Interview with Sam Bailey

Our next MEMSA seminar will be by Sam Bailey, entitled ‘Disability and Transhumanism in the Works of Scarron and Denis Sanguin de Saint-Pavin’. This seminar has been postponed until further notice – the blog will be updated when details become available! Until then, read ahead for a fascinating interview about Sam’s work. 

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

I’m from Oxford and my family are from a little village in Derbyshire near Bakewell, of Bakewell tart fame. In the marketplace there’s one shop that sells Bakewell tarts and another that sells Bakewell puddings, which were invented by mistake when someone tried to make a jam tart but messed it up. As luck would have it, the result was delicious. Anyway, the two owners stand outside their shops shaking their fists at each other all day, yelling insults and arguing over whose is better.

What brought you to Durham?

You’ve got to go where the money is. I suppose the supervisors are pretty good too. Last year I bought my supervisor a cardboard cut-out of Grace Jones – his favourite pop star – to decorate his office. He’s away on research leave at the moment so someone else is temporarily using his room but assures me that Grace is still there.

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

Working in the seventeenth century, something that I am in equal parts frustrated by and grateful for is that literature was frequently not published in ways that we would today think of as publishing. For example, I work on poems that were ‘published’ by being recited out loud in cabarets or salons, copied down (sometimes many years later) and circulated surreptitiously and anonymously in manuscript form among closed circles of friends. This leads to lots of wildly different variants of the same poem and of course nobody really knew for sure who wrote what. These manuscript pages were then bound together by collectors in what’s called a recueil or a manuscript miscellany full of poems, essays, songs and plays, mostly anonymous and totally disorganised. As you can imagine, this is both a blessing and a curse for a researcher. It’s also something that’s easy to forget when we’re used to reading scholarly editions of the complete works of any given seventeenth-century poet where the editor has organised, cleaned up, modernised and cross-referenced all the known variants. Although I understand the need for these editions I can’t help but feel they are a misrepresentation of the chaotic, irregular nature of the source material.

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. My thesis reads these poems through the lens of various theoretical understandings of disability and the human body. I find that the poems themselves can teach us as much about the theory as the theory can help to ‘unlock’ some of the complexities of the poems.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I’m going to talk about one of my favourite poems – a self-portrait by Saint-Pavin – alongside a similar self-portrait, this time in prose, by another author called Scarron who was far more famous and also wrote lyric poetry, though he is/was less well-known for this. I’m hoping to draw out some commonalities and differences with regards to how they self-mythologise as disabled authors writing about their embodied experience. If I have time I’ll then link it all to Montaigne, as an extra special treat for anyone who’s managed to stay awake that long.

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

This question is all-too pertinent during the strikes. Academics are increasingly becoming disenchanted with a profession that has unmanageably high expectations to the point of becoming exploitative, discriminatory and thoroughly unenjoyable. Lots of really great scholars talk about leaving the profession, and indeed do leave it, for these reasons. I have worked for several years as a part-time publishing and research assistant at the Voltaire Foundation, a small academic press in Oxford, so I’m thinking of pursuing publishing as a career option. 

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

To stretch the definition of ‘text’, I’d say the Recueil Conrart, which is a 50-volume manuscript miscellany named after the man who compiled it. Due to its enormous length (each volume is over 1000 pages long) and eclectic nature it hasn’t really been comprehensively studied so has proven to be quite the untapped goldmine. If I had to choose one poem it would currently be a great little fable by Madame de Villedieu that I recently worked on in class with my translation students. It’s about a cat who runs across the rooftops of Paris and sneaks into houses to observe all kinds of illicit encounters and report back to a gossipy cricket. I like to think that this is what my cat does when I’m not around but she probably just sits there and licks her butt.

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Image: Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Français 12680, 17th century; photo by Sam Bailey.

Interview with Kori Filipek

Our next MEMSA seminar will be given by Kori Filipek, entitled ‘Confinement or Care? Multidisciplinary Investigations of Children and Adolescents in an Early Medieval Leprosarium’. The seminar will take place on Friday 28 February, in the World Heritage Visitor Centre, Durham. Turn up for tea & biscuits from 5.40pm, with Kori’s paper beginning at 6pm. We spoke to Kori about Transylvania, interdisciplinarity, and the social aspects of medicine and disease – read on for a preview of the seminar!
Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?
I’m originally from the US, where I trained in Biological and Forensic Anthropology and Archaeology, and Classics. I have a keen interest in disease in human skeletal remains (palaeopathology), particularly from archaeological contexts. Previous to coming to Durham, I was a lecturer in Forensic Anthropology and Osteology, and worked in human remains repatriation; both in archaeological and forensic casework. In addition to the research I do here, I also manage a necropolis excavation in Transylvania where I train students/volunteers how to excavate and analyse human remains. It’s great fun!
What brought you to Durham?
I specifically came to Durham to train under Professors Charlotte Roberts and Becky Gowland in the Department of Archaeology. Their thematic and holistic approaches to the related fields of bioarchaeology and palaeopathology have revolutionised the discipline and really challenged previous historical narratives. They are a continuous source of inspiration!
What’s your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?
It has to be the profound impacts of health and disease on every aspect of life. Most people think of diseases like the plague as being single events, or in very insular contexts. But the ability to bridge different lines of evidence (e.g. biogeochemistry, climate science, clinical medicine, etc.) to view the factors that contribute to disease and influence disease capacities, and then the subsequent effects of these factors on aspects of things like past culture and environment is very exciting.
What does your research focus on?
My research focuses on the study of human remains from archaeological contexts, specifically health and disease status. I am particularly interested in how biocultural factors of health and disease frame the past, and the wider, longitudinal biological and social implications of these.
What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?
The seminar I am delivering will be focusing on the care and treatment of children and adolescents with leprosy in the Saxo-Norman transition. Leprosy is such a socially charged infection, and a common narrative exists with regard to how leprosy sufferers were viewed in the past that has lasting and deleterious impacts on present-day sufferers. I’m re-interrogating that narrative to see if the evidence marries up with current preconceptions.
If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?
I genuinely have no clue. I have taught in Higher Education for 12 years now, and have such a passion for teaching and research that I cannot foresee doing anything else. Every day that I have the privilege to continue on this journey is exciting!
Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?
My favourite texts from this period have to be the Leechbooks. What fascinating compendia. I’m also a huge fan of the London Bills of Mortality.
Kori Filipek
Image by Kori Filipek. 

Interview with Fergal Leonard

Our next MEMSA seminar will be given by Fergal Leonard, Durham University, entitled ‘”The poor people cry and call for you and your blood to rule them”: The Dacre Tenantry and the Politics of Protest, Resistance, and Rebellion, 1566-1570’’. The seminar will take place on Monday 20th January, in the World Heritage Visitor Centre, Durham. Turn up for tea & biscuits from 5.40pm, with Fergal’s paper beginning at 6pm. We spoke to Fergal about legal history, the Battle of Hell Beck, and curses – with a sneak preview of what he’ll be discussing in the seminar!

Tell us a bit yourself, where are you from?

I’m a second-year PhD student in the history department, researching the 16th-century Anglo-Scottish borders. I’m from Carlisle originally, in the north-west of England—I’m basically studying local history, which is a lot of fun!

What brought you to Durham?

I’ve ended up in Durham by a rather circuitous route. I originally studied law at Northumbria University. Mid-way through my final year there I decided to drop my dissertation on business law, and switch to legal history instead, which was much more interesting. I ended up studying the leges marchiarum, the medieval and early modern international law of the Anglo-Scottish borders, where representatives of both countries would work together (in theory!) to arrest, try, and punish Scotsmen who committed crime in England, and vice versa.

The whole experience really made it clear to me that what I really wanted to be doing was researching and writing about history. So I did a postgraduate course in early modern history up in St. Andrews and was lucky enough that my PhD proposal was accepted at Durham. For one thing, it’s great to be back in the north-east, and I’m working on a project that I find really interesting at a great university and in a beautiful and very historic city.

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

I’m always amazed at how a person’s character can survive so well in the writings they left behind, and how real they feel. It’s great to feel like you’re getting to know people: their hopes and ambitions, the things that are important and precious to them, but also their pettiness, jealousy, and fear. You can often see the exact things motivating them as you see in people today.

At other times, of course, the way they act and the things they believe are very hard for us to get our heads around. It’s this contrast between the familiar and the completely alien which makes studying the early modern period so fascinating.

What does your research focus on?

My research is on the north-west of England in the second half of the 16th century. It’s a really interesting area: it’s still a militarised frontier zone, heavily fortified with the whole administrative structure evolved to deal with the threat of Scottish invasion. But at the same time, the danger of war with Scotland is declining, and the same processes of social, economic, and political development happening across Tudor England are happening here, which creates a tension between the traditional character of the region and these new forces of change.

I’m looking at the  political culture of the region, and how regional political networks were integrated into broader, national-level political networks centred on the queen and her court. As part of that, I’m exploring popular participation in politics, local office-holding, and conflict within the region over position, prestige, or political advancement.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

My talk is on popular protest and rebellion, looking at Cumberland during the 1569 Rising of the North. February marks the 450th anniversary of the Battle of Hell Beck, where 3,000 rebels clashed with a smaller regime army across a small stream in the hills of Cumberland. I’m interested in what brought so many common people together, to risk their lives and their livelihoods in open rebellion against the queen.

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

I don’t know! In the past I’ve worked in a hospital. I’ve also spent some time volunteering as a guide at a historic house, which I really enjoyed—so perhaps something like that?

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

In 1525 Gavin Dunbar, the Archbishop of Glasgow cursed the Armstrongs, an unruly clan of trouble-makers living in Liddesdale, close to the border with England. It’s a wonderful litany of ill-will as he curses every single thing he can think of that has anything to do with them. 

To give you some idea, he starts with: “I curse their heid and all the haris of thair heid; I curse thair face, thair ene, thair mouth, thair neise, thair tongue, thair teeth, thair crag, thair shoulderis, thair breist, thair hert, thair stomok, thair bak, thair wame, thair armes, thais leggis, thair handis, thair feit, and everilk part of thair body, frae the top of their heid to the soill of thair feet, befoir and behind, within and without.”

He goes on to curse their wives, children, servants, and even their cows, sheep, horses, and crops, which seems a bit over-the-top. He calls down “all the vengeance that evir was takin sen the warlde began for oppin synnys, and all the plagis and pestilence that ever fell on man or beist,” to strike them down.

Not only is it a really interesting document in itself, it’s passed into local folklore. In 2001, Carlisle City Council decided to carve part of the curse on a big granite boulder and place it in a public spot, sort of appropriating this Scottish curse on Scottish outlaws to celebrate a broader ‘border reiver’ heritage in the region as a whole. And soon afterwards, a whole load of bad luck befell the area, which of course some people attributed to the cursing stone: serious floods, the football club was relegated, and foot-and-mouth disease. There was a debate in the council whether the boulder should be removed and destroyed, to try and lift the curse on the city. The Bishop of Carlisle even invited the Bishop of Glasgow to come down and formally end the curse, but he refused!

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“Naworth Castle” by Simon Ledingham; image licensed under Creative Commons, from CC Search.

Interview with Rhiannon Snaith

Our next MEMSA seminar will be given by Rhiannon Snaith, Durham University, entitled ‘”To the suretee, welfare and prosperitee of the king and alle his landes”: Royal Service, Reputation, and the Late Medieval Bishop’. The seminar will take place on Monday 20th January, in the World Heritage Visitor Centre, Durham. Turn up for tea & biscuits from 5.40pm, with Rhiannon’s paper beginning at 6pm. We spoke to Rhiannon about Durham, John of Gaunt, and Thomas Arundel , with a sneak preview of what she’ll be discussing in the seminar!

Tell us a bit yourself, where are you from?

I’m a County Durham native – I can remember so many school trips to Durham Cathedral, and I ended up writing my local history GCSE coursework on the cathedral’s architecture. Durham brings together a lot of the key components of the history of the north eas;, it’s a physical representation of the region’s heritage and I think that’s lovely. 

What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

I think Durham is a lovely example of the past and present existing together in a mutually beneficial way – and that’s exactly how it should be! There’s something incredibly homey about Durham – it’s so beautiful and atmospheric and, an added bonus for a city-hater like me, you’re only a stone’s throw away from some beautiful countryside which is perfect when you need to relax. 

If you could meet one person from the medieval period, who would it be?

People who know me are going to roll their eyes at this one, but John of Gaunt. He was such a…shall we say colourful? figure, especially based on what was written about him in the chronicles. His life also spans much of the period I’m interested in, and was involved in pretty much all the key events, and I think he’d be really interesting (if terrifying) to talk to. I’d have so many questions!

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on the reputations of the late medieval nobility, how those reputations were formed and spoken about, and the wider cultural and political ramifications of positive and negative reputation. 

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

My paper will focus on the role of royal service in the construction and manipulation of the clerical nobility between 1377 and 1437. We’ll be looking at figures like Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury who was noble both by virtue of his position as archbishop, but also by birth, which has some interesting implications for his reputation and how he was written about. Also, as part of my research I have been compiling some statistical analyses based on my primary sources which have allowed me to produce some pretty interesting graphs which I’m hoping to be able to share in my seminar. 

What are you interested in outside of your studies?

Anyone who knows me would say I’m more than a little obsessed with animals, especially dogs, rabbits and horses – I find spending time with them so soothing and really enjoy dog training – it’s incredibly rewarding. I’m also a keen crafter, and enjoy spending time in the countryside with my dog Varro, and my camera, and obviously, I love a good ruined castle!

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

This changes regularly! I think like a lot of people I really enjoy those sources that give you a little flash of human colour – something that just tickles you because it appeals to your sense of the ridiculous. I’m also quite a keen writer, so its also fun when you stumble across a source that gives you an idea for a story or two! I’ve even found a few of these in the parliament rolls, so never write a source off, you might be surprised what you can find!

Looking forward to your seminar, Rhiannon!

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Image: Coat of Arms of Henry Beaufort (Southwark Cathedral), via Wikimedia Commons.

Interview with Glen Taylor

Our next MEMSA seminar will be given by H. Glen Taylor, University of York. The seminar will take place on Monday 2nd December, in the World Heritage Visitor Centre, Durham. Turn up for tea & biscuits from 5.40pm, with Glen’s paper beginning at 6pm. We chatted to Glen about seventeenth-century philosophy, and a hint of what will be discussed in the seminar!

Tell us a bit yourself, where are you from?

In September 2018, I moved with my wife to England from the United States in order to pursue the PhD in History at the University of York. Prior to this, I had been living near Buffalo, New York and teaching History at the State University of New York at Fredonia. I am now in my second year of the programme, where I benefit from the supervision of both Dr Sophie Weeks, whose work on Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was the initial prompt for my application to the University of York, and Dr Mark Jenner, my TAP (Thesis Advisory Panel) supervisor.

What brought you to Durham?

I first learned of the MEMSA talks through my department. As Durham’s reputation in the field of early modern history is internationally established, I am thrilled to have been invited to participate in the Michaelmas seminars. Not least, Durham is a lovely city, and I am pleased to report that I have earned my sticker for climbing Durham Cathedral Tower!

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

Regarding my period of concentration – the first half of the seventeenth century – and the attendant Baconian discourses, I am particularly energised by the broad scope of novelty associated with this stage of English experimental philosophy. As I follow the chronological progression from Francis Bacon to Samuel Hartlib to Robert Boyle, I am fascinated by how the protocols for inductive scientific enquiry were drawn out of the epistemological aether by remarkable and driven individuals who esteemed the acquisition of knowledge as the apotheosis of the human experience. I take great pleasure in observing the genuine passion for intellectual and experimental pursuits which shaped proto-modern scientific methodology.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on the transmission of Francis Bacon’s Great Instauration through the decades between his death in 1626 and the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I will focus on Francis Bacon’s intent for the Great Instauration as it applied to the burgeoning discipline of experimental enquiry, especially with regard to the role of collective assent and consensus in the assessment of inquisitional validity. I will respond to contemporary historiography which holds that seventeenth-century experimental practice was dependent on the presence and authority of multiple, discriminating witnesses who bore testimony to the integrity of the methodology. My thesis asserts that Bacon’s works possessed a much greater longevity as the central philosophical and procedural touchstone of seventeenth-century experimental philosophy than is properly attributed or recognised. It further addresses his fundamental mistrust of consensus and collective assent as standards of inquisitional authority and, inversely, his advocacy of an unobstructed “conversation” between nature and the individual enquirer.

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

My current university career began at age 35, when I resumed pursuit of the Bachelor’s degree that I had postponed in my early 20s. At the time of my return, I was a working songwriter and performing musician (I still do both, but on my own terms). In that sense, I have already done what I might be doing were I not in academia!

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

So many! My current favourite text is Francis Bacon’s De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum (The Dignity and Advancement of Knowledge) first published in 1623, two years after his impeachment in Parliament and subsequent exit from public life. In this work, Bacon provides a concentrated schematic view of his program whereby the Interpretation of Nature is to be perfected not merely to accrue fruitful gadgets but to contribute to the greater historical corpus of philosophy.

Looking forward to your seminar, Glen!

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Portrait of Francis Bacon, by Paul van Somer I, 1617 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Interview with Hope Doherty

Our next MEMSA seminar will be given by Hope Doherty, Durham University. The seminar will take place on Monday 18th November, in the World Heritage Visitor Centre, Durham. Turn up for tea & biscuits from 5.40pm, with Hope’s paper beginning at 6pm. We chatted to Hope about medieval religion, the problematic Virgin Mary, and a hint of what she’ll be discussing in the seminar!

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

I’m originally from Barnsley, near Sheffield, but I moved to Cambridge when I was 18 to study for a BA in English Literature. I lived there until I moved to Durham to start my PhD last year.

What brought you to Durham?

By the time I was thinking about applying for a PhD, I had become fascinated by medieval experiences of illness and how these experiences were treated in literature. Durham’s Institute of Medical Humanities was what initially drew me to apply here, but generally the university’s emphasis on interdisciplinary study (especially with groups such as MEMSA!) was very appealing for me. And, being a Northerner, it’s nice to be back among trees and hills!

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

My favourite thing I think has to be the dense and logical patterning of religion, and therefore literature, in the European Middle Ages – any particular symbol will have numerous references, and probably eventually relates to a depiction you can find in stained glass, a manuscript illumination, or an apocryphal text. It makes reading – and literary criticism – a complex and intensely rewarding process in a way I haven’t found with other periods.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on the interaction between theology and illness, focusing on the Virgin Mary as a particularly medicinal presence in the late Middle Ages. Though there is much Marian iconography showcasing Mary’s ability to heal as a development of the Christus medicus idea, my work seeks to highlight where Mary is presented as a confused and troubled figure, and how these representations problematise her medical capability. I am investigating whether this is symptomatic of, or was a contribution to, the often exclusionary rhetoric surrounding medical care and its theological resonances in the Middle Ages more generally. It’s fascinating to learn how certain types of writing use theology to frame difficult experiences, such as mental illness and various types of stigmatisation. I’ve always been interested in the way certain conditions can be pathologised or ignored, what is thought to constitute medical care, and who is afforded a voice and agency regarding their experiences in medical situations. In the Middle Ages, theological frameworks complicate these dynamics even more, but they can also communicate remarkable strategies of thought from voices living and writing hundreds of years ago. I’m currently working on a chapter about Mary’s involvement in anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic writing in late medieval England.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

In my seminar, I’m going to take the much-read poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and talk about how Mary’s presence on Gawain’s shield, and the varying extent to which Mary is present in the poem, problematises the way we read the girdle – especially when  the girdle can be seen in the text more often than is usually supposed. I’ll be drawing heavily on Norman Simms’s account of Gawain as the work of a Jewish poet, in his 2002 book Sir Gawain and the Knight of the Green Chapel. 

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

Either something to do with libraries and archives, or running some kind of arts & crafts shop.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

Piers Plowman! It’s so endlessly complex and wonderful. It’s been inspiring passionate interpretations for centuries! Even after the Reformation, people continued to read it, with just a few “Catholic” phrases crossed out – we still have manuscripts and print editions that show this!

Looking forward to your seminar, Hope!

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Image: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, c.1400 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Interview with James Taffe

Our next MEMSA seminar will be given by James Taffe, Durham University. The seminar will take place on Monday 4th November, in the World Heritage Visitor Centre, Durham. Turn up for tea & biscuits from 5.40pm, with James’s paper beginning at 6pm. We chatted to James about Henry VIII’s wives and servants, the marvels and frustrations of working with manuscripts, and a sneak preview of the seminar!

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

My name is James, I am originally from Birmingham, where I lived with my family until I moved to London to study early modern history. I am now a third-year PhD student in the Department of History at Durham, though my interest in history began at a very young age. One of my earliest memories is printing out the portraits of Henry VIII’s six wives with my Mum and clumsily pritt-sticking them to A3 cardboard for a school project.

What brought you to Durham?

Admittedly, I did not know where Durham was, what it was like, its history, or even anything at all before I moved here for study! It began when I wrote to Dr. Natalie Mears (now my supervisor), because of her work on the Tudor court and its politics, about my research and potential thesis.

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

The nature of the evidence – I find that it is often frustratingly, but tantalisingly, inadequate – means that there can be many different interpretations to the same narrative.

What does your research focus on?

My research examines the queen’s household in England between 1527 and 1547, investigating the impact of Henry VIII’s marital instability on the careers of its servants.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I am focusing on two manuscripts, the account books of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, but specifically how these accounts can reconstruct the queen’s household, and facilitate discussion of what it meant to be a servant to the queen in this period.

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

I would be a greengrocer.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

The Devonshire Manuscript, an anthology of courtly verse circulated by women in Anne Boleyn’s household. There is a printed edition, edited by Elizabeth Heale, that I would highly recommend!

Looking forward to your seminar, James!800px-Anne_of_Cleves,_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger

Image: Anne of Cleves, by Hans Holbein the Younger, c.1539 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Interview with Tim Wingard

Our second seminar of Michaelmas term will be given by Tim Wingard, University of York. The seminar will take place on Monday 21st October, in the World Heritage Visitor Centre, Durham. Turn up for tea & biscuits from 5.40pm, with Tim’s paper beginning at 6pm. We chatted to Tim about the supernatural, medieval animals, and a hint of what will be discussed in the seminar!

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

I was born in Cologne, Germany, but I grew up in south-east London. Aside from a one-year break in 2015-6, I’ve been living in York since 2011 when I started my BA in History.

What brought you to the North?

I have to admit that my initial reason for choosing to study at York wasn’t entirely academic! I had a bit of a sheltered adolescence, so I wanted to get far away from London. I wanted to live in a city that wasn’t too big and intimidating but still had lots going on, and York fitted the bill. I stayed on to do an MA in Medieval History because I had fallen in love with the department and wanted to study more there. In the end, I chose to do my PhD here as well (although migrating from the History Department to the Centre for Medieval Studies) because I really liked the methodological approaches of my supervisors (Drs Jeremy Goldberg and Nicola McDonald) and thought that they were a perfect fit for the kind of research that I wanted to do.

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

I love the strangeness of the medieval and the intellectual challenges that you face in trying to understand it! For me, researching the middle ages means trying to get into the heads of people who had completely alien ways of thinking about the world and overcoming your own biases as an observer from the twenty-first century.

What does your research focus on?

I look at how people thought about human sexuality through the cultural and philosophical lens of animals and nature in the later middle ages (1250-1500). My thesis uses an interdisciplinary mix of methodologies and sources from the disciplines of History and Literature.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?  

In this seminar, I’ll be talking about how two influential thirteenth-century authors – Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas – drew upon Aristotle’s writings on animal sexual behaviour in order to form their own definitions of ‘natural’ intercourse.

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

During my PhD, I’ve been doing a lot of work with public engagement, communications and social media, including a placement at a major heritage organisation. I would love to work in a role that used those kind of skills – perhaps something in marketing, public relations or outreach, ideally still within academia or heritage but maybe in another industry altogether. I’m currently developing that option more seriously as an alternative career plan for if/when I decide to leave academia.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

This is probably the least controversial opinion I could possibly have as a medievalist, but the Lais of Marie de France are my absolute favourites. I love the balancing of supernatural and human themes and different literary influences in the texts and the way in which the personality of Marie herself comes through in her writing.

Looking forward to your seminar, Tim!

Interview with Helen Clifford

Our first seminar of the 2019-20 year will be given by Helen Clifford. The seminar will take place on Monday 7th October, in the World Heritage Visitor Centre, Durham. Turn up for tea & biscuits from 5.40pm, with Helen’s paper beginning at 6pm. We chatted to Helen about the experience of drama, situating Shakespeare in time and history, and a sneak preview of what she’ll discuss in her seminar!

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

I’m from Watford originally, just north west of London. I came to Durham for my undergraduate degree, then had a brief hiatus in Stratford-upon-Avon at the Shakespeare Institute where I did my MA, before I was lured back here for the PhD.

What brought you to Durham? 

Mainly my supervisors – my project is quite specific in its combination of theory and early modern drama, and I’m lucky to have two real experts in those areas. Doing my undergrad in Durham meant that I knew the department already as well so it was nice to come back.

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

For my purposes, I love that Shakespeare and early modern drama is still so widely performed, and that those plays still feel so fresh and alive. It’s also brilliant that the big Shakespearean roles are seen as such a milestone for actors, so you get to see some of the most talented people working today doing them. I’ll be talking about three of my favourites in my paper!

What does your research focus on?

I work on the twentieth century Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, looking at his writing on Shakespeare and on drama more generally. My thesis aims to construct a Bakhtinian aesthetics of drama and use that to consider Shakespeare performance through time.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?  

In this seminar I’ll be talking about Bakhtin on individualism in the major tragedies, with Richard III as my main text. I’ll look at the soliloquy and how it’s performed in some recent productions of Richard III.

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

I’m not sure – I think I’d like to be involved in education somehow, perhaps in the education department of one of the big UK theatres.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

I’m actually really into Richard III at the moment, partly because of a production I saw earlier this year (which I’ll be discussing in the seminar). We were lucky enough to get front row tickets and Tom Mothersdale was just extraordinary as Richard. My favourite Shakespeare play changes all the time though, which is tricky because it’s a question I often get asked!

Looking forward to your seminar, Helen!

Interview with Kate Foy

Our next seminar will be taken by Kate Foy on Monday, 4 March. The seminar will be starting at 18:00 in the World Heritage Visitors’ Site (with tea and biscuits from 17:40!). Below we talk with Kate about canals, liminality, and Stuart drama.

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

I am from West Bromwich, just north of  Birmingham. As part of the Black Country, it is an area akin to Durham in its pride in its industrial heritage.

What brought you to Durham?

I came to Durham as an undergrad. I fell in love with its high skies and wide open spaces. Having been used to a city with more miles of canals than Venice, Durham and her riverbanks became my new home.

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

Most exciting to me about the medieval to early modern period is the sense of liminality. At the transitional stage, emergent modernity stood on shifting sands, I’m interested in the way values shifted on this changing ground.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on the female voice in early Stuart tragic drama. I’m interested in the way the playwrights use their voices to explore challenging questions to the status quo.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I will be focusing on the characterisation of Queen Marpisa in James Shirley’s “The Politician” (1639).

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

Were I not involved in education, I would probably be a librarian like my brother. Perhaps this is evidence of the fact we didn’t have a TV growing up!

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

Ouch. Painful decision time. I guess it would have to be Kyd’s “The Spanish Tragedy”. At 17, I saw an RSC production at The Swan that reshaped my understanding of the power of drama. Having said that, I have fallen in love with Shirley’s tragedies…and everybody loves “The Duchess of Malfi”.