English Professor Isabel Rivers elected a fellow of the prestigious Ecclesiastical History Society

Isabel Rivers, Professor of Eighteenth-Century English Literature and Culture in the School of English and Drama, has been elected a Fellow of the Ecclesiastical History Society.

The Society’s aims are to foster interest in, and to advance the study of, all areas of the history of the Christian Churches. The number of Fellows is strictly limited to twenty-five of the world’s leading experts in the field. Professor Rivers has been recognised by the Society for her energetic commitment to eighteenth-century religious history throughout her career.

Professor Rivers has worked at Queen Mary for 12 years and recently helped to establish The Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English.

She said:

‘It is a great honour to have been elected a member of the Society, alongside world-famous theologians and religious historians including Peter Brown (Princeton), Diarmaid MacCulloch (Oxford), and Rowan Williams (Cambridge). My research is interdisciplinary, and focuses on literature and religion, intellectual and religious history, and the history of the book in the long eighteenth century.’

Find out more about Isabel’s research

SED’s Reaction to National Student Survey 2016: The university experience is so much more than statistics

The NSS results are in, and they are very good for English and Drama at Queen Mary. In Drama we scored 96% overall satisfaction, and in English 91% for the same, both up from last year.

But what does all this mean for you?

For the stattos out there, that places Drama in the top 10 nationally, 2nd in the Russell Group, and 3rd in London. English is 2nd in the Russell Group in London. Both departments also did really well on the question asking students how satisfied they are with teaching: 98% in Drama and 94% in English.

We are very grateful to all the third year students who filled in the National Student Survey. We take the survey seriously (especially when we do well!), but statistics don’t tell the whole story. There’s so much more to a degree in English or Drama —or one of our joint programmes. Our highest priority is students, their education, and their experience on the degree.

Students need high quality, cutting edge teaching delivered by top researchers in the discipline. But they also need to feel safe, cared for, and supported. They need a space where they can learn about our subjects, and also grow as people, so that they become critical and engaged citizens prepared for the wider world. University is about so much more than what can be measured in the statistics of a survey.

‘A Tempest in Rio’ Documentary is now on BBC iPlayer

English Professor Jerry Brotton has written and presented a BBC documentary about Shakespeare in Brazil in the run up to the Rio Olympics this year.

 

Listen online here

 

or Watch a Preview…

 

Here’s the blurb from the BBC iPlayer Page:

 

On the eve of the Olympics, Shakespeare’s mix of sex, politics and intrigue plays out in Rio. 400 years after Shakespeare’s death, his plays have come to Brazil and are being played to packed houses in front of enthralled audiences who respond instinctively to their passionate mix of political corruption, violence, sex, death and the supernatural.

This summer, a unique collaboration between international directors, academics and Brazilian actors has brought one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, The Tempest – in which he writes about the ‘brave new world’ of the Americas – to Rio de Janeiro.

This programme hears from Suellen Carvalho, who will play Miranda in The Tempest. High in the hills overlooking Copacabana she explains how she turned her back on the drug gangs to take up Shakespearean acting. Her brother was killed in gang warfare and so her family has suffered from the violence that plagues the city of Rio. It was Shakespeare that helped her escape. “I thought the language of Shakespeare was very difficult at first”, she says, “But when I heard Shakespeare being spoken by black actors from the favelas (shanty towns) of Rio then it’s another language. I thought, I can do that too.”

For Suellen it has been an extraordinary journey. As a black actress she had no hope of playing the part that she saw as exclusively for white performers. “When I was told I would play Miranda I was amazed! Black actors in Brazil are normally given the roles of the house servant, prostitute or drug dealer.”

Secret East London Map

East London is one of the most diverse and culturally rich areas in the world. We’ve made this east London map to help you discover the hidden gems that can get you closer to your ideal career, meet new friends and have fun while you study or work with us.

Did we miss a hidden gem? Email us or tweet @QMULsed with your favourite place in East (ish) London and we’ll add to the map.

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Modern in the Medieval Classroom

 

From 10th-15th July 2016 over 500 medievalists descended upon Queen Mary for the 20th biennial New Chaucer Society Congress – you can read more about the society and the congress here. This lively and engaging conference provided medievalists with the opportunity to hear hot-off-the-press research and working papers in a range of diverse fields – from manuscript studies to ecocriticism.

However, it was also a great forum for discussing pedagogy. Many researchers are dedicated to improving their teaching style and practice – and medievalists have the extra tricky task of convincing students unfamiliar with the time period that Chaucer and Marie de France are just as exciting as Shakespeare and Joyce.

 

Opportunities for forging international dialogues about pedagogy – and for discussing honestly and openly the successes and the unforeseen hiccups along the way – are relatively limited. With that in mind, I wanted to share some thoughts inspired by a roundtable I attended: ‘Medieval and Modern in the Classroom’, organised and chaired by Katharine Breen from Northwestern University in the States.

 

The panel was interested in considering how modern literature and media can be productively brought into dialogue with medieval literature and a number of scholars were invited to share their teaching models and practices. At her university, Stephanie Batkie tackles the inevitable ‘narrative of progression towards the modern’ which a survey paper can produce by inverting it – rather than beginning with Beowulf and ending with Paradise Lost she now begins with the Renaissance and works backwards. Kara Crawford regularly pairs Frankenstein with Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, to help students engage with questions about multiplicity of voice and unreliable narrators.

 

Sarah Townsend urges her students to identify the parallels between medieval mystery plays (which focus on events from the Bible, particularly from the life and death of Christ) and modern retellings of the Passion of Christ, such as the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Her students only start to perceive the energy and comedy of the mystery plays when she encourages them to verbalise the language and perform the plays with gesture and props. This year, her students performed ‘Joseph’s Troubles About Mary’ with some modern updates to help communicate the play’s message across time – Mary, it was decided, should be reading a bodice ripper when Joseph confronts her about her pregnancy.

 

Whilst all these ideas had me scribbling furiously, there is one common worry amongst teachers of medieval literature, particularly at undergraduate level: will the modern supersede the medieval in such models? If you teach Frankenstein alongside The Canterbury Tales then will students leave the seminar room believing that the medieval can only be interesting if read through the lens of the modern? Modern books, films and TV series are a tried-and-tested hook for getting students more interested in medieval modules but will it create the impression that the modern, in some sense, does the medieval better? A number of potential solutions became clear during the roundtable presentations and subsequent discussion.

 

First of all, transparency is key if the modern is going to be successfully brought into the medieval classroom. It is worth checking in regularly with students – to find out why they think you are asking them to look at the modern alongside the medieval and to get a litmus test of their attitude towards the older literature. This can help pinpoint any potential problems early on, so that the necessary tweaks can be made.

 

Secondly, the medieval should always be given room to breathe, even when the modern is an integral component of the course. This model is demonstrated effectively at Queen Mary by Alfred Hiatt and Jaclyn Rajsic with the module Arthurian Literature from Geoffrey of Monmouth to Game of Thrones. Whilst a number of post-medieval manifestations of Arthurian literature are considered on this module, the first chunk is dedicated to the medieval. This gives students a chance to fall in love with the original Arthurian legends – and maybe even to miss them when the course moves forward in time.

 

Finally, ‘relevance’ needn’t be overstressed. Whilst it is always worthwhile to consider the parallels between past societies and literatures and those of the present day, the weird and wonderful aspects of the Middle Ages can be just as engaging. Millions of viewers tune into Game of Thrones for the dragons and white walkers as much as for the human relationships and politics. Similarly, the werewolves, demons and superhuman saints in the Middle Ages are sure to make for exciting seminars.

 

Find out more about our English programmes (including the modules Hetta will be teaching)

Professor Julia Boffey on the 20th Biennial Congress of the New Chaucer Society

From 10-15  July 2016 QM is hosting the 20th Biennial Congress of the New Chaucer Society, a forum for teachers and scholars of Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400).

Often called ‘the father of English poetry’ because he was one of the first literary authors to write extensively in English, Chaucer was born in London and had close connections with the city, living in a house above Aldgate for some years. His best-known work, The Canterbury Tales, consists of stories supposedly told on a journey made to Canterbury by pilgrims who meet at an inn in Southwark, just south of the Thames.

The New Chaucer Society is an international body, with members from North America, the UK and Europe, Asia and Australasia. Its 2016 Congress will bring together over 500 members for four days of lectures, papers, workshops, and discussion panels. The activities include poetry readings (Lavinia Greenlaw will be reading from her latest book of poetry, A Double Sorrow, which imaginatively recreates Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde); an evening of medieval music by Opus Anglicanum; Patience Agbabi talking about ‘multilingual Chaucer’; and a performance of a medieval play, The Pride of Life, by a theatre company from Toronto (Poculi Ludique Societas).  The paper sessions include talks on torture and violence in the Middle Ages, on digital approaches to working with medieval manuscripts and texts, on Chaucer and medieval science, and on global Chaucer.

Medieval Algate
Medieval Algate

Mile End resonates with Chaucerians on a number of counts.  On the main eastern approach route to London, it was close to Aldgate and Chaucer’s place of residence in the 1370s and 1380s.  In 1381 it was the location of King Richard II’s encounter with a large company of Essex rebels involved in what has become known as The Peasants’ Revolt. Queen Mary’s own community of twenty-first century medievalists looks forward to welcoming Congress participants and to introducing them to a part of London rich in Chaucerian associations.

Find out more about the event

Register for the event

The Henry Crabb Robinson Project

To explore the new Project website, please click here.

For much of the nineteenth century, Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867) was a ubiquitous figure in London literary life. Sociable Sunday breakfasts at his home in Russell Square were famous, as readers of A.S. Byatt’s novel Possession know. The evening might find the bachelor Robinson at his club, the Athenaeum in Pall Mall. He would often take a very long walk to call on an old friend, such as the novelist Mary Hays in Greenwich. As he walked, he read. And whatever his destination, Robinson talked. Staples of his conversation were the rights of religious dissenters, the abolition of slavery, the genius of Wordsworth and Goethe – and the inability of these two great poets to understand each other. He had many personal memories to recount. If he was less inclined to discuss the provincial, dissenting education he had ‘suffered’ in Bury St Edmunds and Colchester, he would linger on his trip to Germany in 1800-1805. There he had studied at the University of Jena, rapidly becoming the foremost British mediator of the Kantian revolution in German philosophy. In 1804 he had given private lectures on this topic to Madame de Staël in Weimar – now rediscovered and published after 200 years. Then, as the first foreign correspondent of The Times, Robinson had reported on the Spanish Peninsular War from Altona. Travelling under a false German passport as ‘Heinrich Robinson’, he narrowly escaped capture by Napoleon’s troops. He published translations and articles, aspiring to success as a ‘literator’. It was as a solicitor, however, that he made a comfortable living, and gained the social status that enabled him to promote the foundation of the University of London. And almost every night, the indefatigable Robinson described and reflected on his experiences in his diary. Robinson took great care of his own manuscripts, leaving them to Dr Williams’s Library, of which he was a trustee.

The Henry Crabb Robinson Project will publish Robinson’s most important manuscript works with Oxford University Press, both in hardback and on Oxford Scholarly Editions Online. The series editors are Timothy Whelan (Georgia Southern) and James Vigus (QMUL). The Reminiscences, one of the great nineteenth-century autobiographies, is uniquely self-effacing: Robinson arranges the account of his life around his descriptions of the people he encountered and befriended. The enormous Diary (from 1811), including the travel diaries, will be edited in subsequent phases of the Project. The OUP edition will replace all previous editions, which were radically selective. The Early Diaries (pre-1811) are being edited by Philipp Hunnekuhl (Hamburg). A team of special subject area editors, assembled to reflect Robinson’s polymathic interests, will contribute to an edited collection entitled ‘All Our Knowledge is Reminiscence’: Essays on the Reminiscences of Henry Crabb Robinson. Editing and reflecting on Robinson’s prolific manuscript writing is necessarily a team effort.

Friends often upbraided Robinson for his excessive modesty. He spoke out on behalf of many writers and their works, but too rarely for his own. Sara Coleridge, daughter of Robinson’s friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge and one of his many female correspondents, remarked to her diary on his ‘talent and quickness’. My own path has distantly echoed that of Robinson: I worked for three years at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, and have settled in London. This experience has given me a first-hand opportunity to admire Robinson’s achievements as a polylingual producer of ‘informal’ texts. No-one better absorbed, adapted to and embodied the spirit of his age. This unobtrusively brilliant writer has left his 21st-century editors with a challenge, in the best sense.  

From January 2016, the Project will be affiliated with the new Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English.

James Vigus, j.vigus@qmul.ac.uk

Humans of the SED: Bridget Escolme, Part I – Authenticity in Early Modern Drama

I am constantly surprised at how old-fashioned some newspaper reviewers are. I’ve done a few cuts of Shakespeare texts, as a dramaturg, and with Hamlet it’s great because there are different versions of it printed in Shakespeare’s time, so you can use 400 year old editions of the play to help you cut it. One of Hamlet’s soliloquies is only there in one text, and because the director I was working with wanted a shorter version, that was one of the easy ones to cut. The Daily Telegraph reviewer was outraged! But given one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries thought it was all right one soliloquy down, I thought we could cut it if we liked! (And Shakespeare’s dead, so he won’t know…)

Bridget Escolme

Quite a lot of reviewers have a strictly realist idea of what theatre should be like. The idea that you can’t have in early modern performances people of different racial backgrounds, different ages, different sexes, seems daft to me. If you want to be really literal, you’d have to have to cast Measure for Measure with Viennese actors only. Those plays were made for an all male company, and no one cried: “What’s that young man doing playing that young woman?”. The actors told the story; women weren’t allowed on stage, so you told the story using men. Each casting is going to produce different meanings, and that’s fascinating.

The only claim for authenticity that I would make for cross-casting is that the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries were created for what we might now think of as highly meta-theatrical spaces. They weren’t made for theatres in which you sat in the dark and shut up apart from the odd laugh, and peered into a space that was pretending to be real. These were spaces where everyone could see each other, whether by daylight or candlelight, and the actor could just turn around and talk to the audience. So the idea that somehow the actor would erase his presence as an actor is quite silly; at the Globe reconstruction today, too, if an actor were to talk to him or herself for too long, it would seem odd and dull – , because the audience are palpably there.

England and the Continent: Reflecting on National Boundaries

At the moment I’m working out how many double chocolate cookies to order for a symposium I’m organizing this month called National Boundaries in Early Modern Literary Studies. The event will gather early career researchers from across the UK, France, Italy, Holland, Germany and Croatia to make new friends and talk about how we all might work better together. Planning and participating in the symposium is helping me to think more about what it means to do ‘English’.

The Renaissance was a multilingual place, but we often study the period one language at a time. As a graduate student I ran into a problem that people studying pre-modern English literature often face: that in general the writers we’re reading had language skills that are much better than ours.

In sixteenth- and seventeeth-century England any boy who went to grammar school, or girl who was privately tutored, would study Latin intensively and might also have picked up some Greek, or learned other vernacular languages through phrase books and foreign travel. Latin and French were international languages. English, which pretty much no-one on the Continent spoke, was not.

When I chose to study French and German to A-Level, and then picked English for an undergraduate degree, I sort of knew that studying languages alongside English made a useful combination (e.g. for learning grammar). But I hadn’t realized how foreign languages could expand my sense of what studying English is.

I ended up writing a doctoral thesis on British responses to a sixteenth-century French poet called Guillaume de Saluste Du Bartas. Now my research has developed to the point where I routinely work on Scottish, French and Latin sources, and need to seek out advice and discussion from people with different expertise. So there’s a real practical value in being able to chat with colleagues from a range of different disciplines and backgrounds over cookies.

The British Academy, who have provided generous funding for September’s symposium, have been running a languages programme to promote the value of language skills for the humanities and social sciences. Queen Mary’s English department is a natural home for multilingual English studies since there are several research groups that are demonstrating how knowing a language, any language, besides English is a valuable asset for studying English.

There’s the team at Global Shakespeare who are examining the Bard as a global cultural phenomenon whose plays and poems have been translated into every major language and performed and adapted in many theatrical traditions. The Centre for Early Modern Mapping, News and Networks investigates international communication networks in early modern Europe. And the department has numerous members working on postcolonial studies and world literatures who are examining how English culture became a global culture as it came into contact with other languages.

Thinking about England’s cultural relationship with the Continent is especially timely as the debate intensifies ahead of the coming referendum about whether we should draw a thicker national boundary between Britain and the European Union. One job for English studies is to improve our understanding of how far and in what ways this island’s cultures have, for better and worse reasons, intermixed with other cultures. Reading across languages helps us hear the voices that went into making our language and literature in the present.

Grace in Literatures in English: Conference Report

On Friday, 19 June, delegates from the UK, from Switzerland, and from Portugal arrived at Queen Mary to explore different forms and concepts of grace from the early modern period to contemporary literatures. The idea for a conference on Grace in Literatures in English was sparked during the planning stages of the 2014/15 Postgraduate Research Seminar Series. The intellectually highly stimulating discussion was ample reward for many months of preparation, endless e-mail threads, and some last minute panic.

Panels included papers on theoretical conceptions of grace, amongst them Kleist’s and Schiller’s, as well as on grace in Shakespeare, Beckett, Joyce, Frank O’Hara, Edwin Denby, J. M. Coetzee, and Geoffrey Hill. Our two keynote speakers, Ita Mac Carthy from the University of Birmingham and Susan Jones from the University of Oxford, offered perspectives on the notion of grace in Italian renaissance culture and on how grace was rewritten, or rechoreographed, in the twentieth century.

The range of papers showed that grace is a term, notion, or concept that means diversely different things in different periods and genres as well as for different writers and critics. This made for a fruitful exchange, during which explorations of forms of monarchical address in the Early Modern period entered into conversation with eighties dance videos. It became apparent throughout the day that the discussion of grace cannot be contained within one art form but that grace needs exploration as much in the symmetry of prose, as in geometrical shapes, the dance of people, puppets, and even machines.

At the end of the day we had perhaps not found grace but are confident that there is much room and enthusiasm for further exploration of this multivalent term.

Tweets from the day can be found under #GraceinLits. A programme for the day can be found here.

My trip to the ‘Zoo (or: how to get the most out of an international conference)

On Wednesday 13th May, I trundled off to Heathrow airport for my first ever trip to America and my first ever trip to an International Conference, where I would be both presenting and chairing. The International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University is the biggest medieval conference on the annual calendar. It takes place somewhere called Kalamazoo (‘Zoo, for short) which no one but medievalists and my Granny has ever heard of – it apparently features in a Glenn Miller song, (I’ve Got A Gal In) Kalamazoo, which she sang down the phone to me before I left for my travels. 3,000 scholars descend on this small town every year – even the security guards at the airport knew about us – and the congress features over 550 sessions of papers, panel discussions, round tables, workshops, and performances, as well as a really amazing exhibit hall full to the brim with books. For a PhD student with little experience of such a big conference the prospect was more than a little daunting. So I thought I’d share my thoughts on what (not) to do to get the most out of an international conference.

Be organised!

Okay, something of an obvious one to start, but by far the most important lesson I learned from my K’zoo experience was to plan ahead, both socially and academically. All your bibliography gathered in one place is an excellent opportunity to meet your academic heroes. But when you’re at one of the biggest conferences in your field, don’t just assume you’ll be able to get chatting with them and then go for a spontaneous coffee. I found that most people had been booked up by other interested parties weeks, even months in advance. So if there’s someone you really want to speak with then drop them an email before the conference to make sure you can secure some time with them!

Similarly, don’t be that person frantically trying to print off your paper moments before you’re due to deliver it. Even if the conference venue is geared up for these last minute panics, things can still go wrong and the unnecessary stress might overshadow the moment you’ve travelled all that way for: to present your research to people from all over the world, who are interested in the same thing! If you have your paper ready to go before the conference begins then you can spend your time enjoying the talks, rather than skipping that really useful panel in order to make last minute changes or finish writing your conclusion.

Know where you’re going

The Western Michigan campus, where the conference was being held, was absolutely huge – so big that shuttle buses had been organised to take participants between various buildings. I must have got lost at least three times and going to the room where I would be presenting the day before was a small step that made the talk itself less stressful. No one wants to arrive two minutes before, flustered and hot brandishing a memory stick wildly only to find out there isn’t actually a projector in the room.

Be genuine

Everyone talks about ‘networking’ when you go to a big conference. Regardless of one’s opinion on the concept it goes without saying that these events are a great place to meet like-minded people, to find out who is working in a similar area to you and to have a fangirl/boy moment when you run into the professor who has written your favourite academic book. All over the conference postgrad students were launching themselves at more established academics, proffering business cards (I didn’t have any of these, a decision I’m very comfortable with). With this in mind, I decided it was best to only approach people if I had actually read and engaged with their work (not just because they were a ‘big name’) or if I wanted to talk to them about their paper. People could sense who was being genuine and who was just ticking names off a list – taking this approach might mean fewer conversations, but hopefully longer and more meaningful ones!

Socialise

After a very tedious journey to the conference (including a missed connection and an unexpected night in Chicago) all I wanted to do was curl up in my room and watch Grey’s Anatomy. But some of the best connections I made at the conference were in the cafeteria, at conference dinners, or wine hours. I can’t pretend that I had any intellectual conversations at the infamous K’zoo ‘dance’ but watching a bunch of medievalists doing the YMCA and then getting down to Beyonce’s Single Ladies was not to be missed.

Embrace Social Media

Twitter and Facebook aren’t for everyone, but an international conference is one place where I think they’re genuinely useful. I could avoid a huge phone bill texting people by checking Twitter and Facebook to find out where everyone was meeting/to hear more about the social and academic events going on through live tweeting. On a less serious note it also became a useful outlet for expressing opinions on the dismal, monastic dormitories us students were all staying in, rooms which would not have been out of place in a prison drama. Next time I’m taking a sleeping bag…

 

“The moves may change, but the groove remains”: Old Men Grooving and the Joy of Dance

I seem to exist in two utterly different worlds. My name is Bret Jones. I am a PhD student in the Drama Department at Queen Mary. I am also a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent with the dance group Old Men Grooving (OMG), a group of older guys who are reclaiming dance and getting back our groove. This was not a designed career move. We had been put together for an internet commercial for Christmas jumpers for a national retailer. The next thing I knew, the video had gone viral. Something about the incongruity of older guys – ‘dads’ – doing a form of Hip Hop seemed to have resonated. The decision to go on Britain’s Got Talent was unexpected. One of the original guys became injured, and we got a new member who was a friend of one of the existing group. We all had some kind of dance background, in clubs, or competitions, or a bit of performing. Some of the group danced in Hip Hop clubs in the 1980s and 1990s, when many of the moves you see in these young dance crews were invented and developed. What is often missing is what we can bring – the ‘feel’, the ‘groove’. We dance because the music tells us to. The groove is who we are.

Of course, Britain’s Got Talent plunges us into the very depths of popular culture, but what is clear is just how complex and rich this culture – musically, kinaesthetically, and emotionally – actually is. It has been three weeks since our audition was broadcast, and the YouTube video has reached over 15 million hits:

We’ve had to jump on board the Facebook wagon to help spread the word. After all, Britain’s Got Talent does require audience support. The ‘feel good’ factor that seems to be very much a part of the response is actually a connection to something very profound within people. The younger audiences seem to like ‘Dad dancing’ done by guys who actually can dance and know how to express our own groove. The older audiences seem to identify with that love of dance that they once had, but that never really died. It’s still there. We’ve even created a little ‘Dad Dance’ that people can learn and join in with us:

The Anglo-American culture seems to relegate dance to the young, but this is not true in other cultures. We, in OMG, remember what it was like to dance in clubs and what that dancing meant to us as individuals, but also to the larger community. Dancing can help bond us, as well as be a means of personal expression. We have at times been humbled by the responses. We recently had a comment by a woman who lives in chronic pain, but who said that we had helped to lift her spirits. Yes, we are out there to have fun, but to have our dancing touch people in profound ways has been very moving.

My own dance background is in older forms like American rhythm tap and Lindy Hop, Swing, etc. However, this is directly related to later forms of African American dance, such as Hip Hop. Still, it has been a learning curve as a dancer. As hard as that has been, it has also been a joy. That, I think, lies at the heart of it. We are reclaiming dance as part of who we were and as part of who we still are. The moves may change over time, but the groove remains. We feel as young as ever when we dance, and so do the people who watch us. Unlike some of the young dance crews, we don’t dance at the audience. We share our joy with them; and they share their surprise and joy with us. We are both equally validated. This has engaged both body and soul, and although the body may ache at times, the soul is soaring. We need the support of all people, young and old, so that we can continue to reclaim dance for everyone, to make dancing part of our own continuing development as human beings, to embody and to share joy. In the end, it’s about joy.

Video: Digital Humanities Lecture – Jonathan Hope, ‘Books in space: hyper-dimensional reading’

On April 29th 2015, Professor Jonathan Hope (Strathclyde) delivered our Annual Digital Humanities Lecture on ‘Books in space: hyper-dimensional reading’. The lecture can be watched in full below:

Digital tools allow us to ‘read’ vastly more text than any human could manage in a lifetime. They also allow us to make comparisons between texts, genres, and periods based on projections of those books into multi-dimensional spaces. Some have hailed the advent of ‘culturomics’ – but what kind of ‘reading’ is this, and how can we ‘read’ spaces which are beyond the imaginative capacity of human minds? I’ll consider the promise, and the opportunities, of digital methods applied to large collections of texts – and I’ll also consider how these tools and methods might change the nature of our object of study. Most of my examples will be drawn from Shakespeare and the Early Modern period.

Jonathan Hope is Professor of Literary Linguistics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. His research has consistently attempted to bring insights and techniques from linguistics to bear on literature. He has published Shakespeare’s Grammar, a systematic descriptive grammar of Shakespeare’s language, aimed at editors and literary scholars, and Shakespeare and Language, which represents the next step in this process, as it attempts to historicise concepts of language (now and in Shakespeare’s time).

In the Digital Humanities, he has been working since 2003 collaboratively with Michael Witmore and researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in experimenting with the use of a computerised text analysis program, Docuscope, on Shakespeare’s texts. In 2012, he was invited by the Folger Shakespeare Library to direct a Summer Institute in Digital Humanities, funded by the NEH. The Institute brought together 20 Renaissance scholars, at varying stages of their careers, and with varying amounts of digital humanities experience, to the Folger for three weeks, to work with an outstanding group of visiting faculty on the practicalities and, most importantly, the theorisation of digital humanities in research into the Renaissance. The second iteration of this Institute will take place summer 2015.

His project, Visualising English Print brings together computer scientists and literary scholars as partners. It will break new ground in computational science, developing new techniques that better support humanist thinking. They aim to innovate in the literary sphere, showing how the introduction of computational thinking and the new tools they develop for applying it can be used to lead to new understandings of literature, language, and their development.

Tips from Prize-Winners

We are delighted to announce that three of our academics have recently been recognised in the QMSU’s Teaching Awards. Dr Natalie Pollard won the Postgraduate Teaching Award (for her teaching on the MA module ‘Forms of Modernism’); Professor Julia Boffey won the Postgraduate Research Supervisor of the Year Award; and Dr Sam McBean won the Assessment and Feedback Champion Award.

Here, the three prize winners give their top tips for success:

Dr Natalie Pollard (on what makes for an effective MA class)

  • Interpretation, critique and dialogue as live interaction – not lonely brow-scratching! Complex ideas are read together as part of everyday life, and the social stakes of what we say and do. ​
  • A space of intellectual and creative risk-taking – of ‘serious play!’ – where learning is mutual and surprising.
  • Most important of all is the good – the really good – conversation.

Dr Sam McBean (on what makes good feedback)

  • Point to the strengths

I always try to start my feedback by summarizing for the student what I got from their piece – what the argument was, what points were made. I think it is important to let students know what stands out about their work and what they’ve managed to most clearly convey to their reader. Sometimes we might think of feedback as constructive criticism but it is just as important to outline what a piece of writing has achieved. From my experience, students respond to reading what it is that was successful about their writing and this helps them to model their future assignments on what has worked in the past.

  • There’s always room for improvement

No assignment is perfect! And it shouldn’t be. Students who score a 2:2 should get clear feedback on what they need to do to reach that 2:1; students who score a 2:1 should be able to understand what they need to do to get that 1st; and students who get a 1st should get feedback on how to edge their work into MA level or even towards publication. In my feedback I always try to give clear pointers on how a piece’s strengths might be brought out. For example, while I try to explain what might not have worked as well, I also often tell students where certain parts of their writing edged into a higher grade point. This gives them clear direction on not only what was less successful but also examples from their own work of what could be developed into stronger future work.

  • The feedback is in the detail

Students are always told to “evidence” their claims in their work – close reading, close reading, close reading! I think the same applies to lecturers when it comes to feedback. I always try to evidence my feedback by pointing to particular examples in students’ work, being clear about what I think works or where improvements could be made. Just like I tell my students to avoid vague language in their work, I try to aim for clarity in my feedback. It is through attention to detail that I think students can really achieve an understanding of their grade and the ability to work towards improving their critical writing skills.

Professor Julia Boffey (on what makes an effective PGR Supervisor)

  • Work *with* students to find and shape a worthwhile topic that will interest both them and you, and will enable them to play to their strengths
  • Keep in touch with them, even (perhaps especially?) during periods when they may not be producing written work for discussion
  • Keep them thinking about life beyond the PhD, as well as about completing it (what will they want to do next? how best can they be preparing for this during the PhD? what kinds of contacts/activities/training will help them prepare for what comes next?)

You can read more about the QMSU Teaching awards on their website.