Archives and Texts event

Monday 24 November (wk 9) 5-6pm, Museum of English Rural Life

Dr David Sutton (Head of GLAM, Reading)

‘Diasporic Literary Archives’


Please note that this seminar takes place in MERL, where there will be an accompanying pop-up exhibition with items from the archives on display in the reading room after the seminar.

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CIRCL in action…

Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein writes:

Bielefeld Institute of Advanced Study Workshop on ‘Transformation of Childhood in Contemporary Britain’

Dr Jess Sage and Professor Karín Lesnik-Oberstein from the Department’s Graduate Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media (CIRCL), gave presentations at a workshop at the Centre for Advanced Study of the University of Bielefeld in Germany from the 6th to the 9th November 2014.

The workshop was organised by Sandra Dinter, a former CIRCL Visiting Scholar (during 2013-14) who is doing a PhD in Bielefeld on childhood in contemporary English Literature. Sandra was a wonderfully engaged and lively member of CIRCL during her visit with us, and in the light of the fact that Childhood Studies is not a prominent field of research in Germany Sandra and her PhD supervisor, Professor Ralph Schneider, obtained funding from the Institute of Advanced Studies to hold this workshop including several of the most prominent Childhood Studies academics in the UK and elsewhere to promote such an approach in Germany. Other speakers included also Professor Jonathan Bignell from CIRCL and the Department of Film, Television and Theatre Studies here at the University of Reading, Professor Karen Lury of the Film Department of the University of Glasgow, Professor Ken Walker from Goldsmith’s College of the University of London, Professor Nigel Parton from the University of Huddersfield, Dr Daniel Monk from Birkbeck College, University of London, and Professor Erica Burman of the University of Manchester, amongst others. Several of these academics have long-standing cooperative relationships with CIRCL.  

Jess gave a fascinating paper on: ‘Bodies, books, buying: sexuality and looking in children’s books and the media’, discussing the recent furore over the new Penguin cover for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, analysing constructions of childhood, the body and looking in criticisms of the cover and in her own readings of it.

Cover from Jess

I gave a paper on ‘Children’s literature, cognitivism and neuroscience, or, capitalism and/ as the return to the same’ analysing how discourses in a range of fields, including children’s literature and neuroscience, rely, perhaps surprisingly, on the same claims to being able purely and stably to see objects such as the child and the brain. The paper further suggests that this idea of a pure and stable looking is also about the way capitalism relies on an absolutely maintained distinction between subject and object.

MRI scan of the head showing the brain highlighted in green

 The workshop was wonderful: with only a few speakers it was intimate and able to generate real discussion, but, above all, Sandra and Ralph and all the contributors were so open-minded, excited and engaged that it was a breath of fresh air and a genuine learning experience for all concerned.


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A recent University Teaching and Learning blog entry from our department

Flipped learning in a team-based situation with a dash of TEL by Dr Cindy Becker

This is my new recipe for extending the academic year and helping to welcome our new students. As with any new recipe, some bits of it went really well and some aspects of it were less impressive – and there was one moment when I was in danger of failing to cook up any learning at all.

Along with my colleague Mary Morrissey, I have been working this year to introduce our new module EN1PW: Persuasive Writing. We have been ridiculously excited about the chance to share with our students all that we firmly believe they need to know about how to write practically and persuasively. We have devised a plethora of assessment tasks via blackboard (with help from Anne Crook and our other colleagues in CQSD) but I wanted to go one step further and use technology to enhance the learning experience even before our students reached the lecture hall or seminar room. Aware of the university’s desire to produce a more structured and active Welcome Week for our newcomers inspired me to create a quiz using screencasts, in the hope that students would feel part of our department’s community of learning from the off.

That was my first mistake. Because optional Part 1 modules are allocated to students on Friday of Welcome Week, I was not able to send out the quiz to the relevant students in enough time for them to use it prior to our first meeting. Lesson learned – this recipe would work better for a compulsory module.

Undeterred (I had by that time spent ages on my computer) I gave them the details of the quiz by sending out a document to them on Monday of Week 1, asking them to work through it prior to our first seminar in Week 2. (Richard Steward and I had worked hard to try to make this a bb quiz, but we could not guarantee that the screencasts would play reliably on every device a student might use, so a word document it had to be.)

The quiz consisted of 8 questions, all asking about aspects of writing with which new students struggle each year. The quiz was designed to go further than immediate learning: my idea was to use each question as a springboard to discuss other aspects of writing style. I was also keen to have them work in teams. In the seminar I asked them to get themselves into groups of four – they will remain in these groups for the rest of the term, for a variety of group-based tasks.

I went through the quiz, asking them to recall their individual answers (most had written these down on the sheet) and then decide on a group answer. That was my huge mistake: I just had not thought through in advance how to do this. Should I run through the whole quiz first, asking them to make their group choices, or run through the screencast for each question and then ask for their answers one at a time? I mistakenly chose the former option and ended up realising, too late, that it would have been more effective to have taken the latter approach. This was made more difficult because I had not thought to put the subject of each question on the question sheet, so it would have been easy to get lost had the student beside me not written the topics on her question sheet.

So, things went wrong from time to time, but generally I was pleased with the experience. I found that some of them had shown the quiz to their new flatmates, who I gather were impressed that they had been given a ‘fun’ task before the first seminar. Some of them had called home to discuss the questions. In the seminar it worked really well as a team-building task: they were so busy arguing over possible answers that they forgot to be strangers. I also realised that there were some things I would have assumed they would know which they did not. I am not sure, for example, that I would have found out that some of them were confused by prepositions if we had not been having such a free ranging discussing as a result of the quiz. I think that using animated screencasts really helped in this respect. Seeing a set of cartoons in a seminar set a tone of relaxed, discussion-based learning, which was just what I wanted to achieve.

It was all that I hoped it would be in terms of learning, and with the glitches now fixed on the question sheet I feel more confident about the teaching. I learned more about screencasts using ‘Powtoons’ software too – like the fact that each screencast will publish with a screenshot of exactly what is on the screen at the moment you press the ‘publish’ button. It took some time for me to go back and finesse all of the screencasts in the light of this, and even now I realise that I could have done it better by including an initial title screen. Still, that is the pleasure of teaching, learning and technology: there is always the next thing to learn, the next challenge to face. It is nice to think that I am learning just as hard as they are.

You can find the revised document here: EN1PW introductory quiz(2)

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EMRC seminar

Wednesday 12th November: Dr Hannah Newton (University of Reading), The Sick Child in Early Modern England, 1580-1720 (co-hosted as part of the ‘Annual Research Theme’ in History) 1.15pm  HUMMS 127

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The Land of Smiles

One of our dynamic students, Hope Mcgoldrick, writes:

Over the Summer I was extremely lucky to participate in the Teach English in Thailand programme run by the British Council where I was placed in a school in the South of Thailand. The programme lasted for 9 weeks where I was required to teach English to Primary School children.

Hope blog 1Nothing prepared me for the culture shock when arriving in Chumphon, a quiet town on the gulf coast. I can safely say that I live in absolute luxury in England. Staying in a Thai town meant living like the locals. Rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner and sharing a bed with cockroaches and geckos! I was exceptionally nervous when I arrived for my first day of teaching. Apart from having to teach in 34 degree heat with no aircon, I was welcomed by 200 hyperactive, little faces, most (not all) eager to learn English. To begin with trying to engage a class of 40 seemed impossible, however I have never known children to have so much respect for a teacher and be so enthusiastic to learn. The most challenging aspect was standing up in front of such a large class of 8-12 year olds without any support or translator. This required a lot of arm gesturing and attempts to draw. The children did not hesitate to laugh and mock me! All these challenges were worth it when seeing the children spending their spare time practising their English spellings.

Hope blog 2As I had a three day weekend I was able to explore the rest of Thailand. This involved a lot of island hopping and exploring which was the highlight of my time in Thailand. However, I was not aware of how much I adored teaching until I was sat on a beach in the sun thinking to myself “I cannot wait to see the children!”. After spending 9 weeks watching them learn and develop I am proud to say that I have made a difference in their life. As English is essential for people to get a good job, I knew it was necessary for me to inspire the children to want to continue learning English. When leaving the school I was smothered in hugs and kisses from grateful students who felt privileged to have had a native English speaking teacher. I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity and I can guarantee that I will be returning to Thailand to teach English again. It is an experience I will never forget and I cannot wait to plan my next visit and would encourage anyone to do the same.

Hope blog 3

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Mark Nixon at Cheltenham Literature Festival

Mark Nixon, editor of Beckett’s story Echo’s Bones (Faber, 2014), joined actor Lisa Dwan, star of the acclaimed one-woman trilogy of Beckett plays at the Royal Court, and Dan Gunn (co-editor, The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1957 – 1965) at this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival to discuss Beckett’s life and work. There was also a book signing session.

Nixon Blog

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The Tony Watkins Lecture: 30th October 2014

Tony Watkins Annual Lecture on Children’s Literature, Culture, Media 2014

CIRCL is very pleased to announce that the Tony Watkins Annual Lecture for 2014-15 will take place on October 30th 2014, at 6 pm in Palmer Building room 109:

Dr Simon Bailey, University of Manchester

will be speaking on:

“ADHD Mythology”

Dr Bailey is the author of the recent book Exploring ADHD: An ethnography of disorder in early childhood (Routledge, 2013).

Dr Simon Bailey

All welcome!

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Research Seminar – all welcome!


Early Modern Research Centre

Seminar Series, Autumn Term 2014

Wednesday 29th October

Dr Djoeke van Netten, University of Amsterdam

Investigating, not spreading, knowledge. Early Modern cultures of secrecy

EMRC Autumn 2014

1.15 pm HUMSS 127, Whiteknights Campus

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Andrew Mangham at Misericordia University

An extract from the US blog:

Local students will be introduced to BA to MA program with University of Reading in England

English majors at Misericordia University are about to see – and benefit from – a collaboration with some friends across the pond; a seamless transition into the master’s degree program in English literature at a renowned school in England is on the horizon.

From Oct. 22-25, the Department of English at Miseri will host Dr. Andrew Mangham, Ph.D., associate professor of English at the University of Reading in England, for a series of events to celebrate the launch of a BA to MA program that will give Misericordia students the opportunity to study in a top institution overseas. Mangham is the director of Reading’s master’s degree program in 19th century literature and culture, one of five specializations Misericordia students can choose to study for their master’s degree at the British university.

Andrew Mangham

“For me, what’s important is whether an institution pays close attention to the training and research needs of its students,” Mangham said of what makes the University of Reading such a great place to study.

“A good library is important, but so too is the research activities of teaching staff. I’m lucky to work for a university that is dedicated to making the quality of its teaching reflect the quality of its groundbreaking research. We’re lucky to be a short train ride away from some if the best libraries in the world, while having our own unique collections and resources.”

Mangham will appear in several places on campus throughout the week. On Oct. 22 from 8 p.m.-9:30 p.m., he’ll be in the Catherine Evans McGowan Room of the Mary Kintz Bevevino Library to give the talk “The Dickens Effect: Dickensian Values in the 21st Century.”

“The aim of the talk will be to discuss whether the values of [Charles] Dickens‘ works are still relevant today,” Mangham said. “I’ll look across Dickens’ whole career to assess what he had to teach us about the human condition and what the novel can offer us by way of guidance. We live in our own ‘Hard Times,’ and the sorts of enduring messages about knowledge, compassion, and charity to be found in Dickens can only be useful as we continue to battle with modern life.”

In fact, there is much merit to looking to the past for clues to the future.

“I’ve always thought that we can’t have a proper sense of where we’re going without a solid understanding of where we’ve been. The 19th century was crucial to the development of some of our most fundamental values and ideas. In order to understand the world today, we need to be constantly reassessing its ideological, political, and philosophical foundations in the 19th century.”

Mangham has always held an interest in the Victorian era, and many of his works deal in it. He is the author of “Violent Women and Sensation Fiction: Crime, Medicine, and Victorian Popular Fiction,”co-editor with Greta Depledge of “The Female Body in Medicine and Literature,” and editor of “The Cambridge Companion to Sensation Fiction.” He has also published articles on toxicology, crime, literature, sensation fiction, and Dickens, among many other topics. He is currently writing a second monograph on the different negotiations of moral truth that can be seen in forensic textbooks of the Victorian age and Dickens’ narratives.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the Victorian era,” he said. “I was first drawn to the differences with our own times – the costumes, the manners, and methods of writing, etc. – but the more I’ve studied the period, the more I’ve noticed key similarities, including political values, anxieties about the effects of modernity, artistic responses to greed and corruption, and so on.

“We’re not that different, really, and I’ve always felt that looking into the 19th century is like looking into a fairground mirror: we see a slightly distorted version if us, but it is us nevertheless.”

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Archives and Texts Seminar

We are delighted to present the first talk in the Archives and Texts seminar, which will be held in Special Collections  at the Museum of English Rural Life:

 Monday 27th October (wk 5) 5-6pm, MERL

Dr Innes M. Keighren (Geography, Royal Holloway)

‘Travels in a publisher’s archive: John Murray and nineteenth-century travel publishing’

In this talk, Innes will present the findings of an AHRC-funded project which investigated the relationship between exploration and publishing in order better to understand how knowledge acquired in the field became, through a series of material and epistemic translations, knowledge on the page. In examining the transformation of travellers’ en route writing in journals and field notebooks into more-or-less polished print, Innes considers the significant role of editing, revising, and redacting in imposing order and authority on printed works of travel.

John Murray

The lecture considers—with specific reference to accounts of travel in South America, Africa, and the Arctic issued by the leading nineteenth-century publishing house John Murray—how journeys of exploration became published accounts and how travellers sought to demonstrate the faithfulness of their written testimony and to secure their personal credibility.

All welcome – seasonal refreshments provided and we’ll have a drink afterwards.


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