Interview with Jitka Štollová

The next MEMSA seminar will feature a presentation from Jitka Štollová, who is a Ph.D. candidate at University of Cambridge. Her talk ‘Beyond Shakespeare: Richard III in the Seventeenth Century’ links both the medieval and early Modern worlds. The seminar will take place this Tuesday at 6 pm at the Durham World Heritage Visitors Centre. We interviewed her about Shakespeare, Richard III, and more. 

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

I am currently completing my Ph.D. at Trinity College, Cambridge, where I started my studies after finishing a B.A. and M.A. at Charles University, Prague. However, I spent part of my Master’s degree as a visiting student in Durham. So in a way I am also from Durham – a little bit.

What brought you to Durham?

On this occasion, it is a talk I am giving for MEMSA. But I keep coming back to Durham a few times a year. Teachers at the English Department are among the most supportive and encouraging people I have ever met. They were, after all, the ones who suggested that I try to get a scholarship to do my doctorate in the U.K. Durham is a very special place for me and I always enjoy being back.

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

I love the diversity of topics one can explore, something I greatly appreciate because I am certainly not a person focusing on a single research topic.

What does your research focus on in particular?

My dissertation examines the reputation and representation of Richard III in the seventeenth century. I am looking and works written after Shakespeare’s play which, to certain degree, shed a new light on this controversial character. However, because these sources could never match Shakespeare’s highly engaging depiction, they gradually sunk into oblivion.

This being said, I have a range of research interests that are not related to Richard III. Another area I am very interested in is early modern paratexts and the material side of playbooks. I have published on character lists in early modern playbooks. My essay on the London book trade in the Civil Wars came second in the annual Review of English Studies competition and will be published in this journal this year. And finally, I am interested in the influence of Shakespeare on modern drama, especially the works of Václav Havel.

What led you to your area of interest?

What I find much more fascinating is how his literary portrayal was developing under the influence of particular historical events as well as cultural fashions.

I have an amalgamation of interests that keeps me busy and engaged. I suspect I would grow a bit bored with my topic if I only had one interest. Richard III, however, is my long-standing interest. I previously examined this character in my B.A. dissertation. There is something fascinating about the changing portrayal of a man who ranks among the most notorious tyrants in English history. It is not really the historical truth that captivates me. I am not trying to determine whether he killed the Princes or not. What I find much more fascinating is how his literary portrayal was developing under the influence of particular historical events as well as cultural fashions.

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

An interesting question. Perhaps working in the Václav Havel Library in Prague. Or hiking somewhere in Siberia (again).

Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?

I am always keen to read anything by John Ford, who remains, much to our shame, an unjustifiably overlooked playwright. Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi is a wonderful piece. I am pleased to say that I still find delight in reading Shakespeare’s Richard III, even after all these years.

Jitka’s seminar will take place this Tuesday, 2 February. Wine and nibbles will be provided from 5:40 pm, with the lecture beginning at the usual time at 6 pm. Check out our other seminars here. All are welcome.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Leave a comment

Filed under MEMSA, Uncategorized

Interview with Dr Andy Burns and Dr Alex Brown

513duf7l3DL__SX330_BO1%2c204%2c203%2c200_

Our first MEMSA seminar of Epiphany term will take place this Monday at 6 pm at the Durham World Heritage Visitors Centre. This seminar will feature a special dual presentation from postdoctoral researchers Dr Andy Burn and Dr Alex Brown in the History Department. We interviewed them about their latest adventures.

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

Alex: I’ve only ever lived in two places – Derby until I was 18 and then Durham after I came to university here to study history.

Andy: I’m originally from Warrington in the North West, birthplace of the DJ Chris Evans and the social historian Steve Hindle. Oliver Cromwell stayed there once, but they still built a massive statue of him, so you can see why I left. I mostly grew up in two villages just outside Brussels.

What brought you to Durham?

Alex: The son of one of my former history school teachers studied history at Durham, so when I was picking universities to apply to, I naturally chose to apply here. In true small-world imagery, said son also went on to doctoral research at Durham and taught in the History Department.

Andy: A combination of the visual draw of Palace Green and the reputation of the History Department hooked me, and I don’t regret it. Like Alex, I came to Durham a full decade ago and never left – though strangely, we didn’t really know each other as undergraduates.

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

Alex: I suppose what interests me most is how medieval/early modern society changed – how and why did serfdom decline? Why did North-Western Europe experience unprecedented industrialisation, commercialisation and urbanisation across this period?

Andy: Likewise, I’m particularly interested in the social change underway during the period, and the speed of it; I think the seventeenth century in particular was one of striking contrasts. The early Modern period feels familiar in many ways, but it’s often very alien too; you might draw interesting parallels between, for instance, the treatment of poverty in early modern England and today, but the way they thought about inequality was also very different.

What does your research focus on?

Alex: My previous research focused on how rural society responded to the fifteenth-century recession and the consequences of these changes for their sixteenth-century counterparts. My current research explores the fear of downward social mobility in late medieval England and the role of institutional memory in the English countryside.

Andy: I’m interested in the social history of work, and my research so far has focused on Newcastle, which saw very rapid industrialisation in the seventeenth century. By the 1660s, a third of adult men in the whole town worked moving coal around in small boats.

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

Andy: We’ll briefly introduce a book we co-edited (with Rob Doherty) about economic and social crisis in medieval, early Modern, and modern history. We’re planning to talk more about how and why the book makes very long comparisons across a thousand years of history, rather than about crisis itself – there will be no graphs, no tables, so don’t worry! The book started at a big three-day conference we organised as Ph.D. students, so we’re also very happy to discuss the process of putting on a conference and editing a book through to publication, if that interests anybody.

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

Alex: Probably living and working on my grandparents’ small farm in the Peak District – living out the experience of a modern smallholder rather than writing about their medieval counterparts!

Andy: I’d open a microbrewery. I once stupefied my supervisor with twenty boring pages on seventeenth-century home-brewing, so I could put that knowledge (sadly culled from the thesis) to good use.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?

Alex: It would probably have to be Froissart’s Chronicles – as an undergraduate studying the Hundred Years’ War, his writing on the period was probably what cemented my interest in medieval history.

Andy: Can I go for a source? I love probate inventories – room-by-room accounts of a deceased person’s moveable possessions. They give a fascinating but maddeningly fleeting snapshot of life for a variety of early Modern people (not just men, and not just the rich, though the sample is biased), and there are hundreds of thousands of them in the archives on Palace Green.

Join us this Monday, 18 January for Andy and Alex’s seminar. Wine and nibbles will be provided from 5:40 pm, with the lecture beginning at the usual time at 6 pm. Check out our other seminars here. All are welcome.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Leave a comment

Filed under MEMSA

MEMSA Epiphany 2016 Term Card

Check out our new term card for Epiphany term! All are welcome to attend our events and seminars. Hope to see you there!

MEMSA Epiphany Term Card FINAL

2 Comments

Filed under MEMSA, Uncategorized

Call for Community Course Tutors: Medieval and Early Modern Performance in the North East

MEMSA are pleased to announce a call for postgraduates and early career researchers to participate as tutors for this year’s Community Course. The course will be offered to members of the public and take place over the course of 8-10 weeks from May until early July. Advertised locally, we aim to reach out into the community and establish further connections between the university and those not involved in academia who live and work in the region.

The title of the course has been conceived to offer a broad theme for proceedings, which will ultimately tie in with the Festival of Medieval and Renaissance Drama – organised by REED-NE and SITM – to be held in Durham this July. Applicants should feel free to consider ‘Performance’ in the broadest terms, but a connection to ideas of theatricality, drama and display would be especially well-received. A focus on to Durham and the North East region (defined here as anything above the Humber), will be necessary, if only in a comparative context. Applicants should consider, but not be limited to, the following themes:

• Theatrical performance
• Pageantry and civic society
• Folktales and popular narratives
• Sermons and devotional actions
• Ritual and society
• Domestic performances
• Vocational and professional performances
• Identity and transnational connections
• Trade and mercantile culture
• Recusants and Roman Catholicism

Becoming a Community Course Tutor offers a great opportunity to gain experience in tailoring classes to your special interests, as well as lecturing and small-group teaching. Former experiences in teaching or other forms of public engagement are desirable, but not in any way essential. We hope to offer workshops on lecturing and teaching skills in the Epiphany Term, which will be led by academics from across departments in Durham to aid academic development.

Participation will not only allow you the opportunity to lecture and teach in a new format, but also offers the chance to try out new research ideas with members of the public. This engagement with a non-student community will also be especially beneficial to those wishing to gain experience suited to academic career development in terms of ‘impact’.

The proposed format of each class would include:

• Presentation or lecture of up to 30 minutes

• Related Q&A session of up to 20 minutes over tea and coffee, followed by a short break.

• A small-group teaching session of up to an hour. This should be relatively informal, and involve discussion of themes and sources related to the presentation, with the potential for close reading and other activities.

We wish to facilitate creative forms of engagement, so would love applicants to suggest innovative and exciting formats for their sessions. This could include the use of local sites including churches, theatres and pubs; walking tours and group excursions; tie-ins with local business or institutions, or sessions in archives, museums and other relevant repositories.

Please send in proposals of no more than 250 words outlining the theme, structure and format of your prospective class as well as any relevant experience to imrs.memsa@durham.ac.uk by 4 January 2016. Tutors may apply to teach in pairs if they wish, but please make this clear on your application.

Leave a comment

Filed under MEMSA, Uncategorized

Interview with Tom Spray

Frithiofs_saga_-_Frithiofs_frieri_-_Lundquist

Our final MEMSA seminar of the year will take place on Tuesday, 8 December at the World Heritage Visitors Centre at 6 pm. We chatted with the latest speaker Tom Spray to discuss his research, seminar, and topics of interest. His forthcoming seminar is titled ‘The King of the North: Frithiof the Bold and Hereditary Degradation’.

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

I actually grew up in County Durham, over in the dales by Hamsterley Forest. My family moved up to Dunblane in Scotland when I was fourteen. The rest of my time has been spent in Hamburg and Reykjavík, so I have been moving in northern circles most of my life.

What brought you to Durham?

It was at the recommendation of my M.A. tutor at Nottingham, who had fond memories of doing his Ph.D. in Old Norse here. I already knew Durham from my childhood.

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

Once you begin to look into the period in detail you realise how incomplete and simplistic most of our modern notions of this broad and fascinating period really are.

The best thing about studying the medieval period is getting to pick apart that bizarre construction which is the notion of the backward ‘Dark Ages’ of Europe. I find Medievalism, or how people construct their own ideas of the past, to be a fascinating concept. Once you begin to look into the period in detail you realise how incomplete and simplistic most of our modern notions of this broad and fascinating period really are.

What does your research focus on?

My research is on the earliest translations of the Icelandic sagas (or Íslendingasögur) into English. The first complete translations appeared in the middle of the nineteenth century, at a time when public tastes were driven by right-wing intellectual phenomena such as comparative philology, social Darwinism, and the first notions of Aryan science. My theory is that the choices of which sagas to translate, the way they were presented, and how they were adapted and adopted afterwards were all influenced by Romantic-Nationalist discourse.

What led you to your area of interest?

Volcanic eruptions and getting to visit saga sites as part of your job is enough to keep you interested.

I decided I was going to study Old Norse sagas back during my undergraduate degree in Glasgow, but the interest in Medievalism and the reception of the Viking Age really came from working with the extensive Icelandic literature archive of Eiríkur Benedikz (1907-1988) during my Masters. I also spent my summer months as a tour guide in Iceland, which I did for six years. Volcanic eruptions and getting to visit saga sites as part of your job is enough to keep you interested.

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

The seminar is actually going to be on the very first Icelandic saga to be translated into English: George Stephens’ 1839 translation of Friðþjofs saga hins frœkna, or as he called it The Saga of Frithiof the Bold. It is actually one of the fornaldarsögur (‘sagas of ancient times’) and these days does not really enjoy a lot of popularity. Yet in the Victorian times it went through four separate translations in 55 years. I am going to look at the original Old Norse text to find some possible reasons for its popularity.

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

I would probably be out in Iceland, showing people around the saga sites. I am more of an outdoor person than my time spent in archives would suggest.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?

The epic tale of blood feud and Viking Age values that is Njáls saga – in my mind the finest of the Icelandic sagas.

Join us on Tuesday, 8 December for Tom’s seminar. Tea and biscuits will be provided from 5:40 pm, with the lecture beginning at the usual time at 6 pm. The seminar will be followed by our MEMSA Christmas party, which will take place in Williams Library, St Chad’s College from 6:45 pm. All are welcome.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Interview with Caitlin Phillips

ChapelatNewgate

Our next MEMSA seminar will bring us Caitlin Phillips’ seminar ‘”A Transgression of All Laws”: Secularization and the Portrayal of Crime in the Ordinary of Newgate’s Account, 1700-25’. We caught up with Caitlin to discuss her research, seminar, and topics of interest. Join us for her seminar on Tuesday, 24 November at 6 pm at the Durham Visitors Centre at 7 Owengate

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

I’m from Lewes in East Sussex, which hosts the most amazing bonfire celebrations every year.

What brought you to Durham?

I came here to do my Ph.D. after finishing my B.A. in History and M.A. in Early Modern History at the University of East Anglia.

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

I love the challenge of trying to understand the mentalities and beliefs of the people I’m studying. Their attitudes towards the supernatural are particularly fascinating.

What does your research focus on?

My thesis aims to gain a better understanding of how ‘speech crimes’, including seditious and treasonable speech, were perceived and regulated during the reign of Henry VIII. Through a systematic analysis of the early modern State Paper Online between the years 1529-1547, I will attempt to re-examine the sensitivity to language within local and central government, in order to analyse the changes in the nature of critical speech being reported to authorities from across England.

What led you to your area of interest?

During my M.A., I did a lot of work on the Pilgrimage of Grace and Kett’s Rebellion. When I moved past the study of the rebel manifestos and started to read some of the legal documents generated in the aftermath of the 1549 uprising, I became fascinated with the accusations of seditious words that sprung up in and around Norwich. I wanted to understand the language that early Tudor authorities found threatening, and why certain conversations were considered troubling enough to warrant reporting to the Privy Council.

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

I’ve actually decided to revisit my M.A. thesis on the Ordinary of Newgate’s Account. I will be talking about a section of the research that focuses on the decrease in the religious focus and content of the account during a period of increased secularization.

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

I would absolutely love to publish the novels that I write in my spare time, but that’s not really a feasible career option.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?

I adore The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare.

Come join us this Tuesday for Caitlin’s seminar. Tea and biscuits will be provided from 5:40 pm, with the lecture beginning at the usual time at 6 pm. All are welcome to attend. Join our Facebook group and follow us on Twitter.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Call for MEMSA Journal Editors

The MEMSA Journal is currently looking for editors for its second volume, which will be based on the conference proceedings of this year’s 2015 MEMSA Student Conference on ‘Darkness and Illumination: The Pursuit of Knowledge in the Medieval and Early Modern World’. The call for papers is currently in the process of being sent out to the speakers from last year’s conference, so the wheels are in motion, but we do need some new editors to take on the challenge of producing this year’s journal in time for next year’s conference (July 2016).

The position of editor involves obtaining funding for the journal, finding peer-reviewers and proof readers for submissions, and, most importantly, the final editing of the journal itself. Most of the actual editing work will take place around May/June next year, but there will also be a few things to organise throughout the year to make sure that submissions are received on time etc.

Of course, there is a lot that goes into the editing of a journal and it does require a good deal of work, but we can both assure you that it is an immensely satisfying task to complete and a fantastic thing to put on your CV. You will gain lots of new skills throughout the process, and will certainly come out of the whole thing with a newfound respect for (and grasp of) grammar and referencing! The current editors both had a fantastic time editing the journal last year, and they hope that whomever they pass it on to has as much fun editing this year’s volume as they did on last year’s.

The current editors already have one potential editor who is interested, but the job probably requires 2–3 people, so we still need one or two editors. If you have any questions or are interested in the position, please get in touch with Natalie Goodison and Alex Wilson both by email (n.m.goodison@durham.ac.uk and a.j.wilson@durham.ac.uk) as soon as possible – the sooner the better! The basis for the journal is already in place, and we would ideally like to arrange a handover meeting in the next couple of weeks, in which we will give you all the information you will need to have a smooth editing process this year.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized