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WhatsApp and other social media platforms have often been criticised before in the past because users are obliged to use one of four or five distinct skin tones that do not adequately cover the richness of human diversity.

2019 sees WhatsApp listen to the criticism and progress towards being more encompassing. With the new updates, people with disabilities will have more representation than before with options for hearing aid and deaf person emojis, probing case and service dogs. There are also options for people with mixed skin tones in manual and motorised wheelchair.  

The LGBT community is also receiving a positive update that encompasses the diversity of interracial relationships that have hitherto been ignored.

It’s also pleasing to see more international communities being represented with Sari and Hindu temple emojis being in the roster.

It’s clear the WhatsApp labs have been keeping an eye on food trends as the milennial’s favourite snack falafel and the health conscious tea lover’s maté have also been included.

Researchers in Edinburgh have discovered that the option to include a diverse array of skin tones is one that social media users want to engage with. They collected a billion tweets and discovered that users often use the skin tone that correlated with their real skin tone.

It’s very clear that diversity and representation on social media is an important concern for people. Computer Scientists may profit from delving into the Edinburgh study and understanding their experiment. Those students going for HSPS, Human Science or Anthropology may want to look at social media representation through academic social lenses.

The loyal disciples of  veganism grow in their numbers with every passing year. Talks of veganuary – an annual event where individuals are encouraged to graze on a plant-based diet – are all over social media, Internet ads and Youtube pop-ups. It’s the age of the herbivore and a rebirth of social consciousness.

The latest meat-free breakthrough comes from global corporation McDonald’s who have released a McFalafel happy meal in Sweden.  Since the turn of the millenium McDonald’s has tried to ‘clean up its act’ by offering ever healthier options alongside its naughtier staples. 

Let it not be misunderstood that the cause of innovation is more likely to be attributed to the forces of supply and demand rather than an initiative of good conscience. Animal Rights Sweden reports that almost 10% of the population now follows a vegan diet – that’s obviously a huge market for McDonald’s to tuck into (pardon the pun) but at least the by-products are beneficial to animals and mother nature. 

The McFalafel come in decent sized chunks of mashed up chickpeas, parsley, garlic and cumin. You can complement your Levantine nuggets with fries, some fruit and some exclusive dips. Hungry? 

McDonald’s has recently introduced a new ‘El Veggo’ burger in Finland a new Indian-inspired vegan burger ‘McAloo Tikki’ in Chicago. Could McDonald’s in 50 years be entirely vegan? 

Students of social sciences and Economics may find the rise of veganism and vegetarianism within businesses to be something worth researching. Earth scientists and geographers may want to consider the environmental impacts that the meat industry has on the planet. 

The added hour of sleep gifted to us this weekend was no doubt welcomed by you all. It was first introduced in the UK in 1916 due to the work of the then late William Willett as it better aligns our time with the natural daylight hours in which the sun is up during the winter. This arbitrary adjust of time highlights the nature of time as a social construct that is maintained by us for convenience and social interaction.

The history of unified time begins with the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in the 19th-century to allow for the creation of train timetables in the UK. This led to time zones across the globe to help with trade and navigation. But the drawing up of time zones appears at time to be quite random and has even been politicised. Spain occupies the same longitudes as the UK, yet it is one hour ahead on European time. This was adopted in World War II during the Franco regime as a display of their political alignment with Germany and this has simply remained.

The measurement of time to align with the sun goes back much further than this with the use of sundials and the most accurate example of this are meridian sundials. These sundials are a fine line across which the sunlight will cross exactly at the solar noon. These were used to set manual clocks to for local time. But this measurement is inaccurate as the sundial relies upon the speed of the sun’s movement across the sky to be constant. This is untrue due to the Earth being in an elliptical orbit and the tilt of the Earth’s axis.

The current most accurate form of time keeping are atomic clocks that use the repeating signal of electrons in atoms emitted when they change energy levels. But even this is not perfect and scientists at the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service still look to the sky at distant quasars and calculate their position to determine the adjusts needed to our time in order to maintain its alignment with natural daylight, which they do with ‘leap seconds’.

Physics applicants can study the calculations required to recognise changes in distant quasars placement in the sky. HSPS and Philosophy students can consider the social purpose of time and the need for accuracy in modern society.

The inclusion or exclusion of refugees in contemporary Europe has been a contentious topic of debate and is high on the international agenda. With faster extradition procedures and more limited border crossings, the attitude of Western governments to asylum applications has seemed increasingly restrictive.

Economic and educational inclusion are often given precedence over other areas, but a new project is focusing on social and cultural inclusion. Started in Berlin, ‘Multaka: Museums as Meeting Point’ aims to encourage the sharing of historical and national knowledge. The concept is to train Syrian and Iraqi refugees to become museum guides so that they can take tours in their mother tongues.

The course is currently offered to young adults and teenagers, but will be extended to older applicants as the programme develops. The tours play on the relationship between the host country and the guides’ home countries. Those involved in organising the project hope that it will help to improve native residents’ knowledge of other cultures and give refugees a sense of pride and involvement in their new community.

At this time there are four German museums that are involved in the Multaka, but more are soon to be added with the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford developing their own version of the scheme. There have also been talks with the Louvre and MoMA. Of the four museums currently taking part, two focus on Syrian and Iraqi artefacts and two on the connections between Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

Students aspiring to study Philosophy and Theology could prepare for their interviews by examining how different religions and religious artefacts are perceived from different cultural stand points. Art Historians might like to consider how museums can be regarded as a meeting point (multaka) for our common past. Those aiming to study HSPS could investigate the social and political impact of such a programme as this.

A recent article by ‘Quartz’ online has stated that ‘Archaeologists have found the tomb of China’s Shakespeare.’

Archaeologists in the south eastern region of China have released a statement that they have been able to identify the tomb of a man called Tang Xianzu. He was a renowned late 16th Century playwright who is often dubbed the country’s Shakespeare. Student’s wanting to apply for HSPS and Archaeology and Anthropology can explore concepts such as cultural imperialism and the arguments surrounding imposing western figures on other cultures. Does comparing Tang Xianzu to Shakespeare detract from his own relevance within Chinese culture?

Students wanting to apply for Archaeology or Oriental Studies may then want to look into the discovery of his remains as a prompt to explore the context behind many of his plays. Tang Xianzu was known for his defiance of nobles in the Ming Dynasty. His plays explored controversial themes like the triumph of humanity over hierarchy and authority.

The remains of Tang’s tomb are filled with stories, and other parts of China’s history even after Tang’s death. The tomb suffered devastating destruction in the Cultural Revolution, a decade long political movement that began in 1966. This period plunged the country into a chaotic turmoil which saw various historic sited ransacked and destroyed. Students that are applying for History may use the discovery of Tang’s tomb as a reminder that the discovery of such objects are useful to build a more intricate and concrete picture of the past and highlight the linear path of history.

In recent years, there has been a huge surge in the publication of feminist children’s books. These titles have been hitting the shelves in waves with novels, such as the girl-power-filled Children of Blood and Bone, and non-fiction titles about empowered real women, like Women in Science, making huge hits in the book charts.

However, one of the most iconic rebel girls was brought to life on the page three decades ago. Matilda by Roald Dahl, which currently celebrating its thirty-year anniversary, has an eponymous heroine who outwits her parents and stands up to the terrifying antagonist Trunchbull. Matilda not only refuses to believe her parent’s doctrine that little girls should be seen and not heard, but also lives an independent life. However, Matilda is not the only confident and capable female in the book, with Miss Honey showing what it takes fight her childhood demons and how to be a good single (adoptive) parent.

Dahl who grew up in a house full of women was clear advocate of female power and this is clear in his written work. Tales of the Unexpected breaks down the gender stereotypes of the 60s and The Witches explores the perception that women must be beautiful to be successful.

The thirtieth celebrations have included a new series of drawings by Quentin Blake, the book’s original illustrator, of what Matilda might be doing now that she is in her thirties, including depictions of Matilda travelling the world, working as an astrophysics professor, or heading up the British Library.

A thirtieth anniversary statue of Matilda has been erected outside the Roald Dahl museum in Buckinghamshire of the female protagonist facing a modern-day nemesis, Donald Trump. The new rival for Matilda was chosen by poll with 42% picking Trump, 21% selecting Theresa May, and 16% opting for Piers Morgan. Bernie Hall, from The Roald Dahl Story Company, commented that ‘Matilda demonstrates that it’s possible for anyone, no matter how small and powerless they feel, to defeat the Trunchbulls in their own lives – a message that feels more relevant today than it did 30 years ago.’

Students applying to study the HSPS tripos might like to explore the ‘taboo’ of female protest in politics in preparation for their interviews. Applicants for English could dive deeper into feminist heroines in literature.

Discussion around the waste of food predominates at the end of the supply chain, the supermarket shelf.  The focus of food waste around this area of the food industry led to France becoming the first country to legally force supermarkets to donate unsold food to charities and food banks.  But of the 7.1 million tonnes of food annually wasted in France only 11% of this comes from shops. 

The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that a third of the food made for human consumption is squandered.  Each year around 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted worldwide and the majority of this food is lost before it reaches a consumer shelf.  This is mostly due to crops not being harvested and loss during transport and storage. 

European farmers can find that it costs more to harvest the crop than it will make in a saturated market.  A detailed study in 2009 found that wasted crops in Italy had a nominal value of around €3.5 billion.  Attempts to combat this issue often lead to overproduction, such as the European Union’s policy of guaranteeing a fixed price for farmers regardless of the market size leading to additional cost to dispose of the unused food due to lack of demand.

Paradoxically it would seem that being frugal, to reduce this food waste, would have a colossal economic cost.  A study in 2017 found that food waste in Europe equated to 76 kilograms per person per year, which they labelled an “unsustainable level of waste”.  Yet they predicted that removing this waste this could lead to the loss of 600,000 jobs in Germany alone.  This highlights the complexity of the relationship of what we eat and what we need.

Economics applicants can research EU and other international regulations on food prices and the effects of this on their respective markets.  HSPS applicants can consider government rhetoric related to the overemphasis on waste by supermarkets compared to limited action earlier in the supply chain. 

A new exhibition at the British Museum, curated by Private Eye editor and TV personality Ian Hislop, will explore the history of dissent, resistance, and satire in different cultures and eras. The idea for the exhibition came from art historian and former museum director Neil MacGregor, who wanted to subvert the traditional museum narrative and present art from the perspective of the underdogs and the dissenters of history. Hislop’s aim in choosing pieces for the exhibition was not so much to display art of revolutionary protest but rather to find and celebrate objects that in some subtle or whimsical way thumb their nose at authority. “Dissent allows you to cover all the motivations”, says Hislop – “from really serious people who want to bring down the state to less serious people who want to have a good laugh at someone else’s expense”.

The objects displayed cover a wide range of time periods and settings, from ancient Babylon to Trump’s America. A brick from the sixth century BC features the name of King Nebuchadnezzar, over which a cheeky bricklayer has inscribed his own name, Zabina. A small act of rebellion from a bored and underpaid worker, or perhaps a dare between friends; whatever the motivation, Zabina’s name has lived on alongside the mighty king’s.  Fast-forward to the sixteenth century and a rather more elaborate and expensive act of dissent; a salt-cellar made of fragments of old reliquaries and hidden religious symbolism that certainly looks more at home on the altar than the dinner table, owned at a time when Catholicism was illegal. Perhaps more recognisable to a contemporary audience, the exhibition also features one of the pink knitted hats worn by female protesters against Donald Trump.

Hislop is passionate about satire and is keen to distinguish it from revolution or overt political clash. He argues that by and large it is “ small-c conservative”, influencing the landscape of conversation by mocking or undermining rather than turning up outside parliament with placards. Ultimately, Hislop hopes that visitors will get a sense of the long history of satire and dissent. “We tend to patronise the past and imagine we’re much cleverer and braver than anyone has ever been”, Hislop comments; “I think [visitors] will be surprised at how long and in how many different cultures people have felt sufficiently bold to say ‘No’”.

Applicants for History of Art, Politics, or HSPS might be interested in learning more or attending the exhibition which opens on the 6th of September 2018. Students may wish to think about how art and artefacts play a part in political or social conversations and how art can be used in protest, whether overt or covert. Applicants could also consider the nature of satire; is is effective? Is Hislop right to say that it is by nature conservative?

The ongoing construction of a new route on Rome’s metro has uncovered a plethora of archaeological riches from the city’s antiquity. The city’s metro is notoriously difficult to construct, as any dig is likely to hit upon evidence of Rome’s multilayered past, some of which may be of great value. Among the artefacts uncovered were Roman pottery, mosaics and even entire building plans.  The C line has 22 stations currently open and the newest station, San Giovanni, features a mini museum of its ancient treasures; passengers can view a selection of the 40,000 objects discovered during construction, delving into the history of the neighbourhood from the Ice Age to the 5th century AD as they wait for their train. The station museum has been described as a time-machine, taking you further and further back as you walk.

The next station scheduled to open is Amba Aradam, situated in an area that has proven archeologically very fruitful. Researches digging at around 9 metres below street level unearthed a huge building complex of 39 rooms, which is thought to have been military barracks during the rule of Emperor Hadrian. Subsequently, the house of the military commander was also discovered close by, containing 14 rooms and a central courtyard- the typical layout of a house for those that could afford it. Some reports suggest that the home also includes a bath house. City officials are planning to preserve these buildings as part of an “archaeological station”, with the barracks and house integrated into the station itself. Francesco Prosperetti, head of Rome’s archaeological department, is confident that Amba Aradam is set to become “the most beautiful metro station in the world.” It is not certain when this museum-cum-station will be open to the public, as it is possible that yet more ruins will be brought to light as the digging continues.

Applicants for Archaeology and Anthropology, HSPS, or Classics may be interested in the discoveries being made, what they reveal about past civilisations and how the city is responding to them. Students may also wish to think about the relationship of a city, people, or nation to its past. What cultural links shape and maintain this relationship?

Reality TV shows, such as the hugely popular ‘Love Island’ or the fading favourite ‘Big Brother’, often exploit the human reactions created when a group of people are kept in close quarters for a long period of time. This process of incarceration often engenders extreme reactions that would often take more provocation in the outside world.

Following a recent episode of Love Island, Women’s Aid issued a warning about psychological abuse, urging viewers to ‘recognise unhealthy behaviour in relationships’. This comment was released after one of the male contestants showed some potentially worrying actions that were perceived to border on emotional abuse. The ‘islander’ in question was also deemed by the online community to be ‘gaslighting’ his fellow contestant – a modern term meaning a malicious process by which an abuser manipulates a victim’s perception of reality. The perceived emotional abuse doesn’t just extend to interactions between the personalities on the show, but also to the actions of the producers when dealing with contestants. Ofcom received over 2,600 complaints from fans of the show who regarded the treatment of a contestant by the show’s organisers to be distressing after the participant seemed visibly upset.

So why, if these kinds of television programmes do show such extreme behaviour, do these shows continue to have millions of viewers? In the first instance, it may be due our need for drama as fuel to our otherwise bland lives. In the second, it could be born out of our innate desire to be story tellers and to find highly-charged common talking points. Psychology applicants might be interested investigating the concept of schadenfreude in relation to reality TV. Students hoping to study HSPS or English could explore the concept of escapism from real-world life via different media.

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