Mapping the Cortex
A multidisciplinary team at St John's was funded by the Research Centre to use exciting new methods to explore how our brains have evolved over millennia, and how they develop before we are born. The cerebral cortex, the folded grey matter that forms the outside of the brain, is perhaps the crowning achievement of evolution. It provides the biological substrate for human cognitive capacity and is, arguably, the region of the brain that distinguishes us from other species. This is the seat of our functions of language, episodic memory and voluntary movement.
Given that the massive expansion of cortical surface observed in primates originates during development in the womb, understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating cell number and diversity, migration and circuit assembly is critical for shedding light on this process. This research project was a multidisciplinary attempt to understand the evolutionary mechanisms that have culminated in the human cortex. It brought together the skills of mathematicians, statisticians and biologists. St John’s Professor Zoltan Molnár’s experimental lab at the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics contributed the biological element of the project, and Professor Philip Maini and Dr Thomas Woolley oversaw the mathematical biology at the Wolfson Centre for Mathematical Biology.
The intention was to map all the possible evolutionary pathways of the cortex, and create a mathematical framework general enough to encompass all cortex development, while being specifiable enough to allow a researcher to focus on a single species. This has the potential to create a new way to categorise different species, according to their cortex development. A critical outcome of this project could be the ability to better understand and predict the underlying problems in medical conditions involving the cortex, which could in turn lead to new preventive measures or treatments for these conditions.
The Balzan Project
As the winner of the Balzan Foundation Prize for Literature since 1500, Terence Cave was the recipient of generous funding to finance a project in his own areas of academic interest. The project he proposed, ‘Literature as an Object of Knowledge’, ran for three years; St John’s contributed substantial additional funding.
The project was designed to encourage reflection on the value of literature as an object of knowledge and advanced study, and thence as a vehicle and instrument of thought. More specifically, it undertook a mapping and evaluation of possible cognitive approaches to literature.
Eddic poetry is a substantial body of literature preserved in a variety of disparate contexts. One major anthology survives, as well as single poems within compilation manuscripts, scattered quotations within treatises, and a large number of sagas. The project aimed to redefine the extent of this corpus, and to reassess its significance.
Eye Movements in
The project explored the utility of eye-tracking in the study of literary devices characteristic of both Modernist literature and the popular crime/thriller genre. Experimenters typically use simple texts of only a sentence or two rather than real literary texts. This study aimed to increase scientific understanding of how authentic literary texts are read, and demonstrate the value of complementing theoretical claims about literary devices with empirical testing.
Publishers and Writers
in Shakespeare’s England
This project examined the economics of book production in early modern England, and explored the relationship between publishing, writing, and social status. At its heart was a network of three English publishers, linked by ties of kinship and business: William Ponsonby (d.1604), his brother-in-law Simon Waterson (1562-1635), who inherited much of Ponsonby’s stock, and Edward Blount (1565-1632), who was apprenticed to Ponsonby. Between 1577 and 1634, they published a total of over 400 books, a large number by the standards of the day, including nearly all the major works of what we know as the canon of English Renaissance literature: works by Spenser, Sidney, and Daniel, as well as the Shakespeare First Folio.
Precarious Work and Political Involvement
This project, led by Linda McDowell, compared the attitudes, behaviour and participation in different forms of political action of British-born and minority youth who are workless or on the fringes of the labour market, focusing on Swindon and Luton.
Anthropology and History
In this two-year project, history, anthropology and law combined forces to study law and legal systems. Drs Malcolm Vale and Paul Dresch were joined by anthropologists Drs Fernanda Pirie and Judith Scheele to build a set of research themes and a research network, both within and beyond Oxford. They also hosted a seminar series that explored legalism as 'an appeal to rules that are distinct from practice, the explicit use of generalising concepts, and a disposition to address the conduct of human life in these terms' (Dresch, 2012). It brought together the insights of scholars working in different disciplinary traditions, notably history and anthropology. Exploring concrete cases, and engaging in discussion across methodological boundaries, enabled us to explore and question the conceptual roots of law. The seminar and associated workshops resulted in a number of volumes published with OUP: 'Legalism: Anthropology and History' (2012), 'Legalism: Community and Justice' (2014), and 'Legalism: Rules and Categories' (2015).
Lost in Transition?
Unemployed Youth in Comparative Perspective
The Arab Spring and the riots in urban Britain raised pressing questions about how globalisation is changing young people’s lives, and about children and youth as political actors. This project focused especially on unemployed youth.
The Life and Work of
Soviet Chemist Armin Stromberg
A reassessment of the contributions of Armin Stromberg to the field of electrochemistry, led by Professor Richard Compton and Dr Gregory Wildgoose, which resulted in a book published by Imperial College Press in 2011.
Forests and Chases of
England and Wales
This project was supported by both St John's and the Marc Fitch Fund. Its aim was to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary investigation of the medieval and post-medieval spatial, temporal, functional, and cultural survival and significance of the Forests and Chases of England and Wales. Directed by Dr Jack Langton with the assistance of Dr Graham Jones.
The Future of
An international network of collaborators, under the direction of Professor David Coleman and Professor Wolfgang Lutz of the Vienna Institute of Demography, was established. Dr Stuart Basten was the Research Associate for the project.
This three-year project was under the direction of Professor Katherine Blundell, Professor Keith Burnett, and Professor James Binney of Merton College, and included a team at University College Dublin, led by Dr Peter Duffy.
Arabic Poetry and
This three-year project was under the direction of Dr Robin Ostle and Professor Geert Jan van Gelder, and employed two St John's Fellows, Walid Khazendar and Marle Hammond.
Services and European Law
This project examined the law and regulation of public services through public employment services, revealing interaction and conflict between the economic and social aims of the EU, and between regulation at national and supranational levels.