Tag Archives: travel

Medievalists Down Under (or, How to Use Your DPhil to Travel the Globe)

England, it must be said, is not at its best as it enters February. The snowdrops and daffodils have generally yet to make an appearance, and everything is cold, damp, and dreary. So, when someone offers you the opportunity to escape all that in favour of sunnier climes, you grasp the opportunity with both pale, sun-deprived hands.

And having long endured fellow students’ social media photos of sun-drenched cafés outside their Mediterranean archives, I felt like I had finally got my own back when I received an invitation from a colleague to join a panel on ‘the forgotten virtues’ at this year’s conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Society (ANZAMEMS) being held in Sydney.

My enthusiasm was slightly dampened upon typing ‘London-Sydney’ in Skyscanner, which resulted in flights daunting in both length and cost, but the lure of an Antipodean adventure was strong and I had some virtue diagrams I was dying to show off, so I got to work on honing that key skill of the doctoral candidate: begging for money.

Having already met with some success getting funds for a research trip to Paris last summer (where I wrote my abstract for the Sydney conference sitting in the gardens of Versailles – what a life!), I entered into the process again with a bit more optimism. I still find the applications a bit fraught, even beyond the cringe-worthy exercise of trying to ‘pitch’ yourself and your research. For example,  do you stick to a threadbare budget estimate in hopes they’ll find you prudently thrifty, or add in every conceivable expense in hopes they’ll be disposed to help you cover it? Anyway, in the end it was well worth the administrative hassle, as between my college, the Faculty, the Royal Historical Society, and the conference itself, I eventually managed to get all my major expenses covered. Sooner than seemed possible I was making my way through snow-covered streets to Heathrow, headed towards summer.

Sydney is a stunning place, and well worth the outrageous flight time. The city was dazzlingly bright and colourful, and even the soundscape was tropical, with all sort of fauna I’d never heard before. Mindful of the jetlag, I’d arrived a couple days before the conference and had time for a few leisurely rambles around the city, especially the beautifully lush Botanic Gardens.

State Library of New South Wales

I also had the pleasure of joining a tour of the State Library of New South Wales the afternoon before the conference began, a tour which I was amused to note began with ‘We may not be Oxford, but …’. And indeed, while the age and size of collection might not compare to its European counterparts, the intentionality, both in the creation of the building and the curation of the collections, was very impressive. (I’m even envious of the cozy Friends of the Library room, equipped with periodicals and tea-making facilities and curiously – dare I say quixotically? –  stocked with every edition of Don Quixote ever made.) We were even shown some of their lovely medieval and early modern manuscripts and incunabula.

Old Quad, University of Sydney

The conference itself took place at the heart of the University of Sydney campus in the Old Quad—essentially an Oxford college teleported into tropical climes, complete with kangaroo and kookaburra grotesques. 

As I told my supervisor on my return, I found the whole conference to be wonderfully refreshing intellectually. My colleagues and I were fortunate enough to have our panel scheduled in the first slot and so spent the rest of the conference just enjoying everything on offer. Covering both the medieval and early modern, there was a broad array of subjects on offer, and I sampled widely, from the Merovingians to Hobbes. The keynotes were also quite diverse and left much room for thought and debate.

On top of it all, the general atmosphere was one of the friendliest and most supportive I come across so far at an academic conference, particularly in its engagement with postgraduates and independent scholars. It was also interesting observing both the differences and similarities between Australian/Kiwi and British academic culture—of particular note was the awareness of their respective indigenous peoples, from the repeated acknowledgements that the University is situated on Aboriginal tribal land to mentions of local Maori interest in a fifteenth-century English genealogical roll.

All in all, I had a marvelous time, and I returned to England from the conference with revitalised levels of Vitamin D and a new excitement for my research.

And just in time to watch the snowdrops come out!

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Bibliothecal Bumblings Abroad

Sitting at home, planning a research trip seems like a fairly straightforward matter. You draw up your list of manuscripts, check the library opening hours, and book the nearest AirBnB, confidently promising valuable results your supervisor and anyone willing to give you money.

On the ground, things are a different matter: catalogues were wrong, the microfilms are awful, your bibliothecal vocabulary in the required foreign language is distressingly limited, all while you try to navigate a strange new system with surprisingly numerous slips of coloured paper.

Continue reading Bibliothecal Bumblings Abroad

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)

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 . . .

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)