Friday, 27 June 2014

Join us for our Open Day on Saturday 28 June

As summer gets underway, we look forward to welcoming you to our Open Day on Saturday 28 June. To find out more, and to book a place, click here. Even if you haven't booked, do please drop by.

To see how our courses look, and the modules we currently offer, look at the course map for English Literature, for English Literature and Creative Writing, for English Literature and History, and English Literature and Language. Scroll up to the tabs on the top of this page to see our Flickr album and our new video blog.

We hope to meet you tomorrow, rain or shine.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

English Literature students and staff celebrate the end of a great year

Lots of level 6 and 5 students, and some from level 4, joined us for an impromptu party after the final exam in May. We’ll all meet again at graduation, and next year for continuing students, of course; but it was great to unwind a little while celebrating the students’ achievements. If the sun had shone we’d have moved out into the Quad. In fact there was a terrific thunderstorm that afternoon, and it rocked the exam room according to the students taking the EX316 exam.

The party was also a chance for the four students who helped to edit James Shirley’s play The Young Admiral (1633-37) for a Degree Plus internship to get their printed and bound copies. Dr Rebecca Bailey created and supervised the project. You can read her report, and the students’ guest editorials, by scrolling down.

We plan to make this little party an annual event. It's a small way of thanking students for everything they do for the English Literature course. They can all be proud of what they achieved this year. Class of 2014: we salute you. 
I've uploaded a few pictures on our Flickr album. They were all taken during a fairly sedate moment at the beginning of the party, which is just as well. Students, do please send me any photos you may have; I promise to credit you.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Guest Editorial: Alex Edwards Reflects on Editing a Seventeenth-Century Playtext

During my third year at University I undertook a Degree Plus Internship, titled Editing a Renaissance Play. Throughout the course of the internship it was necessary to decipher and understand archaic meanings, spellings and punctuation, all of which required extensive attention to detail and long hours researching and reading. Despite the long hours and hard work I have found the internship to be wholly beneficial; it has allowed me to develop a number of skills, such as prioritisation, communication, problem solving and editorial and research skills. All of which will, undoubtedly, come in handy in the working world. These skills look great on your CV and also give you that added extra employability that every employer is looking for; I have also found it to be highly useful to have my work printed and bound in a booklet as an example of my capabilities for potential employers.
Aside from the skills developed throughout the internship it also has a great social aspect, an element that helped to relieve the workload considerably.

All of the interns were English Literature students, and so I think, it goes without saying that the internship and English Literature as a course work excellently hand in hand. However anyone with an interest in editing or 17th century literature would also benefit greatly.
I would urge any student who is considering undertaking an internship to just do it; don’t let the opportunity pass you by. The workload can seem daunting at times, but with the support of your Internship Leader and your colleagues it becomes both interesting and fun, with the added benefit of extra employability and developed skill-sets.​

Guest Editorial: Emma Younger Reflects on Editing a Renaissance Play

As a student, a venture into doing and completing a Degree Plus Internship was a very worthwhile one. It was easy to balance with my coursework, even amongst the pressures of third year and was both enjoyable and interesting. It gives you something extra to talk about on your CV and was a great experience to use to complete the employability award, which is never a harmful thing!
Although I discovered that the editing process was not for me, the whole experience itself was invaluable and enjoyable. I wish I had known about Degreeplus sooner, otherwise I would have most definitely completed more alongside my course.
Degreeplus internships are a great way to gain professional experience and I would recommend this to everyone.

Guest Editorial: Dane Abley on his Editing Internship

I really enjoyed the internship. It was great to have something that I wanted to do to distract from that which I had to do. Not that I allowed it to distract to the detriment of my other assignments and study.

Having previously helped a friend with the editing of his book, I was interested in the process, and the internship allowed me to learn the proper skills of editing, specifically for editing a play. This internship taught me the skills and gave me the confidence to know that I could do a better job, should my friend ask me to work on another of his books, and the confidence to seek out employment in editing.
I haven't yet started the job hunt, but when I do I'm sure the experience of the internship will make me stand out when applying for a position in editing and / or publishing. I'll let you know!

Guest Editorial: Newfound Applications of Editing a Renaissance Play Internship by Ashley Vallally

When I decided to apply for the internship offering the opportunity to edit a scene from a renaissance play, I wasn't even sure if I ever wanted to pursue a career in that field.  Afterwards, I was certain!  Although the play was fascinating, the editing itself was far too meticulous for my scatterbrain. I managed to get a rhythm for the work by the end of the internship, but the thought of doing it day in, day out, filled me with an existential dread. [I completely understand this, Ash! RB]. This said the experience was a good one as I picked up a number of skills in the process and refined some I already had, all while working with an interesting text and fun people.

It's hard to know what you want to do at the best of times but I think internships allow you to do just that; try a whole range of different occupations to find the right one for you.  Even if like myself you discover the internship you take isn't exactly what you would want to do later in life, it can help you focus on the things that do interest you and eliminate the things that don't.  Hopefully a short placement will confirm whether a career is for you, not by a quick skim read of potential duties of a job advert, but through first-hand experience of the role.

Now that I have started applying for jobs (not in editing that is), I've found that the internship is a useful encounter that  I can use to help illustrate many of the skills that have been practised more generally over the course of my degree.  For example, now I can talk about things like proof reading and analytic writing in relation to this extra-curricular activity.  On my CV I can now say things like 'the research and report written while editing a scene for a renaissance play developed and demonstrate my communications skills' rather than employers having to take my word for it alone. 

Most of all, I think taking internship should be a way of exploring something you find interesting or are drawn to.  Even if you have no intent of taking it any further, if the idea appeals to you then the experience should be a positive one.  It also shows employers that you are more than a statistic, working for grades alone, but an individual with personal interests and the ability to turn you hand to different occupations based on your skills.

Practically applying the knowledge gained from studying English Literature with the internship I participated in was both challenging and exciting.  It opened up a vista of possible opportunities that I had not considered before and helped me understand what I do want.  If undertaking an internship is something that you can do, then I cannot recommend it enough.

Degree Plus Internship: Editing a Renaissance Play


Dr  Rebecca Bailey reports on a very successful student editing project this year.

I am delighted to report on the successful completion of five Degree Plus Internships which have given students the opportunity to gain an understanding of current cutting-edge scholarly editing principles. I spent some time last summer working on my edition of James Shirley’s The Young Admiral (licensed 1633, printed 1637). This is part of an international editorial project to edit all of James Shirley’s works which is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Oxford University Press. James Shirley is a leading Caroline dramatist whose works are being rediscovered so I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for students to gain insight into the world of publishing and editing.

Accordingly, in September 2013 a call went out to students across Humanities to undertake the sixth month internship, entitled ‘Editing a Renaissance text: what is considered to be the best practice in making a Renaissance text available to a twenty-first century reader / audience’. Imagining perhaps one or two students might be interested, I was astonished by the overwhelming response and quickly offered five internships rather than the original two places. The ‘lucky’ individuals who gained the internships after excellent interviews and applications were Dane Abley (English Literature and Film, third year), Alex Edwards (English Literature, third year), Ashley Vallally (English Literature, third year) Luke Williams (English Literature, second year) and Emma Younger (English Literature, third year). Their aim was to edit a scene from The Young Admiral of their choice and to discuss their editorial decisions through scheduled meetings. By the end of the internship each student would have a portfolio of their work to show to future employers.

I was really impressed with the dedication and drive of each of my interns. During the sixth months they waded through ninety pages of complicated editorial rules, wrote a report on The Young Admiral, and produced a very professional edited scene, complete with a collation of all changes made to the text and a scholarly commentary. Additionally, the interns reported on this Degree Plus experience to first year students on HM4050: Reading, Writing, Work and contributed to a publishing workshop for second years on HM5302: Renaissance, Revolution, Restoration.

From my perspective, it was fascinating working with students in a different capacity from module tutor and it was a delight to see such enthusiasm and determination resulting in excellent portfolios.  The interns themselves found the experience rewarding if rigorous – which is just as it should be! They have very kindly agreed to share their thoughts with current students as I hope this will encourage you all to explore the wealth of opportunities which are available within the Degree Plus umbrella. Please scroll through to the following student posts.

Image: Sovereign of the Sea, flagship of Charles l's navy, 1637.

Professor John Hughes on 1960s culture

In this short video Professor John Hughes, author of Invisible Now: Bob Dylan in the 1960s (2014), talks about the cultural and political scene in the 1960s.

Professor John Hughes, author of a recent book on Bob Dylan, discusses the artist

Over at the Religion, Philosophy and Ethics blog, Professor John Hughes talks to Dr Dave Webster about Dylan's music and artistry.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Please, not another Top Ten list

This week Guardian Online offered, as customary, several bite-size features to distract readers from the tedium of their daily work. They were reasonably well-written and informative; there were pictures and hyperlinks, and critical opinion of course. A picture of the novelist Jeannette Winterson took me to the Top Ten feminist books ; art critic Jonathan Jones's blog showcased the Top Ten beaches in Art (really); you can catch up with William Atkins's  Top Ten books about moors , a celebratory promotion of his latest title; and the Weekend feature on authors' choices for GCSE set texts appeared online to continue the previous week's arguments about Michael Gove banishing American texts from the syllabus.

All except the last were blog posts, and we must recognise the essential light-heartedness and transitory qualities of this online medium. Entertainment's the purpose. There is no reason why recreational reading can't be accurate and informative. The posts reach a large audience of readers, new and old, and help to spread cultural awareness. What could be wrong with that?

We can object on the grounds of format and content. As fascinating as the material may be, top ten lists in online newspapers serve one chief purpose: to be reproduced in social media platforms. Friends Tweet their friends, the friends reTweet, and the numbers of hits rises gratifyingly; newspapers find a way to attract readers in the post-print age. Busy lecturers, teachers and educators use them as a resource to create interest and to engage people beyond the classroom. Some use them for blog posts, as I do here. This is all fine as long as we recognise that information disseminated through social media requires skills quite different from reading a book or following a complex argument or narrative.

Content needs to be highly condensed, with instant appeal. The criteria for a 'top ten' list of great books are unexplained and subjective, though the best ones are spiced with just enough of the unexpected to make the article stand out (see the Top Ten feminist book list above, for instance). Again, we can make up our own minds about quality. However, we should remember that the conditions of production create readerships and the work's interpretive grounds. Jerome J. McGann reminds us that 'the method of printing or publishing a literary work carries with it enormous cultural and aesthetic significance for the work itself.'* In other words, culture produces (a)  'the work itself' and (b) the reader.

Thinking in terms of 'top ten' lists diminishes art and impoverishes our experience. Social media have already changed the way we look at the world. Our collective attention span has shrunk. Many of us now struggle to read a twenty-page scholarly essay without our minds wandering. We are not less intelligent but we are simply not used to giving our undivided attention to a long task. Besides, there's no time. We've got to check emails. And it's easier to read a critic's two-line assessment of a novel than to read the book and decide for ourselves. We can always read books when we retire.

We ought to be able to harness social media's tremendous power to communicate and connect, to increase education, knowledge and awareness. But let us acknowledge that like all media, it produces its own conditions of consumption. We don't have to think in lists. Hilary Mantel declined to give a list of texts she would like to see on the A level syllabus and instead commented on how our school system quantifies and institutionalises reading:

Should we play the Gove game, by setting up opposing lists? Or should we ask, which Gradgrind thought up the idea of set texts in the first place? Why should students be condemned to thrash to death a novel or a corpus of poetry, week after week, month after month? No novel was ever penned to puzzle and punish the young. Plays are meant to be played at. Poetry is not written for Paxmanites. Literature is a creative discipline, not just for writer but for reader. Is the exam hall its correct context? We educate our children not as if we love them but as if we need to control and coerce them, bullying them over obstacles and drilling them like squaddies; and even the most inspired and loving teachers have to serve the system. We have laws against physical abuse. We can try to legislate against emotional abuse. So why do we think it's fine to abuse the imagination, and on an industrial scale? What would serve children is a love of reading, and the habit of it. I wonder if the present system creates either.*

The Guardian got its revenge by publishing Mantel's remarks only in the paper's online edition.

*References: Jerome J. McGann, The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in Historical Methods and Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), p. 117. Guardian Online Friday 6 June 2014 (as hyperlink); print edition, Review,  Saturday 7 June 2014, pp. 2-4.

Photo:   Annie Nightingale, the BBC's first woman DJ, 1970. Annie is still broadcasting and she doesn't do Top Ten lists. Image: [accessed 14 June 2014]

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Warning: fairy tales may damage children

Dr Debby Thacker comments:

Last night, at the Cheltenham Science Festival, according this morning’s news reports, Professor Richard Dawkins said: “I think it's rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism – we get enough of that anyway.

Even fairy tales, the ones we all love, with wizards or princesses turning into frogs or whatever it was. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable.”

This point of view is surprising in a highly educated and cultured individual.  He seems to misunderstand the function of fairy tales, which were not originally intended for children, anyway.  The ‘fantastical’ elements of fairy tales are there to tell a ‘truth’ about life, and it is up to those who read or tell these stories to children to make them aware of the difference between what happens in fiction and what is scientifically measurable (and sometimes those boundaries are blurred).

 The world would certainly be the poorer without fairy tales to play with our understanding of how people treat each other, and to use fiction to help us think about how people exercise power over one another: adults over children; men over women; the rich over the poor; the strong over the weak.  Fairy tales help us think about all of these things.

‘The Frog Prince’ is an interesting story to choose.  It is only when the Princess disobeys her father and throws the frog against the wall that he turns into a Prince.  It isn’t important how probable it is that a frog can turn into a man, but it matters that we think about what it means to stand up to power. We need to keep our magical thinking to help us understand our own relationship to others.

Image: undated painting by Marianne Stokes (1855-1927).

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Growing Humanities: Professor Shelley Saguaro's Inaugural Lecture

Dr Martin Randall reports on Professor Shelley Saguaro's Inaugural Lecture

Professor Shelley Saguaro’s Inaugural Lecture was hugely successful in bridging the gap between the personal and the scholarly. Indeed, her memories of her academic life were also something of a plotted (no pun intended) history of the Humanities at the University of Gloucestershire. The lecture also provided the audience with a Feminist reading of a number of women writers whose work has influenced Shelley over the years and these careful literary analyses reminded the audience of the absolute centrality of Humanities critical thinking. And finally, Shelley offered a persuasive and illuminating discussion on the deep, and surprising, connections between plants and politics.

You can watch a podcast of Shelley's lecture here: