March and April brought my first professional engagements at conferences and classes.  After the end of the term at York, during which time I had shadowed and had a fun (but at times trying) time teaching for the first time, I attended the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature’s first conversation.  The SSMLL and the Corpus Centre for the Study of Greek and Roman Antiquity jointly hosted “Classicists and Medievalists in Conversation: Epic“.  Of course, this event seemed tailor-made for my interests.  I was an undergraduate classicist with a focus on epic, and I am a current medievalist focusing on epic tradition in medieval romance.  This was technically a conference, but it was organised to be a more informal forum for discussion. The short panels left plenty of time for discussion afterwards.  There were lots of big names in the room, and I was particularly starstruck by Philip Hardie whose books I’ve consulted frequently over the past several months.  I think I was a bit timid–this was my first big-girl (as in not just postgraduate) conference, and the discussion tended to be dominated by more experienced, published, and employed academics.  I felt a bit out of place, as much of the discussion was on material I’d never encountered before.  However, it was a good way to dip my toes into the conference pool.  My full conference report can be found here.

St. Hugh’s College, Oxford
Works Cited: http://www.proimmune.com/

Two weeks after the day-long Epic conversation, I went to back to Oxford for the Romance in Medieval Britain Conference at St. Hugh’s College.  This was a three-day event, and the papers were absolutely fantastic.  I got to see two of my fellow PhD workroom friends present papers, talked with academics I’ve encountered at Cambridge and Durham, and meet other new researchers and post-docs with similar interests.  I was pleased to find that there were many others working on various Troy Books and ecphrasis, there was one panel whose papers fit incredibly well with my MA dissertation on hospitality and generosity in Gawain romances.  It was tiring, but extremely rewarding and fun.  After the last panel, I got to walk around the manuscript exhibit at the Bodleian Library.  While perusing the various sections, I bumped into another PhD from the conference who was visiting from Toronto, and we had a lovely afternoon walking in the sunshine.  My goal is to present a paper at the next RMB in two years, and I hope to keep up with the contacts I made this year.

Old Main, Gustavus Adolphus College
Works Cited: http://geography.blog.gustavus.edu/

After that crazy two weeks, I went home and then up to Minnesota to speak at Gustavus.  I shared my study abroad experience at the annual “Why Classics?” event and got an overwhelmingly positive response from the faculty.  The following day, I taught a class on the Aeneid in the Middle Ages with particular attention to the text of Chaucer’s House of Fame (Book 1) and sections of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  I was a bit disappointed that the students didn’t seem to work with the Middle English, and I discovered that I should have spent more time on SGGK because the text I provided for that had a modern translation.  I was expecting a Latin class to be a bit more receptive to engaging with the language, but I understand that it was something new for them.  However, I think the class went well even if I presented many novel ideas in a short amount of time.  I spoke with the only medievalist in the English department (who, of course, had been working in admin while I was a student), and he said he struggles each year when deciding on Chaucer text.  To use or not to use the Middle English?  It’s something I don’t think we should struggle with; Chaucer’s Middle English isn’t particularly difficult, and I’ve seen many undergraduate classes who read all the literature without translations.  It’s something to consider in the future, and I’d never thought about it before.

Being back at Gustavus as a speaker was a bit surreal.  I stayed in the guest house and was driven to and from Gustavus by my old advisor.  I was privy to all sorts of gossip and opinions from the faculty about which I had no idea as a student.  It was interesting to be on the other side of the fence–the side shared by professors I highly respect and adore.

I had a fantastic time being a “grown-up” academic for the first time.  It’s scary to be there, and entering into the ivory tower is daunting.  I hope that with practice I can work up to feeling more like I belong among those academics.

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Now that I’m settled in York (and perhaps have too much on my plate with auditing Old French and Latin, running two discussion groups/lecture series, constructing props for the Lords of Misrule production of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and sorting out shadowing next term), I can report that I do really love my program, supervisor, and peers.  On the personal front, I love my flatmate and our similar tastes in pumpkin foods, The Big Bang Theory, Merlin, heckling bad films, wandering around York’s streets, and unwinding after a long day with one of our many, many types of tea.

Despite my success at the undergraduate and master’s levels, I still sometimes feel like I’m out of my depth.  I don’t have the background many of my peers have (I think we touched on Cimabue in my art history survey class, read Beowulf in my World Literature I class, and heard about The Canterbury Tales in my Great Books of the Greek and Roman world course).  However, a visiting student who came to deliver a paper here at the Centre for Medieval Studies last night assures me that this is normal.  She said she felt throughout the entire process that she’d be “found out” and thrown out.  It’s sometimes an unsettling feeling, but it seems like it’s a normal one.

This omnipresent feeling leads me to something that has bugged me over the years that resurfaced after speaking with this Oxford-educated woman with a DPhil already in the bag.

In my junior year of college I was in my senior seminar class on ancient epic.  I had this professor for many classes in the two years we overlapped at Gustavus and had done well in previous classes.  The seminar was designed to be graduate school-like: three hours of class time (plus film viewings) one evening a week, one big research paper at the end, and lots of small papers every week and close reading.  Among the texts were the usual suspects (the Iliad, the Odyssey, The Aeneid) plus some texts new to us (Argonautica, Lucan’s Civil War).  I stressed like everyone, but didn’t complain in front of our professor, didn’t miss a class, and got things done on time.  We had oral midterm and final exams, too, and during my feedback for my final, the professor told me I did very well, and (as word-for-word as I can remember it) said “I don’t know if you just speak quickly or speak succinctly, but you covered in 15 minutes what others take 30 to say.”  I got an A on that final and in the class.

This long prelude is to illustrate the surprise I felt when he told me that he didn’t think I was suited for graduate school because I was “too anxious.”  ???  “Too anxious” still confuses me to this day.  What did that mean?  What behaviors or essays had convinced him of this?  I was too stunned and cowardly to ask at the time.

Works cited: dreamstime.com. NB: Not a picture for instruction. If you mutilate one of my writing tools, I may have to hunt you down.

I know in my heart that he was wrong.  Perhaps I was wrong for graduate school in classics, his field and passion.  It was my passion and life as an undergraduate, and I lived and breathed the subject material.  Today, I’m working on the data for my first thesis chapter on the Aeneid and material culture as a kind of proto-romance and as inspiration for medieval authors.  I won’t argue that perhaps I didn’t see then that classics wasn’t my future and that perhaps I wasn’t quite passionate enough to slog through years of Greek study.  Perhaps because I didn’t go into Gustavus knowing I wanted to study classics he thought I wasn’t devoted enough.  Perhaps I was too wrapped up in taking classes in the field that he thought I was annoying and overly-ambitious.  Perhaps my frequent migraines and illnesses came off as simply skipping class for the heck of it.  Perhaps it was supposed to be a helpful comment.  (I have often wanted to believe this is the case, but remain doubtful.)  Medieval literature is a field that gets me excited and makes me happy like classics did because of many of the same things: the magic of classical characters, the beauty of intricate poetic forms, heroes and their quests, the power of religion and devotion, and cultural ideals behind the texts.  However, instead of Latin and Greek, I focus on English with smatterings of French and Latin.  (Learning about the Norman Conquest and the evolution of the English language might be my favorite academic moment in recent memory.)

The final question this situation raises for me is how much professors should provide advice to a gung-ho student.  I’m sure you’ve seen this video.  We’ve heard that jobs for academics are thin on the ground.  I know and I’m aware.  I’m going to graduate school because I’ll always wonder, “What if?”.  I won’t be able to get a job in the field of medieval literature without my advanced degrees, so because I’ve had some funding and have the ability to go to graduate school, why not?  I made this quite clear even as an undergraduate.  I appreciate honest feedback but with one caveat: if asked.  I don’t want honest feedback from a professor or lecturer with whom I don’t feel comfortable and perhaps don’t respect in the field as much as another who knows me well on a personal level.  With all of this in mind, how honest is too honest?  Should professors just tell students what they think in the manner they deem best?  If the student has said that s/he will go if able, even with the knowledge that a career may not develop in the way one would like?  It’s a touchy subject with the economy sliding, many shrinking humanities departments, the elimination of tenure-track positions, and the competition for funding, jobs, and prestige.

So, I go back to that professor and that comment.  The situation crops into the forefront of my mind more often than I’d like, and sometimes it makes me further question whether I belong here and deserve my place.  I have to remember that people who have been in the field for years chose to accept me into all the master’s and doctoral programs to which I applied.  I won a scholarship for my MA year and worked incredibly hard for my degree with distinction at Durham.  I must remember that I do belong here.  Perhaps I don’t have as much experience, but I’m behind other first-year PhDs by a few years, not a lifetime.  I have the privilege of being able to devote my time, work, and life to the Middle Ages, if only for the few years it takes to complete my thesis and program before the Real World comes calling.

My last post was quite a while ago, and I wrote it just after finishing my dissertation.  Since then my life has changed drastically: new city, new home, new program, new school, new routine, new focus, and new friends.

For me, the secret to success has been getting out of the house to do work and also mixing serious focus with social engagements with friends.  Calling home a lot helps, too.  It would seem that my hard work at Durham has paid off, as last Tuesday I found out that I reached the goal I had set for myself academically:

I have officially been awarded my masters degree in Medieval and Renaissance Studies with a distinction!

Hooray!

What does this mean?  It means that I got the highest award classification.  It also means that despite me feeling out of my depth a good part of the time, I actually am capable of understanding and analyzing the medieval literature with which I had little experience before last year.  It means that even though I’ve had an emotionally draining year filled with people whose friendship proved false, with drama at home, and with hard decisions, I can cope in this environment.

Even though I have a huge doctoral project now in front of me, I have proved that I belong here, and I need to remind myself of that.

Success has never meant so much!

I won’t beat around the bush; this week has been full of chaos.  UK Customs, failed attempts to top up my Orange phone, a mix up with a tutor meeting, my manic Monday of 6 hours of class, and thing after thing driving me insane.  Having said that, I think I have this week planned out well, even though it will be very, very busy, and one thing I can count on to keep me sane is the wonder in books.  There is order and magic and reliability in books, and a full bookshelf calms my soul.  So, here is the contents of the top shelf in my Argos bookcase (which is about 2 1/2 feet long):

  • The Riverside Chaucer
  • The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript, ed. Andrew and Waldron
  • The Riverside Chaucer (library copy)
  • Apollonius of Tyre: Medieval and Renaissance Themes and Variations, Archibald
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses, Norton pub.
  • Ovid, Heroides, Penguin pub.
  • The Lais of Marie de France, Baker Academic pub.
  • Sagas of Warrior Poets, Penguin pub.
  • The Song of Roland, Penguin pub.
  • Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, Penguin pub.
  • Christine de Pizan, The Treasure of the City of the Ladies, Penguin pub.
  • Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel, Norton pub.
  • Middle English Romances, Norton Critical Edition
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. Simon Armitage
  • Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, Oxford pub.
  • The Poems of the Cid, Penguin pub.
  • The Nibelunglied, Penguin pub.
  • Dante, Paradisio, trans. John D. Sinclair
  • Las Mocedades de Roderigo, trans. Bailey
  • Chivalry, Maurice Keen
  • The Romance of Tristan, Oxford pub.
  • The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation, ed. Wilhelm
  • Medieval Folklore, Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow
  • Arthur, Daniel Mersey
  • Arthur’s Britain, Leslie Alcock
  • Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, Penguin pub.
  • Beowulf, trans. Seamus Heaney
  • Robin Hood, J.C. Holt
  • Imagining Robin Hood, A.J. Pollard
  • Rymes of Robin Hood, R.B. Dobson and J. Taylor
  • Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography, Stephen Knight
  • William Langland, Piers Plowman, Penguin pub.
  • Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, Norton Critical Edition
  • Chaucer’s Major Poetry, ed. Albert C. Baugh

Works Cited: jancology.com

The first chunk until Maurice Keen’s book is for class, while the rest is related to research (I swear!) but is interesting reading on its own.  I am sentimentally attached to my Dobson and Taylor Rymes and to the beautiful copy of Chaucer’s Major Poetry.  The first is the best edition of the original ballads, and is hard to come by.  The Chaucer was given to me by my first Chaucer professor at the University of Washington, who had me for one class one quarter and believed in my ability to do good work in literature.  Times like this, when I’ve become overwhelmed with schoolwork and personal commitments, that books give me solace and quiet my mind.

Now all I’m missing is a comfy armchair.  Let’s face it, the regulation Hild Bede chairs just can’t compare…

The several weeks I’ve been here have flown by, and already I’m feeling the pangs of home-/Minnesota-sickness. Not to say that Durham is in any way bad (except for maybe the darn hills which, as a wonderful taxi driver once said, “always go up”). Registration was more complicated than I think it needed to be, with students cutting into the queue, no prior computerized registration, and mixed up modules in various departments. Even though my English module is through the IMRS, the reading list was in the English department. Added to the chaos of trying to pin down my advisor with a “this is my career plan” conversation in mind were the many, many freshers (AKA freshman) signing up for classes and not having any idea where they were supposed to do or what they wanted, other than the free pizza coupons, of course.  I truly don’t believe I was that clueless when I was a freshman.  Naive?  Yes.  Clueless and obsessed with getting drunk?  No.

The one thing I’ve come to count on is the availability of my Belvedere blockmates with whom I can chat, joke, and relax.  We live at the top of one big f-ing hill (and Gusties, I no longer think our hill is that impressive.  I’m sorry.) which is immediately preceded by at least one other big hill.  I should get pictures, really.  Even though it’s literally a big pain in my already painful knee, the people here are amazing.  There are English, law, psychology, math, theology, and museum studies students, among others, and we all seem to really get along well.  In my American classes and dorms (as well as my Cambridge summer school) there has been that one person who seems to believe in making life as hard or awkward as possible, but that one seems to be lacking in this area of my college.  Maybe the trek up the hills scared him or her off?

I mentioned that I did, indeed, stand in line for registration, and I got the confirmation email today that it’s gone through.  What I’m left with is (officially) Research Methods, Issues in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, my dissertation, Narrative Transformations, and From Roland to Orlando.  Unofficially, I’m auditing paleography and perhaps an undergraduate Robin Hood class (yeah, bet you didn’t see that one coming).  The reading load looks daunting and the methods class seems long and tedious, but I have a feeling I’ll come out of this programme knowing what I really want to do and what my focus will be.  Plus, this methods class will help me to be a better writer and researcher, which can never be a bad thing.

P.S.  We had postgraduate matriculation today.  We’re now really, really and truly members of the university.  Exciting!

Oh, and next post hopefully will be a bit more organized and I’ll get to show off my new glasses I mentioned.

My dad and I have been in Durham for two nights and about two days.  It’s lovely to be back in such a picturesque and historical city, though the scholarship is causing a few hiccups.  I’ve met with the reception in the college, put my ginormous suitcases and recent bedding purchases in my room, and met with one of the professors and IMRS participants who championed my acceptance and reception of the scholarship.  All seems well, and the sun is shining brilliantly outside over the cathedral!

However, now that these little things are cleared up, or at least on their ways to being cleared up, I have some big decisions ahead of me.  I have to choose modules (American “classes” or “courses”).  After having experience at the Cambridge summer school and at the University of Washington, I have so many modules I want to take!  First, there are the languages.  I want to have at least some basic understanding of Old English, Middle English (1 term already), Old French, modern French, and Latin (3 years already).  I want to be able to teach classes on Shakespeare, medieval literature (with a focus on later poetry, Arthur, epic, and romance), composition (hooray for my Texas TAAS standardized teaching prep actually coming in handy!), manuscript tradition, and the classical tradition’s progression from its early inception in Greece through the beginning of the Renaissance in Europe.  Whew, that’s a lot!  Plus, a good background in the history of the Middle Ages is something I feel I need, and I’ve gotten some excellent education on that.

The modules I’m looking at are Narrative Transformations (classical antiquity to Renaissance), Roland to Orlando (epic), Paleography (reading manuscripts), Codicology (formation of manuscripts and early print), Old English, and romance (focusing on Arthur).  I know I want to take Narrative Transformations, but so much looks so good!  Is it good or bad to want to know everything about literature in the later Middle Ages?  For the master’s program, perhaps it is.  Perhaps it isn’t and it’ll allow me to fine-tune my specialty.  I want to have a specialty in epic literature and antiquity’s influence on medieval literature.  For me, epic includes things like Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (a traditional romance), and folklore legends that become epic, like Robin Hood and the entire Matters of Britain and France and Rome/Vulgate Cycle/Arthurian romance.

So, I’m pretty set on accepting this Hild Bede Scholarship.  I am still incredibly waffly (is that a real word?) about this, as I have no idea what the College of St Hild and St Bede’s postgraduate community will be like.  It’s apparently the largest college (Good?  Bad?  I don’t know; more people but pretty gardens and a library), and most of my tuition and accommodation will be paid by the university.

I know it’s so silly that I even considered turning it down.  I suppose it’s because on online forums and through my communication with a MA Med/Ren student from last year I felt like I know what to expect from Ustinov.  I don’t really know anything about Hild Bede, as I was supposed to be prepared for this and notified by the college by now (and, really, about the scholarship about 6 weeks ago, ha…).  It’s a very queasy feeling.  Do I take what I know or take the money and bet my living arrangements, hoping with three weeks to go I’ll have everything arranged?

My main motivation is for my parents.  They’ve been so wonderful, and I know that grad school, especially in another country, is pricey.  This scholarship means that airfare, other travel and paperwork, and a bit of the tuition as a non-EU student is all we’d pay for out-of-pocket.  One of my wisest friends, Heather, said that she knew how I felt about community and the social aspect because, let’s face it, I am rely on my friends and connections.  They’re my life.

Another decision I’m coping with is what to take with me.  I know that there are things I need to buy… and quickly:

  • bookbag or backpack of some variety, probably leather for a “grown up” lifestyle
  • day trip tote/purse for camera, wallet, books, and various smaller necessities
  • coin purse (Damn you, coinage!  How dare you scatter all over the bottom of my bag!)
  • boots, waterproofed
  • coat, waterproof, warmer than my raincoat
  • camera, larger than a pocket-sized, but not $800 like some photo shops would have me buy

And then there are the things I want, and think would be practical, if not necessary:

  • printed photos
  • books (Oh, the agony of whittling down my bookshelf!  ARGH!)
  • DVDs, iPod, computer with its new international ports
  • little reminders of home
  • maps and guidebooks I’ve picked up along the way

Plus the absolutely necessary: clothing, setting up a bank account, passport with completed visa (ta-da!!!), transcripts and related academic stuff, toiletries, etc.

I need to buy a lamp, bookshelf, sheets, etc. there, which will be a pain.  I definitely smell a trip to Newcastle and a large order on Amazon.co.uk.

Amazon reminds me of my time yesterday at Half Price Books, a dangerous, dangerous place for me.  I have read several of Marie de France’s lais while at UW, including Lanval (knight of King Arthur’s court) and the wonderful Bisclavret (werewolf, based some on Petronius’ Satyricon, hooray!).  Not one person in the store had heard of it, but I did get one amazing anthropologist staffer intrigued!  I think before bed I’ll order the book, which will make happy reading.  I also picked up J. C. Holt’s book on Robin Hood, the Old French Tristan saga (translated!), an anthology of women poets from antiquity to modern times, and a good resource book on Arthur, including the research and theories about the legends beginning with Malory, Wace, and Laȝamon.  Good stuff.  Very bad.

I’m reading the second book by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which is a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind.  It’s called The Angel’s Game and am loving it!  I also recently read my first book by Isabella Allende, Inés of My Soul, which was completely appropriate with its just post-Inquisition Spain/Peru/Chile setting following my Late Middle Ages’ lecture on the Reformation, the Reconquista, and the Inquisition.  Mmmmmm…  So many books, so little time!