15 Events You Have to go to at this Year’s Festival of Ideas

Lily Rosengard 23 October 2014

The brightly coloured fingerprints stuck to the floor, attached to lampposts, and posted to your pidge these past weeks can only mean one thing: The Festival of Ideas is back. Now in it’s 7th year, the festival returns to Cambridge once again, with an astoundingly large number of talks, performances, exhibitions and the like. Last year, the festival saw over 215 events take place over the space of just two weeks, and welcomed 18,000 visitors to Cambridge, a testament to what a fantastic event it really is.

Now is the perfect excuse to take a step away from your compulsory lectures, and go to an event that genuinely interests you whether or not it is in the field that you happen to study. This year, there are hundreds of different events, the vast majority of which are free to attend. From creating your own comics, to attending a stand-up comedy event by Cambridge researchers and even getting your favourite feminist icon painted onto your nails, this years Festival Ideas really does have everything, and we mean EVERYTHING, on offer.

In case you don’t have time to flick through the 52-page festival brochure, we, the features team, have compiled a list for you of what we think to be the top 15 must-see events*:

10am – 5pm, Monday 20 October until Sunday 23 November

Science and racism in the nineteenth century

Fitzwilliam Museum, CB2 1RB,

Whipple Museum, CB2 3RH,

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, CB2 3DZ

A trail exploring the development of 19th-century racial theories considers how both Europeans and people of African descent responded to stereotypes and racist ideologies in presentations of African culture.

Event: 3, Map: 35, Drop in


6pm-7pm, Thursday 23 October

The dyslexia debate: or should that be the dyslexia diatribe?

Room 9, Mill Lane Lecture Rooms, 8 Mill Lane, CB2 1RW

Professor Julian Elliott of Durham University argues that the term dyslexic is unscientific and therefore should be abandoned. He explains the tensions that have emerged between scientific consideration of this topic and the powerful (and often competing) drivers of personal experience and need.

Event: 64, Map: 50, Talk, Pre-book


7pm – 7.40pm, 7.40pm – 8.20pm and 8.20pm – 9pm, Friday 24 October and Friday 31 October

Panopticon: Are we losing our identity in today’s Orwellian reality?

Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, CB1 1PT

An interactive art installation, with live audio-visual performance, investigating and exploring identity and privacy erosion through the rise of the Internet and social media. With face recognition apps now reality, are we embracing Orwell’s 1984?

Also on view 2pm – 2.40pm, 2.40pm – 3.20pm, 3.20pm – 4pm, 5pm – 5.40pm, 5.40pm – 6.20pm and 6.20pm – 7pm, Saturday 25 October, Sunday 26 October, Saturday 1 November and Sunday 2 November.

Presented by Anglia Ruskin University

Event: 82, Map: 15, Exhibition, Performance, Ages 15+, Pre-book, email: miriam.berg@anglia.ac.uk, visit: www.anglia.ac.uk/community


11am – 11.45am, 2pm – 2.45pm, 3pm – 3.45pm, Saturday 25 October

Make your own comic adventure

Cambridge Law Faculty, Room B16

Join artists from the Phoenix team as they guide you through the wondrous world of comics! Uncover the secrets of character creation – whether it’s likeable heroes to root for, or a dastardly villain to boo at. Conjure up your own comic story world with liquorice mountains, bubbling volcanoes, or even a spike-filled pit! The choice is yours!

Event: 96, Drop in, Hands on, Workshop, Ages 8+, Pre-book


11.30am – 1pm, Saturday 25 October

Mixed race: the future of identity politics in Britain

Cambridge Law Faculty, Room LG18

Mixed race children are among the fastest growing group in the UK. What impact will this have on attitudes to multiculturalism? Journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown chairs a discussion with journalist and broadcaster Sarfraz Manzoor, campaigner Dinah Morley, and researchers Nathaniel Coleman and Chamion Caballero.

Event: 99, Talk, Pre-book


2.30pm – 3.30pm, Saturday 25 October

How language shapes our identity

Cambridge Law Faculty, Room LG17

The way we speak and write is a major part of our identity. In this talk sociolinguist Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner explores what dialects tell us about our social networks, whether alphabets really mean anything and why youth speak is not all that terrible.

Event: 103, Talk, Pre-book


4.30pm – 5.30pm, Saturday 25 October

Let’s talk about revolution

Cambridge Law Faculty, Room LG17

The recent revolutions in Ukraine, Egypt and Tunisia have arrived suddenly and unexpectedly. Benjamin Abrams, Department of Sociology, explains how these revolutions occurred, why they’re different, and how we might predict the revolutions of the future.

Event: 106, Talk, Pre-book


1.30pm-2.30pm, Sunday 26 October,

What’s wrong with pink?  

Cambridge Junction (J2), Clifton Way, CB1 7GX

Pink for girls and blue for boys, right? Wrong! Join neuroscientist Vickie Pasterski, Emma Moore from the Pink Stinks campaign and others as they explore pinkification, separate toys in toyshops and why it matters.


10am – 4pm Sunday 26th

Apple day

Botanic Garden, 1 Brookside, CB2 1JE

One of the region’s biggest apple days returns to celebrate all things apple: with over thirty varieties of locally grown apples to try, apple edibles, apple identification and care advice. At our family apple station there'll be apple crafts, trails and storytelling.

Event: 138, Map: 18, All ages, Pre-book, email: enquiries@botanic.cam.ac.uk, tel: 01223 336265, visit: www.botanic.cam.ac.uk/


7pm – 8.30pm, Monday 27 October

Nationalism 101: Should we be afraid?

Room 3, Mill Lane Lecture Rooms, 8 Mill Lane, CB2 1RW

What is it about nationalism that causes such passion? Join a debate encompassing the Arab Spring, the events in Ukraine, and the tensions of Scottish and English nationalism with Professors of Politics Mike Kenny and Montserrat Guibernau, Professor of International relations Margot light and Dr Glen Rangwala, lecturer on the Politics of the modern Middle East.

Event: 153, Map: 50, Talk, Ages 15+, Pre-book


7.30pm – 10pm, Thursday 30 October

Bright Club

The Portland Arms, 129 Chesterton Rd, CB4 3BA

Six of Cambridge’s bravest researchers get up behind the microphone to have a go at doing stand-up comedy based on their work. Compèred by the talented Jen Brister!

Event: 195, Map: 58, Performance, Adults, Pre-book, email: andy@thinkoutreach.org, tel: 07980 155167, visit: www.thinkoutreach.org, £8


5.30pm – 6.30pm, Friday 31 October

Wild laughter

Judith E Wilson Drama Studio, Faculty of English, 9 West Road, CB3 9DP
Albert James, D’Oyly Carte stage clown, is brought back to life through other clowns in a performance devised by his great-granddaughters which fuses biography, cultural history and family experience.

Event: 201, Map: 6, Performance, Ages 8+


11am – 12.30pm, Saturday 1 November

Big Brother 2.0: Our future in an age of surveillance

Lady Mitchell Hall

In what is fast being labelled an age of surveillance, the relationship between privacy and security is becoming extremely important. From the Snowden revelations to Facebook, is our privacy the price we pay for an easier and secure future? Or is this simply a false sense of security? Leading experts debate the many issues around our future in an age of surveillance.
Event: 210, Map: 7, Talk, Pre-book


10-5pm, Sunday 26 October

Nail bar

Cambridge Junction

Artist Phoebe Davies and a team of girls supported by Romsey Mill present the Influences Nail Bar. Take a seat at the nail bar choose a woman from the nail menu and have a feminist nail design applied, exchange opinions and learn the history of the women you’re celebrating!


8pm – 10pm, Saturday 1 November

Bridget Christie: A Bic for her

Room J2, Cambridge Junction, Clifton Way, CB1 7GX
Award-winning comic and Radio 4 regular Bridget Christie talks gender equality in her smash-hit Edinburgh show.

Event: 230, Map: 21, Performance, Ages 15+,

Pre-book, email: tickets@junction.co.uk, tel: 01223 511 511, visit: www.junction.co.uk, £15, £13 concession


For the events that say ‘Pre-book’, please see the Festival of Ideas website to book your place up to 24hrs before the event itself.

Is the event you've been dying to go see not on this list? If so, comment below!  


*All event descriptions have been directly taken from the Festival of Ideas brochure in order to fully represent the event in the way that it has been publicised by The Festival itself. The online brochure can be found here.