of the Head of Research Development International, Dr Tiernan Williams, and the academic leadership of the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement Professor Agnes Nairn, as well as support from colleagues within DREI.

While the team have retained the flagship Benjamin Meaker scheme, with some tweaks, the wider portfolio has been redeveloped and reimagined in recent years, with a number of new schemes and an enhanced focus on international research development. The Meaker scheme itself continues to attract world-leading scholars from all around the globe to come to Bristol and undertake curiosity-driven research with their University of Bristol hosts as well as engaging with our wider community, both at the University and beyond. In complement to this, in late 2019 a new Bristol ‘Next Generation’ Visiting Researcher Programme was launched, designed to support researchers to undertake blue skies research projects, exploring exciting, innovative new research spaces. Whilst the Meaker scheme is only for distinguished Professors, this new ‘Next Generation’ scheme opened the door for rising stars who might be less senior in their careers but who have shown great potential to become the distinguished Professors and research leaders of the future.

In response to the challenges of the pandemic for international research collaboration and mobility, a new new online collaborative workshops scheme was launched in 2020. This has since evolved into Bristol International Research Collaboration Activities, supporting a range of activities which can be online, in-person, or hybrid.

All of the schemes in the portfolio are intended to catalyse and cultivate ongoing research collaborations which lead to outputs including funding bids and publications. Therefore, in 2021, the Bristol Benjamin Meaker Follow-on Fund was launched to support either reciprocal or return visits, to facilitate further research development and outcomes from Bristol academics and their visitors from either the Meaker or Next Generation schemes building directly on the developments of the original visit.

Celebrating the IRD schemes

The IRD portfolio of funding schemes have led to a wide range of outcomes, including co-authored publications, policy changes, co-supervised PhDs, and real world impact. Over the last four years since the relaunch in late 2019, despite the hiatus in international travel during the peaks of the pandemic, the team has made 56 new awards. Of these, 26 awards have been in the last year alone, showing real growth and appetite among our community to resume international research development activities as we start to emerge from the pandemic. These 56 awards have brought visitors to Bristol from 17 different countries from all six of the populated continents. They have been hosted by University of Bristol academics from five of the six Faculties (and all three of the new Faculties) representing 22 different schools and departments across the University. These curiosity-driven researchers have explored a huge range of topics: from the role of British gospel choirs to the big bang and quantum gravity; from cleft palates to climate change; from Mendelian randomisation to multidimensional child poverty in Pakistan; from decolonising dentistry to dynamics of volcanic systems; and from sacred topographies to supercapacitators.

To date, the schemes have brought over 500 visitors to Bristol representing a wide range of disciplinary and methodological approaches. The current portfolio stands on the shoulders of the fantastic achievements made by the IAS and colleagues who have supported the Meaker scheme in the decades since it first launched. The IRD team were really proud and pleased to be able to bring together award holders from recent years to celebrate the successes of the reimagined IRD portfolio, and to thank each and every one for not only hosting visitors but for actively engaging and collaborating with them, developing exciting, valuable and impactful research and shaping the global research landscape together.

Authors: Lauren Winch and Sarah Watts

International visitors and their Bristol hosts meet the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement

On Tuesday 10th October, the current cohort of Bristol Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professors and Bristol ‘Next Generation’ Visiting Researchers were invited to join their University of Bristol hosts, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement, Professor Agnes Nairn, and the International Research Development (IRD) team for afternoon tea. This ‘Meet and Greet’ took place in the Verdon Smith International Seminar Room in Royal Fort House and it was an opportunity to share research projects and create connections.

Lauren Winch, Juliet Biggs, Vera Lucia Raposo and Colin Wilson talking     Karim Thebault and Richard Arthur talking

Karim Thebault, Richard Arthur and Colin Wilson talking     Oliver Quick, Agnes Nairn, Charl FJ Faul, John Mondal in conversation

Professor Nairn welcomed the visiting researchers who had travelled from Portugal, India, Canada and New Zealand. It was fascinating to hear about the range of research projects being undertaken, including:

It was already a busy day for some of the visiting researchers as Dr Raposo had already delivered a seminar on ‘Health data and personal care robots‘, Dr Mondal had given an earlier talk on ‘Design of Advanced Metalated Porous Orangic Polymer for Heterogeneous Catalysis‘, and Professor Wilson would be giving his public lecture on ‘The Life and Times of Supervolcanoes‘ later that day. It was great to hear about so much activity and engagement during the visits, and everyone seemed to be really positive about the research developments they were making.

You can see the visiting researcher talks and seminars coming up on our Events page. You can also take a look at our current and upcoming visitors on our Visitors page, and can contact the University of Bristol host if you’re interested in finding out more and engaging with the visitor.

From the perspective of the IRD team, it was a real pleasure to meet our visiting researchers and their hosts and finding out more about their collaborative research development – we’re really looking forward to hearing how their projects develop.

IRP international visitors and hosts meet with the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement

On Tuesday 14th March the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement, Professor Agnes Nairn, and the International Research Partnerships (IRP) team were delighted to welcome several of the current cohort of Bristol Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professors, Bristol ‘Next Generation’ Visiting Researchers and their University of Bristol hosts to a meet-and greet event. This gathering took place in the Verdon Smith International Meeting room in Royal Fort House and presented an opportunity to learn about the different collaborative international projects taking place and meet other visitors. Light refreshments and cake were served, making for a very pleasant and relaxed atmosphere with a real buzz in the room as guests mingled and made new connections.

Professor Nairn provided a warm welcome, and invited everyone to make a brief introduction. We heard about a range of fascinating projects from our visitors from Brazil, Canada, Ghana and the USA. Projects included:

It had already been a busy day for some of our visitors, with several activities taking place around the University. This included a hybrid seminar from Dr Owoo from Ghana on ‘The Effects of Climate Change on Health Outcomes in Ghana’ and a talk from Professor Ferreira from Brazil on ‘An African Queen on Screen: Njinga, Queen of Angola’ earlier that day, with Professor Hudson from USA due to deliver his talk on ‘Dangerous Company: Questions about MacBeth’ later that afternoon.

We are so delighted to have such a flurry of international activity back at the University of Bristol again after a hiatus during COVID, and it was such a pleasure to have met and talked to so many of our visitors and hosts. We are really looking forward to organising another similar event in the autumn!

One country, many languages: Can South Africa’s multilingualism contribute to social cohesion?

On 8th March 2022 Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of Bristol’s first Bristol Illustrious Visiting Professor (BIVP), gave a fantastic online public lecture on the  on multilingualism and social cohesion in South Africa. This talk coincided with International Women’s Day, and was chaired, introduced and supported by women from across academia and professional services at University of Bristol and UCT. A recording of this inspiring and thought-provoking talk is available to view via our website, and we have provided a summary below.

The virtual lecture generated a lot of interest with over 180 people registered from a range of sectors.  Whilst the talk itself focussed primarily on South Africa, it attracted attendees from all over the world including Canada, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Tanzania. We were very pleased to be able to offer South African Language Sign language interpretation throughout the event, which was conducted by Unathi Kave from UCT; we would like to extend our thanks for her services.

The lecture began with Dr Lauren Winch, International Research Partnerships Manager, welcoming everyone and outlining Professor Phakeng’s role as BIVP.  Professor Judith Squires, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, then introduced Professor Phakeng and gave a summary of some of her most recent achievements. You can read her full biography on this webpage.

Professor Phakeng opened her lecture by asking the following question:

” How does it feel when you hear your politicians talk about a progressive language policy that encourages multilingualism, yet when people score below 50% in their matric English they are denied the opportunity of, for example, joining the military despite being fluent in at least six of the 11 official languages spoken in South Africa?’”

Professor Phakeng explained how this is the reality of South Africa’s policies on multilingualism, whilst in other parts of the world are making statements about the importance of policies that recognise multilingualism.

She went on to talk about the perceived advantages of multilingualism in the UK and how in 2019 a group of British university researchers, teachers and politicians issued a statement calling for politicians to issue a statement calling for a comprehensive national policy that would recognise the UK as a multilingual society and to protect the languages of its citizens. They referred to non-English languages as a vital part of the cultural heritage of many British citizens, as well as an asset in developing professional careers. Professor Phakeng noted, however, that whilst these are laudable ambitions, these politicians and academics may not have considered the highly political nature of language.

She explained that in South Africa, whilst indigenous African languages enjoy official status it is English which remains the valued linguistic resource in both education and society, and which is the language of power for social and economic advancement. In the context of her own Vice-Chancellorship, she described language as not just a vehicle to express ideas but also a social and political tool that can be used to act a particular ‘who’ engaged in a particular ‘what’. She described how her identity shifts and takes different shapes as she moves across contexts, citing her experiences as scholar of Mathematics Education, as an executive, as someone who grew up in apartheid South Africa, and being a black, South African woman Vice-Chancellor.

Professor Phakeng went on to outline how any social practice imparts ways of ‘talking’ and ‘seeing’ that are relevant for that practice, and which is a kind of shared knowledge that people need in order to participate in that social practice. As a Vice-Chancellor, for example, one is expected to master the discursive and ideological norms which the academic profession attaches to that subject position, or that Senate attaches to that position.

She explained that for those that are multilingual, decisions about which language to use, how, and for what are always political. She referenced Norman Fairclough, who speaks about institutional and social identities, with institutions imposing upon people ways of talking and seeing as a condition qualifying them to act as subjects.

Professor Phakeng then moved on to exploring language policy approaches. She explained how there have been multiple language policy frameworks developed in education in South Africa since 1994 when the democratic South African government came to power. The main purpose of these is to ensure the development and strengthening of indigenous languages, as languages of scholarship, teaching and learning and communication.

She noted that in 1997 South Africa announced a new language education policy that recognises 11 official languages, nine of which are indigenous, giving schools and learners the choice of language to learn and teach in. She explained that whilst this policy is seen as widely inclusive and good the reality is that on the ground it’s meeting significant constraints. Research suggests that most schools are not opting to use indigenous African languages due to historical connections with apartheid and inferior education and the perception that English remains the gateway to better prospects.

Professor Phakeng expanded on the reality of the multilingualism policies, noting that English is currently the pre-requisite language for anyone wanting to become a professional in South Africa. English language skills remain the most important criterion for the selection of high-ranking officials, and knowledge of an indigenous African language is seen as an asset rather than a pre-requisite. The same is also true for students. Most policy documents are also written in English, and whilst some may be translated into Afrikaans but unlikely to be available in any of the indigenous languages.

South Africa is therefore a multilingual country with multilingual policies, but with monolingual practices.

“What would I do if I had the power to tell the country this is the way to go?”

In conclusion, and building on the context provided throughout her talk, Professor Phakeng then outlined her five recommendations for enhancing the status of previously marginalised South African languages:

  1. Everyone who lives in South Africa should learn at least one of the nine indigenous languages.
  2. It should be a requirement that a learner must pass at least one indigenous language as a subject.
  3. Every South African University should adopt one of the nine indigenous languages as an additional language for all students and staff to learn, and that the value of this should be recognised with associated course credits and remuneration respectively.
  4. Fluency in one of the nine indigenous languages should be recognised an added advantage for anyone seeking employment, and this should be remunerated appropriately.
  5. African languages should be taught in their own language, not in English which is the current practice in some universities in South Africa.

Professor Phakeng explained how these changes would raise the value of indigenous languages and endow them with more power. She emphasised the importance of these recommendations in enabling South Africans to develop the language skills required in order to communicate with a much wider and more diverse audience, and noted that having shared language can help towards social cohesion and ease tensions.

One of the reasons for polarisation in South Africa is because people do not talk as much as they should, and it is the marginalised that have to talk in English – often an unfamiliar language – in order to be included and to be heard. Professor Phakeng is keen to move towards a more inclusive, equitable, cohesive society, and thinks language policy could be a key route to achieving this. As a closing remark she invited others to reflect on this, both for South Africa and for other multilingual contexts.

Following the presentation we had a fantastic Q&A, with questions submitted by the webinar audience. This event was chaired by Dr Angeline Barrett, a Reader in Education at the University of Bristol.  Dr Barrett, in collaboration with researchers and teacher education in Tanzania has developed a language support pedagogy for learners entering English medium secondary education after their primary education in Swahili. The approach that herself and colleagues used builds upon work by Professor Phakeng from earlier in her career on language in mathematics classrooms as well as other world leading research on multilingual education conducted by South African researchers.

Through the questions, Mamokgethi reflected on a range of topics including:

  • Standard and non-standard language use in scholarship
  • Language as a powerful tool politically but also in bringing people together as well as creating access
  • Visual literacy
  • Khoi and San as non-official / official languages
  • What South African languages can teach those outside of South Africa
  • Indigenous language representation in South African media
  • Debates around learning in a language
  • Dominance of different South African indigenous languages

The event closed with some final remarks from the International Research Partnerships Manager, Dr Lauren Winch, thanking everyone for their contributions and reminding attendees that the recording will be available via the University of Bristol’s International Research Partnerships website.

This was the second event that Professor Phakeng has participated in since her Bristol Illustrious Visiting Professorship (BIVP) launched in October 2021. The recording of her launch event, featuring University of Bristol’s Vice Chancellor and Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost alongside Professor Phakeng can be accessed via our website.

Early atlantic history and immigration

Benjamin Hudson is professor of History and Medieval Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. He visited the University of Bristol for a month in 2019 as Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professor for his work on history and population movement of the Atlantic Ocean in antiquity and the Middle Ages.

When my wife Aileen and I arrived in Bristol on a rainy midnight, we had little idea of the splendid residency that awaited us. My nomination had been made by Professor Helen Fulton, with whom I am a member of the Borders and Borderlands network. Her consideration and good offices on my behalf were fantastic, while colleagues at the Centre for Medieval Studies made me very welcome.

The Atlantic Ocean has been the ‘elephant in the room’ of ancient and medieval history. The importance of the ocean for food, travel or exploration only occasionally receives any attention. Earlier research on the history of the Atlantic Province yielded collected collaborations such as Studies in the Medieval Atlantic and Familia and Household in the Medieval Atlantic World. The honor of being awarded the Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professorship allowed me to work on a new aspect of the early Atlantic world; population movement. This project takes a holistic view with events in the western hemisphere included with those of the east.

In addition to carrying out research on Atlantic history, I conducted a postgraduate seminar on source materials for the history of the Irish Sea (another of my research areas) and a public lecture on immigration round the Atlantic. The audiences brought forward many questions and new directions for investigation.

In addition to discussing possible areas for collaborative grant applications on the part of the University of Bristol and Penn State, Professor Fulton and I also had the opportunity to chat about other areas of mutual interest, such as prophecy. The topics of foreknowledge and borderlands are closer than one imagines. ‘Prophets’ such as Merlin were usually presented as inhabitants of wild and remote regions.

For this new project on population movement, the resources available at Bristol are impressive and conversations with scholars such as Professor Brendan Smith helped me to give shape to some nebulous ideas. There are three main questions: why did people move, how did they integrate into the new society, and what contributions did they make? These questions were as pertinent for settlers from Norway who settled in Ireland as (on the other side of the Atlantic) for the movement of the Thule Inuit round Baffin Bay. They are difficult to answer about movement today and are even more so a thousand years distant. Motivations are not always apparent, while outcomes are often elusive. Furthermore, the type of data that is used today in discussions on population movement is rarely available for an earlier period.

I thank Robert Crowe and Samantha Barlow of the Institute for Advanced Studies who did so much to facilitate our visit, Professor Fulton for her nomination of my project, and the University of Bristol for the award of the Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professorship. We had a splendid visit and a productive stay.

Benjamin Hudson

Researching Secrecy Amidst the Ruins of Orford Ness

Profile picture of Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor William Walters

Professor William Walters, Benjamin Meaker Visiting Research Professor, University of Bristol

The heat of the Cold War forged a world in which national security came to be staked upon complex and large-scale technoscientific systems, the most notable being atomic weaponry. One of the consequences of this development was to accord state secrecy a new geography. States on both sides of the bipolar conflict created closed areas, and even whole cities (e.g., Oak Ridge in the US or the ‘closed’ cities of the USSR), dedicated to military research, development and deployment. This new covert geography was not confined to the surface of the earth, nor its surveillance from the sky by planes and satellites. A new underworld also took shape with the expansion of bunkers, tunnels, silos and control rooms. Most aspects of this new security infrastructure were deemed top secret. Physical access to these sites was tightly controlled. Knowledge about their very existence and location was strictly policed. And work within these settings was rigidly ‘compartmented’, structured on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.  The construction and management of these covert, dedicated infrastructures was a huge undertaking which gave rise to a new kind of shadow world, one that most citizens could glimpse only through rumour, fiction, and the occasional leak.

Orford Ness, Photographer: William Walters.

Some parts of this infrastructure, such as the Nevada National Security Site, remain in active use, being no less subject to official secrecy today than they were at the height of the Cold War. But other parts have been decommissioned and sometimes left to ruin. Falling into the latter category is Orford Ness. Located on the most easterly part of the Suffolk coast, Orford Ness was from World War I until the mid-1970s a key research and testing site for the UK’s military establishment as well as its US allies. Such research included not only bomb ballistics, aerial photography and experiments with radar, but also the stress testing of atomic weapons. In 1993 the National Trust bought the Orford Ness site from the Ministry of Defense.

Besides its historical significance, the NT’s acquisition was also motivated by the fact that Orford Ness is the largest vegetated shingle spit in Europe and thus of great ecological value.  During the summer months the NT allows visitors to explore the ruined landscape of Orford Ness, glimpsing not only rare birds but the mysterious observation towers, debris-strewn bombing ranges, and the crumbling remnants of the giant concrete laboratories where the UK’s atomic weapons were once heated, cooled, spun and vibrated in preparation for their live testing on distant Pacific  islands and the interior deserts of Australia. I had grown up in a small town a mere 20 minute drive from Orford Ness. The nuclear power stations at nearby Sizewell were palpable signs of Britain’s investment in atomic energy. But like many locals I had no idea of the presence of this other kind of nuclear activity.

Orford Ness, Photographer: William Walters.

A Benjamin Meaker Visiting Fellowship gave me the opportunity to spend several days at the University of Bristol in November 2018 advancing my research on Orford Ness and meeting other scholars and artists with a shared interest in discourses, practices, and paradoxes of state secrecy. My visit focused on two events: participating in a scholarly workshop on secrecy, and delivering a public lecture.

The workshop was convened by Dr Elspeth Van Veeren of the Secrecy and Security Working Group in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies entitled ‘Secrecy and (In)Security: New Perspectives. It brought together academics and artists who share an interest in renewing security research on secrecy. Topics included the potential of photography as a mode of understanding the paradoxes of secrecy within state strategies of counter-terrorism, the way in which public information campaigns made listening and chatting into sites of governing secrecy during WWII, and the arts of writing secrecy. My own contribution explored the idea of everyday secrecy, and built on a set of interviews with veterans who had worked at Orford Ness during the Cold War.

My public lecture was entitled: What can the ruins of an atomic weapons testing facility tell us about the multiplicity of secrecy? The event was in fact a co-presentation. My co-speaker was David Warren, a Volunteer Ranger and Researcher at Orford Ness. David is a veteran of this research site having worked there as a young scientific assistant in the early 1960s. Over the last few years, and at the behest of the NT, he located and conducted interviews with over 60 veterans of Orford Ness, a sample that included pilots, senior engineers, clerical staff, and construction workers. It is this rich and varied oral history archive that I have drawn on in examining everyday secrecy at the Ness. Given the fact his research has laid a foundation for my own I was grateful that the Meaker fellowship could provide such a platform for a collaborative public event.

Whereas David’s presentation focused mostly on key features of its scientific and military past, mine examined what Orford Ness can teach us about the cultural construction of secrecy. In the political sciences we tend to see secrecy in realist terms. For example, scholars debate the need for security policy to find the appropriate ‘balance’ between governmental secrecy and a democratic public’s right to know. Secrecy appears in these discussions a bit like a quantity, or a setting on a dial. But what of all the ways in which secrecy acquires qualitative meaning? How is secrecy performed? How is it experienced by publics? Under what conditions do we as citizens participate in the construction of secrecy ourselves? And what role do particular places and sites play in our imaginings of secrecy? What role does place play in creating particular cultural geographies of the covert?

Orford Ness offers a rich case study to seek answers to these questions. As I showed in my lecture, many kinds of actors have converged on Orford Ness, each producing a different and distinctive mediation of what they see as its qualities of mystery, secrecy and intrigue. The National Trust managers themselves identified mystery as a key quality of Orford Ness when they took possession of this place from the Ministry of Defense. In planning documents they highlighted mystery as a quality they sought to preserve as a kind of heritage. Their management of the site has actively curated a kind of aesthetic experience for visitors. By allowing its structures to slowly ruinate they have contributed to a mood of estrangement and unease in the visitor. When I first visited Orford Ness it brought to mind some key scenes in Tarkovsky’s epic film, STALKER (1980). Three travellers venture into a forbidden zone; debris lies all around, something very sinister has happened there, but what?

Still from STALKER (1979), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky: USSR.

Orford Ness has also been a popular destination for ornithologists, walkers, photographers, documentarians, writers and other kinds of artist. Now, it is not as though these visitors simply record a mood of secrecy that is in any way self-evident or natural. Rather, their imaginative and creative practices intensify affective and cognitive engagements with the covert, making secrecy intelligible in new ways. One sees this, for example, in the work of Louise Wilson. Her A Record of Fear set out to explore Orford Ness as a soundscape of secrecy. In the process she reminds us that secrecy is never just a matter of what is seen and unseen; it inheres just as much in the gaps between the spoken and the unspoken, in the faintly audible register of the whisper, or the viral agency and slippery medium of the rumour. Secrecy is as much aural as it is visual. Perhaps this finding would not surprise Brian Eno. One of the godfathers of ambient soundscape, Eno hails from this part of Suffolk. Listen to his On Land (1982), a recording which references places like Lantern Marsh on the Ness. Combining pastoral tones with an underlying machine drone punctuated by clanking and buzzing noises, Eno’s soundscape attunes us to the eeriness of the Orford Ness experience.

Finally, one could say that secrecy is also being constructed and performed at Orford Ness within a discursive register of urban exploration. For several decades now small groups of adventurers have been breaking into abandoned hospitals, hidden tunnels under cities, and other forbidden or invisible places. These place hackers typically film and blog about their experiences. In place hacking it seems secrecy becomes associated with truth in a new way: accessing particular sites becomes constructed as an authentic experience, something really real which ordinary tourism cannot approach. Orford Ness has not escaped the attention of the place hackers, as I learned when speaking to the National Trust managers. But it has also seen the mainstreaming of place hacking. In one episode of his popular TV series, Hidden History of Britain, former Tory minister Michael Portillo visited the atomic ruins. Or as the Radio Times’ blurb put it: ‘The former Secretary of Defence invades Orford Ness in Suffolk to explore the mysterious, formerly top-secret buildings that look, like sinister sentries, over the local population.’

Michael Portillo at Cobra Mist, Still from Hidden History Of Britain (2018), Channel 5: UK.

Yet calling Orford Ness ‘formerly secret’ misses something paradoxical. At the height of the Cold War, at the height of official secrecy, the place was little known to the wider public. Today it is known as a ‘secret’ place with a ‘hidden’ history. Secrecy has become a prominent, and even marketable feature of its identity. Secrecy as brand. Perhaps secrecy is not only the limit of what is publicly known. Might we also consider it, at least in this case, as a mode of public knowledge: a way of understanding in which it is the unknowable that energizes our will to know?


Looking beyond: how CT scanning opens up new horizons in understanding South American cynodonts and mammalian origins.

I would like to start by thanking the IAS Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor Fellowship, Prof. Emily Rayfield and Dr. Pam Gill that made my visit to Bristol possible. This was my second time in Bristol which was an important visit to consolidate collaborative projects started in 2014 and to discuss further ventures for the future. I felt the University of Bristol and especially the Earth Sciences Department as my home during my visit. Cordiality and professionalism were two important aspects that I noted, together with the polite work we developed with students and professors.

Our collaborative project deals with mainly Brazilian fossils, from Triassic rocks (about 225 million years old), of small sized non-mammalian cynodonts. That is, animals closely related to the earliest mammals which have a mixture of primitive and derived features on the skeleton, illustrating the previous steps to the mammalian condition. We performed several computed tomography (CT) scans of skulls and jaws in order to observe in detail internal structures, such as nasal and brain cavities, replacing teeth, vascular innervations, etc. The high-resolution images we obtained in Bristol University under the advice, extraordinary dedication and professionalism of Dr Tom Davies are unique and reveal many previously unknown features of the skull. Without this technology, our conclusions would always have been partial. We scanned more than 30 specimens and collected more than 40 scans that are, and will be, the base of several projects.

During this visit, I spent a great deal of time discussing tooth replacement mechanisms with Pam Gill and Emily Rayfield (and also with Bristol alumni Dr Ian Corfe, with whom we started this project in 2014 in Helsinki), devising new hypotheses to explain the process and evolutionary patterns of tooth replacement in these precursors of mammals. I also had the opportunity to share discussions and ideas with two students from Bristol University: Erasmus visiting student Sofia Holpin and MSc Palaeobiology student Charles Salcido, both of whom are working on research projects using CT data collected from the Brazilian cynodonts. Sofia is working on the nasal cavity of a rodent-like cynodont called Riograndia and Charles on the biomechanics of the jaw of brasilodontids, the sister group of mammaliaforms. In our discussions, I was amazed how far the students had advanced in only a few months of hard work. Seeing important results being taken by these young students is always a good sign for the advance of the science. Being able to offer two seminars for students and professors at Bristol University was an exciting opportunity and, at the same time, important to divulge the South American fossil record and the research were are developing in our institutions.

We have delineated new future projects that will be important to maintain the collaborative research between the University of Bristol with the Universidade Federal of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil) and the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” (Argentina). I would like to say that it is only the beginning of this project, which started in 2014, that will bring more novelties to vertebrate palaeontology in the near future.

Emily Rayfield, Pam Gill, Colin Palmer, Sofia Holpin, Charles Salcido from Bristol, Ian Corfe from Helsinki, Marina Bento Soares, Pablo Rodrigues and Cesar Schultz from Brazil and the IAS Benjamin Meaker Visiting Fellowship have made possible my visit to United Kingdom and to have access to novel data from the amazing Brazilian fossil specimens.

Finally, and no less important, the IAS Fellowship gave me the opportunity to stay and discover the city of Bristol. A city I believe is fantastic to which I will definitely return.

Dr. Agustín G. Martinelli

Sección Paleontologia de Vertebrados, Museo Argentino Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia”, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

A Research Sabbatical – Henry Daniel

BMVP 2016-17 henry daniel

Henry Daniel, IAS Benjamin Meaker Visiting Fellow, writes….

The IAS Benjamin Meaker Visiting Fellowship provided me with a unique opportunity to do initial fieldwork for my new research project Contemporary Nomads. The invitation also allowed me to guest teach on two different courses in the Department of Theatre (Devised Performance, and Choreography for Theatre) as well as on a new Innovation program with a number of four-year courses that lead to a Masters qualification. The structure of this degree allows students to spend two thirds of their time in the first two years in their subject discipline, and one third on innovation work. The balance would then change in later years where they would spend more time preparing for the launch of their own venture on graduation. The accent on the program was on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Collaboration. The combination of these teaching opportunities and my research interests led to a host of connections being made with researchers in as well as outside the University, which in turn opened up further directions for Contemporary Nomads.

Research presentations at Coventry University’s C-DaRE Seminar Series in Dance, Brunel University’s “Precarity & the Politics of Art: Performative and Critical Empowerment after Democracy” Seminar Series, London Southbank University Research Seminar Series, Bristol Theatre Department’s Theatre Research Colloquium, and the Winter IASIS Salon on Diversity, all provided valuable opportunities to present as well as discuss this new research project with different audiences.

An event that occurred prior to my visit (my host gave notice a month before I arrived), also inadvertently proved to be quite fortuitous. This meant that I was mostly on my own trying to do fieldwork on the cultural dynamics of a city I knew only marginally. Although I had done a PhD many years ago at Bristol University, I had never lived in the city. The IAS Fellowship therefore gave me the opportunity to discover the city of Bristol and its environs from quite a different perspective.

A key aspect of this Professorship was the opportunity to explore future collaborative connections with colleagues within the University as a whole. The members of the Migration Research Forum, The Brigstow Institute, and others on the Productions Margins Research Project were especially helpful in giving me a sense of how that could be accomplished. Bristol, like all of Britain, had only just begun to understand the implications of Brexit while dealing with its own complex migration problem. Given the city’s historic role in the cross-Atlantic trading of bodies and industrial goods, and its example as a city that is now home to a range of immigrants, I felt that I had wandered into an ideal situation that would allow me to develop a unique case study.

As a choreographer and Performance Studies scholar, I was interested in linking movement as a fundamental premise of human behavior to that of migration. Why people move, where they move to, and what happens after these movements were questions that I felt were equally important to those working in law, policy studies, human rights, immigration, the economy, business, industry, and yes, dance as an art form. I also felt that situating the question of human movement from the micro to the macro, from the personal movements of individuals to the movement of large groups of people on a trans-national geographic scale could produce some very good results. Several conversations with colleagues from the Migration Research Forum, The Bristow Group, the Productions Margins Research Project, and numerous others I met from local communities – from the Jamaican barber shop in Easton to the opening of the Somali Festival at the M-Shed during Bristol’s Black History Month, and from the ACTA community-based theatre group in Bedminister to a number of local interests working to save the local Dance Centre at the old Jacobs Wells Bath convinced me that I was onto something that needed more time to properly explore.

A further opportunity presented itself when I was asked to mount a short performance work of my own with undergraduate students. I decided to use the framework of a previous work I mounted in Canada and feature students in the Theatre Department performing live. The intention here was to envisage how some of the research could possibly be presented in future. Two performances at the Wickham Theatre on campus allowed colleagues and friends to see the potential of such an approach. The good news is that colleagues I met at Bristol University and I are now in the process of working out how this type of work can be further developed. We are looking at a Leverhulme Visiting Professorship as a potential funding source. If this materializes, I would say that the IAS Benjamin Meaker Visiting Fellowship scheme has done a tremendous job in facilitating an important exchange.

My sincere thanks goes out to all those at IAS, to those at the Productive Margins Research Project, to my hosts at the Department of Theatre and especially to Angela Piccini in the Department of Film and TV, who suggested this route in the first instance, and who has been instrumental throughout in setting up connections and making suggestions on how to pursue them. Finally, as a thank you to all those who assisted in the production of Encounters Bristol, the performance/installation that was premiered on December 14-15 2016 at the Wickham Theatre. I look forward to visiting Bristol again.

A family sabbatical at the University of Bristol School of Earth Sciences

a boatride in the harbor viewing the replica of the Matthew that John Cabot sailed to North America in 1497 -- an early link between Bristol and America
a boatride in the harbor viewing the replica of the Matthew that John Cabot sailed to North America in 1497 — an early link between Bristol and America

Associate Professors Rowena Lohman and Matt Pritchard from the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University (Ithaca, New York) spent just over six months visiting the University of Bristol School of Earth Sciences, thanks to Institute for Advanced Study Benjamin Meaker Visiting Visiting Professorships.  We were drawn to the University of Bristol because of the outstanding research programs aligned with our research interests in volcanology, geophysics, and glaciology (the latter is part of the School of Geographical Sciences).  In fact, during our visit we were able to celebrate the Volcanology Research Group’s award of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education (link to:

Our visit to the department was everything we hoped it would be –intellectually stimulating, thanks to conversations with the staff and students, and an impressive array of seminars and visitors.  We were able to work with our collaborators here to complete joint manuscripts, develop new ideas for proposals and projects, and plan future cooperative activities.  Specifically, our research focuses on using satellite observations to better understand and forecast natural hazards like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.  While we have been collaborating with scientists in Bristol for a number of years, there are numerous advantages to a visit lasting several months – being physically present (and in the same time zone) greatly facilitates rapid progress and the face to face interactions over a longer time frame allows ideas to develop in a more natural manner.  We also benefitted greatly from the ability to see how the School of Earth Sciences works and addresses the challenges and opportunities that face most departments – we go back with a fresh set of ideas and inspiration for how we can handle visitors, graduate student interactions, etc., in the future.

We brought along our two young children, who attended school in Bristol and traveled with us throughout the country.  We simply cannot overstate how rewarding this experience has been for them.  To help other families from the USA, we have written a few pointers.  Some of this is time-sensitive, so potential visitors should always check for the latest information.

  • Benjamin Meaker Visiting Visiting Professorships are typically for a maximum of three months. However, because we are married academics, we were able to each write individual applications, noting that if they could combine the two 3-month awards together in a consecutive 6-month period, they would end up with two visitors who were each there for the full 6-month timeframe.
  • The visiting professors are normally accommodated in the IAS’s Principal’s House, but since the rooms there cannot hold more than 2 people, we could not stay there with our family of four. Fortunately, the IAS pointed out to us that the University of Bristol has some limited family housing available, and we were able to stay there – Take home message is to be sure to apply for the housing as soon as you can.
  • The IAS office helped us to obtain the necessary Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) Government authorized exchange visas – be sure to consider the cost of these. While we did not have to pay any NHS fees as part of this visa, our children did – 400 pounds per child. Also, take note that dental coverage is not included.  Our US dental coverage did not cover work done in the UK, but we were pleasantly surprised at how inexpensive it was to pay for things like office visits and x-rays that we did end up needing.
  • Once we arrived in Bristol, the IAS office wrote us a letter so that we were able to open a local bank account, which was helpful for depositing our IAS cheques and electronic transfers. The procedure and requirements for setting up an account is very different than in the USA – in addition to the letter you need a rental agreement. Make sure that both spouses names are on the agreement if you would like both of them to use the account.
  • We were warned in advance that setting up schooling would be one of the trickiest aspects of the sabbatical, and we found this to be true. For our child in nursery school, we found several options available with space, and eventually enrolled her in a nursery program that is part of an independent school that takes kids aged 3-18, but that did not have room for our older child. The cost for nursery here was about what we were paying in the USA.  For children who are kindergarten age and up and who want to attend a state-supported school, the process involves an application where you also list your top three school choices.  You will not be able to get any confirmation of a spot until you are physically in the UK and have an immigration stamped visa for your child.  Through online research and a call to the Bristol City Council we found that all the state-supported schools within about 2 miles of our University housing were over-subscribed.  So the city council suggested that we also list a school that currently had spaces available that was close to the University of Bristol when we submitted our application.  In part this school was under-subscribed because it was recently rated “needs improvement” by Ofsted.  Although it is currently rated “good” (not the highest rating, which is “outstanding”), we found that school was an excellent match for our child and we would gladly keep her in that school if we were staying here permanently.  The lack of certainty on the school choice worried us a great deal before we arrived (we were not going to have a car, so location and commuting by bus was critical), but it really worked out just fine in the end.  One surprise was that the state- and independent- schools followed different academic calenders (for example, the independent school ended the summer term 2.5 weeks earlier), so be sure to check on this.

We want to thank everyone who made our visit to Bristol and the University so enjoyable: to the Institute for Advanced Study for funding and help with the all of the logistics, to our host Dr. Juliet Biggs, to the School of Earth Sciences for providing us space and making us feel welcome, and to

all of the friends we made.  We will miss you, and we hope to return someday!

The clifton suspension bridge and avon gorge
The clifton suspension bridge and avon gorge
Outside the planetarium At-Bristol
Outside the planetarium At-Bristol
Inside the planetarium
Inside the planetarium

Once upon an unusually sunny summer week in Bristol: a tale of a memorable academic visit – Simeon Pierre Choukem

Simeon picture for website
Simeon Pierre Choukem

I visited Bristol for the first time in December 2012, thanks to the European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes (EFSD) Albert Renold Fellowship. I was an Albert Renold Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (OCDEM) for two months. I got Professor Julian Shield’s contact because I was developing a research programme to tackle childhood obesity in Cameroon. We discussed the topic for a few hours, he kindly introduced me to the Bristol Biomedical Research Unit (BRU), and we eventually were ready to begin collaboration.

In the meantime, I had created the Human Health and Diseases Connections (2HDC) Research Group hosted in the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Buea, Cameroon. We successfully applied for an IAS Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professorship.

The visit

The current visit materialised the beginning of collaboration between the BRU and the 2HDC, which we hope will:

  • Contribute to building the autonomy of the 2HDC Research group by helping with the training of young physicians, nurses, dieticians in research methods and clinical trials
  • Create training and research opportunities for UK students and researchers in Cameroon
  • Foster long term interchange between the two institutions; for instance, develop joint research programs including multicentre clinical trials.

From June 14 to 20, I had the opportunity to collaborate with the BRU Team. I attended seminars and meetings, I gave two talks and visited the city of Bristol.

  • Attendance of a seminar on “How sugar changed the world” organized by the IAS. This was an international event involving guests from the US and UK.
  • Talk 1: Guest lecture: “Paediatrics where and as you may not imagine”
  • Talk 2: BRU seminar series: “Diabetes in Africans: a research journey from phenotype heterogeneity to risk factors in early life”
  • Discussions with the BRU team:

– Database manager, Stu Toms: how to build a database?
– Statistical team: Sam D. Leary and Chris Penfold
– Professor Julian Shield, Kathleen Gillespie and Abby Wilcox: project on childhood diabetes (Immunology and Genetics)
– Professor Andy Ness (Director BRU) and Professor  Julian Shield: discussion on projects, support from the BRU and capacity building training in Cameroon in 2015, 2HDC website, and how to make the collaboration sustainable.

I also learnt a lot about Bristol as a historical British city, thanks to Professor Julian Shield’s commitment to friendly tours, tales and invitations.

As a major achievement, the 2HDC Research group’s data on childhood obesity is being analysed by the BRU statistics team and research papers will be published soon.


Maintain a long-term cross-fertilisation between Bristol and Cameroon

  • Capacity building
  • Technical assistance
  • Joint research project and clinical trials

Interchange of students between UK and Cameroon for research, clinical posting and training.

Partnership to build a research institute in Cameroon.


My assistant Daniel couldn’t come with me! With the diligence of Professor Julian Shield and Professor Andy Ness, the BRU also provided funds for my assistant Dr Daniel Nebongo to be part of the trip. Unfortunately he was refused the visa. I am hoping the next attempt will be successful.

If the University of Bristol had Masters and PhD programs!

One of the main difficulties we face in developing research in SSA is the lack of well trained staff. I wished the Bristol University held masters and PhD training programs. This would have been a great opportunity for capacity building in Cameroon.


My words of gratitude go to Professor Julian Hamilton-Shield, who co-founded this collaboration with me; to Professor Andy Ness and the entire BRU team who accommodated me and made the sojourn a memorable one.

Finally, I am highly indebted to the Institute for Advanced Studies who provided the funding to make all the above come true. To Dr Conny Lippert and Dr Edwina Thorn who endeavoured throughout to make the trip and the stay hitch-free.

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