Research Horizons is the University of Cambridge’s research magazine.

Foreword from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research:

Welcome to the 34th issue of Research Horizons, in which we focus on Material Culture.

The physical objects, materials and places that surround us are so much a part of our lives that aside from certain gadgets and favourite belongings we probably don’t even notice them. And yet, understanding our material world and how we relate to it can reveal much about culture and humanity, past and present.

Studies of ‘material culture’ are emerging in arts, humanities and social science disciplines right across the University, and form the basis of our Spotlight focus. These studies are rooted in an understanding that objects are fundamental resources to understand our ancestors – and hence, research into material culture benefits from the depth and breadth of our museum collections. They are also grounded in an appreciation that contemporary issues are often material in nature: the scale of consumerism, the escalation of search algorithms designed “to give us what we want” and the toll of air-miles to deliver it.

Our front cover shows a painting – the Paston Treasure – that has recently been conserved and researched at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge. It gives a wonderful foretaste of the vibrant and varied nature of the research on material culture covered in this issue 

We also feature five very different research areas, each with far-reaching consequences for society: techniques to detect cancer at its very earliest stages; women farmers in India and the need to increase food production; the rights of those who may not wish to be categorised as male or female; carbon capture and storage technologies; and social enterprise ventures that improve people’s lives as well as create jobs, goods and services. All this plus ten pieces of Islamic art and a zoologist with a 20-year-old newt living in his kitchen.

An eclectic combination to enjoy.

Professor Chris Abell

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research


Image: The Paston Treasure; Credit: Photo by Chris Titmus (Hamilton Kerr Institute) reproduced by kind permission of Norfolk Museums Service.