Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies: Seminars 2018

25 October, 4.30 pm in Edith Morley 124

Norman Housley (University of Leicester) ‘An English proposal for a crusade against the Irish, c. 1329-31’.


22 November Stenton Lecture

 Nicholas Vincent (University of East Anglia) ‘The Letters of England’s Kings and Queens 1154-1215: A Vast New Resource?’

G11 Lecture Theatre, Henley Business School, Whiteknights Campus, 18:30

and accompanying Stenton Symposium:

‘English Royal Charters 1066-1215: Discoveries, Gaps and Opportunities’ (various speakers).

Palmer Building, Room 102: 13:00-17:00


29 November, 4.30 pm in Edith Morley 124

Thomas Smith (Royal Holloway, University of London) ‘The Letters of the First Crusade and Monastic Scribal Culture’.


13 December 4.30 pm in Edith Morley 124

Janet Burton (University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Lampeter) ‘Monastic Wales: new approaches’.

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Archives and Texts seminars autumn 2018

Thursday 15th November (wk 7), 5-6pm
Dr Sophie Heywood (MLES, Reading), ‘Power to children’s imaginations: children’s picturebooks and ‘68’’
Edith Morley, G44

Thursday 6th Dec (wk 10), 5-6pm
Dr Sara Sullam (Milan, British Academy Visiting Fellow, MLES) ‘Reading for translation: Anglo-Italian literary transfer in publishers’ paper’
Edith Morley, G44

Thursday 28th Feb (wk 7), 5-6pm

Dr Will Davies (English Lit, Reading) Carcanet/PN Review
Edith Morley, G44

Thursday 14th March (wk 9), 5-6pm

Dr Rowena Kennedy-Epstein (Bristol) ‘So Easy to See: Muriel Rukeyser and Berenice Abbott’s Unfinished Collaboration’
Edith Morley, G44

Thursday 16th May (wk 4), 5-6pm

Dr D-M Withers (Sussex) ‘Virago Modern Classics and the Libraries’
Edith Morley, G44


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Students Talk: Learning Journals (a PLanT Project)

In this post Hannah Ashraf, a graduate of BA (Hons) English Literature, and Dr Nicola Abram, Lecturer in Literatures in English, discuss their 2018/19 PLanT Project ‘Students Talk: Learning Journals’. 

Hannah AshrafHannah: I first came across the journal assessment method in my third year, studying the module ‘Black British Fiction’. As this was an exercise which pushed you to think about your own reflections each week, the first few weeks with the journal were difficult. It could not be compared to some of the more familiar assessment methods such as essays and presentations. I found that the confusion was to do with the journal’s objectives. We were asking ourselves “What are we supposed to write?” “How do we cover it all?”

AbramNicola: I inherited the learning journal as a method of assessment when I first started teaching the module ‘Black British Fiction’, back in 2013. At the time the journal was a spiral-bound paper document, which students filled in and added clippings to week by week – by the end of the term these journals were often rather unwieldy. Over the following years I worked with colleagues to reform the journal and move it online: I’ve shared my account of doing this here. The journal is now a neat way for students to capture their weekly learning in real time and be rewarded for their progress. I recognise it’s a new method of assessment for most students, and I spend the first seminar on the relevant modules explaining it in detail. But students still seem apprehensive, and there are lots of questions as they attempt their first few entries.

Hannah: As much as we were given information from our tutors about the assessment, it was still quite unclear as to how we tackle the journal. As the weeks went on, I realised that I wasn’t the only one having problems with the journal as many of my course-mates discussed in class their own struggles with it. It became clear that as a more free-hand assessment method, students didn’t know where to start! Nicola, my module convenor at the time, debunked the journal for us during one of our classes, showing previous students’ entries and talking through the criteria. Personally, being able to see some of the examples from previous students really helped to make clear the journal’s objective and how it can be used creatively. As we got used to the journal, many of my course-mates and I had informative discussions in and out of the classroom about how we used it and how it has allowed us to think and write differently from more familiar assessments.

Hannah Ashraf

An example learning journal entry, submitted by Hannah Ashraf for the module ‘Global Literatures: Translation as Theme and Theory’ (EN3GLT).

Nicola: I’m always pleased that by the end of a module most students become really attached to the learning journal. They find it a helpful prompt to consolidate their learning each week, and it seems to support them to prepare for and participate effectively in seminars. Even more importantly, it facilitates a very personal journey through the module content. I wanted to find a way to accelerate the shift between apprehensively starting the journal and coming to love it! During a one-to-one feedback session with one particular student – Hannah Ashraf – this problem came up in conversation, and I invited her to join me in applying to the PLanT (Partnerships in Learning and Teaching) Project scheme for funding. Completing the application form helped us to focus our ideas. Happily, we heard a few weeks after submitting it that the panel really liked our idea of students briefing other students on this mode of assessment. We were awarded £500.

Hannah: Being approached by Nicola to collaborate on a project about the journal was a great opportunity to share the ideas discussed with my course-mates, and we got working on ideas for the film soon after. Reaching out to student filmmaker Rhonda Cowell really brought the vision to life as we met to discuss the film’s objective and format. Rhonda’s creative input helped us really get to producing a fully realised film. I worked on a storyboard and some project notes to accommodate our ideas and reached out to fellow course-mates for an interview style film on the journal. Nicola organised a room for us to film in, and after curating some interview questions, I interviewed four participants for their views on the journal. Our aim with the film was to present the journal’s possibilities and focused tips/advice so that future students can approach it with confidence.

Nicola: Hannah was brilliant to work with: she made the project her own, recruiting peers to participate and ensuring the content of the film was comprehensive but accessible. Part 3 BA Film student Rhonda Cowell took care of everything technical, ably assisted by Part 3 BA Film student Ben Thornley, and produced a polished and concise film that captures the participants’ personalities as well as the best bits of their interviews. The final result, which we’ve uploaded to  our Department of English Literature You Tube channel, is a credit to these students’ creativity and hard work. I’ve just shared it with the next cohort, and I can’t wait to see how they engage with the journal as a result.

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Early Modern Research Seminars, Autumn 2018

Monday 22 October, 1pm, EM 124:
Dr. Laura Sangha (Exeter),
“The Social, Personal and Spiritual Dynamics of Ghost Stories in Early Modern England”

Monday 19 November, 1 pm, EM 124:
Rachel Foxley (Reading),
“Gender and slavery in Milton’s republicanism”

Wednesday 5 December, 4 pm, EM 128:
Dr. Joe Moshenska (Oxford),
“Dolls and Idols: Touching the Past, Playing the Past in Early Modern England”

For further information, please see the EMRC website:
or contact the Centre’s Director: Prof. Michelle O’Callaghan,

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Jess Brisley’s UROP in Special Collections: Publishing Class

Jess Brisley, English Lit and Theatre, 2nd year, UoR

This summer, I spent six weeks undertaking a research project based in the archives of Special Collections at the Museum of English Rural life as part of the UROP scheme with my supervisors, Dr Nicola Wilson and Danni Corfield. My project, ‘Publishing Class’, was part of a longer-term project headed by Nicola Wilson which aims to re-examine the relationship between publishers and the working class over the 20th Century, and it used the extensive archives of the publishing house Chatto and Windus as a focal point.Arch

Special Collections has a near-complete set of Manuscript Entry books for Chatto and Windus which contain details of submitted manuscripts, including titles, authors, dates, addresses and comments from publisher’s readers. I paid close attention to these comments in particular, finding evidence of manuscripts which appeared to have been rejected on the basis of a class prejudice. These instances I compiled into a database which over time grew to reveal certain recurring strains of bias against the working class, the presence of which I determined by examining the use of specific language and reasons – such as “overladen with dialect and detail” – by the readers.

I also consulted reader’s reports, letter books and correspondence files in order to widen the scope of materials from which to uncover bias. Not all of these turned out to be useful to me, but I was pleased that the project allowed me the freedom to consult whichever materials I felt could be beneficial and steer the research in the best direction. The manuscript entry books remained the most useful over the six-week project, but the other resources gave me additional insight into the business side of the publishing industry.

Alongside my research, I took part in some cataloguing of reader’s reports within the Chatto and Windus archives. There are an immense number of them and each one needs a reference number specific to its place within the collection, alongside a date, archive level, writer, summary and physical description. For example, every item within the Chatto and Windus archives is under the code ‘CW’. Reader’s reports are under the series ‘CW RR’ and each year is allocated a number: the first year of reader’s reports in the archives is 1913, making it the subseries ‘CW RR/1’. The first document of 1913 receives the reference ‘CW RR/1/1’, and so on and so forth. These references are very important to the archives, not only for records and organisational purposes, but also to ensure that students and other users of the archives can find useful documents for their research using the library website or the University of Reading Archive and Museum Database search engine (Adlib) and be able to request specific items for their research.

I found this UROP project fascinating and enjoyable, and it was amazing to be able to access such a vast wealth of beautiful and unique materials at Special Collections. I would highly recommend everybody to consider consulting Special Collections during their research, as I intend to do going into my third year. The UROP scheme enabled me to participate in an area of research that I’m very passionate about alongside leading academics, and I would not hesitate to push second-year students to apply. Furthermore, the larger project that my six weeks with the UROP scheme formed a part of is an important one which I am grateful and proud to have been a part of and that I intend to keep updated with in the future.

If you’d like to find out more about the results of the project, you’re in luck – I wrote an article about it! You can read it here:

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Rosalind Laker Prize for Creative Writing

The Department is pleased to announce the winner of this year’s Rosalind Laker prize for Creative Writing is Hannah Murphy, who graduated recently.

The Rosalind Laker Prize for Creative Writing is an annual award established by Mrs Sue Keane and Mr Paul Ovstedal in 2013 in memory of their mother, Barbara Ovstedal, who wrote under the pen name ‘Rosalind Laker’. The prize is to recognise the best piece of creative writing produced by a final year undergraduate student in the School of Literature & Languages.  Hannah was given her award at our prize-giving event just after graduation. Unfortunately this year, neither Sue or Paul are able to join us, but they have been sent Hannah’s dissertation ‘Forty Minutes Outside of Paris’ to read.

 Professor Grace Ioppolo writes: I’m absolutely delighted to congratulate Hannah on her tremendous and well-earned double achievement. She has always combined intellectual curiosity and rigour with dedication and with thoughtful and infectious enthusiasm and energy. My colleagues have repeatedly told me how highly they think of her academic work and what a wonderful student she has been to teach. I have no doubt that she will become a major name in creative writing and wish her every success.

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English Literature students lead cast, in Shakespeare’s return to Reading Abbey Ruins. Much Ado About Nothing, 11th-21st July

Reading Abbey Ruins have re-opened to the public, after a three year, £3.15m restoration project, meaning that the popular Open Air Shakespeare by Progress Theatre (which moved to the beautiful Caversham Court Gardens in 2012) has now returned to the Abbey Ruins with this year’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, featuring two current English Literature students: Kate Shaw (PhD candidate) as Beatrice and Taylor Rupp (MA English Literature) as Hero.

This production of Much Ado moves the action from Italy to Leonato’s English country house, at the end of the World War II. Both Kate and Taylor have studied Much Ado over the course of their academic careers and jumped at the chance to bring these two iconic characters to life. “It is a truly exciting prospect to play Beatrice and doing so in the Abbey Ruins is absolutely the icing on the cake” says Shaw. “Beatrice is such a beloved character, and one of Shakespeare’s “strong women” that there is definitely a feeling of responsibility when playing her. But I thought about who she would be in 1945, and having previously studied her strengths and weaknesses, I hope to have found a blend between her great wit and her vulnerabilities. One of her soft spots is of course Hero, and it’s been a real treat to work with Taylor to create a meaningful and believable relationship between the two cousins.”

Rupp says, “I am ecstatic to be able to bring Hero to life. She doesn’t speak much throughout the play, so it has been very interesting to use other aspects to give her the character she deserves. The relationships she has with her family is one of my favourite parts of the show. That and being able to perform in the Abbey Ruins. It’s so exciting to be able to perform at such a beautiful and historical site.”

More information about Much Ado About Nothing and Progress’ Open Air Productions can be found here:

The production runs from Wednesday 11th – Saturday 21st July (no performance Sunday 15th), at 7:45pm each night. Tickets can be bought directly from Ticketsource here:

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Second Sight: The Margaret Atwood Learning Journals

Second Sight: The Margaret Atwood Learning Journals is published by the UoR this week and it celebrates the quality of our students’ work on the final year ‘Margaret Atwood’ module. Co-edited with a Part 3 DEL student, the book presents a collection of learning journal entries and artworks and showcases our students’ critical skill and writing agility.

The book contains several different forms of reflection on Atwood’s novels and includes parodies, mock interviews, letters, responses to critical readings, and exercises in creative writing where students have, for example, presented a perspective not given within the text. Also presented are poems and artworks which students have included within their weekly journal entries. This use of a wide array of different forms has allowed students to combine their creative and critical skills and to submit often witty, critically astute, and highly imaginative work. From my point of view, as a critic of Atwood, the journal entries opened up new spaces for analysis and they also enabled me to appreciate fully the first-rate engagement of our students in the work they undertake for their modules.

I decided to publish the students’ writing because I wanted to retain a material record of the students’ hard work and skill. I sought funding from our Teaching and Learning Deans, who supported the project from the beginning, and I connected with the ‘Real Jobs’ scheme in the Department of Typography where students gain professional experience by managing funded publishing commissions for University staff and external clients. This led me to June Lin, a gifted student typographer, and I asked Bethany Barnett-Sanders, a member of the ‘Margaret Atwood’ groups, to help me edit the book. Throughout the Summer Term, June, Bethany and I met and planned, designed and edited, and the result is a book of which we are proud. With the sole exception of the Introduction, every element of it, from the cover image to the design to the contents, is the work of our students.

A book launch is being held on 5th July and all students contributing to the book have been invited to the party along with their families: Professor Emerita Coral Ann Howells, the patron saint of Atwood studies and the originator of the ‘Margaret Atwood’ module at Reading, will also be at the party, and the book is being sent to several leading Atwood scholars as well as to Margaret Atwood herself. The book will also demonstrate ‘good practice’ journal-writing to next year’s students on the ‘Margaret Atwood’ module and there should be a few spare copies available if other students (or colleagues) would like to buy a copy.

Producing this book with such talented students has been a great pleasure and to have the book available to our students on the day of their graduation provides a fitting conclusion to a busy but extremely rewarding academic year.

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Congratulations to our new lecturer in creative writing, Kate Clanchy, who has received an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours

Kate Clanchy received the honour for services to literature in schools, in recognition of her work as a Writer in Residence at Oxford Spires Academy.

Over the last nine years, she has nurtured creative talent at the school, whose pupils come from all over the world and where more than 30 languages are spoken. As a result, the school has been hugely successful in poetry competitions, with pupils winning multiple national prizes.

The pupils in Kate’s ‘Very Quiet Foreign Girls’ poetry group, many of whom arrived in the UK as refugees, have also created a radio programme, which was nominated for the Poetry Society’s Ted Hughes Award. Kate has shared their poetry with thousands on Twitter.

The best of the pupils’ poetry is due to be published in a new anthology, England: Poems from a School, on 14 June. The poems create a portrayal of England as it is experienced by young migrants, and features moving personal stories from the pupils.

Kate told the University of Reading: “I was very surprised to be awarded an MBE, but also very pleased. MBEs are for service, and I like to think this one honours my work in schools and so the importance of literature in schools.”

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Neil Cocks is running barefoot.

This would make an excellent title for an academic novel, but in this case we mean it literally.

Neil Cocks is running the Oxfordshire Three Spires Challenge half-marathon in his bare feet to raise money for the Ollie Young foundation, a charity that we feel a strong connection to because of  Jean Call’s work.

If you would like to support Neil in his fundraising, you can donate through his Justgiving page.

(I’m sure donations of blister cream and plasters will be welcome too.)

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