Why Cirque Berserk wasn’t all just clowning around.

contributed by Helena (Chloe) Gooding, 1st LANS student

If I am to be honest, I signed up for Cirque Berserk because it was offered, it sounded entertaining and I was up for a free laugh at the Circus. But I left thinking I might actually have learnt something, or at least made a few interesting observations. It wasn’t until I found myself laughing at the ridiculous and perfectly choreographed antics of the clown that I realised how much I had needed that time to destress. At university I find that there isn’t constant pressure placed on me by others, like teachers and family, as was the case with school, but it is self inflicted pressure. Essays and exams loom over us like horrifying storm clouds, distant but always present. Have I read enough? Did I really spend those 7 hours in the library effectively?

And how do most of us cope?

We got out, we drink, we make poor life choices in the confines of a club or bar because that’s the only place we are allowed to fail, make fools out of ourselves, and by the next morning its forgotten. We get to forget the storm cloud for the night. Not that this is a health coping mechanism, but it’s the only one we are taught, by our siblings, our friends, even our parents.

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Tweedy from the Cirque Berserk troupe

You know what they don’t suggest you do to relieve stress? Going to the Circus. I felt a strange connection to the clown on stage. Like when he attempted to pick up one object but would drop another, comically lunging after his hat while his broom fell the floor. Repeating the same old silly mistake. Attempting to carry too many things at once. That is university, that is our life. Study for hours and we’ve dropped our responsibility to our friends, spend the evening watching a movie and instantly remember that chapter you had planned to finish two days ago. Life is a juggling contest, and the clown affords us the opportunity to laugh at this, to forget the storm cloud, to reflect on the storm cloud if we’re not too busy laughing. The trick where the gymnasts jumped through hoops was strangely cathartic. We jump through hoops daily, finish this assignment to get here, say this to that person to make that connection. When I imagine jumping through hoops I see myself more nervously lolloping towards my goals. Leaping with all the grace of a flying turnip and quite possibly falling on my face the other side, but at least I got through the hoop right? Does it really matter that I broke my leg in the process? But these gymnasts did it so beautifully, leaping and twirling and rolling, they jumped through their hoops in style. Maybe I should set myself the challenge of jumping through my hoops like them, with a bit of pizzas, that is if the exam officer doesn’t mind.

Reflections on an evening with Angela and her Bach.

contributed by Lizzie Slattery, 2nd Year LANS student

Last Friday a group of LANS students and staff members attended an Angela Hewitt piano recital at the Birmingham Town Hall where she played six suites by Johan Sebastian Bach. Hewitt is arguably one of the most accomplished pianists alive today, having started her piano studies at the age of three in her home of Ottawa, Canada. She has since performed all over the world and is particularly known for her cycle of Bach recordings which took her over ten years to complete.

I am certainly no expert on classical music or piano playing and so cannot comment technically on the performance. However it appeared evident that Hewitt is a pianist of astonishing skill, and is deeply emotionally connected with the music of Bach. It is quite something to sit through six Bach suites, particularly if, like me, you are unaccustomed to doing so, and I sometimes found my attention wandering. It was always brought back, however, when I focused in on the music and listened to the weave of incredibly complex harmonies and rhythms which are constantly interacting in Bach’s music, as well as the dazzling gold dress she wore.

I asked some of those who attended to share their thoughts on the evening:

“Riveting. Ravishing. And Radiant. The whole performance was surreal. Angela Hewitt did not just play piano, she performed with her body and soul. It was extraordinary to watch. A definite must see for anyone who loves piano or classical music!” – Kimberley, year 2

“I’d never seen someone just play solo like that for a whole show which was really cool and it’s not something I’d go to otherwise. I did enjoy it, but I don’t think it was that amazing so I doubt I’ll go to something like it again, but I’m glad I went especially because the venue was so impressive.” – Joe, year 2

“I thought it was a lovely evening and very sophisticated. The playing was amazing, the standard too. And the riff at the end that she played was a funny, I can’t remember what she said now, was it what inspired Bach? Either way the history and playing was lovely.”  Miriam, year 2
“I thought it was an interesting experience. She was extremely talented. I think it may have been a difficult choice of music if you had never seen classical music before. But overall I enjoyed it.” – Sophie , year 2

And if you would like to read a professional journalist review of this show, you can always check the local press’ views

A night at the Guild Awards with Liberal Arts and Sciences Society

By Elena Harris

Guild Awards 1On Tuesday the 22nd of March some of the committee members of LASSoc put on our best dresses and prepared ourselves for The Guild Awards 2016. Every year our student’s union recognise the hard work put in by societies with The Guild Awards where the best societies can win prizes. The event is held in the Great Hall of the Aston Webb building and I thought I would bring you guys along.

The evening started with a drinks reception in the foyer of Aston Webb where we got the chance to mingle with other societies and show off our dresses.

 

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The LASSoc Committee, from left to right: Ellie (Treasurer), Emily (Student Representative), Gemma (Secretary), Annie (Social Secretary) and Lucy (President)

 

We were then allowed into the Great Hall which had been beautifully decorated for the occasion.

We took our seats (and a few photos) before enjoying the entertainment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Firstly there was some fantastic dancing and then this was followed by a wonderful dinner.

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After dinner the awards began, interspersed with some great student performances, which really showcased the student talent – it ranged from burlesque to ballroom, all perfectly executed of course!

 

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My favourite performance of the night was from Uptone Girls an all girl A cappella group who just blew me away, I urge everyone to go and see them as they will not disappoint!

Once all the awards had been announced everyone headed over to the student union and attempted to dance in heels.

Thank you to the Guild of Students for a fabulous evening and my favourite committee for sharing it with me.

A day in the life of the LANS Operations Manager

I’m a newbie in the Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences team – I started as LANS Operations Manager in November 2015.  So far so good … it’s a great team to work with and a really interesting concept as an undergraduate degree.  It’s the sort of degree I would have loved myself!  And, despite the work in progress of the new library, the view is a vast improvement on the brick wall and pigeon mess I looked out at in my old job!

 

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View from the ERI

My days are very variable but at the moment because it’s a new role there is a big backlog of paperwork to catch up on – for example programme specification documents for the Natural Sciences exit degree, module specification documents for a new and exciting 4th year Entrepreneurship module, a collaboration agreement with UpRising (who will provide campaigning training for the 2nd year core module later this semester), a job description for a Birmingham Undergraduate Internship to join the LANS team …etc.  I’m nearly there with all that and hopefully we will be able to share more information with the student body soon. I’m also getting to grips with the budget and doing lots of financial planning to make sure that the day-to-day stuff, the improvements, and the extra-curricular trips and events are all covered.

I’ve also spent the last few months having lots of meetings with the other departments and services across the university to understand their processes (for example, timetabling, study abroad, planning, finance) and to talk about the unique and usually chal
lenging requirements of the Liberal Arts and Sciences programme.  Some of my focus over the next few months will be to work with these departments to improve our interaction with them and therefore the outcomes for our students.  For example, if we can put together a new Birmingham Liberal Arts package and marketing to attract overseas students to come and spend a year or semester abroad within Liberal Arts and Sciences at UoB, then  we can open up more spaces for UoB students to go abroad which will help with the placements for LAS students.

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Dr Anna Brown, LANS Operations Manager

This is the first role I’ve had in the university dealing directly with undergraduate students and it’s great to be reminded why we all work here – Chamberlain’s radical vision of a place of learning for students from all backgrounds.  Ruth (LANS Programme Manager) and I have been hosting a series of ‘feedback lunches’– for me this has been the first chance to get to know our students (they’re a lovely bunch!) as well as seeking feedback on the experiences of Liberal Arts and Sciences students.  Feedback is important to us, and we will listen and, wherever we can, act on it.

Following student suggestions last term we have reconfigured the LANS hub area to give individual study carrels with PCs as well as a smaller group meeting area in the ‘glass box’.  A further five PCs are on order and we are working with IT to get printer access.  More recent suggestions for pinboards and maybe artwork for the pink wall will hopefully complete the new look and feel of the space.  But we’d like students to keep the suggestions coming!

I’m really glad I took on this role – steep learning curve and challenges not withstanding – and I look forward to meeting more students and to feeling like I’m really making a difference to the experience of a Liberal Arts and Sciences degree at Birmingham.

Dr Anna Brown, LANS Operations Manager

 

Controlling Crypto-Currencies, June 2015

Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences was delighted to have the opportunity to sponsor a conference on crypto-currencies as part of our goal to foster lively debate on provocative and challenging topics. With Apple Pay just launched in the UK, and contactless payments becoming ever more normalised, exploring the ripple effect from crypto-currencies becomes increasingly important and urgent. University of Birmingham Law lecturer Dr Tatiana Cutts reports back from the conference, for Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences.

Tatiana writes:

In the year of the bailouts, 2008, The bankers were printing more debt for the state The dollar grew weaker, the big picture clear As they fed the hangover more Keynesian beer […] Who’s to blame, is this caused by desire for wealth? When perhaps the real problem is money itself! The idea isn’t new, maybe everything’s tanking ‘Cause society is built on fractional reserve banking And so called ‘‘investment’’ and attempted control May soon spiral fiat into a death roll […].

 — an Ode to Satoshi Nakamoto, “coretechs”

In 2008, in a paper published in an online cryptography forum under the name “Satoshi Nakamoto”, a writer presented the blueprint for a decentralised digital monetary system. Through that system, Nakamoto attempted to eliminate the risk of double spending without reliance upon trusted third parties, such as banks and credit-card providers. Bitcoin was introduced shortly afterwards as open-source software, and gained momentum gradually, as those with personal, economic and/or political agendas began to adopt the new technology. Bitcoin’s popularity increased rapidly when in 2011 Wikileaks announced that it would accept donations in Bitcoin. That decision resulted in one of the first significant spikes in value, and at the start of 2015 the value of one bitcoin stood at a little over $300.00. The Bitcoin system adheres closely to Nakamoto’s model. “Miners” solve complex computational problems by which transactions are verified and recorded in a public ledger (the “Blockchain”), in return for bitcoins. Users hold a private and public “key”, and release only the latter to make a payment. In this way, the system is entirely pseudonymous, and can be maintained and developed without the need for a central authority. Thus far, the number of Bitcoin transactions carried out each day across the globe has never exceeded 130,000, in comparison with approximately 295 million conventional payment transactions in Europe alone. Nonetheless, the European Banking Authority, the US Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCen”), the UK Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) and HM Treasury, amongst others, have accepted that the risks of crypto-currency are too many and too great to ignore. Further, the pressure from the Bitcoin community to develop clear rules is growing: service-providers want the consumer confidence associated with state approval, and need the support of traditional financial organisations in order to continue to grow. In many cases Bitcoin business are already engaged in anticipatory self-regulation. On 12 June 2015 Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences supported a conference on crypto-currencies, hosted at the University of Birmingham by Tatiana Cutts and Joanna Gray of the Law School. Its purpose was to bring together practitioners, stakeholders, financial regulators, and academics to discuss the most important issues raised by these developments, in order to create a solid research platform to inform emerging regulatory and private law frameworks. The day began with an introductory talk by Jonathan Levin of Chainalysis, who introduced some of the foundational concepts and fundamental questions in Bitcoin and distributed ledger technology. Next up was Dirk Haubrich of the European Banking Authority, who spoke about the Warning and Opinion issued by the EBA regarding consumer protection issues and pseudonymous payment mechanisms. To round of the first session, Robleh Ali, speaking on behalf of the Bank of England, spoke briefly about the Bank’s stance on crypto-currencies, and its nascent project to link decentralised and centralized payment systems to create a more efficient central banking network. The second session was comparative, and contrasted the UK approach to crypto-currencies with the American, Canadian and Australian frameworks. This created a foundation for a more in-depth look at the workings of distributed payments networks, with industry insights from Tom Robinson and Gareth Jenkins, and an analysis of the private law framework by Tatiana Cutts. The last session tested the boundaries of the subject, drawing in governance issues, regulation, privacy and security and emerging movements towards inclusivity in banking, addressing some of the more controversial aspects of cryptographic technology. It was clear from conversations on the day that technologies and research projects such as this are only the start of the fintech revolution, and that the way that we understand moral and economic debt, the way in which we calibrate value and think about ethereality in the context of money, status and property and – most important of all – the way we conceive of power and governance structures of our society are all changing at an unprecedented rate. This is an exciting time for those engaged in research in the Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences, and the conference will form the foundation for an ongoing collaborative project between Tatiana Cutts (Law) and Dr Matt Hayler (English), looking at “Money in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing”. For more information email t.cutts@bham.ac.uk or tweet @TatianaCutts Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences made live-streaming possible on the day, enabling the event to have a truly global reach, with over 1,000 people tuned-in. The videos can be viewed here.

Mervyn Morris // LAS Cultural Events Programme // 20th October 2014

The first official event in the LAS Cultural Programme pulled in no less than Mervyn Morris, current Poet Laureate of Jamaica and the first since the country gained independence. In a tight, focussed 45 minutes, Morris read some of his most famous work, filtering such universal themes as death, love and religion through distinctively Caribbean lenses.

On Holy Week was the stand out, a sequence of poems exploring Jesus’ last week through the eyes of the people who knew him most. We hear from Mary and Judas of course, but also Pilate’s wife and Simon of Cryene. Crucially, Morris never sides with any of these voices; instead he gives us different interpretations of the crucifxion and challenges us to reunderstand what we think is familiar.

Morris’ verse is warm, often flecked with dry wit. Subtly alternating between Jamaican Creole and “standard” English, his performance was one of highly practised ease – an audience member later commented that the delivery of the poems hadn’t changed in twenty years. It was meant as a compliment but it has its downsides: the steady stream of a poet’s own “poetry voice” can be difficult to engage with. Morris’ sincerity and humour are clear to see on the page; in recital from the man himself, occasionally there were times when poem blended into poem blended into poem.

He was more impressive and truly engaging when speaking without his words in front of him, as he did in a brief Q&A session after the reading. The challenges of dialect, poet laureateship and Dub poetry were explored with great insight, Morris not being limited to being in “recital mode”.

Clearly, the organisers are looking to attract big names to this new programme of free events and there is no disputing the potential here for real academic and cultural exploration. If anything, the fact that the first of them wasn’t perfect only whets the appetite for future guests.

Sam Forbes // 6th November 2014

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Liberal Arts cultural tour of Birmingham city, 19 November 2014

Thanks so much to Phillip Myers from the department of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology for taking us on a fantastic cultural tour of Birmingham: from the German Market to the Symphony Hall, the REP to the Electric cinema. It was great to spend an afternoon learning about some of the fab events going on & cool places to visit here in Birmingham – here are some photos of the tour.