Interview with Natasha Bradley from the University of Oxford

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I was born in Caerphilly, a small town in the valleys of South Wales. I spent the first eighteen years of my life there before moving to Durham for my undergraduate degree in English Literature. 

What brought you to the University of Oxford, and where do you plan on going next?

Upon graduating from Durham, I wanted a bit of a change in scenery, so I came to Merton College, Oxford for my Masters degree in medieval literature. I stayed on at Oxford (moving to Lincoln College) for my doctoral study, partly because of the generous funding from AHRC OOC DTP, but also because I completely fell in love with the city. Having been forced to leave halfway through my Masters by Covid, I was really eager to come back and continue my Oxford experience. My supervisor, Dr Siân Grønlie, is also an expert in my field and has published over half of the current scholarship within it. It is a privilege to work with her.

As to my future plans – I’ve only just started my doctorate, don’t ask scary questions about that just yet!

What is your favourite thing about the medieval period?

I love researching gender in Old Norse literature. I find the depictions of women, men and even some non-binary people really fascinating, and refreshingly different from a lot of what I read during my undergraduate literature degree.

What does your research focus on?

I research the presentation of women in Old Norse translations from Latin, with a specific focus on AM 226 fol. These translations receive very little critical focus and so many of the women within them have gone completely unexamined. My research analyses these translations to determine what they can tell us about women in Old Norse literature.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

During this seminar I will be talking about some research I originally did as part of my Masters degree, but which I’m continuing to work on and expand now. I will be analysing the runic alphabet on the flyleaf of Codex Runicus, a manuscript written entirely in runes. By looking at the mistakes in the alphabet and the potential reasons behind its composition, I will draw some conclusions about runic literacy in the period. 

If you do not plan on going into academia, what would you like to do next? 

I do hope to be able to continue in academia. If that’s not possible, I’ll probably be doing something either in teaching or publishing, and hopefully travelling the world a bit.

Do you have a favourite medieval text?

I’ve never lost my initial love for the Old Norse Poetic Edda.

Who is your favourite historical figure from the medieval period, and why?

I don’t think I have a favourite historical figure, but I do have a favourite literary figure: Guðrún from the Eddic poems/Vǫlsunga saga. Her suffering and anguish, as well as her masculine vengeance as she kills one of her many husbands, are really fascinating. Her character played a big part in my early fascination with Old Norse literature and my decision to research gender within it. 

Interview with Dr Anastasija Ropa from the Latvian Academy of Sport Education

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

I am a researcher from Riga, Latvia. I got my PhD from Bangor University, North Wales, and currently I am based in Riga and affiliated to the Latvian Academy of Sport Education, Department of Management and Communication Science. 

Tell us more about your project/research.

In my wider project, I am looking at the development of horsemanship in Livonia in medieval and modern periods, and the various influences that influenced horse breeding and horsemanship in Livonia. Borders are important in this connection, as throughout its history Livonia is often represented as a border or liminal area between east and west.

What are you talking about in your paper for the CBCB podcast series?

In my paper for the podcast series, I talk about the representation of Livonian borders in medieval and early modern sources – chronicles and early modern maps. 

What brought you to Latvian Academy of Sport Education? Where do you plan on going next?

When I announce my affiliation, it usually raises some eyebrows, as that’s not a place commonly associated with the study of history. I came there by a happy coincidence. I was looking for a place in the academia after completing my PhD, and the Sports Academy was looking for a lecturer, and then, it turned out, for a researcher.

As long as the Academy is going to support my interest in researching the history of equestrianism and other sports, I am staying there, because of its friendly and supportive environment.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval period?

The Middle Ages were, in many ways, surprisingly modern. Certainly the main principles of horsemanship sound very timely today, and this is true of many other things, too. People usually think of the Middle Ages as a very foreign, strange period, and they are surprised by the modern tone of many medieval texts, ideas and practices.

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

If I were not in academia, I would probably be working with horses, as, next to medieval history and literature, this is my second favourite thing. I have published several articles and a monograph on aspects of medieval and modern horsemanship.

Who is your favourite historical figure from the medieval/early modern period, and why?

Alexander of Neva, a ruler of medieval Rus, who was also canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church, who combined piety with ingenuity as ruler and military commander.

What is your favourite historical fiction?

Monty Python and the Holy Grail, because it plays on the stereotypes about Middle Ages – not mentioning the fact it’s hilarious!

Interview with Hannah Straw, University of Warwick

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I am a PhD student from Leicester, currently in the final year of my PhD at the University of Warwick. Before moving to Warwick I completed my Master by Research on the public image of King Charles II at the University of Kent, and I also work at Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of the poet Lord Byron.

What brought you to the University of Warwick, and where do you plan on going next?

My MA thesis was examined by Professor Mark Knights, who then agreed to supervise my PhD thesis at Warwick. The university has a lively and engaging early modern department, where we (in more normal times) have a lot of opportunities to get together and share our work with one another. When I have completed my PhD I hope to go on to undertake postdoctoral research – anywhere in the world that will have me.

What is your favourite thing about the early modern period?

I think my favourite thing about studying the early modern period is the infinite variety – and how rapidly everything could (and did) change! In the seventeenth century English context – where my work is focused – there were people who lived through the reign of Charles I, the regicide, Interregnum, and then saw the monarchy restored again in 1660. The world truly did keep getting turned upside down and the responses to these changes are endlessly fascinating.

What does your research focus on?

My PhD research focuses on the ‘performance of scandal’ in the Restoration period. My research is focused on the Court Wits – a group of libertine playwrights, poets, and noblemen at the court of King Charles II – who were notorious for their flagrant debauchery and disruptive social influence. As late as the 20th century, a book on the Wits warned readers that its shocking content was not suitable for female readers.

In my research I look at the scandalous lives and works of the Wits, and how they transgressed boundaries into ‘scandal’, and what this can tell us about the exceptionally malleable social, political, and religious landscape of the restoration period.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

In this seminar I will focus on one chapter from my thesis, which looks in detail at the Cock Tavern scandal. The scandal revolved around the actions of Sir Charles Sedley and Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst – two members of the Court Wits coterie – on a July evening at the Cock Tavern near Covent Garden. This incident has often been used as an example of the raucous excesses of restoration gentlemen; however, it has never been interrogated in real detail. This seminar will examine several different reactions to the scandal, demonstrating the multiplicity of contemporary anxieties that were reflected in the behaviour of the Wits.

If you do not plan on going into academia, what would you like to do next?

Ideally, I would like to continue in academia. But if not, I am also very interested in continuing to work in the heritage sector.

Do you have a favourite early modern text?

So many! If I absolutely had to choose, I think it would have to be A Satire on Charles II by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. The satire is a scathing exercise in mockery, and includes the wonderful quote:

“Restless he rolls from whore to whore,

A Merry Monarch, scandalous and poor.”

Unsurprisingly, when it fell into the hands of King Charles II, Rochester found himself banished from court.

Who is your favourite historical figure from the early modern period, and why?

My favourite historical figure from the early modern period is George Villiers, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham. His father was the notorious 1st Duke of Buckingham, political liability (and suspected lover) of King James I. Buckingham combined all his father’s talent for political troublemaking, with none of his success. Buckingham was the ‘leader’ of the Court Wits, and although he is often overshadowed by the 1st Duke in historiography, he led an endlessly fascinating life during which he was imprisoned for treason, killed his mistress’s husband in a duel, and bankrupted one of the most prosperous estates in England.

Interview with Aistė Kiltinavičiūtė, University of Cambridge

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

I was born and spent most of my childhood in Lithuania. My academic journeys have since taken me to Italy and the UK, where I have spent the majority of the past seven years at the University of Cambridge.

Tell us more about your project/research.

I specialise in medieval Italian literature and culture, with a particular focus on Dante. I analyse Dante’s dreams and visions from a sensory-cognitive point of view, examining them as moments of privileged perception when the sensations described appear not to correspond to the perceptions necessitated by the immediate external surroundings. In exploring the relationship between the senses and the mind thus depicted, I situate the Commedia in relation to the contemporary thinking about the senses, their interaction, and sensory deprivation.

What are you talking about in your paper for the CBCB podcast series?

My paper focuses on the depiction of dreaming in Dante’s Purgatorio 9 as an experience that enables the crossing of physical and conceptual boundaries. Dreams enable important physical transitions in Purgatory, but these corporeal transitions are also accompanied by reflections on dreaming, making the readers question the extent to which the dreaming pilgrim is in control of what is happening, and the degree to which his sensorium is permeable to external impressions and divine influences.

If you were not researching your own period, what other period might attract your attention?

I would likely focus on the Victorian period, as the Victorians seem to have been at least as interested in ghosts, dreams, and visions as I am.

Do you have a favourite early modern text?

As much as I love Dante, in terms of pure enjoyment, my firm favourite is the corpus of early modern English drama. If you can think of a plot twist that seems completely implausible and should never make it into a play, you are likely to find it there.

What is your favourite historical fiction?

Bardcore medievalised remakes of hit songs.

Interview with Johnny Ignacio, University of Durham

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I’m originally from the Philippines, but I relocated to the Vale of Glamorgan in South Wales when I was a toddler. 

What brought you to the University of Durham, and where do you plan on going next?

I came to Durham for my undergraduate degree because it’s such a beautiful city with an excellent reputation in English literature. I loved it so much that I decided to stay for my master’s which I am now doing. I’m currently trying to find a graduate job, but a PhD is definitely one of my goals in the near future. 

What is your favourite thing about the early modern period?

Although this is unfamiliar terrain for many people, I think the early modern period can tell us a lot about how we conduct ourselves and how we confront the vicissitudes of our own existence. In particular, the art of rhetoric seeps through in many of the texts I’ve encountered, and I think it’s such a fundamental aspect of life that isn’t much focused on today.

What does your research focus on?

My research currently explores the construction of female knowledge during childbirth. It focuses on how pregnancy was performed in the playhouse, particularly as a source of both agency and anxiety.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I will explore how playhouse culture is closely tied to a language of marketisation and how this is depicted in the interface between cuckoldry and commerce, especially through the humorous portrayal of the wittol as an acquiescent cuckold.

If you do not plan on going into academia, what would you like to do next? 

Who knows? Either publishing or the public service. I’ve also looked at consulting. It sounds clichéd, but as long as I can make a difference in people’s lives then I’ll feel content. 

Do you have a favourite early modern text?

I love looking at woodcuts and broadside ballads like the Roxburghe Ballads for their quirky glimpses into the early modern experience. However, The Revenger’s Tragedy is a particular favourite of mine, mainly for its dark humour.

Who is your favourite historical figure from the early modern, and why?

There’s so many interesting people in this period, but I’d say Francis Bacon was such an instrumental figure in the instauration of empirical learning as we know it today.

Interview with Aisha Hussain, University of Salford

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

I am a third-year PhD student at The University of Salford, where I also did my Bachelors degree in English and Drama. After this, I attended The University of Leeds to study my Masters in Renaissance Literature before returning to Salford to pursue my PhD. I have lived in Bolton, Greater Manchester for the majority of my life, although I was born in Kent and then spent my early years in North Wales, which I have very fond memories of! At some stage in the future, I’d like to learn more about my heritage—I’m half Scottish and half Pakistani—by seeing more of Scotland (as I’ve only visited briefly in the past) and by travelling to Pakistan for the first time. 

Tell us more about your research.

Portrayals of Turks in early modern cultural discourses resisted historical accuracy: they are represented as violent, lustful, barbaric, and despotic despite the existence of numerous seventeenth-century Anglo-Ottoman correspondence documents, in which Turks are often associated with wealth, military strength, and political efficiency. The stereotyped cultural Turk figure also affected the way dramatists portrayed Turks on stage. This very popular dramatic type is violent, lustful, and, as a result, politically corrupt. By looking at how the theatrical type may have generally encouraged early modern resurgences of crusading rhetoric, my PhD research explores how Fulke Greville’s, Thomas Goffe’s, and Roger Boyle’s work may, instead, be read as a response to culturally-influenced portrayals of Turks on stage, thus prompting the emergence of an anti-crusading discourse. This study meets a major need in the field of early modern English drama in identifying and exploring how the emergence of a new Turkish type on stage, aligned with an anti-crusading agenda, in the works of Greville, Goffe, and Boyle focuses on more accurate portrayals of Turks, whose violence is ‘justified’ by Ottoman law. 

What are you talking about in your paper for the CBCB podcast series?

My paper for the CBCB podcast engages with the intersections between gender studies and Orientalism (see Said 1978; Loomba, 2002; Tiryakioglu, 2015, see Almas, 2009 for a focus on gender). This interdisciplinary approach helps me to investigate Greville’s and Boyle’s depictions of Roxolana, a Turkish concubine turned Sultana, in Mustapha. Greville and Boyle present this character as transgressing the traditional representation of the lustful Turk as unsuccessful ruler, since “Roxolana not only took over Suleiman’s heart, but also his Empire when she became his political advisor” (Almas, 2009, p. 117). This constitutes a turning point in the literature of the period which sees the representation of the Ottoman Turkish monarch complicated further by gender issues which no longer functioned as an undercurrent to religious ones.

What brought you to Salford? Where do you plan on going next?

As I mentioned, I studied at The University of Salford as an undergraduate. Seeing as I had such a positive experience being mentored and supported by the academics there during these formative years, I was excited to have the opportunity to return to the English department at this institution as a PhD student at and work under my wonderful supervisor, Dr. Lucia Nigri. After completing my Masters thesis on translations which were affected by the crusading discourse, namely Edward Fairfax’s English translation (1600; 1624) of Torquato Tasso’s Italian epic poem (Gerusalemme Liberata, 1581), I realised that I had only ‘scratched the surface’ with my exploration of the crusading discourse in early modern literature. In Tasso’s epic, a fictionalised account of Christian knights, who were directed by Godfrey of Bulloigne, waged war against the pagans with the intention of conquering Jerusalem in what we understand is the First Crusade. I explored Fairfax’s translation as a political answer to the (lack of) religious harmony between Protestantism and Catholicism. Whilst I was writing about the crusading discourse in relation to Fairfax’s translation, however, I realised how many other early modern works it could also have affected and how I could not fully explore this concept in my Masters thesis alone. Thus, my PhD research came into fruition. 

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing? Or, if you weren’t researching portrayals of Turks in early modern England, what other subject might attract your attention?

This is a difficult question because I find working on my PhD research, and the other projects that I’ve become involved with related to it (such as Medieval and Early Modern Orients—MEMOs), both fascinating and enjoyable. In addition to writing about performance, however, I’ve always loved performing myself. I had classical singing lessons for about twelve years and acting formed a large part of my Bachelors degree in English and Drama so, naturally, I think that I would probably have ended up doing something related to performing arts had I not pursued a PhD. With regards to my own subject, I’m primarily interested (from a personal standpoint, seeing as I am biracial) in representations of marginalisation due to race and religion in early modern drama. My current research fits into this exploration, but I have often found myself wondering how marginalised groups with a lack of geographical belonging (those who, either out of choice or out of necessity, spent time travelling from place to place) were received in early modern England and, by extension, treated in English literature, so this may have been my alternative research topic had I not chosen to work on Anglo-Ottoman relations.

Do you have a favourite early modern text?

I don’t necessarily think that it is my favourite early modern text as far as it’s content is concerned, but for somewhat sentimental reasons I’d have to say John Milton’s Paradise Lost. In the final year of my Bachelors degree, I wrote an essay on Stanley Fish’s claim in Not So Much a Teaching as an Intangling (1997) that, through reading Paradise Lost, Milton wanted the reader to fall like Adam did to prove how easily one can be lured into the satanic rhetoric. I’d enjoyed reading early modern literature since I was a teenager but this was the text that solidified to me that I should apply to do a Masters in Renaissance literature, which then also led me to pursue PhD study in my current discipline.

Interview with Sam Brown, University College London

Tell us a bit yourself. Where are you from?

I’m from Blackburn, Lancashire, but moved to London over a decade ago for my BA and never left. 

Tell us more about your project/research.

In my PhD project I’m looking for evidence of the transmission of Arabic linguistic knowledge in the dispersed books and manuscripts of one of early modern England’s first scholars of the language. By studying things like ownership marks, annotations, and provenance details I’m tracing the journeys of the objects, shedding light on the people and activities that connect them, and ultimately reconstructing an intellectual moment that we know relatively little about.

What are you talking about in your paper for the CBCB podcast series?

My paper is about an unattributed manuscript in the British Library’s Cotton collection, which was written in a dungeon in Constantinople in 1604/5. I tell the story of who wrote it and why, and consider its relationship with another manuscript in the same hand at Lambeth Palace Library. It’s not linked to my PhD project, and is more like a love note to my methodology – days spent in reading rooms poring over old documents, the satisfaction of deciphering a particularly difficult secretary hand, and thinking about manuscripts as objects as well as texts, in order to understand the journey that eventually led them to the archive. 

What brought you to UCL? Where do you plan on going next?

I’m at UCL’s Centre for Editing Lives and Letters. It’s where I did my MA in Early Modern Studies, and it is the perfect home for my project. I’m doing my PhD part-time so I’m going to be there for a long time, and I couldn’t be happier about it!

What is your favourite thing about the early modern period?

I love the materiality of the early modern period. It feels so distant, but there are enough surviving objects to conjure a colourful mental image of daily life. For me, nothing makes an historical person more tangible than their jottings in the margins of a book or manuscript.

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

Before returning to academia I was a TV producer, so maybe I would still be doing that while pursuing my love of history in another way – perhaps through genealogy, which I really enjoy. I run a little calligraphy business too, so I might also be attempting a career as a full-time stationer… I like having eggs in lots of baskets!

Who is your favourite historical figure from the medieval/early modern period, and why?

The early modern scholar of Arabic whose collection is central to my PhD project – William Bedwell. His books and manuscripts are notable for their interesting material features and even though he’s very obscure, a surprising number of them survive. He was also learning Arabic at a time when it was outrageously difficult, so I find him quite fascinating in that respect too.

What is your favourite historical fiction?

I haven’t read the books yet but I loved the second series of A Discovery of Witches. The reconstruction of Elizabethan London and attention to detail was incredible.

Interview with Li Jiang, University of Exeter

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I am from China. I am a third-year PhD student studying in the history department at the University of Exeter.

What brought you to the University of Exeter, and where do you plan on going next?

I came to Exeter because I was very lucky to get the chance to do my PhD under the supervision of Professor Jane Whittle. In terms of my future plans, I love my research and would like to continue researching at the university in the future.  

What is your favourite thing about the early modern period?

I love comparing the contribution of female labour within households, as it was influenced by different factors during the early modern period.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on exploring wage workers hired by the Shuttleworth family from 1582 to 1621. It looks carefully at the types of wage workers employed, how wages and payments were made, and the living standards of these workers. 

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I plan to focus on servants hired by the Shuttleworths from 1582 to 1621 and discuss their working lives during their service.

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

This is a really tough question, as I never think about it!

Do you have a favourite early modern text?

It changes over time, but if I had to choose one, it would have to be The Description of England. It was written by William Harrison and first published in 1577. 

Who is your favourite historical figure from the early modern, and why?

My favourite historical figure is Queen Elizabeth I. I am inspired by her achievements. As the last monarch of Tudor dynasty, she was really brilliant!