OpenLearn Live brings free learning to the heart of your world. This page will be updated across the day.
- A week in Dundee: City of Design
- Open Education Week: the MOOC solving conflicts in Africa
- Are heroes always supergood?
- Starbucks arrives in Italy
- Harold Wilson at 100: A short reading list
Normally, OpenLearn Live is produced at a small desk in the corner of a building named Wilson. The building is named for Harold Wilson - or James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, PC, FRS - the former Prime Minister of the UK, and one of the key movers in the foundation of The Open University.
Today would have been Harold Wilson's 100th birthday, and to mark the occasion here's a selected reading (and viewing) list.
Daniel Weinbrein explores how the Cold War helped shape Wilson's desire to create a "University of the Air":
Before he became Leader of the Labour Party in 1963 Harold Wilson made a number of speaking tours of the USA. He was sponsored by a wealthy Democrat entrepreneur, William Benton, who had made his money in radio advertising and who maintained an interest in communication and education.
This was a period when the Cold War was being waged on many fronts. Benton sought to enlighten citizens against communism by connecting higher education, commerce and high culture. He owned both Encyclopaedia Britannica and Encyclopaedia Britannica Films, in 1952 he started publishing the 54 volumes of the Great Books of the Western World series and he also offered gifts and connections to Wilson.
On one occasion he held a dinner in London where he introduced Wilson to Geoffrey Crowther, then Vice Chair of the Editorial Board of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and a governor of the London School of Economics. Crowther became the first Chancellor of the OU.
Benton argued that 'the cold war between the open and closed societies is likely to be won in the world's classrooms, libraries, and college and university laboratories' and that to bar entry to higher education on grounds of poverty 'stands athwart the American Dream'.
Wilson gave his name to The Wilson Doctrine, a pledge that MPs would not be spied upon:
I reviewed the practice when we came to office and decided on balance—and the arguments were very fine— [...] that I should give this instruction that there was to be no tapping of the telephones of Members of Parliament. That was our decision and that is our policy. But if there was any development of a kind which required a change in the general policy, I would, at such moment as seemed compatible with the security of the country, on my own initiative make a statement in the House about it. I am aware of all the considerations which I had to take into account and I felt that it was right to lay down the policy of no tapping of the telephones of Members of Parliament.
Political journalist Anthony Howard produced an in-depth obituary for the BBC which was shown on the night of Wilson's death, May 24th 1995:
Wilson was Prime Minister twice, between 1964 and 1970, and then again between 1974 and 1976. In an era when it's become common for party leaders to resign the moment they lose a general election, it's interesting to watch Wilson talking to the BBC after it became clear he'd been bested by Ted Heath in 1970:
The last time the UK voted on its membership of the European Union (or, rather the EEC as it was then), Wilson was Prime Minister. Melissa Pine reviews Helen Parr's book Britain's Policy Towards the European Community: Harold Wilson and Britain's World Role, 1964–1967 for Reviews In History:
Wilson still had to bring his Cabinet to accept the notion of an unconditional application, a problem covered in the fifth chapter. He did so by making the political case for entry, arguing that in both the short and long term, entry into the EC was Britain's only option; Britain had no choice but to keep trying until successful. Ministers did not come to agreement on terms of entry—indeed, Wilson forced them to address only the broader political case. That is not to say that problematic issues like CAP, capital movements, New Zealand and the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement were not discussed, but that they were not permitted to obscure or take priority over the fact that Wilson saw entry as the only possible choice for Britain. He spun this decision in a positive light, arguing that membership and leadership in Europe would enable Britain to play a greater, not lesser, role in the world. Resolution of some Commonwealth issues, the decision to withdraw fully from East of Suez, and ongoing economic problems only made the outcome more certain, and ministers ultimately acquiesced in Wilson's desire for a full and unconditional application.
And at a time when the "special relationship" between the US and the UK is under inspection following Obama's remarks about David Cameron, we should remember things were even rockier when Wilson refused to join the Americans in the Vietnam War. Jonathan Coleman writes about the disputes for the American Studies Resource Centre of John Moores University:
The Vietnam War helped to dash Wilson’s hopes of forming similar bonds with Lyndon Johnson. A 1965 Foreign Office document examined the conflict in the context of Anglo-American relations, noting that Britain’s ‘direct involvement’ in Vietnam was ‘insignificant. Our major interest in the situation … is to see that it does not escalate into a global or regional war in which we might be involved’. But Britain’s ‘interests as a non-communist power would be impaired if the United States Government were defeated in the field, or defaulted on its commitments’. Britain should therefore satisfy its interests by giving moral ‘support to our major ally’. Wilson did favour this pro-American line, with the result that in general terms his government backed US policy in Vietnam. But unlike the mandarins of the Foreign Office, he also needed to address Labour Party and public opinion. In March 1965 Bruce explained to Washington that the British leader was ‘hotly accused by many British, including a formidable number of moderate Labour Parliamentarians, of being a mere satellite of the US, and of subscribing blindly and completely to policies about which he has not been consulted in advance’.
This unforgiving climate of opinion meant that the Labour government could not consent to providing troops for Vietnam, a matter which the Americans first raised in December 1964, at a summit meeting in Washington. On this occasion, Wilson justified his response on the grounds that as co-chairman of the Geneva peace conference of 1954 (which partitioned Indochina) Britain should not become involved in the fighting, and because British forces were already engaged in a counterinsurgency operation in Malaysia known as ‘Confrontation’. But given that the President required only a symbolic commitment of troops to indicate to world opinion that he had British support, involvement in ‘Confrontation’ was a weak excuse. Nor once ‘Confrontation’ had ended late in 1966 did the Labour government show any greater willingness to send troops to Vietnam, suggesting domestic politics had more to do with the refusal than did international issues.
The US coffee giant is about to undertake something that sounds akin to coals-to-Newcastle: they're opening stores in Italy. Can it possibly work?
Italians see it differently. The announcement provoked predictable reactions – an affront to the nation’s coffee culture, another example of American imperialism – accompanied by the usual lament that Italy’s entrepreneurs failed to seize the opportunities created by its culinary genius. The fact that there are no coffee shop chains in Italy suggest they could be right.
Superman and Batman are about to face up to each other in a cinema near you. If they're fighting each other, they can't both be in the right, right? As you pick sides, the OU's Laura West takes us back to the first heroes to show why superpowers aren't a guarantee of good behaviour:
To the ancient Greeks, however, heroes were not necessarily good so much as larger than life, and they tend to be excessive in their character and actions. The heroes are powerful and charismatic, but they are also proud, egotistical, violent and cruel. It’s essential to our concept of the hero that they try to use their powers for good. It caused controversy when Superman killed the villainous General Zod at the end of the last Superman film, Man of Steel, because part of Superman’s mythos is that he doesn’t use his powers destructively. Having Superman kill, even for the greater good, made many fans unhappy, and it would be unthinkable for us to have a superhero who just didn’t care about innocent bystanders being killed, or decided to prioritise his own desires above saving the human race.
In the Greek myths, on the other hand, the heroes want to use their power for their own benefit, and they don’t much care if those around them become collateral damage. In Homer’s Iliad, for example, the greatest Greek hero, Achilles, withdraws from the fighting over a dispute about a girl, and allows his companions to be butchered by the Trojans in his absence. Far from being distressed the suffering that his actions are causing his friends, Achilles prays that the gods will make the Trojans victorious so that they will appreciate him all the more. In Sophocles’ tragedy Ajax, Ajax (the next greatest hero after Achilles’ death) is so offended by the Greeks’ decision not to give him Achilles’ armour that he decides to slaughter them all.
We've been exploring some of the wonderful Open Education resources that have been highlighted during Open Education week this year, and we're going to round off with one that could have a significant impact on millions of lives: The African Virtual University's overview of peace management and conflict resolution:
The peace management and conflict resolution course is an interdisciplinary course whose aim is to introduce learners from a variety of backgrounds to the analysis of conflict, violence, and peace. The specific purpose of the course is to help you identify and use tools that can guide you in working towards a more sustainable and durable peace by strengthening and solidifying the existing peace in your community.
The area of Peace Management and Conflict Resolution offers an opportunity to provide foundational information and resources to a wide sector of the African population. Although designed for individual learning, the program will be of particular interest to community leaders, educators, and non-governmental and governmental organizations.
This week, we've been celebrating and exploring the people and places of Dundee. In case you've missed any, here's what we've featured so far:
- DC Thomson, Dundee's publishing powerhouse
- RSS Discovery, which went as far South as possible
- Williamina Fleming, who discovered the Horsehead nebula
- The City Churches, destroyed frequently; rebuilt often
We're rounding off the week with a recent honour bestowed on the city - it's a UNESCO City of Design.
The city applied for this special designation in 2014. This was the pitch:
In 2013, Dundee was voted one of the world’s seven most intelligent cities for the third time in five years – an indicator of our city’s cultural and intellectual health – and its ambition. We will use designation as a UNESCO Creative City to help connect design knowledge, ideas and experience from around the world; but it is also an opportunity for us to connect parts of our city more effectively, and to create an integrated, sustainable design ecology that creates a virtuous circle of support.
The pitch was successful, and Dundee became the first City of Design in the UK.
UNESCO explains the vision for the Creative Cities network as a key part of the post 2015 development goals:
The crucial role of cities in promoting sustainable development focused on people and the respect of human rights is notably recognised in the post-2015 Development Agenda which includes among its 17 goals a specific objective to ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’ and identifies culture and creativity as one of the essential levers for action in this context.
It is first and foremost at local level that culture and creativity are lived and practised on a daily basis. It is therefore by stimulating cultural industries, supporting creation, promoting citizen and cultural participation and approaching the public sphere with a new perspective that public authorities, in cooperation with the private sector and civil society, can make the difference and support a more sustainable urban development suited to the practical needs of the local population.
In this context, cooperation and the sharing of experience and knowledge is crucial for making creativity a lever for urban development and conceiving of new solutions to tackle common challenges. In this regard, UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network offers unparalleled opportunities for cities to draw on peer learning processes and collaborative projects in order to fully capitalize on their creative assets and use this as a basis for building sustainable, inclusive and balanced development in economic, cultural, environmental and social terms.
Dundee's bid was competitive - it had to convince six existing Cities of Design to support its case, and only five of the fifty applicants in 2014 could be successful in joining the network.
Dundee certainly had a lot to bolster its claim. Patrick Geddes, who basically invented the idea of town planning taught in Dundee; the talents of the artists producing DC Thomson's stable of comics is unquestionable; the city boasts the first building in the country designed by Frank Gehry, Maggie's. Dundee is home to designer Hayley Scanlan and hosted the V&A's first games designer in residence, Sophia George:
And the future? The first branch of the Victoria & Albert Musueum is currently being built in Dundee, with a pledge to be much more than a museum:
Learning is key to all that we do, and our programmes are designed specifically for our audiences – from families, schools and young people to business and our communities. In the run up to opening we’re running a dynamic programme of events and activities. This includes projects like our first Schools Design Challenge, encouraging S1 pupils to use design to change their everyday environment; Design in Motion, showcasing some of Scotland’s most exciting contemporary designers using digital technologies to push the boundaries of their discipline, and Living Room for the City, where our communities keenly shared their images, thoughts and ideas about design.
Dundee is rightly celebrated for its industrial heritage. But it is a city as much of the mind as of the muscle.