Category Archives: (2) Hilary 2016

Recovering from Easter Vacation

In our programme, Easter Vacation is just the bit that comes before the due date for our two major essays. My six weeks of “vacation” therefore went something like this:

Weeks 1 & 2: Reading and research at a somewhat leisurely pace, attempting to define exactly what my essay ought to be about.

Easter Weekend: Took a few days off. A gorgeous sunny Good Friday spent with a friend roaming through fields and villages in the Cotswalds.

Week 3: Sick, in bed, miserable, for days. Recovered just enough to be struck down with paralyzing, gut-wrenching and very counter-productive stress, convinced my essays would never be finished in time.

Week 4: Pulled myself together, set myself a goal of 1,000 words/day, and hit the books. Forced to attempt simultaneous writing and research, with mixed results. Began to list the Radcliffe Camera as my home address.

Week 5: Reached the tipping point where the difficulty was no longer writing enough words, but rather cramming in everything under the word limit. Compressed everything into a semblance of an order and dropped off a draft in my supervisor’s pidge for comments. Intended to take a one-day holiday to recover; exhausted brain held out for three.

Week 6 (0th week): Re-attacked my other forgotten essay from Michaelmas Term which had received very thorough comments from the seminar convener during Hilary and now lay in deconstructed pieces which, like Humpty Dumpty, couldn’t be put back together again. Wrestled with the thing for days, mostly attempting every permutation of sentence and paragraph order in an attempt at a coherent argument flow. Resisted the urge to create a bonfire.

Received back my supervisor’s suggestions (unfortunately, sans any affirmative head-patting) on my second paper and attempted to incorporate with a maxed-out word limit, adding and shaving as I went along.

Sat back on Saturday night with two somewhat-shaky but definitely written essays and took a big sigh of relief.

I am very glad the vacation is over . . .



Escape to Scotland (8th Week, HT)

Right in the middle of the last week of term, I took a quick jaunt up to Scotland for a postgraduate visiting day at the University of St Andrews, about 50 miles north-east of Edinburgh on the Fife coast. Although the 5am departure was less than ideal, I very much enjoyed the train ride once I had gotten through London and left King’s Cross for the long ride north. Continue reading Escape to Scotland (8th Week, HT)

The Trouble with Words (7th Week, HT)

I have been panning in the river of Historiography this week. The experience has been intriguing, confusing, and entertaining, but I’ve yet to come up with nuggets of gold.

The immediate goal is to complete my historiography essay. I had more-or-less completed my first draft over Christmas Break, but the very thorough comments I received on my draft have sent me back the drawing board to deconstruct and attempt to build it up again. My primary difficulty is finding something useful of my own to contribute – at this point in my studies, I have a long way to progress along the spectrum of mimicry to originality. And the murkier the waters of historiographical theory, the easier it is to cling to the floats of previous critiques rather than push out on my own.

Continue reading The Trouble with Words (7th Week, HT)

Insert Title Here (6th Week, HT)

Over the course of the MSt in Medieval History we are assessed on three papers: an essay on Approaches to Historiography (coming out of our core module in Michaelmas Term), another essay based on our optional module in Hilary Term, and then of course the dissertation. The first two are both due the first day of Trinity Term, while the dissertation is due the last Friday in August. In order for examiners to be assigned to each paper (and, I suspect, to make sure we’re all somewhat on track), we students have all been required to turn in an official-looking form to the History Faculty with our chosen title for each paper by noon on Friday of Week 6, Hilary Term.

Easier said than done if you haven’t picked your topic yet . . .

Continue reading Insert Title Here (6th Week, HT)

Forays into Manuscripts (5th Week, HT)

This week I requested my first manuscripts from Special Collections – which doesn’t sound all that impressive until you take into account that this involves a Bodleian librarian cheerfully handing over 800-year-old books into my grubby carefully scrubbed hands.

Continue reading Forays into Manuscripts (5th Week, HT)

Lots of Lectures (4th Week, HT)

Undergraduate history lectures in Oxford form a slightly different function in the curriculum than they do at most universities, as they are intended to be supplemental to the students’ regular weekly tutorials. As they are generally open to all members of the university, however, and delivered by world-class academics, they are worth seeking out even as a graduate student, particularly if one is seeking a condensed general background on a less familiar topic (or interested in a particular professor’s spin). Plus, it’s an excuse to bask in the Victorian splendour of the gorgeous Examination Schools.

Continue reading Lots of Lectures (4th Week, HT)

The Wonderful World of Historiography (3rd Week, HT)

This week I attended a brilliant one-off lecture by Professor Michael Bentley on ‘Historiography: What It Does, Why It Matters’, one of the few I’ve heard so far on the theory of history. I won’t do justice to it (particularly as historiography is still one of those things I have yet to entirely untangle in my own brain), but here’s the 60-second version.

Continue reading The Wonderful World of Historiography (3rd Week, HT)

Anatomy of a Reading List (2nd Week, HT)

One seminar a week certainly doesn’t sound like very much – until you see the week’s reading list. Last term, the reading for the seminar was one to three books a week. For “The Twelfth-Century Renaissance”, the reading list comes in the shape of a full A4 sheet of paper with about half-a-dozen books of primary texts, another half-dozen secondary books, and perhaps another dozen journal articles and essays, all supposedly discoverable somewhere in the vastness of the Oxford library system.

Continue reading Anatomy of a Reading List (2nd Week, HT)

A New Beginning (1st Week, Hilary Term)

Hilary Term has gotten off to a wonderful start, most particularly due to the last few glorious days of frosty sunshine that Oxford has laid on to welcome everyone back. It’s lovely to see the libraries full of familiar faces once again. With our doctoral applications now  out of our hands, we can now gratefully turn our attention back to our current programme of study.

Continue reading A New Beginning (1st Week, Hilary Term)