General Studies 2017 - 18: Various Speakers

An assortment of subjects each week a different speaker and topic covering everything from Popular Culture to Quantum Mechanics.The ideal course for those new to the REC and anyone likely to be absent for a few sessions.Now extended to 30 weeks.

Autumn Term 2017

Session 1 Thursday 14th September
Wayland the Smith                                                   Mark Steinhardt
When he’s not leading the poetry appreciation class at REC, Mark is a performance storyteller. Every year he brings to General Studies a version of his new story for the Bedfringe Arts Festival. This year there will be no full festival, so General Studies will be the first performance of IRON, a group of stories built round the smiths of ancient legend – Hephaestus and Wayland in particular. Seething resentments, revenge, cruelty and triumph.

Session 2 Thursday 21st September
Antarctica: The Last Wilderness I                          Peter Ganczakowski
Peter will talk about his experiences of working in Antarctica and as a former Board Member of the British Antarctic Survey.

Session 3 Thursday 28th September
Antarctica: The Last Wilderness II                                     Peter Ganczakowski
The second half of the talk on Peter’s experiences of working in Antarctica and as a former Board Member of the British Antarctic Survey.

Session 4 Thursday 5th October    
Thomas Hardy and the Napoleonic Wars              Dr Stephen Rogers
The great English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) is best known for his Wessex novels. However, throughout his life he was obsessed with the Napoleonic wars, seeking out veterans to interview, and writing an amazing variety of poems, stories, and a novel, all set in the period 1789-1815. In this talk, Dr Stephen Rogers will discuss Hardy's obsession, and look in detail at his epic drama The Dynasts (1904-1908), the novel The Trumpet-Major (1880), and other stories and poems.

Session 5 Thursday 12th October
Lady Margaret Beaufort: Saint or Schemer?        Margaret Badley
Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509) born just outside Bedford, was a remarkable woman who survived the Wars of the Roses (lethal for those at the top of society), was instrumental in gaining the throne for her son (Henry VII) went on to play crucial roles in in Henry’s reign and survived to organise his funeral and see her grandson (Henry VIII) safely on the throne. 

Session 6 Thursday 19th October
The Art of the Obituary                                            Bob Chaundy
Obituaries are among the most popular items in the broadsheet newspapers. Bob Chaundy, the former head of obituaries at BBC News, looks at the nature of the modern obituary, what gives them appeal, how they have changed with the times and ethical issues they sometimes raise. He will show examples from both written and broadcast obituaries. What would your own obituary look like?



Session 7 Thursday 2nd November
Life & Legacy: The Remarkable Jill E Grey           Andy Gibbs
Code-breaker, collector, curator, campaigner. Discover the fascinating life and enduring legacy of a true heritage heroine.

Session 8 Thursday 9th November
Jane Austen: 200 Years On                                     Margaret Norwich
A sampler of the life, letters and novels of one of the most gifted writers in the English language, and a consideration, in the anniversary year of her death in 1817, of her reputation and relevance today. 

Session 9 Thursday 16th November
The Millau Viaduct                                                    Tim Parrott
This construction in the South of France - often referred to as the highest bridge in the world - is a breath-taking feat of minimalist art and engineering. Opened in 2004, it has lost none of its power to amaze. How did they do it? 

Session 10 Thursday 23rd November
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: An Introduction to his work     
Gerta Badde
A novelist, dramatist, poet, essayist, Goethe is an interesting figure, as a man standing between the Enlightenment and Romanticism.

Spring Term 2018

Session 11 Thursday 11th January
The Philosophy of Ageing                                       Dr Adrian Page
How does the way we think about ageing affect the process itself? Could we perhaps change the way we age if we changed our perspectives on ageing? Philosophy has raised questions about how we view growing older. Words such as 'senescence' suggest that growing older is automatically a state of deterioration, but is this characteristic of earlier ages where health care was nowhere near so good? Prolonged life raises the issue of 'positive ageing' or finding fulfilment and renewal in older age. What does this mean and how can we achieve it? The session will raise some questions which challenge us to find aspects of ageing which elevate it to a state of advancement. Views on ageing from literature will also be discussed alongside major philosophical issues such as the role of older people in evolution. 

Session 12 Thursday 18th January
Garden Wildlife                                                         Peter Holden MBE
An introduction to some of the birds and other wildlife found in our gardens and information about them that many books miss out.  Not so much identification more an ecological introduction.

Session 13 Thursday 25th January
The Peppered Moth                                                  Tim Parrott
For decades, it was believed that the wheels of evolution turned too slowly for data to be gathered over a human time-scale. Studies of this moth in the English landscape put an end to all that.

Session 14 Thursday 1st February
How valuable is that Skylark: Placing a Value on Nature           
Brian Kerr
An Introduction to Natural Resource Valuation. Over-exploitation of the environment and natural resources is becoming increasingly widespread in the modern world. To combat this, environmental economists have attempted to value such resources in order to ensure that they are given due recognition.

Session 15 Thursday 8th February                                    
A comparison of the Earth and Mars                     Mark Chamberlain
The Earth and Mars are today very different planets. Comparisons will be drawn between their internal structures, surfaces and atmospheres and the likely reasons for the differences will be explored. Evidence from several explorers on Mars has shown that conditions for life could have existed in the past and so similarities in the early planetary evolution of the two planets will be examined.




Session 16 Thursday 22nd February
Decisions, Decisions                                                Mark Chamberlain
We are all used to making decisions. Most of the time the decisions we make are relatively easy but occasionally we have to make difficult decisions that may have profound impact on our lives.  Short-term tactical decisions are different from long-term strategic decisions: the latter can be described as “difficult” or “tough”. The two types of decisions will be compared and techniques for helping with strategic decisions explored.

Session 17 Thursday 1st March
The Story of Stories                                                 Philip Lane
Stories from around the world – stories you are unlikely to have heard before.

Session 18 Thursday 8th March
What exactly is digital technology?                       Colin Matthews
This talk will demystify digital technology such as exposing digital myths (e.g. digital quality - a meaningless phrase), examining how numbers can be converted into pictures and sound, explaining how a computer saves and reads numbers, explaining terms such as bit rate and bit depth and how they affect overall quality, and looking at principals of compressing files. This will include bit of historical context such as Ada Lovelace (Lord Byron's daughter), widely regarded as writing the first computer algorithms and being the first to realise the potential of computers to create art and music.

Session 19 Thursday 15th March
Bedford: The most cosmopolitan town of its size in the UK- a community of communities-                                                            Dr Graham McFarlane
Find out how Bedford's remarkable diversity came about - from ancient history to the 2011 Census and up to the present day - the nationalities; the languages & the belief systems practised - all here in our town - research findings from Dr Graham McFarlane.

Session 20 Thursday 22nd March
Wild Bedfordshire                                                    Peter Holden MBE
A chance to consider the wide variety of plants and animals found in the Bedfordshire countryside and some of the sites you can visit to experience some of these things for yourself.

Summer Term 2018

Session 21 Thursday 19th April
Nirvana Lost: An Introduction to the History & Culture of Tibet
Andy Gibbs
Exploring the fascinating story of ‘Shangri La’.

Session 22 Thursday 26th April
Love at First Sight: Romeo & Juliet                       Tim Parrott
How do you tell a love story so as not to bore everyone who has some experience of life? Poetry alone is not enough. The plot is constructed like a precision watch. 

Session 23 Thursday 3rd May
Verulamium                                                               Paul Palmer
What do we know about this Settlement – close by modern-day St. Albans – in the Roman period? A century of archaeological investigations provides the answers, revealed by this course.

Session 24 Thursday 10th May
The History of the Rose in Art and Culture           Dr Twigs Way
Examining literature, art, myth, religion and even medicines, we will build a vision of the rose both in and out of the garden. The most popular of our garden plants, with origins from China to Persia and scents from fresh apple blossom to dusky sensuality. Beloved of the Romans who showered their dinner guests with petals, caught up in the ‘War of the Roses’ it found peace in the gardens of Empress Joséphine and religion in the gardens of rose fanciers such as the reverend rosarian Dean Samuel Hole.  The rose brings us a deluge of histories with its varietal names from the infamous Lady Hillingdon to the prim Dorothy Perkins and the exotic bourbon climber Zéphirine Drouhin. Used to create perfumes, medicines, tisanes, Near Eastern sweets, and even cakes the rose is our most treasured of flowers in literature, art, kitchens and gardens.

Session 25 Thursday 17th May
Title and Topic to be announced                            Dennis Waugh

Session 26 Thursday 24th May
Canine Partners                                                        Penny Berrington
Penny will talk about the charity who assist people with disabilities; the training of puppies and the role of volunteers.


Session 27 Thursday 7th June
The History of the Sunflower in Art and Culture Dr Twigs Way
Examining literature, art, myth, religion and even medicines, we will build a vision of the sunflower both in and out of the garden. Originating in South America and worshipped by the Aztecs, the ‘tournesol' transferred its godlike properties to Europe where it became associated with divine right, a personification of kings, and the myth of the downfall of Clytie, lover of Apollo himself. Taken up by the aesthetes of the 19th century, depicted with Oscar Wilde and used by William Morris in his wallpapers and designs, it has also been depicted by artists from van Gogh to van Dyke. Now a common sight filling the fields of Southern Europe and America to provide spread on our toast, it has never lost its divine associations.
Session 28 Thursday 14th June
Why do Projects go Wrong?                                   Gail Thornley
What is a project?  How are they different from other activity?  We shall look at the principles and methods of project management and use examples from some real projects from different industries to throw light on what makes them succeed or fail. 

Session 29 Thursday 21st June
The Forth Bridge                                                      Tim Parrott
This iconic railway bridge, famous the world over, is a monument to the skill and daring of the Victorians. All its important features are both interesting and understandable. 

Session 30 Thursday 28th June
Early Photography                                                   Colin Matthews
The development of photography comprising technical aspects of the early cameras and examples of notable Victorian photographers. 


N.B. Talks are subject to change at very short notice owing to circumstances beyond our control. If you wish to attend a particular talk you are advised to phone beforehand. If space is available, REC members may attend individual talks for £7 each payable in the General Office on the day of the talk, but will have to wait to be seated after class members have arrived.