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.

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