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History of Quaternary Research in Cambridge

The University of Cambridge has fostered Quaternary Research for a century and a half. The Departments of Botany, Geology (Earth Sciences), Geography, Archaeology, Zoology and Applied Biology (Agriculture) have all, at one time or another, housed students of this critical period of time. The best known is that founded by Harry Godwin in Botany, but it is important not to underestimate the substantial contributions from related departments, which continues to this day.

These pages provide some insights into the events and key individuals who have been involved in the Cambridge Quaternary research environment.

Subdepartment of Quaternary Research, the Godwin Institute of Quaternary Research and Cambridge Quaternary

The Subdepartment of Quaternary Research was founded in 1948 to study world events throughout and since the Ice Age. Under its first Director, Sir Harry Godwin, it became nationally and internationally famous.

After many years, however, the evolving structure of the University no longer accommodated the Subdepartment easily and after a long gestation period the Godwin Institute rose, phoenix- like, from the subdepartmental ashes. In 1992 it was proposed that a Godwin Institute for Quaternary Science be created, sponsored by a set of interested departments, to sustain and broaden the support given to Quaternary Science in the University and insure a continuing high profile for it in the scientific world. Its advantage over the Subdepartment was thought to be maximum flexibility in encouraging inter-disciplinary collaboration and future development.

The birth took place in February 1995 when the Godwin Institute for Quaternary Research (GIQR for short) was established by the Heads of the five 'Sponsoring Departments' (Archaeology, Earth Sciences, Geography, Plant Sciences and Zoology). To give the Institute its detailed shape and content is now a task for all interested in interdisciplinary approaches to Quaternary research.

Extensive consultation began immediately with the many people involved with the former Subdepartment or likely to be involved with the GIQR, regarding its objectives, membership, organisation and activities. Because a do-it-yourself approach and great flexibility are needed and because the Institute is not handicapped by the usual encumbrances of space, facilities, money, equipment and staff, the situation is likely to remain in flux for some time and initiatives from members are not only welcome but essential. Together with the membership we hope to build an Institute that is a flexible and exciting vehicle for interdisciplinary communication and collaboration in Quaternary studies, with the distinction it deserves because of the labours of its members. Professor Sir Nick Shackleton F.R.S . was appointed GIQR Director.

Cambridge Quaternary (the Cambridge Institute of Quaternary Research: CQ) was inaugurated on 1 October 2005 to replace the Godwin Institute of Quaternary Research (GIQR). This new grouping represents a more informal structure than the GIQR but at the same time incorporates a wider range of research groups both within the University and beyond.

The CQ provides a co-operative umbrella organisation including over 40 people. Its constituent research groups being based in the Departments of Geography, Earth Sciences, Archaeology and Zoology, whilst links also exist with the Departments of Physics and Bioanthropology, the Scott Polar Research Institute and the British Antarctic Survey. The research environment at all levels, fostered by the staff, post-doctoral workers, and both Ph.D. and M.Phil. students pursuing interdisciplinary research in a wide range of Quaternary fields. This environment is unique in Britain, offering opportunities for research training unequalled elsewhere, in terms of the range and quality of the expertise available in a single institutional setting.

The CQ is managed by an Advisory Committee that meets annually. It includes Professor Phil Gibbard (Geography - chair), Dr Tom Spencer (Geography), Professor Nick McCave (Earth Sciences), Dr David Pyle (Earth Sciences), Dr Richard Preece (Zoology), Dr Maryline Vautravers (British Antarctic Survey and Geography), Professor Roy Switsur (Godwin Lab), Professor Martin Jones (Archaeology) and Dr Eric Wolff (British Antarctic Survey).

More information

Subdepartment of Quaternary Research (SDQR: 1948-1994)

Directors of the former Subdepartment of Quaternary Research
Other SDQR topics
Former Quaternary workers in other University of Cambridge departments