Does time really fly when you’re having fun?

Taking a cue from Henri Bergson’s theory of time, Hafsa in Year 10 examines the science behind our sense that time speeds up when we are enjoying ourselves

Time is the most used noun in the English language and yet humans are still struggling to define it, with its complicated breadth and many interdimensional theories. We have all lived through the physical fractions of time like the incessant ticking of the second hand or the gradual change in season, however, do we experience it in this form? This is a question that requires the tools of both philosophy and science in order to reach a conclusion.

In scientific terms, time can be defined as ‘The progression of events from the past to the present into the future’. In other words, it can be seen as made up of the seconds, minutes, and hours that we observe in our day-to-day life. Think of time as a one directional arrow, it cannot be travelled across or reversed but only and forever moves forward.

One philosophical theory would challenge such a definition of time. In the earliest part of the 20th century, the renowned philosopher Henri Bergson published his doctoral thesis, ‘Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness’, in which he explored his theory that humans experience time differently from this outwardly measurable sense. He suggested that as humans we divide time into separate spatial constructs such as seconds and minutes but do not really experience it in this form. If Bergson’s theory is right, our sense of time is really much more fluid than the scientific definition above suggests.

Image from

If we work from the inside out, we can explore the different areas of our lives which influence our perception of time. The first area is the biological make-up of our bodies. We all have circadian rhythms which are physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a twenty-four-hour cycle. This rhythm is present in most living things and is most commonly responsible for determining when we sleep and when we are awake.

These internal body clocks vary from person to person, some running slightly longer than twenty-four hours and some slightly less. Consequently, everyone’s internal sense of time differs, from when people fall asleep or wake up to how people feel at different points during the day.

But knowing that humans have slight differences in their circadian rhythms doesn’t fully explain how our sense of time differs from the scientific definition. After all, these circadian rhythms still follow a twenty-four-hour cycle just like a clock. If we look at the wider picture, what is going on around us greatly affects our sense of time. In other words, our circadian rhythms are subject to external stimuli.

Imagine you are doing something you love, completely engrossed in the activity, whether it be an art, a science, or just a leisurely pastime. You look at the clock after what feels like two minutes and realise that twenty have actually passed. The activity acts as the external stimulus and greatly affects your perception of time.

When engrossed in an activity you enjoy, your mind is fully focussed on it, meaning there is no time for it to wander and look at the clock. Research suggests that the pleasurable event boosts dopamine release which causes your circadian rhythm to run faster. Let’s take an interval of five minutes as a basis for this. In this interval, due to your internal body clock running faster you feel as though only two minutes have gone by; time feels like it has been contracted.

By contrast, when you are bored, less dopamine is released, slowing your circadian rhythm, meaning your subjective sense of time runs slower. If we use the same example, in an interval of five minutes, you feel as though ten minutes have gone by and time feels elongated. This biological process has the power to shape and fluidify our perception of time.

So, the next time someone says ‘Wow, time really does fly by when you’re having fun,’ remember that there is much more science and philosophy behind the phrase than they might realise!


Pre-Raphaelite Art: the depiction of Arthurian Legend

Verity in Year 12 looks at how the pre-Raphaelites interpreted the tales of King Arthur and his court for a nineteenth century audience, emphasising their splendour as well as the challenge they could express to Victorian materialism and industrialisation

The tales of King Arthur and his knights have been popular for hundreds of years and have been reworked and re-interpreted by different groups and cultures. Thought to have originated in Celtic, Welsh, and Irish legends, the figure of Arthur appears as either a great warrior defending Britain from both human and supernatural enemies, or as a magical figure of folklore.

Though the tales were drawn from different sources – many of the most famous coming from French writers such as Chretien de Troyes – the story’s international popularity largely came from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the King of Britain), Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur and most importantly Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poems. These works inspired the second phase in Pre-Raphaelitism. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of men (and a few important women) in the 1850s who challenged the artistic conventions of genre painting to instead ‘go to nature’ and work with the idea of realism.

Their principal themes were initially religious, but they also used subjects from literature and poetry, particularly those dealing with love and death. King Arthur’s knights of the Round Table presented the idea of an all-male community collectively devoted to a reforming project, and the brotherhood’s collaborative working patterns also reflected that.

The Arthurian Tales do not focus on one particular person, genre or event but they encompass numerous people and places – from the Guinevere and Lancelot scandal to Sir Gawain and his encounter with the mystical Green Knight; the sorceress Morgan Le Fay and Nimue; Arthur’s wizard advisor, Merlin, to Arthur’s son, Mordred, who brought about the legendary king’s ultimate downfall. Some of the most well-known paintings of the movement were the paintings depicting the The Lady of Shalott by William Waterhouse.

I am Half Sick of Shadows, The Lady of Shalott looking at Lancelot and The Lady of Shalott – William Waterhouse

These paintings tell the story of a woman who is forbidden to leave her tower and who can only see the outside world through a mirror, otherwise she will suffer a curse. The first part of the poem was depicted in the 1915 painting I am Half-Sick of Shadows Said the Lady of Shalott. The lady, trapped in her tower, spends her days weaving the images she sees in the mirror and at the moment captured in the painting, there are two lovers.

When the moon was overhead,

Came two young lovers lately wed,

‘I am half sick of Shadows’,

Said the Lady of Shalott.

In the painting there is a poppy in the reflection of the mirror but not in the foreground which foreshadows the lady’s death since poppies symbolise eternal sleep. Also, the weaving shuttles are shaped like boats which predict the final part of the poem. The next part was shown in the 1894 painting The Lady of Shalott Looking at Lancelot. The Lady sees Sir Lancelot in her mirror and falls instantly in love. She turns to properly look at him and the mirror shatters fulfilling the curse.

Out flew the web and floated wide;

The mirror crack’ d from side to side;

‘The curse come upon me,’

Cried the Lady of Shalott.

The lady is painted looking directly at the viewer with a defiant stare. She is tangled in the threads of her tapestries holding a small wooden shuttle, preparing to flee in order to find Lancelot. Within the context of 19th century Britain, Waterhouse may have implied that she is a woman of agency, defying her confinement and going after what she desires most. One could also say that Tennyson’s poem captured many artists’ ideas, especially the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, about whether they should capture nature truthfully or give their own interpretation. The Lady’s actions could reflect an artist breaking away from imagination and seeing the world in real life.

The final instalment of the poem is captured in The Lady of Shalott painted first in 1888. The lady moves downstream in a boat inscribed with her name on the prow holding the chains that tether her. On the boat is a crucifix symbolizing sacrifice and three candles, two of which have been blown out suggesting that her death will come soon. The woman’s lips are parted showing how she is singing her final song before her death.

For ere she reach’d upon the tide,

The first house by the water-side,

Singing in her song she died,

The Lady of Shalott.

The Beguiling of Merlin – Edward Burne-Jones

Another favourite is The Beguiling of Merlin painted in 1872 by Edward Burne-Jones. It shows a snake-crowned Nimue enchanting Merlin with his own sorcery by binding him into a tree in the forest. Merlin’s helplessness and entrapment is conveyed by the serpentine lines of the drapery and tree branches that imprison the wizard and deprive him of his power. This fluidity of line also captures the ebb and flow of magic. Furthermore, his droopy hands and glass-eyed demeanour reinforce the sense of paralysis. Like a lot of his work, Burne-Jones explores power relationships in which a man falls victim to a hidden threatening female power.

Guenevere – William Morris

The character of Guinevere and the scandal with Lancelot is also repeatedly depicted. Guinevere is the legendary Queen and wife of King Arthur and in French romantic interpretations she has a love affair with her husband’s chief knight and friend, Lancelot. William Morris’s painting Guenevere or La Belle Iseult is a portrait of the model and wife of Morris, Jane Burden in medieval dress. She was discovered by Morris and Rossetti when they were working together on the Oxford murals and she later became a model for several different artworks like Rossetti’s Proserpine, Sir Launcelot in the Queen’s Chamber and more of Morris’s work.

In both Morris’ and Rossetti’s paintings Burden is cast not only as a queen but as an adulteress. The way life later imitated art has an uncanny force, particularly considering Burden later became the lover of Rossetti in the 1860s. The rich colours, the emphasis on pattern and details such as the missal reveal where Morris’s true talents lay. He was less at home with figure painting than with illumination, embroidery, and woodcarving, and he struggled for months on this picture. Most people will know him as a key figure in the Arts & Crafts Movement having probably seen his wallpapers and designs.

The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon – Edward Burne-Jones

Six and a half metres wide The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon marked the culmination of Burne-Jones’ fascination with Arthurian legend. The painting, which took 17 years and remained unfinished, depicts a moment of rest and inaction. Mortally wounded, King Arthur rests his head on the lap of his sister, the fairy queen Morgana, who took her brother to Avalon after his defeat in battle. At the centre of the Arthurian tales is the idea that he did not actually die, but sleeps in Avalon, waiting for the moment when the nation will most need his return.

From its earliest roots the story of King Arthur has been changing hands and remoulded to fit the cultures and society of the time. For the Pre-Raphaelites and the Victorian era, the legend resonated with them. In part they found splendour in it – sparkling armour and swords, flying banners and beautiful maidens in flowing robes. On the other hand, Arthur became a symbol of their crusade against the mundane and the crude materialistic era that was Victorian industrialisation. They reshaped Arthur to become a means to convey the morals and the monarchical society of the time.

Edward Burne-Jones – Alison Smith

The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites – Elizabeth Prettejohn

Preventing a dangerous game of hide-and-seek in medical trials

Helen S reveals how the pharmaceutical industry hides unfavourable results from medical trials. She warns of the risks to human health, and proposes how we can make medical research more robust and trustworthy

Have you ever questioned the little pills prescribed by your doctors? I had not, until I began working on this article – and the truth is, we know less than we should about them. It is scary to think that, though these medications are supposed to heal us when we are feeling poorly, in reality, that it is not always the case.

Clinical trials are experiments or observations done for clinical research that compare the effects of one treatment with another. They may involve patients, healthy people, or both. Some are funded by pharmaceutical companies, and some are funded by the government. I will mainly focus on the phenomenon of hiding negative data in industry-funded trials.

Research done in 2005 by Evelyne Decullier, Senior Research Fellow at Hospices Civils de Lyon, compared registered trials that have failed and those that have succeeded, and which ones appear in the medical journals and academic literature. They consistently found that only half of trials are ever published and that positive results are 2.5 times more likely to be published than negative results.

Now, you might say, ‘how can those trials possibly affect me or other ordinary people?’ Well, read on…

Why this matters for your health

Lorcainide is an anti-arrhythmic heart drug and was tested in clinical trials in the 1980s. The results showed that patients given Lorcainide were far more likely to die than patients who weren’t.  But those results were not published until 10 years later, and during that time, doctors had been prescribing the drug to patients. According to Dr Ben Goldacre, director of DataLab at Oxford University, it has been estimated that more than 100,000 people who had taken Lorcainide died in America as a result. And Lorcainide is not a single case. Similar things may be happening to other clinical trials relating to drugs such as anti-depressants or cancer treatment.

The lack of transparency can also affect decisions on government spending. From 2006 to 2013, the UK government was advised to buy a drug called Tamiflu which was supposed to reduce pneumonia and death caused by influenza. The UK government went on to spend £424 million stockpiling this drug. But when the systematic reviewers tried to gather up all the trials that have been done on Tamiflu, they realised that the government had only seen a small number of the trials. They battled for years to get the trials from the drug company, and when they had finally got all of them, they found that Tamiflu was not sufficiently effective to justify that large a cost. If companies continue to withhold trials, similar expensive trials are going to be repeated, putting the volunteers, patients and doctors in danger.

Pharmaceutical companies have failed us, so what about the law? In America, it is required that medical trials held in the US need to be registered and have their results submitted within one year of the trial finishing. However, when scientists looked back at the data in 2015, they found out that only 20% of trials were submitted and reported.

Industry-funded research is not the complete villain in this situation. During these types of research, discoveries are more likely to occur (Adam, 2005; Adam, Carrier, & Wilholt, 2006; Carrier, 2004). And thanks to funding from industry, scientists are less pressured to present something that is directly linked to real‐world use, compared to public or government-funded projects (Carrier, 2011). And as we all know, new technologies all start with discoveries.

Finding remedies

Here are some suggestions from scientists for improving the current situation: to increase the transparency, to increase reproducibility and the most doable one, effective criticism (Elliott,2018). Out of these, the criterion that is the easiest to modify is to have more effective criticism. It is important to acknowledge that criticism doesn’t need always to be negative. Though the agencies that are usually responsible for evaluation can be limited by a variety of reasons, such as  understaffing or political issues, “they can get more involved in designing the safety studies performed by industry in specific cases,” suggests Philosopher of Science, Kevin Elliott. (A safety study is a study carried out after a medicine has been authorised, to obtain further information on a medicine’s safety, or to measure the effectiveness of risk-management measures.)

Luckily we have the technologies in our hands. Alpha Fold is leading the scene: it has done some amazing and accurate predictions on predicting the 3D shape of proteins, meaning scientists can facilitate the design of stable protein. It can also help to make sense of X-ray data to determine crystals structure; before Alpha Fold was invented, determining the structure of proteins to do structure-based drug design could take 3-4 years. Now they are presented in front of you in less than an hour.

Everyone is different, some people might have allergies, and some drugs might not even work for some people. To avoid these situations, technologies such as AI could make your prescription personalised to you. By analysing your DNA information sent to your pharmacy, AI would analyse the dosage and the drug suitable for you. The 3D printed “polypill” is a single pill that has all the personalised medication you need in one day in one pill, which is remarkable. 

Hopefully, now it is a little easier to understand the importance of transparency in clinical testing. Trial results were never just numbers – they are directly linked to the lives of millions. Pharmaceutical companies were not simply hiding data – they were hiding the deaths of the volunteers and patients, and the money of families wasted on more expensive but less effective treatments. There must be, without doubt, serious consequences if companies don’t follow regulations.  I believe there will be hope if the scientists use technology effectively and if a better research environment is created for future generations.

Why was the cat a cultural icon in ancient Egyptian culture?

Elsa P traces the history of cats in Ancient Egypt – from humble ratcatcher to god, and from pet to votive offering – exploring both how they were represented, and how they lived within Egyptian society

Animals are an important presence in many aspects of society, culture and religion. They act as companions but also symbols, idols and gods. Their significance goes back centuries and their role in the development of cultures can be felt today. What I want to look at in this piece is the question, why is the cat so important?

The earliest historical depiction of the upright tail, pointing ears and triangular face of the domesticated cat appeared around 1950 BCE, in a painting on the back wall of a limestone tomb around 250 kilometres south of Cairo, Egypt. After this first feature, cats soon became a fixture of Egyptian paintings and sculptures and were even immortalized as mummies. Cats possessed the art of social climbing as they rose in status from rodent killer to pet to representations of gods. Does this mean the domesticated cat had a significant impact on the development of ancient Egypt?

Most ancient Egyptian artistic representations of cats were based on the African wildcat. With a light build, grey coat and black or light-coloured spots and stripes, the African wildcat is very similar to the tabby cat that we see in most domestic homes today.

With a prominent farming culture in ancient Egyptian society, cats were a useful tool to chase away dangerous animals such as venomous snakes and scorpions but progressively became symbols of divinity and protection in the ancient Egyptian world.

Paintings on Egyptian tombs show cats lying or sitting below chairs and chasing birds and playing. A recently discovered pet cemetery[1] (dating to the 1st and 2nd centuries CE) found on the outskirts of Berenice, on Egypt’s Red Sea coast holds the remains of cats with remarkable iron and beaded collars, which are believed to have died of old age. These discoveries suggest that cats were probably kept as companions and were loved and respected animals in Egyptian society.

“The ancient Egyptians, in general, did not worship animals. Rather, they saw animals as representations of divine aspects of their gods,” according to Julia Troche, an Egyptologist, assistant professor of history at Missouri State University[2]. In addition to domestic companionship, cats were seen as vessels that the Egyptian gods chose to inhabit, and whose likeness such gods chose to adopt. One god that was depicted as a cat was Bastet, the goddess of the home, domesticity, women’s secrets, cats, fertility, and childbirth. Bastet was first depicted as a fierce lioness, but later as a domestic cat and as dutiful mother with several kittens and a protector of the family. In tomb paintings, a representation of fertility was a cat sitting under a women’s chair, possibly arising from the fact that a female cat gives birth to a relatively large litter. Around 5th century BCE a large cult of Bastet devotees developed in the city of Bubastis near the modern-day city of Zagazig, north of Cairo. They would gather around a massive temple and would leave small cat statues as offerings for the Bastet. This popularity for Bastet persisted for almost another 1,500 years which further reinforces why the Ancient Egyptians respected and honoured the cat in their society. Ancient Egyptians thought of cats more generally, as protectors, while at the same time they respected their ferocity. The god Sekhmet, the goddess of war, is depicted as a lioness and was said to be a warrior and protector deity who kept the enemies of the sun god Ra at bay. “In some mortuary texts, cats are shown with a dagger, cutting through Apopis: the snake deity who threatens Ra at night in the Underworld,” Julia Troche explains[3].

As cats were fierce protectors in the eyes of the ancient Egyptians, it comes as no surprise that they played a vital role in the afterlife. Because of their highly respected status, the killing of cats in ancient Egypt was illegal. However, killing for mummification may have been an exception. A recent study[4] reported the carrying out of X-ray micro-CT scanning on ancient Egyptian mummified animals. The study explored the skeletal structure of a mummified cat and the materials used in the mummification process. The results showed that the cat was smaller than expected and that 50 percent of the mummy was made up of wrapping. Through dissection of the teeth of the cat, the scientists deduced that it was around 5 months old when it died and that the cause of the death was deliberate breaking of the neck. The study concluded that the cat was most likely purposely bred for mummification to provide votive offerings for the gods with cat associations. For example, the cat was used as a votive offering for the god Bastet. Mummified cats were bought by temples to sell to pilgrims who may have offered the mummified animals to the gods in a similar way that candles may be offered in churches today. Egyptologists have also suggested that the mummified cats were meant to act as messengers between people on earth and the gods. To uphold the demand for such offerings, entire industries were devoted to the breeding of millions of cats to be killed and mummified, and also so that they could be buried alongside people. This happened largely between about 700 BCE and 300 CE.

Cats were respected creatures in ancient Egyptian society. The representation of the ancient Egyptian gods as cats influenced the citizens’ behaviour towards these animals and played an integral part of religious practice. They also were a useful tool in the agriculture industry, keeping pests away from farmland. This admiration is still prominent in today’s western culture as many people keep cats as home companions and as pest control.


El-Kilany, Engy, Mahran, Heba, What Lies Under the Chair! A study in ancient Egyptian private tomb scenes, part 1, American Research Centre in Egypt, 2015

What Lies Under the Chair! A Study in Ancient Egyptian Private Tomb Scenes, Part I on JSTOR

Geggel, Laura, World’s oldest ‘pet cemetery’ discovered in ancient Egypt, Live Science online, 08 March 2021

World’s oldest ‘pet cemetery’ discovered in ancient Egypt | Live Science

Johnston, Richard, Thomas, Richard, Jones, Rhys, Graves-Brown, Carolyn, Goodridge, Wendy and North, Laura, Evidence of diet, deification, and death within ancient Egyptian mummified animals, Scientific Reports, 10(1) online, 20 August 2020

Evidence of diet, deification, and death within ancient Egyptian mummified animals | Scientific Reports (

MacDonald, James, Why Ancient Egyptians Loved Cats So Much, JSTOR Daily online, 27 November 2018

Why Ancient Egyptians Loved Cats So Much – JSTOR Daily

Plackett, Benjamin, Why were the ancient Egyptians obsessed with cats?, Live Science online, 17 April 2021

Why were the ancient Egyptians obsessed with cats? | Live Science

Yuko, Elizabeth, How Cats Became Divine Symbols in Ancient Egypt, HISTORY online, 17 August 2021

[1] Geggel, Laura, World’s oldest ‘pet cemetery’ discovered in ancient Egypt, Live Science online, 08 March 2021

World’s oldest ‘pet cemetery’ discovered in ancient Egypt | Live Science

[2] Yuko, Elizabeth, How Cats Became Divine Symbols in Ancient Egypt, HISTORY online, 17 August 2021

[3] ibid footnote 2

[4] Johnston, Richard, Thomas, Richard, Jones, Rhys, Graves-Brown, Carolyn, Goodridge, Wendy and North, Laura, Evidence of diet, deification, and death within ancient Egyptian mummified animals, Scientific Reports, 10(1) online, 20 August 2020

Evidence of diet, deification, and death within ancient Egyptian mummified animals | Scientific Reports (

Why ideas matter: the calculated uses of British ‘civilisation’ in Africa

Josie M, Transition Representative on the WHS Student Leadership Team, explores how ideologies are constructed in order to justify atrocity, in relation to Britain’s exploitation and colonisation of Africa

Throughout history, and particularly in relation to the British empire, Britain’s international dominance has been obtained and developed through the enforcement of British beliefs and culture. When Africa became the object of Britain’s desire in the late 17th century, as an integral part of the transatlantic slave trade, Africa’s apparent lack of ‘civilisation’ – as determined by Britain’s definition – was used to justify the horrendous treatment of African slaves and was later instrumental in gaining public support for African colonisation.

This reflects the wider phenomenon of how the ‘western’ notion and interpretation of what constitutes a respectable civilisation has been severely damaging to the periphery during colonisation and European land acquisition. I am taking the term ‘western’ to refer to ideas that have been popularised in economically developed areas in Europe; and ‘periphery’ to refer to countries that are viewed as less economically developed nations with ‘poor communications and sparse populations’: ‘Defined in geographical or sociological terms, the centre represents the locus of power and dominance and importantly, the source of prestige, while the periphery is subordinate’ (Mayhew, 2009).

The British Empire and Commonwealth

A widely circulated definition describes civilisation as a complex society, concerned with so-called civilised things; Money, Art, Law, Power, Culture, Organised belief systems, Education, Hierarchy, Trade and Agriculture (, 2022).This proposed definition contains only a limited range of categories for observation: 17th and 18th century Britain also used similar definitions to decide what constituted a respectable civilisation. When British explorers and leaders arrived in Africa, they found peoples and cultures that operated very differently to the commercial towns and cities of Britain. Technological advancements within Britain meant that emerging industrialisation within towns and cities was considered a major manifestation of civilisation, so Africa’s lack of these particular trademarks led to the continent being branded as ‘Darkest Africa’, which was the idea that the people were savage and brutal and incapable of governing themselves.

As a result of this racist ideology, African people were then portrayed as uncivilised and inferior to the white British classes who sought to rule and profit from them. As the cradle of humanity, African kingdoms and tribes had been evolving for thousands of years, all the while developing rich histories and cultures that oversaw daily life. However, this vibrant tapestry of language, music, art, customs, trade, and religion was not seen as such – in the eyes of the British, the tribal system and Africa’s lack of advanced weaponry and technology meant that it was their ‘rightful place’ to be subservient to the colonising powers, and slavery was a means of achieving this submission.

The shifting uses of ideology

The development of the transatlantic slave trade and the eventual European colonisation of Africa are heavily intertwined, with the racist ideology developed during the slave trading period resurfacing and being used to justify colonisation. Across Europe, Christianity had long since been associated with civilised society and as being the pinnacle of world religion. Christian teachings were used to justify the poor treatment of slaves and their forced removal from their homelands. Propaganda that Africans “worshipped the devil, practiced witchcraft, and sorcery” among other evils was rife, these practises directly opposing many values held by religious Europeans. As a result, one of the foremost Christian missions was employed: to evangelise and spread the word of God.

Pseudo-scientific race theories were also beginning to emerge at this time, suggesting that black races were genetically inferior to white races and so God required that they serve their white masters. Christianity’s evangelical mission was utilised in justifying the removal of African people from their ‘devil worshipping’ cultures and bringing the ‘heathens’ to Christian lands where they could be saved by the Gospel and brought into the light, thereby spreading the faith and achieving one of the primary objectives of the religion.

These race theories and evangelising missions were later turned on their head when slavery was abolished on 1 May 1807. The trade did not stop instantaneously: Britain continued to expand its economic horizons through increased trade with India and the Far East, in order to maximise its global reach. By the later 1800’s, colonial expansion into Africa became the new object of European interest and the ‘Scramble for Africa’ formally began with the Berlin Conference in 1885.

Cecil Rhodes (1892)

During African colonisation, the popular Christian mission altered from justifying ferrying slaves to Christian countries to deliver them liberation through the Word of God, to directly opposing slavery and all the evils associated with the practice. This altering of common Christian beliefs about slavery was employed by British leaders to gain support for direct British involvement in Africa. David Livingstone was an extremely popular and influential explorer and missionary at the time; calling for a worldwide crusade to defeat the slave trade controlled by Arabs in East Africa. The British were then able to turn the tide of belief by establishing their own moral authority on the issue, they created another enemy in the Arabs and were then able to present their quest for land acquisition as ethical because they were supposedly assisting in the eradication of slavery – a system they had exacerbated enormously – by fuelling colonisation and increasing their involvement in Africa.

Livingstone’s three C’s: Commerce, Christianity and Civilisation were then employed as the main objectives of British administration in Africa. In this way, Britain portrayed itself as a more innocent party that was merely extending a great opportunity to Africa to modernise in the same way it had. However, this was not the reality of the situation and the true motives behind imperial expansion: competition, and profit, were often disguised behind this veil of apparent moral authority. The plight of many African nations that suffered at the hands of European expansion was then blamed on themselves, on their own ‘savage’ ways, when in fact European nations were instrumental in causing many of the issues of corruption, instability and poverty, which persist as legacies of colonisation today.

In conclusion, the western definition of civilisation was warped and used by the British to justify a campaign of control and submission throughout Africa. This method of obtaining control allowed Britain to profit and develop on an immense scale, whilst the African nations that Britain occupied had their natural resources exploited, their people dehumanised, and their cultures and ways of life demonised as savage and barbaric. In many cases, Christianity was used as a means to justify these actions because it was seen as such a pinnacle of civilisation by the Europeans, and was believed to go hand-in-hand with respectable society.

Over 12 million African people were forcibly removed from their homeland and sold into slavery during the transatlantic trade, and millions more suffered as a result of colonisation and extortionate land acquisition by global powers. And critical in enabling human suffering and exploitation on such as massive scale, was the damaging western definition of civilisation, which resulted in extraordinary pseudo-scientific race theories being used to justify horrific actions.


Oxford reference: Core-periphery, (Azaryahu (2008) Soc. & Cult. Geog. 9, 4).

Olusoga, David: The roots of European racism lie in the slave trade, colonialism – and Edward Long, The Guardian

David, Dr Saul: Slavery and the ‘Scramble for Africa’, BBC History

St John’s College: The Scramble for Africa, Europeans called Africa the ‘Dark Continent’ because it was unknown to them, University of Cambridge,The%20Europeans%20called%20Africa%20the%20’Dark%20Continent’%20because,it%20was%20unknown%20to%20them.&text=African%20peoples%20did%20not%20have,their%20rich%20histories%20and%20cultures.

Raypole, Crystal: A Saviour No One Needs: Unpacking and Overcoming the White Saviour Complex, Healthline

Christian History: Why did so many Christians support slavery?, Christianity Today

Farmer, Alan: The British Empire c1857-1967, Access to History, Hodder Education, 2018

Oxford AQA History: The British Empire c1857-1967, A Level and AS, Oxford University Press, 2015

How Classical Western Architecture has inspired the world

Agnes P. in Year 9 takes us on a lively whistle-stop tour of key features and sights in the history of Classical Western Architecture, looking at the three main styles – Ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine – that underpin the architecture we see around us today

Architecture governs our lives. We live in a metropolis and everywhere we turn there is a new street with buildings from a variety of eras that give us the ability to eat, sleep and to live. In the Palaeolithic period, roughly 2.5 million years ago, when humans lived in huts and hunted wildlife for food, the key purpose of architecture was to provide shelter, but now, we have many uses for it, due to the wealth, wisdom and resources amassed by humanity over 2.5 million years. But we can still trace the roots of much modern architecture back to ancient times.

Archaic architecture from as early as the 6th century BC has influenced many architects over the past two millennia. If you have ever been to the British Museum, a building designed to mimic the Greek style, and looked up at the columns just before the entrance, you will have noticed the ornate capitals, decorated with scrolls and Acanthus leaves. They are derived from the two principal orders in Archaic architecture: Doric and Ionic. The Doric order occurred more often on the Greek mainland where Greek colonies were founded. The Ionic order was more common among Greeks in Asia Minor and the Islands of Greece. These orders were crucial if you were an architect living in 600 BC. Temples were buildings that defined Greek architecture. They were oblong with rows of columns along all sides. The pediment (the triangular bit at the top) often showed friezes of famous scenes in the bible or victories achieved by the Greeks. The wealth that was accumulated by Athens after the Persian Wars enabled extensive building programs. The Parthenon in Athens shows the balance of symmetry, harmony, and culture within Greek architecture; it was the centre of religious life and was built especially for the Gods to show the strength in their beliefs. Greek architecture is very logical and organised. Many basic theories were founded by Greeks and they were able to develop interesting supportive structures. They also had a good grasp of the importance of foundation and were able to use physics to build stable housing.

Image from Pexels

The Romans were innovators. They developed new construction techniques and materials with complex and creative designs. They were skilled mathematicians, designers and rulers who continued the legacy left by Greek architects. Or as the Greeks might put it: pretentious copycats who stole their ideas and claimed them as their own. We sometimes forget that the origins of Roman Architecture lay within Greek history. Nonetheless, brand new architectural structures were produced, such as the triumphal arch, the aqueduct, and the amphitheatre. The Pantheon is the best-preserved building from Ancient Rome, with a magnificent concrete dome. The purpose of the pantheon is unclear but the decoration on the pediment shows that it must have been a temple. Like many monuments, it has a chequered past. In 1207 a bell tower was added to the porch roof and then removed. In the Middle Ages, the left side of the porch was damaged and three columns were replaced. But despite further changes, the Pantheon still remains one of the most famous buildings and the best preserved ancient monument in the world. It even contains the tombs of the Italian monarchy and the tomb of Raphael, an Italian renaissance painter. Roman architecture is known for being flamboyant, and many features reflect the great pride of this culture, such as the great pediments, columns, and statues of Romans doing impressive things. These all show off their understanding of mathematics, physics, art, and architecture. Many American designs have been inspired by this legacy, including the White House and the Jefferson Memorial, which couldn’t look more Roman if it tried.

Byzantine architecture was the style that emerged in Constantinople. Buildings included soaring spaces, marble columns and inlay, mosaics, and gold-coffered ceilings. The architecture spread from Constantinople throughout the Christian East and in Russia. Hagia Sophia is a basilica with a 32-metre main dome, dedicated to the Holy Wisdom of God. The original church was built during the reign of Constantine I in 325 AD. His son then consecrated it in 360 AD and it was damaged by a fire during a riot in 404 AD. In 558 AD an earthquake nearly destroyed the entire dome and so it was rebuilt on a smaller scale. It was looted in 1204 by the Venetians and the Crusaders until after the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Mehmed II converted it into a mosque but in 1935 it was made a museum. But then it was converted back into a mosque in 2020. The history of the Pantheon looks paltry compared to the history of Hagia Sophia!

Byzantine architecture remains as a reminder of the spiritual and cultural life of people who lived in the Byzantine era. The use of mosaic during the Byzantine era has inspired modern architects to create themed works using gold mosaic to evoke beauty, religiosity, and purity.

Encyclopædia Britannica
The London Library
MetMuseum – The Metropolitan Museum of Art Website

Visit to the Francis Crick Institute

Grace S, Year 13 Student, writes about the recent Biology trip to visit the Francis Crick Institute.

WARNING This article will include mentions in a biomedical sense to some topics which some readers may find disturbing, including death, cancer and animal testing.

Last Friday some of the Biology A-level students were privileged enough to go on a trip to the Francis Crick Institute. All sorts of biomedical research goes on inside the Institute, but we went with a focus on looking at the studies into cancer. During our day, we visited the ‘Outwitting Cancer’ exhibition to find out more about the research projects and clinical trials that the Crick Institute is running; we had a backstage tour of the Swanton Laboratory to learn about the genetic codes of tumours and find out more about immunotherapy and I attended a discussion on the impact pollution can have on the lungs.

We started our trip by visiting the public exhibition ‘Outwitting Cancer’, with Dr Swanton as our tour guide. We first walked through a film showing how tumours divide and spread using representations from the natural and man-made world. This film also showed that tumours are made up of cancer cells and T-cells (cells involved in the immune response) trying to regulate the growth of the cancer cells. We then moved through to an area where several clips were playing outlining the different projects underway at the Crick Institute in regards to cancer. There were many different projects on display about different clinical trials and research projects looking into understanding and fighting cancer, but the one which fascinated me the most involved growing organoids (otherwise known as mini-organs) from stem cells. The stem cells would be extracted from the patient and used to grow these organoids, which would then be used to see how they respond to different drugs. This would allow each treatment to be highly specified to the patient, and so perhaps lead to higher survival rates among these patients. In this same section of the exhibition there was a rainbow semi-circle of ribbons with stories clipped to these ribbons written by visitors to the exhibit of their experiences with cancer, ranging from those who have a lived experience, to those who are simply curious to learn more. It was a fantastic exhibit and I recommend you give it a visit yourself, it’s free!

As interesting as this exhibit was, for us the highlight was a backstage tour of the Swanton Laboratory followed by talks from members of the team working there. We learnt that they have found that there is homogeneity within tumours, a fact that was not known just a few years ago. What this means is that different sections of tumours have completely different genetic codes. This could significantly change the way which tumours are analysed and treatments are prescribed. Previously, one tumour sample was thought to be representative of the whole tumour, it is now known that this is not the case and multiple samples from different sections of the tumour should be taken to get a comprehensive view of its structure and how best it could be treated. Linked to this, one member of the team, a final year PhD student, showed us graphics which they had been able to take and colour of the different cells present in a tumour. One of the main reasons cancer develops to the point where treatment is needed is because the body’s immune system has failed to neutralise the cancer cells, they were working to find out why this may be. In one of the graphics shown to us, a different type of immune cell had actually formed a wall around the T-cells, preventing them from reaching the cancer cells in order to eliminate them.  This would be important knowledge when considering immunotherapy treatments, which encourage the body’s own immune system to fight back against the cancer. In this case there would be little benefit to injecting or strengthening T-cells, as they would not be able to reach the cancer cells. Immunotherapy itself is still a relatively recent invention, and it is still considered only after treatments such as chemotherapy have not been effective. By this stage the cancer is more advanced and much harder to treat with immunotherapy, so it is hoped that in the future immunotherapy will be considered before more generalised treatments such as chemotherapy.

Work is also being done to understand late-stage cancer. We were allowed into one of the stations where practical work is done (wearing red lab coats to indicate that we were visitors) and shown a series of slides showing where biopsies (a biopsy is the removal of a tissue sample) might be taken from a tumour. It was explained to us that TRACERx (the name of the project being undertaken in the Swanton Laboratory) had set up a programme where people living with late-stage cancer can consent to their tumours being used for post-mortem research. Often these individuals had also signed up for earlier programmes, so information on their cancer at earlier stages was available and it was possible to see how the cancer had progressed. It was also explained to us several of the methods used to store samples, including the use of dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) and liquid nitrogen.

The final presentation I attended (we were on a carousel in small groups) discussed the influence of pollution on lung cancer. It had previously been found that as we age, the number of mutations we have grows, so clearly mutations are not the sole cause of cancer as not everyone develops cancer. It has now been theorised that carcinogens, such as particle matter found in air pollution, activate these pre-existing mutations. Currently non-smokers comprise 14% of all lung cancer cases in the UK, as the number of smokers drops as people become more aware of the dangers of smoking, the proportion of people with lung cancer who are non-smokers will increase, making research as to what may cause this lung cancer even more important. Lung cancer in non-smokers is currently the 8th largest cause of death to cancer in the UK. Two on-going experiments are studying the effect of exposure to pollution on mutations in the lungs. One is being run within the Institute, exposing mice to pollution, and another in Canada, where human volunteers are exposed to the level of pollution average in Beijing for two hours. Whilst it is unlikely that this exposure will lead to new mutations, it may cause changes in those already present. All of the research projects presented to us are ongoing, and it really was a privilege to see what sort of work is going on behind the scenes.

All of us were incredibly lucky to be able to go on this trip and meet some of the scientists working on such fascinating projects within the Francis Crick Institute. Most of us were biologically-minded anyway, but were we not, this trip certainly would have swayed us.

Does money actually grow on trees?

Alexia P. Head Girl, analyses the historic and future impact of trees on the economy.

‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’. A cliché I’m sure most people will have heard when they were younger; when they had no understanding of the true value of money.  However, is this cliché wrong – are there economic benefits to trees?

As of 2020, there are approximately 3.04 trillion trees on the planet, made up of 60,065 different species. Their uses vary, from being produced into something tangible, such as paper or furniture, or providing intangible services, such as the carbon cycle or retaining nutrients in biomass to aid farmers in growing crops. Over time, although their uses may have changed, trees have always been a vital part of our economy, in ways that at first, may not be apparent.

Photo by zhang kaiyv from Pexels

Let’s jump back in time. The year is 1690, and the global dominance of the British Empire is growing. In Britain, most of the population are in the primary sector of employment, particularly in agriculture, growing trees to help build houses, or to trade for an animal to increase income for the household. As timber and fruits were traded amongst farmers, incomes increased. However, as more villages were established, space that was previously forestland was cleared of trees, and the supply started to diminish. The navy – at the time, the biggest in the world – relied on the timber for their ships; to continue to expand their fleet, they had to travel further abroad. Ships then travelled to America, India, and Europe to gain resources, power, and valuable influence to create trading alliances that are still in place today. This extra money and resources gave Britain an advantage when The Industrial Revolution hit in 1760. This allowed for a quick and smooth integration of the new, more efficient way of life that asserted Britain further as a global power and further boosted its economy. And all of this stemmed from the reliance and resources of trees, without which, the roots of our economy would not stand today.

However, as countries developed, their reliance on single resources and tangible products have decreased, particularly in ‘advanced’ countries in favour of services and jobs in tertiary and quaternary sectors. As a result, agriculture – such as timber production – has steadily decreased.

But trees still play a vital part in the growth of our economy today. In LIDCs and EDCs, such as Brazil, logging and mass production of wood has become part of the economy. Although the industry is environmentally frowned upon, it has an estimated worth of $200 billion annually, allowing many developing countries who produce this material to place money into developing infrastructure and technology further. There are not only economic benefits. In some societies, such as in parts of Indonesia, trees and wood have been used as currency on a local scale, allowing people to trade wood for farming animals, or clothes, encouraging economic movement in smaller villages, that may not have reliable national trading routes. Paper, furniture and fuel are just some other ways that trees have become so heavily relied on in people’s lives, with few other ways to substitute the valuable resources they produce.

Photo by mali maeder from Pexels

However, the rate at which tree resources are exploited is becoming too high. In the quest to become economically developed, forest sustainability has been forgotten. Increasing tropical deforestation rates account for loss of biodiversity and reduction in carbon intakes,affecting further tree growth in surrounding areas as nutrients are removed.

There have been recent attempts, however, to preserve the trees and rainforests. In a recent study by Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, it was determined that rainforests store around 25% of carbon dioxide, with the Amazon alone strong 127 billion tons. To release these gases would heavily increase the enhanced greenhouse effect, changing the balance of the Earth’s ecosystems.

Sustainable income from trees is becoming more apparent, particularly in countries where deforestation rates are highest. In Bangladesh, where fuel industry relies on 81% wood, the logging industry has been encouraged to collect dead trees, wood waste and pruning rather than felling increased sections of forest. This still allows for an income, whilst ensuring trees remain part of the ecosystem. Furthermore, there has been a global effort to move away from the use of wood entirely. Reusable energy, such as solar power, makes up 26% of the global energy used and is expected to rise to 45% by 2045. Although this means the usage of trees in the economy will decline, it allows for new income sources, such as eco-tourism that encourages more environmentally aware holidays; for example, Samasati lodge, Costa Rica. The lodge uses rainwater instead of transporting water through pipes; is built on stilts rather than the ground as not to disrupt run-off water to rivers; and blends in with surroundings to ensure not to disturb local wildlife in attempts to make holidays more environmentally sustainable, whilst still taking economic advantages of trees.

‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’. Well, since 2016 in the UK, it hasn’t. Our bank note system changed from paper to plastic, showing the progression from a society that once relied on a single produce, to a new, man-made source. This well represents our economy today and our declining reliance on trees: what was once the roots of our economy will soon become a thing of the past.

How did the 2016 EU Referendum come about?

Cara H, Editor of Unconquered Peaks, looks at the key reasons that led David Cameron to hold the 2016 EU referendum.

In this essay I focus on the factors which led to the 2016 Referendum being held, rather than the result. David Cameron called the 2016 EU Referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) in 2015, giving the British public the right to decide whether their future would be in or out of the EU. They chose to leave the EU by a margin of 51.9% leave, versus 48.1% remain. The UK-EU relationship has always been complicated and fraught, ever since joining in 1973. Factors analysed are ‘important’ as they led to Euroscepticism in British politics or the British public, and/or led to political pressure on Cameron to hold a referendum on EU membership.

I argue that the UK’s historic relationship with the EU contrasts sharply with their current aims. As for immigration, general anti-immigration sentiment, and the rise of UKIP (which are very much linked) strongly contributed to Euroscepticism and political pressure on Cameron. I also touch on Cameron himself, and his decision making around quelling his backbenchers.

A transactional vs political relationship

Britain has always viewed the EU differently to our European friends. Whilst most of Europe see themselves as European, Britons are the least likely to have Europe form part of their identity (see graph below), and do not have the same allegiance to Europe in comparisons to the German or French. Instead, we view our relationship with the EU as transactional, through a cost-benefit, economic analysis. This can be clearly traced back to our original reasons for joining.

(Eurobarometer, 2015)

In the late 1950s, Britain was experiencing a post-war economic rut, while Germany and France were experiencing strong growth. Britain’s spheres of influence were declining, and trade with the USA and Commonwealth had decreased. This led to the belief that joining the bloc might remedy the UK’s economic problems. Macmillan, the UK Prime Minister at the time, “saw the European Community as an economic panacea… here was a way in which the British economy could overcome so many of its problems without resorting to a radical and painful domestic economic overhaul” (Holmes, n.d.) This analysis of Britain’s reasons for joining contrasts sharply with the EU’s increasingly political aims. Though Britain arguably shares the aims of the European Project, it does not share the same desire to become one with Europe and is interested in the EU only economically. Having joined the EU for economic reasons, and later being faced with political integration, increased tensions.

These tensions between an economic, free trade-based union and a political integratory one, have been the backdrop of the UK’s interactions with the EU. For example, the Eurozone Crisis in the UK especially damaged views towards Europe, not simply because of what happened, but because the ‘cost’ of remaining a member became highlighted. The heightened tensions within the political establishments of the UK and the EU have seeped into the general public psyche. Therefore, the dual nature of the EU as a trade-bloc and a political union had a negative impact on the UK’s relationship with the EU, by increasing Euroscepticism, and in turn increasing political pressure on Cameron to hold a referendum in 2016.

Immigration concerns conflated with EU

Freedom of movement is enshrined in the EU’s ‘DNA’. As stated in 1957 in the Treaty of Rome, it can be defined as ‘EU nationals having the right to move freely within the European Union and to enter and reside in any EU member state’ (Bundesministeriums des Innern, 2015). Non-EU immigration levels have always been higher than EU immigration levels. Meaning that the argument around freedom of movement as a cause of unsustainable immigration has been greatly exaggerated. It is the perception of EU immigration that has stuck; the EU became synonymous with immigration of any kind, whether this is misguided or not.

The increased level of non-EU and EU immigration put pressure on aspects of British culture which are not so open to those perceived as ‘non-British’. Integration is often difficult for those of a different culture. For example, differences in language, traditions and skills, can lead to those with a strong sense of British national identity perceiving immigrants negatively, as they threaten what some see as British culture. And yet this immigration concern is incorrectly conflated with the EU, as the majority of immigration to the UK has little to do with the European Union (though one could also argue that all British anti-immigration sentiment is largely unfounded, regardless of the place of origin). An excellent paper by Chatham House presents a cross analysis of people’s voting choices (leave vs remain), compared to their attitudes towards immigration (both non-EU and EU). The trait that most divided the ‘leavers’ from the ‘remainers’ was their attitudes towards immigration and British culture: nearly ¾ of ‘outers’ agreed that ‘Immigration undermines British culture”.

Social background of ‘inners’, ‘outers’ and undecided voters. (Chatham House, 2015)

Therefore, this cultural negativity towards immigration manifests itself in many ways, one of which is opposition to the EU, through the conflation of (any) immigration with EU membership. One of the EU’s most sacred principles is freedom of movement, and the growing number of immigrants since the UK’s membership of the EU has only increased this Euroscepticism, which increased the likelihood of EU-UK referendum.

UKIP’s sudden rise

UKIP was founded in 1991 and can be categorised as a single-issue party, with the sole aim of bringing the UK out of the EU, via a referendum. Once Nigel Farage became leader of UKIP in 2006, it grew in popularity, with gains in the 2013 local elections (22% of the vote), two Conservative Party defections to UKIP in 2013, and impressive results in both the 2014 European Parliament elections (largest number of seats with 24) and the 2015 General Election (12.5% of the popular vote). They were most certainly on the up.

Table to show distribution of seats in the European Parliament in 2014.

UKIP’s rise led to Cameron’s electoral position becoming increasingly threatened: UKIP is a right-wing party, whose voters were more likely to be white and older than that of Labour’s electorate. Therefore, UKIP was able to split the Conservative vote (Martill, 2018). In 2014, UKIP managed to gain over a quarter of votes in European Parliament elections, outnumbering the Conservatives. Understandably, this was a clear threat to the Conservative Party at the time. Though support for UKIP was clearly influenced by other factors, (i.e factors that pushed voters towards UKIP), UKIP managed to harness Euroscepticism in the general public, and transform this into meaningful political pressure on David Cameron to hold a referendum. The nature of UKIP’s rise – sudden, large, and at a time when the Conservatives did not have a majority (pre-2015 General Election), was a very important factor in leading to the referendum. Arguably, UKIP’s pressure on Cameron led him to hold an election, lest he lose public and potentially party support, and inevitably, a general election. Therefore, due to the rise of UKIP, a party based on support for a referendum on the EU, Cameron was incentivised to put a referendum promise in his party’s manifesto in 2015 and hold one in 2016, in order to keep his Conservative Government in office.

Cameron’s desire for a quick fix

The Prime Minister is by far the main source of authority over whether to hold a referendum or not, so analysing Cameron is important in answering this essay’s question. Cameron’s decision around party management was an impactful factor in leading to the 2016 EU Referendum.

The promise of a referendum can be seen as a ‘quick fix’ method of appeasement to the Eurosceptic backbenchers. As is clear from the rise of the Conservative Eurosceptic faction, heightened tensions were forming in the Conservative Party from 2013 onwards, and this threatened the Party’s ability to govern. Hence, Cameron felt compelled to manage his party over Europe, by delegating the decision to the public. When the referendum was initially promised in June 2013, Cameron was concerned with stopping the backbenchers rebelling in the coalition. He wanted to silence the Eurosceptic wing of the party that had caused so much trouble for the party over the years; an ‘easy fix’ to a longstanding problem (Martill, 2018). A comment that encapsulates this, is from Donald Tusk (former President of the European Council), recounting his meeting with Cameron after the referendum was announced in 2013:

“Why did you decide on this referendum, [Tusk recounts asking Cameron this] – it’s so dangerous, even stupid, you know, and he told me – and I was really amazed and even shocked – that the only reason was his own party… [He told me] he felt really safe, because he thought at the same time that there’s no risk of a referendum, because his coalition partner, the Liberals, would block this idea of a referendum” (BBC, 2019).

Clearly, party management was very influential in Cameron’s decision-making. Therefore, the decision desire to repair the divide in his party, was hugely impactful in leading to the 2016 EU Referendum.

In conclusion, the nature of our relationship with the EU, immigration sentiment, UKIP and Cameron’s decision making were the most important factors in leading to the EU Referendum. Especially impactful was UKIP’s ability to harness Euroscepticism into political pressure. But arguably, the end of our EU membership was spelt out from the beginning.

Works Cited

BBC, 2019. Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 29 06 2021].

Bundesministeriums des Innern, f. B. u. H. B., 2015. Freedom of movement. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 29 06 2021].

Chatham House, 2015. Britain, the European Union and the Referendum: What Drives Euroscepticism?. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 9 20 2021].

Eurobarometer, 2015. National versus European identification, s.l.: s.n.

Holmes, M., n.d. The Conservative Party and Europe. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 9 20 2021].

Martill, B., 2018. Brexit and Beyond: Rethinking the Futures of Europe. London: UCL Press.

Is globalisation a new phenomenon?

Andrea T, Academic Rep, looks at the nature of globalisation and whether with the context of our history we can consider it a ‘new phenomenon’

Globalisation is an ever-present force in today’s society. Scholars at all levels debate the extent of its benefits and attempt to discern what life in a truly globalised world would entail. But where did it all begin? A comparison of the nature of colonialisation and globalisation aid our understanding of this phenomenon’s true beginning, yet no clear conclusion has been reached. This leads us to the matter of this essay, an attempt at answering the age-old question: “Is globalisation a new phenomenon?” Though there are striking similarities between both colonialisation and globalisation, I do not believe we can see them as them one and the same. Due to the force and coercion that characterised colonisation’s forging of global cultural connectivity, and the limitations of colonial infrastructure, we cannot consider it true globalisation. Therefore, though imperfect, the globalisation of the modern world is its own new phenomenon.

Before I can delve into the comparisons of colonisation and globalisation, we must first gain a common understanding of the characteristics of both. There is no set definition for globalisation, though most definitions portray it as an agglomeration of global culture, economics and ideals. Some also allude to an ‘interdependence’ on various cultures and an end goal of homogeneity. (One could certainly debate whether this reduction of national individuality is truly a desirable goal, but that is sadly not the purpose of this essay.) Furthermore, for the purpose of this argument, homogenisation is taken on the basis of equality; equal combination of culture forming a unique global identity. And the focus of this essay will be the sociological aspects of globalisation, as opposed to the nitty gritty of the economics.

Though we are far from a truly homogeneous world, we certainly see aspects of it in the modern day. With an increase in international travel and trade, catalysed by the rise of technology and international organisations, we have seen the emergence of mixed cultures and economies. Take for example the familiar ‘business suit’. Though it is seen as more of a western dress code, all around the globe officials and businesspeople alike don a suit to work, making them distinctly recognisable. One might however consider how truly universal this article of clothing is. Its first origins are found in the 17th Century French court, with a recognisable form of the ‘lounge suit’ being seen in mid 19th Century Britain, establishing it firmly as a form of western dress. We then later see, with its rise to popularity in the 20th century (as international wars brought nations closer), the suit and many other western trends adopted across the globe (see picture below). Considering the political atmosphere of the time, and the seeming dominance of the West, we may doubt that the adaptation of the suit was an act of mutual shared culture. And yet we see the ways in which the suit has been altered as it passed to different cultures. Take the zoot suit, associated with black jazz culture, or the incorporation of the Nehru jacket’s mandarin collar (Indian origin) into the suits popularised by the Beatles. Though it still remains largely western, with the small cultural adaptations we can see how something can be universalised and slowly evolve towards homogenisation. In this way, a symbol as simple as the suit can be representative of a globalising world.

This is also where we start to see the link between colonisation and globalisation form. Trade formed an essential part of each colonial empire – most notably, the trade of textiles. Through the takeover of existing Indian trade (India in fact formed 24% of world trade prior to its colonisation), British-governed India exported everything from Gingham to tweed, and had a heavy influence on the style of the society’s elite, taking inspiration from the traditional Indian methods of clothes-making. Furthermore, this notion of the business suit can be seen as early as when Gandhi arrived in Britain (seeking education on law), dressed in the latest western trends. However, though the two do certainly share characteristics, we must consider the intent behind this blend of culture. The ideal of globalisation suggests an equality that is not echoed in colonisation. Gandhi did not wear western styles because of his appreciation of British fashion trends, but instead knew that it was far easier to assimilate if you looked and acted the same. Similarly, influence of Indian dress on British dress was not from a place of appreciation either, but from one of exploitation. Therefore, though the sharing of culture is present in both globalisation and colonisation, one cannot consider them to be the same due to the underlying intent. Furthermore, as the intent in modern day globalisation is in some ways similarly exploitative, one cannot consider the world truly globalised, but rather globalising, through a process one could still consider a new phenomenon.

Another aspect of globalisation we can consider is the role of the media. McLuhan, a 20th century Canadian professor, capitalised on this by proposing the idea of a ‘global village’ that would be formed with the spread of television. His theories went hand-in-hand with the ideas surrounding ‘time-space compression’ that have come about due to travel and media. And McLuhan was right, with a newly instantaneously connected world we have become more globalised. With the presence of international celebrities, world-wide news and instant messaging we have the ability to share culture and creed, and though far from homogenous we can certainly see small aspects of global culture beginning to form. Due to this dependence of globalisation on technology it is therefore hard to view colonisation as early-stage globalisation. But one can make one distinguishing link. One could argue: the infrastructure implemented for trade routes served as the advancements in technology of the imperial time. Similar to air travel, with the creation of the Suez Canal and implementation of railways, it was easier to traverse the globe. This is what further catalysed open trade and contact between different nation states, one of the most recognisable traits of globalisation. However, despite this, the trade routes did not improve communication anywhere near to the level we see today, and the impact technology has had on the connectivity of our globe is too alien to colonisation for the two to be considered the same. In terms of interconnectivity, the form of globalisation we see today is entirely novel, and though they have the same underlying features, the difference between the two remains like that of cake and bread.

Another aspect of globalisation we can consider is the spread of religion. Religion is an incredibly important aspect of a country’s culture, defining law and leadership for hundreds of years. The American political scientist Huntington explored religion and globalisation in his work: ‘The Clash of Civilisations’ (1996) in which he put forward the following thesis: due to the religio-political barriers, globalisation will always be limited.

But events have challenged this. There has been a rapid spread of religion around the world due to the newfound (relative) ease of migration and the access to faith related information through the internet. From London (often dubbed a cultural ‘melting-pot’) to Reykjavik (rather the opposite), we see Mosques and other religious institutions cropping up. With the lack of religious geographical dependence, we see the homogenising effect of globalisation. This is also to some extent echoed in colonisation. During the years of the British Empire, colonisation followed a common narrative of the white saviour. Missionaries preached a new and better way of life, supposing that the application of Christian morals and values would help develop the ‘savage’ indigenous tribes. This attempt at integrating western Christian culture into the cultures present across Africa and Asia shows an early attempt at a homogenised culture. However, though there was certainly some success in the actions of the missionaries (as seen with the establishment of many churches across South Africa), the aggressive nature of this once again contradicts the fairness implied in the concept of a homogenous culture, and globalisation remains a new phenomenon.

One cannot dispute that colonisation does share a number of characteristics with globalisation. From free trade to new infrastructure to the mixing of culture through religion and fashion, we can certainly see aspects of a globalising world. And yet the forceful intent of the homogenisation of cultures seen in the colonial era, removes it from being the true interconnectivity of nations. This is not to say that the world today is free of this intent, but the way in which our world today is globalising is approaching the ideal of globalisation more closely than colonisation ever did, and there is a distinct enough difference between the two that one cannot consider colonisation to truly be an early-stage globalisation. Furthermore, the world today relies so heavily on technology as a facilitator of globalisation that any notion of globalisation in the 19th century cannot be considered one and the same. Therefore, the globalisation of our day and age can be considered its own new phenomenon.


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