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Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2019 Wraps Up

Around 25,000 people took part in over 270, mostly free, events at this year's Cambridge Festival of Ideas which has just wrapped up.

The Festival, now in its 12th year, celebrates the enormous impact of arts, humanities and social sciences on our daily lives and encourages lively discussion about many of today's most challenging global issues.

Record numbers of people, including school children from as far afield as Sweden, booked tickets for the events, which ranged from talks on subjects such as risk and uncertainty in a post-truth society, Artificial Intelligence and social change, identity and belonging in post-Brexit Britain and climate action. 

Participants included Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and master of Magdalene College, who chaired an event on alternatives to criminalisation of drugs, MPs Ed Miliband [on climate justice] and David Lammy [on race equality], Professor Gina Rippon on the gendered brain and Professor Simon Baron Cohen on neurodiversity.

The largest footfall came in the first weekend when popular events included Caroline Criado Perez talking with Professor Ann Copestake about gender bias and her new book Invisible women: exposing data bias in a world designed for men which won this year's Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. 

The second weekend was led by Anglia Ruskin University, with subjects covered including true crime in the age of social media, post-natal depression in dads and a panel of writers led by Mick Finlay, author of the Arrowood series, discussing the enduring appeal of historical fiction.

In addition to talks, the Festival was bursting with theatre, music, comedy, art and a range of exhibitions, including one a pop-up history of women homeworkers. Classico Latino, an award-winning Cambridge-based band, launched their new album Havana Classic, a lively mix of traditional Cuban music played on classical Western instruments.

Initial feedback has been very positive. One event, Lex Ex Machina during which Dr Christopher Markou from the University of Cambridge's Faculty of Law explored the future of AI and what it means for our daily lives, was described by a member of the audience as "the best Festival of Ideas talk I have ever been to".

An audience member at the talk on risk and uncertainty in post-truth society by Professor David Spieghalter adn Dr Sander van der Linden commented: "Very smooth presentation of fascinating material - didn't want it to stop!"

Another audience member in a packed panel debate on identity and belonging in post-Brexit Britain said: "Brilliant - like speed dating for history! A whistlestop tour of all the background to how Brexit came about."

And a member of the audience who attended Caroline Criado Perez's talk said: "Thank you Cambridge University for welcoming such diverse speakers, some with controversial views. And the Festival staff are fantastic - thank you so much."

David Cain, Cambridge Festival of Ideas manager, said: "We started with a focus on the local community in Arbury who met with Archaeology experts from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology to explore the lives of Romans who lived nearby and we finished 17 days later learning to draw over a drink with experts from Flora and Fauna at a pub in Cambridge.

"In between over 25,000 people engaged with research at the University through events ranging from talks, panel discussions, walks, films shows, exhibitions, family activities and dance events, exploring topics ranging from the US presidential elections, the paintings of Yoko Ono, Stonewall at 50, climate justice, the future of China and Brexit. It was a hugely stimulating, though-provoking two weeks and we know from the feedback that it was widely enjoyed. We look forward to building on this year's success for our 13th festival in 2020."