Friday, July 29, 2011

Reflection on Research

It's been several days now since we gave our final research presentation, and I thought I would post a bit about it.

I was in a research group with my brother Aaron, and we researched the Devolution of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, both of which took place in 1998.  We concluded that both of these events have improved peace and prosperity throughout Northern Ireland, and our research findings supported this.  There have been no new terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland since the last bombing soon after the Good Friday Agreement, and the new government has done well under the power sharing system.  Northern Ireland has had much faster economy and job growth than the other UK countries as well.  

I am very satisfied that I chose this as my research topic.  I learned an incredible amount about something I knew nothing of before, and my knowledge has grown in other areas as well.  I don't think your brain can ever fill up, so there's no reason to not learn as much as you possibly can about the world.  It was also a great experience to do research as an undergraduate, something I hope to do again before I graduate.  This experience will make future research projects easier to do, and I am excited to continue in research.  

I believe Tony Blair deserves a ton of credit for the success and implementation of both the Devolution of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Peace Process.  He advocated it nearly single handedly near the beginning, and fought tirelessly for months to make it work out.  He succeeded where previous leaders had failed, or didn't even try.  Many people consider it his greatest triumph as Prime Minister.  

Goodbye Oxford!

Well everyone, this is the end of the program, and I have just arrived home.  I had a totally awesome time, and am so glad I participated.  It was great to meet and get to know all of you better, and I hope we can hang out more at UW in the fall.  I think this was an incredibly valuable experience, and I have come home with a wider world view than I had before.

The UK is really a very different place from the US in many ways.  Usually we think they are the same except with a Queen, but honestly the only similarity is their language.  I think the differences between the US and Great Britain make a trip there all the more valuable.  In my opinion it is so important for people to learn about other cultures and countries.

Summer is in full swing here at home, and things are strange to come back to when you've been gone for a month.  I'm just getting used to everything, and before long school will be starting up again.  I will see you all there!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Powerpoint Presentation

Ok I was all excited to post this, but now I suppose it will be unhelpful since I don't know how to post documents with this thing...

Photos of London Trip!

The incredible crane room in the Tate modern.
This is less than half of it, it stretches far behind the camera.

The Tate Modern from outside, showing the old smokestack.

One of the goofy modern art paintings in the Tate Modern.

This one was really long, this only shows about a third of the length.

The pile of sunflower seeds! Each was handmade out of porcelain.

View from near the top of the Tate Modern, where they have a nice balcony.
You can see the Millennium Bridge, and Saint Paul's Cathedral across the river.

This painting will mess with you mind!
Even through the photo its wavy effect can almost be seen, but it was best in person. Try tilting your head 45 degrees or so each direction, and see if the waves move.

Saint Paul's Cathedral from the side.
Definitely one of the nicest buildings I've seen.

London Eye and Tate Modern

Yesterday we went to the London Eye and the Tate Modern Museum.

The Tate Modern Museum is inside an old power plant.  The building is huge, and has this enormous crane room just past the entry.  There was a lot of modern art there, including splashed paint styles, grotesque and dark paintings, metal sculptures, and things that were so weird that I'm not sure how to describe them.  I will post some pictures of some of the stuff we saw.

The Tate Modern is on the Thames right next to the Millennium Bridge, the pedestrian bridge that famously featured in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (in which it was destroyed).  The bridge is really very cool, and leads straight across the river from the Tate Modern towards Saint Paul's Cathedral.  We walked across the bridge and visited the Cathedral before we went to the Tate modern, and it was amazing.  The architecture is some of the most beautiful I have ever seen, both inside and out.

After a lunch break we all went to the London Eye, the big Ferris wheel looking thing across the river from British Parliament.  We rode in one of the glass capsules all the way to the top, where we got an incredible view of the city.  It really helps you to realize the scope of the city from that hight, London is not a small place.

Pictures coming soon!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cloud Atlas

Well I finished reading Cloud Atlas last night, and although it took longer than I expected to read, it was really interesting and enjoyable to read I thought.

The "nesting doll" structure of it was unusual, and it worked out better than I expected it to.  The story starts with the beginnings of six stories, finishes the sixth one, and then finishes the first five in reverse order.

My favorite story was "Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery".  It was about a dangerous nuclear site, and a reporter attempting to expose these reports to the public, and the company hit-men trying to kill her.   It was written in a thriller style, reminding me of some Sherlock Holmes stories or Michael Crichton novels, or various action movies I've seen such as James Bond.  Naturally the story style and narrative was appealing to me, and the story itself was intriguing, so these things contributed to my liking for it.

My second favorite story was "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish".  It was about an old man who accidentally ends up in a nursing home, and is not allowed to leave.  He nearly goes crazy at the loss of his freedom, and he plots several escapes.  This story appealed to me because I identified so well with the protagonist.  He values his freedom above anything else, and despite the convenience of the nursing home, he never stops fighting for the return of his freedom.

The other stories were interesting as well, and all of the stories had similar themes and plot arcs, such as the fall of society or characters, the successes of barbaric groups over more peaceful ones, and a general pessimism about the future of the world.  This last commonality I take slight issue with, as I have always been an optimist about the future of the world, but still find it interesting and valuable (albeit depressing) to read the fears others have for the future.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

One of Francis's Rams.

Francis's adult ewe flock.

Some adult ewes.

Young ewes with the Dorset countryside behind them.

Dorset Sheep!

We raise a breed of sheep called Horned Dorsets, which are a very old breed originally from Dorset County in Southern England.  About eight years ago my Dad came to England on a business trip and took along me, my Mom, Aaron, and another one of my brothers, Stanley.  While we were here we visited a sheep farmer named Francis in Dorset who breeds Horned Dorset sheep, and we were very impressed with his stock.  We ended up using his bloodlines in our flock with artificial insemination, and have been quite pleased with the results.

On this trip Aaron and I decided we needed to visit Francis once again; after all, he's the only person in Britain that we actually know, and it would be nice to see his current sheep flock.

So on Friday after visiting the Ashmolean Museum, we got on the train to Crewkerne, a small town in Somerset, near the Dorset border, and the closest train station to where Francis lives.  We were planning to find a bus that heads in his direction, but he kindly offered to pick us up at the station.

When we arrived at his farm it was beginning to rain, so we checked out the sheep first to keep ahead of the storm.  He had several different fields with sheep of various ages, and we were especially impressed with his adult ewe flock for their good type and uniformity.  (a ewe is a female sheep, a ram is a male).  I will post some pictures soon.

The countryside of Dorset is very nice, and we also got to see some wildlife.  We saw many pheasants, and three wild deer; two of which were black.  We have never seen black deer, so that was a treat for us.

After seeing all the sheep, Francis invited us inside, and true to British custom, offered us a jolly good cup of English tea.  After tea we went to dinner at a nice pub, and Francis dropped us off in Dorchester, where we could find a place to stay and reach a train station.

The next morning we took a train from Dorchester to Bournemouth, where the famous "Jurassic Coast" is located, along with awesome sandy beaches, and this evening we will be heading back to Oxford after going for a nice cold swim.  See you all tonight in Oxford!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ashmolean Museum!

Yesterday we went to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and it was very impressive!

One thing we have noticed with museums in Britain is that they don't mess around, they have really cool stuff!  They had statues, sculptures, textiles, paintings, china, tapestries, musical instruments, and so much more.  Their collections were from all over the world from many different time periods, and as Brian has said, there was a heavy emphasis on the theme of "East meets West".

The architecture was very interesting, and I found it quite pleasing both visually and functionally.  The preservation of the Classical exterior, with the modern interior was a well done blend, and the center stairwell did a great job of providing natural lighting as well as easy movement from floor to floor.

I will say that the organization was not the best for people interested in learning about the various historical periods.  Items were grouped based on what they looked like, not when or where they came from.  I thought it made it nice for people who might want to research a specific art area, but they would still be frustrated with the lack of historical context or any hint of chronology.

Overall I very much enjoyed our visit to the Ashmolean Museum.  There was a special exhibit on Alexander the Great that we didn't go to, and if I have time I intend to visit again just for that.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Museum of Natural History!

A rather unfair face-off between T-Rex and a Velociraptor!


Pitt Rivers Museum!

Today Aaron and I went to the Pitt Rivers Museum, and it was awesome!!!  It looks like an old train station, it had huge marble columns holding up big metal gothic beams, with a glass ceiling!  I was very impressed with the architecture to begin with, and additionally impressed with the collections they had!

First we saw the Natural History Museum, which is the first thing you walk in on.  They had a mounted T-Rex skeleton, as well as Iguanodon, a Velociraptor, a Triceratops skull, and several other dinosaurs.  They also had a complete mounted skeleton of a Dodo, and a reconstructed model as well!!!  And on the wall they had the original famous painting of the Dodo!  They also had many other awesome skeletons, and tons of stuffed modern day animals as well.  Seriously, this was one of my favorite natural history museums ever.

Then we went through the doors in the back to the Pitt Rivers Museum collections, which was also very impressive.  They must have had a million artifacts in that one room.  (yes, pretty big room).  Tens of thousands for certain.  They had totem poles from the American North West, shrunken heads from South America, little gold statues and relics from Asia, Egyptian mummies and sarcophaguses, and so much more!!!  It was much more darkly lit that the other parts of the museum, and I'm not sure why they did that.  Maybe it made the strange items seem more scary and creepy or more intense, or maybe it was to preserve certain artifacts.  I think it was intentional to strike a mood with the visitors and help them to better appreciate the relics.

All and all a very fun day!  We are going to the final Harry Potter tonight, and off to visit a sheep farmer in Dorset tomorrow!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Moving for the Final Time!

Today we moved for the final time during our stay in Oxford, and these are the nicest accommodations we have stayed in yet!  I really enjoyed staying in Jesus college over the last week, and will miss the incredibly convenient centralized location, but I am so glad to finally have an ethernet jack in my room!  Fast internet is a must for blogging and reading the class material.  Not to mention my own sanity.

Anyway, watch for more frequent blog posts now that I don't have to run to Starbucks to upload them!  As they say in Britain: "Cheers mate!"

Thoughts on Plays

So now that we are done with the reading of plays as part of the course, I figured I would blog about them in an aggregate post.

All three of the plays we read, as well as the play we watched, "The Lady in the Van", are written by contemporary playwrights in Millennial Britain - the mid to late 90's.

The first two plays we read were so called "In your face" plays; "Blasted", and the "Shopping" play.  They were definitely not my style, but I suppose that is the point of them, they were meant to shock the audiences.  They both showcased how some people felt after the Thatcher years, when Margret Thatcher disassembled the "Welfare State" of Britain the best she could.  Many people had a dream of a utopian socialist sort of society that vanished with the reality of how difficult these programs were to pay for.  In my opinion, I think it is a bit sad that these playwrights think they need to write plays in this style to get noticed.  I understand that it is hard to compete with established works such as Shakespeare, but I believe it is possible without resorting to this sort of material.  I also think they would get more people to appreciate the causes they are trying to develop awareness for if they weren't so offensive.

The play we watched was much better.  It had a few "in your face" aspects to it, but mostly it was non-offensive.  It wasn't the most exciting play I have seen of course, but the story was supposed to be somewhat slow, and it was really nice to go to the play together as a class.  It was about a homeless woman who lived in a van, and a play writer lets her move into his garden.  The thing I found most interesting about it was that it was based on a true story that the writer actually experienced.  Sometimes, truth really is stranger than fiction.

The last play we read was called "A Number".  It was about a man who had his son taken away from him since he was an alcoholic, and he decided to clone his son and start over.  Unbeknown to him, the doctors (or whoever is doing the cloning) use the DNA to make twenty additional clones.  The play involves the father in conversations with his eldest son, his younger cloned son, and one of the extra clones, who was not raised by him.  It is a very interesting play, and is written in a unique style of having the characters talk over each other, interrupt each other, and finish each other's sentences, just as conversations often are in real life.  This made it quite confusing to read at first, but I got the hang of it after a couple pages.  I can only imagine how interesting the style would be on stage however, the first audiences must have been quite entertained.  I thought the play raised some very good questions about cloning, parenting, and other matters.

Well that's pretty much it on the plays, now we move on to curating as we study Millennial Britain!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pictures of Caerphilly Castle in South Wales

We visited many places last weekend, including Caerphilly Castle, the first castle in Britain built with a concentric wall and moat design.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Research Updates!

Ok, so we have narrowed down our research further by this point.  We are going to focus on the devolution of Northern Ireland, and the effect that the Blair Administration had on this.  We still need to refine it more, but that's what we have as of now.

We decided to choose Northern Ireland as opposed to Scotland or Wales because it is the most controversial, and has the most violent history, therefore making for a more complex and dramatic topic.

We started using the Bodleian Library resources today, and I requested four books that looked helpful from the stacks.  I am also going to visit the Law Library and the Social Science Library for information stored there that you can't request.  We are planning on looking at the specific Parliamentary papers and legislation relating to our topic.  After all, how can you research policy changes without reading the legislation that made it possible?

Monday, July 4, 2011

First Weekend Excursion!

This weekend Aaron and I went on a trip to visit more of the island!

First we went to Cardiff in Southern Wales, which is the capital of Wales, and is the home of Cardiff Castle.  The castle is split into two main parts.  The oldest part is the center keep on a hill with a moat.  Very old and authentic, the keep is a huge circular wall open in the center, with a tall gatehouse up the front wall.  Originally this is where the people would hold up during a siege, and it looked very defensible. There is a tall wall around the perimeter of the grounds that was built later.  It is impressive, but would require a lot of men to properly defend due to its length.  The other main section of the castle is the nobility residences that were built later.  They included several tall towers, grand halls, and a library.  Overall very worth seeing.

We then took the train to Caerphilly, site of the first castle built with concentric wall defenses in Britain, Caerphilly Castle.  Caerphilly Castle is one of the coolest castles I have ever seen, and I definitely recommend seeing it if you get the chance.  It is surrounded by age old man-made lakes to keep the castle out of range of trebuchets, has several rows of complete moats and huge walls, with drawbridges and portcullises, and a grand keep in the center, with tall towers and great halls, and the famous "leaning tower of Caerphilly"!  No joke, the tower is leaning, and split open too.

We then took the train to Bath and saw the famous Roman bath houses, and Bath Abbey.  When the Romans conquered Britain in the early first century they looked for ways to make it like their home in Rome, and the natural hot springs in Bath were a great example of this.  During Roman times an enormous structure stood next to where the Abbey is today, including the bath houses and a temple for worship.  Today you can walk below the present day city level to see the original Roman Baths, as well as many artifacts that have been uncovered.  The Abbey is also quite nice, with tremendous fan vault ceilings.

We then went to Salisbury, and took the bus to see Stonehenge.  I'm not sure these enormous stones even need an introduction, but I'll just say I can't even imagine the amount of work it took to drag them from Southern Wales to central England.  Did you know they have been standing there for 4,000 years?  Definitely worth the trip, make sure you see them.

On our return to Salisbury we went to see the Salisbury Cathedral, which is the tallest cathedral in all of Britain; its spire rises 404 feet into the sky.  We were unable to go in as it closes early on Sunday evenings, but we very well might make a trip back to climb the spire.  It was built in the 1200's, and only took 38 years to complete, which blows my mind.

In any case, we are finally back in Oxford studying again, keep an eye open for updates!


Alright, I have decided on my research topic...  Devolution!  In plain English, it refers to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland getting more political freedom and independence.  My brother Aaron is my partner in  this topic.  We will need to narrow this considerably and choose a research question of course, but at least we have some guidelines to work from.  We might focus on the devolution of just one of those areas, or maybe on a certain aspect that they all share, but it needs to be detailed and specific.  Stay tuned for progress updates!