A triumphant return! And conferences.

A cardinal sin in the blogging world, I know, to let a thing lie for so long! I’m sorry for that–I finished my thesis, and submitted it, and the fact is there is very little space for blogging at the end of that process. Or eating, sleeping, and showering regularly, for that matter. But it’s over, and I have recovered my senses at last, and have so much to tell you! Like the last couple of conferences, and the long-promised rest of the translation of the Virgin Martyrs.

But first, I just got back home last night from Quadrivium IX, a postgrad/early career training symposium held at the University of Kent.

This is the second Quadrivium I’ve gone to. It’s an excellent resource–it’s free, there’s usually a bursary involved for attendance, and it’s incredibly useful. This year’s theme was ‘bridging the gap’: between medieval and modern, between history and literature, between study and employment.

It started with none of these, but rather with a tour of Canterbury Christchurch Cathedral. There was more than one offering–medieval, early modern, and modern, I believe–but I of course chose the former, a tour of the martyrdom of Becket and some of the brilliant art and architecture led by Alixe Bovey, who presented In Search of Medieval Britain on BBC4 a few years back. I learned some wonderful things, and took some pictures, that I will share in later posts.

The nave of the cathedral, which is one of the most stunning buildings I’ve ever seen.

The rest of the conference began by bridging the gap between silliness and…well, more silliness. (And more relevantly, medieval morality plays and Shakespeare.) This was a drama workshop hosted by the wonderful Pantaloons, followed by a wine reception. Alas, there was no break for dinner, which led to a run on pretzels. It was noted that while historians study the morality plays, drama students seldom do. Thoughts for someone’s future project?

The following day began with a CV workshop and some helpful instruction on preparing for interviews. Nobody ever agrees on just what the perfect CV looks like, but this is comforting in its way–it’s not like there’s a perfect formula of wording and ordering and heading format that equates to the perfect job-attracting combination. You just have to try to communicate why you’re awesome, in the best way you can. (As for interviews, I’ve always found the problem to be getting to that point–but I just got a teaching gig by doing an Eddie Izzard impression, so my guts-and-silliness technique may not work for everything.)

(I did this. Not on purpose. It’s a long story. Picture by PirateKoala.)

Anyway, then we talked about funding streams for post-docs. This is of great interest to me at the moment, for obvious reasons, since I’ve just finished a PhD (well, submitted the thesis, waiting on the viva) and would like to be able to continue to eat, and read books, and stay in the country where I’ve built my life, rather than moving in with and mooching off my little sister. One of the things I like about Quadrivium is that you can ask all the stupid questions (or seemingly stupid questions) that you don’t always get to. Also, things have been shaken up so much lately in the academic job world that even when our supervisors have the best of intentions and really want to help us walk into a job, the fact is they haven’t had to look for one in a while. Talking about it with people close to the process is incredibly helpful.

Then there was a bit of shifting gears! After a well-deserved tea break, the incomparable Erik Kwakkel gave a keynote on social media and medieval manuscripts. I’ve been a follower of his on Twitter (@erik_kwakkel) ever since these cat prints turned up several months ago, and I do think that if anybody knows how to manage the media side of medieval studies, he’s the guy. Of course, if you don’t work with something as immediately visually appealing as medieval manuscripts, it’s more of a challenge, but he did say, and I agree, that enthusiasm can come through for anything! (And then I thought about @medievalgill, who finds the most brilliant things for Twitter even when not all of them have pictures.)

That was not the end of the day, but it concluced the work portion. There was a dinner, and apparently a night at the pub, but I’d been conferencing (with all the attendant drinking and eating out) for about a week by then, and just wanted to sleep, so I skipped the pub. (The shame! A Celticist skipping the pub! There go all those potential job interviews….)

The final day was spent in the Canterbury cathedral archives. First we investigated some medieval fragments – bits of manuscript found in other books after being used as part of the binding process – including a nearly full page of Aristotle. I don’t know that I could convince the National Library of Wales to let me go through their early printed books for fragments (and in a lot of cases I think someone’s already done it) but what an exciting thing, and who knows what you could find?

This isn’t one we looked at, though it’s quite similar. It’s from Erik Kwakkel’s project Medieval Fragments‘ photostream.

Finally, David Grummitt and Cressida Williams showed us some of the other treasures of the archive, and explained to us a bit about what’s held in it. There’s a lot, and it’s fascinating! Because it’s a civil record office as well as a parish archive, there’s a wide variety of material, despite a lot of it having been lost in a fire. There’s a few things I’d like to have a chance to get a closer look at, and the environment is certainly appealing!

All in all it was a lot of information to take in, and I’m still processing some of it. But much like last year’s, it was useful and fascinating. I’d also never been to Canterbury before, and loved it, so here’s hoping there’s a chance to go back!

What’s not to like, with a view like this?

Next year’s Quadrivium will be held in Birmingham – keep an eye on the project website for more information when it appears!


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