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‘The televising of science is a process of television’: establishing Horizon, 1962–1967

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 May 2014

The Science Museum, London, SW7 2DD. email:


BBC Television's Horizon series, fifty years old on 2 May 2014, despite its significance to the history of the public culture of science, has been little studied. This microhistorical account follows the gestation and early years of the programme, demonstrating how it established a social and cultural account of science. This was a result of televisual factors, notably the determination to follow the format of the successful arts television programme Monitor. It illuminates how the processes of television production, with a handful of key participants – Aubrey Singer, Gerald Leach, Philip Daly, Gordon Rattray Taylor, Ramsay Short, Michael Peacock and Robert Reid – established the format of the programme. This occurred over seventeen months of prior preparation followed by three troubled years of seeking to establish a stable form. This was finally achieved in 1967 when the programme adopted a film documentary approach after extended attempts at making it as a studio-based magazine programme. The story has implications for understanding the social accounts of science that were circulating in the key decade of the 1960s.

Research Article
Copyright © British Society for the History of Science 2014 

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2 Boon, Timothy, Films of Fact: A History of Science in Documentary Films and Television, London: Wallflower, 2008, pp. 227229Google Scholar.

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4 Boon, op. cit. (2), p. 3.

5 For example, Boon, op. cit. (2), pp. 185–191, 221–227.

6 Callon, M., Lascoumes, P. and Barthe, Y., Acting in an Uncertain World: An Essay on Technical Democracy, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009Google Scholar. See also the discussion in Bucchi, M., ‘Of deficits, deviations and dialogues: theories of public communication and science’, in Bucchi, M. and Trench, B. (eds.), Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology, London: Routledge, 2008, pp. 5776CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Boon, op. cit. (2), pp. 215–221.

8 Baverstock to CP Tel, ‘Our future programmes’, 22 November 1961, pp. 3–4, T16/149/3, BBC Written Archives Centre, Caversham. All archival references are to this archive.

9 Edward Caffrey (assistant head of copyright) to Robin Lowe, 30 April 1962, TVART1 GRT (hereafter TVART1 GRT). Singer was still planning programmes as late as 12 September 1961; Singer to Kusakov, 12 September 1961, T14/1502/6.

10 Eric Maschwitz to GMOBTel, 9 January 1962, T16/149/3.

11 ACPTel to CP Tel , 22 November 1962, ‘Our future programmes’, T16/149/3. My emphasis. Baverstock became chief of programmes for BBC1 after the reorganization; effectively Peacock took his place in the management chain.

12 Caffery to Lowe, 30 April 1962; Singer to CP Tel, ‘OB Department: Scientific writers’, 2 August 1962, TVART1 GRT.

13 Stephen Black (MRCS, LRCP), one-time documentary filmmaker, doctor and psychologist, with interests in psychosomatic medicine; anon., ‘Stephen Black (obituary)’, New Zealand Medical Journal 120(1248) (26 January 2007),, accessed 16 November 2013. Black was author of books including Man and Motor Cars (1966) and Mind and Body (1969).

14 See Green, P., ‘Scientific breakthrough (critic on the hearth)’, The Listener, 20 December 1963, p. 1062Google Scholar.

15 See critique in T14/1644/1. See Green, P., ‘A night with the stars (critic on the hearth)’, The Listener, 2 March 1963, p. 528Google Scholar.

16 With effect from 4 February 1962; Briggs, Asa, Competition: The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, vol. 5, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 389CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

17 Singer, op. cit. (1), p. 3.

18 This competitiveness was visible, for example in 1959, when he made moves to stop the broadcasting of Science Is News, a programme produced by James McCloy for the competing Talks Department; Singer to AHOBTel (II), 10 January 1959, T14/1502/2.

19 Aubrey Singer personnel file L2/191/2 (the 1963 date is 23 January); Briggs, op. cit. (16), pp. 389–390; Leapman, Michael, ‘Singer, Aubrey Edward (1927–2007)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2011)Google Scholar, at, accessed 17 October 2012.

20 One example: in February 1964 he sent a proposal to cover science spending priorities in the context of CERN; Singer to Daly, 7 February 1964, T14/3,316.

21 A memo records that a crucial discussion was held between Singer and Daly on Friday 22 May; Daly to Singer, 27 May 1964, T14/3,316/1.

22 Biographical Details, anon., ‘Former head at Bristol’, Ariel, 8 August 1987. Obituary, The Times, 3 August 1987, differs in some details.

23 Wright, Pearce, ‘Gerald Leach: science journalist whose feel for the human dimension drew him to environmentalism’, The Guardian, 21 Jan 2005Google Scholar, available at

24 ‘By popular I mean that the programmes were meant primarily to be entertaining: rather than the lecture hall approach we were more than prepared to use cartoon film or tricks with the television camera. And by fundamental I mean that we tried to go further than the super-gadgetry approach of so much popular science presentation and to look as well at the basic and beautiful patterns and structures of nature which science has revealed in the last decades.’ Leach, Gerald, Science Shapes Tomorrow, London: Phoenix House, 1962, p. 13Google Scholar.

25 RCONT12 Leach, Gerald, 1963–7.

26 Taylor, Gordon Rattray, Eye on Research, London: John Murray, 1960Google Scholar.

27 Taylor, Gordon Rattray, The Science of Life: A Picture History of Biology, London: Thames & Hudson, 1963, p. 5Google Scholar.

28 For example: 2 January 1962, 1 January 1963, 30 December 1963.

29 Taylor to Facilities Unit, 30 July 1963, T14/3,316/1.

30 Singer had asked him in April, before the series started; Taylor to Singer, ‘My secretarial support’, 30 July 1964, TVART3 Gordon Rattray Taylor.

31 Biographical information from Short's BBC personnel file, L1/2,024/1.

32 L1/2,024/1. See Boon, Tim, ‘British science documentaries: transitions from film to television’, Journal of British Cinema and Television (2013) 10, pp. 475497CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

33 Singer to Taylor, 11 March 1963, TVART1 GRT.

34 The comprehensibility of science broadcasts had been considered as early as 1949; see Boon, op. cit. (2), p. 189, pp. 219–25; Jones, Allan, ‘Clogging the machinery: the BBC's experiment in science coordination, 1949–1953’, Media History (2013) 19, pp. 436449Google Scholar.

35 Singer to Leach, 26 November 1962, T14/1,810/1. Leach was between programmes – this is before Singer failed to get him on the staff. Singer to GMOB Tel, ‘Gordon Taylor and Gerald Leach’, 9 January 1963, TVART1 GRT.

36 Wyver, John, Vision On: Film, Television and the Arts in Britain, London: Wallflower, 2007, pp. 2731Google Scholar.

37 The social sciences did not feature very strongly in the end.

38 Singer to Leach, 26 November 1962.

39 Jones, Allan, ‘Elite science and the BBC: a 1950s contest of ownership’, BJHS, available on CJO 2013Google Scholar doi:10.1017/S0007087413000927; Boon, op. cit. (2), p. 225–227.

40 See Boon, op. cit. (2), pp. 215–216.

41 Singer to Leach, 26 November 1962.

42 Daly to Pyke, 18 December 1962, T14/1,810. Daly knew Pyke from an earlier Eye on Research contact. Singer, Daly and Pyke had dinner together on 17 January. Pyke to Daly, 25 December 1962; Pyke to Daly, 28 March 1963, T14/1,810. See, accessed 22 April 2013.

43 Daly to Gregory, 16 August 1963, T14/1,810/2.

44 The others were ‘Prospect, Scan, Quest, and Crucible’; anon., ‘Feasibility Study for a Scientific “Monitor”’, undated, but from context – that it responds precisely to Singer's brief – written by Leach and produced between December 1962 and March 1963, T14/3,316/1. This document refers in passing to the example of the 11 December 1962 Prizewinners programme, implying that it was fresh in the memory. Reinforcing Leach as writer is a comment in a letter a year later, where he describes himself as ‘having been in on it since the beginning’. Leach to Daly, 22 January 1964, p. 3, T14/2,195/1.

45 Anon., op. cit. (44) (‘Feasibility Study for a Scientific “Monitor”’), p. 1.

46 Anon., op. cit. (44), p. 2.

47 Anon., op. cit. (44), p. 2.

48 Anon., op. cit. (44), p. 2.

49 Anon., op. cit. (44), p. 2.

50 Anon., op. cit. (44), p. 3.

51 Anon., op. cit. (44), p. 3.

52 Anon., op. cit. (44), p. 3. Science Is News was a programme produced by James McCloy for the Talks Department in the late 1950s; Boon, op. cit. (2), p. 212.

53 Anon., op. cit. (44), p. 4.

54 Anon., op. cit. (44), p. 7.

55 This rested on the appointment of the new heads of BBC1 (Baverstock) and BBC2 (Peacock); Singer to GMOB Tel, ‘Gordon Taylor and Gerald Leach’, 9 January 1963, TVART1 GRT.

56 It is unclear what other science slots there were, although a pilot of a programme named ‘Trend’ – an industrial magazine produced by Glyn Jones – was planned in August 1963; Ruth Adams to A.C.(P) Tel, ‘BBC2 magazines: facilities’, 31 July 1963, T14/1,810/2.

57 He was discussing a single production office for Horizon and Challenge. Daly to Singer, ‘Horizon magazine programme’, 5 March 1963, T14/3,316/1.

58 See, for example, Singer to AHOBTel (II), 10 January 1959, T14/1502/2.

59 Daly to Singer, ‘Horizon magazine programme’, 5 March 1963, T14/3,316/1. Copy also in T14/1,810.

60 Daly to Singer, ‘Horizon magazine programme’, 5 March 1963.

61 See Radio Times, 5 September 1963, 9; Boon, op. cit. (2), p. 221–224.

62 Daly to Singer, ‘Horizon magazine programme’, 5 March 1963.

63 Daly to Singer, ‘Horizon magazine programme’, 5 March 1963.

64 Daly to Singer, ‘Horizon magazine programme’, 5 March 1963. Peacock accepted the case for a pilot in a memo to Singer on 11 June; Ruth Adams to A.C.(P) Tel, ‘BBC2 magazines: facilities’, 31 July 1963, T14/1,810/2.

65 Daly to Pyke, 5 April 1963, T14/1,810/2.

66 Daly to Singer, ‘“Horizon” pilot programme’, 6 May 1963, T14/1,810. The funding of pilots was part of the general preparations for BBC2; see Head of TV Admin Dept to Director of TV, ‘BBC-2 programmes: preliminary expenditure’, 10 December 1963, T16/315/2. Daly to Richard Gregory, 7 August 1963, T14/1,810/2.

67 Daly to Singer, ‘“Horizon” pilot programme’, 6 May 1963, T14/1,810.

68 Peacock to Goldie, 13 June 1963, T50/52/1. The latter programme became ‘Human side’, one of the three programmes shown monthly in alternation with Horizon.

69 Taylor describes him as special adviser to Unilever on personnel problems, previously one of the management group of the Tavistock Institute.

70 Taylor to Singer, 19 June 1963, T14/1,810/2 (also in T14/3,316/1). Taylor mentions here his suggestion of the aggression item to Storr.

71 Daly to Blin-Stoyle, 27 June 1963, T14/1,810/2.

72 Blin-Stoyle to Daly, 5 July 1963, T14/1,810/2.

73 John Newell to Gillian Gilman, 16 September 1963, T14/1,810/2.

74 Isaacs sent Daly some item ideas for the pilot on 17 July 1963; T14/1,810/2. He ‘received his PhD from the Imperial College of Science and Technology, has conducted advanced research on rocket propulsion and has been a highly successful teacher of elementary science’ – dust jacket biography.

75 Obituary, The Independent, 15 February 2007, accessed 8 February 2012.

76 John Newell to Alan Isaacs, 20 August 1963, T14/1,810/2. The LSD item was a rerun of John Freeman's role in ‘Your mysterious brain’.

77 Reference in Leach to Singer, 8 July 1963, T14/2,195/1.

78 A filmed conversation between Fred Hoyle and Richard Feynman was not used; ‘Recorded. Pilot programme: no transmission’, no date marked, but 3 November 1963, T14/1,810. The programme was produced by Daly, associate produced by Ramsay Short and studio directed by Max Morgan-Witts.

79 Daly to Blin-Stoyle, 23 September 1963, T14/1,810/2.

80 Singer to Daly, ‘Horizon’, 22 November 1963, T14/3,316/1. Daly prompted Singer to arrange the viewing on 7 November; Daly to Singer, 7 November, T14/3,316/1.

81 We see this again in a letter Leach sent to Daly: ‘Since you will be away for the next two weeks, I shall have to fix up what I am doing with Ramsay’; Leach to Daly, 18 February 1964, T14/1,809/1.

82 Short, ‘Reason for calling the meeting’, 7 January 1964, T14/3,316/1.

83 Short to Daly, ‘Notes on Horizon meeting held 7th Jan 1964’, 9 January 1964, T14/3,316/1.

84 In which Snow professed some surprise at the response to his Rede Lecture; Radio Times, 11 February 1964.

85 Radio Times, 25 February 1964, p. 31.

86 Ramsay Short, ‘Horizon: thoughts from Ramsay (for tomorrow's meeting)’, 25 November 1963, T14/3,316/1.

87 Singer to Daly, ‘Horizon’, 17 December 1963, T14/3,316/1.

88 Short to Daly, 1 January 1964, T14/3,316/1; Daly to A.H.Tel.Design, 21 February 1964, T14/3,316/1.

89 Short, ‘Reason for calling the meeting’, 7 January 1964, T14/3,316/1.

90 Short, ‘Reason for calling the meeting’, 7 January 1964, T14/3,316/1.

91 Thompson, Ruth D'Arcy, D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, The Scholar-Naturalist, 1860–1948, London: Oxford University Press, 1958, p. 232Google Scholar.

92 Short, ‘Reason for calling the meeting’, 7 January 1964, T14/3,316/1, original emphasis.

93 Short to Daly, ‘Notes on Horizon meeting held 7th Jan 1964’, 9 January 1964, T14/3,316/1.

94 Leach, ‘Notes on “Horizon” policy’, attached to Leach to Daly, 9 January 1964, T14/2,195/1, original emphasis.

95 Leach, op. cit. (94).

96 Leach, op. cit. (94).

97 Anon. [Ramsay Short?], ‘Notes on Horizon Policy’, undated, c. January 1964, T14/3,316/1.

98 The distinction between the BBC1 and BBC2 approaches to science adopted by Daly here is outlined in Leach's covering letter, Leach to Daly, 9 January 1964, T14/2,195/1.

99 Daly to Singer, ‘Horizon proposal’, 23 January 1964, T14/3,316/1.

100 The original version on 23 January, before corrections from Singer, read, ‘We accept Ch P BBC-2's point that each edition should be built round a single theme’. Daly to Singer, ‘Horizon proposal’, 23 January 1964, T14/3,316/1.

101 ‘Horizon proposal’, 4 February 1964, T14/3,316/1.

102 ‘Horizon proposal’ (draft), 23 January 1964, T14/3,316/1. The handwriting is proved to be Singer's by the memo Daly to Singer/Singer to Daly, ‘“Horizon” Press Release’, 24 April 1964, T14/1,610/1.

103 Daly to Singer, ‘Horizon proposal’, 23 January 1964, T14/3,316/1.

104 Daly to Singer, ‘Horizon proposal’, 23 January 1964, T14/3,316/1. There is no explicit record of the meeting with Peacock, though we must assume that this new version of the programme gained assent from him.

105 Singer to Daly, 25 February 1964; John Dutot, ‘Galileo’, 18 March 1964, T14/1,809/1.

106 Daly to Singer, ‘Horizon proposal’, 23 January and 4 February 1964, T14/3,316/1.

107 Daly to Leach, 17 March 1964, T14/2,195/1.

108 Hoskin to Daly, 29 June 1964, T14/1,809/1, the file for the aborted programme.

109 Singer to Daly, 17 March; Daly to Singer, 20 March 1964, T14/3,316/1.

110 Anon. [Daly], Radio Times, 30 April 1964.

111 Anon., op. cit. (110).

112 See throughout file T14/3,316/1.

113 An 8 April studio booking was cancelled by Short on 19 March; Short to Daly, 16 March 1964, T14/3,316/1.

114 ‘Final estimated of Television Outside Broadcast’, T14/1610/2.

115 Including a discussion at home on 12 February and several phone calls; G. Leach Productions to Daly, Invoice, 1 March 1964, T14/1610/2.

116 Short to Whyte, 22 November 1963; Short to Daly, ‘Horizon project: Growth and Form’, 9 January 1964; ‘Final estimated of Television Outside Broadcast’, T14/1610/2.

117 ‘Horizon proposal’, 23 January 1964, T14/3,316/1.

118 Short to Medawar, 31 January 1964, T14/1,610/2.

119 Fee slip, 13 February 1964, T14/1610/2.

120 Short, ‘Outline for “Horizon” programme on “Structure and Form”’, 19 February 1964, T14/1610/2.

121 ‘Schedule, “Structure and Form” 72/64/4007’, 20 February 1964, T14/1610/2.

122 Played here by Brian Diamond and the Cutters, and later by Les structures sonores, François and Bernard Baschet on their musical sculptures.

123 Leach, ‘Notes on “Horizon” policy’.

124 Short to Fuller, 8 June 1964, T14/1,610/2.

125 ‘Week 23: Promotional Material: Horizon: Saturday, 30th May’, 7 May 1964, T14/1610/3.

126 See T14/1610/3.

127 Leach to Short, 4 April1964, T14/1610/3.

128 Daly to Boote, 7 May 1964, T14/1610/3.

129 Description in Radio Times, 30 May 1964, p. 13. The Company was Royal Dutch-Shell; Agar, Jon, ‘Thatcher, Scientist’, Notes & Records of the Royal Society (2011) 65, pp. 215232CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

130 Leach to Daly, 22 April 1964, T14/1610/3.

131 Daly to Leach, 17 March 1964, T14/2,195/1.

132 A 1966 repeat of the programme was available on YouTube at the time of writing, at, viewed 3 January 2014.

133 Daly to editor, Radio Times, 6 July 1964, T14/1610/7.

134 Programme as broadcast script. The BFI National Archive holds a mute 16 mm print of the programme; I have been unable to find a married print.

135 Programme as Broadcast Transcript.

136 Alan Sleath to Singer, 23 October 1963; B. Bayle to Sylvia Hewitt, 10 June 1964, T14/1610/5.

137 T14/1,610/8 and /9.

138 Obituary: anon., ‘Michael Latham – Telegraph’, Daily Telegraph, 4 June 2006,, accessed 29 December 2013.

139 Joan Scott to Television Accounts, 4 March 1964, T14/1,610/12.

140 Audrey Hadfield to John Moore, 2 December 1964, ‘Final estimate of television outside broadcast’, 1 December 1964, Joan Scott to Television Accounts, 4 March 1964, T14/1,610/12.

141 Taylor to Leach, 25 June 1964, T14/2,195/1.

142 Briggs, op. cit. (16), p. 412.

143 Chief Science Assistant to AH Cop, 10 July 1964, T14/3,316. Both were subsequently employed by the department. Leach, who had found his status as a freelancer – neither insider nor outsider – difficult may have experienced some relief at this termination; see e.g. Leach to Daly, 22 January; Daly to Leach, 29 January 1964, T14/2,195/1.

144 Taylor to Singer, ‘Horizon Specials’, 24 June 1964, T14/3,316/1.

145 Latham to Taylor, 29 October 1964, T14/3,316/1.

146 Taylor to Leach, 25 June 1964, T14/2,195/1.

147 Taylor, ‘Horizon: a note on style and content’, 24 June 1964, T14/3,316/1. He had stressed this new intention in a memo to the whole team the day before. Taylor to Latham, Short, Dutot, Cordingley and Cantor, ‘Horizon’, 23 July 1964.

148 Taylor, op. cit. (147).

149 Taylor, op. cit. (147), original emphasis.

150 Taylor, op. cit. (147).

151 Singer to Taylor, 2 September 1964, T14/3,316/1.

152 Taylor to Horizon team, 13 October 1964, T14/3,316/1.

153 Taylor, ‘Science for all’ (press release), 17 November 1964, T14/3,316/1. Written in October (it refers to ‘The amateur scientist’ on 19 October as the latest issue) and submitted for publication on 3 November; Taylor to Geoffrey Howard, T14/3,316/1.

154 Taylor, op. cit. (153).

155 Taylor, op. cit. (153).

156 Latham to Taylor, 29 October 1964, T14/3,316/1.

157 Taylor to Horizon Team, 18 November 1964, T14/3,316/1, my emphasis.

158 Short to Taylor, 19 November, T14/3,316/1.

159 Boon, op. cit. (32), p. 491.

160 Singer, Ramsay Short Annual Confidential Report, 8 September 1964, L1/2,024/1. This judgement may reflect the precise timing, coming just three months after Taylor's appointment as editor.

161 They argued up from thirty minutes. See CA OBFS Tel to Peacock, 2 October 1964, T14/3,316/1.

162 Singer to Taylor, 2 September 1964, T14/3,316/1.

163 Latham and Short to Singer (cc Taylor), 30 September 1964, T14/3,316/1.

164 Singer to Taylor, 25 November 1964, T14/3,316/1.

165 Singer to Taylor, 4 December 1964, T14/3,316/1.

166 Taylor to Singer, 9 December 1964, T14/3,316/1.

167 Singer to Taylor, 14 December 1964, T14/3,316/1.

168 Taylor to Wood, 18 November 1964, T14/3,316/1.

169 Radio Times, 20 May 1965, p. 43.

170 Gilling to Taylor, ‘Horizon planning’, 13 July 1965, T14/2,194/1.

171 Singer to Taylor, ‘Horizon’, 14 December 1964. Memo refers back to a GRT memo of 9 December, and also urges a more journalistic approach.

172 Bates, Stephen, ‘Sir Christopher Chataway obituary’, The Guardian, 19 January 2014Google Scholar.

173 Singer to EOP Tel, 31 July 1964; see also EOP Tel to Singer, 25 March 1965, TVART3 GRT.

174 Taylor to Latham, 11 January 1965, TVART3 GRT.

175 F.L. Hetley to Singer, 31 December 1964, TVART3 GRT.

176 Taylor to Singer, 11 January 1965, TVART3 GRT, original emphasis.

177 Singer to Taylor, 11 March 1965 , TVART3 GRT.

178 Taylor to Singer, 23 February 1966, TVART3 GRT.

179 Singer to Attenborough, 18 May 1965 , TVART3 GRT.

180 Taylor to A. Haddow, 29 April 1966; 5 August 1966, T14/2,196/1. The memo stresses that the appointment is ‘with immediate effect’; Leslie Page to Distribution B, ‘TV Service OB Group’, T14/2,194/1.

181 Dust jacket biographical note, Robert Reid, Microbes and Men, London: BBC, 1974.

182 Reid to Singer, 27 September 1966, T14/2194/1.

183 Peacock was moved to become controller of BBC1; anon., ‘Reshuffle in BBC TV posts. Mr. Wheldon promoted’, The Times, 26 February 1965, p. 6; David Attenborough was reported as his successor on 5 March; anon., ‘Mr. David Attenborough is new B.B.C.-2 Head’, The Times, 5 March 1965, p. 6.

184 Singer to Attenborough, ‘Horizon film facilities’, 28 Sepembert 1966, T14/2194/1.

185 Joanna Spicer to Singer, 17 July 1967, T14/2194/1, my emphasis.

186 Wadsworth to Attenborough, 3 July 1968, T14/2194/1.

187 Boon, op. cit. (2), p. 207.

188 Singer to D Tel (Baverstock), ‘Science and technology on BBC1: a reappraisal’, 23 November 1964, T16/623.

189 Briggs, op. cit. (16), p. 405, p. 407.

190 Singer to Daly, 26 February 1964, T14/3,316/1.

191 Taylor to Chief Assistant OBFS Tel, 12 November 1964, T14/3,316/1.

192 Jill Wood to Taylor, ‘Videotape Editing’, 29 December 1964, T14/3,316/1.

193 Boon, op. cit. (2), p. 3.

194 Daly to Singer, ‘Horizon proposal’, 23 January 1964, T14/3,316/1.

195 Ortolano, Guy, The Two Cultures Controversy: Science, Literature and Cultural Politics in Postwar Britain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011Google Scholar.