Spectrum Postgraduate Conference

Spectrum 1

On Wednesday the 20th July 2016, a cohort of MA Literature and Culture students hosted the first postgraduate conference to celebrate the interdisciplinary research being undertaken within the department. ‘Spectrum’ brought together students studying across a huge variety of research fields and time periods, ranging from Old Norse romance all the way to contemporary cinematic novels. ‘Spectrum’ took place at the historic Winterbourne House and Gardens, allowing for a very comfy and relaxing atmosphere looking out onto the beautiful vistas of the house’s impeccable gardens.

IMG_4814Winterbourne House

For many of the speakers, ‘Spectrum’ was the first conference they had taken part in – but was an extremely useful platform for developing ideas which will be central to dissertations and other future research. The day was a great success, and allowed students to share and communicate ideas with one another.

Spectrum 2

During initial discussions for the conference, the ‘Spectrum’ committee had originally intended to formulate an event based upon one central theme. However, it became clear when reviewing the eclectic set of abstracts which were submitted, that there really could be no one uniting theme. The committee thus felt that the aspect to be most celebrated was the absolute diversity of research being undertaken; that under the umbrella of one postgraduate literature course, not one person’s research topic was by any means similar to another’s. The central aspect of the conference thus became ‘interdisciplinarity’. ‘Interdisciplinarity’ is central to humanities research, making for a very rich, exciting and ever evolving set of academic disciplines – although the term caused a few hiccups during papers (in numerous attempts to say it without blunder, which proved to be difficult…).

‘Spectrum’ were honoured to welcome Professor Catherine Belsey as the guest speaker for the day. Professor Catherine Belsey is a hugely influential scholar and inspirational speaker. She is a Fellow of the English Association and a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales and has published a number of significant texts on the nature of literary criticism. Her writings encompass interests from cereal packets to Shakespeare and she examines obscure theoretical positions with lucidity and humour. Belsey has consistently promoted innovation in literary criticism; her publications include Critical Practice (1980), The Subject of Tragedy (1985), Culture and the Real (2005) as well as four books on Shakespeare and one on Milton.

Spectrum 3Professor Catherine Belsey

Belsey’s talk outlined the vast trajectory of approaches to literature over the years, considering the ways in which literary scholars are able to provide and apply a unique set of skills both within and outside academia. Catherine’s inspirational talk placed ‘interdisciplinarity’ at the forefront of literary enquiry and innovation in wider cultural studies.

The day was organised around four central panels: ‘Drama and its Critics’, ‘Literature & Science’, ‘Modernism’ and ‘Contemporary Media’, each containing 2-5 papers followed by audience questions and discussion. The papers included a huge range of topics, including power and reciprocation in Shakespeare’s plays, new Russian drama, seventeenth-century biography, narratives of mental illness, modernism and the popular press, film studies and virtual reality – to name but a few!

However, after judging both abstracts and presentations collectively, MA convenor Dr Matt Hayler announced Kit Richards’ paper ‘“Size Matters”: Reading Disability in Old Norse romance’ to be the winner of a £50 amazon voucher. As well as illustrating a range of nuanced readings of medieval works, Kit also demonstrated an immense ability to speak in Old Norse dialect, too!

IMG_4807Kit Richards

Not only was the day a great success, but it allowed students based at both the Birmingham campus and Shakespeare institute to broaden ideas and gain invaluable experience of writing papers and partaking in an academic conference. The committee were hugely proud of the day – and hope that ‘Spectrum’ will encourage future conferences for both undergraduate and postgraduate students in the department.

You can find out more about the day on the Spectrum twitter account: @SpectrumPGConf.


Learning New Tricks: Postgraduate Study as a Mature Student

Last year, at the age of 34, I decided to take a break in my career to return to university for a master’s degree—thirteen years after I graduated the first time.

I was excited to be back in the world of academia, but apprehensive too. Although I was a teacher and working in an educational field, I wondered how I would cope with the academic demands of a master’s degree so long after my undergraduate degree. I was also worried about the social side of things on a full-time course. A lot of the advice out there seemed to assume that mature students were part time, or already living with their own families. I was going to be living in a shared student house again and two of my housemates were twenty-three years old! I didn’t know anyone in Birmingham and I was concerned about the lack of a support system while I was taking on an intensive year of study.

When I started my course I was one of the oldest students; there were a good number of students who had come straight from an undergraduate course or a gap year. But there were also quite a lot of people who had been working and had returned to study, so luckily there was a mix of different ages and situations. I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb as I had feared.

I knew that making new friends would be a big part of creating a positive experience at the university. So although I’m not a social butterfly by any measure, I made the effort to meet people in the first couple of weeks before study really started. During welcome week I joined the Art Society, and the Postgraduate and Mature Student Association (PGMSA). The PGMSA introduced me to people in a similar situation to the one I was in, but it was in Art Society, where I met people who shared my interests, that I really made some great friends. Our common interests make it easier to forget the age difference—although I do get teased about it sometimes. I was told by one friend that I was his ‘favourite middle-aged person’, but it was all in fun … I think!

I’ve found that rather than being weird, my situation is interesting to some people, and I had a really long conversation with some of the ArtSoc members about what it was like going to university before everyone had their own laptop and before Social Media existed (the general consensus was that it was less complicated but also less convenient).

I’ve found the best way to handle the insecurity of the situation is to know how to laugh at yourself. Usually I’m the one starting age jokes about how things were back in ‘my day’ and all those damn kids on my lawn. But age really is just a number; one of my friends turned twenty recently and she’s one of the most responsible and mature people I know, and one of my younger housemates is wiser at twenty-four than I think I will ever be!

Having the same interests goes a huge way towards getting on with people of any age, and societies or sports teams are a great way to find people who have similar interests. Once you have something to talk about other than what A-Levels you did, you forget about the age difference and just see people as they are. This also applies to people doing the same course as you. We were all studying the same thing for a reason and that gives you a great common ground from which to build friendships.

As for the academic side of things, the university is very aware that many students are returning to academia after time away. There’s advice accessible online, a personal tutor who was available for academic support, and resources like the Academic Writing Advisory Service. At AWAS you can get individual appointments to get style advice for specific assignments. The advice I received there was so helpful in raising my writing to postgraduate level. After worrying so much I have gained Merits and Distinctions in all my assignments and am currently enjoying (yes, really!) writing my dissertation.

So my final advice would be to find the support you need, get involved, and remember to tell these millennials that back in your day you had to walk fifteen miles in the snow to Starbucks. Uphill. Both ways. 😉


BBC Digital Cities Workshops: Survive The Future

On Thursday 17th March, four students from the MA in Film and Television: Research and Production attended workshops at BBC Birmingham as part of Digital Cities Week to pick the brains of broadcast industry insiders and participate in practical training with digital tools. In this post, Elena Tang and Yang Zhang share their reflections on digital storytelling, using new technologies to produce innovative content, and trying their hands at being weather presenters.

We were welcomed to the Mailbox with a 3D goggles show-zone and offered a chance to get immersed in this new interactive way to engage in previously 2D television programmes. After registering, , we were led upstairs and through labyrinth-like alleys and finally arrived at the BBC Academy space where the workshops were mainly held.


Digital Storytelling

The first session was hosted by writer Elaine Wilson. She explained how digital storytelling is different and what types of stories you can tell online. With the development of technology, the way to tell a story has changed dramatically and it is obvious that many people prefer accessing content through mobile phones, laptops and other electronic devices rather than books and newspapers. Thus, digital platforms play a significant role in filmmaking and television production. After a brief introduction to the core points for a good story, Elaine suggested ways to take full advantage of social media in storytelling. Examples of short form vloggers like ‘MinutePhysics’ were also shown to demonstrate how effectively this type of content works.

We learned that a good character in a story should have a clear goal and motivation, being recognizable while having their own flaws and strengths. Critical elements of a story include consistency and consequence: what happens if the characters succeed or fail. During an activity we were divided into groups of four and given a nursery rhyme to adapt into stories to be told in digital forms. Everyone’s ideas seemed so unique and innovative, and it was great to see that people’s creativity could be ignited through simple inspirations like the owl and the pussy-cat falling in love with each other.

Next, in order to put the idea into practice, we were tasked with making a 10-second short film using Vine in a limited time. We grabbed the chance to make creative videos in small groups, and all videos produced were posted onto the big screen so everyone gets to see what the other groups had made: some hilarious, some very artistic, and many with innovative twists. The fun and relaxed activity helped us learn the art of digital platforms and see how swiftly a piece can be produced.


Hands-on Technology

During the lunch break we explored the BBC Public Space where we were able to try working as an anchor on either a weather forecast, the news or a natural history program. Reading the autocue was quite a challenge, but it was fun to see ourselves on screen on the hunt for polar bears or predicting rain, and we got a better understanding of how a presenter works.


In the afternoon session, we attended different workshops in smaller groups and tried making short form content with infographics, photos and audio using iPad and mobile apps like ‘Splice’ and Pictophile Pro. We got to experience digital content including Pint-sized Ashes for BBC Radio 5 Live facilities including green screen, 360º video and VR headset, all within 10 minute workshops.

The intense but fun workshops showed us how interesting and seemingly complex digital content can be produced in a short period of time with limited resources and on a small budget, especially using simple mobile apps. The future of creative media is indeed in the hands of everyone.

Elena Tang and Yang Zhang

Have a look at ‘Digital Storytelling: Filmmaking for the Web’, a free online course from The University of Birmingham, BBC Academy and FutureLearn.

This post originally appeared on the FTV Birmingham blog. Many thanks to Elena and Yang for allowing us to repost it here.

Finding Accommodations: Stratford

My name is Anna Hegland and I’m an international student from the United States. Last September I flew 3,800+ miles from my home in the Midwest to Stratford-upon-Avon, where I’m currently completing an MA in Shakespeare Studies at the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute. It’s not easy moving halfway across the world by yourself, especially when you don’t know where you’ll be living or if you’ll get along with the housemates you’ve never met in person (or even if you’ll recognize them the first time you do meet), so here are some tips and tricks for one of the biggest tasks you’ll be facing right off the bat: accommodation.


  1. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other incoming students.

Most people do choose to live in Stratford rather than on campus in Birmingham. Life is a lot easier when you’re not commuting by train every day. A few months before getting on the plane to Stratford, the University’s Housing and Accommodation Services circulated a Flat Search Contact form, which included the names and email addresses of other incoming Shakespeare Institute students looking for roommates or housemates for the upcoming year. Make sure you take full advantage of this form; fill it out and then get in touch with people! Sharing a house or flat is a great way to split the cost of living in Stratford, which is not inexpensive.

Yes, it’s awkward to email a group of complete strangers and ask if they’d like to consider living with you, but if you want or need a roommate, you’ll need to get your courage up and just do it. Take the opportunity to introduce yourself and know that everyone else feels just as awkward as you do. Since you’ll only receive contact information for other students at the Institute, it’s guaranteed that you all have at least one interest (Shakespeare) in common. My first emails included an introduction and three quick facts about myself, similar to what you would find on a normal college or university roommate form (morning person or night owl? smoker or non-smoker? tidy or messy?). I ended up with two other girls, one from the US like me and the other from near London.

While it’s a bit of a shot in the dark, contacting a stranger, chatting with them for a few weeks, and then deciding to live with them, I got really, really lucky with my housemates. We were able to find a beautiful three-bedroom house, sign the lease, and move in in just under a week. We get along really well and our house runs pretty darn smoothly.

housemates(While writing this blogpost, I’ve discovered that my housemates and I have apparently never taken a normal, nice picture together.)

2. Start looking early…

 I knew I wouldn’t be able to move straight into a house when I first arrived in Stratford, so I booked a hotel in Birmingham for the weekend (since I was arriving on a Saturday and knew I’d be jet-lagged) and then an AirBnb in Stratford for the first week that I was here. That way I knew I had a place to stay while I met my housemates and we looked for places to live. My AirBnb host was lovely — she offered to help me contact estate agents and gave me tips about what areas in town might have more rentals available. Make sure you start looking for a B&B or AirBnb early and book your spot a few weeks before you arrive — Stratford is a tourist town and places can fill up quickly!

 I’d also advise taking a preliminary look at letting agents and what kind of rentals they offer before you get to the UK. This will help you narrow down which agents you’ll book an appointment with and give you an idea of what to expect from them in terms of average prices, locations around Stratford, and types of properties available. While it’s nice to look at furnished flats and houses, it’s not always possible to get one. If you end up in an unfurnished place, take a look at the second-hand and hospice stores in Stratford before buying anything. Oftentimes you can find cheap used items that still look just fine! Our wooden kitchen table (and matching chairs) was free in a second-hand shop, all we had to do was cart it away. The surface is a little scratched, but it’s large enough that we could host a potluck Thanksgiving dinner, so we don’t mind. If you do want to rent some bigger items (bed frames, sofas, armchairs, etc), a site like Bradbeers is a good choice.

 If you’d like to live by yourself, a bedsit (where you rent a room in someone’s home) or a studio flat might be the right option for you. Check sites like RightMove or Dwellings of Warwickshire for studio, one bedroom, and bedsit options. My housemates and I looked at a few different letting agents, including Sheldon Bosley, Westbridge & Co., Edwards, and Connells, before finding a property through Charles Saville. You can also find information on available properties and letting agents through RightMove, which has tons of listings.

Be aware that not all letting agencies will work with students — some really prefer to rent to families. Our lead-off question when meeting with a new letting agent was “do you have any properties available with two to three bedrooms for students?” If the answer was “no,” then we could cross that agent off our list and move on.

3. … But not too early.

 Most agents aren’t prepared to have someone looking for a place to live three months in advance, so while it’s good to do your research and get your bearings, know that they’re not able to really help yet. However, many letting agents will let you register with them so that you receive email updates on new openings and you’re in their system. Try to register with them in mid to late August (and no earlier) so that they know you exist and you can hit the ground running in September when you arrive in Stratford. Very few agents were willing to let us book an appointment before we had arrived, even if we had registered with them. Booking an appointment to talk through more details and see a few places couldn’t happen until we were all there in person. If you have one housemate arriving slightly earlier, it’s a good idea to have them act as a scout and set up appointments with various agents for once everyone’s arrived. Our letting agency, Charles Saville, was willing to work with us as students and were fairly accommodating of our tight schedule.

4. Shop around.

 Make a budget and stick to it. Once you’ve settled on a potential housemate (or two, as I did), have a chat about how much you’re willing to spend per month on accommodation, but be flexible, since sometimes adding an extra £20 – £50 to your budgeted rent can make a huge difference in the quality of properties available. Also remember that you’ll have extra costs like utility bills, food, maintenance, and supplies, and figure those in to your budget as well. You’ll also need to be ready to pay a deposit on your flat or house, which can be an expensive upfront cost. But the old saying rings true: you get what you pay for. Sometimes you’ll find a place that falls within your budget, but doesn’t seem like a place you’d be happy living.

 Like I said above, we looked at 5 different agents and plenty of other listings on RightMove and Dwellings. Know that it’s ok to say no. If you don’t like a flat or a house that you’ve viewed, or the letting agents are being unnecessarily difficult, walk away. You don’t owe them anything; their job is to help you find a place to live.

 Lastly, read everything carefully. Before you sign any agreements, take the time to read them thoroughly, even though it’s a pain, and make sure you understand all of it. If there’s something you’re unsure of, ask the letting agent to explain it to you. Again, this is their job.

 Some things can’t be helped, like the fact that you can’t get a bank account until you have a UK address, but it’s helpful to have a bank account as you’re dealing with paying the deposit on a place to live (it’s a very circular bureaucratic process at times).

5. Go with the flow and enjoy your time here.

 Overall, Stratford is a lovely place to live. It’s small and quiet, but the train makes it easy to get to London, Birmingham, or any number of other cities whenever you need a change of scenery. There are plenty of restaurants and multiple grocery stores here within walking distance (the Maybird Shopping Centre is a lifesaver when you first arrive and need to get house supplies). Take full advantage of your proximity to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Royal Shakespeare Company; from the archive and library to part-time employment to the gardens and the stage, both organizations have a lot to offer students.

hallscroft(The garden at Hall’s Croft.)

Do keep in mind that most of the shops in the town centre close around 6pm during the week, which took a little getting used to. It’s a little disconcerting at first to leave the library after a full day of research and be met with empty streets. But as far as culture shock goes, the transition from the US to Stratford has been very smooth. Even if the process of moving here and getting settled seems daunting and overwhelming at first, you can get through it. Enjoy living here, enjoy meeting new people, and enjoy the MA program. Remember that you’re here because you love Shakespeare — and you get to study his work while living in his town!

parade(MA and PhD students celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday.)

You can find more information on housing in Stratford-upon-Avon on the University of Birmingham website and by contacting Jackie Spellacy (j.a.spellacy@bham.ac.uk) in Housing and Accommodation Services.

Anna Hegland is a full-time student in the MA Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Institute.

The Cadbury Research Library

CYcwzzBWQAEe5Oc.jpg largePhoto courtesy of @CadburyRL

The Cadbury Research Library is a fantastic resource for those undertaking research at the University of Birmingham (and, of course, elsewhere). One great way to get an overview of their collections is to browse through the CRL Flickr account, which is particularly good at documenting the regularly changing exhibits in the foyer of the Muirhead Tower (opposite the Starbucks) and in the main library. To get to the CRL’s reception and reading room you just go down one flight of stairs from the main entrance of the tower, and follow the signs.

The CRL has certainly got some headline-grabbing items, ranging from the Mingana collection, which includes the earliest documented Qur’an, to the archives of Noël Coward. They have manuscripts dating from the medieval period to the present day, and there’s a wide range of other rare books and archival documents. For example, they have an excellent collection of the beautiful books designed and printed by William Morris’ Kelmscott Press, and very large number of editions of Shakespeare. My own interest lies in the archives relating to the University of Birmingham’s history (which is more fascinating and multi-faceted than you might expect!) and the recently acquired notebooks of Victorian poet Constance Naden. These collections not only enable you to access to primary materials, providing the opportunity to interact with them as material objects as well as texts, but also offer a large quantity of documents that richly contextualise the time periods that you are studying.

The CRL holdings exist in two different catalogues, one of which you will already be familiar with, since it’s http://findit.bham.ac.uk – this is where you can find most of their holdings of printed books. Indeed, you may have already stumbled across such items, as the library catalogue’s search results sometimes invite you to ‘Check Locations tab for current availability at Cadbury Research Library’. In order to search the CRL’s archival collections you use a difference catalogue: http://calmview.bham.ac.uk/ . You can search this using keywords, and there are detailed descriptions linked to each item in the results so that you can get a sense of whether it’s something you’d like to see.

A third way of finding out what the CRL has that might be relevant to your areas of interest is to contact the staff directly. The CRL has an extremely friendly team who are very welcoming of such inquiries. Between them they’re incredibly knowledgeable about the collections, and if you send an email to special-collections@bham.ac.uk you’ll be sure of a helpful response. My best advice for doing this is to be specific when asking speculative questions, so that they understand the parameters of your interests and what kind of project you’re hoping to undertake. Asking what they have in the collections relating to scientific experimentation, for example, might not get you very far because it’s so broad. But explain that you’re writing about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and are interested in documents relating to the culture of experimentation in the early nineteenth century, and who knows what they might be able to suggest!

CHi9qRmWIAA0BJl.jpg largePhoto courtesy of @CadburyRL

Once you’ve decided what you’d like to consult, accessing the collections is very straightforward. It’s best practice to email in advance to make sure that the items are available and not currently being restored, exhibited, or in use by someone else—although this is rarely the case. The first time you visit you will need to register, which is a completely painless process that’s made even easier if you bring along your University of Birmingham student ID. You’ll then be given a membership card, which you’ll use to sign into the reading room and request documents. In the interests of preservation, you’re not allowed to take bags, food, drinks, pens, and some other items into the reading room, but there are free lockers provided for you to store everything other than the bare essentials – pencil and paper and/or laptop, plus phone/camera is probably all you’ll need.

Once in the reading room you fill in an order slip with the details of the books or documents you’d like to see, so try to have the classmark from the catalogue written down somewhere accessible.  They say that it can take up to 30 minutes to retrieve requested items, but in my experience it rarely takes more than 10. You’ll be pleased to hear that as well as being able to take notes, you are allowed to take photos of the majority of documents. In order to do this just speak to the archivist on the desk, who’ll be able to give you a form to fill in. This is a contract to say that you’re only taking photos for private use (they’re not to be published without their permission, and that includes on social media), and it allows them to keep track of what copies are being made. In the interests of other visitors’ sanity, do make sure you turn off any camera shutter noise too!

Then it’s the exciting part as you begin leafing through the pages of a rare book, a manuscript, a periodical, a diary, a sheaf of letters, minutes from a meeting, or perhaps something else entirely. While it’s useful to go in with a set of research questions to keep you focused, this is also the time for serendipitous discoveries and unexpected new avenues of enquiry opening up before your eyes, especially in the early stages of a project. Who knows, it might be at the CRL that you uncover something fascinating that isn’t what you set out to find but becomes the foundation for your MA dissertation, or shifts your thesis in an unexpected but ultimately important new direction.

 CV3ZTh4WwAAWgmC.jpg largeClare Stainthorp speaks to the CRL about Constance Naden. Photo courtesy of @Cadbury RL

Clare Stainthorp is completing her PhD on the Birmingham poet, philosopher, and student of science Constance Naden (1858-89). She is also the editorial assistant for Modernist Cultures and on the committee of the Midlands Interdisciplinary Victorian Studies Seminar. She has worked closely with the Cadbury Research Library since using their collections for her MA dissertation, and is looking forward to many more years of fruitful research in their reading room, overseen by the cool gaze of Naden’s marble bust.

My Favourite Module: MA English Language and Applied Linguistics

My Favourite Module: Language and New Media

By Richard Swain

The wide and varied range of modules was one of the main reasons why I decided to study MA English Language and Applied Linguistics at the University of Birmingham – offering everything from theoretical linguistics to teaching English as a foreign language, the course gave you the scope to pick and choose your favourite areas of the field and effectively customise it to your interests. However, there was one module that always stood out to me from the very beginning and served as a definite selling point when submitting my application. The module in question was Language and New Media – taught in the spring term of the 2015-2016 academic year – and I am very pleased to say that it lived up to, if not exceeded, my original expectations.

Facebook-logo-icon-vectorcopy-big_copyThe module itself is fairly self-explanatory, focusing on the study of how language is used on the ever-growing number of new media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. While it’s still a relatively recent development in linguistics, it’s one that (perhaps more than any other) hones in on the here and now, discussing contemporary trends which will only become more and more apparent as technology continues to dominate our lives. If you have even the slightest interest in social media or language change, I’d recommend studying this module – it’s a fascinating glimpse into what the future holds for English and many other languages across the world.

YouTube-LogoWith so many different sources of new media to look at, this means that the content of the module is constantly varied and things are kept feeling fresh. One week you could be learning about how identities are constructed online, the next about the global status of English, and the week after that about the likes of ‘flaming’ or intertextuality. A key component that underpins everything throughout the module though is its research aspect, and while some of the methods and terminologies might be a little overwhelming at first, in the long run it’s something I’m very glad was included. Not only did it help to highlight the significance of some of the findings, it provided further reinforcement on how to undertake a research study, preparing you with the skills you’ll need for your dissertation project at the end of the year. The choice of assignment questions for the module, in this academic year at least, even gave you the option to practise these skills for real in the context of a smaller scale research study, which is something I’m certain many students benefitted from.

Twitter Logo 3As the old saying goes though, behind every great module there has to be a great lecturer, and this more than held true for Language and New Media. Dr. Ruth Page, in only her first year of running this module, did a fantastic job at producing an informative and engaging series of seminars that had everyone eagerly anticipating what was next in store, even at 9am on a Friday morning. Her friendly and good-humoured approach to teaching made the topics even more interesting than they already were, and she especially encouraged group interaction which gave us plenty of opportunity to get to know our peers in the classroom. Worksheets, references, and other materials were always on hand, and the online Canvas portal for the module was kept fully up to date – we even got to discover a new form of media for ourselves by using the Padlet application to share work we had done in between classes from home! Because she is both a knowledgeable and experienced name in the field, we knew we were getting expert input from Ruth, resulting in a consistently high quality of lecturing from start to finish.

However, it’s not just Language and New Media that has impressed me – overall, I have had a thoroughly enjoyable time during my postgraduate studies at the University of Birmingham so far, and I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of my lecturers for their teaching and support. Every module has been special in its own unique way, and it has all helped to build towards a constructive and memorable experience. I can’t recommend the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics at the University of Birmingham enough, so if you’re considering undertaking your postgraduate studies here, by all means check them out!

Richard Swain is a full-time student in the MA English Language and Applied Linguistics at the University of Birmingham.

The British Graduate Shakespeare Conference

My name is Ella Hawkins, and I’m currently completing an MA in Shakespeare and Theatre at the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute. During the course of my studies, I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with one of the most important events in the Shakespeare and Renaissance scholarship calendar: I was Chair of BritGrad 2016!

The British Graduate Shakespeare Conference – ‘BritGrad’, for short – has been an annual event at the Shakespeare Institute since 1999. The conference is run by students, for students, and gives postgraduates from all over the world an opportunity to share their research in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon.

1Professor John Jowett giving the opening plenary presentation of BritGrad 2016 in the Shakespeare Institute’s lecture hall

This year’s BritGrad took place over three action-packed days. 92 delegates and 8 plenary speakers came together for a programme of 24 student panels and 8 plenary presentations. Some had travelled from China, Italy, the USA, or elsewhere in the UK; others were past or present students at the Shakespeare Institute. A huge range of topics were covered during the course of the conference. We heard about the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in relation to textual editing, queer theory, music, adaptation, stage design, early modern playing places, ecocriticism, rhetoric, and much more. While BritGrad frequently features a diverse and exciting programme, this year was particularly special. 2016 marks a number of significant anniversaries – the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare and of the publication of Ben Jonson’s first folio, to name just two – and this was reflected in the content of the conference.

2A student panel at BritGrad 2016

The plenary presentations were a real highlight of the conference programme. Eminent academics, early career researchers, and professional theatre practitioners gave us an insight into projects and debates they’re currently involved with, and fascinating conversations emerged from the Q&A sections of each session. This year’s lineup of plenary speakers was Prof. John Jowett (Shakespeare Institute), Dr Eoin Price (Swansea University), Dr Sarah Dustagheer (University of Kent), Dr Emma Whipday (Kings College London), Dr Stephen Purcell (University of Warwick), Ms Erica Whyman OBE (Royal Shakespeare Company), Dr Patrick Gray (Durham University), and Dr Harry Newman (Royal Holloway, University of London).

3A coffee break in the conservatory

Ideas were exchanged over lunch and coffee, and the conference included a programme of social events in Stratford-upon-Avon. Delegates attended Hamlet at the RSC (directed by Simon Godwin and starring Paapa Essiedu), a party at the RSC’s newly-opened Other Place studio theatre, and closing drinks at the same venue. Inflatable selfie props and a live folk band provided the perfect opportunity for party-goers to let their hair down mid-way through the event!

4BritGrad’s Secretary, Chair (me!), and IT volunteer enjoying the party at The Other Place

Between November 2015 and June 2016, I worked with a committee of ten fabulous fellow Shakespeare Institute students to organise this international event. It took a lot of planning! We met regularly and worked through a long list of tasks. Who would we invite to be plenary speakers? How would we advertise the event, and which papers should we accept to be presented at the conference? What should we do about catering for the event, how could we sort 72 papers into an interesting and well-organised programme, and – very importantly – where would the party take place? Spreadsheets, to-do lists, and Google Drive quickly became our close friends.

5(Most of) the 2016 BritGrad Committee posing with a lot of RSC tickets!

During the conference itself, committee-members all had specific tasks to complete. We chaired student panels and plenary sessions, collected food from our catering supplier, live-tweeted, provided tech support, managed the registration desk, and more. Some of us even presented papers of our own! A team of extra volunteers helped the event run as smoothly as possible, and a colour-coded committee schedule made sure that everyone was in the right place at the right time.

6The committee schedule for one of the three days of the conference. Who doesn’t love a good spreadsheet?

Organising and attending BritGrad has been a real highlight of my time at the Shakespeare Institute so far. It’s been wonderful to work alongside such a fantastic team; planning an event of this scale with them has been a hugely rewarding experience. I’ve had the opportunity to meet like-minded people at various stages of their academic career, to learn all about the exciting research currently under way in my field, and to be a part of such a well-loved fixture of the Shakespeare Institute and the wider academic community beyond.

For more information, find BritGrad on twitter (@britgrad), facebook, or the web.

Ella Hawkins is a full-time student in the MA Shakespeare and Theatre at the Shakespeare Institute.