Interview with Emily Rowe

Our next seminar will be taken by Emily Rowe on 10 December 2018. The seminar will be starting at 18:00 with tea and coffee from 5:40. Below we talked to Emily about the materiality of language, ale, and nunneries .

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

I have always moved around a lot, but I usually tell people I am from Lincolnshire where I lived as a teen. I spent three years in Aberystwyth, on the coast of Wales, completing my undergraduate degree, before moving to York for my MA in Renaissance literature. I now live in Newcastle upon Tyne, and am now in my second year of a PhD in English literature and linguistics.

What brought you to the Northeast?

Funding aside… Newcastle is a beautiful and vibrant city, and I was excited to work with two such compelling and supportive supervisors on a project that had been unfurling in my mind since my MA. I have met so many like-minded and welcoming people both at Newcastle and Durham, and ale is good and cheap here.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

It has become a bit passé in our field to talk about our periods as moments of monumental change or decisive shifts in human subjectivity, with many historians laying claim to the latter as a marker of their period. But throughout my literary studies, I have always felt a noticeable shift in how identity is understood and how that is conveyed in literature in the early modern period. Seeing how literature interacts with and mediates the changes in print, social mobility, national identity, and science has always been an especially exciting aspect of working on this period for me.

What does your research focus on?

My research is on the materiality of language in early modern culture – the way words are understood, described, and experienced as material objects. We use plenty of material metaphors for language now, we eat our words, coin new phrases, but as both the English lexicon and the presence of material objects boomed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, so did the appearance of material language. This is in part responding to the so-called ‘material turn’ in early modern studies (and humanities), which has in recent years relished the simple tangibility of ‘everyday’ objects as routes to the early modern self and culture. My research instead explores how words were objects and part of early modern material culture, working within the contexts of historical sociolinguistics and early modern literary, rhetorical, and metallurgical culture.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I will be talking about the first chapter of my thesis, which focuses on the works of Thomas Nashe. Whilst working with Nashe I picked up on many distinctly metallurgical metaphors for language – distilling gold from ink, the pen mining the ‘extemporal vein’ for literary substance – and realised that the variety and malleability of metal made it an ideal objects for exploring language materiality in the period. I will be discussing Nashe’s role in the Inkhorn Controversy and how he draws on cultures of alchemy, metalworking, and coinage to figure himself as a literary metalworker, able to mould and purify language to create ‘stuff’ of literary value.

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

Before venturing into academia, some of my childhood ‘dream’ jobs were screenwriter, novelist, singer, ballerina, and I hear a PhD gives you just as good a shot at any of those jobs as staying in academia. But should I not succeed in academia I will take the proper and expected route and retreat to a nunnery.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

Thomas Tomkis’ academic drama Lingua is fun, that and Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost were both pretty inspirational for my PhD project. But in my spare time I’m a big fan of Ye Olde Netflixe.

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Interview with Dom Birch

Our next seminar will be taken by Dom Birch on 26 November 2018. The seminar will be starting at 18:00 with tea and coffee from 5:40. Below we talked to Dom about information, Satan, and Barbados .

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

I’m Dom, I’m originally from Long Newton—a tiny village near Darlington with two pubs, a church and school. I’m also a former MEMSA exec member, and am very much being on the other side of things now!

What brought you to Durham?

For my UG, I came to Durham because, like a good deal of people, I got rejected by Oxford (I’ve now rejected them 3 times so I like to think I’m winning that one). I didn’t really want to come to Durham originally, worried that I would be the type of student to take my washing home. Luckily, my parents did us all a favour by moving 300 miles down the road. I’m now doing a PhD at KCL, but live in Durham because I enjoy the bracing northern wind.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

Information, its spread and its distortion! I love the whole process of reporting and rumour. For instance, I’ve just finished reading the letters of a governor of Virginia who was always complaining about the lack of accurate information, given that news got to him from England via Ireland via Barbados—essentially a transatlantic game of telephone!

What does your research focus on?

I look at how people resolved disputes without litigating, and what this means for our understanding of the law, state and society. How and why do different types of law exist in one society?

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I’m going to go through some of the theory behind my PhD, and try and show the reasons why I think what I’m doing is important.

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

Spreading the queer agenda.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

I’m a big Milton fan, so I’ll say Paradise Lost. I love a compelling and charismatic anti-hero. I’m waiting for the film version with Zachary Quinto playing Satan. Dreamy.

 

Our next seminar will be taken by Christina Smith on the 12th of November 2018. As usual tea and biscuits will be served at 17:40 with the seminar starting at 18:00. Below we talked to Christina about archaeology and violins.

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

I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington.  At the age of 8, I began playing West Highland fiddle music, something which has steadily, yet powerfully, guided my life for nearly two decades.  I am grateful that traditional music has raised me with a deep appreciation for tradition.  It has also fostered in me the desire to pass that tradition onto the next generation, something which shapes my academic interests too.  And it has given me Hebridean-bred Calum MacKinnon, without whom my passion would not have found its voice.

At age 19, I moved to Northern California for four years to pursue an undergraduate degree in Classics at Stanford University.  If I’m honest, I can’t deny that some days I very much miss the sunshine and palm trees—even if my academic studies, musical heart, and trowel lie here in the North.

After graduating from Stanford, I packed my bags and fiddle case for Glasgow, where I pursued a year-long MLitt in Early Medieval Scottish History.  My decision to study Scottish History in Glasgow was very intentional and, like a good cup of Yorkshire Tea, had been brewing for some time before I left Stanford.  That year was defined by grit and growth, and I will always be thankful for the ways in which I found it personally challenging.  It certainly helped me ‘know thyself’ (as the Oracle of Delphi says) when it came to discerning where I’d be and what I’d study for the PhD.  Without Glasgow I’m not sure I would’ve had the courage to trust myself and make the PhD decision I did in the end, even when there were voices to sway me otherwise.

After Glasgow I moved once more, this time to Durham.  I pursued an MA in Early Medieval Archaeology, again a decision I’d been ruminating on for some time.

I chose to stay in Durham for my PhD, even with a tantalising funded offer elsewhere.  I know that Durham has the best people and resources for my research (plus two fantastic supervisors in David Petts and Sarah Semple).  I also know that I made my PhD decision with intentionality and, hopefully, for the right reasons.  Furthermore, Durham is within close reach of my friends, colleagues, and favourite jam sessions in Glasgow!

What brought you to Durham?

I’ve been coming to Durham City most summers since I was a little girl, as my mother graduated from the University in the 80s.  Before the age of 15, I think I’d been to Hatfield College and Bede’s tomb in the Cathedral more times than I could count!

From an academic perspective, I was drawn to Durham’s Department of Archaeology for its world-renowned research and teaching.  There is no question that Durham has one of the top archaeology departments in the world, and for my field—early medieval Northern Britain—there are really few places that rival its scope and rigour.  Additionally, I love the fact that our Department has scholars and students with such temporal and geographic breadth.  While my research is at present decidedly focused on the Insular world, this helps me to daily situate my studies within their broader context. Add to this the Department’s incredible technical expertise, helping me with skills like Geophysics and GIS, and you have an unbeatable team under one roof!

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

Hmm…How to choose?!  I think I’d say that my favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period is also something I find most challenging and frustrating about it: fragments.  Yes, much of history and archaeology is about piecing together fragments.  But this becomes extra difficult when working on a period and place, as I do, that lacks a robust textual record—and at times has no textual record at all.  This not only underlines the importance of material culture in ‘writing’ history, but also shows the benefit of multi-disciplinary research.  I know that my own multi-disciplinary toolkit shapes how I continue to grow as a thinker and researcher.

As the great violinist Itzhak Perlman once said, we must learn to ‘make music of what remains.’  Sometimes that music is concordant, but often it is discordant (much like life).  In the end, though, it’s about making some tune out of the fragments.

What does your research focus on?

I’ve spent the past two years researching the history and archaeology of southern Scotland.  My two master’s dissertations focused on different aspects of early medieval stone sculpture in the region.  The PhD simultaneously broadens my scope to encompass the whole of Britain, while at the same time narrowing down on one particular type of stone sculpture: the free-standing high cross.  In all, I’m interested in the underutilised potential of Britain’s rich early medieval sculpture record.  Take, for example, the fact that a great many early medieval sites in southern Scotland would be completelyunknown to us if it were not for the presence of a single piece of carved stone.  Often built into the walls of later medieval parish churches, these fragments give voice to activity that the textual record simply does not (or cannot) pick up on.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

My seminar looks into the distribution and development of the free-standing high cross across southern Scotland, AD 600-1200 (the topic of my MA dissertation).  Geographically, this includes monuments found at nearly forty sites north of the River Tweed and south of the River Clyde and Firth of Forth. This feeds into a larger PhD project which explores the why hereand why nowof high crosses—why do we see this class of monument suddenly emerge at a particular historical moment, and why do these monuments only occur here in Britain (and Ireland) and not on the Continent?  In my opinion, this is tied into bigger political, ecclesiastical, and social questions in the early medieval world.  Though iconic (think ‘Celtic’ cross necklaces, tattoos, etc.), high crosses are very understudied from an archaeological point of view.  While art historians have helped us understand iconographic motifs and models in high cross carving, we really don’t know much yet about the greater archaeological distribution of high crosses and what this might tell us about the sites at which high cross fragments are found and the people across Britain who chose to construct them.  Though my undergraduate studies were littered with medieval art history courses, these sort of archaeological questions are the ones which have driven my postgraduate thinking.

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

If I weren’t in academia, I’d probably be in some profession that involves a lot of public speaking.  Since I was little I’ve had a love of speaking and writing, evidenced in the countless pictures my family has of me as a little girl with some ‘writing utensil’ in hand—crayons, markers, pencils, chalk, the gamut!  After visiting BBC headquarters in London many years ago, I became fascinated with the idea of being a national news reporter.  A nun in my freshman year of high school also said that I’d make an excellent lawyer.  I think that’s just because I like to talk a lot (and verbalise most, if not all, of my opinions…just ask my very patient family and friends).  If not that, then a step-dancing busker.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

The Dream of the Rood.  Carved onto the surface of a high cross in Ruthwell, Dumfries & Galloway, this early medieval poem epitomises for me the power of the human senses (sound, sight, touch). The poem, written from the perspective of Christ’s Cross, talks about a ‘young hero’ whose body is pierced to its surface.  The words are visceral, moving, and haunting and emphasise suffering and the human body. The body of the man is mapped onto the body of the cross, just as the cross melds with his body, and there is this powerful moment of tension and fusion.  The images carved onto the high cross’ surface, which are bounded by the carved poetic text, further emphasise tactility.  (Thanks to Elaine Treharne for first reading me the poem in Old English at Stanford, and to my dad for first driving me to see the Ruthwell Cross in Scotland).

Also if we venture into the domain of music as text (and also go uber ‘modern,’ at least for this early medievalist!), I’d say Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers.  I’ve heard it in Durham Cathedral twice.  Simply spellbinding!

Interview with Sam Bailey

Our next seminar will be taken by Sam Bailey on 29th October 2018. The seminar will be starting at 18:00. Below we talked to Sam about some whisky business and disability in poetry .

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

I’m from Oxford but recently found out that I have family in the Republic of Ireland so I hope I will meet them some day.

What brought you to Durham?

A happy coincidence of funding and great supervisors for my PhD project. I also studied her for my undergraduate degree in French and Spanish so I did miss it too.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

At the moment I’m really interested in seventeenth-century French swearing and obscene slang. It never fails to make me laugh. I found out the other day that moineau (sparrow) can mean penis – who could’ve guessed that? I was sat there thinking ‘why’s this man talking about sparrows all the time?’ It’s certainly not the first animal you’d think of… And one of the poems I’ll be talking about contains the phrase ‘tirer une estocade’, but you’ll have to come to my talk to find out what that means.

What does your research focus on?

I’m interested in representations of disability in seventeenth-century French literature, particularly obscene poetry of the kind that was written and circulated illicitly in cabarets.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I’m going to talk about a poetry manuscript collection I recently read and photographed in Paris. I’ll show how the poetry it contains is full of allusions to and depictions of disability (unfortunately usually negative) and then talk about one of my favourite poets who writes about his own disability in a very unusual way that stands out from the other poems on this subject.

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

I’d open a bar called Whisky Business that only serves whisky (and would probably have no customers). Good thing I got this PhD funding.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

Yes, it’s a self-portrait by the poet Denis Sanguin de Saint-Pavin. It’s very long and one of the hardest poems I’ve ever worked on, but it is probably my favourite seventeenth-century text about disability due to its complexity.

Interview with Kate Marlow

Our next seminar will be taken by Kate Marlow on 15th October 2018. As usual tea and biscuits will be served at 17:40 with the seminar starting at 18:00. Below we talked to Kate about Beowulf and Lawyers.

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

I’m from London originally, and I did my undergrad in English Literature at Trinity College Dublin.

What brought you to Durham?

I came to Durham because of its great reputation for medieval studies, and because my brother was here and having a great time!

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

My favourite thing about the medieval period is that you have to be really interdisciplinary when you use your sources. 

What does your research focus on?

 My research focuses on ethnic identity in Anglo-Saxon England and medieval Iceland. 

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

As I’ve just finished my first year, my seminar focuses on some of the methodology I’m going to be using in my thesis. 

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

 If I wasn’t doing a PhD I’d probably be a lawyer like my dad wanted, but I already work with enough monsters.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

It’s a bit cliche, but my favourite medieval text is Beowulf. The monster fights are great and Beowulf makes a really great tragic hero.

Interview with Helen Clifford

Our next seminar will be taken by Helen Clifford on 14th May 2018. As usual tea and biscuits will be served at 17:40 with the seminar starting at 18:00. Below we talked to Helen about Shakespearean productions and the weirdness of Early Modern theatre.

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

I’m originally from Watford and have spent most of my academic life up here in Durham, apart from my MA year in Stratford-upon-Avon (unsurprisingly!).

What brought you to Durham?

For the PhD, the supervisor combination and the reputation of the English department. And I knew that I liked the place from undergrad!

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

Probably the variety and sheer strangeness of early modern drama – once you start to make moves away from Shakespeare, everything gets very weird very quickly, which is a lot of fun.

What does your research focus on?

I work on Mikhail Bakhtin’s criticism of Shakespeare and drama more generally. Bakhtin writes mainly on the novel and medieval carnival, so I’m hoping to expand the ways he’s been used in Shakespeare scholarship so far and think about what a Bakhtinian aesthetics of theatre might look like.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

My seminar is a very early test run using Bakhtin as a critical framework to analyse Shakespeare productions – for this paper, they’ll be two of Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s shows, Roman Tragedies (which brings together three of the Roman plays) and Kings of War (which incorporates 5/6 English histories).

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

I honestly don’t know. Probably something quite unexciting interspersed with lots of theatre trips to break up the monotony!

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

My favourite Shakespeare play changes weekly, but for the moment maybe Measure for Measure? The Donmar Warehouse have just announced a production with some interesting gender-swapped stuff going on, so I’m hoping to get to that later in the year.

Interview with Barbara Hargreaves

Our next seminar will be taken by Barbara Hargreaves on 30th April 2018. As usual tea and biscuits will be served at 17:40 with the seminar starting at 18:00. Below we talked to Barbara about coming out of retirement, barbaric twelfth-century nuns and tetchy monks.

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

I’ve lived pretty much all over the UK. We were a forces family so I moved house quite often as a child, but spent most of my working life in London with a few years living in Zambia. When I retired we moved up north to Alnwick where I live now.

What brought you to Durham?

After a few months of retirement it became apparent that I wanted to do something which would stretch me and which had a goal. So I thought of returning to university. I’d been a mature student when I’d done my BA and masters so wasn’t worried (much!) by the prospect of being an even more mature student. I contacted a few universities and Durham was far and away the most welcoming and encouraging one, so I came here and did a masters by research and last year started a PhD. Of course the wonderful setting and academic expertise here was a great draw too.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

I love the stories of ordinary people, their everyday experiences, their hopes and beliefs, their way of considering and understanding themselves and the world around them. If I could time-travel I’d definitely go back to twelfth-century England – as long as I had a sure way back, a good pair of shoes and a secret supply of antibiotics that is!

What does your research focus on?

I’m looking at how health related narratives are used in twelfth-century English religious works, particularly in saints’ Lives. My background is as a nurse and midwife, so the subject area sits well with my professional knowledge.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

The seminar explores the story of a nun who, in the twelfth century, became pregnant. It is a shocking and disturbing account of sexual, physical and psychological violence, horrifying in some respects. Although those elements underlie the nun’s story, my focus is on the pregnancy itself and how, in the written account, the condition of the nun’s gravid body is used to illustrate her fall from grace and eventual salvation.

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

Well I could be properly retired and indulging my love of travelling and immersive theatre, perhaps increasing my volunteering commitment with VSO or spending a lot more time walking in the beautiful Northumberland countryside. Or none of those … I don’t know – its great to have such freedom and choice!

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

I do enjoy reading Walter Daniel’s Life of Ailred of Rievaulx, mainly because Walter’s own voice is heard so clearly in his written words. He has the gift of speaking directly to his reader and his work is engaging and lively. Walter comes across as opinionated, often tetchy and sometimes intolerant but always devoted to his master Ailred and full of love for the Cistercian life he has chosen. He was a doctor too so there are lots of detailed, and very useful, medical descriptions. I certainly wouldn’t want to have been a colleague of his, but the way his personality comes through his writing of the Life makes it an entertaining as well as an instructive text to read.

Interview with Katie Haworth

Our next seminar will be taken by Katie Haworth on 12th March 2018. As usual tea and biscuits will be served at 17:40 with the seminar starting at 18:00. Below we talked to Katie about moving back to the north, and the excitement of Anglo-Saxon objects and riddles.

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

Originally I’m from Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, but I spent four years at Cambridge for my undergraduate and masters.

What brought you to Durham?

Partly it was the expertise and reputation of the department and the medieval heritage of Durham itself. But I’ve also enjoyed moving closer to home. I missed the friendliness of northerners and the hills when I was in Cambridge.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

Definitely the surviving objects. My undergraduate degree was in ASNC, so there was a focus on history and literature, which was great, but it was an interest in the material culture that made me switch to Archaeology. The chance to examine and research things that were once owned and used by people over a thousand years ago is so exciting.

What does your research focus on?

My research aims to catalogue and study the beads and pendants worn by women in the seventh century. The aim is to consider these necklace assemblages as comprehensively as possible and consider the light they can shed on key religious, economic, political and social shifts during the period.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I’m going to introduce my research project as a whole, examine a few key case studies and hopefully demonstrate the value of a holistic, interdisciplinary examination of a single object type.

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

I’m a keen baker, so maybe I would have opened a café or a tea room somewhere.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

An Old English poem called Wulf and Eadwacer. Apart from the fact that the narrator is female, the deliberately riddling language means everything else about the narrative and meaning of the poem is up for debate and I like the mystery.

 

Interview with Tom Kearns

Our next seminar will be taken by Tom Kearns on 26th February 2018. As usual tea and biscuits will be served at 17:40 with the seminar starting at 18:00. Below we talked to Tom about the intrigues of medieval religion and the joys of Anglo-Saxon poetry.

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

Well I’m from Birmingham originally but since starting uni I’ve been all over. I did my undergrad in ASNC at Cambridge and my masters in Church History at Oxford. Basically I decided that I wanted to see as many different places as I could so study has taken me all over.

What brought you to Durham?

Besides funding? Well the cathedral was a big draw since there are lots of manuscripts there that would be really helpful for my work. Plus I just heard it was a really nice place so it seemed a good choice.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

Well when I was younger I was really interested in mythology and paganism so I kind of gravitated towards Vikings. But since I started studying it all I’ve gotten really into Church history and medieval theology. It should come as no shock that I’m a big J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis fan so the origins of this fantastical medieval society and religion is really interesting to me. So it’s probably monks and different expressions of belief.

What does your research focus on?

Well when I was younger I was really interested in mythology and paganism so I kind of gravitated towards Vikings. But since I started studying it all I’ve gotten really into Church history and medieval theology. It should come as no shock that I’m a big J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis fan so the origins of this fantastical medieval society and religion is really interesting to me. So it’s probably monks and different expressions of belief.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

Well this seminar is basically a version of an article that I’m working on. It’s sort of an iconoclastic criticism of scholarship up to this point and attempt to show the need for reassessment in light of primary evidence for real and significant ideological diversity among the English monastic reformers.

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

I don’t know. I used to think about politics, so maybe that but I don’t think I’m sociopathic enough. So now I tend to think that I would follow my dad into the police or maybe train to be a priest. There are options!

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

Yeesh that’s hard. It’s cliché I know but I do have a soft-spot for Beowulf. Anglo-Saxon poetry in general is pretty great but Beowulf is just particularly good.

Interview with Laurie Atkinson

Our next seminar will be taken by Laurie Atkinson on 12th February 2018. As usual tea and biscuits will be served at 17:40 with the seminar starting at 18:00. Below we talked to Laurie about being a Northumbrian and the thrill and dread of deciphering manuscripts.

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

My village sits on the border between County Durham and Tyne and Wear, so I just say that I’m a Northumbrian! I did my undergraduate in English at Durham, then spent last year in Cambridge studying for an MPhil in Medieval Literature.

What brought you to Durham?

Why go down South for Chaucer’s Boece when you’ve got an autograph of Hoccleve’s Series at home?

 

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

It’s got to be the manuscripts. I still get a thrill every time I open a codex, followed by a dim sense of dread when I realise that I’ve got to read the thing!

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on late medieval dream-poetry and its paratexts. I’m interested in the way that conceptions of authorship encoded in the dream-frames of vernacular literary works are transmitted and re-imagined in manuscript to print. Chaucer, Lydgate, Skelton and Caxton all get a look in, but I’m most excited about some of the dream-poem’s less known practitioners, as the form begins to wane at the turn of the sixteenth century.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I’m going to be speaking about Gavin Douglas, an early sixteenth-century Scots bishop, diplomat, and ‘humanist’, who also turned his hand to poetry. Specifically, I’ll be looking at Douglas’ Eneados of 1513, the first full English translation of the Aeneid. I want to think about Douglas’s place within the textual communities of Scotland and continental Europe, the extent to which his Eneados warrants the epithet of a seminally ‘Renaissance’ translation, but also the unmistakable influence of insular, vernacular literary traditions in the remarkable prologues to his epic.

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

I dread to think. I know Cooplands are hiring.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

I rly lyk the Eneados. Hoccleve is gr8 2. Ttyl. C u @ MEMSA x