This image: Professor Sir Richard Evans
Cambridge Festival of Ideas aims to get us all thinking about the big issues… Cyrus Pundole discovers a wealth of material
Mind-blowing concepts, world-leading speakers, fears for the planet and great ways to save it have all featured in this cutting-edge event that has become a local institution: the Cambridge Festival of Ideas.
Now in its tenth year, organisers have taken a topical view for this event’s theme… truth. It’s the word that has dominated the news agenda (side-by-side with ‘fake’, which we won’t dwell on) and of course, it is the driving force behind academic research.
The festival puts truth under the spotlight, asking whether we can still believe in experts and how conspiracy theories stake their claim to truth. Can we keep secrets in an age of technology? What drives populism?
Over 200 events will attract thousands of visitors from 16 to 29 October, featuring debates, talks, films, performances and exhibitions in galleries, lecture theatres and museums around the city. With something for all ages, most of the events are free.
Among the speakers are former Labour MP, now director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, Tristram Hunt; Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury; Richard Dearlove, ex-head of the Secret Intelligence Service (a role fictionally known as ‘M’); director of Liberty, Martha Spurrier; Dame Athene Donald, professor of experimental physics; revisionist historian Ruth Dudley Edwards; and technology author George Zarkadakis.
Ariel Retik, festival manager, said: “The Festival of Ideas aims to challenge people’s received ideas and question the status quo. From fake news, espionage and conspiracies, to populist lies – the subject of truth has dominated the news in 2017.
“These stories are entwined with wider topics: how do we decide what is true? Can there be a ‘correct’ historical narrative? How do religions and ideologies stake their claim to universality? The festival is a chance to discuss from a huge variety of perspectives what truth really means.”
Hunt will feature in a debate on 17 October, Empire and Brexit, with Financial Times commentator Gideon Rachman and moderated by historian Shruti Kapila, discussing the changing world order. Dearlove and Spurrier are part of a four-strong panel discussing Can We Keep Secrets? on 21 October.
Denial: In Defence of Truth features Professor Sir Richard Evans, who was the principal expert witness against Holocaust-denier David Irving when he sued historian Deborah Lipstadt for libel. He reflects on the case and the recent film Denial on 21 October.
Among the experimental performances this year at the festival, Cambridge Storytellers present Cambridge Contest of Liars. Will you have the wool pulled over your eyes on 19 October with a collection of tall tales, fibs and alternate versions of the truth?
Also featured are a number of events marking 70 years of Indian independence, including Mahatma versus Modi (17 October), in which a panel will consider whether the current leader of the biggest democracy on the planet has changed the country beyond all recognition.
A range of hands-on sessions include art and storytelling for all ages and an adult workshop, Speaking Truth to Power, brainstorms ideas for ‘bystander training’ in how to deal with sexism and racism (17 October).
Booking has already opened for all events. You can download a copy of the full programme at www.festivalofideas.cam.ac.uk