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.

I also met with my supervisor, who is tasked with somehow aiding me in completing a thesis paper by the end of the year. In addition to being intimidatingly knowledgeable, he has also sent me away with several potentially interesting avenues to pursue and an instruction to come back once I’ve gotten somewhere.

Other Induction Madness. Long, rather tedious induction sessions at my college were redeemed by a very nice Graduate Freshers Dinner at college with scrumptiously delicious food and a very interesting conversation with the professor seated next to me about 18th century political activism. Then there was the terrifying hive of activity that is the University Freshers’ Fair, through which students are herded like cattle to discover the social possibilities of underwater hockey, bell-ringing, tea appreciation, financial investing, Pokemon, and a plethora of other societies, all of which want you to write down your mile-long student email address so they can email you weekly for the rest of your Oxford life.

1st Week. After all the confusion of the previous week, Full Term actually sorted itself out quite nicely:

Core Module (weekly) – The only class really exclusively for the MSt in Medieval History students. Each week we have a book from a different historiographical school to read, which the students then come together with our convener and discuss in passionate academic tones (certainly a chance to see how an undergraduate degree in history might have been useful at this point!)

Reading Medieval Documents (thrice weekly) – Essentially the art of differentiating one sort of squiggle from an entirely different sort of squiggle, in Middle English, Old French, and Latin. Facsimiles so far, but we’ve been promised the real goods once we’ve proven we know what to do with them. Homework so far generally consists of being handed a Latin document and being told to come back with the date it was written.

History of Western Script (twice weekly) – Rudimentary paleography: how the squiggles changed and how to tell which squiggle comes from when. I don’t think I quite have the hang of it yet.

Latin (twice weekly) – Once a week is textbook grammar and exercises, and once a week is Medieval Latin, in which we stumble painstakingly through actual Latin texts (after several sessions, we’ve finally managed to read Thomas Becket to his saintly but gory death).

French for Historians – Currently being overridden by Medieval Documents class, but I hope to join in a few weeks.

SeminarsOptional sessions in which more medievalists than you would have thought possible cram themselves into a studious-looking room to hear someone brilliant present a paper. I’ve been attending the ones in Medieval History and Medieval Church & Culture and have so far learned about global medieval history, papal courts, saints’ banners, and 13th-century heretics.

Lectures – Primarily for the benefit of the undergraduates, but graduates are free to attend as well. Michaelmas Term is all British History at different periods, which for some reason I haven’t quite determined yet are all offered at the exact same time, so that one is not permitted to learn about the 13th and 14th centuries, for example, simultaneously.

Of course, attending things is just the half of it (and that doesn’t even start on the social events). The rest of the time, one is supposed to be shoring up one’s thesis topic and casting about fervently for a convincing topic for doctoral applications looming around the corner. Boredom will not be an issue!


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