Category Archives: (1) Michaelmas 2015

Christmas “Break”

It’s an odd feeling when you look forward to the end of term so that you can finally get some work done. Michaelmas Term was so full of seminars and lectures and finding one’s feet that there never seemed to be quite enough time to collect one’s thoughts before starting off again. So a six-week Christmas Break provides a much needed lull in order to regroup, make a To Do list, and attack one’s reading lists.

(In theory. In practice, never quite as productive as planned.)

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With Regrets (8th Week, MT)

It’s hard to believe that Michaelmas Term is over, despite the fact that those first presessional Latin classes feel like they happened years ago. Eighth Week disappeared in a flurry of choir services, final lectures, and a Christmas MCR dinner at college (complete with Christmas crackers, of course).

Of course, despite the books I’ve read and seminars I’ve attended, it’s only too easy to remember all the things I haven’t done this term: the lectures I missed, the books that are still unread, the concerts and book-signings and talks I didn’t attend . . . And above all that, the great massive chasm of all the many, many things I still don’t know about medieval history.

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Oxmas (7th Week, MT)

Because the Oxford term ends so absurdly early (December 4th, this year), Christmas celebrations tend to get bumped up a few weeks, resulting in a phenomenon known as “Oxmas”. By mid-November, a Christmas tree is awaiting lights in the Bodleian quad, carols are being sung by various college choirs, and every social event is accompanied by obligatory mulled wine and minced pies, infusing some festive cheer into the cold, dark weeks before the break. Perhaps the hope is that the extra sugar will allow us to survive the last two weeks of term . . .

Essaying Essays (6th Week, MT)

It’s interesting that the etymology of the word essay goes back to the Latin word exigere, which means “to weigh, or put to the test”. While in Oxford the word does typically just refer to “a short piece of writing on a particular subject”, that older definition is actually feeling pretty accurate at the moment.

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Singing for My Supper (5th Week, MT)

If you are looking for a classically “Oxford” experience, but are reluctant to endure the physical exertion and frigid early morning practices required by rowing, I heartily recommend joining a college chapel choir. You might not escape the cold (stone chapels not being known for their warmth), but physical exertion is generally limited to saving enough breath to get through the Amen without passing out.

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Fog (4th Week, MT)

. . . which simultaneously describes the current state of both the weather and of my brain–the latter state being principally due to the simply atrocious cold that has set up camp inside my head. As if all this studying weren’t hard enough already!

The meteorological fog I find much more attractive. I’ve just walked back from an evening seminar in Medieval History with the street lights glowing rather cheerfully in the darkness through thin veils of mists and church spires soaring majestically up into the fog.

The seminar itself was very interesting. As always, a professor was presenting a paper on medieval history. As always, far more people than can possibly be permitted by current fire regulations crammed themselves into a room in All Souls College–on chairs, window ledges, or the floor if need be–to hear it. This week, Professor Sarah Foot, the current Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History, was discussing her thoughts and various issues she has encountered in formulating a plan for a biography she will be writing on the Venerable Bede. It was actually rather reassuring – to know that even Oxford academics have to take their time to hammer out and wrestle with and sort out their topics and methodologies.

Tempus Fugit (3rd Week, MT)

Oxford days have uncanny ability to slip away. One moment, the day stretches before you, flushed with productive promise. The next, it’s mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind a stack of books lamentably unread and assignments still unfinished.

My schedule from Wednesday, a day in which I have just one hour of class to attend, may illustrate:

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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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“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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And We’re Off (-2nd Week, Michaelmas Term)

And so it begins! I am newly settled into my little Victorian bedroom in East Oxford (above) and am now in the process of settling into my new identity as a bona fide Oxford student.

Latin Class. My first official University of Oxford class, Intermediate Latin, started this morning. The History Faculty very helpfully offers those of their students who have not yet acquired sufficient skills in Latin the option of attending a three-week presessional course prior to the start of term, at either a complete beginner or at a somewhat intermediate level. In the intermediate class, we have about 20 students from various different programmes–a fair number of MSt students in Medieval History and Medieval Studies, but also some MSt, MPhil, and DPhil students in other history programmes who anticipate needing Latin for their research.

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