If it wasn’t for my decision to learn Italian at Reading, I simply wouldn’t be where I am today!

You never know where a degree in Modern Languages will take you. Lora Jury, who graduated from the University of Reading in 2015 with a BA in English Literature and Italian, is now in the United States, where she won a Fellowship to pursue a Masters in Italian Studies at the University of Oregon. With the opportunities that a University of Reading degree provides, many of our alumni go on to pursue post-graduate studies, often here at Reading, but also at other universities throughout the UK, and often much further afield. We’ve asked Lora to let us know how she wound up in Oregon and how she’s getting on in her studies. Here’s what she had to say:

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Lora Jury, graduating from the University of Reading in 2015 with a degree in degree in English Literature and Italian

“I first began learning Italian at the University of Reading in 2011, and at the start it felt like the most difficult challenge of my life. Before coming to university, I’d attended a state school and a sixth form college in South Wales, and I’d never studied a foreign language, apart from three years of French and German at secondary school. I’d never studied any Italian and I could not profess to be proficient in any language other than English. Just five years later, I’m now teaching Italian at the University of Oregon, USA!

Whilst at the University of Reading I undertook a whole range of courses in Italian language, history, politics, intellectual history, and literature. I found Reading’s Department of Modern Languages and European Studies to be an environment in which I could really develop as an independent thinker. The kinds of assessments I was set by my Italian lecturers encouraged me to develop my own research topics, and also acted as a kind of exercise in learning the rubric of academia (proofreading, citing, creating a bibliography etc.) The most unique opportunity for me was being able to take up a foreign language without having any prior qualifications – if it wasn’t for my decision to learn Italian at Reading, I simply wouldn’t be where I am today.

During my final year at the University of Reading I followed a course on Modern Italian Poetry with Dr Daniela La Penna, and that’s when my love for Italian literature really began to develop and flourish. When Dr La Penna recommended me as an applicant to the University of Oregon’s MA programme, I was full of doubts. Still, even as I wondered whether I would be admitted to this competitive programme, I went ahead with my application. To my great surprise I was offered a prestigious Graduate Teaching Fellowship in Italian Studies. This means that, while I pursue my MA in Italian language and literature at the University of Oregon, all my fees are paid for! I also receive a monthly stipend, which pays for all of my living expenses, as well as health insurance and a whole range of other benefits as well. In exchange, I teach Italian language courses to undergraduate students at the university.

Lora Jury is now pursuing an MA in Italian Studies and teaching Italian language at the University of Oregon, USA

Lora Jury is now pursuing an MA in Italian Studies and teaching Italian language at the University of Oregon, USA

Pursuing a Masters Degree in the US has been an amazing experience, but it’s not for the faint hearted. This is much more than another Erasmus year. It’s the act of transferring one’s whole life to the other side of the planet, and not only learning as a student but also developing as a professional and an academic. At times my colleagues and I work under intense pressures, given that we are teachers and post-graduate students at the same time. Even so, this first year has been great. I’ve learned an unfathomable amount.

My studies in literature and language at the University of Reading definitely gave me an advantage when it came to studying for my MA at the University of Oregon. Some candidates may initially struggle when it comes to the deep analytical and theoretical work, but I definitely never felt this pressure. The courses I took at Reading were particularly rigorous, allowing me already to engage with some of the material I now work with as a post-graduate. I also think that a lot of our assignments had a practical application – for example we were often assessed on the presentation of our research at the undergraduate level, and this is now a crucial part of my everyday work. Studying at Reading taught me to be a confident and vocal young thinker; my lecturers inspired me with the notion to question absolutely everything, to think radically, and this philosophy has always added new elements to my work.

Lora Jury, enjoying life inside and outside the classroom in Oregon

Lora Jury, enjoying life inside and outside the classroom in Oregon

Like Reading, Oregon provides a really comprehensive and well-rounded education. I’m incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to work for all of this and not to have to pay for my Masters programme. I still have one year left, in which I’ll take four more courses in Italian Studies, as well as two four hour exams, while also presenting my research at a post-graduate forum, completing an MA thesis, and reading around forty books. It sounds like an awful lot when I put it like that! But I love it. My professors in Oregon are incredible people. They only encourage the very best from their students. Plus, working in Oregon has opened up other opportunities as well: the Department of Romance Languages will fund my summer studying at a language school in Sorrento, Italy, where I’ll also work on a research project I’ll then present back in Oregon at the Graduate Student Research Forum in the Fall.

Studying in the States has opened up a wealth of opportunities to me. For instance, earlier this year I presented a paper on Italian Neorealist Cinema at a conference at the University of Wisconsin, and I’m hoping to do this again in New York in October. I am also going to apply for PhD in Culture and Theory at UC Irvine, and this is something which I simply would have never considered had I never gotten the opportunity to study at two great institutions like the University of Reading and the University of Oregon. I’ve been able to meet and network with a lot of exceptional academics and to learn more about their research, which also helps me to think about what I would like to research and where I would like to conduct my investigations.

There are so many advantages to being a part of this unbelievable experience. Most days I wake up and can’t believe that this is my life! But I intend to find a PhD programme in the States after finishing my masters.

The 2016 graduates of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading. You never know where a languages degree will lead you.

The 2016 graduates of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading. You never know where a languages degree will lead you.

I definitely believe that other Reading students could follow in my footsteps. As a woman I feel that we are sometimes conditioned to believe that the positions of success and power are not reserved for us, but the role models I had at the University of Reading were testament to the contrary. The Department of Modern Languages and European Studies has a large population of female students, and I believe that we should encourage these young women to aim high. There are so many opportunities here in the US within academia, and I know that students at Reading are well prepared to compete in this market.”

To learn more about how competitive you can be with a degree in French, German, Italian, or Spanish from the University of Reading, check out our careers page. Be sure to follow our blog, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Twitter feed, too, so that you can keep up on all the news and events of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading.

If you’re a Reading graduate, we’d love to hear from you about your career choices after university. Tell us your story. The University of Reading publishes alumni profiles online. If you’d like to share your experiences, all you have to do is fill out an online questionnaire.

When you do, please consider submitting your story for the “Meet a Reading Graduate” section of our departmental blog.

If you’d like to tell us where your Reading degree has taken you, and perhaps to share a few  memories of the department, please get in touch with our Alumni Officer, Dr Veronica Heath. And please consider joining the University’s Thrive Mentoring Scheme to help our students make their transition into the world after graduation.

And remember to subscribe to our blog:


 

Reading Post-Graduates: Gender in Medieval France

Charlotte Crouch is a current Masters candidate in the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Reading. She is also a University of Reading graduate, with a degree in French and History (2014). She has recently received funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council (South, West and Wales Consortium) to pursue a PhD co-supervised by the University of Reading (“The Courtenay Heiresses: Aristocratic Prestige, Female Agency and Royal Control in Thirteenth Century France.”) One of Charlotte’s research interests is the depiction of the royal consort in early medieval chronicles, particularly the historical representation of women, whether idealised or vilified.

IMS workshopsOn 10 April 2015, Charlie joined two French Medievalists from the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading, Dr Irene Fabry-Tehranchi and Prof. Catherine Leglu, in attending the second of three Paris workshops focusing on Animal, Gender and Image in Medieval Studies. The workshops aim at developing an international academic exchange, promoting the crossing of disciplinary boundaries within Medieval Studies and building new tools for research, through the contribution and collaboration of French and international academics. They were co-organised by Irene Fabry-Tehranchi, and sponsored by the International Medieval Society (Paris), the American University in Paris, Université Paris 1-LAMOP, Université Paris 3-CEMA, the Society for the Study of Medieval Literature and Languages-Medium Aevum (UK) and the University of Reading. We’ve asked Charlie to share her thoughts on this important research trip and opportunity for intellectual exchange:

In November last year I was asked if I would be interested in going to one of the three workshops that the International Medieval Society had organised for this Spring in Paris. I chose the workshop focused on gender, in which academics from several countries were due to meet and exchange methods, ideas and research on the theme. As an MRes student of Medieval Studies, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to network and exchange views on a topic to which I dedicated my undergraduate dissertation, and which now plays a prominent role in my Masters.

The manuscripts reading room at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (Richelieu site) – dream working conditions, but access to the reserved medieval manuscripts is a true ‘parcours du combattant’ (really challenging)

The workshop was due to take place on 10th April, but I headed over three days before to start some research on my dissertation. When I arrived at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, I went straight into an interview to be given a reader’s card and to be registered on the system, so I was thrown in at the deep end straight away! I had already found the codes of the manuscripts and documents I wanted to consult, so I ordered those and spent the rest of the day consulting some of the books in the “Salle Ovale”, a stunning circular shaped room with bookshelves four stories high, and a huge glass ceiling – dream working conditions! Over the next two days, I was able to access medieval charters and documents that were on microfilm. They provided fascinating insights into some of the contracts of marriage between the Norman aristocracy and the French kings in the thirteenth century; one of them even came complete with a sketch of a knight in the margin.

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Basilica of St Denis abbey, the burial place for the Kings of France

On the third day, I went to the Basilica of Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris. I had always wanted to visit this famous necropolis of the medieval French royal family, and I knew one of the princes I have been researching, Philip Hurepel, had been buried there. The tombs are beautiful; you can still see some colour on the retrospective tomb of the infamously evil Fredegonde, now over 800 years old. I was lucky enough to speak to a researcher there, who dug around in the archives for me to try to find a trace of what Philip Hurepel’s tomb may have looked like: unfortunately he could not find anything, possibly a sign of Philip’s status as a bastard.

After having spent three exciting days researching, it was time to head to the workshop, which was held at the American University in Paris. There was an impressive turn out of students, researchers and lecturers from a wide range of disciplines, such as art history and literary studies. Dr Irène Fabry-Tehranchi introduced the workshop, and Professor Didier Lett, from Université Paris VII began the first talk, a captivating introduction to gender from a French perspective. I was genuinely surprised to hear that there is still a real shortage of French historians working on this topic, and that after a brief surge in interest in the years 2000, gender studies have again recently seen a slump. This is possibly because of tensions on the French political scene surrounding the legalisation of marriage and adoption for same-sex couples in 2013, opposed by conservative groups criticising what they call ‘la théorie du genre’.

unnamed (9)a - CopieSimilarly, when discussing a core problem of how gender is viewed amongst French academics, Professor Lett warned that many wrongly presume studies of gender to be the same as studies of the history of women. He believes this misconception may explain the negative connotations of those who study gender. In fact, he jokingly despaired of those who had heard his research interests and asked him, “Why? Are you a feminist?” This political link between gender studies and feminism has to be rejected, he argued, because the analysis of gender is a vital tool for all academics who study the Middle Ages. However, he warned that gender, this vital prism through which we can consider and analyse aspects of medieval societies, should not be used in isolation but within its context, alongside other factors such as position and status in society. Lett gave an example: a female slave, he explained, should not be considered on the same terms as a noblewoman, just on account of their gender.

unnamed (4) - CopieNext to present was Professor Rosalind Brown-Grant from Leeds University. This was a perfect paper to follow on from Lett’s as Prof. Brown-Grant gave an introduction to gender studies from a British perspective, explaining that the last thirty years have seen a huge development in the field, largely due to the boom in Anglophone studies of social history. Drawing our attention to studies analysing gender in medical, legal and literary contexts, she explained that the experience of studying gender in France simply does not match the recent trends in Anglophone publications. Interestingly, Brown-Grant also underlined the importance for context in studying. Like Professor Lett, she provided an illustrative example: a young single male, she said, would have had completely different aspirations and responsibilities to a married man. Just like today, gender is one factor among many that we must consider when analysing society.

unnamed (13) - CopieProfessor Yasmina Foehr-Janssens from Geneva University continued the workshop, considering the different ways that gender can be used as a tool in analysing medieval literature. She, too, insisted that context is essential, and gave an example from her research, which focuses on the social choices made by widows and single women. Some widows, she told the group, actively decided not to remarry to preserve authority and independence. This highlighted what all of the speakers cautioned against – gender is not an isolated concept.

The last paper came from Professor Anne Paupert, from Université Paris VII, who, like Prof. Lett, reminded us just how underrepresented medieval women remain in Francophone studies. She too had been subject to confused academics asking her why she would want to research and publish on gender. She then went on to introduce the problems of “making women talk” in the Middle Ages, underlining important work on the different uses of certain grammatical features between male and female speakers in literature.

All four academics then participated in a round table discussion which became a lively debate. When deciding how to move forwards in France with gender studies, Lett highlighted his concern that some young academics are reluctant to define themselves as ‘feminists’, as that word tends to have negative connotations. Brown-Grant suggested demonstrating to students just how important studies of gender are, by highlighting to them that people in the Middle Ages thought, wrote, and spoke about gender just as much as society does today.

Overall I think the workshop was a great success. I am very grateful to the University of Reading for giving me the opportunity to go and see just how much perspectives and experiences of an integral theme in my research vary across countries and disciplines, even with the internationalisation of research, global circulations of results and networks of academics. It was a fantastic experience to hear experts in the field discussing current problems in research and how we can overcome them.  Most importantly, the full room at the workshop demonstrated that there are many academics dedicated to changing the way in which studies of gender are perceived in France, and speaking to some students afterwards led me to believe that attitudes are already beginning to change in the upcoming generation of researchers.. I loved every minute of my research trip, and I walked away with a more international understanding of gender studies, new contacts for the years ahead, and some great advice for my looming dissertation!

To learn more about pursuing a Masters Degree or a PhD in Modern Languages at the University of Reading, visit the Graduate School website as well as the Homepage of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies. We offer both Post-Graduate Taught and Post-Graduate Research degree courses. To keep up with all of the Department’s research, as well as to receive updates from our students, staff, and alumni, follow this blog, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Twitter feed.

If you would like to receive regular updates from our blog, with the latest news about languages at Reading, please enter your email address below:


 

Reading Post-Graduates: Pursuing an MA in Modern Languages

In the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading, we offer a range of postgraduate masters courses taught by internationally renowned academics, enabling you to benefit from access to our cutting-edge research. Masters Degrees in Modern Languages offer a uniquely flexible opportunity for studying at postgraduate level. With core taught modules in research methods and critical theory the course then allows students to choose their own specialised areas in a range of areas directly linked to the research interests in a friendly and supportive environment for research students.

On Wednesday 18 February, we’re hosting an informational session for those interested in learning more about the MA and PhD programmes in Modern Languages at the University of Reading. Join Dr Daniela La Penna, Director of Post-Graduate Study in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, in Palmer 102 at 10am to learn more about the possibilities available and for tips about the application process.

We’ve also asked two of our recent MA recipients, Sophie Payne and Gill Hood, to share their reflections on the experience of pursuing a post-graduate degree in Modern Languages at Reading.

For Sophie Payne, the MRes in German Studies was a very natural step:

Sophie Payne with Dr Melani Schroeter on graduation day.

Sophie Payne with Dr Melani Schroeter on graduation day.

The most enjoyable parts of my BA were when I could create a research project of my own, so the MRes was a perfect match. Having spent time at Reading, I knew that the department is a very welcoming and supportive environment for young researchers, so it was an easy decision to stay on. I worked with my supervisor, Dr Melani Schroeter, to put together a programme that revolved around linguistics, a shared interest for both of us. I was able to take some modules in Reading’s Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics, which was indispensable for learning about the roots of research traditions and good project design.

The relationship with my supervisor, Melani, was a highlight for me, because she was enthusiastic and supportive throughout, guiding me where necessary but allowing me space to voice my opinion and develop my ideas.

I would not hesitate to recommend the postgraduate programmes offered by the Department of Modern Languages, because doing the MRes last year was one of the most challenging, rewarding and inspiring experiences of my life.

Gill Hood with Dr Daniela La Penna, Associate Professor of Italian Studies

Gill Hood with Dr Daniela La Penna on graduation day

For Gill Hood, a retired teacher of English as a Second Language and French, an MRes in Italian Studies came after numerous experiences with distance learning through the Open University (Humanities), the Institute of Linguistics (French) and the London International Programme, where she completed an Italian BA. Still, post-graduate study brought new challenges:

Initially I found the regular face to face contact stressful, or maybe that was Chris Wagstaff’s interrogation techniques!  I certainly appreciated Chris’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Neorealist and European cinema and thoroughly enjoyed the units. My second year with Daniela La Penna was much calmer. We examined the adaptation of books to films, mostly those of Luchino Visconti. I found the unit fascinating and was able to indulge myself by writing an essay on ‘La Terra Trema’, into which I poured my soul. My dissertation was also on adaptation – the Risorgimento films of Visconti.

I was very happy with the MA with Merit that I was awarded. I owe an enormous gratitude to Daniela for accepting me in the first place and for guiding me in the second year; to Chris for his attention to detail and determination that I should not get away with any sloppy sentiments – and to Charles Leavitt, from whom I learnt a great deal about how to write an MA essay. Thank you all. I shall miss you.

Old Whiteknights House, home of the Graduate School at the University of Reading

Old Whiteknights House, home of the Graduate School at the University of Reading

To learn more about pursuing a Masters Degree or a PhD in Modern Languages at the University of Reading, visit the Graduate School website as well as the Homepage of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies. We offer both Post-Graduate Taught and Post-Graduate Research degree courses. To keep up with all of the Department’s research, as well as to receive updates from our students, staff, and alumni, follow this blog, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Twitter feed.

If you would like to receive regular updates from our blog, with the latest news about languages at Reading, please enter your email address below:


 

Reading Post-Graduates: Applying to do a PhD

In addition to its lively and growing undergraduate programme, the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at Reading has long boasted top-ranked post-graduate programmes as well. As applications continue to roll in for the 2015-2016 academic year, we thought we’d ask one of our current post-graduate students, Maria Tomlinson, to fill us in on how and why to apply for an MA or PhD at the University of Reading.

Maria has a first-class BA in French and Modern Greek Studies, as well as an MA in French Literature and Culture, from Kings College London. After finishing her MA, Maria worked as a lectrice at Nanterre University in 2013-14. She has published a number of online articles about the Year Abroad programme, focusing both on her studies in Montpellier, France, and on her time at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, in Greece. Now, she’s pursuing a PhD in Reading. Maria has great advice for anyone considering post-graduate study:

Maria Tomlinson, graduating with a first-class degree in French and Modern Greek Studies (2012)

Maria Tomlinson, graduating with a degree in French and Modern Greek Studies (2012)

I feel that I have really started to settle in to my new life as a PhD student of French literature at Reading. I am really pleased with the topic I have chosen: the representation of taboo and trauma relating to the female body in Algerian and Mauritian literature. This includes examining the representation of a multitude of taboos such as abortion, rape and menstruation. As well as examining novels, I am also looking at history, politics and trauma theory. I am enjoying the early stages of my PhD which has, so far, involved many a day at the British Library reading and taking notes. I am being supervised by Dr Julia Waters as part of a co-supervised PhD between Reading and Bristol universities, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

I spend more of my time at Reading where, alongside my supervisions, I have been attending weekly Arabic classes to complement my study of Algerian literature. Studying Arabic is really fun, and I find writing the beautiful script quite therapeutic. As a lover of languages, I am very happy that Reading has offered me the opportunity to learn a new language – my first non-European one. I have so far had three supervisions. I always fill in a supervision form before each session as I can plan what I need to ask and think about how I would like to take my research forward. Discussions so far have mainly been centred on relevant bibliography but we have also discussed my plan where I have arranged my chapters by taboo e.g. my chapter on the pregnant female body involves taboos such as contraception and miscarriage.

You may be wondering why I have supervisors at two institutions. Well, I had the fortune of being in the first year of applicants for PhD funding from the AHRC that was not organised via an individual department at a particular university but by consortia. The University of Reading is part of the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW DTP), which includes several other universities such as Bristol, Bath and Southampton. This means that applicants must apply to two universities, therefore benefiting from having two supervisors. Furthermore, successful applicants have access to classes and facilities at all of the universities across the consortium.

Corsham Court, site of the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership induction on 30 October 2014

Corsham Court, site of the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership induction on 30 October 2014

So why did I decide to apply to Reading through the SWW DTP? Firstly, the consortium made it possible for me to do an interdisciplinary project that I could not have done if I were only at one institution. I needed a supervisor for the Mauritian side of my research and another for the Algerian side, a combination which likely not possible at any one institution. I also found the SWW DTP appealing in that they emphasised that undertaking a PhD as part of the consortium would increase a student’s employability. They offer training sessions as well as their links with non-higher education partners, such as the National Trust and the BBC. I was also attracted by the fact that successful applicants were expected to do an internship for six months which the AHRC would fund if it were unpaid. I welcome any relevant work experience, whether or not it is in a higher education setting. I am extremely keen to become a lecturer and I was convinced during the application process, that being part of the SWW DTP would help me to achieve this very ambitious aim.

I realised that I wanted to do a PhD during my MA at King’s College London, as it confirmed my love for literature. More importantly, I discovered that there was a gap in the field of postcolonial women’s writing that I knew would benefit the field if it were filled. I knew that I needed to persuade a funding body that my project was worthwhile.

Maria Tomlinson in the Jardin des Tuileries, Paris

Maria Tomlinson in the Jardin des Tuileries, Paris

My aspirations to become a lecturer were further reinforced by my experiences as a lectrice, an English language teacher at a French university, in Paris. Despite being only a lectrice, whose responsibilities are normally limited to leading oral classes, I was asked to give lectures in British civilisation and teach literary translation. I had the freedom to choose all the topics and texts myself – very good practice for the future if I am asked to choose texts for my own module: this is the dream. I relished talking in front of a class and sharing my enthusiasm. It gave me so much pride to mark the final papers of the students who I could tell had really engaged with the class and had studied hard. I delighted in preparing for the lectures and was thrilled when they were met with an enthusiastic response by the students. I had the added challenge that, overall, my students’ English was not at a particularly high level and so I had to make sure I presented the lectures clearly and held their attention. If you would like to read more about my experiences as a lectrice and consider applying yourself, my article on the thirdyearabroad.com website provides further details . The website also includes an article I have written on the PhD application process as well as many others relating to language study.

Finally, the main reason I applied to the SWW DTP was that I had a very positive experience when I enquired about starting a PhD at Reading. Dr Julia Waters was very encouraging throughout the whole application process and was always available to offer very useful advice, even phoning me while I was in Paris to give me interview tips. Reading and the SWW DTP were my first choice and hence I was absolutely ecstatic to be offered the funding.

Even though at the moment the SWW DTP is only in its first year, and I am sure there is much more to come, I would certainly recommend that you apply to be funded by this consortium. Not only would you have two supervisors from a choice of 8 universities, but also you would have access to a huge amount of training and even an internship. In today’s job market, whether you desire to be in academia or not, the SWW DTP would certainly provide you with a competitive edge.

Old Whiteknights House, home of the Graduate School at the University of Reading

Old Whiteknights House, home of the Graduate School at the University of Reading

To learn more about pursuing a Masters Degree or a PhD in Modern Languages at the University of Reading, visit the Graduate School website as well as the Homepage of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies. We offer both Post-Graduate Taught and Post-Graduate Research degree courses. To keep up with all of the Department’s research, as well as to receive updates from our students, staff, and alumni, follow this blog, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Twitter feed.

If you would like to receive regular updates from our blog, with the latest news about languages at Reading, please enter your email address below:


 

 

Reading Post-Graduates: Medieval Marriage

In a regular feature, we’ll bring you updates from Reading Post-Graduates, showcasing the work that the Masters and PhD candidates in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies are pursuing. Here’s a post from Charlotte Pickard, who is currently completing her PhD on ‘Unequal Marriage in France c.1200’ in the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies. Charlotte’s PhD is co-supervised by Professor Francoise Le Saux of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, who specialises in Medieval literary history, and Professor Lindy Grant, an expert in the history of Medieval France.

The recent publication of The Reading Medievalist, a postgraduate and early career journal, has made me reflect on the conference that inspired the transactions.

The conference, entitled ‘Medieval Marriage,’ was jointly organised by Carys Gadsden and myself and took place in March 2013. Marriage was the foundation of medieval society and not only represented the formation of a personal relationship but an economic and diplomatic transaction that brought together two families. Then as now it could be a delicate and complex business, which did not always go to plan. The subject of marriage is one that inevitably intersects much research on the medieval period and as such provided the ideal focus for a conference.

Our keynote speaker, Professor Neil Cartlidge, opened the conference with a thought-provoking paper focusing on courtly love vs marriage. Conference PhotoThe papers that followed worked with material dating from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries and explored historical, literary and art historical material from medieval Ireland, Wales, France and England, provoking lively and stimulating discussions. The papers questioned the nature and definition of marriage from social, legal and religious standpoints. It explored the extent to which noblewomen were able to exercise independent power within marriage and how this was affected by social status and crusading. The sessions on literary and art historical responses to marriage were particularly insightful for those who usually work with historical sources. The interdisciplinary nature of the conference allowed for an exchange of ideas between academics who are working with similar themes but taking alternative approaches, this was extremely beneficial for all involved.

As PhD students the conference provided us with the opportunity to gain valuable experience of conference organisation as well the chance to present our research to our academic peers. The conference utilised the skills of many of the postgraduate and early career researchers based in the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies, with Reading students presenting papers and chairing sessions, as well as contributing to discussion. Participants included researchers based at Reading as well as postgraduates from other UK institutions including the University of Oxford and the Courtauld Institute and provided a chance for networking.

After the success of the conference all involved felt that the papers would make an excellent focus for a new journal produced by postgraduates in the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies. The publication of the first volume of The Reading Medievalist has allowed the dialogue, which began at the conference to continue. As a co-organiser and editor the event and subsequent journal have been extremely rewarding experiences that I would recommend to other postgraduates.

To learn more about pursuing a Masters Degree or a PhD in Modern Languages at the University of Reading, visit the Graduate School website as well as the Homepage of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies. We offer both Post-Graduate Taught and Post-Graduate Research degree courses.

Reading Post-Graduates: Stefano Bragato

In a regular feature, we’ll bring you updates from Reading Post-Graduates, showcasing the work that the Masters and PhD candidates in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies are pursuing.

StefanoTo inaugurate the series, we’ve invited Stefano Bragato, a PhD candidate in Italian Studies, to reflect on the year of research that he’s just completed.

Here’s what he has to say:

They sometimes say that the third year of a PhD is the toughest. All those deadlines, all that writing up, all those files mixing up on your desktop. And yes, that ‘chapter three, draft eight’ thing. Quite demanding indeed.

The great thing about doing a PhD in Italian Literature though, at least for me, is that ‘demanding’ goes hand in hand with concepts such as ‘excitement’ and ‘gratification’. During your third year, that magic moment suddenly comes when you realise that your idea is good, that it works – and that you incredibly enjoy researching into it. A pretty cool feeling.

So cool that you immediately ponder presenting your findings at a conference. Thus in March 2014, at the beautiful and prestigious Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, in the USA, I gave a presentation on F. T. Marinetti, the founder of the Futurist avant-garde, focusing on his different strategies of writing during WWI. My presentation received lots of compliments and inspired lots of exciting discussions. I also met lots of new friends, and definitely had a lot of fun. Two months later, I organised a panel on notebook writing at the American Association of Italian Studies conference in Zurich, featuring experts from all over the world: a very successful and gratifying experience too.

WhiteknightsAnd of course, talking about excitement and gratification, there’s ReadingItaly, the Italian-Studies blog that I edit. Having your own journal or blog is rather demanding, but it is really a lot of fun. And then all the rest: organising the 2013 Society for Italian Studies Post-Graduate Colloquium, writing articles and book reviews, representing the PhDs within the School, teaching classes, chatting with friends at the Graduate School in Old Whiteknights House.

They sometimes say that doing a PhD in Literature is dull and boring. That’s complete nonsense. It is one of the toughest, but most exciting things around.

To learn more about pursuing a Masters Degree or a PhD in Modern Languages at the University of Reading, visit the Graduate School website as well as the Homepage of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies. We offer both Post-Graduate Taught and Post-Graduate Research degree courses.