A Change in Seasons (2nd Week, MT)

Autumn has arrived in Oxford. The last of the lilacs have fallen in the Christ Church College gardens, and Magdalen Bridge is shimmering under a swirl of falling leaves. There’s also a decided nip in the air, and more than one morning over the past few days has dawned weakly under clouds of chilly rain.

The second week of full term has fallen into something more of a pattern: trotting off to the Weston Library every morning to peruse manuscripts, then lunch and librarying (if that’s not a verb, it should be!) until any afternoon classes or seminars. One afternoon a little group of us took a much needed break for tea in the cosy armchairs at the Turl Street Kitchen, eating cake and discussing the dangers of historical myopism and reasons for studying history. (I quoted a great line from John Arnold about history providing us with the tools to dissent–only of course to attend a seminar the next day where the man himself was presenting a very interesting paper on heresy in the Languedoc!)

It’s incredibly energizing to emerge for air from one’s own research to trade ideas with classmates and listen to them debate Anglo-Saxon frontiers (or whatever the topic might be).


Surviving the Beginning (0th and 1st Week, Michaelmas Term)

The last two weeks have flown by in a whirl of activity and (moments of) panic.

Figuring Out the Course.There are many, many reasons why the University of Oxford is a brilliant, world-famous university, but I would hesitate to count administrative organization amongst them. After a 0th week full of inductions from both my college and the History Faculty, I still wasn’t entirely sure what classes, seminars, or lectures I was meant to be attending, when, or where. One of my language classes was moved to avoid one conflict only to land right on top of another one of my required modules – and unlike my undergraduate days, these aren’t courses that will come back around in the schedule next term. Your lifeline in these circumstances are your fellow students – sooner or later, more-or-less correct information disseminates amongst you and you all figure out where you are supposed to be.

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A Historian’s Responsibilities

I am instinctively wary of formulaic approaches that risk imposing patterns on—and hence, in my judgement, doing violence to—the sources . . . [This does not] mean that I accept uncritically whatever our sources tell us. While no disciple of Postmodernism, I have tried to stand outside the source material and to remember that historians can never hope to retrieve ‘what actually happened’—though that does not, in my view, absolve them of the responsibility of trying to get as close as possible to it.

Peter Jackson, Introduction to The Mongols and the West, 1221-1410

“Benign Anarchy” (-1 Week, Michaelmas Term)

I attended International Student Orientation today, which felt very official and welcoming after two weeks running around as a kind of quasi-enrolled student. It was held in the Examination Schools, a tremendously elegant 19th century building on High Street with broad stone staircases and impressive portraits on the walls. (The building’s name comes from its primary purpose as the building to which Oxford students, particularly undergraduates, come dressed in their academic gowns to sit the examinations for their degrees.)

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