Why I’m happy to be called a ‘Fellow’

Professor Grace Ioppolo writes:

A few years ago, I was notified that I’d been elected an ‘Ordinary Fellow’ of the Society of Antiquaries of London (https://www.sal.org.uk/). Although my husband Peter Beal had been a ‘Fellow’ there for some time, I knew very little about the Society, and only that it was located in the impressive building on the left of the Royal Academy of Art in Piccadilly (my husband hates attending lectures, so he ignored my repeated pleas to be taken to lectures there). I was evidently nominated for membership due to my work on the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitistation Project (http://www.henslowe-alleyn.org.uk/index.html), which demonstrated that I had spent numerous years working to conserve in digital form an important part of English heritage—the single best archive on theatre history in the time of Shakespeare.

Enough of the Fellows of SAL voted for me that I proudly attended the Fellows’ Induction Ceremony at which I was officially tapped on the shoulder with an antique mace to confirm my election. I learned later that those voting can literally ‘blackball’ a nominee by putting a black, rather than a white, ball in the voting box with his or her name on it (I never asked if any black balls were actually put into my box). Since becoming a Fellow I’ve tried to become active in the Society’s events, not just by attending some excellent lectures—the public lecture on the search for Richard III’s body was a real highlight—but by agreeing to serve on the Library Committee, which makes major decisions about the Society’s collections.

When I attended an orientation meeting about the collections I was astounded to discover that the Society has one of the finest and largest collections of antiquities in the world. In fact, at that meeting, I nearly tripped over an ancient Greek statue propped against the basement floor. I found out that the collections of sculptures, paintings, books, manuscripts, wax seals and other items acquired over the last three centuries through those working in antiquities—archaeologists, historians, art historians, archivists, literature scholars, etc., were so large that the Society has difficulty storing them all. I’ve been thrilled and delighted to participate in the Society’s activities, including trying to convince government and private organisations and officials to protect British heritage, including the acquisition, conservation and exhibition of antiquities.

So in August when I was notified that I had been fast-tracked for Fellowship of another organisation, “The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce,” I was intrigued. I’d been nominated by a professor who had been impressed with my contributions to social media on Twitter @ProfShakespeare and to digital media. I’d never heard of ‘The RSA’ as they call themselves, but after I accepted the nomination I was duly elected. This Society seems impressive in its aims ‘to enrich society through ideas and action’: https://www.thersa.org. I’m hoping to start networking with other Fellows there, especially to develop my interests in using social and digital media to bring communities together.

I’ll conclude this blog with a more interesting story about tripping over antiquities. My husband Peter spent 25 years as the English manuscripts expert at Sotheby’s auction house in London. He often had to attend cocktail parties for upcoming auctions so that he could convince clients to buy the wonderful items on offer. I used to turn up just before the parties started and if Peter was still busy upstairs in his office, I would wander around the galleries until he was free. One evening while waiting, I walked into the Book Room to see the rare books and manuscripts on display, and I nearly tripped over a large painting on the floor that was casually leaning against the wall. I stepped back and took a long look at the painting and said to myself, ‘If I didn’t know better I would think that’s by Gauguin’. Later at the party I saw the painting after it had been put on display on the gallery wall and realised that it was indeed by Gauguin and that it was worth millions of pounds and that I had nearly put my clumsy foot through it a few hours earlier.  Suffice it to say that I never again walked anywhere near a painting at Sotheby’s. . . .

About Cindy

Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
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