Interview with Curtis Runstedler

Curtis Runstedler will be leading our next seminar, on ‘Alchemy and Exemplary Narratives in Middle English Poetry’ (https://www.facebook.com/events/331798223858669/). 5 December (A MONDAY), World Heritage Visitor’s Centre. As usual, tea and biscuits from 17:40, seminar at 18:00. 

We chatted to Curtis about Canada, teaching and the inevitable proceeds of his philosopher’s stone. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m from the snowy landscapes of Ottawa, Canada. Actually, it’s not snowy all the time – in the summertime, it can get up to 40 degree Celsius (talk about extremes!). Good surfing weather in the summertime (just needs more tasty waves).
I completed my undergraduate degree at Carleton University and then swam across the pond to complete my MA degree at Durham University (I wrote on werewolves in the medieval romance and it was lots of fun). I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided to stay on board for my Ph.D. degree, which hopefully I’ll finish sometime next year.

What brought you to Durham?

0778014304.jpgWell, I had a couple inspirational moments. I used to work at this great little publishing press called Oberon Press (I was the warehouse manager) that had been around since the ’60s and published the Where to Eat in Canada annual guide as well as lots of wonderful Canadian novels and poems. I was really keen on doing an MA in the U.K., and the wife of my manager at the time told me about this amazing place called Durham University.
I also had a friend I’ve known since kindergarten who was studying there at the time, so he told me what to expect. Then one of my Studies in Arthurian Literature lecturer Siobhain Calkin encouraged me to attend an event with Professor Neil Cartlidge at the university about studying an MA at Durham University. I went to it and I was the only one who showed up, so we chatted for a  couple hours and I ended up applying to Durham and getting accepted. I’ve loved every minute of it.

What do you love most about the medieval/early modern period?

Well, I love both periods, but I’m a medievalist at heart. I love the fantastic (i.e. the castles, dragons, knights, and those incredible medieval women!), but I’m also really intrigued by magic and the supernatural as well as the growth of medieval science (scientia) and society. Naturally, I’m really interested in astronomy and alchemy as well. We owe so much to the medieval period, and it’s great that scholarship in recent years is shining new light on all these long forgotten episodes and characters. It’s a beautiful time to be alive.
The early modern period is really interesting too (from the Tudors to Milton to Shakespeare to Marlowe to all the alchemy/chemistry going on). I find the sixteenth century particularly interesting, especially after reading the excellent book Dark Fire that my supervisor recommended to me. I’m really interested in the alchemical afterlives of many of the medieval authors in the early modern period, and this is something that I’d like to continue researching for a couple future publications.

What does your research focus on?

My research focusses on how alchemy is used to make moral points about human fallibility, metaphorical blindness, and more in Middle English poetry (Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate as some key exaphilosopherstonemples). I’m also interested in how these alchemical poems form exemplary narratives and how they can be identified as exempla for good moral behaviour and alchemical practice.
Most of my research is analytical and not practical, so thankfully I haven’t blown anything up yet! But I would be happy to share the gold if I discover the Philosopher’s Stone.

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

For my seminar, I’m planning to discuss one of the fifteenth-century alchemical dialogues (‘The Argument between Merlin and Morienus’) that I write about in my fourth chapter. This is a really interesting poem because it features a child Merlin talking to his father Morienus (a legendary alchemical adept) about alchemy in a religious context, and it’s also intriguing to consider how it can be read as an exemplary narrative. As well, there’s some incest in it, which will be fun to talk about.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

I love teaching and I love learning, so I’d probably teach at sixth form level or teach abroad. I love travelling too. I also like to write short stories in my spare time, so I’d love to keep doing that on the side and hopefully publish something eventually.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

The Canterbury Tales really takes the cake for me. Chaucer is so wonderfully subversive and it has so many layers and levels to the readings, it just keeps getting better and better each time you read it. My favourite tale? Definitely the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale, but I love the ribaldry of The Miller’s Tale and The Reeve’s Tale, and The Wife of Bath’s Tale is also pretty great. Honourable mention goes to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (my favourite book of all time), which was technically published in the ’90s, but I believe it’s based off a medieval text or something?
I guess I’d have to say Paradise Lost is my favourite early modern text for obvious reasons. I also really enjoyed Comus and Samson Agonistes, most of Shakespeare’s plays, Dr Faustus, and recently The Jew of Malta, which was a wild ride.

Interview with Kim Foy

Kim Foy will be giving a seminar with the title ‘Bonnets and Brothels: The Women of Dublin Castle’  (https://www.facebook.com/events/372822116389747/) on 22 November, 18:00. As usual, tea and biscuits from 17:40. Below we chatted to Kim about Ireland, Early Modern Bling and hilarious courtly behaviour. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I come from Kildare, a small town about an hour or so from Dublin. It’s a place with a lot of history from its beginnings as an early medieval religious settlement with a round tower, to its later role as the home of prominent Irish rebels including the Geraldines and Lord Edward Fitzgerald. We also have the National Stud, and the Curragh is just next door. So yeah. Racehorses and Rebellion.

I remember playing Edward’s brother in a school play celebrating the town, and then running home to watch documentaries about the Wars of the Roses so I’m sure the interest in people and the things they do has something to do with where I grew up, and also our Sky box.

What brought you to Durham?

I focused on diplomatic practice at the early Stuart court which involves lots of ridiculously fun reading on topics like court culture, pageantry and diplomacy generally. I found that many of the writers who were most useful to me were Durham based. When it came to applying for a Ph.D., the expertise of the teaching staff at Durham and the highly interdisciplinary focus of the Leverhulme Doctoral Programme, run by the Centre for Arts and Visual Culture, made the university my first choice.

What do you love most about the early modern period?

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Early Modern Bling

I love the BLING. I’m a devotee of both the medieval and early modern period. In the former, power is dependent upon military strength. Kings can do as they please as long as they have the manpower and it seems to me that the legality of political scenarios follow the reality. There is a beautiful simplicity in the general rule of male brutality conferring authority in medieval Europe. However, I have always felt a more intense response to the visual world and, as I completed my masters’ dissertation, it struck me that visual languages are of central importance to politics by the early modern period. Thinking about how everything LOOKS is a direct route to understanding how people to relate to each other. I’m thinking particularly of sumptuous clothing and jewels, the stuff of the elites. This is what is most appealing to me, that by revelling in the beauty of materials, you can begin to understand more about what’s actually going on.

What does your research focus on?

In particular, I’m thinking about how foreign visitors to the early Stuart court reflect their political and religious views, values and assumptions in their clothing. This has particular relevance to a visiting ambassador or queen consort who, to be successful, has to strike a tricky balance between promoting a court/city of origin and adapting to an English environment. International figures are important sites of cultural exchange because of this dual purpose and I’m very keen to know how all of this dressing up affects diplomacy.

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

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This seminar actually arose from my time at Dublin Castle, where I developed a tour about the wives of the Lord Lieutenants or Viceroys. Having expected a to find a relatively bland story of wifely duty, I discovered a surprising history of women self-declaring through material choices, at all levels of society. One of these women is also deliciously scandalous but I’m not saying who until the seminar. She is currently my favourite early modern woman and she is fabulous.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

My obsession with the behaviour leads me to believe that psychology would have been a suitable career. Otherwise, I would be working in an animal rescue centre or wildlife reserve. I’m a vegan who feels terrible about how we treat animals.

Do you have a favourite early modern text?

My favourite text is Finetti Philonexis. It’s an account of diplomatic goings-on at the early Stuart court by Charles I’s master of ceremonies, John Finet. It is unintentionally hilarious, mostly because poor Finet spends much of his time running back and forward from one ambassador to another deciding who should sit where when the king is dining or the order of precedence for ambassadors on solemn occasions. Diva-licious.

Interview with Michael Baker

Michael Baker will be presenting our third seminar of the term, the spookily themed ‘St Erkenwald Hears a Heathen: Narrating a Goste Life’ on 8 November, from 17:30. Below we talked to Michael about his life outside of academia, George Gently and Christian salvation anxiety. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I was born in Northern California, but I have lived the longest in Seattle, in what is known as ‘the “other” Washington’. I did my undergraduate work at Seattle University.

What brought you to Durham?

It was highly recommended to me by one of my undergrad professors when I got back in touch to discuss heading back to grad school. The more I looked into it, the more I liked the medieval-city setting, and of course the English Department here is incredibly well respected. Also, I was a big fan of the George Gently TV series. 

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What do you love most about the medieval period?

One of the books that helped me settle on being a medievalist was Barbara Tuchman’s history of the fourteenth century, A Distant Mirror. That idea, that we can see these vague outlines of people who seem familiar, underwrites a lot of medieval literary criticism, and hypotheses about what is meant by this or that text. You have to imagine the medieval, but this is also a bit dangerous, because we can imagine quite a lot of things. So you also need to hunt around to find varieties of evidence, and I suppose I find it like armchair time-travel.

What does your research focus on?

There aren’t that many cognitive medievalists out there, or at least people who call themselves that, though attempting to get into the medieval mindset is obviously a big part of study of the period. But that’s what I am interested in, is how we think now, how people then thought, and how they put that into writing that we are trying to read. For my PhD, I have a focus specifically on dream visions in Old and Middle English, to contrast what narratives that recount dream visions are doing that is different, or similar, over time.

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

The alliterative poem about St Erkenwald is an outlier for me, because it doesn’t feature a dream vision per se; as the poem presents it, the saint and a mostly-dead heathen judge have a conversation in front of witnesses. But often dream visions respond to some unspeakable anxiety, and so I think you can think of Erkenwald’s story as visualising a group anxiety about mortality and salvation.  

erkenwal

 

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

This isn’t so hypothetical for me because I have only recently come back to academia; for a number of years I was working in marketing/PR in the non-profit sector, and running a city blog about Seattle. 

Do you have a favourite medieval text?

I have a favourite kind of text: basically any chronicle related to Durham. It’s a thrill being in the actual place, so I can go take a look at where something happened. Then later I enjoy pretending I’m a 12th century travel writer pointing out spots of medieval interest.

Interview with Ana Moskvina

Join us at 18.00, next Tuesday (25 October) in the World Heritage Visitor Centre for our second seminar, on Anglo-Saxon churches, barrows and other monuments, given by visiting scholar, Ana Moskvina. The seminar will be preceded by tea and coffee, starting at 17.40. 

We chatted with Ana about Russia, medieval churches and a ‘frustration and fascination with life’ generally. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I am from St Petersburg, Russia, although my passport says ‘Leningrad, USSR’, because this is what it was in 1989 when I was born. Ironically, this is what I still have to state on all official forms as my place of birth. It is a weird thing being from a place that doesn’t even exist on the map anymore but I find it quite fascinating!

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The famous Anglo-Saxon Church at Escomb

What brought you to Durham?

Oh, this is a long story. I am doing my PhD at UEA in Norwich, but a lot of the sites I am writing about are concentrated up north, and Durham was a perfect place to use as a base to travel to all the wonderful places like Jarrow, Wearmouth, Escomb, Lindisfarne, Hexham, Bywell and many others. I learned to drive and bought a car specifically for this. Then I discovered that the Department of Archaeology did a programme called ‘Visiting Scholars’. I applied, got it, received some generous funding from UEA and spent two months in the department as a researcher. Dr David Petts very kindly agreed to supervise me during this time!

I’d only seen Durham from a train before and it always looked magical, and finally stepping into this magic was wonderful! Sadly, I couldn’t stay, but I am sure I will be going back again one day.

What do you love most about the medieval/early Modern period?

I have moments when I wonder why I am not a scientist. I could be doing research in, say, microbiology or oceanography, working towards a better future for the people and the planet. Having read Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘Man’s Place in Nature’ quite recently, I started to wonder even more, as he suggests that biological research is the only way forward for us as humanity. And then it occurred to me that equally, there is no future without the past. Looking back is just as important to know who we are, where we came from and what we’ve been through. I am sorry this is lengthy and probably irrelevant but I suppose this summarises both my frustration and fascination with life in general: I like to look to the future but I choose to dig through the past. To me, it doesn’t even matter how distant this past is, but Late Antique to Late Medieval period somehow feels right for me. I think Christianity, its development, its understanding by the people throughout history, and the inspiration it has always generated might be a part of it.

What does your research focus on?

My subject is very OCD and very easy to explain: basically, it is groups of Saxon buildings – both secular and ecclesiastical – arranged in a single line for no evident reason. I am trying to explain what it means (if anything!) and how all this came about.

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

I will be putting forward a hypothesis that the Anglo-Saxons appropriated linearity as a symbolic language of presence and power already in existence in the man-made landscape in England. Basically, it is about how pits, barrows and henges arranged in a single line were seen as so influential that it made sense to borrow this idea of linearity to make similar claims of power and dominance at the time when the Anglo-Saxon rulers and elite were establishing themselves.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

I was first trained as an architect, and for a while this looked like my chosen career path, until I decided to be an art historian with a bit of an archaeologist thrown in. I am also a part-time verger in a gigantic Medieval church in the centre of Norwich and I like it so much that I could have easily be doing this for the rest of my life. Maybe I will, if academia and I part ways one day!

Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?

 Oh dear. I ought to say ‘De Abbatibus’ or ‘Beowulf’… With great embarrassment, I have to confess I have never thought of appreciating a text for its literary qualities. I read lots of lives of saints and historical accounts but tend to treat them as information, although the narratives are often very gripping!

Just because I can, I have started to read Sir Thomas Brown’s ‘Religio Medici’ and it is good so far. Does this count..?

Interview with Kathleen Reynolds

 

Join us at 18.00, next Monday (10 October) in the World Heritage Visitor Centre for our first seminar, on the topic of Frightening Stories about Early Modern Vaginas, given by former MEMSA Chair, Kathleen Reynolds. The seminar will be preceded by a wine reception, starting at 17.40.

We chatted with Kathleen about medical normativity, large rollercoasters, pregnancy and much more in our interview below. 

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Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I am a northerner of a different sort—I’m from Edmonton, Alberta in Canada, which is known as either “the city of champions” despite the fact that our hockey team hasn’t made the playoffs in ten years, or more accurately as the “Gateway to the north.”  Our claim to fame is having one of the largest malls in North America, with the largest indoor rollercoaster!  I did degrees at the University of Alberta and McGill University before coming here for my PhD.

I’m also the former chair of MEMSA, which means that I’m wildly invested in this community and super excited to get to open up the year. 

What brought you to Durham?

Honestly, the biggest reason was a series of great supervisors.  My supervisor at McGill, Faith Wallis, is very involved in Durham research at the cathedral library, and she recommended I get in touch with Cathy McClive, whose work on menstruation was super useful in my MA.  I shamelessly adore Cathy, and when I was able to secure funding here Faith’s response was “GO FOR IT.”  So here I am!

What do you love most about the medieval/early Modern period?

Generally, I love that we can experience the same things as they did in the past, but think about them totally differently!  I was captivated by Natalie Zemon Davis’ The Return of Martin Guerre, and then moved into researching syphilis—which had different moral implications for men and female sufferers.  I love that I can read a letter and immediately get it despite the different context—they had a different system of medical knowledge and were prone to taking cold water baths when sick, but they still felt inconvenienced by a persistent sniffle or didn’t want their mums to know they had the clap.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on the ways that families dealt with household illness in the eighteenth century.  During this period, the extent to which correspondence was a part of life (particularly for the gentry) massively expanded, which gave them a new medium to talk about sickness with their friends and family.  I use this source to discuss the knowledge and practices of gentry families in Yorkshire and the Northeast.

What led you to your area of interest?

I’ve always been a little bit of a hypochondriac, but actual bodies gross me out so I took a step back to study the history of medicine instead of helping to save any lives.  It has the added bonus of being regularly asked, “Oh, so you’re going to be a doctor” which I find satisfying and hilarious. 

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

The opaque nature of the female body is one of my favourite subjects—even today, doctors are dismissive of female expressions of pain and medicine still focuses on the male body as the norm—women have different symptoms for both heart attacks and autistic spectrums which are much less represented in the media.  So I adore looking at this subject in the past—how difficult it was to know how a woman was pregnant or what a normal pregnancy looked like, and what sort of bodily reactions could be expected during childbirth.  Also, because MEMSA is full of students who largely have never had children, a lot of the realities of the pregnant body come as a horrifying surprise—there is so much bleeding!! 

So this long answer means, my talk is about the weird things that happened to the early modern female body and why people believed them.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

I have the very well-adjusted habit of suggesting a list of things I’d be doing if I weren’t in academia.  My first career goal was Catholic priest (thanks, uterus, for shutting that one down at age five) and my second career choice was firetruck.  Now, I can see myself as some kind of writer—I clearly love telling stories!!

Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?

THIS IS SO DIFFICULT.  For me, my research focuses on letters, so I get to read a lot of hilarious family gossip.  I remember one time I was in an archive in Morley, and William Robinson was getting really detailed about how much he wished he was pressed to his wife’s breast and I was like I AM NOT OLD ENOUGH TO READ THIS. 

I was originally a medievalist, so I have a soft spot for all those classics— probably the earliest favourite text, closest to my current interest, is the Book of Margery Kempe, considered (by some, including me) to be the earliest autobiography in the English language.  

Interview with Hannah Piercy

Hannah Piercy (Department of English Studies) will present ‘The Monster Within: Understanding Monstrosity in Medieval Romance’ for our final seminar of the Easter term and academic year. We chatted with Hannah about monsters, gender roles, and more in our interview below. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m from the Lake District in Cumbria, so I’m a true Northerner at heart. People normally know the Lakes because they’ve been on a geography/D of E/walking trip. It’s a beautiful place and I was so lucky to grow up there. As a child, I thought Britain was full of mountains and sea-coasts, as my family always went on holiday to Scotland. For a while, I was scared of flat places because I was so unused to them!

What brought you to Durham?

I came to Durham to do my Masters in Medieval Literature. I had actually never visited before I arrived in September with an excessive amount of belongings to move in for the year. I fell in love with Durham almost immediately – the beautiful castle and cathedral, the fantastic English department, and most of all the people. Everyone has been so friendly and welcoming.

What do you love most about the medieval/early Modern period?

It’s such a beautiful thing to see how much continuity there is across the centuries in human experience, even while so much has also changed.

Oh gosh, so many things! Two of the aspects I love most about the literature of the period are actually kind of contradictory. Firstly, I love how, particularly with romance, you often end up reading things that if you took them literally would be utterly ridiculous. For example, in Bisclavret by Marie de France, when the lady finds out that her husband is a werewolf her first reaction is to ask whether he is naked or dressed in wolf form. Not exactly the first thing that would be on my mind! In Amis e Amilun, there’s another good example – a lady doesn’t mind that her husband has killed their children in order to save his friend because they can always have more children, whereas his friend is irreplaceable … luckily the children turn out to be alive anyway! But then the other aspect I love about medieval literature is the total opposite. I love moments when you are reading a text that is so many centuries old and yet completely speaks to you, so that you recognise exactly the same emotions we have today. It’s such a beautiful thing to see how much continuity there is across the centuries in human experience, even while so much has also changed.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses mainly on medieval romance and lais (shorter narratives similar to romance). I look particularly at the representations of women, gender roles, sexuality, and narrative patterns. I’m also really interested in monsters, hence the focus of this seminar!

What led you to your area of interest?

I first fell in love with the medieval period when reading a collection of short romances about Sir Gawain in preparation for my first year at university. One of these was The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle, a fascinating text that I’ve barely stopped thinking about since. Across my first two years at university, I often found myself writing about gender relations. I wrote a dissertation on clothing in medieval romance, again focusing particularly on how this shapes the presentation of female characters, and how these characters sometimes use clothing to create their own subversive kind of power. Then I did a module on the medieval supernatural, which was an incredible experience and introduced me to Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s work on monstrosity (amongst others, of course). Since then I have been mulling over how monstrosity relates to femininity, and this has combined with several other things to shape my main areas of research.

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

I want to introduce some theoretical ideas about monstrosity, before examining how monsters work in often surprising and subversive ways in medieval texts. I’m going to focus particularly on how monsters relate to social and gender roles. Considering monsters in relation to gender, I’m hoping to take a quick look at the idea of ‘sexy monsters’ (as I like to think of it): how do monsters negotiate gendered and sexual identities, and to sex acts?

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

I’d probably be a rocket scientist. Just kidding, I’m not actually sure what that is… I think I would be working in arts education or perhaps publishing. When I was younger I always wanted to be a writer, but I haven’t done a lot of creative writing over the last few years. I’d like to get back into it at some point I think, but probably not as a career! I think I’d quite like working in children’s publishing (confession: one of my favourite books is The Gruffalo. Which is totally related to monsters actually, so I might have to bring it up in my seminar!), or in literary publishing more generally. I really like proofreading and editing, so I think that would suit me quite well!

Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?

I think it has to be The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. It’s not often discussed, but I actually think it’s an incredible narrative and one that raises lots of interesting questions. I also love The Awntyrs off Arthur and of course Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In fact, I basically just like anything with Gawain in. In case you hadn’t noticed, I think I’m a little bit in love with Sir Gawain. I think he might be the reason I’m a medievalist to be honest – in which case, Gawain: THANK YOU.

Join us for Hannah’s seminar on Tuesday, 21 June at 7 pm at the World Heritage Visitors Centre. Wine and snacks will be provided. The seminar will be followed by our summer party. All are welcome.

Interview with Robyn Orr

On Tuesday, 7 June, Robyn Orr will present her paper ‘Navigating Childbirth and Wet Nursing in Early Modern England’ at the next MEMSA seminar, which will take place at 6 pm at the World Heritage Visitors Centre. We interviewed Robyn about ‘sunny’ South Shields, early Modern babies, and more:

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I am from ‘sunny’ South Shields on the coast, which is the only constituency since the Great Reform Act of 1832 to have never elected a Conservative M.P. It also has three Greggs and two Dickson’s pie shops on the short high street. I was weaned on pastries. I’m studying on the Early Modern History M.A. until September (which is when I enter the scary adult world). I graduated from my B.A. (Hons) History at Newcastle University in June 2015.

What brought you to Durham?

I remember coming to Durham on day trips as a child, so it held a nostalgic pull for me. The university also gave me a scholarship, and the University itself has a great academic reputation. It’s an all-round winner for me.

What do you love most about the early Modern period?

I have a very early Modern sense of humour (i.e. quite dark), so I love reading ballads and satire from the period. If it wasn’t for the rampant disease and legalised subjugation of pretty much everybody, I think I would have liked to have experienced it for myself.

What does your research focus on?

My research generally focusses upon the experience of pregnancy and childbirth in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, both in medical and sociocultural contexts. My M.A. dissertation is titled ‘‘Many sorts of knick-knacks’: The Material Culture of Childbirth in Eighteenth-Century England’. I’m examining what items people were likely to gather in preparation for a labour and for the new-born baby, and where they sourced these items from. This is dependent upon social factors, such as wealth, location, and status. So in short, I’m looking at the making, gifting and purchasing of baby clothes and bed linens.

What led you to your area of interest?

I was trying to find an undergraduate dissertation topic at the end of second year, so I started reading around my two biggest interests: family in early Modern England and international relations in Meiji-era Japan. I found a gap in the research in considering the role of the husband throughout his wife’s pregnancy and labour, so I swooped in. I haven’t forgotten about Japanese history though. I’d like to return to study this someday, hopefully in Japan.

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

My seminar will firstly focus upon answering the basic question ‘What was it like to give birth to a child in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries?’ This will provide some context into understanding the mentality behind my research, as the early Modern people had ‘rituals’ they performed and abided to when experiencing a birth. Secondly, I’ll run through the main themes and justifications of my dissertation research. This will both outline what I consider the ‘material culture’ of childbirth to be, and the options available to early Modern women when sourcing the most important item, the ‘child-bed linen’.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

I always wanted to be a midwife. That was my second career option, but I was (am) rubbish at the sciences. I also have a terrible tell. If there is an issue and I need to exude control, I’d just panic the woman in labour because I would have a frantic look in my eyes.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?

I love a particular ballad sheet called ‘The Mis-taken Midwife’ (1684). A barren midwife steals a stillborn child and pretends it is her own, and all hell breaks loose when her gossip women suss her out. It was based upon a true account, which has survived from the Old Bailey trials. Classic early Modern hilarity though, morphing a truly horrifying crime into a delightful sing-song.

Robyn’s seminar will take place on Tuesday, 7 June at 6 pm in the World Heritage Visitors Centre. Come out for tea and biscuits beforehand from 5:40 pm. All are welcome.

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