Interview with Louise Garner

Our next seminar will be taken by Louise Garner on 20th November 2017. As usual tea and biscuits will be served at 17:40 with the seminar starting at 18:00. Below we talked to Louise about living abroad, medieval manuscripts, and working between Chemistry and History.

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

I’m from Leicestershire, but haven’t lived there for a long time. Before I left Britain I lived in Pendle, near the Witches. After Lancashire I moved to The Falkland Islands, and then lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for four years and then lived most recently in Kathmandu, Nepal for a few years.

What brought you to Durham?

Moving back to the UK from living abroad was like a blank canvas, I could go anywhere and do anything! I decided to indulge a passion and study for Masters in Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Durham. I’d been to Durham as a visitor and liked it, and the university setting and expertise seemed perfect.

I intended to stay just for my masters’ year, but ended up buying a house here and starting a PhD.

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

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t drawn to the high drama – Kings, Queens, executions, battles, Viking raids, plague etc.

Manuscripts have captured my heart though. The more I find out the more I realise there is to know. I’m really enjoying learning about how manuscripts were made, from preparing parchment from animal skins, through to the pricking and ruling, the copying, scribal practice and how scriptoria operated. Of course pigment preparation is a key feature of my research and I’m enjoying mixing up pigments in the laboratory.

What does your research focus on?

My current research is on non-destructive identification of pigments used in illuminated manuscripts. However, the knowledge of which pigments were used means nothing without context so although I’m based in the Chemistry department I am also in History – I have a supervisor in each camp! I’m delighted to be able to utilise my physical sciences degree and my history based masters together.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

My MEMSA talk is an overview of my research so far, how and why ‘Team Pigment’ do what we do and what we’ve learned. In particular I focus on The York Gospels, a manuscript made around 1020 in Canterbury, as a case study.

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

I’m a qualified teacher, and before I left to come to Durham I was a head teacher. So I’d probably be teaching somewhere, probably in South East Asia, perhaps in Myanmar or Hong Kong. Although I hear the Seychelles has a lovely little school…

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

I guess I have to say the Lindisfarne Gospels are my favourite for their history, beauty and the amazing craftsmanship that went into them. Manuscripts are a crystallisation of the skills and trade of the time– animal husbandry, scribal practice, parchment making, artistry, pigment and ink preparation, trade routes from Afghanistan and the continent. The more I learn the more fascinating they become.


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