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OpenLearn Live: 15th April 2016

Updated Friday 15th April 2016

The island honoured for its bravery under fire. Then more free learning across the day.

Bringing "free learning" into the worlds you live in, this is OpenLearn Live. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we discovered why Chrome might stop working for some people and were a bit cruel to a seagull

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Today's posts

How do you learn online?

A group - of which the OU is part - is looking for your input to a survey about how you learn online. They'd be delighted if you could share your experiences of MOOCs and more.

Reporting research

There's a lot of research going on into how brains work. But is the way findings are communicated turning into lazy sexist stereotyping?

In many respects, the PNAS paper is emblematic of a renewed interest in neuroscience research on sexual dimorphism – that is, research examining how men’s and women’s brains differ in structure and function. This greater attention to sex differentiation has some distinctly positive implications: biomedical research has historically taken male bodies as the norm, which has disadvantaged women in respect to medical treatment. However, the way much research on sexual differentiation is conducted and communicated has come under intense criticism from scholars in both the natural and social sciences. 

Read the full article Can the way research is reported play into sexist assumptions?

Dorothy Parker's legacy

Dorothy Parker's legacy, in one sense, is her reputation as a sharp wit ("This wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it", and so on). But she had a more material legacy, as Robert Gottlieb reveals in a New York Review of Books profile:

She vigorously supported the Loyalists in Spain, even spending ten days with Alan under the bombs in Madrid and Valencia. She helped found the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. Whether she actually joined the Communist Party for a short time remains an unanswered question. Although Hellman claimed she was subpoenaed by HUAC and appeared before the committee, this (like so much else in Hellman’s memoirs) is simply untrue. She was, though, visited by two FBI agents in 1951. When they asked her whether she had ever conspired to overthrow the government, she answered, “Listen, I can’t even get my dog to stay down. Do I look to you like someone who could overthrow the government?” The FBI gave her a pass.

In the 1930s she had raised money for the defense of the Scottsboro boys, and she never relaxed her efforts in the field of civil rights: when she died, in 1967, her literary estate was left to Martin Luther King, and then to the NAACP, and her ashes are buried in a memorial garden at the organization’s headquarters in Baltimore.

Read the full article at NYRB: Brilliant, Troubled Dorothy Parker

A week in April: Malta is awarded the George Cross

This week, we've been starting off each day with a story from the same date in the past. Here's the week so far:

We're obviously rounding off the week with April 15th, and the year we're featuring is 1942 - marking the day Malta was awarded the George Cross.

A copy of the letter awarding the George Cross to Malta, embedded in the wall of the Presidential Palace in Valetta Creative commons image Icon John Haslam under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license

The date, clearly, puts us in the middle of the Second World War; Malta's position - as a (then) British colony in the Med - put the island in harm's way. Crucial to the supply of Allied forces fighting the North African campaign, Malta became a target for the Axis forces. Keen to remove such an advantage, Hitler decided that the island should be first "neutralised", and then invaded.

From the start of 1942, Malta came under sustained aerial bombardment. This wasn't entirely a novel experiece - there had been a first seige of the island earlier in the war - but this was of a totally different order. For months, the small island withstood attack upon attack. Not a day passed without at least one raid; sometimes, it faced seven raids in a day.

The period from the end of March was particuarly brutal. The Luftwaffe boasted:

“During the period March 20 to April 28, 1942, the naval and air bases of Malta were put completely out of action.

“In the course of 5,807 sorties by bombers, 5,667 by fighters and 345 by reconnaissance aircraft, 6,557,231 kilograms of bombs were dropped…"

Malta, remember, is smaller than the Isle of Wight.

For the people of the island, this was as brutal as you'd imagine it to be. In fact, as these memories shared by Frank and Nancy Azzopardi with the BBC's People's War project show, the experience was actually unimaginable:

The peak of the raids occurred during the first half of 1942 with more then 250 raids per month. Greater aircraft numbers and superior equipment guaranteed the Axis almost unchallenged air superiority. The method of attack was by dropping conventional impact and time delay explosive charges, incinerary (incinerate) bombs and butterfly bombs. The butterfly bombs were small anti-personnel devices that were dropped over the island. They were cleverly disguised as fountain pens and thermos flasks. Numerous children and adults were killed or mutilated handling these devices. As terrifying as the bombers were, the Stuka's were just as terrifying. The pride of the Luftwaffe had for its arsenal: machine guns, dive bomb capability and psychology. The aircraft was fitted with an exterior siren, designed to emit a high pitched wailing sound whenever it went into a nose dive to deliver its bombs. Psychological terror before possible death, sort of an audio Russian roulette! Maltese anti-aircraft defenses were minimal at best. Many civilians resorted to seeking refuge in old railway tunnels, a prehistoric ancient burial place in a small town, the Catacombs of another, and a few caves. In order to protect it's churches and historic structures, blast walls made of sand bags and locally mined limestone blocks were erected.

At the height of this horror, the British government decided to make a gesture of solidarity with the people of the island. The King signed and sent a letter on April 15th, praising the people of the island, and awarding them the highest honour for civilian bravery, The George Cross:

To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta, to bear witness to a heroism and a devotion that will long be famous in history.

The island wouldn't receive the letter for a while yet, as British attempts to resupply the islands were still some way from success. Indeed, by the end of the month, the Axis Powers were so assured of their success they were planning Operation Herkules, the ground invasion of the island.

That overconfidence helped the Maltese. Believing that operations were about to shift to a different style of fighting, the Luftwaffe were told to reduce their attacks on Malta; that gap was enough to allow a squadron of Spitfires to arrive on the island. The Axis attempted in October to regain the initiative, but were rebuffed.

Post-war, attitudes to the award have changed through the time. At first, the island was proud of its status - the letter from King George was reproduced in the wall of the Presidential Palace in Valetta. But after Malta won its independence, attitudes towards the prize became more complex. A spat between Maltese Prime Minister Dom Mintoff and UK premier Edward Heath over funding saw the medla being removed from public display. And, according to The Times Of Malta, it didn't get treated with very much respect:

Manwel Schembri [...] put a note in its case that the medal was not to be returned to the museum. The cloth background to the medal was mauled and Mr Schembri wrote his name and the date, 24-VII-81.

When some time later the photographer of the Tourism Board sought to take a photograph of the Cross he was referred to Mr Schembri who produced the box from the back of his office drawer with the remark: “Is this what you want, this junk!”

Mr Schembri took the Cross home. It was recovered by the police when eventually Ċensu Tabone became President of Malta in 1989.

Another change in govenment, another change in attitude. Attempts to obtain a replacement, unmauled, medal were turned down (Britain does not re-issue medals), but the original was restored.

And, of course, the cross forms part of the Maltese flag.

(As a sidenote: some people confuse the George Cross awarded to Malta with the Maltese Cross. The latter is a different cross entirely.)

See more from OpenLearn about the Second World War

Discover how to study history with The Open University





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