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Sunday, 22 April 2018

Drugscapes: A Brookes Criminology Seminar

On the 22nd of May, Oxford Brookes Criminology is hosting its first research seminar, marking the end of an academic year that also saw the launch of the university’s BA/BSc degree in Criminology. Titled ‘Drugscapes: Two years after the ban’, this one-day event seeks to debate and understand how recent prohibition-geared legislation pushed by the Home Office has impacted on recreational drug markets, trends in use and regulation strategies in the United Kingdom.
The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 came into force in May 2016, following efforts by policy makers to create a more flexible legal framework under which new psychoactive substances (NPS) or ‘legal highs’ – naturally-occurring and synthetic compounds outside existing control schedules, at the time – could be efficiently policed. The Act put forward a rather vague understanding of what constitutes a psychoactive effect (and substance) as that ‘stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system, [and which] affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state.' The logic of this was to effectively create a “blanket ban” that would effectively criminalise all substances to be potentially sold for their psychoactive qualities even before they were actually produced and distributed.
 A generic prohibition would allow the police to go after “head shops” and online vendors bringing in ever novel, chemically tweaked lines of unclassified products. The new legislation provided exemptions for nutritional, alcohol, tobacco or caffeine goods, as well as for substances used for medical purposes, but couldn’t avoid some degree of confusion. Nitrous oxide or “laughing gas”, for example, was ruled by a criminal court as not falling under the incidence of the PSA 2016 as it can also be used therapeutically, as an anaesthetic. This followed the arrests of two defendants who were planning to sell it at the Glastonbury festival, presumably not to the emergency medical staff on watch.
Experts observed that beyond the terminological ambiguities, the Act does not distinguish between (categories of) substances in terms of their (public health) harm potential, focusing solely on ‘psychoactivity’, a notion impossible to disentangle from everyday practices of consumption i.e. we ‘binge’ on Netflix shows or listen to music, among other things, precisely because we seek to alter our biochemical balance, emotions and awareness. Furthermore, they anticipated that new police powers to clamp down on retail outlets would possibly create a displacement effect that could see NPS being absorbed by traditional and less scrupulous street markets. 

This has been observed to be the case, for example, with synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs) or ‘Spice’ products. As ‘head shops’ went out of business and street dealers took SCRAs on, they targeted rough sleepers with cheap and potent strains that the police even suspected were laced with heroin and other more traditional, high-risk drugs. In the context of austerity cuts on housing and unemployment benefits pushing more vulnerable people into destitution, this further created a media scare around so-called ‘Spice zombies’ lying unconscious on doorways or moving about in catatonic fits and psychotic episodes, around high streets and city centres throughout the country.         
It is not clear to what extent this new law has been able to inflict a significant reduction in supply. If street outlets can be easily monitored and shut down by law enforcement, online cryptomarkets have proven to be quite resilient to control efforts. Data collected from the hidden Web showed growing numbers of vendors selling NPS such as synthetic cannabinoids or cathinones in the first months after the introduction of the PSA 2016. There have also been concerns around the use of super-strength synthetic opioids like fentanyl, fuelled by dark net sales, possibly leading to an overdose ‘epidemic’ similar to that which has been claiming  thousands of lives in the United States. 
Recent market reconfigurations have also flagged different treatment provision needs. As homeless groups migrate from alcohol, heroin or crack cocaine to synthetic cannabinoids and men who have sex with men turn to intravenous NPS use and ‘chemsex’researchers have suggested that better integrated mental health and substance abuse interventions, as well as more efficient user engagement strategies backed up by straightforward referral channels (e.g. through the sexual health services) should be the focal points of response strategiesDrug testing services embedded within night-time economy club or festival venues that inform participants of the exact composition of the street drugs they buy are proving to reduce drug-related harms and fatalities.           
‘Drugscapes’ in the United Kingdom and elsewhere are in permanent flux, shaped by market forces, new technologies, digital cultures and not least ‘war on drugs’ policies which perpetuate old ways of doing things but overlook the complexities of emerging social worlds and problems. By bringing together cutting-edge research and practitioner experiences, we hope to capture some of these dynamics and also help imagine more creative ways of dealing with the harms and challenges they pose. 
Lecturer in Criminology

Monday, 16 April 2018

Curating ‘Modern Artists tell the Easter Story’ – the student’s point of view

Brookes is host to the Methodist Modern Art Collection (MMAC), which comprises artworks which tell the Christian story by many of the twentieth-century’s leading British artists. This academic year, the opportunity arose for a small group of Art History students to work with its custodian, Dr Peter Forsaith, and, as a team, to conceive and curate a small exhibition which drew on this wonderful resource.
The Project 18 Team: Phoebe Exon, Kinmy Lo, Lauren Golightly, Sarah Morley and Tatiana Solis (with a Graham Sutherland)
I applied for what we called ‘Project 18’ because I was brought up in the Methodist faith, and already knew about the Methodist art collection before starting my history of art degree at Brookes. I was also taking the second-year module Curatorial Practice, which offers an introduction to the theory and practice of curating, so was keen to apply what I was learning in a real situation. The fact that the chosen group would be given a lot of independence in creating the exhibition was inviting but also rather daunting. I can safely say that these gut reactions (mixed in with a little stress) remained whilst carrying out the project!
The students with Dr Peter Forsaith
Things got off to a positive start. The Project 18 team consisted of three second years (Phoebe Exon, Lauren Golightly, and me) and two third years (Kinmy Lo and Tatiana Sollis). Although it wasnot a credited module, meaning that it did not count towards our degree, we all knew that the experience offered by the Art History department would be very beneficial for us, because we plan to work in the art world after graduation. We started the process by meeting together and discussing our ideas for the proposed exhibition. Next we met with Peter and discussed possible themes, locations for the show, and most importantly of all at this stage, we assessed which paintings were available to us and which weren’t currently marked out to be on loan when our show was scheduled.
Despite other module commitments and the third years completing dissertations, we worked well as team to make key decisions and to bring the project to completion. Our choice of location was framed by a number of factors. We knew the exhibition would take place around Easter 2018, so our time was relatively limited. We decided therefore to have the exhibition at Brookes. This was a way to celebrate the fact that the MMAC is housed here and to give all those who work and study at the university a chance to see some of the work in the collection. We decided that the Glasgow Room in Harcourt Hill campus, which normally acts as a meeting room, would be a good space because it is a large room, and, very helpfully, already has hanging rails installed on the walls.
Getting ready to hang a painting
At the same time as we finalised our location, we looked further into which paintings we wished to display. As the exhibition was scheduled for Easter we decided on having an Easter theme (hence the title, ‘Modern Artists tell The Easter Story‘). Although the collection is devoted to the visual expression of the Christian faith, we wanted the exhibition to appeal to everyone. We hoped that our display would enable visitors to think about what Easter meant to them whilst they contemplated the artworks surrounding them. After chopping and changing the lists of which paintings we wanted to include, we decided to select seven paintings and, through them, tell the main events in the Easter story.
Hanging a painting
We had learnt on the Curatorial Practice course, and Peter reminded us, that curating requires an open mind and adaptability and we saw this first hand during Project 18. We had originally planned to have the paintings in chronological order depicting the Easter story, however we ended up switching paintings around so that the focus was more on what worked well hung next to each other, whilst still allowing the chosen artworks to remain in a relatively chronological sequence. For example, we decided to add an extra painting Nathaniel (asleep under the fig tree)by Mark Cazalet, which completed a set of eight, in order to hang that next to Cazalet’sFool of God (Christ in the Garden)as these two paintings worked more successfully as a pair. I believe that if we had not gone into this project as open minded as we did then we could have had real issues. Thankfully, we worked well as a team and shared the same priorities when completing this project. The show opened just before Easter and ran for three weeks. We were so pleased that it was well-received and appreciated by all who visited.

The experience was incredibly valuable for us all. We learnt that open mindedness, adaptability, communication skills and respecting each other’s point of view are key to achieving goals. Alongside these more general lessons, we took away vital lessons from the world of curating and where our ambitions might fit within it. Many Art History graduates follow a career path in the art or museum world and curating is a highly popular pathway, not to mention highly competitive. Working on Project 18, combined with having helped Peter to take down a MMAC exhibition in Hull a few months before, the very practical side of curating which I experienced made me realise that I prefer the theoretical side of the art world. Therefore a path such as management or research in the art world may be more suitable for me. So I am currently investigating my post-university career with a focus on working in a learning or education department in the gallery and museums sector after gaining more experience as a gallery or museum assistant.
For me, my involvement in Project 18, alongside the Curatorial Practice module, has allowed me to realise my passions, and has helped me to sift out what works best for me from the vast opportunities which are available to history of art graduates. There seems to be a stereotype that the career paths of an art history graduate are quite narrow. This is not the case and I wholeheartedly implore people to look into the opportunities that are out there!

Sarah Morley, second-year undergraduate on the BA(Hons) History of Art degree

Photographs by Andrew Parker, second-year undergraduate on the BA (Hons) History of Art degree

For more about the show see:
& for a recent article about the Curatorial Practice module see:

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Girls and Power

What is your research about?

I'm interested in the ways in which ideas about gender circulate in popular and institutional settings such as media texts and schools, and how these ideas shape young people's views of themselves, their worlds and their imagined futures. I focus particularly on issues relating to girlhood and power - the spaces that culture creates for girls to grow in, and the ways in which girls inhabit them. I have just published a book on the 'successful girl' phenomenon. This was based on a study which traced 'successful girl' narratives across television screens and web forums and classrooms.

How did you come to choose this area?
Before working in Higher Education I had a career in the secondary education sector, as a teacher and then in teacher professional development. I taught English for some years, and my first and Master's degrees are in English; the sense of narrative still informs my work. As do many teachers, I found the educational inequalities I encountered every day had few adequate explanations beyond individual 'abilities.' I was particularly interested in the ways in which myths about gender and class operate as ways of accounting for unequal achievement. Embarking on a PhD was the beginning of trying the challenge the myths and find better ways of understanding and responding to social injustices. This is not just another task for teachers - my research explores the ways in which unhelpful narratives are circulated in policy committees and science labs, in the television industry and the textbook. One of my research interviewees commented, 'We need better stories.' I couldn't agree with her more.

What makes your research different?

I create methodologies which allow me to explore girl's lived experiences alongside policy and popular texts. This helps build a picture of the cultural world young people engage with and the tools it gives them for creating their sense of identity. I also try to use the digital tools that they adopt, as well as more traditional approaches. At the time I was doing my PhD, teen girl fan forums were very popular online, so I created one for the project, attractive over 160 participants. For my current project I am using visual social media platforms to create collages with participants. These will form a fascinating digital archive.

What are the highlights of doing your research?

The main one is that I get to spend so much time doing something which is both important and interesting. My focus means that I never feel trapped in an academic bubble. I have been all over England, to Australia and New Zealand and a host of European countries to visit schools and interview girls, and to share findings with other researchers and - importantly  - with practitioners. Also, the research community in my field is a supportive one. I've found gender scholars have an inbuilt commitment to equality, generosity, and solidarity.

What is the contemporary relevance of your research?

We are still such a long way form achieving equality, and not only in terms of gender. Looking at the gendering of leadership in the current political climate is highly timely as issues faced by women come into sharp focus. These include the rise of public misogyny, the vilification of women politicians and campaigners online, and sexist representations of political leaders in mainstream media, and the lack of voice and representation, especially for working class and minority women. Exploring girls' ideas about leadership, their experiences and imagined futures is a vital part of trying to create a society in which they might see themselves as decision makers.

Dr Michele Paule is a Senior Lecturer in Culture, Media and Education at Oxford Brookes University

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Medical Science in the Archive: the MSVA

In January 2018, Viviane Quirke gave the introductory talk for the launch of the digitised Medical Sciences Video Archive. The MSVA is a precious resource to historians of medicine carrying out research on topics as diverse as epidemiology, intensive care, obstetrics, anaesthetics, and palliative care. It also provides scholars interested in oral history with special insights into the culture and practice of British medical science in the second half of the twentieth century.

In 1985, the MSVA was founded by a collaborative agreement between Oxford Polytechnic and the Royal College of Physicians (with Prof. Max Blythe and Sir Gordon Wolstenholme as principal interviewers). After 1992, other national and international links were developed, including with the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Royal College of Anaesthetists, leading to interviews with 11 important anaesthetists collected between 1995 and 1998. Then, in 1999 a Joint project was created between the School of Biological and Molecular Sciences and the School of Humanities at Oxford Brookes University (to transcribe and index interviews, to improve access to the collection). The work was carried out by Dr Carol Beadle and Susannah Wright, and was funded by a grant from the Wellcome Trust held by Professor Anne Digby of the School of Humanities. Finally, in 2016, Stuart Hunt of Learning Resources at Oxford Brookes University submitted a successful bid to Wellcome for a Research Resources award to fund the digitisation of the collection (now on RADAR). 

So what is it? It is a collection of filmed interviews with 130 'leading figures in the world of medical and clinical scienc' talking about their lives and careers. These are, perhaps unsurprisingly, mostly men. However there are also some notable women, for example Professor Dorothy Hodgkin and Dame Cicely Saunders, in fields as varied as x-ray crystallography and palliative care (and many more), but also relating to policy areas such as health services administration, health education and health promotion, and science funding.

What is it for? In short: an oral history of the biomedical sciences. Using a definition from the Oral History Society, 'Oral history is the recording of people's memories, experiences and opinions.' Hence, it can be described as:
       A living history of everyone's unique life experiences
       An opportunity for those people who have been 'hidden from history' to have their voice heard
       A rare chance to talk about and record history face-to-face
       A source of new insights and perspectives that may challenge our view of the past.”


To illustrate this point, in her presentation, Viviane showed a clip of Max Blythe’s interview with Norman Heatley in Oxford on 28 Oct. 1987. Who was Norman Heatley? As Sir Henry Harris put it succinctly in 1998: 'Without Fleming, no Chain or Florey; without Florey, no Heatley; without Heatley, no penicillin.' Yet while Fleming, Florey and Chain jointly received the Nobel Prize for their work in 1945, Heatley's contribution was not fully recognized for another 45 years. It was only in 1990 that he was awarded the unusual distinction of an honorary Doctorate of Medicine from Oxford University,  the first given to a non-medic in Oxford's 800-year history!

The clip chosen by Viviane helped to demonstrate how oral history on the one hand, and video archives such as the MSVA on the other, could add to the existing literature on well known episodes in the history of the biomedical sciences like the discovery of penicillin, for they are:
  • rich with details that are not normally included in scientific publications,
  •  including personal and emotional details, in Heatley’s case presented with composure,
  • reflecting conciliation with a past  which in some ways was painful,
  • while at the same time presenting an image of oneself  that is:
    • culturally recognisable (the precise, matter-of-fact scientist)
    • the product of an ‘inner script’ (with memory conforming to what has been often repeated and has become an accepted narrative)

The Brookes Special Collections house many other treasures, including the papers of Jane Doe (the professional name of Nettie 'Ada' Lewis - pages from one of her scrapbooks are shown here), who worked as a journalist in the 1920s and 1930s. These papers are currently being used by a Brookes History MA student, Hannah Greiving, for her dissertation on ‘Anxiety, Anger and Agency: The Change in the Emotions of British Women after World War I (1917-1930’, supervised by Professor Joanne Begiato. 

If you are interested in finding out more about the Special Collections, and about the MA in History or History of Medicine at Brookes, why not join us for Open Morning on 13th of April?

 Viviane Quirke
Senior Lecturer in Modern History and History of Medicine

Image credits:
Dr Norman Heatley OBE (1911-2004) as I have been given personal permission to use it (courtesy of the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology)
Jane Doe scrapbook (courtesy Oxford Brookes University Library)

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Christina-Rauscher-Straße: The Story Behind a Street Name

By Johannes Dillinger

The city of Horb in southwest Germany has named a street in honour of Christina Rauscher, a woman who helped to end the witch hunts in the entire region. Brookes historian Professor Johannes Dillinger discovered Christina’s extraordinary stories in the archives and brought it to the attention of the public. 

In the early modern period, the city of Horb belonged to the county of Hohenberg. Hohenberg was just one of many petty principalities ruled by the Habsburg archduke of the Tyrol, even though it was more than 200 miles away from Tyrol’s seat of government in Innsbruck and a number of non-Habsburg states separated both territories. The archducal government in Innsbruck found it very difficult to exercise any kind of control over the far away and self-assured Hohenberg towns, including Horb.

The Luziferturm, Horb am Neckar, where witches were incarcerated

Left to their own devices, the local elites of Horb and the other Hohenberg towns orchestrated one of the worst witch hunts in southwest Germany: at least 438 witch trials between the 16th and 18th centuries. This was a staggeringly high number compared to the approximately 3,000 households in the territory. Only 7.5 per cent of the accused were men, while 67 per cent of the male and 85 per cent of the female defendants suffered the death penalty. (As a comparison, about 1500 witches were executed in all of Britain.) While the peculiar political situation enabled local elites to conduct mass witch hunts, the driving force behind the persecution were the so-called common people. Crop failure had let to the breakdown of viniculture in the region which in turn caused a complete re-structuring of the regional economy. Many people lost their livelihoods and social trust eroded quickly. In the words of a contemporary: The region that had been “known as the lard pit became the hunger pit.”

Christina Rauscher came from a very affluent family in Horb. Her father, who rather ruthlessly tried to improve his already outstandingly good economic position, engaged in protracted conflicts with the city council. It had tried to force Christina's father to close the brewery the successful merchant had opened as a side business because it had. bought such massive amounts of barley that it drove up the price for bread. Time and again he managed to make the Innsbruck government intervene on his behalf. Christina supported her father in these conflicts. From 1598 onwards, she was rumoured to be a witch. Several alleged witches denounced her as an accomplice. For a number of years, Christina avoided a formal accusation. She sued the local bailiff for slander and threatened the Horb town council with further interventions by the Innsbruck government.

What followed was totally illegal even by the standards of the 17th century. In 1604 Christina was surprised in her home by a mob, captured and incarcerated in Horb’s town gaol. Her husband Johann Rauscher, who remained loyal throughout the trial, did his best to free her, bringing official documents from spiritual and secular authorities that demanded the immediate release of his wife. The town council which tried to defend its authority because it wanted to make an example of Christina, ignored all attempts at intervention. She remained in gaol for almost a year and was tortured repeatedly. At the time of her arrest she had been seven months pregnant. She lost her child under the torture.  However, Christina never confessed. When she was finally released she was, as a contemporary source had it, “as weak as a small child.”

After regaining her strength Christina began a legal battle against Horb town council and the bailiff that lasted for the rest of her life. She managed to alert the Innsbruck government to the blatant miscarriages of justice that went on in Hohenberg witch trials. In 1607, the entire town council of Horb was ousted at the command of the government. The bailiff lost his position. A new law was passed that protected basic rights of witchcraft suspects. Two year later, Christina was given a private audience with the archduke. He authorized her to lead an official investigation into the miscarriages of justice in Horb – an unprecedented honour for a woman. The mass witch hunts in Horb and Hohenberg ended abruptly. The great wave of witch hunts that struck many other German territories in the 1620s did not reach the Hohenberg region anymore.

There can be no doubt that the alleged witch, Christina Rauscher, was instrumental in bringing to an end witch hunts in the entire region. Almost 400 years after Christina’s death in 1618, her hometown named a street after her.

Professor Dillinger has written a monograph that deals with the Hohenberg witch hunts and Christina Rauscher

And you can find out more about:
Modern Horb at
& Early Modern Horb at

Picture Credit:
By Schlaier (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons