Category Archives: (3) Trinity 2016

Submission Day! (Long Vac)

At long last, Friday was dissertation submission day, and as I threw open the curtains I was delighted to find that Oxford had graciously decked herself out for the occasion in her best blue skies and sunshine. My own dissertation copies had been bound at the print shop on Holywell Street the afternoon before and had been sitting in their envelope addressed to the

Chairman of the Board of Examiners
of the Master of Studies in Medieval History
c/o Examination Schools
High Street
Oxford,

on my desk all evening, forcing me to resist the temptation to flip through them one more time to discover each typo that had inevitably made it past a dozen rounds of proofreading.

Unlike the last time we submitted at the Exam Schools, an August submission day is a relatively anticlimactic affair. Unsure of when others planned to submit, I just walked into the nearly empty Schools on the way into town, filled out my submission slip, and handed it to the lone woman behind the desk. As I walked out, my little yellow receipt was the only evidence that I had, in fact, just completed an Oxford master’s degree.

I found the rest of my classmates camped out in the upper sitting room of the Turl Street Kitchen, addressing envelopes and waiting to collect their various oeuvres from the binders.

‘You look very relaxed!’ was my welcome.

I waived my yellow slip triumphantly, bringing down a kindly stream of curses upon my head.

After a stop at the binders, we then processed back to the Schools, assuring each other along the way that it was fine, that we were fine, that it was all going to be all right. A picture on the steps with dissertations in hand, and then two minutes later we were all out again, suddenly feeling strangely bereft.

A celebration was called for, however, and we decided on true Oxford tradition: a picnic of the finest drinks and comestibles that Tesco had on offer, partaken in the dappled shade of Christ Church Meadow. A few of us tried to ban all talk of anything occurring before the 1950s, but that didn’t prevent a long discussion on popes, bawdy comments about monks, and a  discursive on ancient college feuds.

Our attempts at punting then being stymied by the previous night’s rain, which had irremediably waterlogged our prospective crafts, we settled into lawn chairs in the garden of Balliol’s Holywell Manor, mixing slumber with desultory conversation on such things as colleges and croquet, letting the stress of the past eleven months slowly drift away with the breeze.

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A Supervision, Part II (Long Vac)

I’d dropped off my dissertation draft for my supervisor on Wednesday morning. Around 10:30 on Thursday night, he sent me an email asking to meet the following day. What he actually wrote was probably something very nice and polite along the lines of ‘Might you be free tomorrow at noon?’ What my paranoid state of mind registered was something along the lines of a summons to the principal’s office.

I was in his office at the specified time, waiting on tenterhooks as he settled into his chair, pulled out my draft, and glanced over it.

‘It needs some fine tuning.’

I nodded nervously.

‘But really, it’s all there.’

My sigh of relief was audible. Once you’ve reached the point that you can’t even bear to the look at the words anymore, let alone try to figure out whether they create a comprehensible argument, any outside confirmation of value is a welcome benediction.

‘Let’s see,’ he says, running his eyes down a list of probably illegible notes on my cover page that I will spend hours trying to decipher later. ‘The main thing you need to avoid is parataxis.’

My mind blanks on a definition. Wasn’t parataxis covered in a Latin lecture at some point?

(Apparently, he means that I need to build my points into a connected argument, instead of presenting them as a series of points beginning with ‘Another evidence for …’, which by the end of the process had been all the transition my exhausted brain could come up with.)

My attempts at creativity in the first sentence are dismissed as ‘trite’, but I get a ‘good’ for my last sentence, which I interpret as high praise. The rest of the supervision is given over to a discussion over various minor structural changes, the highlighting of important points, and strategic footnotes in defense of the examiners’ vagaries.

If I were leaving Oxford, the end of this supervision would have been the point for gratitude and a mutual exchange of good wishes. As it is, he just tells me good luck and to email him in a couple weeks when I am ready (gulp!) to start discussing my DPhil research.

From frying pan to fire?

 

 

 

 

The Final Stretch (Long Vac)

A summer that once looked invitingly long and leisurely has since sped mercilessly by, week after fleeting week. In less than nine days’ time, we are due at the Examination Schools, dissertations in hand.

My own dissertation is finished, in the sense that I have 15,000 words that run in more-or-less coherent a fashion from the first page to the last. What I no longer have, after a long series of 8- to 10-hour days in the libraries, madly typing and deleting and typing some more, is any true sense of whether those words manage to say anything in a reasonably intelligent fashion.

There are over 100 steps, not to mention a very long corridor, between the Lower Gladstone Link and the Upper Reading Room in the Bodleian (I did try to count the steps exactly, but I got mired in a group of tourists outside Duke Humphrey’s and lost track), and I have climbed them many, many times over the past two weeks in the seemingly never-ending quest for citation information, bumping in similarly harried classmates in various reading rooms along the way.


But the worst of it is now over and I badly need a break to recover some perspective, so once I dropped my draft off for my supervisor, I decided to enjoy the day in true Oxford style. As a sop to productivity, I started by fetching an essay I had been meaning to read by Alexander Murray (quickly becoming one of my new favourite historians) and took it up into one of Oxford’s most quintessential places—the little gallery of the Duke Humphrey’s Library—to read it in the glow of a little reading lamp, perched high above the room’s medieval splendour.

Then, as it was beautiful summer day—the sort that Oxford can do so very well, if only she puts her mind to it—it was obviously time for a picnic. I recruited a friend, poked around the Covered Market in search of comestibles (like bacon and brie quiche!), and set off for the Oxford Botanic Gardens, a charming place of riotous colour into which University members are admitted free of charge. We strolled around the grounds and greenhouses, watching the punts go by on the Cherwell, then laid out our blanket in the shade of a leafy tree and ate and drank and chatted the afternoon away.

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Un Séjour en France (Long Vac)

Having dropped off 13,000 words of something in my supervisor’s pidge in lieu of a rough draft (more-or-less a prose version of my notes which I hope to shape into an actual argument at some later point in time), I packed my bag and headed off to St Pancras to take the Eurostar south for a much needed break in sunnier climes.

Continue reading Un Séjour en France (Long Vac)

Dissertation Doldrums (9th/10th Week, Trinity)

Technically, of course, Trinity Term is all finished up now, but it’s a rather anticlimactic finish for those of us with months of work left to go. My first draft is due to my supervisor in a couple weeks, but I’m still grappling with the general shape and scope. Still, at least there will be plenty of time for amendments and revisions.

The weather has not been a help. After too short a glimpse of just how lovely English summer could be, the sun has retreated behind thick clouds for weeks, with almost daily rain showers. This is properly stay-home-beneath-the-covers sort of weather, not the get-up, go-to-the-library and do-brilliant-historical-research sort.

I am forced to emerge from the covers, however, because I’ve started a short office assignment through the university’s Temporary Staffing Agency, a sort of internal temp agency with which one can register and then receive offers of various short-term and/or part-time assignments. It’s a great, flexible way of taking on some reasonably well-paid work without making a big commitment. At the moment, I’m working in the mornings at one of the university schools and then spending my afternoons in the library – all I can say so far is that I have a whole new appreciation for the weekend!

The End’s Beginning (8th Week, Trinity Term)

And so, unbelievably, the end is upon us! Or at least, the last week of the last term of the year. Seminars and lectures are ended, undergraduates departing, and only those of us with research to complete over the summer are getting ready to bunker down in the (mercifully now much emptier) libraries.

A few events of note:

Continue reading The End’s Beginning (8th Week, Trinity Term)

A Mini-Holiday (7th Week, Trinity)

This week was a bit of  a holiday, as my little sister stopped in to visit me on her way to other foreign climes. In between a few of my language classes, we strolled around Oxford taking in the sights and doing Oxfordy things: wandering around colleges, popping into Blackwell’s, punting on the Cherwell,  picnicking on the Port Meadow, eating dinner at the Eagle & Child pub–plus a whole afternoon spent rooting around the myriad and marvellous anthropological wonders crammed inside the Pitt Rivers Museum.

We also took the coach to spend a couple days in the beautiful Georgian town of Bath (whence the charmingly cheerful umbrellas in the photo) and spent a memorable afternoon getting absolutely soaked by rain in London and meekly sloshing our way around the British Museum.

All too soon, though, she was off on a jet-plane, and I was headed back to my neglected books . . .

Plenty of Trees, No Forest (6th Week, TT)

I began Trinity Term with a confident grasp of my dissertation topic. I made my way through the chronicles and vies in a systematic fashion, added faithfully to my annotated bibliography, and conceived the whole project as just a matter of putting the hours in and getting it done.

Then it all started going a bit wobbly. . .

Continue reading Plenty of Trees, No Forest (6th Week, TT)

More Fun on the River (5th Week, Trinity)

Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Despite a slightly rocky start, I have now unequivocally  lost my heart to punting. With Oxford beginning to show off the best of early summertime weather, any excuse will do to get me out on the river. I have now grasped the mechanics of steering and can navigate in a slightly wobbly, but more-or-less straight line down the river and can even achieve a decent speed, the wind being in the right quarter. I also know enough to give the poor lad at the boat house a look of horror when he suggests I start out punting from the Cambridge end.

This weekend, not being able to find a partner in crime, I decided to take my study materials punting instead, mooring up under a tree on a quiet spot up the Cherwell to pore over my articles on the  intricacies of thirteenth-century theories of law and kingship (thereby no doubt providing a suitably studious Oxford scene for passing tourists). The bottom of a punt being surprisingly capacious, steady, and comfortable, and distractions being minimal, it actually proved the perfect study spot for a sunny afternoon.

In other news, we MSt students have all just finished giving our dissertation presentations to each other (mine was long on description, rather shorter on actual analysis interpretation at this point in the term!), so the only coursework that remains to us are the last few weeks of language classes. Serious dissertation research looms in the future!

A Glimmer of Understanding (4th Week, Trinity)

This week, a wonderful thing happened. I attended a graduate lecture on the development of medieval Latin, and I understood it. All of it. I knew all about the historical figures featured – in almost every case, I had read at least some of their cited texts. I was familiar with the proponents of the historical theses being discussed. I had even read every book on the ‘Further Reading’ list on the handout. It was a brilliant moment, the more so as it’s one that hasn’t happened to me all very often here in Oxford.

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Messing about in Boats (3rd Week, TT)

Punting is not as easy as it looks. As in rowing, you soon learn how to get along and handle the craft, but it takes long practice before you can do this with dignity and without getting the water all up your sleeve.

— Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (1889)
Oxford’s own Dorothy Sayers claims in Gaudy Night that it is more fun to punt than to be punted. I am loathe to contradict Lord Peter’s estimable creatrix, but fresh from my first experience on the river, I fear my preference lies decidedly on the side of being the punted. Who wouldn’t want to lounge semi-horizontally in the sunshine an inch or two above the water line, nibbling on strawberries and feeding the ducks, while someone else huff and puffs with the heavy pole behind you, fighting the mud and current to propel your craft in a rather zig-zagged line down the river?

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Now is the Month of Maying (2nd Week, Trinity Term)

Weather in Oxford can often be disappointing. This year’s May Morning, however, was everything it was supposed to be, with crisp spring air, the golden sunlight of early morning warming the old stone towers, and a backdrop of bright blue skies embroidered with delicate wisps of cirrus clouds. At six o’clock, the men and boys of the Magdalen College choir sang in the morning from the top of Magdalen Tower to a crowd of thousands gathered below, followed by the joyful cacophony of the tower bells. Groups of morris dancers added their own bell-jangling, while various music groups vied for audiences in Radcliffe Square.

My own contribution was joining my choir in singing out madrigals from the very iconic Bridge of Sighs to the crowd below. It doesn’t get much more Oxford-y than that!

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Bridge of Sighs, Hertford College

 

The Penultimate Stretch (1st Week, Trinity Term)

Trinity may be the loveliest of the Oxford terms. The days are growing steadily longer, the steady April showers are giving way (in theory) to colourful May flowers, and colleges have started sending out emails about delightful things like croquet, punting, and garden parties.

Before these beauties could be embraced, however, the results of our ‘vacation’ labours had first to be submitted for the no-doubt eager perusal of our examiners.

Continue reading The Penultimate Stretch (1st Week, Trinity Term)