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Cambridge Festival of Ideas prepares for a bumper first weekend

A packed programme of events focusing on the theme of ‘truth’ form part of the annual two-week celebration of arts, humanities and social sciences at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas this weekend.

Over 70 events, including talks, exhibitions, and hands-on, interactive experiences, investigate some of the challenges we face, from politics and the safety of our digital data, to how we cope living in a ‘post-truth’ world. There are also a range of events suitable for all the family.

The Faculty of Law at the Sidgwick Site hosts two of the weekend’s most popular talks on Saturday morning. In Can we keep secrets, Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, MI5 historian Christopher Andrew, journalist Nick Davies and Martha Spurrier, head of Liberty, discuss the safety of our data in the digital age and what is the worst that could go wrong. Chaired by BBC Cambridgeshire's Chris Mann. Also on Saturday morning, Professor Sir Richard Evans, who was the principal expert witness against Holocaust-denier David Irving when he sued American historian Deborah Lipstadt for libel, reflects on the case and the recent film, Denial, during Denial: in defence of truth.

Events at the Faculty of Law at the Sidgwick Site continue in the afternoon with Manufacturing a clash of civilisations. In a polarised world, populist leaders with narratives of grievance promote global schisms based on religious and cultural differences. How can this be prevented? Andrew Preston, Julian Hargreaves, Sara Silvestri and Esra Ozyurek will discuss the situation in the US, Turkey and the UK, how it might be feeding a rising intolerance of different cultures and religions and how it can be challenged.

Another half-day event on Saturday asks Can there ever be truth in translation? What is true translation? How faithful should translation be? How useful is translation in teaching at both school and university level? Journalist and foreign correspondent Rosie Goldsmith talks about her experiences in ‘translating’ events into news stories.

Psychotherapy is put under the spotlight during the afternoon at the Institute of Criminology when a panel of psychotherapists introduce a discussion, The many faces of truth in psychotherapy, about the shape, place and meaning of psychotherapy by outlining different perspectives on the relationship between ‘truth’ and the unconscious, and the notion of ‘evidence’ in the context of psychotherapy.

Other popular talks throughout Saturday include a discussion on some of the successes and failures of news reporting after the Cold war ended in One in ten American light bulbs are lit by the Russians: fake news?, an exploration of our post-truth world during Is relativism to blame for our post-truth world?, and a further event asks whether egg freezing is the new way to the top.

Talks continue on Sunday with The truth about fatherhood: how paternity was established before DNA testing, which discusses how the paternity of illegitimate children was established in the past, and a further exploration of post-truth in The post-truth era: is the truth up for grabs? during which Dr Alex Carter examines the close relationship between philosophy and post-truth and suggests ways of mitigating its 'toxic' influence.

Exhibitions form a big part of the coming weekend. One of the most visually fascinating is Restoring truth to ruins, an exhibition of art, literature and technology which opens on Saturday at the Central Library. Visitors can experience the reconstruction of Syrian heritage first-hand through interactive technologies including 3D printing and virtual reality. Also on Saturday is a special exhibition for one day only at St John’s College where visitors can explore the mythical beasts and the supernatural beings of St John’s college when the treasures from the Special Collections are put on display.

Exhibitions on Sunday include photographer Toby Smith’s startling exhibition, Pani, Pahar: waters of the Himalayas, at St John’s College Old Divinity School, which explores the changing landscape and escalating water crisis of the Indian Himalayas. A further major exhibition, Computing history: where did all the women go?, brings together pioneering women whose contribution to the computing industry was undeniably formative but whose stories have often been written out by a focus on the ‘great men’ that have been involved.

For those who like getting hands-on, the Cambridge Archaeological Unit also opens its doors for their prehistory and archaeology day where visitors can step back in time and get hands-on with rock art, spear-throwing, archery, pottery making, and bake bread the prehistoric way.

Festival Coordinator Ariel Retik commented: “We have organised a special programme of events across Saturday and Sunday that will hopefully be of interest to people of all ages and backgrounds. These events highlight some of the amazing research taking place in Cambridge and beyond, alongside the interactive and fun favourites that make the Festival so popular each year.

“We are thankful to the city and community for their support, and to all the speakers and coordinators for their hard work and creativity. I hope everyone enjoys the Festival this weekend.”

The Cambridge Festival of Ideas, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, runs until 29th October. A packed programme teems with over 200 events ranging from debates, talks, exhibitions, films and performances that showcase the arts, humanities and social sciences. The events, most of which are free, are held in lecture theatres, museums and galleries around Cambridge.