Monday, 8 August 2016

Goodbye 2015-16: Humanities round-up

The new academic year is not far away. Meanwhile, in the quiet of August we can look back at a very, very busy period from May to July.  First, our Back to the Future alumni supper brought together successful alumni and current students. The English Literature and Creative Writing courses had a high profile at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival Professor John Hughes and Dr Paul Innes spoke (respectively) to the public on the songs of Dylan and Shakespeare’s history plays.

Next up, the School of Humanities contributed three major events to the University Festival. Creative Writers rioted (as usual) with original work, guest speakers, and a conference dinner, all part of the Creative Writers Riot LINK organised by Lania Knight and students.

On June 8, the schools of Humanities and Media joined forces for their first ever creative collaboration:  Alchemy: a Creative Experiment.  What would happen, we asked ourselves, if an English Literature student got together with a songwriter? An historian with a film-maker? A Creative Writer with a Radio Production student?  The student alchemists who joined the project took the creative risks such a project entails; and we found gold. Members of the public, students and staff gathered at Cheltenham’s Wilson Gallery on June 8 for a gala evening (with champagne).  Ben Cipolla won the Grand prize of £250, but all the alchemists won £50. These artists produced some staggering work, and you’ll be able to find out more about the event in September (there are some photos on the English Literature Flickr gallery). Very special thanks go to Melody Grace, BA Hons English Literature (class of 2016), for reporting and photographing the event.

And the very next morning, the Humanities Student Research Conference presented and celebrated undergraduate research from levels 5 and 6 (photos here). It was truly inspiring to be part of this conference and to hear about work of such high calibre, as you can see from the programme.  My thanks to all the students who took part, with very special thanks, and all good wishes, to our new graduates. 

I wish all new and returning students a fabulous summer. See you in September 2016. 

Friday, 29 July 2016

Romeo and Juliet

I recently saw a friend in this production of Romeo and Juliet in London (now running as part of the Camden Fringe). The relationship between the nurse and Juliet was really well done, as was Friar Lawrence's fatherly tenderness towards the young couple. The fight choreography was excellent and the scene changes were particularly good, with some scenes artfully arranged so that they started before the last one had finished. Watch out for the annoyed servant who keeps hustling the Capulets to get a move on. In some places it felt as if the comedic elements were so successful they outdid the darker aspects of the play, but overall the production was really good, full of energy and warmth.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Open Days at Francis Close Hall, Saturday June 25 and Tuesday June 28

If you're considering studying English Literature this year or next, come to one of our Open Days and ask us all about it. We're running two more Open Days in June (Saturday 25 and Tuesday 28). Book your place here:

Humanities undergraduates share their research at our recent Humanities Student Research Conference. More here.

Come and see where and how we study, chat to current students, find out about accommodation and student life in Cheltenham, and catch a glimpse of the campus cat if you're lucky.  You can also keep up to speed by following us on Facebook and Twitter. We hope to see you soon.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Rose Wolfe-Emery reviews 'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood

At first glance, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ reads like something one might happen across in a collection of fairy tales. Picture the deviant handmaid of a wealthy lady: attractive, rebellious, perhaps overcoming social class divisions by seducing a member of the gentry. In actuality, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale tells a completely different story.

The tale takes place in ‘Gilead’, a dystopian Republic in which the traditional division of labour in heterosexual marriage has been dismantled and is divided among women. The jobs historically associated with the female counterpart in a marriage – such as cooking, cleaning, bearing and raising children – are allocated to women according to their fertility. The singular role of a handmaid is to provide a child for a ruling-class family; if she fails to do so after three assignments, she is declared an ‘Unwoman’ and is sent away to inevitably die from radiation poisoning. The names of handmaids change depending on the household they are allocated to, reflecting their invariability from one another and lack of identity. For instance, the titular handmaid’s name is ‘Offred’, mirroring how her body and sexual agency are the property of Fred, the commander she was assigned to.

One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is the ideologies (largely based on biblical interpretations) that are used to justify such a regime. Offred regularly has flashbacks to the lessons given at ‘the Centre’, where prospective handmaids are trained. By ensuring that the desires of men are catered for, this has vastly reduced sexual assault cases in Gilead – yet just like rape, women’s autonomy is removed from the equation. The handmaids are required to dress in red habits that conceal their bodies in order to appear demure and professional, while the colour symbolises the nature of their profession. They also wear white wings on their heads, which obscure their vision and subsequently narrow their view of the world – reflecting the irrelevance of their thoughts in such a society. This novel also features distinctly Orwellian elements, the ‘Eyes’ (secret police) supposedly catching anyone who doesn’t behave according the rules of Gilead.

Atwood has insisted that the world portrayed in this novel is speculative rather than genuinely futuristic, simply questioning what would happen if “casually held attitudes about women” were taken to their logical ends. For anyone interested in feminism, I thoroughly recommend reading this thought-provoking novel because it continually highlights relevant, contemporary issues. Perhaps most significantly, it makes us more concerned about them.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

English Literature goes mad in Activity Week and beyond

The end of the academic year overwhelms students and staff alike. It's a time not just of hard work and deadlines but also the culmination of  twelve months of effort. Look closer, though, and you'll see that much more than exams (whether sitting or marking them) and marking deadlines has been going on since May.  The Humanities Activity Week offered a packed programme of events, on and off campus. Our School was closely involved with the wonderful Cheltenham Poetry Festival and student and staff spoke, performed, improvised and read at many of its events. History students (and others) spent a day at the National Civil War Centre, and the poet Helen Moore hosted a workshop combining ecology, poetry, and activism. Others buzzed off on the Humanities field trip to Cordoba, and we have no sympathy for them whatsoever.

Katie Green speaks to current students at the Back to the Future alumni event, 11 May 2016

We were very excited, and proud, to welcome three successful Humanities alumni to our special 'Back to the Future' alumni event. Former lecturer Dr Debby Thacker created this event last year to help current students think about their career and future options. The answer to the question 'what can I do with a degree in Humanities' is 'Anything you like'. Katie Green spoke about her passion for and commitment to teaching; Jess Toogood about her media career; and James Kearle explained how his English Literature degree gave him the skills of deep analysis he's put to use in engineering management. No one experience fitted all; each had arrived at their careers through so many different turns. Jess, James and Katie were totally inspiring to the students and staff who attended.

Jessica Toogood

Natalie Morris of Future Plan was also on hand to speak about the University's career and development support.

And to cap off the year, we celebrated student achievements at the University Festival ....but that's another post.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Alchemy: A Creative Experiment is at the Wilson Gallery, Cheltenham, TONIGHT

Sound and words bridge Shakespeare's world with our own. A stand-up comedian suffers an existential experience. Pictures are installed and some may move. A film called The Battle of Five Spices is shown. It can only be Alchemy: A Creative Experiment. Humanities and Media students take over the Wilson Gallery from 7:30 (not 7:00) TONIGHT. FREE. Book your place by clicking here.

Humanities Student Research Conference programme is now live

The final programme for our Humanities Student Research Conference has gone live:

Thursday 9 June 2016
11:00 - 3:00
Francis Close Hall TC002