Made at UCL


S2 Ep8: Growth

UCL graduates Cassidy (Host-in-Residence) and Cerys (Series Producer) are growing in this month's episode of #MadeAtUCL. Join them as they explore the positives and negative of growth.


In this month’s episode of #MadeAtUCL, we’re growing. Join us as we explore three unique perspectives on growth and how it can be both a positive and negative concept. We chat with Dr Michelle Heys and Dr Simbarashe Chimhuya and hear about their technical solution to newborn healthcare, with Dr Philip Pogge Von Strandmann about how we can reduce the growing levels of co2 in the atmosphere, and lastly with Dr Seb Coxon to learn how beards of medieval Germany can help us understand masculinity today.

Below, you can also discover more about the stories and access the transcript

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Act 1 - Dr Michelle Heys

Dr Michelle Heys is a Child Population Health Scientist combining clinical expertise in newborn and child health with expertise in public health practice and research, and in health services research and quality improvement. She has over 25 years of experience in clinical newborn and child health in the UK, Australia and Hong Kong; and during the last 15 years has combined clinical care with a growing portfolio of global child and adolescent population health research. She seeks to maximise timely translation of knowledge and impact on health outcomes through bidirectional learning from global south to north and vis versa. Over the last 7 years she has led the Neotree project and is also a founder and trustee for the Neotree charity (www.neotree.org).

She is an Associate Professor in Community and Population Child Health, GOSH ICH and a fellow of CASMI (Centre for the Advancement of Sustainable Medical Innovation). 

She is a Consultant Paediatrician and leads the Motor Disorder service in Newham, East London where she is also the lead for Population health and Research. 

Learn more about Dr Michelle Heys' work here.


Dr Michelle Heys

Act 2 - Dr Philip Pogge von Strandmann 

Dr Philip Pogge von Strandmann is a Professor of Isotope Geochemistry at the Department of Earth Sciences, UCL, and at the Institute of Geosciences, JGU Mainz. His focus is on elucidating Earth’s biogeochemical cycles, primarily the response of the climate system to rapid perturbations, such as warming and cooling. He also works in developing carbon sequestration methods, in particular enhanced weathering (e.g. with the CARBDOWN project) and mineral carbonation (e.g. with the CARBFIX project).  

Learn more about Dr Philip Pogge von Strandmann's work here.


Dr Philip Pogge Von Strandmann


Act 3 - Dr Seb Coxon

Dr Seb Coxon is Reader in German in the UCL School of European Languages, Culture and Society (SELCS). He specializes in medieval literature, with a special interest in comedy and laughter. He is a published translator of medieval German comic tales and medieval Latin jokes. In a new departure (for which he has his UCL students to thank) his most recent research project looks at the significance of beards in the medieval literary imagination. 

Learn more about Dr Seb Coxon's work here. Dr Seb Coxon's book, Beards and Texts, will be available online for free from September 8th at uclpress.co.uk. 


Dr Seb Coxen



Plum Blossom - Kokura Station
Idle Ways - Duck Lake
Kennuckfell - Scalcairn

All of which are from bluedotsessions.org


beard, co2, tree, ucl, oceans, baby, neo, culture, masculinity, growth, atmosphere, carbon, grow, happening, texts, climate, simba, meanings, chapter, remove
Michelle Heys, Theme music, Simbarashe (Simba) Chimhuya, Dr Seb Coxon, Dr Philip Pogge Von Strandmann, Cassidy

Cassidy 00:03
Hello, I'm Cassidy and welcome to the eighth episode of series two of #MadeAtUCL the podcast. This podcast explores the world of UCL through the groundbreaking research and vital community work conducted by our staff and students. 

Cassidy  00:22
Typically, growth in our society has a positive connotation to it. We monitor the weight of newborn babies to make sure they are growing and healthy, those first few hairs on the upper lip can mark the beginning of adolescence and growing up, as companies expand, they grow in value as well as size. But as one interviewee reminded me this month, that need for growth can be problematic. Especially when you live in a society that is obsessed with growth. (Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.)

Simbarashe (Simba) Chimhuya  01:06
Firstly, we grow, 

Dr Philip Pogge Von Strandmann  01:08
Everything has to grow. 

Dr Seb Coxon  01:09
Yeah, well, of course growth is really, really difficult 

Dr Philip Pogge Von Strandmann  01:13
The question is why we need to grow? Why can't we be as we are?

Theme music  01:18

Cassidy  01:27
To explore our theme of growth this month, I spoke to researchers whose work deals with the encouraging consequential and fascinating sides of growth. In our first two segments, we'll be diving into some more sensitive topics and listeners discretion is advised. 

Cassidy  01:46
Firstly, we'll be discussing the issue of newborn deaths, but also how a new digital application is being incorporated in hospitals to save their lives. Then, we'll discover how the growing levels of CO2 emissions are negatively impacting our planet. But we'll also share what can be done about it. And lastly, on a much lighter note, we'll learn why there's so much more to a beard than growing hair on your face. 

Cassidy  02:16
Let's get started.

Theme music  02:22
[futuristic music with a strong heartbeat]

Cassidy  02:23
Just a quick warning before we start, in the interview you're about to hear there are references to newborn deaths, listener discretion is advised.

Cassidy  02:34
And our first story this month, I spoke to two people working on the same project. One close by 

Michelle Heys  02:40
My name is Michelle Hayes. I am an Associate Professor in Community and Population Child Health at the Institute of Child Health at UCL and I'm also a pediatrician working in East London with the East London NHS Foundation Trust. My main project is the Neotree which I've been leading as principal investigator over the last seven years,

Cassidy  03:05
and another a bit further away. 

Simbarashe (Simba) Chimhuya  03:07
My name is subarashii cimmeria,

Cassidy  03:11
also known as Simba for short.

Simbarashe (Simba) Chimhuya  03:14
I'm a pediatrician and a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, in the Faculty of Medicine and Healthcare Sciences, I've been involved in the Neotree project as a Principal Investigator for Zimbabwe for the past three years, since 2018.

Cassidy  03:35
Together, they are making great strides in neonatal health care through the use of an application called Neotree. 

Cassidy  03:43
And so what is the benefit of having this new digital app?

Michelle Heys  03:48
So when we think of the 2.4 million newborn deaths that happen every year, models show that around 70% of those deaths could be avoided not through developing new drugs or new fancy expensive equipment, but just through making sure that the basics are done for every baby, everywhere. And what the Neotree aims to do is to support healthcare professionals to know how to manage the basics well for baby and then providing the data to the healthcare professionals and also the managers and the senior team on the ground to be able to track things like how many babies are dying, how many babies have infection, how many babies might have experienced lack of oxygen at the time of birth, and that they can have all of that information readily to hand which will help not just managing the baby at the bedside but managing the care across the hospital and then also, potentially when linking to the government electronic health care systems, looking at delivering high quality care across countries. 

Cassidy  04:59
Where did the idea of the Neotree app come from?

Michelle Heys  05:03
So the idea came from my experience of working in the NHS and overseas in Australia in Hong Kong, where we were trying to develop data platforms and digital systems to improve newborn care and child health and the use of routine health care data in trying to improve the quality of care that we deliver. And then some work that both myself and master's student called Erin Kesler, who is an academic neonatal nurse practitioner, now working in the States... so she was working on a project looking at education for newborn care. And so we did a review of causes of newborn death, and so started to build the idea of the Neo tree, then from there, it's snowballed, and then different elements of the intervention have been driven, for example, Simba and the team in Zimbabwe have really championed the the linkage with the electronic healthcare record system in Zimbabwe, and the linkage of the admission data to laboratory data to try and improve outcomes for babies with infection. So it's been a real team effort over [laughing] over a long time period.

Cassidy 06:25
Can one of you possibly like walk us through how the Neo tree application works?

Simbarashe (Simba) Chimhuya  06:31
So the app is on a tablet, so the doctors will be carrying that tablet, they open up the new tree application and as they enter the information about that baby using the application the Neotree takes them through a certain process. There are some parameters that you need to enter. Sometimes you need to measure temperature, we need to measure the saturation, and then you have to take action depending on the result that you get. So there are some emergency decisions that it assists you to take, for example, if a baby's hypothermic, it tells you this baby's cold it needs to be warmed, and then you immediately take the action to put the baby on, say a warmer. So after you go through the admission process, then the baby will be sent to the neonatal unit for admission and received on the neonatal unit with a printout which is printed on the unit, there is a laboratory script, which is used to upload blood culture results from the laboratory. So what usually used to happen is that the doctors need to walk to the laboratory to retrieve some results, it might take some... maybe a day or so before those results can be retrieved. So what the laboratory will do, as soon as they have blood culture results ready, they'll upload the result on their tablet, which will immediately print on the neonatal unit. So we can get the results immediately as soon as it is out. You also have a Discharge Form, which when a baby has been discharged, or [hesitates] died captures the outcome of the baby. And it links with the rest of the information captured on admission and laboratory linked through a the Neotree number. So you have a record for that patient which is complete. So you can then analyze that information from admission up to discharge and making sort of decisions about what could have gone wrong, what you could have done in a different manner.

Michelle Heys  08:54
There are so many electronic healthcare record systems that ask for data to be collected by healthcare professionals at the bedside. But the Neotree aims to actually use those data at the bedside to improve care through the data dashboards that we're developing. Each unit carries out a monthly morbidity mortality meeting, which means that they review how many babies have died, what they've died off, what were the main causes of ill health and sickness within the babies? And then what could they try and do to try and improve that and that's what the Neotree allows at the click of a button - is we've set up a slide deck that's produced showing those sort of outputs and numbers of babies and causes of death and ill health.

Cassidy  09:36
Can you talk about some of the challenges that you've experienced when trying to implement that?

Michelle Heys  09:42
Our initial challenge was around funding and culture so to try and convince potential funders that this could be a successful venture. And we very much had to... we had to be very creative about how we obtained funding so we were successful in some small grants, in getting some private donor funding round. We also set up a Neotree charity that runs alongside the research. We've had a lot of amazing people that have worked with us pro bono... Then lots of challenges on the ground, you know, for instance, Wi Fi has been an issue. So we created, so it can be used offline and in some settings, we've had to set up, you know, a Wi Fi system. We've looked at simple things like how the hardware can work, you know, within a setting where it's difficult to have a printer, for instance, the really simple parts of the Neotree system have had to be really well thought through. Challenges around water and infection control, we've thought very carefully about protocols for cleaning the Neotree tablets. So in Zamba, where there wasn't or there was very sometimes infrequent water availability, the use of hand sanitizer and including that infection control guideline, within the use of the application, the team literally sat and watched, you know, the nurses admit a baby, and we configured the flow of the app to better fit, you know, the clinical examination. So we looked at things like the number of times that the nurse would need to touch the baby to examine to limit that that flow from tablet to baby. 

Simbarashe (Simba) Chimhuya  11:22
I think one other issue, which also confounded us was, you know, you are introducing an intervention when there are already existing challenges that have not yet been solved. So someone will ask you, so what is your app going to do to solve those other problems which are already existing? So, I think you need to appreciate the effort that you put to convince the end users of this system or intervention that you are introducing and the managers in that institution that the system we are introducing is worth trying. So we engaged in a number of training right from the beginning, sometimes every week, or every two weeks to make sure that we bring everybody on the same platform. So right now I can say everybody enjoys using that Neotree application, you can see them happily carrying their tablet all over. So it's a nice thing to see that what we were struggling to implement some three years ago. It's now easily, I mean, part and parcel of routine, routine work on our unit, I mean, the routine way of doing business, nobody's even questioning why we are using tablets.

Theme music  12:49
[futuristic music with a strong heartbeat]

Cassidy 12:49
Neotree is already making a huge impact in the community is helping to develop it but Simba and Michelle are looking to the future and what they could build next.

Simbarashe (Simba) Chimhuya  12:59
I think in terms of expanding beyond, beyond the Neotree, we are also developing a semalam application in the form of a Mummytree, which will then link with the Neotree and we have a more complete data for a mother and a baby together.

Cassidy 13:19
If you would like to learn more about the Neotree app and or donate to help with its development and expansion, visit Neotree that's N-E-O-T-R-E-E.org.

Theme music  13:29
[soft ominous music]

Cassidy 13:41
Over the last few years, we've seen extreme bouts of weather shifts, from the Polar Vortex to the large number of hurricanes in the Atlantic to the recent wildfires in Greece and North America and flooding in the UK. All of this is thought to be due to the growth of co2 and the Earth's atmosphere. With all of this going on and the UN's Climate Change Conference just around the corner we asked our final guest, an expert on the subject, to sit down and chat with us about why this is happening and what can be done. 

Cassidy  14:16
This is 

Dr Philip Pogge Von Strandmann  14:17
Philip Pogge Von Standmann. 

Cassidy  14:20
He is a professor at UCL in the Earth and Science Department and a Geochemist. This means he looks at

Dr Philip Pogge Von Strandmann  14:27
the chemistry of the Earth, in my case, how the elements behave in biology and geology and generally in the Earth.

Cassidy 14:35
And then part of it is like looking at the history of the Earth as well. How is it that looking at those past climate events can kind of tell you what's to come?

Well, the climate has been quite variable, in the past. We've had times when you know they've been much hotter than now much colder than now. But also periods of very rapid warming, which is obviously what we're most interested in because we can use them as analogies for future climate change. So for example, you wouldn't know about ocean acidification without looking at past climate events. 

Cassidy  15:07
What is ocean acidification? 

Dr Philip Pogge Von Strandmann  15:10
So the oceans are a big pot of carbon. So a lot of the CO2 we've been pumping into the atmosphere is now in the ocean and is stored there, dissolved in the water for several 1000 years. So it's helping us in a way that it's preventing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere going up quite as much as it would otherwise. But the consequence of that is that the oceans become more acidic, because of this CO2 dissolved in them. So this is what's happening now, it's what's killing off the corals, off Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, for example, these coral bleaching events, is due to the oceans becoming more acidic. And that is not only a consequence of climate change, but also means that the oceans can store less carbon in the future as well.

Cassidy  15:58
And then also part of your work looks looks into the plants as well, could you expand on that?

In very broad, long term scales, so the scales of more than maybe 10,000 years, CO2 is added by volcanism. And so a volcano goes off, and that adds CO2 to the atmosphere, which would create warming. And then CO2 is removed through either limestone formation, so the atmospheric carbon is then locked up in limestone. And the other is what's known as organic carbon, which is plants through photosynthesis, take up carbon, so the carbon in the bark of trees, and the wood of trees is carbon from the atmosphere. So that's how trees lock up carbon, CO2 and help mitigate the climate. The problem, of course, is that when the trees die, and decay, that carbon goes straight back into the atmosphere. So that's why, you know, planting forests helps you on scales, you know, the life of a tree, 50 years or 100 years or so, but not more than that.

Cassidy 16:58
What happens when things like recently, we've had all these fires, for example, in the US in Greece, how does that affect the climate?

So you're increasing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere from carbon that was stored in the trees, at the same time, obviously, you're decreasing the amount of tree, so there's less carbon being removed from the atmosphere at the same time. Obviously, there's been forest fires in the past throughout history, but we've never had probably quite as little forest, as we have, now. So we would be a risk anyway, through other activities, such as warming. I mean, the part of the issue of being a geologist is that you look throughout history, and you see, you know, there are big mass extinction events in the past. And they you know... some of them have wiped out almost 95% of all life, you know, and some of them have been through warming. And the problem is that the earth recovers, but the species that live there don't. And the ones, the species that go extinct most quickly are the ones that are most adapted to the current life. And that's currently us. So it's not, it's not that things just get a little bit warmer it's that all the crops we depend on, you know, whether that mean potato or corn or wheat or maize, they grow less, so we have food problems, we have less fresh water because the monsoon fails. So the implication is, what we're doing to the climate is our problem, humans will suffer most of all, and all the species that you know, we interact with.

Cassidy  18:28
What can we do to try to help prevent some of these fires and natural disasters that are taking place?

Well, we have to have less CO2 in the atmosphere, is the easy answer. So that means becoming more efficient, reducing dependence on fossil fuels. In particular, you can renew it using renewables. But also, we're now past the point where that's enough. So we have to actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere now, it's become quite clear over the last 10 years or so that even if we reduce our emissions to zero, now, that's no longer sufficient to prevent dangerous climate change. So there are a whole host of different ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The issue is these are all largely still in experimental phases, but also just the scale of how you'd have to do this. So, if you imagine your CO2 removal industry would have to be then as large as all industry that releases CO2. So the hope is that if we start removing, you know, a reasonable chunk, we'll buy ourselves a bit more time, and then we can sort of work from there. But as we've seen, especially this year, in the last couple of years with what's happening with climate it's a deadline that is very fast approaching

Cassidy 19:37
I never... I guess I always think of reducing emissions, but I didn't think of removing it how-I what are some examples of ways that they can remove CO2 from the atmosphere?

The easiest way that potentially is to try and increase the the natural methods by which the earth does it anyway. So one way is through weathering so that is one when you dissolve rocks on land with water. So basically what we see in every River Valley, well, you know, the rock has been carved away by the river, that dissolution of the rock actually removes... it's probably the main method by which CO2 is removed naturally from the atmosphere. And so the idea is if you take a lot of rock and grind it up into powder, and then plow it into fields, that would remove CO2. So that's one, that's one method that is now being trialed in sort of field trials all around the world. And there are others like making limestone artificially in things like groundwater or the oceans to lock up CO2. There are potential methods of pumping liquid co2 back into oil wells. You can fertilize the oceans potentially put in iron and grow more life in the oceans. But people are slightly worried about that because if you do something to one part of the ocean, it comes to have consequences for the rest of the ocean. So there are lots of different methods being trialled and there are more than that, but they're all very much in the pilot stage. And so the other worry is that we'd just be too late to get this stuff done fast enough to avoid consequences we're already seeing now.

Theme music  21:14
[soft ominous music]

Cassidy 21:15
It's a bit of a scary thought, the idea that we might be too late, and there's nothing we can do. And constantly seeing this and knowing this can be a bit of a downer. 

Cassidy  21:28
I've known people who have studied Environmental Sciences, and at times, it sounds a bit depressing. What keeps you motivated hope and hopeful when researching climate change?

Um, I don't know that I am particularly hopeful [laughs]. I mean, it's part I mean, when you're doing a particular project, you can you can, you know, the goals are much easier, because they're the ones that, you know, in terms of understanding what's going on or getting it published or something like that, in terms of the bigger picture, I guess the motivation is trying to do what you what you can do to stop it happening especially, you know, if you have children or whatever else you want to try and at least prevent the worst from from hitting them or me, in fact, I mean, by now it's, it's so close to this, it's my life as well. But overall, I sort of go between thinking, we won't make it to thinking, well, maybe we have a chance to swing back and forth between that, depending on the last bit of political soundbite I've heard on that that changes of things.

Cassidy  22:28
So now that we're obviously in this very dire state, and then there's supposed to be the UN Climate Conference that's coming up soon. What are you hoping that are going to be some of the things that come up in this conference and are going to be addressed? 

Well, I mean, clearly, we need to reduce emissions, there needs to be more I mean, there's been lots of pledges in both the UK and the EU, the words have been cheap, and the action is is a lot more expensive, but it really needs to, to happen. And then the other thing is, we need these, these negative emissions, these removal processes need to be done properly, rather than just funded through scientific research, they actually have to really take off industrially. And the one way to do that is to increase the carbon price. So the carbon dioxide is treated as a pollutant in some areas like the European Union and was Australia for a while but no longer. And so the cost per tonne of CO2 emitted needs to be there as a tax, effectively a carbon tax. But once that becomes over a certain threshold, then it's becomes financially worthwhile to do all these negative emissions and this removal stuff and it isn't really yet so that has to be a political decision to do that.

Cassidy 23:40
If like me, you're worried that you're not doing enough to help combat climate change, it may help to know that UCL is engaged in a number of initiatives right now. For example, the university has pledged to plant 10,000 square meters of biodiverse green space in Bloomsbury by 2024. If you'd like to support this project or learn about ones like it, visit www.ucl.ac.uk/climate-change.

Theme music  24:10
[medieval style music]

Cassidy  24:18
When my first whiskers appeared, love held me inthralled even more than any of my gods.

Cassidy  24:30
This lovely excerpt was from one of the pieces our next guest, Seb Coxon, wrote about and his soon to be released book Beards and Texts. Seb is...

...a member of the German Department, which is part of this bigger school of languages, we call it SELCS. I've worked there for about 20 years. Basically, a lecturer and my speciality is Medieval Literature.

Dr Seb Coxon  24:56
And his particular interests in these literatures are quite young. 

Cassidy  25:01
So what is it about hair, beards and baldness that you're interested in?

There's this fabulous German heroic epic. It's kind of like the German equivalent to what you might say Homer or Beowulf in Anglo Saxon. There's one absolutely fantastic scene in which a bunch of warriors lament the death of someone they've just killed because he was a great warrior too. And, this is the kind of thing that heroes do in all heroic epics - they kill each other, and then they give each other compliments. But in this one scene is just the narrator, the poet describes how the tears pour down their faces, and over their beards. And I've taught this text for a number of years, and each time, my question's always been at that point in the class, what do you think the point of referring to the beards is? So I started doing that in that class, and then because I did it in that class, I kept on noticing whenever beards were referred to in other stuff I was teaching. So it's actually come through teaching because it became a kind of habit of mine, almost like a running joke, you know, I'm gonna ask this class about beards in this story and see what they say.

Cassidy  26:01
Why are beards particularly as significant motif?

Dr Seb Coxon  26:05
Because they are so... they function as gender markers. So if you're interested in gender, of course, you know, gender covers a wide spectrum these days, but if we're talking about the cultural construction of gender, particularly in literature of the past, it's one of those motifs which is heavily laden with gender specific meaning. Obviously, it tends to be masculine, so the subtitle of my book is actually Images of Masculinity. And beards within that context, tend to be very significant because as soon as you start say, analyzing images of the man, manliness, masculinity, you realize, of course, that these things are very... have a hierarchy that - not all men are equal, not all masculinities is equal, and actually, culture privileges, certain masculinities over others, and if you look at medieval literature, or literature from the past, very often masculinities are either privileged or disparaged, with reference to facial hair, beards, or perhaps their absence, the inability to grow a beard, the color of that beard, and what happens to that beard.

Cassidy  27:06
The color of that beard? Why the color of that beard? 

Dr Seb Coxon  27:09
There's a very long standing prejudice against the color red. The cardinal example of that is Judas in the Middle Ages was popularly imagined to have a red beard. I mean, it is slightly culture specific, so that you find in Celtic cultures, for example, if one were to look at Medieval Irish, there isn't that stigma attached. But if you look at other European Medieval cultures, famously wicked people are given red hair.

Cassidy  27:33
So in this understanding this beards and German Medieval period was there, like a particular kind of beard, that was the, you know, the ideal beard, I guess I picture that a big, full bushy beard considering what we're talking about. But..?

Well you would think that, wouldn't you because, of course, to have a bushy beard is to be viral. In fact, the best example of that from the Middle Ages isn't German, the best example of that is actually Middle English - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Green Knight has this incredible bushy beard and derides Arthur and his court as being like beardless children in comparison to him, they just have no virility whatsoever. So you would think that but of course, beards were also subject to... or the wearing of the beard was subject to fashion. So what you find is that, in fact, unrestrained beard growth was often associated with wildness, lack of culture, lack a civilization. So if there was such a thing, and these things change, so there was no such thing as an ideal beard, really, that applied in the Early Middle Ages, the High Middle Ages and the Late Middle Ages, but if there was one, it would be the fairly neat beard.

Dr Seb Coxon  28:03
All this talk of beard style and prejudice fascinated me, but I had to move on to the subject at hand, the book. 

Cassidy  28:46
So there's, I think there's four poetic texts in it, if I remember, right, why did you choose those four?

There's four main chapters, which have got a kind of central idea. And for each of those main chapters, I've taken a lead text, I actually call them milestone texts [laughs]. But each chapter has a main milestone text, those are the four you're talking about. But the way the chapters are written are we start with that one, go into that one in great detail, including manuscript pictures if there are those, and then I kind of go [makes explosion sound like per-chew] and broaden out as far as possible finding all sorts of material which relates so each chapter then, like a huge firework display, it sort of bursts into color with reference to all sorts of others so in each chapter, I then try and talk about as many other different works as possible. The idea is so that the four main chapters have these biggish ideas, humanity, you know, men from around the world from different cultures have one thing in common - beards. Another idea is majesty, so that that's beards and kings. Another idea is beards mentioned in the context of teaching processes, so teaching and learning and authority, and then the fourth one is actually laughter and beards. So that's the role played by beard references in stuff that was, we think, was meant to make people laugh. And then what you discover there of course, is that all the stuff which is treated seriously, in all the things I've been talking before, like kings, humanity, teaching, you start looking at comedic things, all of this is then turned on its head and precisely the opposite, or these things are demolished quite deliberately and you see a lot of fun is had with the beards of kings, that in comedy, then it's all about disrespect, and undermining the position of the king. So there's all of that going on. And then I have a kind of a little chapter on Jesus. And I've always wanted to do this. And I never thought I would ever see it in print, a chapter called Jesus's beard. 

Theme music  30:31
[medieval style music]

A crown of thorns is put on his head, so that a torrent of blood poured down through his beard. S

Cassidy  30:43
Sorry, you have to talk about Jesus's beard.

Dr Seb Coxon  30:45
With Jesus's beard, you actually have a number of these things all combined, you have humanity, you have kingship, and you have authority and teaching. And so the idea then was to have a look at Jesus's beard and various things, poems, stories, plays, and to see which if any of these aspects are brought to the fore, link to the beard.

Cassidy  31:07
I think I think of images I've seen of Jesus, and I think of like the long beard, but it is very like manicured in the way that you're talking about before. So it like has that sense of, I guess, prestige?

Oh, yeah. So when you're talking about Jesus, the trouble is, of course, that he's pretty special. So how do you convey how special he is? Is he a god? Is he a man? Well, actually, he's kind of both. There's a whole batch of poems, a poetic tradition about describing Jesus's beauty, his physical perfection. And so they emphasize just how soft His hair was, even the hair in his beard. And what you find is, as you get deeper into the Middle Ages, they become more and more interested in not in his perfection, but in his suffering, because that suffering was what you could identify with. So in the later Middle Ages, it was the suffering of Christ, it was the Christ of the passion, it was the Christ who was being subjected to tortures. So there are hundreds, no, I'm underselling it, thousands of depictions in stories of the Passion of Christ. So let's just say I don't know, modest estimate, I read a hundred for this chapter, there's one! One instance in which a poet links, the beard reference. So you get the crown of thorns, you get the blood, always you get blood, you get crown of thorns, always, always, always, and then this one poet said, this brilliant piece of inspiration, so that a torrent of blood poured down through his beard. And little did he know that 700 years later, some other complete idiot [laughing] would have nothing better to do with his life than pour over his story. Some poet had the idea "I don't know but where does the blood go? It goes on his beard." And that's important because kings have beards and Jesus was the king. Even though the soldiers are trying to tell him he's not a king by humiliating him as if he was a king, but he really is the King. 

Cassidy  32:53
It's interesting making that comparison to Jesus, because it's just something that I had never really thought about. 

Cassidy  33:01
So getting into maybe like today, how can learning about things like facial hair, like Jesus's facial hair, or or facial hair in the Medieval Period affect our understanding of masculinity today?

Well, I think it helps us to understand that when we're looking at gender, in a way, you could say what I've got here is a test case, it helps us to understand that these things are nuanced and differentiated. The question therefore is, you know, what is the value in learning about the history of our culture or culture, because what you really want is to be able to win some critical distance over your own culture by looking at other cultures. Now, you could do that temporarily. But people still have bodies. So I'm interested in the representation of bodies, and how bodies are used to convey meanings, social meanings, cultural meanings. And that goes today, as it has done in the past. These things change in the form they may take, through the meanings which are being conveyed, but that principle of communication via bodies that you communicate in all sorts of ways hasn't, is there, and will remain there until we all become brains in jars, I guess. So that it's about the history of the body, and you could argue that the beard is a really interesting part of the body to look at, because it carries me- it obviously carries meaning. And yet you can deconstruct perhaps, or or dig into the obvious meaning that you think you associate with it.

Cassidy  34:24
If you are intrigued by the idea of medieval German beards, and the poetic texts that pay homage to them. Seb's book Beards and Text is available online for free from September 8th at uclpress.co.uk.

Theme music  34:40
[soft medieval style music]

Cassidy  34:47
In this month's episode, we learned about the development of an app that is saving newborn baby's lives through information sharing, and how even though the CO2 growth we see right now isn't great, we just might have the ability to learn from Earth's history and develop new technologies to save our future. And finally, by reflecting on something as simple as facial hair in the past, we can start to understand things as complicated as masculinity in the present. 

Theme music  35:20

Cassidy  35:20
Thank you for listening to meet at UCL, the podcast to listen to previous episodes or find out more about life at UCL visit www.ucl.ac.uk/made-at-UCL, or subscribe wherever you listen to this podcast. 

Cassidy  35:39
This episode was presented by me Cassidy Martin and produced by Cerys Bradley. 

Cassidy  35:44
It featured music from the bluedotsessions and additional sounds from freesound.org.

Cassidy  35:50
Special thanks to Michelle, Simba, Seb and Philip for sharing their time and expertise. 

Cassidy  35:56
This podcast is brought to you by UCL minds, bringing together UCL knowledge, insight and expertise through events, digital content and activities that are open to everyone. I hope you enjoyed listening as much as I enjoyed interviewing our guests this month. Thanks again for stopping by. 

Cassidy  36:14
Take care of yourself and each other