Happy Independent Bookshop Week, 18th-25th June

Dr Nicola Wilson writes:

We spent some time in EN2BB (Business of Books) visiting and thinking about the role of bookshops and the power of marketing and display in selling and distributing literature. This week I found myself reviewing two very different texts on bookshops for two very different publications: (i) a scholarly edited collection by Huw Osborne, The Rise of the Modernist Bookshop. Books and the Commerce of Culture in the Twentieth Century (Ashgate, 2015) for The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, and (ii) bestseller Veronica Henry’s fourteenth novel, How to find love in a bookshop (Orion, 2016) for the Press Association which gets short book reviews (150 words) out into the national and regional press.


Henry’s novel is light ‘chick lit’ fare but also a love letter to the powers of reading and to bookshops as places of community and self-fulfilment. Huw Osborne’s edited collection is deeply rooted in scholarly and archival research, with great emphasis placed upon the prominent role of women as booksellers and printer/publishers in the early twentieth century, along with the role of the bookshop – drawing on sociological work by Laura Miller, Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption (2006) and the spatial theories of Henri Lefebvre – as hybrid “interstitial space” (7), “a social and lived space” (142) where communities of writers, readers and artists can meet. Poles apart as texts in so many ways, but both circulating around the idea of the bookshop as central to social and literary culture and to enabling a love of books. Independent Bookshop Week is itself of course a commercial and marketing tool, set up by the Booksellers Association, but I for one don’t mind the complex “literary-commercial paradox” (8), as Osborne describes bookselling, of this one. Happy Reading!

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Ancients and Moderns dispute

Paddy Bullard has recently published an article about Voltaire, Jonathan Swift and the querelle des anciens et des modernes on the blog of the Voltaire Foundation, Oxford. The piece is here. The posting marks the publication of a new collection of essays co-edited by Paddy and Alexis Tadié, Ancients and Moderns in Europe: Comparative Perspectives.

Ancients and Moderns

The collection presents a new intellectual history of the ‘Ancients and Moderns’ dispute, in which fourteen contributors explore its manifestations across Europe in the arts and sciences, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.



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Chloe Houston writes for the Sheffield Centre for Early Modern Studies

Dr Chloe Houston recently posted to the blog for the Sheffield Centre for Early Modern Studies, hosted by the University of Sheffield.

The post can be found here.


                                                     Map of Utopia (anonymous; undated), from http://theopenutopia.org
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David Brauner gives a keynote address at the American Literature Symposium at the University of Cambridge

David writes:

This weekend I found myself in surroundings that were both familiar and strange: familiar, because as an undergraduate at Pembroke College in the late 1980s I’d spent many hours on the Sidgwick site in Cambridge, attending lectures and seminars and working in the English Faculty Library; strange, because the Faculty is housed in a new building (one of several) that have given the place a very different feel. I was there to deliver a keynote address on Saul Bellow’s short fiction at the American Literature Symposium, an annual event that particularly showcases the work of postgraduates at Cambridge conducting research in American literature but that also features speakers from elsewhere.

The theme of this year’s symposium, ‘American Stuff’, elicited papers on subjects as various as the poetry of Anne Bradstreet, Walt Whitman, Charles Olson and James Merrill; the fiction of Henry James, Ralph Ellison, Thomas Pynchon and Jonathan Franzen; and the treatment of ‘hoarding’ in contemporary US fiction. I was a little concerned about how my own detailed reconsideration of some of Bellow’s short stories might fit in with the other papers – my argument was that Bellow is not much concerned with ‘stuff’ in the material sense, preferring to focus on tracing the minute fluctuations of consciousness – but as it turned out it spoke to many of the other presentations, a number of which were also concerned with what one speaker called ‘thinking about thinking’, and others of which were also about the short story form, as practised by Lorrie Moore, Lydia Davis and George Saunders. It was a pleasure and privilege to exchange ideas and to get a sense of the exciting work being done by the current generation of postgraduate students at my alma mater.

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The Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra coincidence

Dr Mark Hutchings writes:

The events held in the UK and across the globe to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death are being mirrored in Spain and the Hispanic world: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote, also died in 1616, and this coincidence has afforded scholars and practitioners an opportunity to explore ways in which the two writers’ achievements might be brought together in a fruitful dialogue. Last week in Valladolid, the city where Cervantes was living when his great novel was published, the University of Valladolid in cooperation with Spain’s national and regional governments hosted ‘Cervantes + Shakespeare’, a five-day international conference under the aegis of SEDERI (Spanish and Portuguese Society for English Renaissance Studies www.sederi.org). The proceedings were formerly inaugurated at the Archivo General, Simancas by the Secretary of State for Culture, José María Lassalle, and academic papers were given over three days in the university’s Renaissance buildings; a classical music concert by La Spagna  was held in St Alban’s College (founded in 1589 and the earliest English Catholic seminary established in Spain); and the conference closed with a performance of Cervantine and Shakespearean pieces in Cervantes’ house, which is now a museum.

Valladolid was in many ways the perfect venue for such an event. Not only is the city associated with Cervantes, but the Spanish writer was present in 1605 when an English embassy, led by the lord Admiral, the earl of Nottingham, arrived in May, staying for a month as the guest of King Philip III. Valladolid was for a brief period (1601-6) the seat of the Habsburg court, before it returned to Madrid permanently the following year. The purpose of the embassy was to ratify the peace treaty signed the previous year in London, when a Spanish embassy was received in England by the new king, James I. Together with the conference organiser, Berta Cano Echevarría, Head of the Department of English Philology at the University of Valladolid, I have been carrying out research into the Anglo-Spanish peacemaking, and specifically the ways in which the ceremonial aspects of early modern diplomacy may be considered to be theatrical and performative. We are interested in how diplomacy was performed – in elite, private entertainments, such as court masques, and in public, in the form of civic displays. One such was the embassy’s formal entry into Valladolid, an event scripted by Philip III as both a gesture of respect towards James’s representative and a performance of Spanish prestige. Surviving eyewitness accounts in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, together with diplomatic documents in the archives, have enabled us to identify (and to some extent, though with the usual caveats, ‘re-imagine’) how the entry was choreographed, and the kinds of entertainment the lord admiral and his embassy received. On this basis Berta Cano and I have reconstructed the route, based on the earliest-known map of Valladolid dating from 1738, showing the point of entry when the English entourage arrived outside the city, the route of the procession, and the principal entertainments and ceremonial events that took place during the month the English remained in the city. Funded by the University of Valladolid and in association with the city hall, Berta Cano and I have reproduced the route and site of entertainments as a fold-out map on one side, with excerpts from the English, Spanish, and Portuguese texts on the other, each of which provides a descriptive commentary of events, such as the entry itself, the tournament and bullfighting held in the plaza mayor (still today much as it was then), and the baptismal procession to the Church of San Pablo: Philip III’s male heir was born while the embassy was en route to Spain, and the ceremonial baptism was incorporated into the festivities surrounding the official ratification of the peace.

Although many of the buildings in which theatre took place in England and Spain have long since vanished, to leave at best only tantalising traces, one of the advantages of exploring early modern civic entertainment is that while many of the structures have long since gone (though by no means all, especially the religious edifices, in Spain at least), the topography of cities often remains substantially as it was. That is, streets and layout change rather little. Berta Cano and I were thus able to retrace the route taken by the embassy upon its entry into Valladolid in May 1605, and identify the places of the principal entertainments, through using a later, eighteenth-century map that corresponds in most respects to the centre of the city today, which was medieval in origin. Once we had established the route and devised the map it was produced to professional standards by the University of Valladolid. A month ago we took a group of bilingual schoolteachers from Castilla y Leon (from schools in Burgos and Salamanca, as well as Valladolid) along the route: like most people in Valladolid they knew nothing of this aspect of the city’s history, of the important part it played in international relations four hundred years ago. Last week we each took a group of conference delegates on the route, starting at the Campo Grande that led into the city (Phillip III having instructed the lord admiral to enter the city from this direction, because this perspective showed Valladolid at its best), and proceeding to the plaza mayor and on to the church of San Pablo, opposite which stood (and stands) the royal palace. Using the excerpts from the earliest accounts built into the map we aimed to convey something of the flavour of the event, as seen through Spanish, English, and Portuguese eyes. It was a great success, despite the fact that academics make for at best amateur tour guides. What most impressed me, however, was how the University of Valladolid, the city hall, and the regional and national government combined to make the wider conference possible, and through this promoted our ‘theatre of diplomacy’ project. The city’s tourist office was particularly interested in our venture, and we are in the process of developing an app for visitors to the city. In the longer term we hope to extend this project to other European cities – so if any students are interested in this kind of project do get in touch.




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Many congratulations to CIRCL PhD student Krissie West!

Krissie passed her PhD viva on 10-05-2016 with her thesis”To be boy eternal”: Locating the Child in the Literature and Criticism of Ralph Waldo Emerson. External Examiner: Professor Peter Buse (Kingston University), Internal Examiner: Professor Peter Stoneley!

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The Year’s Work in English Studies highlights new Ann Hawkshaw edition

Debbie Bark writes:

The Collected Works of Ann Hawkshaw has been highlighted in the most recent edition of The Year’s Work in English Studies (see below). Hawkshaw has been at the centre of my research for over ten years, during which time I have recovered her poetry and started to reposition her writing in a critical context.  It is very rewarding to see that her work is being noticed again after more than a century of neglect. You can find out more about Hawkshaw’s life and work by following me on Twitter @talkinghawkshaw.

Ann Hawkshaw Debbie Bark

From The Year’s Work in English Studies (2016), XIV, The Victorian Period (1830-1900), 176:

Debbie Bark has edited The Collected Works of Ann Hawkshaw, publishing Hawkshaw’s four volumes of poetry together for the first time, and demonstrating the sheer scope of her poetic output. Bark’s ‘Biographical Introduction’ provides a notably full account of Hawkshaw’s life, drawing on two unpublished memoirs (one autobiographical) alongside other family documents. The short editorial introductions to each of Hawkshaw’s collections provide both contextual and analytical details, and the presence of other paratextual matter (including contemporary reviews) means that the volume will do much to facilitate future engagement with Hawkshaw in both teaching and research contexts.

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My Welcome Week Experience

Becky reflects on her enjoyable Welcome Week and gives you an idea of what to expect in yours.

Welcome Week at the University of Reading was one of the busiest weeks of my university career, packed with meeting new people, attending introductory lectures and taster society sessions, and, along with many students, moving away from my family for the first time.

My Dad dropped me off, his car filled to the brim with my clothes, books and other stuff I’d decided to bring with me. We’d had to attach a roof box just so I could fit in an extra few boxes. After we had carried everything to my new room, he hugged me goodbye and left but, as cheesy as this sounds, I wasn’t on my own. Everyone else was in the same boat: excited, nervous, and (like me) putting up their posters before even unpacking their bedding. Some people I met that first week in lectures commuted from nearby, or lived in student housing, but we all had one thing in common- we were all starting the next Big Step in our lives. It’s the most uniting thing I’ve ever experienced, making Welcome Week really special and good fun. It also really helps if you offer everybody chocolate biscuits!

I soon become close with my flatmates. I had worried that because I had not been clubbing much, this would affect my social life. I couldn’t have been more wrong! My flatmates and I started having many nights dedicated to watching Game of Thrones boxsets, and days scouring Reading’s charity shops for bargain fancy dress outfits. I also got to know students from my course, going to a café after one lecture to discuss the modules before we had even started them, and to this day we still revise together in the summer term. I even became friends with one girl at a university bar because of the amazing coincidence that we were both named Rebecca.

Societies Fayre at Welcome Week

The Societies Fayre and Sports Fayre gave me more great opportunities to meet new people, as well as try new things. With over 150 societies and sports clubs to pick from, it was hard to decide which to join. From the fencing society to the Harry Potter society, from modern languages to rugby to singer-songwriting, between me and my friends we went to a huge number of taster sessions. In addition, another fayre available in that first week was the Careers Fayre, which was exceedingly useful. The companies recruiting students at the stalls prove that there are so many career options and a huge variety of graduate jobs for humanities students, and they start you thinking about the career path you would want to follow after finishing your degree.

With all the activities available in Welcome Week, introductory lectures still managed to be the most exciting part of it. I met the tutors who would be teaching me over the next few years, met students I would be sharing classes with, and got my first feel of what it was going to be like to study at the University of Reading. I remember meeting up with all my flatmates straight after our introductory lectures, sitting on a bench in the middle of campus, and talking enthusiastically about each of our subjects, and our plans for the future. It was a whirlwind of a week, and a great start to university. I hope you enjoy yours just as much.

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Celebrating 400 years of William Shakespeare and Philip Henslowe (who’s he?)

Professor Grace Ioppolo writes:

Those of you who were in one of my Shakespeare modules this year or follow me on Twitter @ProfShakespeare know that I never stopped talking about the amazing celebrations in 2016 that mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. With his usual theatrical flair, Shakespeare managed to be born and to die on the same day in April in Stratford-upon-Avon: he was probably born on April 23rd, 1564, and died on April 23rd, 1616. One legend is that after Shakespeare went out drinking with his former colleagues Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton on April 22nd, 1616, he became ill of a fever and died the next day. I don’t think that this was a sudden death (or that Jonson poisoned him out of jealousy!). Instead I suspect that his old pals knew that Shakespeare was seriously ill and travelled especially from London to Stratford to say goodbye to him.

I like to think that Shakespeare died laughing at Ben Jonson’s very witty jokes. In addition to working on Shakespeare’s plays in composition and performance, I work on those of Jonson, and I had great fun recently researching and writing a forthcoming book chapter on all the extant manuscripts of Jonson, so I know what a very, very particular writer he was. If only we had as many manuscripts of Shakespeare’s as we do of Jonson’s in his very neat handwriting, but that’s material for another blog.

I did enjoy doing the Globe’s Complete Walk on the Thames on April 23 with 37 screens showing short films of each of Shakespeare’s plays (there are actually 38 plays in his canon, but who’s counting?). I’ve also attended a lot of receptions and launches of Shakespeare exhibits, with more lectures, conferences and symposia to come (yes, bring on the prosecco so that we can keep toasting Shakespeare). Special Shakespeare emojis were created for Twitter (go ahead and tweet #Shakespeare400 or #ShakespeareLives and watch what happens to your hashtag) and everyone, from David Tennant to Judi Dench, Ian McKellen and even Prince Charles, has joined in the television, radio and stage celebrations of our greatest-ever writer. I have to say that I was happy to do my part not just on Twitter and at swanky receptions but by spending three weeks advising the staff of BBC’s Countryfile on provincial actors and being interviewed about 16th and 17th century performances in Reading’s Abbey for the BBC’s Shakespeare on Tour series: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03fcz11

But what has gotten much less attention in this 400th celebratory year is the death of Philip Henslowe on January 6th, 1616. You may never have heard of him but the survival of his massive archive of personal and professional papers (preserved at Dulwich College, London, through the dogged determination of his son-in-law, the great actor Edward Alleyn) is essential to our understanding of drama and performance in the age of Shakespeare. Luckily for historians of London drama, theatre, geography, economics, archaeology and other fields, Henslowe and Alleyn recorded all their expenditures, loans, debts and revenue while building and running two major playhouses, the Rose and the Fortune, two major acting companies, the Lord Strange’s Men and the Lord Admiral’s Men, and developing property in Southwark, Dulwich and throughout London and southern England, not to mention running the king’s concession on sports—that is, animal-baiting. All of this means that their records tell us who was working where and when as actors, playwrights, playhouse builders, costumers, property-makers, and the like, especially as theatre personnel moved among playhouses and acting companies. Their records even tell us how much ordinary items such as timber, nails, whalebone corsets, stockings, sugar and that newly imported fruit—pineapples–cost. Henslowe and Alleyn also record their interactions with all of the most important figures of the day, including Queen Elizabeth I (who had a special fondness for Alleyn’s acting), King James I, John Donne (Alleyn’s second father-in-law), Sir Francis Bacon, and numerous other political and religious officials. If you want to look at these records, I digitised them in this electronic archive and website (www.henslowe-alleyn.org.uk). If you start with the short essays on the most important documents (http://www.henslowe-alleyn.org.uk/essays/digitalessays.html), you’ll see why this collection of records can rightly be called the world’s most important single archive on theatre history in Shakespeare’s time. What these records tell us above all was how amateur performances in English town halls before 1572 developed into professional theatre, with the first purpose-built playhouses in London, and became a major, and lucrative, industry by 1616, which explains why Shakespeare, who invested in his own acting company and playhouses, the Globe and Blackfriars, and Henslowe and Alleyn all died quite wealthy for their time.

I love being a Shakespearean and having the title of Professor of Shakespearean and Early Modern Drama at Reading, but I’ve never regretted branching out of the Shakespeare maelstrom into wider theatre history by studying hundreds of pages of Henslowe’s and Alleyn’s records and thereby following in the footsteps of the great theatre historian Reg Foakes, who was my PhD supervisor at UCLA. As Reg used to say to me, ‘If you don’t understand theatre history, you won’t understand Shakespeare’. He was so right.

So I’m going into overdrive this month with four public lectures on Henslowe’s and Alleyn’s legacy: the first on May 6th at the Dulwich Arts Festival; the second on May 19th at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/education/events/lectures-talks/sam-talks,

(and yes, I’m thrilled to be able to stand on that stage because I still cherish the long conversation I had with Sam Wanamaker 26 years ago at a Shakespeare conference); the third at the ‘Henslowe’s Rose’ Symposium that I organised at the Globe: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/education/events/symposia-conferences/henslowes-rose, with Reading’s own Mark Hutchings and Andy Gurr also speaking; and the fourth in late May at the 400th anniversary bash at Dulwich College, founded by Edward Alleyn. The second and third events are open to the public, if you’re interested. I’m also the 2017 Sam Wanamaker Fellow at the Globe, and what an honour that is, and I’ve organised a Shakespeare Study Day at the National Archives, Kew on August 16 (with details to follow soon).

So as you go through your daily life in 2016, just remember that 400 years ago the very foundations of drama, theatre and performance, including even the modern plays that you so eagerly see in London’s West End or Southbank or Stratford-upon-Avon would probably not exist without the ingenuity and exceptional talent not just of Shakespeare but of those money men and incredibly visionary entrepreneurs Henslowe and Alleyn. There wouldn’t be a Pinter, a Beckett (and don’t listen to Mark Nixon if he disagrees with me!), a Stoppard or probably even an Ibsen or Chekhov without these early modern geniuses (and if you think that Wicked or even Game of Thrones owes nothing to Shakespeare, think again). So celebrate while you can!


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Where to go for help and advice at University

Final year student Chloe takes us though the many places to go for guidance at Reading and assures us that ‘everyone is in the same boat’. 

Beginning university is a big milestone. A change in studies and often a change in scenery, university is the start of a new adventure and marks, for many, the first experience of moving out of home. In the coming months you will start to contemplate all of these changes: writing lists of what will make the cut in your packing for university; looking at your reading list; figuring out how to do things that you may not have had to do before (like your own washing!). When the time comes, the move to university will surely be a momentous occasion, and awaiting you alongside your studies are friends and experiences that you will treasure long after your university time.

However, understandably, such a change can seem daunting. Everyone will be telling you that ‘everyone’s in the same boat’ – I’m sure you’ve already heard that a few times! – but it actually is true. When you arrive to university, whether that be your move-in day at Halls, or your first lecture, you will see that all of the other students have exactly the same feelings of apprehension, excitement and nerves. The friends you make in your accommodation and/or on your course will most probably be your closest support network for the coming years. Providing a home away from home, the bonds between students are so tight because they become your first port of call when you need a companion for all the new things you are discovering: when you want to go and explore the campus; when you need to watch a favourite film to combat a bit of homesickness. These bonds are important to the transition to university. However, as in any situation, there can be times when things go wrong or something is making your time less enjoyable than it should be. For such times, there are a fantastic range of support services run by the university, to help you in any way that may be required.

Upon arriving at university you will be assigned a personal tutor, a member of staff within your subject of study. Your personal tutor will be a constant throughout your degree, providing help and support for not only academic issues or concerns you may have, but also with personal issues such as housing, relationships, finance etc. Most tutors are more than happy to talk to you either in person or via email at any point during the academic year, and will be able to refer you or provide necessary advice for the specific problem. During my studies at university I have used both my personal tutor and even tutors from modules I have taken. Members of staff, in my experience, are so friendly and helpful, and having such a great network of tutors and staff to talk to means that there is likely to be at least one person that you feel comfortable talking to.

Outside the Carrington Building

Alongside the personal tutor connection, the University runs a Student Wellbeing Service, housed in the Carrington building on campus. The ‘Counselling and wellbeing’ facility operates many services, including: Counselling sessions with trained professionals (can be a one-off session or a series of sessions), Peer supporters (fellow students offering advice), Life Tools talks (resources and advice about living independently, managing time, study advice etc.), Study Advisor ( to help with academic problems). This is a free service available to all registered students, and fully trained counsellors are always on hand to provide guidance and support to students about a range of personal and academic issues. Similar to this, RUSU (Reading University’s Student’s Union) runs events throughout the year to help students deal with stress. ‘RUSU says Relax’ is a scheme precisely for this, and is currently running a ‘Mobile Zoo’ that is on campus during exam period to help students relieve stress.

So always remember, especially in the run up to starting university, that help and support is always on hand at any point, even if you just need a friendly chat and a cup of tea!

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