Academic online

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 November, 2010, 12:00am

Cambridge University and YouTube hardly seem like likely bedfellows, but the 801-year-old institution has been making waves at the film-sharing internet portal for the past month. On November 1, 13 minutes of footage from 1942 of what has been dubbed 'the Elephant Dunkirk' are uploaded: they show British tea planter Gyles Mackrell (who shot the footage himself, right) as he and his 20-strong pachyderm convoy braved the monsoon torrents of the Dapha river to rescue more than 300 refugees stranded in Burma during the Japanese invasion of the country.

Two weeks later, the university's Cambridge Ideas channel hosted a six-minute piece introducing its archival material about the anti-Nazi resistance movement on the Channel Islands, the only part of the British Isles occupied by Germany during the second world war. The short documentary, Forgotten Heroes, shows the documents a Cambridge archaeologist obtained this summer which chronicled the brutality meted out to Guernsey residents who defied the occupying forces by running clandestine newspapers or retaining wireless radios which they used to listen to broadcasts from mainland Britain.

According to the papers and testimonies from surviving detainees, some of those arrested were sent to Germany and subjected to harsh treatment in German prisons, including beatings and hearing the screams of other prisoners put to death on the guillotine. Towards the end of the war, some of the prisoners were forced to embark on death-marches and many died before the Nazis finally surrendered in May 1945.

Both online films are part of a series of audio and video podcasts designed to provide Cambridge University with 'a major new presence in new media', according to introductory remarks on its website. While last year's launch commemorates the institution's 800th anniversary, the YouTube platform is meant to continue 'as a legacy into the future'.

On the pages of Cambridge Ideas (, visitors can choose from among a collection of films which includes latest entries such as Bird Tango, which explores the social behaviour of birds through a dance collaboration between psychologist Nicola Clayton and the Rambert Dance Company, and The Crime Experiment, which sees criminologist Lawrence Sherman working with the police to try out new policing methods in Manchester.

Cognition studies and criminology on YouTube - who would have thought?