Books in unexpected places

being human


Saturday 21 November 2015

Museum of English Rural Life, London Road campus, University of Reading

11.00 am to 4.00 pm

Join us to celebrate the University of Reading’s research in Heritage and Creativity, showcasing material from its renowned archives and collections.

There will also be a chance to look round the new building developments at the Museum of English Rural Life. Join staff for a special behind-the-scenes tour to hear more about the ‘Our Country Lives’ project.  The museum is currently closed for a Heritage Lottery funded redevelopment project to transform it and the way a new generation engages with rural heritage through new, themed displays, innovative interpretation and an exciting programme of activities.

Listen to talks about books in burials, philosophy in the trenches, poetry in Roman art, books in post-war reconstruction, in art and in excavations.

Talks 1  | 11.15 am – 12.45 pm


Hella Eckardt

Scribes and Books: the archaeology of Roman literacy

Who wrote books in the Roman period? And how? This talk is about the practice of writing with ink and papyrus, and about the identities of the few individuals who possessed this skill. New burial evidence shows that this included women and children, and people from all over the Roman Empire.


Amy Smith

Archaeological notebooks in the Ure Museum: From site records to travel diaries

This talk will transport you back to the first decades of the 20th century, when pioneering archaeologists Annie & Percy Ure wrote lively illustrated notebooks of their travels, museum visits and site records of their excavations in the cemetery at Rhitsona in Boeotia, Greece. These unique volumes are all part of the extensive records of the Ure’s archaeological work in Greece & their travels throughout Europe during the years that they were also creating the museum at the University of Reading that now bears their name.


Gerry Leonidas

From tragedy to politics: Doxiadis’ argument for post-war reconstruction

This is the story of a little-documented act of international policy from the immediate aftermath of WWII, unique in its scale, using design to document, to recount, to imagine, to argument, and to influence international policy. A rare insight into a way of doing politics that is more nuanced and eloquent than most contemporary actions.


Talks 2  | 2.30 am – 4.00 pm


John Preston

Logic in hell – Wittgenstein’s notebooks

Fighting for the Austro-Hungarian army in WWI, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein theorises on the nature of language, logic, truth, and life itself. Eventually convinced that his death is imminent, he volunteers for the most dangerous postings, risking his life time and again while writing the notebooks he would later turn into his book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.


Karen Di Franco

Books in archives

Artists’ publishing is often considered — and held — separately within institutional collections: in the library, archive or the art collection. Considering the book as artwork, as object, and as a mode of dissemination and distribution, my presentation will explore some materials that question or test some of the ways that institutions classify artists’ books.


Peter Kruschwitz

Representations of poetry books in Roman art

Books exist in many places, expected and unexpected. But sometimes they merely exist in someone’s imagination – from that of an author-to-be, contemplating their future output, to decorative reproductions of book spines for posters and wrapping paper, to fake books with glued-together pages for an illustrative use in furniture outlets. Thus a book may turn into an object with a life both independent from, and ultimately even altogether lacking, its physical properties and traditional uses (as a carrier of texts and images). This presentation will consider a range of merely imagined books of the Roman period – books that feature in forms of Roman art, books that once may or may not have existed physically, but that, in their new context developed, and continue to develop, a new life.


Workshop: ‘Books at work’ |  1.00–2.30 pm


Come and share your reflections and personal experience
on books in the workplace. Hear about books in hospitals and in the mills.


This workshop, led by Rebecca Bullard will explore the ways in which we used books at work before the digital age. Participants will be invited to share their memories, and any books that they have brought along with them, with the rest of the group. We’ll also have two talks about books in the workplace in Victorian and Edwardian times:

Talk | Nicola Wilson – Reading at t’ mill

Exploring the writing of Lancashire mill-woman Ethel Carnie Holdsworth (1886-1962), this talk will offer some reflections on the long history of illicit reading at work and the significance of books and print culture to working-class history and factory life.

Talk | Andrew Mangham – Ward Words: The Old Library at the Royal Berkshire Hospital

The Royal Berkshire Hospital has been the home of a medical library since the 1840s. Dr Andrew Mangham discusses the history of the hospital and its extraordinary collection of old medical books.


View displays of rare books, botanical notebooks, children’s books, archaeological finds.


Alastair Culham

Notes from the Wilder parts of Spain

Where would you find original paintings and maps of more than 700 species of Spanish plants all based on sketches from the field?  The University’s Herbarium boasts outstanding collections that are even borrowed by Spanish botanists.  The John Carr collection of paintings by Jill Smythies and maps of plant locations give an insight into Southern Spain’s flora.


Sue Walker and Laura Weill

Books to think through

Sketches, drawings and mini-books from the Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection show examples of children’s books in the making.


Fiona Melhuish

Unexpected insights : a display of annotated texts

While writing in books is generally discouraged, annotations and marginalia in books can offer valuable insights into the impact of books in their contemporary and later contexts. Through a selection of examples from the rare book collections, this display offers a glimpse into the private relationship and interaction between reader and text where the distinction between ‘book’ and ‘manuscript’ becomes blurred and mass-produced texts become unique artefacts.


Amy Smith

From ex agris to ex libris

A rare display of the archaeological field notebooks in the Ure Museum evidences the practical work of Classical archaeologists, Percy & Annie Ure, during their European travels and especially their excavations at Rhitsona, Boeotia, Greece, during the first quarter of the 20th century.



Events for children and families


11.00 – 12.00


Books in hidden places session for 4–6 year olds (All children to be accompanied by an adult.)

Learning Hub, London Road campus, University of Reading

Max number 20


Karen Goulding will introduce the session by discussing how she found some wonderful book illustrations hidden in a cupboard. Karen will then read a variety of books with hidden stories included within the pages. During the hands-on session, children will create their own book within a hidden place.

1.00 – 2.00pm
Jonnie Rocket for  7-11 year olds (All children to be accompanied by an adult.)
Learning Hub, London Road campus, University of Reading

Max number 20


This interactive session will involve a very brief introduction regarding the creation of Jonnie Rocket based on  Jonnie Chapman’s personal background and experiences in staring in the original ‘Star Wars’ film. He will read one of Jonnie Rockets adventures: The ride of terror ‘Jonnie Rockets mission is to save the ride of terror. Will he succeed, or have the troublemakers gone too far this time?



More information:    


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All welcome at next Monday’s seminar

Please join us for next Monday’s lunchtime Archives & Texts seminar where Dr Hannah Sullivan (Oxford) will be giving a paper on ‘The Art of the Carriage Return: Free Verse, lineation and the typewriter’

1-2pm in URS 2s26

(Hannah Sullivan is Associate Professor of English at Oxford University, and a fellow of New College. Her first book The Work of Revision (Harvard, 2013) analysed the way in which modernist style was shaped by revision, especially revision on typescript; it was awarded the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize from the British Academy in 2014, and the 2015 University English Prize for a first book. She is now writing a new book on free verse. Her talk will ask whether there is a connection between the difficulty and finality of “return” on the typewriter and new kinds of lineation in early 20c free verse.


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Secret History

Rebecca Bullard writes:

Last week, I was delighted to give a public lecture at Chawton House Library in Alton, Hampshire. Chawton House is a grand, Elizabethan manor house that was once owned by Jane Austen’s brother, Edward. These days it hosts an internationally recognised research library dedicated to the study of eighteenth-century women’s writng.


My lecture was about women and secret history in this period. Secret histories claim to give their readers a privileged glimpse into the private lives of powerful people. They tell tales of sexual intrigue and political corruption, exposing affairs between monarchs, ministers, and their mistresses. Powerful women like Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Portsmouth and Queen Anne’s favourite, Sarah Churchill, were the subject of many secret histories, but women were also important as authors of these texts. Writers including Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, and Eliza Haywood used secret history to exercise political agency centuries before women had the vote. It was a real privilege to share my passion for women’s writing and eighteenth-century politics with a lively and welcoming audience in beautiful surroundings.

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Andrew Gurr is honoured by The Globe Theatre

Andrew Gurr, Professor Emeritus of our department, is one of seven senior research fellows who have been announced by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in recognition of their ‘extraordinary contribution to knowledge of Shakespearean theatre through their work at and for the Globe over two decades or more’


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Work Experience at Penguin Books

As a third year student, the end of university is drawing increasingly closer and the prospect of having to find a job is becoming more and more of a reality. However, last year I managed to get some work experience at Penguin Books for a couple of weeks during the summer holidays, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I would definitely recommend starting to think about what you want to do as early as possible, and use your first and second years at university as a time to get some work experience – even if it’s just to try out a particular role to see if you like it or not. By doing this it means you’ll waste less time later on because you’ll have a more solid idea of what you want to do.

I started applying to various publishing companies over the Christmas holidays in my second year and although I didn’t get any offers straight away, I did get put on some of the companies’ systems to be notified of possible opportunities in the future, which is another benefit of making the effort early on as you never know when they might need an extra pair of hands. Finally, I got round to applying to one of the big publishers I hadn’t applied to yet – Penguin Books. To my surprise the day after I submitted my application I received an email offering me two weeks’ work experience with the Penguin Press imprint, who publish Penguin Classics, non-fiction and a niche range of fiction. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.

Work Experience

Images from my exciting work experience

I was really nervous on my first day but I needn’t have been as everyone was lovely and very welcoming. I was shown around the building, given my ID pass and told more about the department and what I’d be doing during the two weeks. I’m happy to say that I was kept busy: sending out books to journalists, cutting out and filing news coverage, drafting and editing press releases, putting together material for the noticeboard, answering enquires via email, and of course some basic admin tasks too. I also got to sit in on the publicity meetings, as well as the larger scale Penguin Press meetings with the editorial, marketing and sales teams. This helped give me an overview of the publishing process.

Before I undertook the placement at Penguin, publicity was an area I’d never even considered before and it definitely opened my eyes up to the range of roles there are within publishing beyond editorial – which is what most people associate with publishing. The work experience at Penguin not only gave me invaluable experience that will help me with applying for jobs in the future, but it also confirmed that publishing is the career for me.

While studying English Literature at Reading there is also the fantastic opportunity to make some of your modules into academic placements and although I found my work experience independently of the university, I would definitely encourage people to consider this option and look into it. I think it’s a great way of easily incorporating some work experience into your degree. After all, although university is a great experience in itself, everybody wants a job at the end of it and work experience is always going to be a great addition to a CV or job application!

Laura Skelton

Please follow this link to find out more about our academic placements:

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The Transition from Year 13 to University

Many of you now are probably in the position of thinking that university is a foreign concept, and how different it might be from school and college. But everyone is the same! I came from a close-knit sixth form where everybody knew each other by name, so I wondered how I would fit into the new scary lifestyle that is the step up into university life.

Firstly you can choose to live on campus in student flats or housing and therefore a huge part of the transition from Year 13 to university is sharing accommodation with others. I was in a flat of six in my accommodation, and for many people this is the time that you can really form close bonds with others. This is because in contrast to Year 13, you are not simply spending time with other students from nine to three then going home: everyone is all together in one flat 24/7. This meant I found it so much easier to socialise with people, forge firm friendships and have someone to support and help me, as they were right next door! This was especially useful when writing essays, as an extra pair of eyes can spot grammatical errors that wouldn’t have been picked up on my own, and people offering views on your essay ideas is a great way to perfect it.

Secondly, I found a greater independence is what makes the transition from Year 13 to university even more of a new experience. Going shopping on my own and doing my first load of washing were milestones, but something that was enjoyable as our flat always did it together. Another new challenge is cooking for yourself, and finding out flatmates have varied cooking abilities- a particularly memorable instance of mine being the very stereotypical perception that students don’t know how to boil an egg (which turned out to be true!). However, in true flatmate style we all experienced these things together even if at the end of the day pasta is the main meal of choice!

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The Societies Fayre in Welcome Week. Joining a society is a fantastic way to make friends.

This independence we have at university is reflected in our studies as we are encouraged to engage in independent study for essays and exams. The greater freedom in academic writing, especially for me as an English Literature student, has been much more beneficial. Instead of a heavily-structured approach to writing essays at A-Level, they become ours to create. We are given the freedom to express views in our own way in a unique style, as long as it forms a persuasive argument. This means the library should be put to good use as the choice of secondary sources, whether it is for criticisms of Tennyson or Brönte. The transition from Year 13 is made a lot easier, as external academic advisors such as Study Advice and The Royal Literary Fellows are available to help you academically and are invaluable for extra help concerning essays. The University is always on hand to offer one-to-one support if desired, but this time it is available from a variety of different people.

My final experience of being at the University of Reading that makes the transition from sixth form to further education complete is the fact there are many sports societies that suit different interests. This ranges from the outgoing Mountaineering society to the Polo society, and many more, illustrating how there is a whole variety of activities in contrast to those compulsory P.E. sessions held in secondary school. There are also many other non-sport societies including the Lock-Picking Society, Circus Arts Society, Beyoncé Society and of course the English Society. Societies are brilliant in developing confidence and fitness, not to mention social skills which I can guaranteed as societies here at Reading are renowned for their fun socials, yet another reason why this transition is one of the easiest you’ll make once here!

Sarah Penny

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My First Seminar

There are several observations every student makes about their first seminar. Firstly everyone turns up fifteen minutes early to their first ever seminar, without fail. Also, everyone wears their best clothes for the first few weeks- making the entrance into the room look like a fashion week runway for a bit. Thankfully, this does quickly change. Everyone realises how wonderful those five extra minutes of sleep are, and that nobody cares if you turn up in your oldest, oversized hoodie from 2012, so long as you have something worthwhile to say about the text. Besides, it gets pretty cold on October mornings- who can blame you?

But you also learn that seminars are really important in an English Literature degree, and to me, seminars are at the heart of it. You will definitely do a lot of independent study, learn about all the famous critics and read some controversial views in literary journals at university. But there’s nothing better to improve your analytical skills than having an enthusiastic discussion about Shakespeare with the girl from across the seminar room- especially with such a controversial play as The Taming of the Shrew. It was the first text I studied at university, so at first most people were hesitant to say anything- especially me and a few others who had a few issues with some of the themes and ideas in the play. The seminar leader’s job is to get you to talk about it, even if you’re nervous and you don’t want to admit you take issue with the text.

At first, it seems a bit awkward. I think this is because people feel like everyone else might be smarter than them, but seminars are there for discussion and the broadening of ideas. I remember one guy making an observation about the play, and then everyone else started talking, either agreeing with his point or (respectfully!) disagreeing with it. By doing this, you look at a text in a way that you couldn’t really achieve at A Level, where everything is more black-and-white or if you were working on your own. Here, individual ideas are much more encouraged.

After a couple of seminars you realise that you all have the same thing in common: a love of literature with a lot of strong opinions about it. What you learn in a seminar is how to strengthen your arguments, listen to other people and think in different ways about the texts you are studying. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the seminar leaders are often experts in the field you’re studying, too, so they steer the conversation in some really interesting directions.

One thing your flatmates tend to say when you have your first literature seminar is “you get to talk about a book for an hour? Wow that sounds so easy!” which is the most infuriating thing they could possibly say. While I find seminars really enjoyable, if you don’t read the text before a seminar it is glaringly obvious. As you might expect, you are expected to have a good understanding of the topic before the seminar. So, as well as being fascinating, seminars can be quite intellectually challenging- which is what you want. I’ve had my viewpoints on sonnets drastically altered by my classmates, and one friend and I still don’t see eye to eye on the works of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning after one seminar last year.

The seminar classes are quite small, with up to fifteen people to a seminar. This means you get to know everyone’s views, and understand others’ thought processes. After my first seminar for one module, a few of us went to lunch to continue a discussion we were having, because we didn’t want to stop the conversation there. It’s a great way to get to know other people as well as your own ideas.

My first seminar

Seminar sizes are small so you get lots of attention!

The main thing I got out of seminars, and the university experience as a whole, was a lot more confidence in what I had to say, and a huge improvement in my communication skills. That first seminar laid the foundation for me to improve my arguments, by listening to what other people had to say against them. It’s important to have your ideas heard and discussed, and the seminar environment facilitates this wonderfully. One of the best things about studying English Literature is that you get so many of them.

Becky Liddell

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First Year Poetry and My Favourite Poem

On initially starting my English Literature degree at the University of Reading, I was definitely nervous about having to embark on a whole module, called Poetry in English, entirely devoted to poetry in my first year. Although my love of literature included poems, throughout my school life it had always been a form that I somewhat struggled with, and would consequently tend to avoid wherever possible. However, with the module looking at a range of poems from the early 17th century to the present day, it didn’t take many lectures to spark an interest in poetry that I never thought I’d have.

The professors’ frequent encouragement for us to personally respond to the poems prompted rewarding, independent exploration of various forms of poetry, and the discussion-based atmosphere of seminars in particular gave an entirely new depth to my analysis. Where relevant, and with guidance from lecturers and seminar leaders, this analysis often included investigating the context surrounding certain poems. This was an aspect that appealed to my inner amateur historian, and allowed for a great deal of wider reading that only made the poems I was studying all the more interesting.

It was as a result of being encouraged to widely read around the poems that featured on the module that I discovered what is now one of my favourite poems: William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus”. The poem was recommended to me as part of a study group for the module in which we discussed poems that had a strong historical impact, making links between the poems studied in seminars and those from our wider reading. “Invictus” immediately appealed to me as a brave and motivational poem advocating strength in times of turmoil. The poem includes such strong imagery of being utterly unconquerable that, in just four short stanzas, I was moved and inspired from my first read.

My interest in the poem grew through researching into its historical context and the impact it had on individuals. In particular, learning that Nelson Mandela recited this poem to himself and his fellow inmates during his lengthy confinement in prison as a sufferer of racial prejudice made the poem even more meaningful. The author of the poem and the context of its production also influenced my view. As a sufferer of tuberculosis since childhood, William Ernest Henley composed “Invictus” during his recovery from a leg amputation at a very young age. This gave way to a different kind of bravery within the poem, which subsequently led to me finding another level of appreciation for its words. Learning about the history surrounding the poem worked favourably to intensify its significance for me, making it more powerful and inspiring.

The vast period of poetry that the module covers, combined with consistent staff encouragement and guidance to independently read around the set texts, allowed me to more freely explore poetry as I never had before. This, in turn, opened up an array of styles, genres and poets, leaving me far less restricted in what I chose to focus on in my studies.  I’m glad that studying at the University of Reading helped me to confront my academic insecurities rather than shy away from them, and I’m happy to say that poetry has since become one of my favourite forms to study.

Hannah Groves

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Inside the Samuel Beckett Module

In the third year of studying English Literature at the University of Reading you are offered a multitude of interesting and unique modules, spanning the diverse depths of literature from across the globe and across the centuries. When you get to this stage, you will probably have built up quite a clear idea of what you love to read, analyse and study. However, if like myself you are extremely indecisive, the module decision may be a bit tougher: I wanted to take every module, so narrowing it down to a few was a hard task! In the end I finally made my choices, one of which was ‘Samuel Beckett’. I had studied one of Beckett’s plays, Endgame, in my first year of study and it had been my first interaction with the playwright. In the way that many literature students do with certain texts or authors, I instantly fell in love with the play. It opened my mind to an entirely new way of thinking about drama, and ideas about life itself. Moreover, I knew that the University of Reading has an important connection to Beckett, for it owns The Beckett Collection, the largest collection of resources pertaining to Beckett in the world. So I took a chance with the module, eager to learn more about this fascinating character and his prolific career, and hoping to discover more by making use of such a remarkable resource right at my doorstep.

Inside the Samuel Beckett Module

The University’s Special Collections share a home with the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), next to the London Road campus of the University. They house archives for a number of topics as well as The Beckett Collection, including: Ladybird books, The Great Exhibition, Children’s Collection, Aubrey Beardsley and many more. Contained there are a number of resources, such as original manuscripts, correspondences (original letters), stage files, journals, artworks, photographs, recordings etc. pertaining to each topic. Studying at the University of Reading gives you access to these pieces of history, bringing your study to life and stimulating your academic research in a unique and rewarding way.

My experience with The Beckett Collection was better than I ever imagined it to be, and is one of the defining moments in my academic study that I will always recall when I think of my time as a student. In the first few weeks we visited the collection as a seminar group, with our tutor, and were introduced to the material available for the study of Beckett. At the time we were studying Beckett’s first novel, Murphy, and so the collection granted us access to view copies of the original notebooks that Beckett wrote Murphy in. To my amazement his notes spanned five full notebooks (much longer than the finished product) and the very first notebook contained only the first paragraph of the finished novel, revised and revised across each page. It was truly incredible to be witnessing Beckett’s own personal notes and drawings, and to be privy to something as personal as his thought process when writing. This interaction with the collection made such an impression on me that I decided immediately that I would return and use the material for my assessed essay. I wrote my essay on presence and absence within Not I and Footfalls, two of Beckett’s later short plays, and used the collection to aid my argument. The following is a small example of how I used the research in my essay:

‘The importance of ‘birth’ to Mouth’s narrative is suggested in an earlier draft of the play (Samuel Beckett, Not I, Manuscript, Reading University Library, MS 1227/7/12/5, p. 1.) in which Mouth’s first words are: ‘..birth…into this world…this world.’  Beckett’s decision to make the alteration of ‘birth’ to ‘out’ in the final text, though perhaps less explicit in resolute meaning, seems to paradoxically fortify the idea that birth is Mouth’s main presence. Instead of Mouth saying ‘birth’, it experiences birth, bringing words into being.’

I found the process of studying the original manuscripts, and seeing how Beckett constructed his works, to be not only helpful in assembling my own argument about the text, but also in gaining a wider understanding of Beckett’s works in relation to each other. I feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to have been able to experience The Beckett Collection; it augmented my passion for Beckett, for academic study, and it reminded me of the reason why I chose to study literature in the first place.

Chloe Rendall, BA Art and English Literature

For more information, see

Or to see the full list of special collections:

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Beckett at Reading Postgraduate Group (BARP) conference

Will Davies writes:

The first Beckett at Reading Postgraduate Group (BARP) conference took place on the 28th and 29th of October. Held at the Museum of English Rural Life and with a particular focus on providing a platform for PhD and Early Career researchers, the conference welcomed papers on the theme of ‘Samuel Beckett and Europe.’ The range of presentations spanned Beckett’s life and canon through multiple approaches that saw theory and archival work blending with historical, political and philosophical engagements, showcasing the diversity of current Beckett research.

The conference keynote was given by Dr David Tucker, research fellow at University of Chester and researcher in the Staging Beckett project. David’s paper focused on his work on Samuel Beckett’s only work for cinema, Film, and the possibility of Beckett’s involvement in a remake. Following the keynote a wine reception was held in the newly refurbished MERL foyer, generously funded by Beckett at Reading (BAR). The conference was also partially funded by the Graduate School Events Fund.


As a part of the program, the conference also included three workshops. Dr Mark Nixon provided a workshop on archival studies using items from the Beckett Collection held at MERL. Dr Trish McTighe hosted a session on theatre and performance archive work, making use of the recently acquired Billie Whitelaw collection. Professor Steven Matthews also held a ‘Teaching Beckett’ workshop in which the discussion focused on the methods and issues involved in teaching and constructing university teaching based on Beckett’s work.


‘Beckett and Europe’ drew to a close with a roundtable discussion chaired by Mark Nixon. David Tucker and Trish McTighe were joined by Professor James Knowlson and Professor John Pilling to reflect on the theme of the conference and to discuss the diversity of papers that had been heard during the two days.


The BARP team are also pleased to announce that £525 was raised through the sale of Dr Julie Campbell’s academic books, kindly donated by Samantha Campbell. All proceeds will be divided between four charities: Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, Maggie’s Cancer Centres, the Howard League for Penal Reform and St Mungo’s Broadway.  

Beckett conference

This conference has been a great success with excellent presentations and lively academic debates in equal measure. The BARP team would like to thank all who were involved and particularly those who provided advice and support in the planning of the conference.

The BARP Team are Michela Bariselli, Niamh Bowe, Helen Bailey, William Davies and Sam Whybrow.

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